MemberMarch 18, 2021 at 9:44 am
H Family: A devotional work of the 19th century, no matter how inspirational, is pre-archaeology, and even largely pre-exploration, and is, therefore of little value for historical or geographical insight. The writer exhibits a lack of knowledge of the wilderness regions of the exodus and wanderings. Just picking up on a few statements that ask to be challenged:
1. The wilderness was, and is not, a trackless waste. There were established ancient roads which are named in the texts. e.g. Way of Shur, Way of the Red Sea etc. For geographical reasons, these roads remained in use and unchanged for millennia. Even now they are paved for cars or graded as jeep tracks. The water-points are also long-established, and although degraded over the millennia, are still known today. The only times the Israelites made ‘dry’ camps is when traversing regions where the water-sources were very far spaced. These stretches are specified in the texts (3 days in the Wilderness of Etham, 3 days in the Wilderness of Paran, and I can add three more sections in the itinerary where the water sources are more than a day apart and hence no named stations are listed). If the cloud was their auto-pilot, why did Moses invite Hobab the Midianite to join the nation in order to advise them “where we should camp in the wilderness, and… serve as eyes for us”?
2. The water from the rock did not appear at every station despite the ‘reverse’ interpretation of the highly theological imagery of 1 Cor 10:4 “For they all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” The rock was struck for water twice: at Mount Sinai from which it flowed to Rephidim (Ex 17), and at Kadesh (Num 20), both occasions when it is specified that there was no water in the place. The other water ‘crises’ were met at Marah by sweetening bitter water with a tree (Ex 15), and at Beer by digging a well (Num 21). Other than that, the people got water in the usual way, from springs, wells, rock pools, cisterns (few of these until they got to Canaan), and mostly by digging in the wadi-beds for groundwater for their flocks, as the Amalekites did before them, and the Bedouin do even today.
3. The image of a cloud that spreads out to cover the furthest extremities of the camp at all times is a romantic image, and would be tremendously convenient, but is not so described in the many descriptions throughout the narrative. The only reference to the cloud covering them is in Psa 105:39 (and even there it gives no exact extent or details of the constancy or otherwise of such cover). As discussed elsewhere, there is a difference between the prosaic accounts of the narratives and the poetic references of the psalms and prophets. The events of the exodus and wanderings did really happen in the way that Moses described them (he had a scientific bent) but not quite in the way that the poets and prophets reinterpreted them for theological and devotional purposes. The conditions were harsh. Every single person of the exodus generation except for a select few were dead by age 60.
The dualistic idea of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is an artifact of our modern scientific expectations. It’s all supernatural, as Rob Bell says “everything is spiritual”… we are living in a miracle, spinning through airless waterless frigid space in a highly engineered survival pod under the constant supervision and intervention of the Holy Spirit. We can hardly discern which events are “above, against, or independent of the known laws of nature”, though there are a few we can be sure of. Raising the dead, the sun standing still (that’s if there isn’t another explanation for what actually happened), instant healings, multiplying the loaves and fish… these would all be clear divine interventions and disruptions in the expected course of events. But as I keep pointing out, there are scores of happenings in the biblical saga that would pass as ‘normal’ events (e.g. the deaths of the three leaders each at the perfect time and place) but are in fact divine interventions in no less a manner than the more ‘obvious’ phenomena of the story. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This is another time when Moses clearly stated the agent and process. But God also sent the king of Edom out against them (Num 20) to make them take the long way to Canaan, and the king of Arad to break the confidence of the Canaanites, and so on. These are all miracles. Why do we get worried if someone shows an agent or mechanism for some of them? What, the story has to be full of inexplicable special effects or our faith is in danger?