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and find their graves in that wilderness. Mourning succeeded now to rage. Throughout the camp there were outeries of bitter lamentation, the greater because they knew that the general doom had been merited. There was in the mourning no comfort, no self-sustaining feeling, but only an utter despondency in that consciousness that they were in the hands of a Power which they knew there was no resisting, and which had already made the demonstration before their eyes of a doom which was to be so general, and which, now that it seemed to be inevitable, took new and frightful horrors in their eyes.
Then there came a revulsion of feeling once more. They spent a second night of grief, now more bitter than the other, for it was mingled with desperation, and had no relief of angry passion. But as the brightness of morning came and strung their nerves to better tension, there came with it also hope. They would make amends! They determined to show courage, though it might be the courage of despair. They would seize on the land and possess it:perhaps God would be mollified, and would change his purpose. “We have sinned against the Lord,” they cried ; “we will go up and fight, according to all that the Lord our God commanded us.” They took their arms, and rushed onward toward “the hill,” I—the adjoining steep ascent to the table land bordering on Canaan. It was a tumultuous throng, without array or discipline, only carried away by the impulse of despair. They thought it could be no worse to perish there by the sword than by slow and certain death in the wilderness. Here there might even be hope ; in the wilderness there was none. They turned their backs on the ark and the cloud, which were now disregarded and left behind. Moses hurried after them with an appeal,“ Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord ? But it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you ; that ye be not smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword : because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.”
i Deut. i. 41.
As they are rushing on in this wildness of frenzy, we will look at the region soon to be so marked with disaster. Back of the fountains of el-Weibeh the ground ascends by several steps or offsets among desert limestone hills, to a platform about five hundred feet above the Wady Arabah. Across this platform the road passes transversely for about six miles, when it comes to the solitary remains of a small fort, and a ravine, immediately beyond which is the pass es-Sufah, “The Rock,” which was doubtless “the hill” to which the Israelite host were now hurrying. This pass is at a series of almost precipitous cliffs, and is thus described by Robinson in his journey from el-Weibeh to Beersheba: “The mountain before us forming the next step of the ascent presented a formidable barrier, a naked limestone ridge not less than one thousand feet in height and very steep. Three passes up this mountain were pointed out to us, viz. : that of es-Sufah directly before us; on our right, not far off, another, es-Sufey, and on the left at some distance, the third, called el-Yemen. .... The mountain before us we could now see was composed of naked strata of limestone lying obliquely and very irregularly, sometimes, indeed, rising up in convex curves, as if forming an external covering of an arch. ... We kept on toward the middle pass, es-Sufah, which afforded also the shortest pass. The way up it leads, for a short time, gradually along the edge of the precipitous ravine on the right; and then comes all at once upon the naked surface of the rock, the strata of which lie here at an oblique angle as steep as a man can readily climb. The path, if so it can be called, continues for the rest of the ascent along this bare rock, in a very winding
course. In such places a path had been cut in the rock in former days, the slant of the rock being sometimes leveled and sometimes cut into steps. The appearance is that of a very ancient pass. The whole mountain side presents itself as a vast inclined plane of rock.”!
Rev. Dr. Olin says, respecting this ascent at es-Sufah : April 5. We began our journey to-day by an ascent of the very steep and difficult mountain. It cost us hard toiling for one hour and a half. This mountain is composed of limestone formed in regular strata, which at this point dip to the south. The slope is tolerably smooth, being formed of a layer of the rock, which appears, when seen at a distance, as even and regular as a roof of slate or shingles. It is, however so steep that it is barely possible for loaded camels to ascend. We went on foot up the ascent, and I do not remember to have taken a more fatiguing walk.”
The encampment of the Israelites was probably in great part on the higher ground west of Kadesh-barnea, and stretched on westwardly till it reached within five or six miles of es-Sufah or “the hill:” and we can imagine the armed throng hurrying confusedly onward,-Moses trying to stop them by his anxious, earnest appeals; the cloud not leading them now, but disregarded ; the ark left behind ; only one desperate feeling—a resolution to reverse if possible the doom that had just come to them from the Sanctuary, or if they could not do this to perish in battle. We see them rushing forward ; and we gaze with horror and deepest grief; for we know that those heights above are covered by their enemies, well aware from their lofty position of the disordered, confused approach, and prepared for resistance. It must be indeed a most unequal fight; for the people above have only to set the huge rocks plunging down the precipice in order to assure to themselves an easy victory.
1 Robinson thinks that in consequence of the similarity of names we may here place Zephath (Judges i. 17), and that, in times still antecedent, Hormah was here (Num. xiv. 45; xxi. 3; Deut. i. 44).
During those forty days or more of the encampment at this place, the Canaanites had not been unobservant of the immense hosts on their borders; and while the spies were traversing the land, the spies of their enemies were also busy, and the aggressive purpose of the Israelites could be readily ascertained. In that region to the north and west were also the Amalekites, who in their nomadic habits, were sprinkled over a wide extent of country; and who had now the remembrance of their former defeat at Rephidim to avenge. They were united to the people of Caanan in this defence, and not a better spot could any where be found for it than this pass at es-Sufah, “The rock” or “The hill.”
The armed host of the Israelites, had no leader now, neither God nor man. Moses was left behind appealing to them in vain. On they came, fiercely and confusedly: they could not trust God now, for he had forbidden them : they were desperate : they had immense numbers of fighting men, and they might perhaps hope to succeed by a fierce, sudden onset, and by the mere weight of numbers. The threatened doom of extinction in the wilderness was stinging them to madness : better to perish here, in their fulness of strength, they thought, than to drop one by one into graves already dishonored by that doom.—Perhaps hatred of God and fierceness against him stimulated some among those madlyrushing hosts.
The result might be easily foreseen. The men above were fighting for their homes; some of them urged on also by a desire for revenge. Those below felt that God was not with them, but against them. It was only a tumultuous onset, where as they might toil up the rocky precipices their weight of numbers could give them no aid, but would only make the greatness of the carnage more horrible. Rocks hurled down would make bloody lanes of mangled carcases in the entire descent. If any, by desperate effort, could reach the summit of the one thousand feet, it was only, while spent with the effort, to meet there hosts fresh for the combat. It was an unresisted carnage rather than a fight. After vain efforts where desperation itself could do nothing, the Israelites turned to flee. They were pursued “to Hormah,” which we may consider to have been the town below. A rout, a wild panic and an unresisted slaughter made up the scene. The enemy “chased them,” says the Scripture, “as bees do ;' but seem to have thought it best not to pursue them much beyond Hormah, but to keep by their strong mountain pass.
THE DOOMED HOST.
W HAT a sad history has been this of the Israelites since
W leaving Egypt! and now to most of them it was to have a still sadder end. Yet how bright and joyous might it all have been ! For no people were ever so favored, so protected, and so kindly cared for, and so blest as they. Reading that history, we are filled with wonder at them, we grieve for them, we are puzzled at their obstinacy and perverseness. Yet does not all that history of them and of God's dealing with them, as exhibited in the divine record, God in history, have a striking parallel in our own inner-life history;—God there with us, we with him? What a bright, joyous history that of every man's inner life, his soul-life, might be: but what is it !
'Deut. i. 44.