Visit To Mt. Sinai - Part 2
Good News Magazine
July 1971
Volume: Vol XX, No. 3
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Visit To Mt. Sinai - Part 2

Part 1

In March of this year two editors of the GOOD NEWS Drs. Hoeh and Martin together with Vasili Constantinos of the Jerusalem dig, were guests of the Israeli Military Government of the Sinai. While there they traced the route of the Exodus, beginning at Marah near the Mitla Pass. This second report commences with Israel's crossing of the Red Sea.

   THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL crossed the Red Sea during the final night of the last high day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That night corresponded to the night at the end of Tuesday and the beginning of Wednesday.
   Exodus, chapter 15, tells us the children of Israel spent the daylight part of that second annual Sabbath in song and triumph, for their enemies all lay dead on the seashore. Now notice what happened immediately after that triumphal occasion.

The Next Three Days' Journey

   "So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water" (Exodus 15:22).
   The "wilderness of Shur"? "Three days'" journey?
   We have already met this wilderness in a previous verse Exodus 13:20. "And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness." Etham, where Israel had earlier encamped, was on the very border of Egypt and the wilderness of Shur in northwestern Sinai. If the Israelites had, at that time, proceeded immediately into the wilderness, instead of turning to Pihahiroth, they would have left Egypt before the days of Unleavened Bread were fulfilled. But since leaving Egypt is a type of leaving sin, God planned that they should take seven days, not five, to come out of
   It was a three-day journey from the shore of the Red Sea to their next major encampment in the Sinai. That is, three days' journey from that Wednesday, Nisan 21, the last day of Unleavened Bread. Three days' journey from Wednesday brings us to a weekly Sabbath Nisan 24 that year. Count it! Saturday is three days from Wednesday.
   Now we will begin to see that the recorded encampments in Sinai were a series of weekly Sabbaths. Though the people stopped to rest daily, or several times a day, to eat, sleep and take care of their personal needs, it was every Sabbath that they encamped to rest for a day. They were being taught the habit of Sabbath keeping!

The Miracle at Marah

   At Marah our journey from Jerusalem into the Sinai met the route of the Exodus. We took the little-traveled route across the northern Sinai over which the Israeli tanks sped to the Mitla Pass. Here, at the Mitla Pass, we first peered out westward across the wilderness of Shur to modern Egypt across the Suez.
   To either side of the Mitla Pass are low mountains. The mountain (594 meters or 1950 feet high) to the south of the pass is called Gebel Marah on present-day maps. The meaning in English is Mt. Marah in the wilderness of Shur a little to the southwest of Mt. Marah the children of Israel must have encamped that first Sabbath in Sinai. A wadi (dry river bed) in this area receives the runoff from Mt. Marah whenever a desert thundershower occurs.
   In this area there is to this day only one source of water for traveling bedouin a single well on the edge of the wadi (32 48' east longitude). It was in all likelihood into the waters of this well that Moses cast a tree, after which the water by supernatural intervention became sweet or fresh.
   In years past I used to query why it was that God showed Moses a tree which Moses cast into the water. The answer is that throughout the Sinai, in wadis one can find half-buried palms and other trees that have been uprooted by the torrents of rushing waters after thundershowers. The trees may be carried many miles and are deposited in the wadis whenever the waters recede. Thus we read in Exodus 15:25, "... and the Lord shewed him (Moses) a tree" probably barely visible in the sand and gravel overburden which Moses ordered cast into the waters.
   It was not the fallen tree which made the water potable. It was the God of Israel who did it! But the people had their part in the miracle. They had to work at dragging that tree to the well. Faith without work, or works, is dead! They had to believe, while laboring and sweating, that when they had finished their part God would do His!
   Thus we read: "...there he [the Lord] made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:25-26). Just as the waters of Marah were healed, so today God heals but we have our part, the calling of the elders, anointing the sick and the prayer of faith.
   All this was a very important lesson about healing which the Israelites should have learned on that Sabbath.

Northern Route, or Southern?

