Yohanan Aharoni began his book, The Land of the Bible, with the following: "The history of any land and people is influenced to a considerable degree by their geographical environment. This includes not only the natural features such as climatic, soil, topography, etc., but also the geopolitical relationships with neighboring areas. This is especially true for Palestine, a small and relatively poor country, which derives its main importance from its unique centralized location at the juncture of continents and a cross roads for the nations" (Aharoni, p. 3). These issues and their impact on the history of Israel are discussed below.

A Land of Milk and Honey

When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, he said, "I have come down to deliver [Israel] out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8; italics added). "Flowing with milk and honey" was a proverbial expression meaning that Canaan was fruitful and productive. It was "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pome granates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which [Israel was promised] you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper" (Deut. 8:7-9). These promises of fruitfulness and prosperity, how ever, were conditional on Israel's continuing devotion to God and keeping the commandments (Deut. 7:11-14).

The Rain Of Heaven

Canaan was not like Egypt, which had its flat lands watered by the Nile River. Canaan Was "a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven" (Deut. 11:11). The children of Israel were told that if they would hearken unto the commandments of God, "to love the Lord...and to serve him" with all their heart and soul, then God would give to Israel "the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil." But if Israel served other Gods, then the heavens would be "shut up ... so that there be no rain, and the land yield no fruit" (Deut. 1 1:9-17; Isa. 5:6).

A Land Divided

Two challenges affected Israel's ability to prosper in the land. First, Canaan was a land occupied by another people: "seven nations greater and mightier than [the children of Israel]." When Moses said in his heart, "how can I dispossess them?" God answered, "you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt" (Deut. 7:1,17-18). The fact that so many nations could exist side by side in Canaan suggests the second problem: the natural features of this land worked against unification. The "hills and valleys" tended to separate the land into independent districts, each with its own ruler. A strong, well organized government was required to unify a land with such a diverse topography.

The Land Between

Palestine was the land bridge between the continents of Asia and Africa. The rulers of these lands always wanted to possess the Holy Land for its trade routes and because they needed it as a bridge head. Palestine, therefore, was frequently invaded and became subject to foreign rulers who wanted to control, more than anything else, the lines of communication and transportation. As George Adam Smith explained, the land now called Israel was "between two of the oldest homes of the human race [which] made her a passage for the earliest intercourse and exchanges of civilization. There is probably no older road in all the world than that which can still be used by caravans from the Euphrates to the Nile, through Damascus, Galilee, Esdraelon [Jezreel], the Maritime Plain, and Gaza" (Smith, p. 32).

Testing Ground Of Obedience

Canaan was a land of many challenges, which allowed the people of Israel to prove their loyalty to God. For that purpose God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, to keep "the oath which he swore to [the] fathers"; to show that he "is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those; who love him and keep his commandments" (Deut. 7:8-9). This land was the testing ground of God's people, whom God promised "peace in the land" if they would keep his commandments.

Caesarea Roman Theatre-Caesarea was built by Herod the Great between 22 and 10 B.C. He made it an important seaport, with excellent connections to all parts of the Mediterranean world. An inscription with the name Pontius Pilate was found in the excavation of Caesarea. Archaeologists also have uncovered public buildings, a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, two aqueducts, a colonnaded street, and a temple dedicated to Caesar. Peter preached here to Cornelius (see Acts 10), and Paul spent 2 years in prison here (see Acts 26).

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