God Controls Everything, Even the Dew & The Southern Wilderness

The song of Moses was not completely clear, but much easier than this one.

“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Jdg 6:1). 

The Midianites and the Amalekites had so much cattle and camels that you could not count them, and they decided to come to the children of Israel and let their animals destroy the land.

Land or tribal league?
Some scholars have suggested that ‘Midian’ does not refer to geographic places or a specific tribe, but to a confederation or ‘league’ of tribes brought together as a collective for worship purposes. Paul Haupt first made this suggestion in 1909, describing Midian as a ‘cultic collective’ (Kultgenossenschaft) or an ‘amphictyony’, meaning ‘an association (Bund) of different tribes in the vicinity of a sanctuary’. Elath, on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba was suggested as the location of the first shrine, with a second sanctuary located at Kadesh.
Later writers have questioned the identified sanctuary locations but supported the thesis of a Midianite league. George Mendenhall suggested that the Midianites were a non-Semitic confederate group, and William Dumbrell maintained the same case:
“We believe that Haupt’s proposal is to be adopted, and that Midian, rather than depicting a land, is a general term for an amorphous league of the Late Bronze Age, of wide geographical range, who, after a series of reverses, the most prominent of which are recorded in Judges 6–7, largely disappeared from the historical scene….
Religion
It is uncertain which deities the Midianites worshipped. Through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites they are thought to have worshipped a multitude, including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven, Ashteroth. According to Karel van der Toorn, “By the 14th century BC, before the cult of Yahweh had reached Israel, groups of Edomite and Midianites worshipped Yahweh as their god.”
An Egyptian temple of Hathor at Timna continued to be used during the Midianite occupation of the site (terminal Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age); the Midianites transformed the Hathor mining temple into a desert tent-shrine. In addition to the discovery of post-holes, large quantities of red and yellow decayed cloth with beads woven into it, along with numerous copper rings/wire used to suspend the curtains, were found all along two walls of the shrine.
Beno Rothenberg, the excavator of the site, suggested that the Midianites were making offerings to Hathor, especially since a large number of Midianite votive vessels (25%) were discovered in the shrine. However, whether Hathor or some other deity was the object of devotion during this period is difficult to ascertain.
A small bronze snake with gilded head was also discovered in the naos of the Timna mining shrine, along with a hoard of metal objects that included a small bronze figurine of a bearded male god, which according to Rothenberg was Midianite in origin. Michael Homan observes that the Midianite tent-shrine at Timna is one of the closest parallels to the biblical Tabernacle.

And as usual, they cried out to God and He sent a prophet to them and he told them what He said:

…Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;

“And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;

And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.

And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. 

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.

And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us?  And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?  But now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? 

And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel?  Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.

And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. 

Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee.  And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.

And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.  

And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth.  And he did so.

Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes.  Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight” (Jdg 6:8-21).

God then told Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal, so he did.  In the morning, the men saw that the altar was destroyed and went to find Gideon in order to kill him.

“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.  And Gideon said unto God,

Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. 

And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground” (Jdg 6:39-40).

The Southern Wilderness 

South of Beer-sheba, rainfall amounts drop sharply, and the landscape becomes increasingly rugged.  The Bible refers to this area as “wilderness.”

The Wilderness of Zin stretches southeast of Beer-sheba, while portions of the Wilderness of Paran intrude from the Sinai near Kadesh-barnea.  Jagged peaks, desolate plateaus, and craterlike depressions punctuate this foreboding land.  

During New Testament times the Nabateans, an Arab people, inhabited portions of the Negeb, the southern wildernesses, and the Transjordan.  They controlled the Arabian trade routes from Petra to Gaza.

The Nabateans were also adept agriculturalists in marginal desert regions.  Their innovative irrigation techniques (e.g., dams, catch basins, etc.) made the southern deserts bloom. 

The Jordan Rift

Nature has divided Palestine into two segments by a deep cleft, the Jordan Rift.  This cleft in the earth’s surface is part of a great fissure extending from eastern Turkey into Africa.  In Palestine most of the Rift lies below sea level, reaching a maximum depth of 1,300 feet at the Dead Sea.