   There is significant controversy among scholars today as to the route of the Exodus in Sinai. The traditional view is that the children of Israel turned southward to the traditional Mt. Sinai in the southern part of the peninsula. A majority of modern critical writers prefer one or more "possible" northern routes.
   We had the enlivening experience of participating in a discussion of this very matter with the former and the present Israeli Governors-General of the Sinai. The present Governor-General resides at the traditional Mt. Sinai in the south of the peninsula. We were his guests and ate at his table. He invited us to his quarters on our first evening at the traditional Mt. Sinai. His special guest was the former Governor-General of the Sinai Major Rothem. Together they discussed the route of the Exodus and the site of Mt. Sinai. The northern route was espoused by our host, the traditional route by the Major.
   Naturally no agreement was reached. But the answer is plainly found in the Biblical record. The children of Israel encamped by the Red Sea (Numbers 33:10-11) on their route from Marah to Mt. Sinai. There would have been no need to return to the Red Sea if Mt. Sinai is somewhere in the northern Sinai peninsula. This verse makes sense only if a southern route is followed the traditional route. We shall see this proved as we follow the Biblical account of the encampments.

The Springs of Elim

   From Marah the children of Israel journeyed to Elim a word meaning "mighty ones" in English. "And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees..." (Exodus 15:27). This is not an accurate rendering of the original Hebrew. There were not twelve wells, but twelve springs. The Jewish Publication Society translation renders it correctly: "And they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water...."
   In Numbers 33:9 the King James Version translates "twelve fountains of water," and the Jewish translation uses "twelve springs of water."
   It is significant that, traveling southward from Marah, the next logical stop a week later brings us to the only area in all the Sinai where there are to this day an abundance of natural springs the region of Gebel Sumar. Present-day maps show eleven springs along several wadis flowing into Wadi Wardan. In Moses' day these springs and a twelfth one must have flowed more extensively, pouring their waters into the wadi along which the Israelites over two million of them were encamped that Sabbath, the first day of the second month, Iyar 1.
   The area of Elim by Wadi Wardan is still significant, for at present the Sinai's largest airport is located nearby.
   "And they [the Israelites) removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red Sea" (Numbers 33:10). As we journeyed south along a modern Egyptian-built road, the land became mote mountainous near the coast along the Gulf of Suez. No longer could the arm of the Red Sea be seen far to the right, as we had commonly been able to see it between Marah and Elim. The mountains began to hem us in. Then suddenly, as we drove through the narrowest pass there opened before us the unexpected, breathtaking view of the Red Sea directly ahead! The sun was dropping low toward the western horizon.
   Anyone who has traveled this route knows that the only pass along the western Sinai coast is at this point. The children of Israel had no choice but to encamp by the Red Sea after journeying through the pass. And there are no recorded complaints, either. It is one of the most beautiful regions in the whole of the Sinai. Up until the Six Day War there existed an Egyptian officers' retreat near the pass overlooking the Red Sea.
   The time of this encampment would have been Sabbath, the eighth day of the second month. From the Red Sea encampment the children of Israel journeyed slowly along the foot of mountain bluffs that extend nearly into the sea at this point.

The Next Sabbath

   The Biblical account now continues: "... and all the congregation of the children of Israel came into the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 16:1).
   Two important points must be noted. One is the place. It is the wilderness of Sin, the desolate, nearly uninhabited sandy plain along the southwestern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. It is still known by that name among bedouin today. The Israelites entered only its northern region before turning eastward into the interior of thc peninsula.
   The second point is the time. It is the fifteenth of the second month. This is exactly a week after the eighth of Iyar, the postulated time of the previous encampment. There can be no doubt. These were Sabbath encampments. Since the Passover, Abib 14, was a Wednesday that year, Iyar 15 is consequently a weekly Sabbath.
   Now observe what occurred this particular Sabbath in the wilderness of Sin: "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron..." (Ex. 16:2). That day, the 15th of the month, a Sabbath, the Lord said to Moses: "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no."
   Here was God's law before Sinai!
   Continuing: "And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily" (Ex. 16:4-5). They were told in advance to prepare for the following Sabbath by gathering twice as much the coming Friday.
   When was this miracle to begin? "And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt" (verse 6). "And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, [near the close of the Sabbath], that they looked toward the wilderness, aid, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even [between the two evenings, at dusk] ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread.... And it came to pass, that at even [at the end of that Sabbath] the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning [of the very next day, Sunday the 16th of the second month) the dew lay round about the host..." (verses 10-14). Out of the dew manna appeared
   Then for six days, the children of Israel slowly journeyed eastward to Dophkah (Num. 33:12) in the northern part of the wilderness of Sin.

