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Dear friends,

Welcome to my blog. I am honored to have you visit. I hope you'll find my articles a blessing. I welcome your input and especially comments and questions.

I write as a Christian from Jerusalem, Israel about Biblical subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subjects of children, families, women's issues, corporal punishment, science and nature as these subjects relate to the Holy Scriptures.

For more information, see my website: www.biblechild.com

With every good wish - Samuel Martin

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Trip Down a River To The Source - Part Five

A Trip Down a River To The Source - Part Five

Abraham lived in a country full of "deceitful brooks"

When we talk about brooks, we think of these bubbling streams full of jumping fish and clean water, but when the English Bible versions use the term "brook" it is a bit unfortunate because it contributes a little bit to our misconceptions about the Bible lands. However, if we are talking about water sources which are irregular, fleeting, disappearing and here today and gone tomorrow, the region where Abraham lived is full of these. 

To really understand the nature of these 'deceitful brooks" we really need a first-hand account to help us understand what Abraham was choosing when he chose to stay up in the hill country. Professor Hackett, who visited the Holy Land about 150 years ago gives a wonderful picture of what I am talking about here. In his fascinating book "Illustrations of Scripture Suggested By A Tour Through The Holy Land", in a section titled 'The Deceitful Brook' (pg. 20) he says:

"On the second of April I crossed a stone bridge over the bed of a stream to the right of the village of Kulonieh, an hour and a half north-west of Jerusalem. It was then entirely destitute of water. Prokesch, a German traveler, who passed here a few weeks later in the season, speaks of it as a rushing stream when he saw it. Otto von Richter, who was here in August, though he mentions the place under a wrong name, says that is contained then a little water. Salzbacher, who saw the brook near the end of June, says that it was entirely dry. Richardson, an English traveler, speaks of it on the fifteenth of April as 'a small brook, trickling down through the valley.' It varies not only in winter, and summer, but at the same season in different years. It may be taken, however, as a fair example of what is true of Eastern brooks in general. They flow with water during the rainy season; but after that, are liable to be soon dried up, or, if they contain water, contain it only for a longer or shorter time, according to their situation and the severity of the heat of particular years. Hence, the traveler in quest of water must often be disappointed when he comes to such streams. he may find them entirely dry; or, he may find the water gone at the place where he approaches them, though it may still linger in other places which elude his observation; he may perceive, from the moisture of the ground, that the last drops have just disappeared, and that he has arrived but a few hours too late for the attainment of his object.

The chances of obtaining water in the desert are equally precarious. The inter torrents there, owing to the rapidity with which the sand absorbs them, are still more transient. The spring, which supplied a well yesterday, may fail today; or the drifting sand may choke it up, and obliterate every trace of it. On the ninth day of my journey, after leaving Cairo, we heard of a well at some distance from the regular course, and, as the animals (except the camels) needed to be watered, we turned aside to visit the place. We traveled for some miles over immense sand-heaps and under a burning sun, with the thermometer at ninety Fahrenheit. It was out lot to be disappointed. We found the well, indeed, but without a drop of water in it that could be reached by us. The wind had blown the sand into it, and buried it up to such a depth, that all hope of relief from that source was cut off.

This liability of a person in the East to be deceived in his expectation of finding water is the subject of repeated allusion in the Scriptures. In Job 6:15, it furnishes an expressive image for representing the fickleness and treachery of false-hearted friends.

'My brethren have dealt deceitfully like a brook,
As the channel of brooks which pass away;
Which are turbid by reason of the ice,
In which is hidden the melted snow,
As soon as the waters flow off they are gone;
When the heat comes, they vanish from their place.
The caravans on their way turn aside;
They go up into the desert, and perish/
The caravans of Tema search anxiously,
The wayfarers of Sheba look to them with hope.
They are ashamed because they trusted in them;
They come to them and are confounded.'

Our English version of the above passage fails to bring out the image distinctly. The Foregoing translation, which I have brought nearer to the original, may be made clearer, perhaps, by a word of explanation. The idea is, that in spring the streams are full; they rush along swollen from the effect of the melting snow and ice. Summer comes, and they can no longer be trusted. Those journeying in the region of such streams, fainting with thirst, travel many a weary step out of the way, in pursuit of them, in the hope that water may still be found in them. They arrive at the place, but only to be disappointed. The deceitful brook has fled. The sufferers were in the last extremity -- it was their only hope, and they die.

Tema is a region in the north of the Arabian Desert; Sheba a region of Arabia Felix. 'Caravans' says Umbreit, from those particular places are mentioned to give life and individuality to the picture.' The scene is laid in Arabia, because it is in that country especially that travelers are liable to suffer from want of water.

