LESSONS FROM THE PAST
A personal commentary as I read through the first two books of the Old Testament, Genesis and Exodus. Lots of archaeological facts as they apply to this history.
The Holy Bible, used by Christians world-wide as the guide for faith, is divided into two parts: The Old Testament of 39 individual books, and The New Testament of another 27 individual books.
In the earliest years people passed down ‘stories’ verbally to each other, or left messages in pictures on objects, even on walls of caves. But gradually messages were written on paprus or parchment scrolls that rolled up. With the advent of printing, it became possible to copy the content of the scrolls onto paper, and then bind pages together into a book, thus we have today’s Bible. The individual scrolls were written by many authors, inspired by God as to content, but unified by the theme of God and the revelation of Himself to man.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament in the Book of Genesis, opens with Creation of the world and man, and centres on early history of people in the Middle East, beginning in the Garden of Eden, and then extending across the region.
Adam was the first man, Eve his wife, and they lived a peaceful life, naming the animals and talking with God in person. But when tempted, they failed, and as a result were forced to leave the Garden and lost direct communication with their Maker. Major changes occurred as a result. Even though experiencing God’s judgment, they received the promise of His enduring love in the provision of a skin ‘covering’ through the sacrifice of an animal.
The theme of God providing everything man needs for forgiveness is introduced through the shedding of blood. The life is in the blood. The killing of an animal sacrifice ends a life. We don’t know exactly when man began to offer animals and other sacrifices to approach and worship God. But animal sacrifice in itself could never take away a man’s sin. God states that in the Bible. It was symbolic and pointed ahead to the ultimate sacrifice of God for mankind that would occur in the shedding of the blood of Jesus. The people may not have realized the full significance of this, but they deliberately placed their hands on the animal in order to indicate it represented them and that they were wanting atonement for their sin.
God Himself, came to earth to live as a man, experienced what we experience, suffered deeply, and took upon Himself all the punishment God required for the sins of mankind by dying an agonizing death and going to Hell. But He rose to life again, and awaits the coming judgment for all mankind, and promises to reward those who love and obey Him.
I can remember the moment in time when I saw in Genesis 22 the plan of salvation in the Old Testament. It was these words of Abraham, who was talking with his son, Isaac, “God will provide, HIMSELF, a lamb, for the burnt offering.” Long afterwards, John the Baptist, watching Jesus approaching, said to the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).”
Where was the Garden of Eden? Scholars believe that it was on the junction of four rivers : Euphrates and Tigris with the Pishon and Gihon (Gen 2:10-14). The later two rivers have not been identified. The Euphrates and Tigris Rivers rise in the Caucasus Mountains and flow southeast to empty into the Persian Gulf. However, since Adam’s day, thick sediment settled on the river beds at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and pushed the entrance to the union of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers far upstream about 100 miles.
It is thought that the Garden of Eden is located as a group of mounds, about 12 miles south of Ur at a place called Eridu. This region is approximately the centre of the earth’s surface, where it is believed all races of humans originated. Archaeologists have focused their work in this region, and uncovered many artifacts that reveal ancient civilizations.
Other locations that will become important in Genesis include:
Ur – home of Abraham was just 12 miles from Eridu, a well developed city of culture and learning, although it took recent archaeology digs to prove it even existed.
Fara, traditional home of Noah, which was 70 miles away.
Deep anguish for Adam and Eve when one of their sons, Cain, killed his brother Abel. The couple had another son, Seth whose descendants are followed in the history that unfolded since then.
All of them lived incredibly long lives: Adam 930 years; Seth 912 and his descendants to Noah, who lived 950 years. By this time man had learned how to use copper and iron, and invented musical instruments. The length of people’s lives, however, rapidly began to decline after the next major upheaval.
About 1, 600 years from Adam, Noah lived in a period of wickedness that grieved God so much He sent a flood to destroy everything. But, by having Noah build an ark, God saved his family and many pairs of all the animals so life on earth could begin again.