Journeying Through Wadi Feiran

   From the plains of the northern wilderness of Sin we also turned east along the only major road that leads to the interior of Sinai. The road, at this point today, is not paved. It is a gravel road that runs along the broad and most beautiful wadi in the whole of the Sinai Wadi Feiran. In this wadi, about a week's travel time for the mass of Israelites from their previous encampment, is the modern oasis of Feiran. This could hardly be other than the ancient Dophkah of Numbers 33:12. It is the largest oasis in all the Sinai. No Israelite complaints here!
   Here, at Dophkah or the oasis of Feiran (33 39' east longitude and 28 43' north latitude), they encamped on the Sabbath the 22nd day of the second month. The previous day Moses had said: "This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord..." (Ex. 16:23). At Dophkah, on the 22nd, "... Moses said, Eat that to day, for to day is a Sabbath unto the Lord..." (verse 25 ).
   Some disobeyed. They went out looking for manna that Sabbath morning and found none. God thundered, "... How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?... So the people rested on the seventh day" (verses 28 and 30).
   From Dophkah the Israelites journeyed to Alush (Numbers 33:13), reaching it and encamping the last day of the month, the 29th, another weekly Sabbath. Alush is located 33 57' east longitude and 28 41' north latitude.
   Along Wadi Feiran we, too, reached another oasis the only other important one along the entire route of the wadi. It could hardly be other than the Alush of the Bible. From here it would have taken them about a day's journey to reach their next unexpected encampment Rephidim, where there was "no water for the people to drink" (Num. 33:14). Rephidim, to this day, is recognized by the local bedouin as a broad area in Wadi Feiran adjoining the pass where the wadi turns south. (Up to this point one travels in the wadi in a general easterly direction.)
   So angry had the people become from lack of water (summer was approaching) that they could have stoned Moses. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod.... Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb, and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel" (Ex. 17:5-6).

Finding the Rock

   Notice that while the children of Israel were temporarily encamped in Rephidim, the elders of Israel hurriedly accompanied Moses to Horeb. Horeb was near Rephidim.
   Moses took off in a fast pace up the wadi southward to Horeb, where Mt. Sinai is located. And there, in the upper reaches of Wadi Feiran, which encircles Mt. Sinai, we saw what must be the rock Moses struck!
   It is the only rock in all Sinai with twelve natural water stains indicating where water once supernaturally flowed out of the side of the rock!
   It is not a natural outcrop of rock. It is a fallen angular boulder lying near the western foot of Mt. Sinai on the edge of the wadi. (Major Kothem and several bedouin children led us to it after we had climbed Mt. Sinai.)
   It is one of the most remarkable evidences of divine miraculous power preserved anywhere in stone. The water could not have been from a natural spring, because this rock is not an outcrop through which springwater might naturally seep. It is one of many fallen boulders around Mt. Sinai, but the only one with water stains!
   The waters pouring from the rock flowed along the western side of the mount, then northward to Rephidim where the thirsty Israelites were encamped.
   The next day, apparently Monday, a battle broke out with a large detachment of Amalekite soldiers (Ex. 17:8) who must have come from the north through a wadi that joins Wadi Feiran near the pass. It was an all-day struggle. Moses, atop one of the ridges along the pas, held up his hands all day to heaven, imploring God to intervene on behalf of the rebellious Israelites. Theirs was the victory.
   Next day Moses' father-in-law arrived, together with his daughter, Moses' wife, Zipporah. (There is a well named after her at the foot of the northern side of Mt. Sinai.) We read of this event in Exodus 18:12, "And it came to pass on the morrow," apparently Tuesday "that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening." The place where Moses sat is traditionally a unique rock outcropping at the pass by Rephidim. It is the most unusual reddish natural rock anywhere along the wadi. If we had had to choose a place to sit while listening to people's problems, this rock outcropping would have been our logical choice. It has the character of a high-backed chair in its contour.
   When Jethro saw how long it took Moses to judge the people, he suggested others be appointed to help. That was done the very next day, Wednesday of that week, Jethro then left.