Another passage where we meet with the same comparison is that in Jeremiah 15:18. The prophet's sky had long been darkened with trouble and sorrow; but the deliverer, for who interposition he waited, delayed to come:

Why is my affliction perpetual,
And my wound incurable;
It will not be healed. 
Thou art to me as a lying brook,
As waters which are not enduring." (Hackett quote ends here)

Here we can see a stark difference between Abraham and Lot. Abraham chose the land of the deceitful brook over the well watered plains of the Jordan. He chose to rely on God and this is what really captures life here in the hill country of Israel.

To be continued...

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Trip Down A River to the Source – Part Four

A Trip Down A River to the Source – Part Four

So, it is easy to see how in an environment of a growing animal herd in an area where you do not have much water like in Jerusalem and the hill country of Ephraim just to the north of Jerusalem where Abraham was living, strife between herders competing for scarce resources for their animals would not be unusual.

So Lot made a decision.

"And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)" (Genesis 13:10 ESV)

This is an important text for a number of reasons. First, the region of the Jordan Valley was at that time relatively speaking "well watered" and was a paradise, "like the Garden of the LORD (Eden)" and very importantly "like the land of Egypt."

Now why is the mentioning of that region being like the Garden of Eden and like the country of Egypt important? It is because of the presence of water mainly from the Jordan River, but also because of one other reason. Notice it right at the end of verse 10: "This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." This is significant. 

Now, today the region of the Dead Sea, which in ancient times was called the 'Salt Sea' (Genesis 14:3), did not in any way appear like it does today.

When you go to that region and imagine what it might have looked like in ancient times, you really get a feeling of what the Garden of Eden must have been like. It seems fairly clear that the Garden of Eden was located in Southern Iraq just to the North of where the major rivers empty into the Persian Gulf and in that area it is quite warm most of the year. It is the same thing in this region of Jericho today. It is a beautiful desert climate. 

But what we have to understand is that at one time before the Dead Sea came into existence in the time of Abraham and Lot, this area was not the Dead Sea, but it was a beautiful lake with the Jordan River feeding it. 

One cannot determine the precise dimensions of that lake and it is quite hard to say with certainty anything about it exactly, but Genesis 13 says that region was like "the Garden of the Lord."

Let's be clear. This environment is one where mangoes, bananas, date palms, oranges, lemons, even pineapple can and does grow. The dates from this region are particularly prized. Check an artists representation of what we are talking about below.  

Artists representation of the Jordan River in the time of Jesus. 
Taken at the Jerusalem Natural History Museum.

When we realize also that there was a small part of the landscape just to the north of the point where the Jordan River entered the Dead Sea, which was known as a Savannah landscape (called Sudanian Penetration Zone - which in technical terms means a 'mini Africa' type of landscape) which had the lion as the top of the food chain, you get a paradisiacal environment which resembled the Garden of Eden, which also had a great deal of wildlife in its environment. 

Note: This is an icon of St. Gerasimos, who lived very near the Jordan river some 1,500 years ago (a monastery still occupies the spot today where he lived) and we see in the icon, the saint caring for a lion who was his companion. That lion, named Jordan, appears to have accompanied the saint throughout his life. 

But while this is the case, let us be clear, some 20 miles to the west, some 4,200 feet above the bottom of the Jordan valley (which itself is some 1,400 feet below sea level), in Bethel, Abraham lived and the well watered plains of the Jordan were a whole world away and had no impact on Abraham and his lifestyle. In the hill country, the community there was totally dependent upon springs and upon God's bountiful rains that they needed to come in due season, because without them, life was very hard in that area because it was not well watered.

To be continued…

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Trip Down A River To The Source - Part Three

A Trip Down A River To The Source - Part Three

Now, here is where I have to point something out which I think is quite important to understanding this text (and in fact many similar texts in the Hebrew Bible [known normally to us Christians as the Old Testament]). The point here concerns the issue of Biblical geography. It also concerns the need to have some general understanding of the issue of Biblical meteorology (the weather sciences - something that my late father in particular was really an expert at as he was a professional meteorologist in the US Air Force)), because without an understanding of these issues, you are missing the richness and an important aspect of what is happening in this text. We really need to get connected here to God's creation a little bit and not just any experience of God's creation. No! Our experience should be rooted in the same Biblical geography and meteorology that Isaiah the prophet was familiar with. I think everyone can appreciate the rightness of this strategy. (This book is an essential volume to have in your library - http://www.amazon.com/The-Geography-Bible-Denis-Baly/dp/0060603712)

Let me give a small example of this which I think most people will understand and see some value in. 

