The stage is set for Israel’s first battle on the area that will become famous as “Armageddon.”
Barak has deployed his light infantry in four positions on both sides of the plain of Jezreel. The first occupies the west flank of Mount Tabor, a volcanic cone on the north side that blocks the way back to Hazor for Sisera and his chariot corps. The second awaits in hiding out along high ground west of Tabor and above the valley of the seasonal river Kishon Barak’s two other divisions lie concealed in high ground on the south side of Jezreel.
Barak has sent out skirmishers to goad Sisera’s army into action. They don’t have to engage the Amorites themselves–only set grass fires and taunt the enemy.
The impatient Amorites see easy prey and the nearest chariots go into action without orders from Sisera. The rest follow, and soon chariots fill the narrow trails that thread their way through low, marshy ground along the Kishon. Sisera in his chariot tries to catch up with the leading chariots by driving along the south slopes of the Kishon valley.
Barak’s army waits until the enemy chariots are spread out over a long line . As they come close enough to Tabor, Deborah tells Barak,” Up!” He blows his shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet, and others relay his signal.
A thunderstorm sweeps through the valley at the same time, turning it into a quagmire that panics horses and charioteers alike as they struggle to gain higher ground. They lose their way in the blinding rain while Barak’s light infantry charge into their midst, crippling horses and overturning chariots. They drag the Amorites out of their mired chariots and bludgeon or spear them at will.
Seeing he has lost control of his army and the battle situation, Sisera abandons his chariot and his army, and he flees east on foot, somehow keeping to high ground out of sight of the Israelites. They concentrate on wiping out the Amorite army. Sisera finds refuge with a Kenite ally of Hazor, but Jael, the woman of the house is a loyal Israel who tricks and kills him.
“On that day God subdued Jabin, king of Canaan, before the Israelites. Israelite power bore continually harder on Jabin, king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin, king of Canaan” (Judges 4:23-24).
Thus ends Israel’s first battle at Armageddon.
The narrator omits further tactical details and praise for Deborah and Barak. To God belongs the glory.
Sisera’s corps of 900 chariots is all ready for battle in the plain of Jezreel, part of the ancient battleground now known as Armageddon.
But what about the Israelite footsoldiers–untrained and unready for their first battle with the resurgent Canaanites of Hazor? Must they allow the Canaanites to take back the plains of Esdraelon and Jezreel that had been allotted to the tribe of Zebulon?
The prophetess Deborah recognized that the Canaanites of Hazor threatened the unity and existence of Israel. She sparked the call to arms and appointed Barak ben Abinoam as her general.
Barak musters his light infantry at Mt. Tabor, a volcanic cone overlooking the east end of Esdraelon and the north side of Jezreel. Brush and Tabor oaks crown its summit and make it a fortress. At the foot of Tabor, the little river Kishon seasonally runs east. This is the rainy season, and the ground on either side turns muddy, swampy and treacherous. Leaving part of his army in plain sight on the west flank of Tabor, Barak hides two divisions along the higher ground covering the approach to Tabor from Esdraelon. His forces in place, Barak sends a party or skirmishers to stir up the Canaanite outposts and prod Sisera into action.
Judges 4 finds Israel menaced by Jabin, the Canaanite ruler of Hazor, who has assembles a corps of 900 chariots under the command of Sisera. Jabin has expanded his territory over the last twenty years at the expense of the Israelites. Now he aims to exact revenge for the Israelite destruction of Hazor under the leadership of Joshua and Caleb (Joshua 11:10-13).
Sisera has massed his chariots on the plain of Esdraelon in preparation for the first the historic battles that will give the plain the name of Armageddon.
The Israelites, though disunited and unprepared, have faced chariot-borne cavalry before. The first time (Exodus 14), the Egyptians got swamped in the Sea of Reeds. The second time (Joshua 10:1-15), Joshua and Caleb trapped five Amorite armies with their chariots in the Valley of Aijalon, threw them into confusion with a surprise attack, and destroyed them. The third time (Joshua 11:1-9), the Israelites defeated the armies of Hazor and its allies at the Waters of Merom. The Israelites attacked at dawn while the Canaanites were in bivouac, sleeping off their pre-victory celebrations.
