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



              1. Manifold difficulties in the way of reaching Palestine from the South.


              2. Circuitous Route followed by the Israelites.




              3. Accompanying events:

              The death of Aaron.


                            The victory over Arad.


                            The Brazen Serpent.






              1. Political divisions (The Kingdoms of Og and Sehon).




              2. Rapid Conquest by the Israelites:

              Kingdoms north of the Arnon River conquered.


                            Moab and Madian (History of Balaam).




              3. Settlement:

              By whom made?


                            Under what conditions?


                            With what subsequent results?






§ 1. The Advance to Chanaan

1. Manifold Difficulties in the Way of Reaching Palestine from the South. In the beginning of the fortieth year of their wanderings, the hosts of Israel were encamped again at Cades, on the southern border of Palestine. At this place Mary, the sister of Moses, died; here also the great Jewish leader, when causing water to flow from the rock, distrusted the Divine assistance, and because of this, received the sentence that he should not bring the nation into the land of Chanaan (Numb. 20:1–13). But, although thus deprived of the hope he had so long cherished, namely, that of entering the Holy Land and that of leading into it the chosen people, Moses did not for a moment shrink from doing all in his power to bring the Israelites nearer and nearer their inheritance. He did not think it prudent, however, to attempt an invasion into Chanaan from the south, because many formidable difficulties forbade such an attempt at this time. Directly north of the Jewish camp lay the lofty mountains of Southern Palestine, inhabited by warlike tribes which could no longer be surprised by a sudden invasion, as was certainly possible when Israel reached the southern border of Chanaan for the first time. These various tribes would have the further advantage of defending defiles, with which they were perfectly acquainted, and of fighting on their own territory, the hills of which were protected by strong fortresses. To have attempted either of the narrow passes which led into Southern Palestine, besides the difficulty of transporting baggage and driving the flocks and herds, would have exposed the Israelites to the danger of being cut off by piecemeal, and, finally, the Philistines, who occupied the coast, might have fallen on their rear (F. G. HIBBARD, Palestine, p. 230, sq.).

For these, and other such reasons, Moses gave up all project of reaching Palestine from the south, and determined to make a circuit, to pass round the Dead Sea and cross the Jordan into the richest and least defended part of the Holy Land.

2. Circuitous Route Followed by the Israelites. The Jewish leader had all the more willingly adopted this method of advancing towards Chanaan, because on their way eastward the children of Israel would have to traverse the territories of Edom, Moab and Ammon, who all three were connected by descent with the chosen people, and who, he had every reason to hope, would show themselves friendly to him and his hosts, since he only wished to pass quietly through their territory. But the permission he had asked to cross the mountainous tracts of Edom was refused with a great display of force, to be used if needed (Numb. 20:14–21).

Thus denied the most direct route towards the country east of the Jordan, the Israelites were forced to journey southward down the Arabah towards the Gulf of Akabah, or eastern arm of the Red Sea, and then make a long circuit round the territory of Edom; the whole extra journey thus imposed on them was probably not less than one hundred and fifty miles. On their way they reached Mount Hor, where they delayed thirty days, and after encamping at the eastern end of the Red Sea, rounded the southern possessions of the Edomites. Thence they marched northwards, skirting the eastern frontier first of Edom and next of Moab, and, finally, encamped over against the Arnon River, which then, as ever, marked the southern limit of Eastern, Palestine.

3. Accompanying Events. Of the many events which must have accompanied this long circuitous advance of the Hebrews towards Chanaan, only three, because of their especial importance in Jewish history, are recorded in the book of Numbers (chaps. 20, 21). The first was the death of Aaron, the first Jewish high priest, at the age of one hundred and twenty-three years. He was buried on Mount Hor, a mountain which tradition identifies with the Jebel Nebi Harun (the mountain of the Prophet Aaron), which rises to the height of 4,350 feet above the level of the Mediterranean, and on the top of which Aaron’s place of burial is still pointed out by the natives. As, however, the traditional Jebel Harûn is on the east side of Edom, it can hardly be the place where Aaron died and was buried, since Holy Writ clearly implies that the Israelites were still on the western border of the possessions of the Edomites, when this melancholy event occurred. It is, therefore, much more probable that the modern Jebel Madurah, on the western side of the Arabah, and at a comparatively short distance of Cades, is the actual Mount Hor, the more so because the actual place of Aaron’s death and burial is called Mosera in Deuteronomy (10:6). Upon the death of Aaron, his son Eleazar was solemnly invested with the insignia of the high priesthood, and regularly inducted into that most important office in Israel.