Genesis 6:9-18 tells the history of that terrible period when the boat, 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high, divided into compartments, and as big as an ocean liner, floated during the deluge, while everyone else on earth died. Noah was in the ark one year 17 days; 5 months floating, 7 months resting on a mountain. The Ark rested now on Mt Ararat, 500 miles away from where it had been built. (Note: I saw this mountain in the distance on my way overland from Turkey to Iran.)
This tremendous deluge of water that fell on the earth is believed to have destroyed a misty film that surrounded the earth and had protected people from the damage by the sun’s rays. The Bible also says that in an early period there was a mist that rose up from the land to water it. It was man’s wickedness that caused God’s judgment, but He has promised never to do it again that way, and why we see a rainbow in the sky.
Surely there is a lesson to be learned here that the Living God, the Supreme Being, is to be respected and feared. He cares about the lives of the people living on Earth. But in His own righteousness and holiness, he waits for man to repent, but if man does not, then judgment must happen.
Archaeologists have found a layer of mud, five to eight feet thick, deposited by that flood in three places: Ur (home of Abraham), at Fara (Noah’s home) and at Kish, a suburb of Babylonia, with possibly a fourth place in Nineveh. It contains no evidence of civilization within that strata, but identifiable ones both above and below that layer of soil. Interesting.
Noah had three sons, from whom all races developed after the Flood (Genesis 10:1-11:9): Ham, Shem and Japheth.
Hamites went south to places like Central Arabia, Egypt, the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Three of his sons went to Africa. Caanan, the son of Ham, and his descendants gave his name to a land which later became the homeland of the Jews. A grandson of Ham, Nimrod, was an outstanding leader who build three cities in the Babylonian Valley and also founded Nineveh. For many centuries afterwards, these two cities, Babylon and Nineveh were the leading cities of the world.
Shemites included Assyrians, Syrians, Elamites, and settled in the north Euphrates Valley and its borders.
Japhites went northward and settled in the regions around the Black and Caspian Seas, and became progenitors of the great Caucasian races of Europe and Asia.
It appears that Noah migrated back to his pre-flood home. Noah lived 350 years after the Flood, and died two years before the birth of Abraham.
The next major event in Genesis tells of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, which occurred in the 4th generation after the Flood. (Genesis 11:1-9) The tower was built in the centre around which the famous city of Babylon was built. There are two locations thought to be its origin. Probably a Ziggurat, a temple, built in human pride seeking power, and idol worship. God caused the builders to suddenly not understand each other’s speech , confusing them, and thus halting the completion of this project. People spread out as a result, populating distant regions.
There are about 25 known Ziggurats still in existence today, located mostly in Iran and Iraq. One of the best preserved is the ziggurat of Ur (where Abraham lived), in the present-day Dhi Qar Province, Iraq.
Long before this period, the ancient Sumerians believed their gods lived in the sky. When the Babylonians took over in the south, and the Assyrians in the north, Ziggurats continued to be built and used in the same manner as they were in ancient Sumer. The tallest ziggurat was 300 feet high. It wasn’t until recent times in the 1800s A.D. that people began to realize the importance of these discoveries.
The appearance of Abraham, from Ur, has special significance as he is considered the founding father of the Jewish nation. His own nationality has been disputed, possibly an Armenian. He felt compelled by God to leave his home in Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf and travel with his family to a distant land he did not where, heading north/west on the major trade route to Canaan. Hebrews 11:8. Genesis 12.
Although he was surrounded by idolaters, Abraham was a man who believed in One True God. His faith that God would take care of him, even though he left the security and safety of his current life, is a lesson to encourage all of us.
About 600 miles northwest from Ur was Haran, Abraham’s first major stopping place, where ‘they settled.’ Here, his father died. Now, aged 75, Abraham started again moving south into Canaan with a large caravan of followers. He was not a nomad, but of some wealth. He stopped at several places on his way south, first at Shechem. He built an altar of worship here, then moved on to Bethel, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. He built an altar there for worship, and continued on to Hebron, where he bought a piece of land which became a burial plot, and where he chose to settle.
