LAND OF THE BIBLE
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).