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THE PLAIN OF ESDRAELON.
king of Syria, when the monarch, infuriated at the repeated disclosure of his plans by the prophet, resolved to put him to death, and for this purpose
compassed the city both with horses and chariots.” But whilst the valley was filled with the “ great host,” “behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha,” so that he could confidently say, “Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”: As we look at the valley girdled with hills on every side, and remember the mighty host of defenders once revealed there to the eye of faith, we gratefully call to mind the promise made to every believer, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.'
The town of JENIN, which lies at the junction of several valleys and roads, is a place of considerable importance. Its Scripture name, En-gannim, (the fountain of the gardens) seems to be derived from a magnificent fountain of water which rises in the hills just behind the town, and irrigating the rich alluvial soil turns it into a garden. It has the reputation of being unhealthy; but its picturesque minarets, surrounded by clumps of feathery palms, gardens of cactus and prickly pear, and luxuriant orange groves, make it one of the most beautiful towns in Palestine. Dr. Wilson, in his “ Lands of the Bible," calls attention to the peculiar head-dress of the women of this district, and thinks it illustrates the words of Solomon, Thy cheeks are comely with rows (of jewels), thy neck with chains [of gold).* Strings of gold coin hang down from a sort of tiara upon the cheeks, like the tie of a helmet, and a similar ornament is worn round the neck. A colony of Egyptians was settled in this neighbourhood about half a century ago, and as it resembles the headdress of the fellaheen of Egypt it may have been derived from them, but it is probably much older.
We are now at the entrance of the great Plain OF ESDRAELON, so memorable in the military history of the Jews as the scene of some of their greatest victories, and most disastrous defeats. It forms an irregular triangle, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan valley, bounded on the north by the hills of Galilee, on the south by those of Samaria. Amongst the former Tabor is the most conspicuous, both from its height and its peculiar pyramidal form. The long ridge of Carmel stretches along the south-western side. The mountains of Gilboa and Little Hermon rise out of the plain itself at the eastern end.
Near the centre of the plain on a low flat-topped hill at the foot of the western extremity of Gilboa, are a cluster of wretched mud hovels, now called Zerin. They mark the site of JEZREEL, the seed plot of God as the name means, and which it probably gained from the extraordinary fertility of the
2 Kings vi. 8-18.
3 The description of the flight of " Ahaziah, king of Judah," and his pursuit by Jehu, in 2 Kings ix. 27, is wrongly translated in our version. Instead of " by the way of the garden-house,” it should be “by the way of En-gannim.” A glance at the map will show that he was endeavouring to escape into his own country by the direct route along which we have been travelling.
? Ps. xxxiv. 7.
4 Cant. i. 1o.
soil. Here stood the “ivory palace” of Ahab and the temple of Astarte with its four hundred priests supported by Jezebel. On the eastern side overlooking a steep rocky descent into the plain was the house of Jezebel, from the window of which she was cast down at the command of Jehu. Killed by the fall, she was left to be devoured by the troops of pariah dogs which to
this day prowl and snarl around every oriental city, and are its only scavengers. The ruins of an ancient tower probably mark the spot where the watchman stood looking out along the valley toward the Jordan, and saw Jehu driving furiously towards the city. Though only the lower courses of the original Migdol or watch-tower remain, yet a view may be gained for miles in the direction from which Jehu was approaching, and every incident in the nar
| This explains the use of the word in Hosea ii. 22.
rative can be made out. A smooth open space outside the city is pointed out as Naboth's garden. The fountain by which he was slain, and where the blood was washed from the chariot of Ahab is likewise shown, but the biblical narrative seems to point to Samaria rather than to Jezreel as the scene of the murder and the retribution."
A few flat-roofed hovels are all that remains of the beautiful city whose only associations are those of idolatry and lust and bloodshed. One marble sarcophagus, and the fragments of two or three others lie outside the modern village. The crescent moon, the familiar symbol of the goddess of the
1 The references are too numerous to be given in detail. They extend from 1 Kings xvi. 29 to xxii. 40, and 2 Kings x.
Zidonians is sculptured upon them. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that these very coffins once held the bones of the royal house which “taught Israel to sin.”
The scene of the great battle between Sisera, the captain of Jabin king of Hazor, and the Israelites under “ Deborah the prophetess," and
« Barak, the son of Abinoam,” was at the western end of the plain. Sisera was encamped at the foot of Carmel near the Canaanitish city of Megiddo with “his nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon." The Kishon is
a small stream which rises at the eastern end of Carmel and flows into the Mediterranean. In summer it is nearly dry, but it rises with great rapidity and when swollen by storms of rain becomes a rushing roaring torrent." The little army of Deborah consisted of the men of the northern tribes who had suffered from the oppression of the king of Hazor. Those of the south and east were indifferent to the sufferings of their brethren. “ Reuben abode amongst the sheepfolds to hear the bleatings of the flocks,” “ Gilead abode beyond Jordan," " Dan remained in ships," and "Asher continued on the sea-shore.” But
' A friend of mine who had crossed it dry-shod in the morning, when riding from Haifa to visit El-Muhrakah, was exposed to considerable danger when endeavouring to recross it in the afternoon, and narrowly escaped being swept away.
DEBORAH, BARAK, AND GIDEON.
" Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death, in the high places of the field.” With them was a contingent from Ephraim, Benjamin, and Issachar. The small but heroic band of ten thousand men encamped on Mount Tabor, a strong position, which commands a view of the whole plain. At a signal from Deborah, Barak, with his compact and resolute army, rushed down upon the foe and threw them into confusion. Josephus informs us, that a sudden and violent storm of sleet and hail aided the attack. “ The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” The river swelling from a petty brook into a furious torrent completed the rout. “ The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon.” Sisera alighting from his chariot fled away on foot, and as a solitary fugitive met his death from a woman's hand."
No long time elapsed before a new and yet more terrible oppressor was sent as a scourge to chastise “the children of Israel, who again did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Every traveller in the Vale of Esdraelon has seen the black tents of the Bedouins who have crossed the Jordan with their flocks and herds for the rich pasturage which they here find. Until within the last few years these wild maurauders were accustomed to lay waste the whole district, carrying off the crops and the cattle of the peasantry without any check from the corrupt and feeble government. It was from this quarter that the new foe appeared. Vast hordes of these "children of the east ... came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number.” “They destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.' A "mighty man of valour,” Gideon, the son of Joash, was summoned by the angel of the Lord to undertake the task of deliverance. He began by throwing down the altar to Baal. The invaders at once gathered their forces to crush the rising spirit of resistance. They pitched their tents all along the valley of Jezreel. Gideon and his men were encamped on the mountains of Gilboa.
Just where the mountains subside into the plain a spring of water gushes out in such abundance as to form a pool of considerable size, and then flows down to the Jordan. Gideon, who had already reduced his numbers by dismissing to their homes all who were “fearful and afraid,” was now ordered to reduce them still further by bringing them down to the fountain to drink. The great majority went down upon their hands and knees and drank from the stream. But three hundred hardy veterans were satisfied to take a little water in the palms of their hands and
lap it as a dog lappeth,” whilst they stood alert and erect upon their feet. This was the little band by whom God was to work deliverance for Israel. The smallness of the number would show that God “saveth not by many, nor by few," but by his own power.
And the selected few—men vigorous, temperate, and self-denying—were fitting instruments for Him to work with.
| Judges iv. v.