All three case prove the vulnerability of forces equipped with chariots when you don’t tackle them in a time and place of their choosing. Surprise and terrain can work against them.
Furthermore, the LORD, the God of Israel fought for Israel (Joshua 10:42).
So, the first battle at Armageddon is at hand. How do you think the outnumbered, poorly equipped Israelites can apply the lessons of history?
* * *
Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” — Psalm 118:15
1. The Way of the Sea.
The Way of the Sea, the Egyptian “Way of Horus” and one of the main international warpaths of the ancient world, really deserves the sole title of Land Bridge between Africa and Asia, according to geographer George Adam Smith. It enters the Holy Land from Egypt through a coastal gate, the narrow path between the desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
Modern Route 4 has paved over the same trail today where it runs north-northeast through Gaza and Philistine territory, staying two or three miles inland to bypass marshes that fill low places between coastal sand dunes and ridges of kurkar. At Javneh (the ancient Jamnia), the ancient trail leaves the paved road and turns northeast to Lod (ancient Lydda, Acts 9:32), and it continues north-northeast through the Plain of Sharon, staying eight to ten miles from the coast without straying into the Shephelah, the marl and limestone foothills of the Central Highlands.
Modern Routes 2 and 4 can hug the coast today because the marshes and oak forests that once dotted the Plain of Sharon have all vanished.
The old trail passes through ancient Antipatris and about four miles past ancient Aphek to Hadera, where it turns northeast into the pass through the Mount Carmel range to Megiddo. Israel’s Route 65 follows the same path beside the course of the Wadi Arah, the shrunken relic of earlier streams that took unerring advantage of limestone shattered by a fault to carve out a defile through the chalks of the Mount Scopus Group. Tel Megiddo (552 ft, 168 m) perches on a northeast promontory of the Menashe Hills, which are capped by Eocene limestone and occupy a down dropped segment of the Carmel Range.
Underlying chalk of the Mount Scopus Group floors the pass, while limestones of the Judea Group overlook the south side of the pass from an upraised fault block. Although the Megiddo pass is the shortest of the three passes through the Carmel range, forests still clad the hills on either side of the pass in the second millennium BC, and Egyptian commanders dreaded it more than the others because they found it strewn with boulders, choked with thorns, and friendly to ambushers.[i]
PASSAGE through the Holy Land
Although the Holy Land serves as both a land bridge and crossroads between Africa and Asia, its climate and the lay of the land strictly limited land travel to a few ancient routes until modern times. Hundreds of millions of birds of 283 species freely migrate through the Holy Land to their summer breeding grounds in Europe and Asia and back to their wintering grounds in Africa, soaring the length of the Rift Valley or the coastline with no more regard for geographic barriers than for human frontiers.[i] On foot, however, people had to follow the lay of the land until their engineers could build the modern highways that vault over what geographer Denis Baly termed “regions of difficulty.”[ii]
These barriers range from cliffs to chasms, from deserts and dunes to marshes, and from basalt flows to maquis, or impassable woodlands of thorny scrub. The lay of the land and its geology funneled migrants, merchants, or invaders alike along a few ancient trails that are anything but straight. North-south movement must therefore follow one of four trails: a trail just inland from the coast known as the Way of the Sea (Derech Hayam) or the Way of the Land of the Philistines; the water-parting trail through the Central Highlands; the Rift Valley; and the Way of the Kings on the Transjordan plateau. The Way of the Sea comes to a dead end at the Carmel peninsula, and the Dead Sea makes the Rift Valley impassable. However, eight lesser east-west trails link the north-south trails in an internal network that enables one dominant international route and three secondary routes to weave their way through the Holy Land. Each route has a gate at both ends, as Baly points out,[iii] and geology also determines their location.
My forthcoming survey of the dominant routes will show how geology controls the lay of the land and its ways.
[i] Yom-Tov, Yoram, 1988. Bird Migration in Israel. In Yom-Tov, Y. & Tchernov., E. (eds.). The Zoogeography of Israel. Dordrecht: Dr. W. Junk Publishers; 496-514.
Yosef, Reuven, 1996. An Oasis in Elat. Natural History; 105-10: 46-47.
