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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Departure: Time; Manner; Aim.




              2. Route followed:

              (General direction.—Stations indicated.)




              3. Principal Incidents:

              Israel’s murmurings.


                            Seventy elders appointed.


                            The land espied.






              1. The Wilderness:

              Its boundaries and divisions.


                            Its general aspect and productions.




              2. The forty year’s wandering:

              A. Why imposed by God.


                            B. The road followed by Israel:

              Almost unknown.


                                          Various opinions.




                            C. History:

              Facts unknown.


                                          Conditions conjectured.


                                          A few incidents related.


§ 1. From Sinai to Cades

1. Departure from Sinai. The great events which occurred at Mount Sinai—the giving of the law, the consecration of the priests, the construction and erection of the Tabernacle—had detained Israel very nearly a year in that region (Exod. 19:1; Numb. 1:1); after which time Jehovah commanded Moses to take a census of all who were fit for war. This first signal of their approaching departure from Sinai was followed by a due celebration of the anniversary of the Passover, soon after which the Israelites—numbering altogether between two and three millions—received the final signal for departure (Numb. 10:11).

Under the guidance of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses, who intimately knew the usual resting-places, the water-springs, etc., of the country which the Israelites were about to traverse, the twelve tribes, divided into four great bodies and preceded by the Ark, began their march. At this solemn moment, the Jewish lawgiver and leader of Israel broke the silence of the desert, and exclaimed:

“Arise, Jehovah, and let Thy enemies be scattered,

And let them that hate Thee, flee from before Thy face.”

In these poetical words Moses clearly set forth the object of Israel’s present departure; headed by Jehovah, the chosen people was starting to conquer the idolatrous tribes of Chanaan, which were the enemies of both God and His people, and to enter at once upon the possession of the land promised to the patriarchs of old (Numb. 10:35; Deuter. 1:6–8).

2. Route followed by Israel. The general direction of the road followed by the Israelites lay northward, between Sinai on the south and Cades on the north, the distance between these two points being an “eleven days’ journey,” or about one hundred and seventy miles, “by the way of Mount Seir” (Numb. 32:8; Deuter. 1:2). They most likely took the ordinary route, which passes first along the eastern arm of the Red Sea—now called the Gulf of Akabah—and next through the wide plain of the Arabah, between Mount Seir on the east and the desert of Et-Tih, that is, of the Wandering, on the west.

Of the twenty stations indicated in the book of Numbers (33:16–35), only the first two belong most likely to the present journey of the Israelites; these are (1) Kibroth Hattaavah (graves of lust), a three days’ journey from Sinai, and probably to be identified with Erweis el Ebeirig; (2) Hazeroth, identical with the modern ‘Ain Hudherah both in name and in position (one day’s journey from Kibroth Hattaavah). The next encampment spoken of in the book of Numbers (13:1) was in the desert of Pharan, that is in that part of the northeastern division of the Peninsula of Sinai in which Cades—called also Cadesbarne—was situated. The position of the city of Cades, so important in the topography of the exodus, has not yet been identified with certainty; it may be said, however, with great probability, that Cades is identical with ‘Ain Gadis, some fifty miles south of Bersabee (cfr. art. Cades, in VIGOUROUX, Dictionnaire de la Bible; see also Revue Biblique, July, 1896, p. 440, sq.

3. Principal Incidents. During their lengthened stay in the wadies of Mount Sinai, the Israelites had lost a great deal of their power of endurance, and this is why shortly after setting out for Cades they openly “repined at their fatigue.” This first murmuring, however natural under the circumstances, was not left unpunished; a fire broke out in the encampment, and ceased only at the prayer of Moses. It is likely that this fire was not looked upon by the children of Israel as a divine punishment, for we see them very soon afterwards rising in an almost general rebellion against Moses and against Jehovah Himself. Sitting and weeping, they longed for their fill of flesh, and speaking scornfully of the manna they were ever supplied with, regretted the fish and the vegetables of Egypt. It was springtime, and a plentiful supply of quails was granted to Israel—as it had been granted a year before—not however, without entailing the dreadful punishment of a plague, which gave the place its name, “the graves of lust.”