Look at Isaiah 10:

"He has come to Aiath; he has passed through Migron; at Michmash he stores his baggage; they have crossed over the pass; at Geba they lodge for the night; Ramah trembles; Gibeah of Saul has fled. Cry aloud, O daughter of Gallim! Give attention, O Laishah! O poor Anathoth! Madmenah is in flight; the inhabitants of Gebim flee for safety. This very day he will halt at Nob; he will shake his fist at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem." (Isaiah 10:28-32 ESV)

These twelve localities mentioned in the text above were villages in ancient times which were located in the Northern district of Jerusalem.

If you think on them and study them a bit further, you will find some more familiarity. For example, the "Anathoth" mentioned was the hometown of the prophet Jeremiah. Note the following:

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, ... (Jeremiah 1:1 ESV)

Anathoth, like most of these twelve villages, was located in the ancient land of Benjamin, which occupied the northern area from the area of the ancient Temple north of Jerusalem about 15 miles. 

Now, all of us, I think, in general are very familiar with the city of Jerusalem in this text, but we may not be as familiar with some of these other geographical terms, which, of course, are important to Isaiah (and also to the LORD, who inspired Isaiah to write this). But herein lies the point. Unless you attempt to familiarize yourself with these geographical terms, your understanding of this text is certainly not going to be at the level of someone who is really intimately familiar with Biblical geography. In fact, you’re just going to read over this material and not really understand its intent, but if you know the Biblical geography, you are going to see things in this text which are just not apparent to those not in tune with the geography that Isaiah knew. Without properly orienting yourself to the geography of the Bible, you just will not have the "eyes" needed to "see" what is going on or really being said.

Now, this is exactly the same thing we find in Isaiah 66 and here we are talking about the introduction by Isaiah of the term "river" in this text. This is because Isaiah is not just introducing this concept of a "river" out of the clear blue sky. No, not for one moment. 

Here is where we really need to think this through a bit and in fact it is where having a proper understanding of Biblical geography and Biblical meteorology is so helpful in really capturing what it is the prophet is telling us and what we are going to find here is such a wonderful thing of beauty being expressed. But to see this whole picture the prophet is showing for those who have "eyes to see it" and "ears to hear it", we really have to go back to the beginning. 

Rivers in the Bible

When we go back to the beginning of the Bible, we can see that a river was a key part of the landscape of the Garden of Eden. 

"A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates."

(Genesis 2:10-14 ESV)

So the Garden of Eden was a riverine oriented environment. Anyone who has a garden knows that to have a prosperous one, you need water. In the drier environments of the Middle East, water really is closely linked to life. If you do not have water, you will have serious problems.

We must understand that the land of Israel was not a riverine culture like Egypt. "Palestine does not depend, like Egypt (or Babylon) on the water supplied by the overflow from the river, but 'drinketh water of the rain of heaven." (Deuteronomy 11:11) - Hastings Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, article 'Water' Vol. 12, pg. 715.

One only need to remind themselves of the drought period mentioned in the book of Genesis (42:3) to know that without water, especially in an agrarian society, one simply cannot live.

It was this fact of needing water and the abundance associated with it that caused Lot to move down to the plains area near the Jordan river here in Israel. Even though those societies were evil, Lot saw the situation he was facing where he was living next Abraham and saw that the solution he needed involved securing water for his flocks. Why was this? This is where a clear understanding of Biblical geography is not only helpful, but really a necessity.

When we consider the geography and the lay of the land where this incident of Lot looking down to the plains area of the Jordan river, it is very easy to understand why they were having problems. When you have many animals competing for scarce water and fodder resources for animals, problems can arise and this is what happened in the area where they found themselves. Note Genesis 13:1-7:

"So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock." (ESV) 

Now, the location where they were staying, the region of Bethel, is a well-known locality which is about 15 miles directly north of Jerusalem. In fact, this region of Bethel is one of the highest points in the Jerusalem region and its elevation is at least 2,800 feet above sea level and it is definitely a highland terrain. 