The higher mountains and plateaus to the east and west of the Rift make the effect more dramatic.  Most of the perennial rivers and bodies of water of Palestine are found in the Jordan Rift, which drains 70 percent of the land.  Five divisions of the Rift should be noted: the Huleh Basin, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and the Arabah.

The Wilderness of Zin/Sin is a geographic area mentioned in the Bible as containing Kadesh-Barnea within it; and it is therefore also referred to as the “Wilderness of Kadesh”.

Most scholars, as well as traditional sources, consequently identify this wilderness as being part of the Arabah.

Mentioned in the Bible as being adjacent to Mount Sinai; some consider Sinai to refer to al-Madhbah at Petra, adjacent to the central Arabah

It was this region that T. E. Lawrence (nicknamed Lawrence of Arabia) was exploring in a military survey for the British army when he was drafted into service.

His expedition, funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund, included a survey of the entire Negev Desert.

“And the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness 40 years until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was consumed” (Num 32:13).

Imagine, 40 years in the wilderness in the same outfit – with the same people, with a monotonous diet of quails and manna, never knowing what the future had in store.

What was it really like – the environment of this “great wilderness” – that taught the children of Israel an unparalleled lesson in humility?

The Huleh Basin 

The Huleh Basin is a depression caught between Upper Galilee and the Eastern Plateau.  Mount Hermon (9,232 feet) flanks the basin on the northeast.  Numerous springs dot the area, fed  by the melting snows of Mount Hermon.

Principal springs emerge in southern Lebanon (Nahr al-Hasbani), Dan (Nahr al-Qadi), and near Cae-sarea Philippi (Nahr al-Baniyas) and are the source of the Jordan River.  In antiquity, the waters collected in the southern end of the basin forming a marshy lake, Lake Huleh.  

Today the marshes have been drained, but in ancient times they hindered travel, promoted disease, and foiled settlementin the center of the basin.   Yet the climate, refreshing springs, and fertile soil invited the establishment of cities, especially away from the marshes.

Hazor, Dan Abel-beth-maacah, and Ijon all were located along the perimeter of the basin.   At the southern end of the basin the Jordan River begins a rapid descent southward.  

The name Jordan probably comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to descend,” appropriate for a river that drops 40 feet per mile in some places.

The Sea of Galilee

This famous body of water is a freshwater lake 13 miles long and 7 miles wide.   The surface of the lake is 690 feet below sea level, surrounded on all sides by higher land. 

In the Bible, the lake bears several names: Sea of Galilee (Mk 1:16), Sea of Tiberias (Jn 6:1), Sea of Chinnereth (Deut 3:17), Lake Gennesaret (Lk 5:1), or simply “the  lake” (Lk 5:2).

A branch of the International Coastal Highway skirted the northwest shore of the lake by the Plain of Gennesaret.   Capernaum, Magdala, and Bethsaida were located along the north/northwest shore.  

Local towns and villages depended on the fishing  industries and agriculture products provided by the lake.  Even today the lakes classic beauty calls to mind the miracles and teachings Jesus performed along its shores.

Jordan Valley

For approximately 70 miles the Jordan River winds its way south from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea through the Jordan Valley. 

The volume of the Jordan doubled with the influx from the Yarmuk River in antiquity, but modern water conservation techniques greatly restrict the present water volume.  The northern half of the Jordan Valley is well watered and fertile, with numerous traces of ancient settlements.

Key cities (Adam, Succoth, Zarethan, Beth-shan) developed at points where natural routes connected the highlands to the east and west.

The Jordan cut a deep gorge (in Arabic, Zor) that contained dense thick­ets of trees and shrubs, the “pride of the Jordan” (Jer. 49:19).  In biblical times this dense vegetation harbored wild animals, includ­ing lions (Jer- 50:44).

