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Hebron/Kirjath Arba

In city, Old Testament, physical geography on April 25, 2011 by simonbriercliffe Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

The burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah

Unlike the more obscure Mount Peor, you don’t have to look too hard for evidence of Hebron, one of the most ancient cities of the near East – the town is still there. The earliest Biblical reference describes Abraham settling in this Hittite territory after his nephew Lot chose to live on the ill-fated plains of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13), but it was founded before that: 7 years before Zoan in Egypt  (Numbers 13:23) makes it hundreds of years older than Abraham, even. Abe lived near Mamre, a Canaanite shrine which was in use c.2600-2000BC, and once he’d bought the land off its Hittite owner, Ephron, he installed his dynasty and made it the burial place of him and his descendants. You can still find the Herod-era enclosure marking the spot where first Sarah, then Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried.

While Abe’s descendents were in Egypt the area fell into Amorite hands, most notably the sizable hands of Arba, forefather of the giant Anak – possible descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. Arba’s descendents the Anakites were eventually driven out by Caleb in Joshua 14, but not before putting the willies up Caleb’s fellow-spies in Numbers 13:33. Later on it was being ruled by Hoham the Amorite (Joshua 10:3).

It was to Caleb that the city of Hebron (or as it was known then, Kirjath-Arba) was apportioned as a special allotment in the region prescribed for his tribe, Judah. The city became Caleb’s in Joshua 14:12-14 but is also notable for its variety of concurrent roles – it was a city allotted to Levi (who didn’t get big swathes of land – the priestly tribe had God for its inheritance), so it’s inhabitants must have been a tribal mixture of Judah and Levi. As well as that, it was a city of refuge – somewhere you could run to if you accidentally killed someone.

A lot of space is devoted to these cities in the Old Testament which suggests that there are important lessons in this, and my Bible reading this morning jolted my memory of this:

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” 
Hebrews 6:18

This, in a passage full of the infallibilities of God’s promises, reminds me that I’m part of that “we”: I’ve fled away from the old way to a “new and living way” and confidently so, because the hope I have is certain and sure – and that’s encouraging.

I like the idea of the levitical cities as well: I’ve no doubt that every so often the Levites would have had a grumble at the intangible nature of their inheritance compared to the other tribes, so God provided for them practically. The same is true today: Christ is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), now ascended out of our eyesight, and our inheritance is specifically not tangible or physical (1 Peter 1:18) but God makes our provision clear anyway: a Comforter in the Holy Spirit, the Word of God to read, “the riches of his glorious inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18).

Later on, Hebron became the first capital of Judah, then of a united kingdom of Israel under David for seven and a half years before David moves up to Zion. The ancient settlement has seen all sorts of rulers and regimes: after the peak of the kingdom of Israel it was overtaken by the Edomites, then sacked by Judah Maccabee, fortified by Herod, conquered by the extremist Sicarii, burnt down by the Romans, rebuilt by the Byzantines only to be destroyed by the Sassanids. After years of varying religious sway it now became Islamicized, then “liberated” by Crusaders, recaptured by Saladin then occupied by the Ottoman empire and after them the British. Post-1948 gets even more complicated, so that today it’s a mishmash of all sorts, mainly Palestinian. Such is life: plenty of ups and downs. But for the Christian, with his/her sure and certain hope? I’m happy to remain cheerful and optimistic in Christ the Rock.

http://maps.google.co.uk/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=212588143428536944279.0004a1cef2720d61e70ad&ll=31.649253,35.408158&spn=0.23184,0.626316&t=p&output=embed
View Biblical Geography in a larger map

Location: Hebron on the Biblical Geography map

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