The second incident noted in the sacred narrative is the brilliant victory which the Israelites won over Arad, a Chanaanite king, who had attacked them on the borders of Edom. The importance of this event should be measured far less by the greatness of its actual consequences, than by the considerable change it denotes in the temper of Israel after the forty years’ wandering. Differently from their conduct thirty-eight years before, the Hebrews are now careful to call upon Jehovah before going to battle, and their actual success against Arad does not betray them either into a further advance into Chanaan, or into a conflict with Edom, when this nation so rudely refused them passage through its own territory, because they wished faithfully to comply with the Divine will, that they should pass by the borders of the Edomites without fighting against them (Deuter. 2:4, sq.).

This does not mean, however, that the children of Israel had fully profited by their training in “The Wilderness of the Wanderings,” for as we learn from the third event, which is recorded as accompanying their advance to Chanaan, their inveterate murmuring frame of mind awaited only peculiarly trying circumstances to show itself again. But their murmurs were severely punished; venomous serpents—which still abound, as travellers tell us, in the very neighborhood of the encampment of the Israelites—“bit them and killed many of them” (cfr. GEIKIE, Hours with the Bible, vol. ii, p. 396). As a remedy, Moses caused a serpent of brass to be made, “which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.” This brazen serpent, which became later an idolatrous object in Israel (4 Kings, 18:4), was the mysteuiors symbol of “the Son of Man lifted up like the serpent in the desert, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:14, 15).

§ 2. Conquest of the Region East of the Jordan

1. Political Divisions of Eastern Palestine. At the time of Israel’s encampment on the Arnon, the territory between this river and Mount Hermon was politically divided into two powerful kingdoms, whose common boundary was the Jaboc River. The kingdom to the north of that river extended northward to the foot of Mount Hermon, and was known as the Kingdom of Basan. This country, so famous by its pastures, cattle and forests, was then crowded with cities and villages, and their ruins are not improbably those which, in the present day, attest to recent travellers present distress and former grandeur. The ruler over this vast and prosperous country was an Amorrhite king named Og, a man of gigantic stature, and whose huge iron bedstead was long preserved as a curiosity (Deuter. 3:1–11). The second kingdom east of the Jordan included that territory between the Jaboc and the Arnon rivers, which an Amorrhite colony, come from across the Jordan, had recently wrested from the Moabites (Numb. 21:26, 29). Its ruler was King Sehon, and its capital the Fortress of Hesebon, whose ruins still exist about fifteen miles east of the northern end of the Dead Sea. (For details concerning recent discoveries east of the Jordan, see SELAH MERRILL; HERR SCHUMACHER, etc.)

The other political divisions east of the Jordan consisted of the distinct territories of Moab, Madian and Ammon, but as the Israelites were forbidden to conquer them, they lay beyond the territory promised to the chosen people, and consequently require here but a passing mention. The possessions of the Ammonites at this time lay to the east of the Kingdom of Sehon, being limited to the west by a branch of the river Jaboc, on which indeed their capital, Rabbath, or Rabbath Ammon, stood, whilst the territory of the Madianites extended far to the east and south of the Moabites.

2. Rapid Conquest by the Israelites. Whilst still camping outside the territory of King Sehon, the Israelites sent him a message, asking a peaceful passage through his territory, and promising the same regard for his possessions, which they had already promised to the Edomites. Sehon not only refused, but assembling his army, went forth to give battle against Israel. The battle was fought at Jasa (Jahaz, in the Hebrew Text), probably “in the southeast corner of Sehon’s territory” (G. A. SMITH, p. 559). The result was the total defeat of the Amorrhite king, and as a further consequence the capture of his capital and his walled towns, of his numerous flocks and herds, and even the possession of the entire country between the Arnon and the Jaboc rivers (Numb. 21:27–30).

Crossing the Jaboc, the Israelites pursued their victorious course into the Kingdom of Og. This prince having gathered his forces, resolved to encounter his enemies in Edrei (the modern Edhra), one of the most formidable strongholds of his dominion. Like the King of Hesebon, the King of Basan was utterly routed by Israel, and the result of this new victory of the Hebrews, was such a subjugation of the northern Amorrhite kingdom as to allow them to prepare freely for an invasion into Western Palestine (Numb. 21:32–35; 32:39, 41, 42; Deuter. 3:1, sq.). For this purpose, they pitched their tents “in the plains of Moab, over against Jericho,” that is in that part of Moabite territory which the Amorites had formerly wrested from Moab, and which Israel had recently conquered (Numb. 22:1). But whilst they were preparing to cross the Jordan at the fords nearly opposite Jericho, new and unexpected enemies arose on their rear.

