Borders of the Promised Land

The borders of the Promised Land are described by Moses in Numbers 34 (see also Deuteronomy 1:1-8), and hundreds of years later during the Judean exile in Babylon the prophet Ezekiel essentially repeated this same description as he looked ahead to the restored kingdom of God’s people (Ezekiel 47:13-23). The borders included the land of Phoenicia and Damascus, but the actual allotment of the land by Moses and Joshua (Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 3:1-11; Joshua 13-20) did not encompass these areas. When Moses sent spies to scout out the Promised Land (Numbers 13), their route extended all the way to Lebo-hamath, affirming that this was the full extent of the Promised Land as Moses envisioned it. One area difficulty, however, is the exact extent of the northeastern border according to Numbers 34. It is clear that the border passed from Hazar-enan to the Sea of Galilee, but the locations of Shepham, Riblah, and Ain, which are given as markers along this stretch of the border, are uncertain, and this has led to differing opinions regarding whether the region of Hauran was included in Moses’ description as it was in Ezekiel’s description (Ezekiel 47:18). Omitting the region of Hauran, however, would mean that the border passed through the city of Damascus, but this important city is never mentioned in Numbers 34, and this would also make Moses’ description incongruent with Ezekiel’s description in this respect. Thus it is likely that Moses’ description included the region of Hauran. Also, this author has recently found that Tall Sha`f would make a very viable candidate for the location of the town of Shepham (shown on this map), and this perfectly aligns with a border that encompasses Hauran.

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Elijah Challenges Ahab

1 Kings 18-19

The story of Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal is well known. Sometime earlier, Elijah had warned Ahab that there would no longer be any rain or dew in Israel until he gave the word (1 Kings 17:1), presumably because of Ahab’s rabid promotion of Baal worship throughout Israel (1 Kings 16:29-34). It appears that Ahab may have gained this devotion to Baal worship through his marriage to Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he even built a temple and an altar to Baal in Samaria. Jezebel herself promoted Baal worship by providing for the needs of 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah and by killing off many of the prophets of the Lord. During the third year of the drought in Israel, the Lord told Elijah to confront Ahab, and soon after this, rain would return to the land. So Elijah met with Ahab and told him to assemble the people of Israel and the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, and Ahab did so. Elijah may well have chosen Mount Carmel for this contest due to its proximity to both Phoenicia (the homeland of Jezebel and her Baal worship) and Israel, for the mountain would have represented geographically what was true spiritually among the people of Israel: They were straddling two different opinions about the Lord and Baal. When all were assembled on the mountain, Elijah challenged the people to choose once and for all whether they would serve the Lord or serve Baal. And in order to demonstrate which god was truly able to respond to them, both Elijah and the people were to call upon their god to send down fire to consume the sacrifice, and the god who responded would be the true God. When it was over, Baal had failed to respond, but the Lord had sent down fire that completely consumed the offering, and the people confessed that the Lord is God. Elijah immediately called upon the people to seize all the prophets of Baal, and they took them down the mountain to the Kishon River, where they killed them. Then Elijah instructed Ahab to go back up Mount Carmel, and Elijah went up as well and bowed down to the ground. Eventually he noticed a little cloud rising over the Mediterranean Sea to the west, and he sent his servant to tell Ahab to take his chariot and leave in order to escape the approaching storm. Ahab did so, and the Lord granted Elijah special strength to run ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel. There Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had slaughtered all the prophets of Baal, and she vowed to kill Elijah by the next day. So Elijah became afraid and fled for his life, heading south and dropping off his servant along the way at Beersheba. Then he went a day’s journey into the wilderness and began to despair under a solitary broom tree. But the angel of the Lord appeared to him and granted him food and strength, and Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights to Horeb, which is called Mount Sinai elsewhere in Scripture.