Encamped at Mt. Sinai

   The next day, Thursday, the children of Israel reached the foot of Mt. Sinai. Here is the Biblical account of this arrival, giving the exact day of the week. "In the third month (Sivan), when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai" (Ex. 19:1).
   The "same day" as what?
   Why, the same day as they "were gone forth out of the land of Egypt"! They left Egypt on the fifth day of the week what we call Wednesday night and Thursday today. They arrived at Mt. Sinai the same day of the week, Thursday. That Thursday, coincidentally, was not only the fifth day of the week, but also the fifth day of the third month, Sivan.
   Near the foot of Sinai, in this valley of the encampment, is a small hill, not at all beautiful, atop which Aaron placed the golden calf. Nearby, along the edge of the wadi northwest of Mt. Sinai is a natural eroded basin in the rock. Locals claim it is where Moses stamped the golden calf to powder. "And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water [flowing from the rock farther up the wadi], and made the children of Israel drink of it" (Exodus 32:20, Jewish translation).
   The next day after their arrival, Friday, Moses made two trips up Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 19:3, 7-9). It took us about an hour and a half on the long, modern eastern trail up the face of Sinai to reach the top. We took it at a leisurely pace. Moses probably climbed up and descended on the steeper northern face of Sinai the ordinary route down from the top of Sinai taken by most tourists who visit the mountain today.
   The following day, Sabbath the 7th of Sivan, "... the Lord said to Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai" (verses 10, 11). That Sabbath Moses climbed Sinai once. Upon returning to the camp he sanctified the people that is, set them apart, commanding them to remain clean and prepare themselves for a special day. The next day, Sunday, they washed their clothes and made everything ready. The third day, Monday, they gathered at the foot of Sinai and saw the cloud in which God descended, accompanied by terrible thunder and earthquakes and falling rocks.
   That famous Monday was the first Pentecost! It commemorates the giving of the Law. Much later, on another Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit of God came to imbue Jesus' disciples and enable them to keep the Law according to its spirit and intent!

The Valley of Assembly

   While at Sinai we asked ourselves the question: In which valley or wadi at the foot of Sinai did the Israelites assemble to hear the giving of the Law? They were encamped to the north, but it would hardly be fitting for the people merely to stand at their tent flaps while the God of Heaven spoke to them in majesty! The only wadi in which they could have assembled away from their tents would have been at the eastern foot of Mt. Sinai. (The Wadi Feiran which extends along the west and southwest of the Mount is too small and, besides, was filled with running water from the rock.)
   Is it significant that at the eastern foot of Sinai one had to face west, not eat, to view the top of Sinai and God's presence? And later, when a temple was built in Jerusalem for God's presence, one also had to stand to the east, and face west, to view the front of the temple! The wadi to the east, at the foot of Sinai, where Israel assembled, is called by the native Arab bedouin the "Valley of Seven." (There is no natural characteristic of seven features in the wadi. The native bedouin know nothing of the name.) Is it significant that one counts seven weeks and then comes the day of Pentecost, the day the Israelites stood in this valley to hear the Law! And is it significant that the only valley or wadi around Mt. Sinai from which one can view the uppermost peak of Sinai is from the east, not the north? (The highest point of the mount is on the southeast, not the north.)

Climbing to the Top of Sinai

   Today one normally approaches the top of Sinai from the east by a route built and hewn out during the Turkish occupation of Sinai. This route gently moves up the talus-covered foot of the mountain in hairpin curves. Higher up, the trail rises steeply, until it cuts through the face of the eastern slope near the northeastern rim of the mount.
   Rim? Yes, rim! For although Sinai is not volcanic, the mountain has a natural rim with a miniature high valley inside, near the top! There is no other mountain like it in all Sinai. One cannot see this miniature valley until one has reached the top of the rim and looks down into the heart of Sinai. There, a few hundred feet below are trees, a well, and an Orthodox chapel erected during the Byzantine period. This valley is reputedly the hiding place of Elijah to which the prophet fled in the days of Jezebel. It was here, according to local tradition, that God spoke to him.
   And to this miniature valley ascended the seventy elders to eat in the presence of the Lord God of Israel (Exodus 24:1-2, 9-11). Moses and the elders came up the north side and descended into this miniature valley over the north rim. But Moses alone proceeded on that occasion to the very top. He would have had to walk up to the inner face of the eastern rim, join the trail on which we walked, and climb, barefoot because of the presence of God. along the inner face of the rim to the highest point.
   The view from atop Sinai is spectacular. To the east, a large valley, then mountains. To the north, the entire stretch of the Sinai Peninsula lies open to view. To the southwest, another mountain slightly higher than Sinai, but lacking its majesty.
   Mount Sinai truly is magnificent!