Biblical scholars have recognized for centuries that while there have been some changes here in Israel relative to the presence of forests, the overall climate has not changed that much. Note CBTEL:

"In the sense in which we employ the word (river), vis. for a perennial stream of considerable size, a river is a much rarer object in the East than to the West. The majority of the inhabitants of Palestine at the present day (written in 1874) have probably never seen one. With the exception of the Jordan and the Litany, the streams of the Holy land are either entirely dried up in the summer months, and converted into hot lanes of glaring stones, or else reduced to very small streamlets deeply in a narrow bed, and concealed from view by a dense growth of shrubs. The cause of this is two fold: on the one hand, the hilly nature of the country - a central mass of highland descending on each side of a lower level and on the other the extreme heat of the climate during the summer. There is little doubt that in ancient times the country was more wooded that it now is, and that, in consequence, the evaporation was less, and the streams more frequent; yet this cannot have made any very material difference in the permanence of the water in the thousands of valleys which divide the hills of Palestine." (Strong; Cyclopedia, Vol. IX, pg. 38-39, art. 'river')

Note: The oak is really one of the most important tree species in ancient Israel with specimens living many hundreds of years or in some cases even longer. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Trip Down A River To The Source - Part Two

A Trip Down A River To The Source - Part Two

"In an excellent article about the nature of God written by Professor Trible in The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible (Supplemental volume) there is a survey of some major sections of the Old Testament that indicate female features associated with God.   Prof.  Trible comments:

'The Old Testament appropriates both andromorphic (man-form] and gynomorphic [female-form] images to portray a God who relates to human concerns.  Though often neglected in Old Testament theology, the female images are especially important for an expanding knowledge of ways in
which the divine and the human meet' (p. 365).

There are many Old Testament examples of the female image connected with God. In Deuteronomy 32:18 God is called the "Rock that begat thee" and the "God that formed thee [or that brought thee to birth]."  Prof. Trible shows that God has deep motherly compassion.

"Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget (Isaiah 49:15).

God is even given uterine qualities when we see his creation of atmospheric phenomena that we observe over the earth. Such things spring forth from God's "womb."  Professor Trible says that when the word "womb" is pluralized (Hebrew: 
רַח֖וּם), it takes on the meaning of mercy, compassion, like one showing mother care. The bestowal of mercy and to be merciful is "womb-like" (e.g. Exodus 34:6) and God is like the mother who shows compassion on the child of her womb.

Feminine characteristics for God do not stop with his "motherly care" over those who trust him, but feminine features are even associated with God in a way that show power and creative 
authority.  Long before the  heavens and the earth were formed, God had at his side a power that was instrumental in bringing about the creation of the physical universe.  That authority was called "Wisdom" - and that force is personified as a woman!  Though the use of Wisdom in this fashion is metaphorical, the instructive nature of its feminine qualities helps to show that God was well aware of gender (male and female) long before a particle of heaven and earth was brought into existence.  Wisdom is made a personality all on her own.

"Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets . . .  The Lord by Wisdom hath founded the earth . . . the Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever earth was" (Prov. 1:20, 3:15, 18: 4:6 19 7:4. 8:22,23, etc.).

This personification of Wisdom as a woman shows her standing before God and (in Hebrew) she even frolics, dances, and sports in God's presence as a young woman would do in courtship.

"I {Wisdom} was by him [God], as one brought up with him: and I was daily  his  delight,  rejoicing [sporting]  before  him;  rejoicing [sporting] in the habitable part of the earth" (Prov. 8:30,31).

Of course, this is symbolic language, but it exhibits a feminine association with God before the creation of the heavens and the earth. Interestingly, this biblical example shows that Wisdom was external to God himself but she was still intrinsically interwoven with his character  and  personality.   

The personal relationship has not diminished! Even Jesus saw Wisdom as feminine. "Wisdom is justified of her children" (Matt. 11:19) (Ernest L. Martin, Will Women Be Women In The Resurrection?" FBR: Pasadena,CA. 1980)

The above mentioned discussion by my late father is just touching the tip of the iceberg. As we are showing here, there is nothing out of the ordinary in discussing the feminine side of God. Many people (often male church leaders) discourage such studies because they often challenge church traditions and established dogmas which unfortunately contribute needlessly to the disempowerment of women in the body of Christ.

Now, let's return to Isaiah 66 with all of this in mind because we are going to look at another feminine theme introduced by the LORD in this text and it is a subtle introduction which is not so apparent, but when you understand that we are talking about nurture, sustenance and contextualize this to the natural world/geo-cultural situation that Isaiah would have related to, you might be able to see something much more maternal in this text than you may have previously imagined.    

So, what is this important element in this seemingly maternally oriented text that I had not appreciated before? It is the symbolism of the river! It is the imagery of the overflowing stream! It is how water, rivers, streams and a type of physical abundance that the sufficient presence of water connects to a child being taken care of by its mom!