Out of this second murmuring there also arose an important institution. In presence of such widespread discontent, Moses had complained to God of the great burden he had to bear alone in leading the Hebrew nation, and had asked for relief. Jehovah granted the request of His faithful servant, and appointed seventy elders, to whom He imparted something of Moses’ spirit, and who were to help him in the government of the chosen people, and it is to this appointment of seventy elders that the tradition of the Jews traces back the origin of the Sanhedrim, the supreme tribunal of their nation, and made up also of seventy members (Numb. 11).

Another severe trial befell Moses, when, in Hazeroth, his very brother and sister (Aaron and Mary) claimed an authority equal to his own. The Jewish lawgiver bore this new insult with his wonted patience, but Jehovah not only vindicated in words His chosen servant, He also struck Mary with a leprosy, which would have been permanent had not Moses successfully intervened in her behalf (Numb. 12:1–16).

The last incident to be mentioned here in connection with this period is the spying of the Promised Land after the Israelites had reached Cades. Before attacking the Chanaanites, the Hebrews wished to know what sort of country lay before them, and whether its conquest was not too difficult, and, accordingly, one man from each tribe was sent to make a thorough examination of the land of Chanaan. After an absence of forty days, the spies came back, carrying on a staff, borne by two men, one cluster of grapes, of enormous size, as a proof of the fertility of the land, and reported at the same time that giants of the race of Enac occupied the country. Only two of the Jewish messengers, Caleb and Josue, represented the conquest of Chanaan as possible if an immediate attack was made, and, in consequence, the multitude, giving themselves to despair, openly murmured against Moses and Aaron, and proposed to select a leader who would bring them back into Egypt. As the mutiny increased, Jehovah interfered, threatening to destroy utterly the rebels with pestilence, but, touched again by the entreaty of Moses, He announced that the chosen people, as a people, would indeed be preserved, but that not one of the rebellious generation—save Caleb and Josue—should enter the land of Chanaan. They were condemned to die during a forty years’ wandering in the Wilderness, and after a mad effort to evade this awful sentence by rushing against their enemies—Amorites and Amalecites combined—routed and discomfited, they had to resign themselves to their well-deserved fate (Numb. 13, 14; Deuter. 1:19b–45).

§ 2. The Wilderness and the Forty Years’ Wandering

1. The Wilderness of the Wanderings. The desert through which the Israelites were now condemned to wander—whence its modern name of Badiet et Tih, or “Wilderness of the Wanderings”—occupies about one-third of the Sinaitic Peninsula. Its precise limits cannot be determined; it is commonly admitted, however, that it was bounded on the north by the land of Chanaan; on the west by the River of Egypt, which parted it from the wilder ness of Sur; on the south by a great sand belt, extending from the Gulf of Suez to the Gulf of Akabah, and forming the line of demarcation between it and the Sinaitic range; on the east by the Gulf of Akabah and the deep valley of the Arabah.

The principal divisions of this immense region are designated in Holy Writ under the respective names of the Negeb or South Country of Chanaan, the desert of Pharan (under which name the whole Wilderness of the Wanderings is also known), and the desert of Sin, probably the southeastern part of the Badiet et Tih. The general aspect of the Wilderness is that of a series of limestone plateaus ascending in successive steps from the Sinaitic range to the hill country of Southern Palestine. “To European eyes it is a blanched and dreary waste, intersected by water-courses, almost always dry, except in the rainy season, and crossed by low ranges of horizontal hills, which relieve but little the general monotony of its appearance. It does not exhibit the savage and frightful desolation of the Arabah; but neither is it enlivened by the fertile valleys to be found amid the granite mountains of Sinai.

