Polytheism was the common practice of the day. Scripture tells us that Abraham’s father, Terah, served other gods. Every Near Eastern culture had a myriad of gods. If you wanted success in war, you prayed to a god of war, lots of children—a fertility god, rain for good crops—a god of storms, etc.
In the midst of this polytheistic world, God moved Abraham and his clan to the land of Canaan, later called Israel, and much later called Palestine by the Romans. It wasn’t the most fertile place in the ancient world or the wealthiest, and it didn’t have the most natural resources, but, it was a very significant place. This small piece of land was the super highway of the ancient Near East. To the east, were inhospitable deserts and, to the west, was the Sea. If you wanted to go to Europe or Asia from Africa, you had to pass through Israel. Two main north/south roads accommodated the traffic: the Via Maris (Way of the Sea) and the King’s Highway.
In ancient times, travel was at a slower pace. You could not move faster than your camels, horses, or donkeys. Many people walked. Along the way, they interacted with other people. When they stopped for the night, they gathered in the common areas of a village or around a campfire, and they shared stories. We know from ancient texts that tales of war, trade, conquest, and religion were all of interest.
I believe God moved Abraham to the place where he could influence more people to understand about the one true God. They would learn of His character, nature, and mighty acts. They would learn about His laws—laws to bring justice, order, and mercy—unlike the capricious natures of the other gods, whose demands could be extreme, even including human sacrifice. God put the Children of Israel where they could be the most effective witness of Him to the ancient world.
Being familiar with the land and geography of the Bible is sometimes crucial to understanding a Scripture passage. A visit to Israel is a great help to Bible students. For example, when you read that Yeshua (Jesus) and His disciples traveled to Jerusalem, you suddenly understand what rigors such a trip entailed.
There are four main geological areas in the Bible lands: the coastlands, the central highlands, the Jordan Valley, and the highlands of Transjordan. Although in close proximity to one another, the climates are dramatically different, influencing the lifestyles of the inhabitants. One of the most dramatic changes is between Jerusalem, which has an altitude of 2,400–2,600 feet (731–792 meters) above sea level, to the Dead Sea, which is 1,384 feet (422 meters) below sea level. In Jerusalem, temperatures rarely get higher than 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). Only 20 miles (32 kilometers) to the east in the Rift Valley, temperatures soar to 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) or higher.
When Ezekiel described Israel as the “glory of all lands” (20:6), he wasn’t exaggerating. Israel has more species of plants and animals than North Africa or southern Europe and has an incredible amount of geographical variety packed into a small place. It is a land that God loves (Deut. 11:12). I encourage you to add a visit to Israel to your life plan. You won’t regret it.
This is the last of a nine-part series designed to help you read the Bible from a Hebraic perspective. To review them, go to “Article Archive.” Under “Browse by Category,” click on “Hebraic Roots 101.”
Source: By Rebecca J. Brimmer, International President and CEO
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