Category Archives: Old Testament

Watch out for camels

This post is not intended as a summary of information about camels in the Bible. It is just calling attention to the terrain and kind of signs one sees in Israel’s Negev (Negeb). The NKJV uses the directional term South.

Abraham and Isaac lived in the Negev. When Abraham was old he sent his most trusted servant back to Padan Aram, where Abraham had lived before coming to Canaan, to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). After arrangements were made for Rebekah to return with the servant to Canaan, the Biblical account reads as follows,

Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way. Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. (Genesis 24:61-67 ESV)

Camel warning sign in the Negeb (Negev). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Camel warning sign in the Negeb (Negev). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Absalom, rebel son of king David, caught his head in a great oak tree

While David was at Mahanaim, his son Absalom and those of Israel who were aligned with him camped in the land of Gilead (2 Samuel 17:26-27). David remained at the gate of the city while his men went out to fight the rebels. The Biblical account says,

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword. And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.  (2 Samuel 18:6-9 ESV)

Even though many trees have been used by various invaders over the centuries, some forests of oaks may still be seen in both Cisjordan (territory west of the Jordan River) and Transjordan (territory east of the Jordan River). The photos below were made in a grove of trees growing the Golan Heights a short distance south of the junction of Highways 98 and 99 south of Mas’ada.

These trees may be much smaller than the “great oak” in which Absalom caught his head, but they could be quite dangerous to a person trying to make a fast getaway on a mule.

Oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here are the leaves of this variety of tree.

Close view of oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The leaves of oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And the large acorns it grows.

Acorns on the oaks of Bashan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Acorns on the oaks of Bashan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The oaks of Bashan are mentioned by the prophets of Israel several times (Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 27:6; Zechariah 11:2).

The technical name for the oak shown here is Querqcus ithaburensis, and is known as the Tabor oak. Dr. David Darom, in Beautiful Plants of the Bible, say this about the tree,

The Tabor oak, being a large deciduous tree that dominates its surroundings, was often associated with ritual and religious customs. Tabor oak forests once covered large areas of the northern Coastal Plain, the Lower Galilee, the Hulah Valley and
the slopes of the Golan. Most of the trees were cut down during the ages so their excellent wood could be used in buildings, furniture and boats. (p. 44)

William M. Thomson, back in 1880, described a walk in one of the “grand old forests” near the Crocodile River between Caesarea and Dor.

I had a delightful ramble early the next morning in those grand old forests, and then understood perfectly how Absalom could be caught by the thick branches of an oak. The strong arms of these trees spread out so near the ground that one cannot walk erect beneath them; and on a frightened mule, such a head of hair as that vain but wicked son polled every year would certainly become inextricably entangled: and it is interesting to know that the region east of the Jordan, that “wood of Ephraim” where the battle was fought, is still covered with thick oaks, tangled bushes, and thorny creepers growing over ragged rocks, and ruinous precipices, down which the rebel army plunged in wild dismay, horses and men crushing each other to death in remediless ruin. Thus twenty thousand men perished in that fatal wood, which “devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.” (The Land and the Book or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery, of the Holy Land: Southern Palestine and Jerusalem. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880. Print.)

To be precisely Biblical, it was Absalom’s head that caught in the oak, but the excessive hair might have contributed to his misfortune.

Absalom was killed by Joab and his armor-bearers (2 Samuel 18:14-15). Balwin comments on Absalom’s ignominious end:

All that remains is to bury there and then in the forest the body of the rebel, his grave marked only by a huge cairn of field stones, which would in a relatively short time cease to be identifiable. It was an ignominious end. (Baldwin, Joyce G. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 8. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988. Print. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.)

David at the cave of Adullam

Adullam is significant in several biblical accounts. Here are a few.

Judah stayed with an Adullamite man named Hirah. He married the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.

At that time Judah left his brothers and stayed with an Adullamite man named Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. Judah acquired her as a wife and had marital relations with her. (Genesis 38:1-2 NET)

The episode of Onan and his failure to fulfill his responsibility to bring up children to his deceased brother (the Levirate marriage; Genesis 38:3-10).

