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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

I.

THE JOURNEY TO SINAI:

              1. The stations indicated (Exodus 15:22–19:2; Numbers 33:3–15).

 

             

 

              2. The chief incidents on the way:

              A. Difficulties arising from

              the country.

 

                                          Amalec.

 

                           

 

                            B. Helps from Heaven (qualis, manna, etc).

 

                            C. Moses and Jethro.

 

 

 

II.

SINAI:

              1. Physical description.

 

             

 

              2. The Giving of the Law:

              A. The traditional Mount Sinai: its fitness for the giving of the Law.

 

                           

 

                            B. Accompanying incidents.

              Various ways in which God communicates with his people.

 

                                          The Golden Calf.

 

1. The Journey to Sinai (Exod. 15:22–19:2; Numb. 33:3–15). Of the various stations of the Israelites on their way to Sinai, several have very probably been identified. Thus there is hardly a doubt that their first camping-place was at the modern ‘Ayun Musa, or “Wells of Moses,” about half an hour distant from the eastern shore of the Gulf of Suez. Their next stage is no less certainly identified with the spring Awarah, because it corresponds exactly with the Mara spoken of in the Bible, both as to position—a three days’ journey from ‘Ayun Musa—and as to the bitter taste of its waters which gave it its name. From ‘Ain Awarah or Mara a short march brought the Israelites to the oasis of Elim, probably the Wady Gharandel, whose palatable waters and delightful shade they so highly appreciated as to remain “encamped by the waters” no less than a month (cfr. HARPER, Bible and Modern Discoveries, pp. 95, 96).

The book of Numbers mentions next an encampment of Israel by the Red Sea. This statement, formerly a puzzle to interpreters who could not understand how the Israelites should come back upon the Red Sea on their way to Sinai, which lay in the heart of the peninsula, is now justly quoted by travellers as a proof of the wisdom of the Jewish leader. In conducting the chosen people by what was unquestionably the less direct road to Sinai, Moses, who was well acquainted with the country, simply caused them to avoid the mines worked by Egyptians in the heart of the peninsula and defended by strong garrisons, and prudently put between the Egyptian warriors and his own untrained hosts a barrier of mountains.

From the Red Sea, the Israelites struck inland and entered the Wilderness of Sin, probably identified with the great plain El Markha. The next two stations mentioned in the book of Numbers are those of Daphca and Alus, but of these there is no satisfactory identification. Not so however with the next encampment at Raphidim, which Biblical scholars justly identify with the long and fertile plain called Wady Feiran, overhung by the granite rocks of Mount Serbal, probably the Horeb of Holy Writ. Finally, leaving Raphidim, the Israelites came into “the Desert of Sinai and there encamped over against the mountain,” after a journey of more than two months, during which they had to overcome serious difficulties both from the country itself and from its inhabitants.

For about 150 miles they had had to traverse a country spoken of in Deuteronomy (8:15) as “the great and terrible wilderness” and supplied with no better roads than the pebbly ground of its wâdies, or torrent-beds. Several times they had to suffer from the bitter taste and even from the want of water, and as the provisions they had brought from Egypt were soon exhausted, they naturally feared for the very preservation of their large multitude.

To these difficulties, arising from the character of the country, were also added the attacks of the Amalecites, a tribe of the wilderness, less numerous indeed than the Israelites, but better armed and thoroughly acquainted with the mountain-passes. Hence it is likely enough that Israel would never have succeeded in overcoming all the difficulties it had to contend with in its way to Sinai, had not Jehovah repeatedly intervened in behalf of His chosen people.

Bearing this in mind, it will be easy for us to recognize as positive helps from heaven granted to the children of Israel, not only the spring of water which issued for them from the rock of Horeb, and their victory over Amalec, but also other facts which, notwithstanding their close analogy with mere natural phenomena, are clearly described by the sacred writer as actual miracles. Such is the case, for instance, with the plentiful supply of quails spoken of in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus, for, whilst the various details recorded in this connection agree very well with what travellers tell us of the usual migration of quails from Africa, it is plain that the Biblical narrative implies a miraculous intervention, inasmuch as the exact time for the sending of the quails had been most distinctly foretold by Moses. Such is also the case with the supply of manna granted to the Hebrews during the forty long years of their wandering in the wilderness. It must be granted indeed, that this wonderful food resembles closely the resinous substance which the tamarisk-tree of the Sinaitic peninsula yields under the prick of an insect, and which is collected usually in June. But this mere natural product—called also “manna” by modern writers—cannot be identified with the manna described in the Bible; for, differently from the latter, it cannot be gathered all the year round, and its quantity is very far short of what would suffice to constitute the principal article of food for so great a multitude of men as the Hebrews of old. (For other no less striking differences, see VIGOUROUX, vol. ii; cfr. also GEIKIE, vol. ii, p. 245, sq.)

A last incident well worthy of mention here in connection with the journey of the Israelites to Sinai is the meeting of Moses and Jethro, narrated in Exodus, after the defeat of Amalec at Raphidim. This was a peaceful interview, in which Israel and Madian entered into a close and lasting alliance, and it was followed by an important change in the manner in which Moses had heretofore administered justice in Israel; henceforth subordinate judges were to decide minor matters, and only the more important cases were to be brought before the Jewish leader. It seems also that on his return to his own estates Jethro left behind him his son Hobab, who proved a most reliable guide for the chosen people from Sinai to the border of Chanaan (Numb. 10:29, sq.).