The rest of the story of his life, including the time he spent in Egypt because there was famine in Canaan, focused on obedience to God. He was a righteous man, and God made a special covenant with him.
Not only would he have a longed for son with his barren wife, Sarah, but his descendants would be many. God promised that all nations of the world would be blessed through him. However, great strain developed when Abraham had a son with someone else.
The drama and jealousy between the heir of promise, Isaac, and his half brother, has continued to this day. Ishmael by Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, would make his home in Arabia, and become the father of Arabians. When man tries to fulfill God’s will through his own efforts, suffering results.
The history now diverges briefly to focus on Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 19. Lot had been kidnapped by invaders, and was rescued in a swift raid north by Abraham and 300 of his men. These two relatives, however, separated because of the demand for grazing room for their large herds of livestock. Lot chose to settle near these cities. That he was miraculously saved when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is another evidence of God’s promise to Abraham.
Where was Sodom and Gomorrah? Most likely the southern end of the Dead Sea. Scholars believe that the cities are buried under the Dead Sea. There is a mountain nearby called “Sodom’ or Usdom.
The Dead Sea
In Abraham’s time, about a third of the southern end of the Dead Sea was a plain. Today the waters at the southern end are barely 10 feet in depth, while at the north end they reach 100 feet in depth. There is belief that during the destruction of the cities, tumultuous events occurred, changing the terrain. The Dead Sea today is below sea level and has a high salt content.
Sarah died age 127 years, and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah that Abraham had bought and is on the west slope of Hebron. It is now under a mosque, who permit no Christian to enter. [Here are buried Abraham, Isaac his son; grandson Jacob, and Jacob’s wives, Rebekah and Leah]
The story of Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his love for his bride, Rebekah, from a marriage his father arranged, and their life together, is passed over fairly quickly. She had twins, Esau and Jacob, and the latter boy becomes the chosen one to continue the lineage of Abraham and the Jewish nation. Esau became the father of the Edomites, whose history continued the conflict between the families in later years.
Although Isaac inherited his father’ s wealth and continued the same pattern of life, he engaged in agriculture near Gerar (Genesis 26:12), which was very successful. However, he found it necessary to move to Beersheba in order to maintain peaceful relations with those around him.
It is Jacob, whose life now takes centre stage towards the end of the Book of Genesis. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, a special status in that era. That event caused Esau to hate his brother and plan to kill him, so Jacob was forced to flee, not knowing it would be almost 20 years before he would see his family again.
He went north to Paddanaram, to his mother’s family near Haran, where he married two daughters of his Syrian uncle, Rachel and Leah. Jacob had children with their two concubines and all together fathered 11 children there. He finally returned to Canaan a very rich man. Genesis 31
The meeting with brother Esau, whom Jacob feared, went well and they departed in peace. Jacob settled his family at Shechem, and worshiped God.
Tragedy struck when Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was raped. Her two brothers, in revenge, wiped out a whole city to murder her attacker. This led to great turmoil and Jacob was forced to move his family to Bethel. Genesis 34. But God met with Jacob and changed his name to Israel, and extended His blessing on this family now of 12 sons.
Benjamin has been born, but Rachel died in childbirth. She was buried near Bethlehem, at a place called Ephrath. Jacob continued on to Hebron, the home of his father, Isaac. Jacob and his brother Esau, who returned from Seir, buried their father there.
In God’s line of promise, all of Abraham’s sons but Isaac were eliminated, and only Jacob of Isaac’s children was chosen. Now all of Jacob’s descendants are included in the Chosen Nation.
The Book of Genesis closes with the account of the life of Jacob’s favourite son by Rachel–Joseph. His brothers were deeply jealous of him. They plotted to kill him, but were persuaded by Reuben and Judah to sell him to some traders, who took him to Egypt, a teenager. He was sold as a slave, and spent 12 years in jail for crimes he did not commit.
