Glimpses of Israel - The Negev, A Howling Wilderness

by Joseph H Hunting

Moses wrote, "The Lord's portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye" (Deuteronomy 32:9-10). That was how he described the desert, and he spent about two thirds of his life there journeying from place to place, either in Sinai or the Negev wilderness.

The logistics of that period has no parallel in human history. The children of Israel, together with the mixed multitude that came with them out of Egypt, would have numbered at least two million. They had herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. Whilst their daily food was provided by God in the form of manna, the daily supply of millions of gallons of water was a continual necessity and its lack in the arid Negev caused great distress. It was not until all who were over the age of twenty at the time they left Egypt had died in the wilderness (except Caleb and Joshua) including both Moses and Aaron that their wilderness wanderings ceased.

The Negev hadn't changed much over the centuries and there is still evidence of the activities in the southern part of the Negev by Egyptians who mined copper before Solomon. The ruins of a nearby temple to the Egyptian goddess Hathor is evidence of their presence.

But since the rebirth of Israel in 1948 dramatic changes have been taking place. Water harvesting pioneered by the Nabateans two thousand years ago has again been developed. Water piped from Galilee has also helped to transform the northern Negev, whilst agricultural development adapted to desert conditions by Israeli scientists is a world leader. Indeed, Israel is the only country where its desert is actually diminishing!

Perhaps the day is not far distant when this "howling wilderness" will fulfil Isaiah's prophecy: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" (35:1).