The ABC of Scattering:
Part 4: From Zoar to Moriah

John Plunkett

February 6, 2016

Just as a recap of the study that we have been going through so far: we have been following the early peoples of the world as they obeyed – and also as they sometimes did not obey –  God’s commands for them to be fruitful, to multiply, to scatter themselves across the face of the whole earth, and to replenish it.

I'm sure that you are all  very familiar with the story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19 where we finished last time.  We left that recently truncated family in a cave in the mountains up behind what Lot called the "little" city of Zoar.

God’s Word pretty well finishes with Lot at that point, after giving us his examples and lessons, most of them bad ones, including these results of the incestuous relations:

Genesis 19:
37:  And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.
38:  And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.

He leaves them there in that cave, and He moves on – with the travels of Abraham and Sarah.

I believe that the LORD did bless Lot; but only almost as a kind of by-product of His blessings upon Abraham.

After Zoar, Lot is only mentioned in another three scriptures; and even then only as mentions of the lands that Lot’s descendants inherited.  Let’s just read them as a matter of interest.

Deuteronomy 2:
9:  And the LORD said unto me, "Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give you of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession...
19:  And when you come nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession.

It is certainly not for me to criticize the decisions of our great Creator; but I can’t help feeling that, in some respects, Lot received more real estate than he really deserved. 

Was the LORD really pleased with Lot and his children, and his later descendants? 

From the third and last of these post-Zoar mentions of Lot, I would think that the LORD was not pleased with his descendants.  Here in Psalm 83, we find that Lot’s descendants are associating themselves with the LORD’s enemies, with people who hated the LORD, hated His ways and hated His people:

Psalm 83:
1:  Keep not you silence, O God: hold not your peace, and be not still, O God.
2:  For, lo, your enemies make a tumult: and they that hate you have lifted up the head.
3:  They have taken crafty counsel against your people, and consulted against your hidden ones.

The Hebrew word for “hidden” is "tsaphan" and would have been better translated here as “treasures.”

4:  They have said, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.
5:  For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against you:

The Psalmist, who we believe to be a man by the name of Asaph, then lists nine of these enemy states:

6:  The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;
7:  Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8:  Assur also is joined with them: they have helped the children of Lot.  Selah.

We believe that the Psalmist is saying here "Selah" – "Hey!  Notice that!" – is that what he has just said, sung or written is very significant.

So we say, "Farewell" to Lot and his daughters and we go back to Abraham, who was, of course, relatively obedient – certainly compared with Lot.  Abraham, Sarah and their group were still on the move, going southward:

Genesis 20:1a:
And Abraham journeyed from thence…

And when it says “thence” here, it is believed that he had probably been in Mamre at that time.

1b: … toward the south country, and dwelled {Hebrew: yashab} between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned {Hebrew: guwr} in Gerar. 

We see that word "yashab" again.  When it says "sojourned," the Hebrew word is "guwr."  We'll review them in a minute.  But first let’s get our bearings:

"Kadesh" (Hebrew: Qadesh) means "holy."  It was a city in the extreme south of the area that would later become the tribal territory of Judah.  It is elsewhere referred to as Kedesh, or Kadesh Barnea.

"Shur" (Hebrew: Shuwr) means "wall."  It was a place south-west of Palestine, on the eastern border of Egypt – or possibly even within – the border of Egypt at that time.  The Israelites later passed through the Wilderness of Shur after crossing the Red Sea. (Exodus 15:22).  The Wilderness of Shur is elsewhere referred to as the Wilderness of Etham (Exodus 13:20; Numbers 33:6-8).

"Gerar" means "lodging place."  This meaning was very significant in the case of Abraham.  It was a Philistine town south of Gaza and is currently believed by archaeologists to be located at the modern valley of Nahal-Gerar in the Negev Desert.

Repeating, Abraham and his group dwelled  – yashab'd – between Kadesh and Shur, and they sojournedguwr'd – in Gerar.  Perhaps the place-name of Gerar was related to the verb guwr.

Last time, in Part 4, we examined the difference between the two words "yashab" and "guwr." 

Although not not physically necessary for God's people today, the early peoples, including Abraham and his group, any long-term dwelling – or yashab-ing – appears to have been a "no-no" from the LORD's point of view.  However, temporary sojourning or guwr-ing appears to have been acceptable to the LORD. 

But we also found last time, that there are two very different meanings of the word "guwr."

If Abraham’s group overstayed the limits of the first and positive meaning of the word "guwr" – in other words, an acceptable, short-term sojourn and the seeking of temporary hospitality, then the second and negative meaning of the word "guwr" might kick in.  And that is, to stir up trouble, strife, quarrels and negative excitement. 

