In Old Testament times, for more than four hundred years, Jacob’s descendants languished in bondage in Egypt until the Lord sent them a deliverer, the prophet Moses. True to his promise to Jacob (see Gen. 46:2–4; Gen. 50:24–25), the Lord brought Jacob’s posterity out of Egypt and renewed his covenant with them in the Sinai Desert. But because the children of Israel constantly murmured against the Lord and his servants, the Lord declared they would not see the promised land. Instead, their children would inherit it (see Num. 14:1–39). For forty years, they stayed in the wilderness, until Joshua led the next generation into the Holy Land. In this photographic essay, we take a look at the land the Israelites knew.

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1.The ancient Israelites would easily recognize the mud brick-making process being followed here almost as it was during their days of bondage to the Egyptians (see Ex. 1:14; Ex. 5:6–9). Straw is mixed with mud from the River Nile and placed in forms. The forms are emptied on the ground, where the sun dries the molded bricks. It’s a simple technique still used today in many parts of the world.

2. Statue of Ramses II, Luxor, Egypt. Temples and other structures were built by the pharaohs (kings) of Egypt to commemorate their deeds, and to pay respect to their gods. One of the greatest of the pharaohs, Ramses II, who reigned for more than sixty years, is believed to have been the king who placed the children of Israel under bondage. (Photography by M. M. Kawasaki.)

3. Kadesh-barnea, an oasis in the Sinai Peninsula, is believed to have been the base camp for the Israelites after they left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. Kadesh means “holy springs,” and barnea means “desert of wandering.” The surrounding area is desolate, but the oasis is large and fertile. From Kadesh, Moses sent twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan. They returned with an “evil report” of how strong the inhabitants were (see Num. 13). The Israelites revolted against Moses and wanted to return to Egypt, but remained at Kadesh for forty years.

4. Common to the Bible lands is the daffodil and the blue hyacinth.

5. An aerial view of the excavations at Old Testament Jericho. A stone tower unearthed at the site is believed to be 8,000 years old, making it one of the oldest structures on earth. This was the city that Joshua’s men marched around once each day for six days, and seven times on the seventh day. Then at the sound of the trumpet, “the people shouted with great joy,” and “the wall fell down flat” (Josh. 6:20).

6. In biblical times, the plain of Sharon was part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Manasseh, yet the men of the tribe “could not drive out the inhabitants … but the Canaanites would dwell in that land” (Josh. 17:11–12). During the reign of King Solomon, the plain was called the “land of Hepher” and the inhabitants were required to supply provisions to the royal court (1 Kgs. 4:27). This view of the plain is across remains of the seaport city of Caesarea built by Herod the Great in 22 B.C. In the distant background is Mount Carmel where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. The plain, which in biblical times was covered with forests, has been developed into one of the richest agricultural regions of present-day Israel.

7. The port city of Joppa (Jaffa), is immediately south of the modern city of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast. Although little used today, in Solomon’s time, Joppa was the main port serving Jerusalem, about fifty-five kilometers to the southeast. It was through Joppa that Solomon imported the cedars of Lebanon used in building the temple (see 2 Chr. 2:16). Jonah embarked from Joppa for Tarshish in his attempt to escape from the Lord (see Jonah 1:1–3). In 1841, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve landed at Joppa when he arrived in Jerusalem to dedicate the land for the “return of the Jews.”

8. The Sea of Chinnereth, known in New Testament times as the Sea of Galilee, still provides a livelihood for fishermen as it has for centuries. The Old Testament tells of the tribe of Gad settling along its shores (see Deut. 3:17).

9. Winnowing wheat, letting the wind blow away the unwanted chaff, is still done today as it was in biblical times. The process of separating the chaff from the wheat has often been likened to the Lord separating the unrighteous from the righteous (see Ps. 1:4).

10. Still to be seen today, the ox in biblical times was used as a draft animal to pull the plow, it was also used to thresh wheat by crushing the harvested sheaves under foot.

11. A major source of water, the Jordan River is formed by springs that bubble forth from Mount Hermon in the north of what is now Israel, flows south through Lake Huleh (the Waters of Merom), and empties into the Dead Sea. The Hebrew word jordan means “descender,” and in its journey of 160 kilometers the river descends from its source 200 meters below sea level to almost twice that depth. For the Israelites, the Jordan River was the last barrier to the promised land as their sojourn in the wilderness came to an end. Twelve priests, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, carried the ark of the covenant to the edge of the river. As he had with the Red Sea many years before, the Lord caused the waters of the Jordan to stop flowing, “And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground,” (Josh. 3:17). The Lord then commanded Joshua to commemorate the event by creating a memorial where the priests had stood holding up the ark of the covenant. When that task was completed, the Lord caused the waters of the Jordan to flow once more. The children of Israel finally were in the promised land (see Josh. 4:1–11).

12. Many thousands of sheep were reared in Old Testament times, and flocks still flourish throughout the land. As of old, today’s shepherds go before the sheep, and the sheep follow, being apparently attached to their masters, whose voice they instantly recognize. King David, along with the other prophets of old, knew that “The Lord is [our] shepherd,” “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture” (Ps. 23:1; Ps. 95:7).

All photographs by Richard Cleave, unless otherwise stated. Used by permission.