How Did the Israelites Find their Way without a Compass?

by Steve Ray on February 13, 2020

How did the Israelites think of north, south, east and west without a compass, GPS or even a map?

download (5)Since I am in the heart of Israel today with our Holy Land Part II pilgrimage, I thought this would be an interesting topic. Here is a short article written by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg.

We read in Gen. 13:14: “And the LORD said to Abram… ‘Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.’” The Hebrew words for the four directions where Abram was asked to direct his gaze are: “north” (pronounced as tsafonah), “south” (negbah), “east” (kedmah) and “west” (yamah).

In English these words are technical navigational terms, but Hebrew is an extremely physical language and the origin of these words is tied to the environment.

The Hebrew phrase translated as “to the north” – (tsafonah) – is connected to Mt. Tsaphon in modern Syria (see Isa. 14:13), which lay to the north of Abram when God told him to look in all directions.

The Hebrew term (negbah), traditionally translated as “to the south,” literally means “to the Negev” – the name of a wilderness in the south of Canaan/Israel.

The phrase (yamah), translated as “to the west” means “to the sea.” Similarly, (kedmah), translated as “to the east,” evokes an image of “going back to something from a time long ago”, namely to the Garden of Eden that God planted in the beginning of history (Gen. 2:8).

Someone put it very well: “To read the Bible always and only in translation is like listening to Bach, always and only played on the harmonica. You certainly get the tune, but you will miss pretty much everything else”.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Connolly February 13, 2020 at 10:16 AM

Thanks Steve very interesting article.

Jean Richard February 13, 2020 at 2:25 PM

Hi Steve I love your work, hope your having a wonderful trip.
I just have a favor to ask you, Tuesday a young newly ordained Franciscan Priest made a short video on YouTube and named it Did the exodus really happen, in it he states that a lot of it should not be taken literally, I mean a lot of it surprised not only me but a lot of viewers. I wonder if you could look at it sometimes a give me your feedback, it would be very much appreciated. The Priest is Casey Cole and it part of his site, Breaking the habit, the video is called " did the exodus really happen. Thanks.

STEVE RAY HERE: Check this out:

Michael February 23, 2020 at 12:18 PM

I think the fact that it took Israelites 40 years to get out of the desert that they did not have a great sense of direction but must have wandered around in circles for decades!

STEVE RAY HERE : I’ve heard the joke that he refused to listen to his wife who told him to ask for directions. He didn’t listen and so they wandered around trying to find there way without help.

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