2. Sinai. The whole mountain-mass now designated under the name of Mount Sinai comprises three parallel mountains, separated by the valleys Wady el Leja and Wady ed Deir. One of these mountains—that to the northeast—is called Jebel ed Deir and looks upon the convent of St. Catharine, erected at its base; the mountain to the south of the group bears the name of Jebel el Hamr, or Jebel Catharine, whilst between these two mountains is Mount Sina proper, now called Jebel Musa. This last mountain is oblong in form and about two miles in length by one mile in width. Its summit presents many syenite peaks of considerable height and ends north and south in still higher peaks, the one to the south being over 7,000 feet above the level of the sea and bearing the name of Jebel Musa, like the mountain itself, whilst the other, to the north, is almost 7,000 feet in altitude and is known as Ras Sufsâfeh.

The old tradition which connects Mount Sinai proper with the giving of the Law has of late been powerfully confirmed by the labors of the Ordinance Survey Expedition to the peninsula of Mount Sinai. From these long labors, it clearly follows that neither Jebel Catharine, nor Mount Serbal, nor any other mountain which has been spoken of as identical with the Mount of the Law, “has a plain at its foot where a multitude could encamp, and vegetation in its front on which flocks and herds could feed, as the Bible tells us they did at Sinai” (HARPER, Bible and Modern Discoveries, p. 111). From these same labors, it follows also that the various conditions required by the Biblical narrative are fully realized in Mount Sinai. Its wellnigh perfect isolation from the surrounding mountains would easily allow Moses “to appoint certain limits to the people round about” (Exod. 19:12, 23), and its abrupt rise from the plain agrees well with the statement that the Israelites might “stand at the bottom of the mount” (Exod. 19:17). Directly in front of Ras Sufsâfeh is the immense plain Er Rahah, which offers more than sufficient standing ground for all the children of Israel, and from the summit of the same peak it is easy to be heard by a very large multitude. The southern summit of Mount Sinai (the particular peak called Jebel Musa) was most likely the secluded spot to which Moses went when Jehovah called him up to the top of the Mount (Exod. 19:20), for, besides its being completely hidden from the plain Er Rahah, it was formerly called the Mount of Moneijah or of the Conference.

Again, near the base of Ras Sufsâfeh, an old tradition points justly to a hill at the opening of the Wady ed Deir and visible from every part of the valley Er Rahah as “the hill of the golden calf” (Exod. 32:4, sq.), for, whilst the Hebrews could with equal facility share in this idolatrous worship and witness the Divine manifestations taking place on the summit of Ras Sufsâfeh, “Moses and Josue when descending from that mount through a ravine between two peaks might have first heard the shouts of the people (Exod. 32:17) before they saw them dancing round the golden calf” (SCHAFF, Bible Dictionary, p. 809). Finally, “in the torrent which cometh down from the mountain” (Deuter. 9:21), through the ravine into the plain Er Rahah, Moses could cast the dust of the destroyed idol (Exod. 32:19).

In these and other such striking coincidences of the traditional Mount Sinai with the sacred narrative we find plainly a strong argument not only for its identity with the scene described in the book of Exodus “but also that the scene itself was described by an eye-witness” (STANLEY, Sinai and Palestine, p. 43).

It was then in the plain Er Rahah and at the foot of the cliffs of Ras Sufsâfeh that the children of Israel collected in a single encampment, prepared themselves carefully, according to the directions of Moses, for the glorious manifestation Jehovah was about to make of Himself to them, and which actually took place on the morning of the third day (Exod. 19:3, sq.). Everything in this mysterious event was calculated to impress upon the people the greatest and most lasting idea of the power and majesty and holiness of Jehovah. From amid the thunders and lightnings and the darkness which had settled on the mount, they first heard the Almighty speaking to Moses and treating him openly as His ambassador to them, and next, with feelings of indescribable terror, they heard this same voice of God addressing Himself to them and giving forth the Law by which they were to live, that is the Ten Commandments, on which all other laws were to be founded (Exod. 20:1–18; Deuter. 5:5–21).

With this revelation of the Ten Commandments ended the direct outward communication of Jehovah with His people (Deut. 5:22), for they were struck with such terror as to pray their leader that he would henceforth speak to them in the place of God, lest they should die, and Jehovah acceded to their request. Moses was accordingly invested with the office of mediator between God and His people, and during the forty days and forty nights he remained with Jehovah in the cloud he received from Him those various and detailed precepts the perfect fulfilment of which would make of Israel at once a holy and a happy nation.

In point of fact, the Israelites had solemnly pledged themselves to do all that Jehovah would require of them (cfr. Exod. 19:8; Deut. 5:27), but as Moses delayed long to come down from the mount, they thought him lost, and their idolatrous instincts revived. To please them, Aaron, who governed them in the absence of his brother, made them a molten calf, the symbol of the Egyptian Apis, or Mnevis, and proclaimed for the morrow a festival, which the people celebrated with sacrifices followed by those licentious orgies which were so common among heathen nations (Exod. 32:1–6; 1 Cor. 10:7, sq.). This awful breach of the Divine Covenant drew forth vengeance from both Jehovah and Moses, in a manner too well known to need more than a passing mention here; suffice it to say that, after Moses had repeatedly and earnestly pleaded for Israel, God at length forgave entirely His people, renewed His covenant with them, and in a second period of forty days and forty nights of communion with the Jewish leader on the holy mount, He imparted to Moses fresh instructions respecting the various laws of the Theocracy (Exod. 32:7–34).








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