11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

3. Approaching the Land

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 3. Approaching the Land

Deut 1:7,8 “Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon , as far as the great river, the Euphrates . See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers–to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob–and to their descendants after them.”

Wars on the Way: We have seen Abraham getting drawn into a battle, and we saw the Amalekites attack Israel on their way to the Promised Land, but thereafter there appears no fighting for forty years – apart from the Amalekites driving Israel away from the Promised Land as discipline from God for disobedience (see Num 14:45). But as Israel eventually, after forty years, make their way north, they encounter various ‘nations’ and it is instructive to note how they were guided by God through them.

Israel a Threat? I wonder how you might have felt as a king over a small nation or big tribe, and you find this massive group of somewhere between one and two million people turning up on your border? However, perhaps a more important issue is how Israel felt, what their intentions were, and the instructions that come from the Lord.

See Moses’ words recounting what had happened: “the Lord said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.’” (Deut 2:2-6)` Mount Seir is to the south east of the Dead Sea. It is important to understand the geography here up the east side of the Dead Sea: to the south is Edom, (the area referred to above), north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan.

Peaceful Approaches:  The instructions given above to Israel in respect of Edom indicated they were clearly not to be provocative and indeed they were to pay for resources taken. First in respect of Edom: in Numbers 20 we see Israel seeking to pass Edom in a very peaceable manner and when Edom reject them, they carefully skirt the land (see Num 20:14-21). However a little way along the way we find (Num 21) the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the south, saw them coming, attacked them and took some of them prisoner (v.1) and so Israel retaliated and destroyed them. After this they appear to have turned east to skirt round the south end of the Dead Sea and then make their way north, avoiding Edom.  Second, as they near Moab, the Lord instructs them, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land.” (Deut 2:9) Third, as they continue and approach Ammon, “When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites.” (v.19)

Two Battles: On the west side of Ammon is the city of Heshbon and there they ran into trouble. First came instructions from the Lord preempting what was about to happen: “See, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his country. Begin to take possession of it and engage him in battle. 25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.” (Deut 2:24,25) The reality of it working out is seen in Numbers: “Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites: 22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” 23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel.” (Num 21:21-23) Israel simply defeat him! See v.24-26

But they still have to go north to find a crossing point on the Jordan to go into the Land: “Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.” (Num 21:33) The Lord encourages them (v.34) and they defeat Og (v.35) We are also told that Bashan and his people were also (like Sihon) Amorites (Deut 3:8).

A Seduction: While Israel are on the Plains of Moab, at Shittim to the east of the Jordon getting ready to cross and enter the Land, women turn up who are both Moabites and Midianites: “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.” (Num 25:1,2 – see also v.6) The Midianites were mostly nomadic but settled in areas of Moab and were closely allied with Moab (see Num 22:4-7), so it is not surprising that God’s condemnation for this act of seduction is largely on the Midianites (see Num 31) which eventually involved the death of Balaam (see v.8) who had advised the enemy, after he had not been able to curse Israel, to seduce them in this way (see Num 31:16).  Some of the men of Israel (we aren’t told how many) went with these women (as Balaam suggested they would) and as a result the anger of the Lord was poured out with a decree that the Midianites be destroyed in battle – see Num 31. Although there does seem to be victory over them, they do appear again later in Israel’s history as a thorn in their side (see Judg 6 & 7) and were obviously not utterly destroyed.

Consequences: We would do well to understand something that arises again and again in the life of Israel.  Every now and then, after an episode of blatant sin, there is a strong and violent judgment following. The naïve wonder why this is so. Consider God’s purposes for Israel. He has created them as a unique nation which, elsewhere, I have suggested is for three purposes. First to reveal Him to the rest of the world, second to reveal the sinfulness of mankind even in such a nation as this, and third, to create a nation that will eventually create a ‘God-environment’ into which His Son can eventually come. Again and again, the very existence of Israel, as this holy nation, comes under threat as the enemy, as we said earlier, sought to bring them down by deception, temptation or outright attack. Such threats to the life of Israel are threats to the very plan of God instigated from before the foundation of the world to use Israel in this way and bring His salvation to the Fallen World. That is how serious it is!

Recap: So what have we seen in this study?