And that is exactly what happened in the case of Abraham and Sarah and their group in Gerar!  An almost exact repetition of what happened to them with the Egyptian Pharaoh back in Genesis 12!  And for exactly the same reasons – first of all, because of the length of their halt, and secondly because of exactly the same lie that Abraham told the ruler about the identity of Sarah.  I call her "Sarah the Beautiful."  She must have been "some looker"!

Genesis 20:2:
And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister": and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

Gerar was in Philistia and, from what we know, Abimelech was apparently the king of all Philistia. 

Another set of problems resulted, partly because of this extended halt that appears to have been unacceptable to the LORD, and partly because of Abraham repeating that lie to the king. 

Please remember that we are not looking at all of the fine details of the account here.  We are looking at the aspect of the people being on the move, as God apparently wanted them to be.  Were they on the move?  Or were they stopped?  That is what is of primary importance to our study.

After the LORD appeared to Abimelech in a dream, warning him that Sarah was not for him, the mess did get sorted out, and with a surprising level of benevolence from Abimelech under the circumstances; but no doubt, calmed by his knowledge that this couple were very special and that the LORD favoured them.  

Anyway, after the row was sorted out, Abimelech (very significantly, I believe) offered Abraham and Sarah a free choice of another stopping place within his kingdom.:

15:  And Abimelech said, "Behold, my land is before you: dwell {yashab} where it pleases you.

On first reading, we might think that this halt at Gerar only lasted a very short time.  But verses 17 and 18 imply otherwise:

17:  So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.
18:  For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife.

If this temporary barrenness that the LORD imposed on these women in and around Gerar only lasted for a couple of days, it would hardly have been worth a mention here in the scriptures.  But if we look at it logically, it would have taken a couple months at the very least for the Gerarite women to even find out that their wombs had been closed up.  The timing is of primary importance to our study because it gives us an idea of how long Abraham and his group yashab'd in Gerar. 

Still, as it turned out, this halt may actually have been a good time for a halt because Sarah, at long last, became pregnant with Isaac.  We see some detail of that in the very next verse:

Genesis 2: 
1:  And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken.
2:  For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
3:  And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

Where had Abraham chosen to dwell during Sarah’s pregnancy?  We find out in verse 31:

31:  Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they swore both of them {i.e. Abraham and Abimelech}.  
32a:  Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba…

We'll see some more about that covenant and swearing in a minute.  But it is interesting to note that there are two ideas of what the place-name "Beersheba" (Strong's 884) means.  One is "The well of the sevenfold oath."  The other is "The place of seven wells."

Splitting it up into the two component words, we have "beer" (Strong's 875) meaning well, pit or spring;  and "sheba" (Strong’s 7651) which means seven or seventh.

32b:… then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

I find this last phrase just a little confusing.  It may not be relevant to our studies; but Beersheba, we believe, was actually in Philistia at that time; but this verse says that Abimelech and Phichol returned into the land of the Philistines.  The only explanation I could think of (and this is something of a stretch and a great big maybe) is that once Abimelech gave Beersheba to Abraham, he no longer considered it to be part of Philistia. 

What is more significant, though, is the reason for this sworn covenant between Abraham and Abimelech. And the reason for it was the patching up of yet another row between them!  A row that had blown up over a theft by some of Abimelech's men (though unauthorized by Abimelech himself, of course) – the theft of a very valuable well that Abraham’s men had dug reserved for their group's use.

This is the origin of the "Beer" part of Beersheba – the well, pit or spring.  The sworn covenant was all because of the row over the theft of this well.  

We just turn our taps on these days, and, other than in our occasional times of drought, we very rarely even think about where we get our water from.  But in those places, even now in this day and age, good wells are very valuable, and virtually priceless. 

I'm not sure exactly how somebody could actually steal a well!  But I can only guess that these Philistines must have moved in on it and forcibly took the area around the well.

What happened next, after this row was patched up?

33a:  And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba… 

Why does this remind me of Genesis 9:20, where we read, just a couple of weeks ago, about Noah planting a vineyard after he left Ararat? 

33b:… and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.
34:  And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days.

This had the potential of becoming a problem – in two ways.  First of all, because Abraham and his party stayed there many days.   Secondly, because he planted something called a grove.

This is the first mention in the Bible of the word "grove."

I like to pray outside, either down by the ocean in a wooded area.  Forests, are lovely quiet places to pray – wonderful places to "call of the name of the Lord," as Abraham did here. 

However, throughout the Old Testament, groves are generally condemned by God in many scriptures.  

There are actually two Hebrew words translated "grove" in the scriptures.  The best known type is the sinful kind of grove.  This word appears forty times in the Old Testament, and it is translated from the Hebrew word "asherah" (Strong’s 833) which is another word that may be familiar to many of our brethren.  

These were groves of trees or poles, perhaps similar to the ancient wood-henges of Europe, that were set up near heathen altars and used in idolatrous worship, specifically the worship of a heathen goddess of the same name – Asherah, who had different names, depending on the nationality of the worshippers.  You might be familiar with some of those names as well: Astarte, Ashtoreth, Ostara, Eostre or Easter!

