A Trip Down a River To The Source - Part Five
Abraham lived in a country full of "deceitful brooks"
When we talk about brooks, we think of these bubbling streams full of jumping fish and clean water, but when the English Bible versions use the term "brook" it is a bit unfortunate because it contributes a little bit to our misconceptions about the Bible lands. However, if we are talking about water sources which are irregular, fleeting, disappearing and here today and gone tomorrow, the region where Abraham lived is full of these.
To really understand the nature of these 'deceitful brooks" we really need a first-hand account to help us understand what Abraham was choosing when he chose to stay up in the hill country. Professor Hackett, who visited the Holy Land about 150 years ago gives a wonderful picture of what I am talking about here. In his fascinating book "Illustrations of Scripture Suggested By A Tour Through The Holy Land", in a section titled 'The Deceitful Brook' (pg. 20) he says:
"On the second of April I crossed a stone bridge over the bed of a stream to the right of the village of Kulonieh, an hour and a half north-west of Jerusalem. It was then entirely destitute of water. Prokesch, a German traveler, who passed here a few weeks later in the season, speaks of it as a rushing stream when he saw it. Otto von Richter, who was here in August, though he mentions the place under a wrong name, says that is contained then a little water. Salzbacher, who saw the brook near the end of June, says that it was entirely dry. Richardson, an English traveler, speaks of it on the fifteenth of April as 'a small brook, trickling down through the valley.' It varies not only in winter, and summer, but at the same season in different years. It may be taken, however, as a fair example of what is true of Eastern brooks in general. They flow with water during the rainy season; but after that, are liable to be soon dried up, or, if they contain water, contain it only for a longer or shorter time, according to their situation and the severity of the heat of particular years. Hence, the traveler in quest of water must often be disappointed when he comes to such streams. he may find them entirely dry; or, he may find the water gone at the place where he approaches them, though it may still linger in other places which elude his observation; he may perceive, from the moisture of the ground, that the last drops have just disappeared, and that he has arrived but a few hours too late for the attainment of his object.
The chances of obtaining water in the desert are equally precarious. The inter torrents there, owing to the rapidity with which the sand absorbs them, are still more transient. The spring, which supplied a well yesterday, may fail today; or the drifting sand may choke it up, and obliterate every trace of it. On the ninth day of my journey, after leaving Cairo, we heard of a well at some distance from the regular course, and, as the animals (except the camels) needed to be watered, we turned aside to visit the place. We traveled for some miles over immense sand-heaps and under a burning sun, with the thermometer at ninety Fahrenheit. It was out lot to be disappointed. We found the well, indeed, but without a drop of water in it that could be reached by us. The wind had blown the sand into it, and buried it up to such a depth, that all hope of relief from that source was cut off.
This liability of a person in the East to be deceived in his expectation of finding water is the subject of repeated allusion in the Scriptures. In Job 6:15, it furnishes an expressive image for representing the fickleness and treachery of false-hearted friends.
'My brethren have dealt deceitfully like a brook,
As the channel of brooks which pass away;
Which are turbid by reason of the ice,
In which is hidden the melted snow,
As soon as the waters flow off they are gone;
When the heat comes, they vanish from their place.
The caravans on their way turn aside;
They go up into the desert, and perish/
The caravans of Tema search anxiously,
The wayfarers of Sheba look to them with hope.
They are ashamed because they trusted in them;
They come to them and are confounded.'
Our English version of the above passage fails to bring out the image distinctly. The Foregoing translation, which I have brought nearer to the original, may be made clearer, perhaps, by a word of explanation. The idea is, that in spring the streams are full; they rush along swollen from the effect of the melting snow and ice. Summer comes, and they can no longer be trusted. Those journeying in the region of such streams, fainting with thirst, travel many a weary step out of the way, in pursuit of them, in the hope that water may still be found in them. They arrive at the place, but only to be disappointed. The deceitful brook has fled. The sufferers were in the last extremity -- it was their only hope, and they die.
Tema is a region in the north of the Arabian Desert; Sheba a region of Arabia Felix. 'Caravans' says Umbreit, from those particular places are mentioned to give life and individuality to the picture.' The scene is laid in Arabia, because it is in that country especially that travelers are liable to suffer from want of water.
Another passage where we meet with the same comparison is that in Jeremiah 15:18. The prophet's sky had long been darkened with trouble and sorrow; but the deliverer, for who interposition he waited, delayed to come:
Why is my affliction perpetual,
And my wound incurable;
It will not be healed.
Thou art to me as a lying brook,
As waters which are not enduring." (Hackett quote ends here)
Here we can see a stark difference between Abraham and Lot. Abraham chose the land of the deceitful brook over the well watered plains of the Jordan. He chose to rely on God and this is what really captures life here in the hill country of Israel.
To be continued...