Over time Joseph rose to the second highest position in the land, just below Pharaoh. As the Chief Administrator, Joseph gathered and stored huge quantities of grain because he had been warned by God of a coming period of great trouble that would last seven years.
Because God gave him great wisdom and blessed his efforts, Joseph was able to save his own Jewish family in the terrible famine that was wide spread, even into Canaan. Jacob reunited with his son. Now aged 130 years old, he moved all the persons belonging to him totaling 66 (plus the wives of the sons) from Canaan to Egypt. ( Genesis 47:9-12), Adding Joseph made Jacob’s family that came to Egypt a total of 70. (Gen 46:27).
Pharaoh gave them the best area of Goshen, and Joseph oversaw their care. Jacob died in Egypt. Joseph took his father’s body home to Canaan and buried him in the cave at Hebron. Thus a span of 215 years passed from Abraham coming to Canaan and Jacob going to Egypt.
All returned to Egypt to live out their remaining days. Nearing his death, Joseph has Jacob’s descendants promise to take his bones back to Canaan when they would finally leave in the future–which turned out to be 430 years later, a nation that might have been as large as two million people, which introduces the Book of Exodus. The Israelites didn’t forget Joseph, and we remember him to this day. Exodus 13:19.
Joseph’s embalmed body was years later buried near Shechem in a field that his father, Jacob, had given him (Genesis 50:26; Joshua 24:32) and near the well Jacob built. A church was build around the well in the 4th Century, and rebuilt by the Crusaders; there is today an unfinished Greek Orthodox basilica on this site.
When speaking to his brothers who had been so cruel to him as a lad, Joseph understood ‘when life hurts’. He said ” Do not be afraid, be grieved, or angry with yourselves because you sold me. You meant evil against me. God meant it for good. He sent me before you to preserve many people alive. Now, therefore it is not you who sent me here, but God.…I will provide for you, and he kissed all his brothers and wept on them and afterwards his brothers talked with him.”
What a testimony of forgiveness, and grace– unmerited favour–and of love. Are these not the qualities we so long to have in our own lives and especially with our children and others. It is a glory to overlook an insult, and Joseph kept on doing that all his life. He rose above his pain, and turned it into blessing, and saved the lives of thousands because he did.
God has a plan for each one of us. What is your destiny? Are you another Joseph, struggling to rise above the cruelties of life, even in a prison for something you did not do? There are many prisons in life, not just the physical ones. Perhaps the greatest battlefield is our own mind. You may be destined for something great, yet unknown, and are being tested just like Joseph.
Or, are you like the Pharaoh who, years later, forgot him and hated the Jews and tried to kill them all. Most of us, I think, are somewhere in between. It is a wise choice to embrace the lessons from these people, and let the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob be honoured, above all else.
The Book of Exodus
The history of Egypt as a growing world power was tempered by the invasion of the Hyksos, people using horse and chariot, which were unknown to the Egyptians, and who arrived from Asia to occupy the land about 1600 B.C. for about a century and a half. It was probably during this period or just before it that the history of Jacob moving to Egypt occurred. In time, the Hyksos were expelled, and three dynasties reigned in Egypt increasing its military power. The following history of Egypt occurred.
Egypt’s was a land of many gods. Temples were numerous in the land. Egyptians believed in a life after death. This is evidenced in the pyramids in which adequate provisions were made for the royal afterlife. Even servants were slain and placed beside their master’s bodies.
About 300 years passed between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Exodus, or from the death of Joseph to birth of a new leader God chose, Moses, from the Levites, a Jewish priesthood.
Egypt had many Pharaohs, who became increasingly alarmed at the rapid increase of the Jews, whom they saw as a threat to national security. They reduced them to slavery to control them. The Israelite people, forced into increasing hard labour, are credited with building the city of Ramses. Exodus 1:15-22. (We realize now that God was preparing his people physically for the arduous journey ahead. Could it be that God is working in the circumstances of your life today and mine for something yet to be revealed)?
