“The lord said to Abram: Now raise your eyes and look from where you stand northward, southward, eastward and westward, for all the land you are viewing I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen. 13:14, 15). When God spoke those words Abraham was standing at Bethel, which is nearly 2,900 feet above sea level. From that elevation he must have had a magnificent view of the land that would play such an important role in history.

Most of us know little about the physical features of Palestine. Yet an understanding of Bible geography contributes to an understanding of the teachings of Scripture.

For example, in Matthew 20:18 Jesus said to the Twelve, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” Why up? Because Jerusalem is located in a mountain range at an elevation of about 2,600 feet. Just down the mountain from Jerusalem is the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, 1,300 feet below sea level.

As a child I always pictured the “wilderness” in which the children of Israel wandered in terms of the forests around me in the Pacific Northwest—lush green trees and underbrush, almost jungle-like in spots. I don’t recall ever seeing a picture of the Sinai wilderness as it really is—a bleak, barren, but beautiful desert. Once I discovered this, the wilderness wanderings took on new meaning. God’s provision of food for forty years in a barren wasteland is much more of a miracle than it would have been had they been traveling in a forest. And how vital it was that the Israelites’ shoes not wear out, since they had to walk on scorching sand.

“ ‘Come on! Let us mold bricks and thoroughly bake them,’ ” said the people about to build the Tower of Babel; “so they had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar” (Gen. 11:3). Why brick instead of wood or stone? ...

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