Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Biblical Geography: Coastal Plain – Plain of Asher, Part 1

This is a continuation of our series on biblical geography.  For an introduction to the series, go here.  For an introduction to the Coastal Plain, go here.  The next few posts in this series will focus on the Plain of Asher.

The Plain of Asher is in the northwest corner of the Land of Israel.  It is about 25 miles from north to south.  In this image from the Survey of Western Palestine, completed in 1870s, you can see the two sections of the plain: the narrow northern half (about 3 miles from east to west) and the wider southern half (about 10 miles from east to west).

In Old Testament times, the Plain of Asher belonged to the tribe of Asher, hence the name.  (Geographers sometimes are not the most creative bunch of folks).  The modern city of Haifa, Israel's major harbor on the Mediterranean, is located within this region, and in ancient times the port of Acco was here as well.

What was it like to live in Asher in ancient times?  It was a quiet and fruitful region of the land of Israel.  While there were battles being fought and kings rising and falling in other parts of the land, the Plain of Asher missed most of the action and does not appear very often in the biblical record.

It was quiet primarily because it was hemmed in by mountains on the north, east and south, and by the sea on the west.  The Ladder of Tyre on its northern edge was a hindrance to traffic, so there were no major highways through this area.  As was mentioned in the previous post, the international highway that passes through the other major sections of the Coastal Plain bypasses the Plain of Asher.

It was fruitful because this region receives the runoff from the hills of Galilee so the soil from the highlands washes down onto this plain.  In addition, this region receives reliable rainfall each year of about 24” (600 mm), unlike other parts of the country where the rainfall is less predictable.  Those two factors combined with the mild Mediterranean climate made the Plain of Asher an ideal place to till the ground and raise crops.

The Bible itself acknowledges that this is a fruitful section of the country.  Jacob predicted in Genesis 49:20, "Asher's food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies" (ESV).  A few hundred years later, Moses prophesied: “Most blessed of sons be Asher; let him be the favorite of his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil” (ESV).  The reference to oil possibly refers to olive oil from the olive groves that the land of Asher could sustain.  Moses goes on in the next verse to talk about the security of this land and the strength of its inhabitants: “Your bars shall be iron and bronze, and as your days, so shall your strength be” (ESV).  The tribe of Asher was given a piece of prime real estate that provided them with security, sustenance, and strength.

In the next post in this series we'll take a closer look at this small, but fruitful region.

Map courtesy of Historic Views of the Holy Land (www.LifeInTheHolyLand.com).