Jesus meant his comparison of the houses built upon sand and rock (Matthew 7: 24-27) as primarily a parable of spiritual life. We can also understand it as a picture of the people of Israel because they belonged to a nation founded high upon a spiritual rock.
The parable literally describes the geographic situation of Israel because thick, hard limestones underlie the heartland of the territory that Israel and Judah claimed in biblical times. The elevation of this backbone of the Holy Land exceeds 900 meters (3,000 feet) at Hebron (3,346 ft, 1,020 m.), Baal-hazor (3,333 ft, 1016 m), and Mount Ebal (3,084 ft, 940 m), and reaches 3,963 ft (1,208 m) at Har Meiron in northern Galilee.[i]
Contemplating the view from Mount Ebal in 1891, geographer George Adam Smith felt,
“the size of the Holy Land–Hermon and the heights of Judah both within sight, while the Jordan is not twenty, nor the coast thirty miles away–and that the old wonder comes strongly upon us of the influence of so small a province on the history of the whole world.”[ii] Smith found his explanation in words that Jesus used in speaking to a woman of Sychar at the foot of Mt. Ebal:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
— John 4:23
For “so small a province,” the Holy Land contains a variety of rocks, minerals, landscapes, and scenic attractions that surpasses Texas and other much larger American states. They deserve a closer look because they help to explain much of the history of the Bible and its lessons. They account for the fact that the Jordan divides the Holy Land, rather than unifying it like Egypt’s Nile, and that its topography further chops it into havens for petty kingdoms or fractious tribes. We will start by looking at the succession of rocks, from earliest to most recent, and then show how the distribution of rocks influences topography and human activity.
“Holy Land” is not a formal geographic name but a label that sidesteps the historical and political complications of naming a geographical area now occupied by the state of Israel as well as adjacent portions of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It includes territory that was historically known as Canaan or Palestine and that was the seat of the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah during the united and divided monarchies of the first millennium BC. Although the Sinai peninsula has always belonged to Egypt, its geology is as bound up with that of the Holy Land as its history because, in the words of archeologist Nelson Glueck, the Sinai has always been “a sanctuary of revelation and reformation, with the spirit of the Holy pervading the very atmosphere.”[iii]
For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
— Job 5:23, NIV
In the drama of Job, Eliphaz speaks of a covenant with the stones of the field. He evokes a picture of life when man walked and spoke with the Lord God in the garden at the headwaters of the four great rivers of earth. Life was simple in those golden days before the Serpent wormed his way into Eden.
“Cursed is the ground because of you,” declared the Lord God (Genesis 3:17). The stones of the field thereafter joined forces with the thin soil to resist human efforts to earn a living. Weather, weeds, thorns, and every kind of pest flocked to strengthen their league and challenge the dominion of mankind. The soil yielded its increase grudgingly, but only after the stones of the field had blunted the flimsy tools of men and made their backs ache.
The alliance of stones with climate, weeds and vermin turned life into a struggle. People came to accept natural forces as living and personal beings whose anger they must appease. They thought they could soften the wrath of earth spirits and win their favor through cults and sacrifices. Their vain striving to win the blessings of hills and trees, earth and sky brought about the complete fulfillment of the curse. People everywhere lost their knowledge of the creator and ruler of nature and all its forces.
A few, however, like Job, remembered or learned for themselves that the stones of the field join with all creation in bearing witness to the wonder of all that their creator has wrought. They found a new sense of the eternal faithfulness and dependability of the Lord God. As one result, the word picture of a mighty rock became one of the best-loved figurative terms for God. It occurs far more frequently in the Old Testament than “shepherd,” and we find the earliest example in Deuteronomy 32:4:
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.”
Geologists have a unique opportunity to live in covenant with the earth, especially those of us who know the faithful Rock as Job did.
This Blog will share my discoveries in the Bible and its references to stones, rocks, minerals and other geological subjects. The Bible is the book that says more than the sum of its words. Consequently, you will find the passages mentioning stones and so on are spiritual gems that illuminate the Bible.
Geologists take an interest in every other science because they all influence or depend on geology in some way. So you never know where this Blog will take you. Just be prepared for anything.
I welcome your questions.