Updated: November 2016 and January 2017.
It has taken me a few years to pull all this information together and a lot of it, I have never heard before. Over many years at church, I have heard a number of Bible Study leaders ask why such a small area of desert land has caused so much trouble throughout history? They have always answered with a spiritual warfare focus, but looking back in time, to when this area was central in the known, most inhabited part of the world, there are many reasons why Isra’el was a key area above and beyond the spiritual.
The facts below set the scene for David’s Kingdom and explain why Isra’el had so much trouble with neighbouring nations.
1. Isra’el was less impacted by desert in David’s time and lay in an ancient fertile crescent that circles the west and top of the Far and Middle East. The rainfall was excellent, and thus crops and cattle were able to thrive. It was indeed the land of milk and honey [Ref. Exodus 23:3] and worth fighting over by the surrounding nations. Unfortunately this screen shot isn’t clear, but the blue areas indicate good rainfall. [This map is not my work. The source is below.]
Like Australia, Isra’els geography is misunderstood. If you look at Isra’el now, you will find that the entire country is not desert. There are snow fields in the mountains, the area around Galilee is stunning, and the west is bordered by the beauty of the Mediterranean. Don’t believe the Bible movies which like to film in the cheaper desert areas, misrepresenting Isra’el’s full natural beauty. Many areas of the Middle East which are now desert, were once thriving agricultural areas of beauty.
The encroachment of the desert comes from soil depletion, land clearing and deliberate sabotage by later invading nations. [Please see Sand and Sin: More Research on the History of Jerusalem for more information on this.]
God told His people to let their fields rest one year in each seven, and they disobeyed; thus what we see now is a sad reminder of what happens when we misuse natural resources. Secular sources tell us that if land is not allowed to rest, salination from irrigation can set in within 15 years, making the field unusable permanently. The land has suffered accordingly from these poor farming practices, war and other calamities. A lot can change in a few thousand years.
2. With good food supply comes population growth. This places stress on the available land, food and water resources, and leads to raids and wars between neighbouring nations, as everyone needs the land to survive. In particular, God had always commanded His people to be fruitful and multiply (e.g. Genesis 48:4 and Leviticus 26:9 and many more), so they needed the full extent of the land which had been promised to them by God. [Ref. Numbers 34 gives the borders.]
This demand was also increased by the late Bronze age collapse. (To learn more, please see the article link below.)
3. Isra’el’s west, along the Mediterranean, had a major lucrative trade route running north to south, through it. Like the ancient city of Petra which was incredibly rich, if a nation can control a trade route, they can make a fortune in providing travellers with food, water, safe accommodation and safe escorts to their destination; and they can also choose to tax caravans travelling through. One thousand years or so after David, the Silk Road from modern Asia through to the Mediterranean, ran straight through Isra’el. It’s a key site.
4. The late Bronze Age Collapse resulted in a dark age in the region, which lasted several hundred years. As this is a complicated subject, it has been covered in a separate article which can be found here: http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=34823
Long after David’s time when people who were more settled and less at risk of starvation and political upheaval, they were now freer to invent, question how the cosmos and nature worked, and for the first time, begin to consider how man affects his own destiny, rather than every event being attributed to acts of the gods. This is shown in the graph above which shows how introspective language began to appear in literature. (This chart does not belong to me.)
We know that this societal change gave rise to the work of Plato, Aristotle, then later, Galileo, with the usurping of the flat earth theory. Mankind’s hunger for scientific knowledge grew and started to displace reliance on gods. In David’s time, the curiosity about the natural world would have been there, as is shown in the Psalms, but the ability to chase answers and formulate elaborate theories based on data collection, seemed to not exist. (Or evidence of this has been lost.) The theory is that people’s energy was caught up in the desperate need for survival, which collective affected all within the ancient world. Without the time to explore alternatives, people believed that their life was determined by their observance to their deity, who had to be appeased and who called the shots.
This is a completely different way of thinking which we cannot easily comprehend, as there are no Judaic, or Christian references to fully explain how it worked, in a manner we can grasp. Christianity was in the future of mankind and the Jewish Talmud (secular holy books interpreting the Old Testament and setting down laws which God did not give man), was not written until mankind had entered this philosophical and scientific age.
Understanding this conflicting world view has been a hard task for me and one I will continue to work on. I see God teaching His people the same values we now have since the earliest times, but to get to where we are now, was quite a process, and one that definitely reinforces how badly the world needed Jesus to set us on a better path. When studying David, I now take this difference in worldview into account.
Reference Sources: whilst there have been many, the information on rainfall comes from The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. You may benefit from their videos on the Near East and Ancient world. Please also visit this TED Talk on Your words may predict your future mental health by Mariano Sigman, which talks about a small part of the puzzle.
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