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Rainfall in the Ancient Near East

Throughout biblical history, one of the most tangible demonstrations of the Lord’s goodness to his people is seen in his provision of rain (Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:11-17; 28:12; 1 Samuel 12:17-18; 1 Kings 8:35-36; 2 Chronicles 6:26-27; 7:13; Ezra 10:9; Job 5:10; 37:6; Psalm 68:9; 135:7; 147:8; Isaiah 5:6; 44:3; Jeremiah 3:3; 5:24; 10:13; 14:4-22; 51:16; Ezekiel 34:26; Hosea 6:3; 10:12; Joel 2:23; Amos 4:7; Zechariah 10:1; 14:17; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; James 5:7). In numerous passages of Scripture, the Lord is said to be the giver of rain, and rain was a sign of his blessing and favor, for with it came abundant harvests and plentiful drinking water. Conversely, rain could also be withheld as a sign of God’s displeasure with sin, leading to poor harvests and dwindling drinking water. Israel’s rainy season lasts from October until May, with the heaviest rains occurring in December and January. The summer months, from June until September, see almost no rain. The beginning of the rainy season in October is referred to in Scripture as the early rains, and farmers are eager for their arrival in order to begin plowing and planting. Then the rains continue heavily through the winter. Even more important, however, are what Scripture calls the latter rains. These final rains of the season can significantly increase yields–or bitterly destroy them–for they provide critical water necessary during the hottest portion of the growing season. Northern Galilee enjoys the most plentiful rainfall in Israel, with annual totals of about 660 mm, while the lower Jordan Valley and much of southern Israel are essentially desert lands, receiving a scant 16-22 mm of rain each year.

January:

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July:

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Annual Rainfall (animation):

Data source: Fick, S.E. and R.J. Hijmans, 2017. WorldClim 2: new 1km spatial resolution climate surfaces for global land areas. International Journal of Climatology 37 (12): 4302-4315.

Aram and the City of Damascus

Throughout the Old Testament the term Aram is used to reference various people groups inhabiting the Levant, and their political power and loyalties changed frequently over the centuries. The Bible first mentions the people of Aram in the Table of Nations and designates them as descendants of Shem (Genesis 10:22-23). Later Abraham traveled with his father to Haran in northern Aram (see this map) before continuing on to Canaan further south. Many years after this Abraham sent his servant back to this region (called Aram-naharaim or Paddan-aram) to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:10). Still later Isaac’s son Jacob returned to this same area when he fled from his brother Esau after stealing his birthright (Genesis 28-31). Balaam was also brought from northern Aram to curse the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 23:7). Even the Israelites themselves were instructed, once they entered the Promised Land, to make an offering of first fruits during which they were to acknowledge to the priest that their ancestor (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). During the time of the Judges a man named Othniel rescued the Israelites from a king who oppressed them from Aram-naharaim (Judges 3:8-10). By the end of the time of the Judges (Judges 18:7-28), however, the term Aram is typically used by the biblical writers to refer to the people living in the area shown here, located just north of Israel and centered around the ancient city of Damascus. This region was subdued by King David (2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18-19), but it appears to have regained power soon after Solomon died. Aram continued to grow in power during this time, so much so that King Asa of Judah sent silver and gold to Ben-hadad I of Aram to incite him to attack King Baasha of Israel (1 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 16). Apparently this conflict whet the appetite of the Arameans for Israelite land, because later Aram would also fight several wars against King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 20-22; see map here) as well as against several other kings of Israel after him (2 Kings 8-16; 2 Chronicles 18-28). The power of Aram was finally broken during the time of King Ahaz of Judah, who bribed the Assyrians to attack the Arameans in order to stop Israel and Aram from attacking Judah (2 Kings 16-17; 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7-8; see map here). Hundreds of years later, the Lord Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute believers there (Acts 9; see map here).

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Saul Rescues Jabesh-Gilead

1 Samuel 11

Soon after Saul was anointed king of Israel by Samuel, Saul demonstrated his ability to unite the tribes against a common enemy, fulfilling one of the reasons the people had asked Samuel for a king (1 Samuel 8:19-20). A man named Nahash the Ammonite had besieged the Israelite town of Jabesh-gilead, and before he would grant them a treaty, he required that he gouge out the right eye of every person in the town. Messengers from Jabesh-gilead went throughout Israel seeking someone to rescue them from Nahash. When they reached Gibeah, they told this to the people and then to Saul as he was returning from the fields with his oxen. When Saul heard what was happening, the Spirit of God came upon him powerfully, and he cut up his oxen and sent pieces throughout Israel as a threat to anyone who did not join him to rescue Jabesh-gilead. Saul mustered Israel’s forces at Bezek and sent word to the people of Jabesh-gilead that they would be rescued the next day. The next day Saul did defeat the Ammonites and completely destroyed them. In response, some suggested to Samuel that those who initially opposed Saul’s appointment as king should be put to death, but Samuel instead called for everyone to meet at Gilgal and reaffirm Saul as king. The people did so and celebrated Saul’s kingship with fellowship offerings before the Lord.

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