Page images

deserving of retribution. Indeed one of the most terrible things in their present condition, with possible trials before them, was the dimming of their faith in the certainty of God's favor to them individually, since they knew that they had forfeited his favor, and that he was a God to punish as well as to bless. Several times he had already threatened to sweep their whole nation from the earth, and Moses had saved them only by humble and earnest entreaty, and by representations that, in such a case, the Egyptians would triumph and heathenism be glorified. What was coming now ? Here they were on the edge of Canaan. What would be the results of such an approach to it evidently for invasion ? A great trial was before the Israelites. It became them to be cautious. They were indeed full of anxiety.

So they gathered around Moses here at Kadesh, and asked him to send some of their number up into the country, to examine it, and to make report. Divine directions were given to the same effect, and twelve of the head men were now selected, one from each tribe, to go forward and" to spy out the land.” Among these were Caleb of the tribe of Judah ; and from that of Ephraim, Oshea, whose name Moses changed to Jehoshua. The directions given were, “Get you up this way, southward, and go up into the mountain : and see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad ; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents or in strongholds; and what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.

The multitudes saw them start off on their dangerous mission ; watched them as their forms disappeared among the hills adjoining the camp, and then turned to speculate further in their minds as respected events soon to be divulged, and also to look more widely at the region in which they were situated. The Wady Arabah is at that spot about ten miles wide; it has for its eastern boundary the mountains of Edom, rising in successive increasing elevations, till they attain an altitude of about three thousand feet. They are diversified, and frequently rich in verdure. Nearly opposite the encampment of the Israelites they are pierced by the large Wady Ghuweir, fed by streams, and to this day one of the most productive spots in all that region. To this richness and beauty of Edom the western side of the Arabah forms an entire and gloomy contrast; for here the mountains are bare and utterly barren, apparently repelling every attempt to gain any cheerfulness of hope in that direction. Yet over them was now to be the road to Canaan, the promised land.

i See Deut, i. 22.

The Israelites gazed upon them with forebodings. Beyond them were probably enemies to be encountered; nature itself seemed also to be there, rising up in forbidding aspects.

The fountain el-Weibeh, whence they were now drawing their supplies of water, is on the west side of Wady Arabah, just where the ascent of these barren mountains commences. Its name, Kadesh (holy), is proof that it was an important place in those ancient times, as it is also now, for it is the only good watering-place in the whole extent of the Arabah, one hundred and twenty miles long. But it owes its celebrity rather to the scarcity of water in that region than to any beauty in itself. There are three fountains issuing from the chalky rock of which the slope is composed. “They are,” says Robinson, “some rods apart, running out in small streams from the foot of a low rise of the ground at the edge of the hills. The water is not abundant; and in the two northernmost sources has a sickly

hue, like most of the desert fountains, with a taste of sulphuretted hydrogen. But the southernmost consists of three small rills of limpid, good water, flowing out of a small excavation in the rock. The soft, chalky stone has crumbled away, forming a semi-circular ledge about six feet high around the spring, and now a few feet distant from it. The intermediate space is at present occupied by earth, but the rock apparently once extended out, so that the water actually issued from its base.” The Arabah opposite is “everywhere sprinkled with herbs and shrubs,” and just below the fountains “is a jungle of coarse grass and canes, and a few palm trees, presenting at a distance the appearance of full verdure, but proving near at hand to be marshy, and full of bogs.”

It is probable that the tents of the Israelites occupied the region not only about the fountain, but the heights back of it on the west, where the occupants would have a better temperature than in the bottom of Wady Arabah, shut in and with reverberations of heat from both sides. Two or three millions of people would require much room, and we may suppose their encampment to have stretched for some miles up the hill-sides, and on the level spots, to the west of the fountain. This will help to elucidate events which were now about to transpire.



TORTY days the spies were absent; and through all that

time there was deep anxiety, with many surmisings, many hopes and anxieties, and resolves also made for the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]


10 English Miles. 1. Wady Jerâfeh. 2. El-Weibeh, believed to be Kadesh-barnea. 3. Hill es-Sufah-place of the Carnage. 4. Ilill of Salt. 5. Southern end of Dead Sea. 6. Wady Ghuweir, probably the “ king's highway" into Edom. 7. Mount Hor. 8. Present ruins of Petra. A, A, A. Wady Arabah.

emergencies that might arise. It was a time of idleness in the camp, and idleness always, especially in so large and mixed a multitude, is productive of mischief. Now that danger might also be near them, they thought and talked much about their safety, and the comparative abundance on the green plains of Egypt. Green plains had become only a seemingly remote remembrance to them; and their eyes longed, if only for the sight of green turf to give its refreshment to their senses once more: but instead of greenness, the mountains back of them and toward Canaan, showed only crag after crag in utter bareness, bleached white by centuries of burning sun. “ Was this the land,” some of them asked scoffingly, “ for which their leader had decoyed them away from their safe homes and green pastures on the banks of the Nile ? Their encampment now was only thirty miles from the southern end of the Dead Sea ; and if any of them, as is probable, wandered to it, during these forty days, and tasted its waters, they found that in taste the Nile had here its very extremity of contrast; this water was far less drinkable than even that of the Red Sea ; was perfectly nauseous! And onward to the north ward, beyond where their eyes could distinguish any boundaries, continued to stretch that same dull, leaden sea.

Thus, we may easily conceive, how ready for violent eruption was the feeling among the people, idle, agitated, brooding over past enjoyments, and vexed with present discomforts; and how sensitive were the nerves of the vast multitudes, when, at the expiration of forty days, they saw the spies return. These men had done their assigned work thoroughly; for they had been as far as the extreme northern boundaries of Canaan, lying along the flanks of Lebanon; and after making themselves acquainted with the agricultural wealth and military strength of the whole country, had brought back specimens of its fruits. Among these were grapes, a single cluster of which was long enough to

« PreviousContinue »