  • Israel making their way peaceably up the east side of the Dead Sea in preparation for entering the Land near Jericho,
  • the Lord telling them NOT to harm Edom, Moab or Ammon
  • attacks on Israel by the king of Arad and then two kings of the Amorites, who Israel then defeat,
  • finally having the war against the Midianites who, on Balaam’s advice had sought to completely undermine Israel and lead them into idolatry.

Thus we have seen three protected peoples and then three peoples who opposed them. The battles against them were not instigated by them but in each case were entirely defensive actions to preserve themselves from their enemies. We should not naively wonder about the extent of such fighting – which includes wiping out whole peoples,  because it was a case of destroy or be destroyed, as we have observed more than once in World War Two in our own time. Now we have dealt with the advance up the east of the Dead Sea, we are ready to consider the actual taking of the Land.

And Us? Lessons to be learned? We need to read our Bibles carefully, to enable us to understand the realities of just what happened in these times, to avoid making inaccurate assessments. Living in this fallen World, it is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. War is never good but unfortunately in the face of sinful activities of others, is necessary to protect our loved ones. God does not encourage physical war but when it is necessary He calls us to act as civilly as possible. Spiritual warfare is an ongoing necessity.

48. Obadiah

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 48  Obadiah

Obad v.3,4   The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, `Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars,

from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.

The reader who comes to Obadiah for the first time might be excused for reading it and then thinking, “That’s it? Where’s the rest? Why are these two pages worthy of being included in the canon of Scripture?” These questions are even more pertinent when you realise that verses 1 to 4 at least appear almost as copies of Jeremiah 49:14-16. Did the Lord inspire him? Did Jeremiah inspire him? Did the Lord through Jeremiah inspire him? Questions even arise over the date of his writing. The only clue appears in verses 11 and 12 where Edom is accused of sitting back smugly when Judah and Jerusalem were pillaged. This together with the Jeremiah parallel would suggest some time after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC, and yet, it has been suggested before 553BC when Babylon came against Edom.

But then there is the very subject matter of these mere 21 verses – Edom. Edom was a territory in the mountains to the south east of the Dead Sea. Descended from Esau (see Gen 36:1,9,43), these blood relatives of Jacob (Israel) had historically opposed Israel, from the earliest days when they refused to let Israel pass through their land (see Num 20). When Judah and Jerusalem were ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar, it would appear that they looked down on them with no compassion and themselves felt they were impregnable in their mountain fortresses.

When the prophet refers to The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks,” (v.3) it may be that he was speaking more specifically than just the fact that they lived in the mountains for Sela was the capital of Edom and perhaps later Petra, and both Sela and Petra mean “rock” or “cliff”, It was this pride that the Lord specifically spoke against (v.3,4) and because of that they too would be pillaged with nothing being left (see v.5,6). There in the mountain caves they hid their riches (v.6), but their friends and neighbours will turn against them (v.7). They thought they were so clever, so wise, but all that would be brought to an end (v.8). Their warriors, so adept at coming down from the mountains and marauding others, will be cut down (v.9).

And why is all this happening?  “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob.” (v.10) Because, “you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” (v.11) They clearly derided Judah and laughed over that had happened to them: “You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” (v.12) Indeed they should not have gone down from their mountain fortresses and traveled up country to join in their downfall: “You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.” (v.13) But it was worse, for they had picked off random survivors: “You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.” (v.14)

Yes, the Lord had seen and catalogued all of their activity against His chosen people, and for that reason He was holding them accountable and declares this general principle in respect of His people: “The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (v.15) There it is spelled out so clearly for all history to see: what you do to Israel will be done to you! And if bad was done to Israel, destruction will come to those who bring it (v.16). Jerusalem will be blessed (v.17) and be the cause of the downfall of those who oppose them – starting with Edom! (v.18) Those who are presently in exile will return and will triumph and this land will be theirs (v.19-21).

So why did we choose v.3 & 4 as highlights in this shortest book of the Bible? Because pride and a false security (not based on the Lord) was at the heart of their actions, which led them to look down on God’s people and even work for their destruction, and this the Lord will not tolerate!

For us, it may not be so much that we either look down on or even speak against Israel (although both are wrong), so much as in this materialistic world we can gain a sense of false security from our ‘things’ and our affluence (certainly compared to large parts of the world) and even our history, and in so doing we fail to trust the Lord. True security only comes from truly trusting and knowing the Lord.