The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is located in the Syro-African Rift, a 4000-mile fault line in the earth’s crust.
The lowest point of dry land on earth is the shoreline of the Dead Sea at 1300 feet below sea level.
That the lake is at the lowest point means that water does not drain from this lake.
Daily 7 million tons of water evaporate but the minerals remain, causing the salt content to increase.
Figures for the Dead Sea’s salinity today range from 26-35%.
Mineral-Rich
Nearly ten times as salty as the world’s oceans and twice as saline as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Dead Sea is rich with minerals.
The Dead Sea Works company on the southwest side of the lake employs 1600 people around the clock to harvest the valuable minerals from the water.
Potash is the most valuable of those extracted today and is used in the manufacture of fertilizer.
The water feels thick and almost oily. As soon as you touch it, your fingers feel soft when you rub them together as if there is a microscopic layer between them. When you look at the water, you can see ripples, kind of like what you might see in a thick alcohol or liqueur.
The Dead Sea is nothing short of amazing. The reason why it is so easy to float in the Dead Sea is because it is the second saltiest body of water in the world, with a 33% salt content. The high salt content makes anyone buoyant and actually makes it pretty impossible to swim or do anything other than float. The Dead Sea, which is actually a large lake, is so full of salt and minerals, nothing can live in it. For being so salty, the water is pretty clear in the non-muddy areas, and you can see ledges of salty buildup both in and out of the water.
Healthy Water
The unique concentration of the Dead Sea waters has long been known to have medicinal value. Aristotle, Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra were all familiar with this and modern doctors as well often prescribe patients with skin ailments to soak in the waters of the Dead Sea. Because of the dropping level of the Dead Sea, the southern end is no longer under water, except for that which is channeled by aqueducts for the purpose of extracting minerals.
It is said to be the location of the destroyed cities of Sedom and Amorah.
Its most important role was as a barrier, blocking traffic to Judah from the east.
An advancing army of Ammonites and Moabites apparently crossed a shallow part of the Dead Sea on their way to attack King Jehoshaphat.
Ezekiel prophesied that one day the Dead Sea will be fresh water and fishermen will spread their nets along the shore.

The southern Jordan Valley is drier, almost desert like.  Jericho flourishes in an oasis nourished by several springs in the midst of this arid. 

The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is unique among the bodies of water on earth.  About 50 miles long and 10 miles wide, the surface of the sea lies 1,300 feet below sea level – the lowest place on the earth’s surface.  The Lisan Peninsula protrudes into the sea from the east, dividing the Dead Sea into two unequal parts.

The larger northern por­tion of the sea reaches depths of 1,300 feet, but the smaller southern sector averages less than 30 feet.  Oppres­sively hot temperatures and dry cli­mate grip the entire region.  The barren, ragged landscape possesses an eerie beauty all its own.

Known in the Bible as the “Salt Sea” or “Sea of the Arabah” (Deut 3:17), the Dead Sea receives water from several freshwater tributaries and springs.  Among the larger streams, the Jordan flows in from the north, while the Arnon and Zered enter the sea from the east.

However, the rivers have no exit.  The waters absorb salts and other chemicals from numerous deposits in the region.  The extreme heat of the region concentrates the chemicals by evaporation with the result that the Dead Sea consists of 26 to 33 percent salts – a ratio several times saltier than normal sea water and almost twice as salty as the Great Salt Lake.

These conditions discouraged habitation except where freshwater springs (En-gedi, Ain Feshkha) made settlement possible.  Refugees, like David as he fled from King Saul (1 Sam. 26), found safety in the numerous caves of the region.

Later, the Qumran sectarians hid their library in caves along the northwest shore.  Beginning in 1947, shepherd boys discov­ered scrolls today known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” Herod the Great built two for­tresses, Masada and Macherus, along the shores of the Dead Sea.

Arabah

The Jor­dan Rift continues south of the Dead Sea 110 miles to the Gulf of Aqabah.  The Bible calls this region the Arabah, a dry and desolate region.

Occasionally the Bible uses the term Arabah in a broader sense, including parts of the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea (Josh. 18:18), but here the more restricted sense is used.

Immediately south of the Dead Sea, the Arabah is below sea level, but a gradual elevation rises above sea level midway to The red Nubian sandstone of Edom on the east and the of the Negeb to the west contrast with the monotonous of the Arabah.

Extremely dry and isolated, the Arabah, nonetheless, strategic importance for several reasons.  In biblical Arabah held important copper deposits located near Punon and Timna.  Ezion-geber, a seaport built by Solomon  on the Gulf of Aqabah, received the wealth of Arabia and Africa the fleet stationed there. 

Highways linking Ezion-geber with Judah ran the length of the Arabah.  Control of the Arabah was economically important to the court of Jerusalem.