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tells us of grievous sin by himself and Aaron, by which they also were debarred from entering Canaan, though Moses would be allowed to see that country from afar.
TT is pleasant, after such a long period of obscurity hangI ing over the wanderings of the Israelites, to find them fully in our vision once more, and to be able to follow them clearly thenceforward in their progress toward the Promised Land. We gain our first knowledge of their actual position after thirty-eight years, from Num. xxxiii. 35, where they are stated to have formed an encampment at Ezion-gaber, which we know to have been at the northern end of the Gulf of Akabah. The town or rather castle of Akabah, which, with its surrounding grove of palms, breaks most agreeably on the sight of travellers through that region, in strong contrast with the bareness around, is supposed to mark nearly or quite the place of Elath (Deut. ii. 8); and Eziongaber we know to have been also at the head of that gulf, as it became, long subsequently to the time now spoken of, the port where Solomon fitted out his ships (1 Kings ix. 26). Of the latter city, there are at present no remains, unless some small hillocks as of rubbish near Akabah may indicate the spot, but its position as a port must be considered as well defined. Thence the multitudes travelled northward along the great valley of Arabah.
During the whole of this present journey they had Edom immediately on their right; and as they travelled on, their eye was regaled with the great variety, and oftentimes, the very picturesque beauty, of objects constantly recurring on that side. Edom is a mountainous district about one hundred miles long by twenty in width. As we pass along its edge in the valley of Arabah going northward from the gulf, we observe that it consists at first of porphyritic rocks; but to these very soon succeeds sandstone formation of a very singular kind. This latter, says Olin, “exhibits a beautiful variety of colors as well as of forms. There are some low hills rising between the base of the principal mountains and the plain which are a pure white, when not obscured by débris and sand. The main ridge is composed of yellow, red, white and sometimes purple strata. In one place an extensive perpendicular mass was of beautiful light slate color. Sometimes the summit to the depth of two or three hundred feet, is a delicate red, while the base is white and the intermediate strata alternately white and red. Again, the whole mountain is a deep red or brilliant white. Several masses are a delicate flesh color, a description chiefly applicable to the eastern range north of the point where the granite (porphyry] disappears. ... The action of the elements has given to many parts of this range something like architectural forms, where the eye is often gratified with the sight of natural forms and colonnades.
Among these singular masses and adjoining the edge of Wady Arabah, is the grand form of Mount Hor, which although making part of the range of Edom, is apparently so detached from everything else as to be a mountain by itself; and near the foot of it, toward the north-east are the remains of that strange city, Petra, lying in a bowl-shaped hollow, in the sides of which temples, dwellings, etc., have been cut into these rainbow-colored rocks. But Petra, though now ancient, is of more recent date than the time of Moses.
These strata bordering the valley rise to the height of about two thousand feet; over them succeed limestone ridges one thousand feet higher; and finally these latter, at a distance of twenty miles from Wady Arabah, subside eastwardly into a vast table-land, which soon becomes a plain of pure sand stretching far off to the region of the Euphrates.
But it was not only the variety of rainbow-tinted rock that made these mountains of Edom so attractive to the eye; but the valleys cutting into them and often the summits also were green with herbage and trees. “In the valleys," says Robinson, in describing his visit, “ were various trees and shrubs, the Seyal, Butm, and the like, also Retem in great quantities,-all very large. On the rocks above we found the juniper tree, Arabic Ar-ar (Lev. xlviii. 6); its berries have the appearance and taste of the common juniper, except that there is more of the aroma of the pine. These trees were ten or fifteen feet in height, and hung upon the rocks even to the summit of the cliffs and needles.”
The mountain ranges on the west of this great valley of Arabah are much lower than those in Edom, and are in their full extent utterly bare and sterile; forming a striking contrast with those on the opposite side.
Amid this scenery the Israelites moved northwardly from Ezion-gaber, glad to be once more advancing toward what they might now hope would soon be the conclusion of their journeyings. During thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert, they had in some degree accustomed themselves to the nomadic life, in which energy stagnates, and all places affording supplies of food for man and beast are nearly alike. The doom during that time was upon them, and they felt it. The fearful horrors of that scene of carnage, where the bodies of so many thousands of their boldest men had been left to rot on the hill-side; and the opening of the earth afterward, in the rebellion, to engulf its leaders and two hundred and fifty of their princes; and the scene of the plague, on the next day, and its fourteen thousand seven hundred victims ;-all this was branded on their memory, and had kept them in awe and in quiet obedience. Those of their warriors who had survived that carnage were now dead; all others of the camp, who had brought inveterate habits from Egypt had died also; a new race had come up, less debased, less stolid, less perverse and more readily subject to reason and authority. But still in the camp were many born in Egypt, who still remembered with longings its green plains, the vegetables and fruits and the delicious waters of the Nile; and these presently became the source of mischief again revived in the camp.
The advance along that deep Wady Arabah, shut in on either side by high mountains reflecting the hot sun, was a toilsome one. The whole valley is poorly supplied with water, the present scant springs at el-Weibeh (Kadesh-barnea) being the principal ones in a stretch of one hundred miles. The Israelites, on arriving at this place of their former encampment, came to it palpitating and parched with thirst; and eagerly hurrying to the well-known spot of the fountain, they raised then a great cry of horror, for the fountains, probably owing to an unusual drought, were dry. As on former occasions, the cry was directed against Moses and Aaron : “Why have ye brought us out of Egypt, away from its figs and vines, and pomegranates and corn, into this evil place? Why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? Would God that we had died when our brothers died before the Lord !”
Moses was now one hundred and twenty years old, Aaron about one hundred and twenty-three. We can imagine them white-haired, their faces worn with care and with the heavy burdens imposed by this tumultuous host, which they had been compelled to bear for so long a time. Especially must this have been the case with Moses, their leader, although we are informed that “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." Erect, strong, active, as was yet that form under the snowy crown of his old age, his long-continued vexations inflicted by such a rebellious and obstinate race had worn upon him; and now when he saw the old spirit reviving and the old cry raised, it was a possible thing that his patience might utterly give way, and the fretfulness sometimes incident to old age might unconsciously betray itself. Alas for the Israelites if it should be so! For he had often been the only interposing obstacle between them and merited punishment and had raised his pleadings with God for them, even when they were hurling their wrath against himself. Alas, if he should now by impatience or assumption draw upon himself the Divine displeasure in a case where his very prominence would render it the more necessary that he should be made an example of God's retribution, exercised for the sake of the general good! Who would then stand between them and the divine punishment upon themselves ?
Yet such a case, in regard to both Moses and Aaron, now occurred.
In the midst of this outcry among the people for water, and their regrets about Egypt, and about their not having perished in the wilderness, these two leaders went to the door of the Tabernacle, and there fell on their faces; and the glory of the Lord again filled the place, as it had often done. Moses was directed by the divine authority, “ Take the rod and gather thou the assembly together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes ; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.” The assembly was
i Deut. xxxiv. 7.