One of the entrances to the cave of Adullam with a view of the area to the southeast. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the entrances to the cave of Adullam (in the foreground) with a view of the area to the east toward the central mountain range. Without detailed maps it is difficult to show this location, but the border road would lead generally to the Jaba border crossing on Highway 367. This road, after many twists and turns, leads to Highway 60 south of Bethlehem near the modern Israeli settlement of Efrat (or Efrata). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Joshua defeated the king of Adullam during the Conquest (Joshua 12:15), and became one of the Shephelah (lowland) cities of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:35).

The cave of Adullam may be best know because of its association with David. When he left Gath he went to Adullam before sending his parents to Moab for safety.

So David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and the rest of his father’s family learned about it, they went down there to him. (1 Samuel 22:1 NET)

In fact, David spent much time at Adullam. I suggest you read the entire account in 2 Samuel 23:13ff.

Interior of the cave of Adullam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the cave of Adullam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the prophet Micah warned Judah about the coming Assyrian invasion he said,

…the leaders of Israel shall flee to Adullam (Micah 1:15 NET)

Just like David did about three centuries earlier.

Interior of the cave of Adullam lighted by flash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the cave of Adullam lighted by flash. During more recent time the cave was used for a olive press installation. One of the crushing stones is visible in the center foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One more point. Jesus was a descendant of David and Judah, both of whom had an association with Adullam (Revelation 5:5).

Note: if you wish to locate the Adullam cave on Google Earth, search for Aderet, Israel, and then look for the cave. A photo of the cave is identified at 31°39’02.33 N, 35°00’08.53 E.

An earlier post, with two different photos, may be read here.

I hope that our material will make this part of the life of David a bit more real for you as you study the Bible.

Life in Memphis, Egypt

Memphis is said to have been founded as early as 3000 B.C. At times it was among the greatest cities of the world. The prophet Ezekiel foretold the fall of Memphis and of Egypt as a world power.

This is what the sovereign LORD says: I will destroy the idols, and put an end to the gods of Memphis. There will no longer be a prince from the land of Egypt; so I will make the land of Egypt fearful. (Ezekiel 30:13 NET)

I wish to share a typical picture of native life in Memphis today.

A typical scene from Memphis, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A typical scene from Memphis, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

David stayed at Mahanaim when he fled from Absalom

The name Mahanaim is found 13 times in the Old Testament. The site is where Jacob and Laban met and made a covenant. Mahanaim seems to mean “two camps” (Genesis 32:2). This is where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with a man (angel, Hosea 12:4). When morning came, Israel crossed over Penuel (Genesis 32:31).

Two large tells face each other and the Jabbok River flows in an S-curve between them. The tells are now named Tall adh-Dhahab East and Tall adh-Dhahab West. These tells are located a few miles east of the Plains of the Jordan and Tell Deir Allah (likely the site of biblical Succoth). Some scholars identify Dhahab West as Mahanaim and Dhahab East as Penuel. Other scholars reverse the identifications.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When Transjordan was divided among the tribes, Mahanaim was located in the territory of Gad on the boundary with East Manasseh (Joshua 13:26, 30). It was one of the cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:38; 1 Chronicles 6:80).

Ishbosheth made king over Israel from Mahanaim

After the death of Saul, Abner made Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, king over all Israel from Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:8, 12, 29).

David fled to Mahanaim

When David fled from his rebellious son Absalom he fled across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24, 27; cf. 2 Kings 2:8). Absalom met his death in a nearby forest.

A Gileadite by the name of Barzillai took care of King David while he stayed at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 19:32). The city became one of Solomon’s administrative centers (1 Kings 4:14).

Song 6:13 describes gazing upon the Shulammite girl to be like looking on “the dance of the two camps” or “dance of two companies” (CSB, JPS, NAU, NKJ). Other translations use the expression “the dance of Mahanaim” (ASV, NIV, NJPS, TNIV) or “dance of the Mahanaim” (NET).