“Its soil is mostly strewn with pebbles, through which a slight coating of vegetation struggles; yet here and there level plains may be found in it of rich, red earth fit for culture, or valleys abounding in shrubs and trees, and offering coverts for hares. It has been remarked that vegetation is readily produced wherever the winter rains do not at once run to waste. But this vegetation has probably been long on the decrease, and is still decreasing, principally from the reckless destruction of trees for charcoal, and the aspect of the Wilderness has been proportionately deteriorated” (The Speaker’s Bible, vol. i, part 2, p. 685).

2. The Forty Years’ Wandering. It was not the original purpose of God that the Israelites should spend long years in the Wilderness before conquering the land of Chanaan (cfr. Deuter. 1:21, 26, sq.), but their conduct at Cades had shown how little they were worthy of entering at once upon their inheritance. Their very sending of spies to explore the land of Chanaan implied a great distrust of God’s goodness and power, and their despair, together with the acts of positive disobedience to Moses and to God, which followed the report of the spies, clearly proved that, although selected by Jehovah as His covenanted people, they were yet but hordes of slaves, so utterly unable to appreciate their dignity and privileges as to be ready to set at naught all the past mercies of God and all His glorious promises regarding the future, by entertaining the project of going back into the land of Egypt. Their unworthy conduct well deserved the awful punishment which awaited them in the Wilderness, and which was to be a solemn warning to their immediate descendants. Finally, whilst these descendants would thus learn to fear Jehovah, to desire the fulfilment of His promises to their forefathers, their very life in the Wilderness would fit them for undertaking, in due time, the conquest of the Holy Land.

For these, and other such reasons, the children of Israel were condemned to wander 40 years—this is, however, simply a round figure for their actual 38 years of wandering—in the Wilderness. The road they followed during this long period is almost entirely unknown, for nearly all the 18 stations which are enumerated in the book of Numbers (chap. 33:18–35) cannot be identified even with probability. Opinions vary also concerning the character, time and general locality of these encampments, and only the following points can be regarded as probable in reference to them. The stations named in the book of Numbers (33) are likely enough, only those headquarters where the Tabernacle was pitched, and where Moses and the priests encamped, while the main body of the Israelites was scattered in various directions. Again, these stations belong most likely, not to the journey of Israel from Sinai to Cades, already described, but to the period of wandering whose starting-point and terminus was Cades on the southern border of Chanaan. Finally, most of these stations were made by the children of Israel in the Badiet et Tih, rather than in the tract between this desert and the eastern shore of the gulf of Akabah.

The student of the Bible will easily notice that the sacred writer deals with this considerable period of Jewish history in pretty much the same reticent manner as he dealt with the much longer period of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, apparently because in both these periods nothing of great importance occurred either on the part of the Israelites or on the part of God. Besides, of course, the present sojourn of the Hebrews in the wilderness was an inglorious time spent in expiating national unfaithfulness to Jehovah, and consequently hardly deserving more than a passing mention, after God’s dealings with His chosen people had been amply shown both just and merciful by the detailed account of Israel’s most unworthy conduct in Cades.

It is not difficult, however, conjecturally to picture to ourselves the conditions in the midst of which the children of Israel spent the 40 years of their wanderings. The people naturally spread themselves widely in search of pasture for their flocks and herds from which they drew—as do the Arabs of the present day whom they undoubtedly resembled in their mode of life—ample means for their sustenance. They would also buy provisions from the neighboring tribes (cfr. Deuter. 2:26–29) or from the caravans which crossed the desert on their way to Egypt. Perhaps the soil of the Et Tih was then in many places much more fertile than it is now, and they could easily tarry long enough in one place for sowing and reaping; finally, they certainly had during this long period the miraculous help of the manna. But, whilst they thus adapted themselves to what may be called a Bedouin life, by a reversion to the patriarchal, that is to the nomad, traditions of their race, it is most likely that they lost much of that knowledge of the industrial arts which they had acquired in the land of the Pharaohs.

Finally, from the few incidents which the sacred narrative has preserved to us regarding this nomadic life of the Hebrews, it may readily be inferred that they also persevered in their murmuring frame of mind, and that, at times, they were severely dealt with by Jehovah (cfr. Numb. 16, 17).

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