A cruel Pharaoh ordered the death of all Jewish male newborns. But one such baby, Moses, was hidden and then miraculously adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who paid his mother to care for him.
Moses was instructed in all the Egyptian wisdom and learning (Acts 7:22). The Book of Exodus of the Bible tells the life story of Moses and of the Jews that God sent Moses to lead out of the land to go to Canaan. Moses is considered the greatest prophet in Jewish history (Deuteronomy 34:10).
From a position of high esteem, however, Moses was forced to flee the land when he killed an Egyptian trying to help his own people. He lived for the next 40 years in the backside of the desert in the area near Midian. Even his journey to get there and then back to Egypt may have taken him twice over some of the same ground he would later lead the Israelites. God prepared him. But God also humbled him.
Moses married and had sons, and became a shepherd and a nomad. It was at Mt Horeb that Moses received his miraculous call from God.
With his brother Aaron as the spokesman, the pair, now in their 80s, faced the wrath of a new Pharaoh–possibly Merneptah (1235-1220 BC), who was aggressive in building the military, and based in the Goshen area of Egypt where the Jews lived, while other Pharoah’ s lived about 400 miles south and where nomads did not usually go. But newer archaeological discoveries seem to put this event earlier than his reign, even before Ramses II.
If one uses the Bible in I Kings 6:1 “the Exodus was 480 years to Solomon’s Temple“, that seems to date things about 1450 BC. That would put the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt during the powerful reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (his reign 1479-1425 BC) with Hatshepsut.
Under Thuthmose III, the Egyptian army marched to the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia, and sailed the Mediterranean Sea along the Phoenician coast. He was the greatest conquerer in Egyptian history, and his tomb is at Thebes. He may have been the oppressor of Israel. If so, then famous Queen Hatshepsut may have been the Pharaoh’s Daughter who rescued and brought up Moses. There is considerable debate about who was the Pharaoh and when did the events occur during the period of Moses and the Exodus.
This should not distract from the powerful events that unfolded. This report is meant as a light summary to help the reader get a general understanding of things that happened in the history of the past.
How amazing that today we can see the face of the Pharaohs in Moses’ life. All four mummies of these Egyptian leaders have been found and are on display in Cairo.
When Moses asked that the Jews might leave for three days to worship their God, Pharaoh refused. He continued to do so through terrible plagues that God sent to prove He alone was mightier than any Egyptian god or Pharaoh. However, when all the first born sons, including Pharaoh’s son, and first born of all livestock of the Egyptians died in a night, Pharaoh had had enough, and expelled the Jews.
The Jews left the same night in a hurry, but plundered their neighbours for silver and gold, which was given willingly because the people now feared the God of the Jews and Moses. It was this wealth that would later be used in religious worship. The departure of anywhere from 600,000 to a million people on the move was no small event. Egypt never rose to world fame again after the destruction of its economy during the plagues.
This event is called The Exodus, and is remembered every spring by the Jews with the celebration of the Passover and Feast of Unleaven Bread.
Some archaeologist believe that a sudden volcanic eruption near Crete, which physically reshaped the island and destroyed its people, may have caused a tsunami that swept across the Mediterranean sea to Egypt. It first sucked back the waters facing the Jews to create the passage way across that wetland, and then shortly afterwards came roaring inward in tremendous force to drown the Egyptian army that was following. This same eruption may have caused the plagues, and even the fire in the sky that led them in the wilderness by night. Fascinating reading and certainly possible in how God used nature several times in creating some of the miracles of the Bible.
A journey that should have taken no more than 11 days on a well-traveled road, took them 40 years through a wilderness because of continual rebellion, idol worship and discouragements, says the Bible. Moses may have been aware of the strong Egyptian military presence and its danger on the direct route.