   ANCIENT Arab historians have preserved the tradition that some time in the distant past the coastlands of the Red Sea and the environs of Mecca were devastated by a great catastrophe. The dating of this memorable destruction has great significance for Biblical studies.
   What was the cause of this calamity, and when did it occur?
   Several Arab historians have preserved this tradition of a terrible destruction. The account handed down by Abu'l Faraj in his Book of Songs is as follows:
The tradition reports that the Amalekites violated the privileges of the sacred territory and that the Almighty God sent against them ants of the smallest variety which forced them to desert Mecca. Afterwards the Lord sent drought and famine and showed them the clouded sky at the horizon. 'They marched without rest toward those clouds which they saw near them, but were not able to reach them; they were pursued by the drought which was always at their heels. The Lord led them to their native land, where He sent against them "toufan" a deluge (trans. F. Fresnel, Journal Asiutique, 3rd Series, vol. VI (1838), p. 207).
   The same catastrophe is also recorded by Mas'udi. The children of Hadoram (Gen. 10:27) Jorham in Arabic were among the first who had settled in the vicinity of Mecca. Here they lived in proximity to Amalekites and lesser tribes, until "an impetuous torrent swept them all away in a single night" (Mas'udi, Les Prairies d'Or, trans. Barbeir de Myenard and Pavet de Courteille, vol. II [Paris, 1965], page 359).
   Quoting the ancient poet al-Harith, a descendant of the few Jorhamite survivors, Mas'udi reflects:
From al-Hajun up to as-Safa all became desert; in Mecca the nights are silent, no voice or pleasant talk. We dwelt there, but in a most tumultuous night in the most terrible of devastations we were destroyed (Mas'udi, vol. 11, p. 359).
   When did this great cataclysm take place? Again, Mas'udi provides the answer. He records the tradition that Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar (Gen. 16:15), settled in Mecca where he married the daughter of Modad, a Jorhamite. After Ishmael's death, his son Nebajoth briefly ruled the city. Next the Amalekites became powerful, but won the Jorhamite Arabs, under their leader al-Hareth, defeated them and maintained predominance over the city "for about three hundred years."
   At the end of this period, when the Jorhamites were being ruled by another Sheikh called Modad, they were defeated by the Ishmaelites, who had grown in numbers, and were forced to leave Mecca. The tribe retreated northwest to the Red Sea coast, where shortly afterward "an impetuous torrent swept them all away in a single night" (Mas'udi, pp. 358, 359).
   Umayya ben Abu es-Salt alluded to this event in the following words:
In the days of old the Jorhamites settled in Tehama [the low-lying coastal plain of the Red Sea], and a violent flood carried them all away (ibid, p. 359).
   Note that this event took place a little over 300 years after the death of Ishmael. There are just over 300 years from that date until the Exodus (Gen. 17:24, 25; 25:17; Ex. 12:40).
   What the Arabs experienced was most likely nothing other than some of the effects of the catastrophes and plagues which devastated Egypt! The "impetuous torrent" which "is known by the name of 'Idam' (fury)" could have been the huge tidal wave generated by the collapse of the waters after the Israelites had crossed through the Red Sea. Imagine the force generated by two five-mile long walls of water suddenly crashing together. Preceded by a violent storm (Ex. 14:21, 24, 25), this tsunami raced up and down the narrow land-locked sea, wreaking havoc along the low-lying coast. Whole coastal tribes were swept away. Even Mecca, which is on the edge of the plain, lay in ruins. Survivors were either absorbed among the other descendants of Joktan and of Ishmael, or else dispersed abroad.
   Thus the flood that engulfed Pharaoh's host may indeed still live in the memory of the Arabs as a very real cataclysmic event! Gunar Freibergs

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Good News MagazineJuly 1971Vol XX, No. 3