Recent excavations at Dhahab West, conducted by a German team, have revealed what they believe to be part of a monumental building of Herod the Great. They think this was the Hellenistic and Roman site described by Josephus as Amathus.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our photo shows both tells. (Tall adh-Dhahab East is on the left. Tall adh-Dhahab West is on the right.) There is a pumping station on the Jabbok to provide agricultural irrigation. The Jabbok continues in the valley separating the two hills and tells.

Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in teaching presentations.

Ram’s horn announces Rosh Hashanah

Jews will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, for two days beginning at sunset September 13. Leading up to the celebration the ram’s horn is blown.

The ram’s horn was important in the history of Israel. One of the words often used for the horn is shofar (or shophar).

  • A long blast on the ram’s horn was used to alert the Israelites when they could approach Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:13).
  • The ram’s horn was sounded at the beginning of important feast days (Leviticus 25:9). On the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar trumpets were to be blown (Numbers 29:1). This festival was known as the Feast of Trumpets.
  • After Israel marched around Jericho they would hear a long blast on the ram’s horn (Joshua 6:5). The word horn in this verse is qeren, but the word shofar is translated trumpet.

I have observed that shepherds are proud of the ram of the flock. This photo was made in April, 2008, in northern Jordan not very far from Ramoth in Gilead and the border with Syria.

Ram with large horns. Photo taken in northern Jordan near ancient Ramoth Gilead, near the Syrian border in 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ram with large horns. Photo taken in northern Jordan near ancient Ramoth Gilead, near the Syrian border in 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sometimes in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem one of the shopkeepers will demonstrate the sounding of the shofar in hopes of attracting customers. That beautiful horn was a little above my budget. I do not know the animal from which it came. It may be a Yemenite shofar made from the horn of an African kudu. If a reader knows for sure, your comment would be appreciated.

Shofar being sounded in the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem, in 1993. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shofar being sounded by a shop owner or clerk in the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem, in 1993. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Silver trumpets were also to be blown on certain occasions (Numbers 10:1).

For Christians, the sound of a trumpet will signal the coming of the Lord and the resurrection.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)

Joab and Uriah travel from Jerusalem to Rabbah

Last evening I was looking at the biblical account of David’s battles against the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10-11).

In the spring of the year, at the time when kings normally conduct wars, David sent out Joab with his officers and the entire Israelite army. They defeated the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1 NET)

You probably know the rest of the story. David is attracted to Bathsheba, commits adultery, learns Bathsheba is pregnant, calls Uriah home in hope that he will spend the night with Bathsheba. Uriah acted in the true warrior way by not enjoying the benefits of the marriage bed while his companions were camping in the open field. David sent Uriah back to the battle with a letter to Joab to put Uriah in the forefront of the battle.

Have you thought about the journey made by Uriah and the other Israelite soldiers as they traveled from Jerusalem to Rabbah and back? You know where Jerusalem is located. It is situated on the eastern side of the water parting ridge of Israel at an elevation of about 2400 feet above sea level. Numerous times we have discussed the journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. See here and here.

The distance from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is not more than 20 miles. The elevation drops from about 2600 feet at the Mount of Olives to (currently) about 1384 feet below sea level at the surface of the Dead Sea. The point of crossing at the Jordan River would be a little higher. From there one must go up into the Transjordan Tableland to reach Rabbah. The general elevation of the Transjordan Tableland is about 3000 feet above sea level. Amman is about 2500 feet above sea level. That makes this a difficult route of travel.

Rabbah (Rabbath), the capital of ancient Ammon, is the site we now know as Amman, capital of Jordan. During the Hellenistic period the city was renamed Philadelphia.

The total distance from Jerusalem to Rabbah is about 40 miles as the crow flies. Men rarely travel like crows. The distance by road is longer and more difficult.

The photo I wish to share today was made in early April. It was made along a road a little east of the Jordan Valley and the Plains of Moab. From here you can see the terrain David’s men, including Joab and Uriah, had to travel on their way from Jerusalem to Rabbah. Modern Amman is located in the mountains we see on the horizon.

View looking east toward Amman. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View looking east toward Amman. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Learning routes of travel is one of the most important values in visiting the Bible lands. I hope this photo will help you with your study of the biblical account.

Reprint from 12/2/10.