God supplied quail and manna for food in their long journey to Canaan.Quail normally fly over the region between Africa and Europe in their migration and land to rebuilt their strength before continuing their journey, making them easy prey to those who are hungry. The shattering of a certain type of rock, Moses’ miracle that released water trapped behind it, has occurred at others times in history. It is the timing of these things that is so special, occurring just when a miracle is needed.
Of great interest to me was discovering that manna, a thin, waver-like sweet substance still falls on the region today. This was the main food for the people, along with the meat from the birds. That the manna ended might be because the people moved out of the area where it is found. I hope these discoveries help you appreciate the depths yet to be discovered in this history.
It took time for Moses to get the people organized, but he did in the year they stayed at Mr Sinai, where they arrived within the first three months of travel. This may reflect his education as an Egyptian. I wonder if he even served in its military because of his skill in organizing this huge population into such a controlled unit. Notice the order in which the camp was evacuated. Notice the protections in place around the ark, and specifically assigned duties, even a rear guard, as the camp moved forward.
He was human, too, taking on too much trying to deal with people’s complaints. His father-in-law advised him to divide the responsibilities into smaller units, so he could focus on major leadership issues and save his strength. A lesson even for leaders. What might you do to ease your own tiredness and strain, and give others a sense of purpose and value?
It was at Mount Sinai that the people were given the Law, especially the 10 Commandments as the guide for life. It was here that God initiated a covenant with the people who had been slaves, but now became a nation.
The people, under Moses’ guidance, also developed a tented Tabernacle system for worship, and received many rules for living that protected them especially health-wise. These are listed very specifically in next two books of the Old Testament.
Model in Timna Valley Park, Israel
Now the 12 tribes marched in specific order, when the cloud of God lifted from over the tabernacle or His fire in the sky moved at night. Moses had a trumpet sound in two long blasts to alert the people it was time to move out.
A census taken shortly after leaving Egypt, and again just before entering Canaan, indicated about 600,000 Israelite men, aged 20 and over ready for battle in both census, plus all the women and children, flocks and herds and a few others that accompanied them. What a miracle in itself that the nation survived those terrible conditions for that length of time and overcame, even as Israel still does today.
When they reached Kadesh Barnea, about 40 miles southwest of Beersheba, where they stayed for an extended length of time, 12 spies were sent to study the land of Canaan. Upon their return , the people accepted the negative report of 10 spies, instead of the glowing report by two others, Joshua and Caleb.
This led to an open longing to return to Egypt. The people threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb, and demanded new leadership, until punished when the ground opened and swallowed the main rebels. The 10 spies died in a plague.
So God pronounced judgment that everyone, except Joshua and Caleb, 20 years and older would never enter Canaan. Everyone who left Egypt, but those two men, died on that journey.
This led to some confession of sin with the people humbled. They immediately tried to enter Canaan, but were defeated. Theirs was not a true repentance because the people continued to grumble and complain.
Are we doing the same thing? Looking at all the negatives in life, instead of the the blessings, even blaming God at times. Perhaps God is holding back the answer to our prayer requests because of our lack of faith in His goodness and our complaining. Forgive us, LORD.
Not long afterwards, both Aaron and Miriam died and Moses’ attempt to cross the land of Edom was refused. So the people turned south, towards the Gulf of Aqaba, then gradually back up until God’s decision was fulfilled and people died off. 40 long years in the desert, miraculously sustained It was the children of those who left Egypt who re-established the Jewish nation and entered Canaan.
I pause to acknowledge that there are three different routes that may have been used in this journey. This one on the map reflects what most scholars believe was where they travelled.
Moses, himself, was not permitted to enter because of one serious sin, but he did see Canaan from the top of Mr Nebo, where he died. Moses gave over leadership to Joshua he had trained, and the Book of Exodus ends with the people at the border, ready to conquer the land.
We don’t know any more about our own future than they did in those moments. But we can trust God’s guidance in it all, if we ask for it and seek it.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. In all your ways acknowledge HIM and He will direct your path.