These enemies were ho other than Moab and Madian, tribes kindred indeed to Israel, but which now regretting that they allowed the Hebrews to pass unmolested on their borders, and fearing for their own independence so near a nation which had already conquered the mighty kings of the north, entered into an alliance against the Israelites. Their combined forces encamped on the heights of Abarim from which Israel’s camp could be seen. Meantime Balac, the present King of Moab and a worshipper of Baal, wished to place his enemies under a divine curse, before attacking them. With this end in view, he sent elders both of Moab and Madian “with the price of divination in their hands” to Balaam, the most famous soothsayer of the time. This strange personage, whose real character has ever been a matter of discussion, and who, although living in Mesopotamia, had some knowledge of the one true God, refused at first to come and utter the curse required of him. Upon the reception of a second and more select embassy and of more brilliant promises, he, however, agreed to repair to Moab, with the express understanding that he should utter only what God would inspire him with. The episode of his ass’s speaking to him, when on his way to Moab, is too well known to be detailed here; suffice it to say that the episode is clearly referred to as a historical event, in the Second Epistle of St. Peter (chap. 2:16). After his arrival in Moabite territory, the famous soothsayer strove indeed by every means in his power to secure from Jehovah oracles against the chosen people, but, as it were, in spite of himself, he uttered a fourfold blessing upon Israel. (For the exact meaning and Messianic bearing of Balaam’s prophetic utterances, see VIGOUROUX, Manuel Biblique, tome i; MEIGNAN, Prophéties Messianiques; TROCHON, Manuel d’Introduction à l’Ecriture Sainte, tome ii, p. 182, sq.)

After thus frustrating all the hopes of the King of Moab, Balaam withdrew without the promised honors and rewards, but not without giving to the enemies of the Israelites a counsel which proved most hurtful to the chosen people. Following his advice, the allied nations succeeded in seducing Israel to their impure and idolatrous rites, in punishment of which a plague broke out among the Hebrews and carried off upwards of 24,000 of them. Justice prompt and severe was meted out to the guilty Israelites, by Moses and the princes of the tribes, and especially by Phinees, the son of Eleazar, whose zeal was rewarded by the cessation of the pestilence and the promise of a perpetual priesthood in his family (Numb. 22–25:15; 31:16).

And now a terrible vengeance was wreaked on the crafty Madianites; pursued into their own territory by 24,000 Israelites under the command of Phinees, they were utterly routed, their chiefs and all the male population were put to death; their cities were burned; their women and children taken captive; Balaam himself perished by the sword; and an immense booty divided between the combatants, the rest of the people and the sacred treasury in charge of the priests and Levites (Numb. 25:16–18, 31). In seducing the Israelites to idolatry, the Madianites had, in fact, instigated the people of God to rebellion against their lawful sovereign, and this is why they were so severely punished; that Moab was spared a like punishment, is probably due to the fact that Jehovah had already forbidden Israel to war against that nation, a prohibition not to be set aside so soon after it had been enjoined.

3. Settlement in Eastern Palestine. After these events, it was plain that no one could prevent the Israelites from settling quietly in the conquered kingdoms of Sehon and Og, if only Jehovah would permit them to do so. Accordingly, the pastoral tribes of Ruben and Gad—and afterwards the half-tribe of Manasses—asked of Moses, Eleazar and the elders that they might have for their possession the conquered land east of the Jordan, whose upland pastures were so desirable for their numerous flocks and cattle. To this petition Moses first strongly objected; but, on their promise of helping effectually their brethren in conquering Western Palestine, whilst their own families and flocks would settle east of the Jordan, the Jewish leader acceded to their request (Numb. 32; Deuter. 3:18–20).

As might naturally be expected, the tribes of Israel which were allowed to occupy Eastern Palestine were destined to be greatly injured socially and religiously, because of their immediate contact with the pagan and wandering tribes of the great desert, and because of their separation from their brethren on the west of the Jordan. We see, for instance, that the children of the half-tribe of Manasses gave themselves up to idolatry, and that, together with Ruben and Gad, they were the first tribes transported into captivity (1 Paralip. 5:23–26); but yet, for long centuries after their settlement, the Israelites who dwelt in the land of Galaad played an important part in the history of the Jewish nation (cfr. G. A. SMITH, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 578, sq.).