She was the supposed partner of Baal and was variously thought of as a goddess of fertility, of motherhood, of fortune, or of happiness.

That was the heathen type of grove.  The other kind, the type that Abraham grew, comes from the word "eshel" (Strong's 815), which simply means tamarisk, which is is a type of tree or plant.  There are as many as sixty sub-species of tamarisk – sometimes called "salt cedars" –  which are native to Eurasia and Africa.

Here is short excerpt from John Gill’s Commentary:

The Jewish writers are divided about the use of this grove, as Jarchi relates;
One says it was for a paradise or orchard, to produce fruits out of it for travellers and for entertainment; another says it was for an inn to entertain strangers in; it rather was for a shade, to shelter from the sun in those sultry and hot countries; and perhaps for a religious use, and to be an oratory, as the following words seem to suggest: in the midst of it very likely Abraham built an altar, and sacrificed to the Lord; hence might come the superstitious use of groves among the Heathens; and, when they came to be abused to idolatrous purposes, they were forbidden by the law of Moses, which before were lawful.  And, though the name of Abraham is not in the text, there is no doubt but he is designed, and was the planter of the grove...

What sort of trees this grove consisted of cannot with certainty be said, very probably the oak.  R. Jonah thinks it may be the tree which in Arabic they call "ethel," and is a tree like that which is called tamarisk in general it signifies any tree, and especially large trees.

The important question for our study is this: How long would it have taken Abraham to grow a grove?  

This question takes our thoughts back to Noah, and how long it likely would have taken him to grow fruit-bearing vines in his vineyard.  We ask the same thing her with Abraham.  

Other than the length of time that it would taken for him to grow the trees for a grove, the fact that this scripture is the only one using this word "eshel" indicates that there was nothing inherently wrong with Abraham planting it.

What next for Abraham?  Had he come to the end of his journeyings at Beersheba?  Or did God have any more travelling in store for him?  

Yes, He did!  His next journey was a very, very special one that God sent him off on. There were lots of reasons for this trip; and perhaps one of the lesser ones was because he and Sarah needed another "shot in the arm" that they would receive by another test of their faith.  And what a test it was!  This was the biggest test that any human being could be faced with!

Genesis 22:1:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, "Abraham": and he said, "Behold, here I am."

Tempt?  Did God’s Word contradict itself here?

James 1:13:
Let no man say when he is tempted, "I am tempted of God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man.

There is really no contradiction.  Abraham was not being tempted with evil. 

The word "tempt" in Genesis 22:1 is translated from the Hebrew verb nacah (Strong’s 5254), which might be better rendered to try, to prove or to assay, perhaps in the same way as the assaying of gold, silver and other precious metals.  Although the Hebrew verbs are different, we see the same spiritual analogy of the proving and purifying of precious metals in:

Proverbs 17:3:
The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD tries the hearts.

And didn't the LORD ever try the heart of Abraham – yes, and obviously the hearts of Isaac and Sarah too – with this journey and with this huge, huge test!

Now, back in Genesis 22, we see another command for Abraham to "hit the road".

2:  And He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.

Again, according to II Chronicles, Mount Moriah was the same hill in Jerusalem, where Solomon built the first of God’s stone Temples:

II Chronicles 3:1:
Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the LORD appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

It is interesting that the Samaritans who still live there and only recognize the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as truly inspired scripture) make a controversial claim that Mount Gerizim –  not Mount Zion –  is the original location of Mount Moriah.

However, going back to Genesis 22, and staying with the most widely accepted view that it was at Jerusalem:

Genesis 22:
3:  And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
4:  Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

So, they had travelled for three days from Beersheba, and this place of Mount Moriah was still "afar off."  Possibly, it was going to take them another day to get there.  

The point-to-point distance between Beersheba and Jerusalem (assuming that that was where Moriah was) is about 70 kilometres (about 42 miles).  But even today, the road distance is considerably more.  It is one of those "you can’t get there from here" routes.  So, by road it is about 60 miles.

Let’s continue on, still concentrating on the travel-related verses and statements:

Genesis 22:
5:  And Abraham said unto his young men, "Abide you here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you"...
8:  And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering": so they went both of them together.
9:  And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there…
14:  And Abraham called the name of that place "YHVH-Jireh": as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen"...
19:  So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

So this was a round trip hike of about 200 kilometres – about 120 miles. 

But, why?  Have you ever asked yourself: Why, did the LORD send Abraham and Isaac all that way from Beersheba to Mount Moriah to do the sacrifice?  Why did the LORD not just have Abraham perform the sacrifice right there in Beersheba?  Why could he not have done it right there in his "back-yard" –  right behind his tent?  Why did he have to go all the way to that place?

I want to leave you with these questions, and I want to ask you to think about them.  We will come back next time and answer them, in Part 5.