§ 3. The Last Days of Moses. His Character

1. The Last Days of Moses. Whilst Israel encamped opposite Jericho, and as the time approached when the chosen people were to cross the Jordan to take possession of the land promised to the patriarchs of old, Moses was directed by God to ascend the Abarim mounts and to view from thence the Holy Land, into which he was never to penetrate. This direction, he understood, was the signal of his approaching death, and he accordingly prayed to God for a successor in his arduous office of leader of Israel. Josue was designated by Jehovah, and then presented by Moses himself to the whole nation as the one they should henceforth obey (Numb. 27:12–23; Deuter. 31:7, 8).

Another care of the Jewish lawgiver, conscious that his end was approaching, was to bid Israel by every means in his power to remain forever faithful to the worship of the one true God, and to observe all the ordinances of the law they had received through him, in order that they might enjoy the Divine blessings promised to faithfulness and avoid the terrible punishments wherewith disobedience was sure to be visited. This Moses did in three long discourses which are recorded in the first thirty chapters of Deuteronomy. In his first discourse he reminded the Israelites of God’s past mercies to them since their departure from Sinai, and drew from this historical retrospect the practical conclusion that they should not forget their obligations to Jehovah, nor the great truths of His spirituality and perfect unity which they had been taught in Sinai. In his second address, Moses exposed the general Divine law which made of Israel a theocratic nation, together with a code of special laws which it was his particular object to expound and encourage Israel to obey; then he emphatically set forth the blessings and curses which Israel should expect according as it observed or violated these same Divine laws. The third discourse insists again upon the fundamental duty of loyalty to Jehovah and embraces (1) an appeal to Israel to accept the terms of the Divine Covenant together with a renewed warning of the disastrous consequences of a fall into idolatry; (2) a promise of restoration, even after the abandonment with which the nation had been threatened in the preceding discourse, provided Israel should sincerely repent; (3) the choice now set before the people between life and good on the one hand, and death and evil on the other (DRIVER, Deuteronomy, Introd., § 1).

After these pathetic exhortations the great lawgiver delivered the Book of the Law into the hands of the priests and elders of Israel, and next gave vent to his feelings in “an ode worthy of him who composed the hymn of triumph by the Red Sea” (Milman). Then having received the final summons for his departure, Moses pronounced a last prophetical blessing—similar in several ways to Jacob’s parting blessing—after which he ascended Mount Nebo, from the summit of which his undimmed sight contemplated for the last time the vast territory so long promised by Jehovah as Israel’s inheritance. There also he breathed his last, at the age of one hundred and twenty; but the place of his burial ever remained unknown, lest perhaps the Hebrews should be tempted to surround with Divine honors the sepulchre of their great liberator and lawgiver (Deuter. 31–34).

2. Character of Moses. It is no easy task briefly to point out even the salient features of the character of a man who, like Moses, appears in history in so many different capacities. Moses is at once the liberator, the lawgiver, the leader, the prophet, the historian of the Jewish nation, but above all he is the great “servant of Jehovah” (Deuter. 34:5; Numb. 12:7; Exod. 14:31; etc.), for it was his unshaken fidelity to God which gave to his long and eventful life unity of purpose and firmness of action (cfr. Heb. 3:5).

Because he is the obedient servant of God he undertakes the liberation of Israel, a work which he justly deemed so far above his natural abilities, and deals with Pharao precisely as bidden by Jehovah. As a faithful servant set over the house of his Divine Master, he is ever attentive to look up to Him for guidance and carries out constantly His least directions. As his sole object in life is to fulfil the great work intrusted to him—to train Israel to the pure belief in and faithful worship of the one true God,—he never courts popular favor, but represses every violation of the theocratic constitution with all promptness and energy, “and his leadership of the people is little less than a constant pleading to them of Jehovah’s claims, of Jehovah’s will to bless, and of Jehovah’s power to punish” (RAWLINSON, Moses, p. 201). It is God’s honor and glory that he has in view when he subdues his own quick temper so as to become the meekest of men, and when he loves the chosen people with such a fatherly affection as to offer himself a willing victim for their sins, and to intercede with God in their behalf when his own authority and devotion have been set at naught by Israel. He is not jealous of the prophetical gifts Jehovah may bestow upon others, and when the time has come he willingly passes over his sons, and assigns to a stranger his succession in the leadership of the Jewish nation.

In these, and other such respects, Moses was the beautiful type of “a future prophet like unto him” (Deuter. 18:15, 18), of one who was to be the most faithful and meekest Servant of God, the Redeemer of the chosen people to whom He would give a higher law, train them during their journey through the wilderness of the present life for their future inheritance, and intrust the care of the Church He had founded to a visible shepherd.

As to the historical existence of Moses and his work, see KITTEL, History of the Hebrews, vol. i, p. 238, sq., of English translation.

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