This post offers an interesting likelihood: that a photo of an ancient well in Northwest Saudi Arabia is a well at which Moses often watered his herds when he served 40 years for Jethro of Midian and it may also be a well the Israelites visited often in their 40-year wandering in the Wilderness after they rejected God’s guidance and protection to lead them into the Promised Land after the Exodus. I saw this photo in an article in the current issue (July 2014) of National Geographic magazine. I found it fascinating as a sidebar to biblical narratives about the tribes of Israel, and I hope that you do as well.
As many readers know, Moses grew up and had great prestige at the court of Pharaoh in Egypt. However, after he killed an Egyptian overseer, Moses had to flee to the land of Midian (modern Northwest Saudi Arabia) where he sat to rest at the site of a well located in Midian (Exodus 2:11-22). Forty years later, God spoke to Moses via an angel in the famous “burning bush” manifestation wherein God sent Moses back to Egypt to be his messenger to liberate the Israelites’ tribes in the Exodus (Acts 7:30). After the Exodus, the Israelites came to receive the laws of God as they encamped before Mt. Horeb or Mt. Sinai in the land of Midian. Exodus 3:1 refers to Mt. Horeb as ‘the mountain of God.” Many readers, I believe, realize that the real Mt. Sinai is not the mountain called by that name in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but rather has to be a mountain in the land of Midian in Northwest Saudi Arabia, as Paul notes in Galatians 4:25. Books and DVD video presentations have documented that the “mountain of God” in that region has to be Jabal al-Lawz, a mountain that has many pieces of lingering evidence that the tribes of Israel encamped there, that a rock was split open to provide water to the Israelites, that the top of the mountain remains blackened to this day due to the presence of God’s Holy fire at the top of the mountain (Exodus 19:20-25), etc. [Two books documenting these facts about Jabal al-Lawz are The Mount Sinai Myth and The Mountain of Moses by Larry Williams and an excellent DVD named Mountain of Fire: The Search for the True Mount Sinai available at www.baseinstitute.org].
The National Geographic issue cited above shows an ancient well in the former land of Midian in an article about Western Saudi Arabia’s history entitled The Wells of Memory (first link). The article focuses on the ancient wells that used to exist in this region. In the second link, there are a number of photos that accompany the published text article in the print-version of the article. The third photo in the options menu of the second link shows the well which includes the following language in its caption in the published version of the article (“For centuries a well at the Al Bad oasis nourished camel caravans and religious travelers. It is now a dry hole. Folklore says that Moses watered his sheep here.”) I think the ancient Arab folklore is accurate.
This well at Al Bad is located in the territory of ancient Midian, which only has so many desert waterholes. Moses had to move his flocks from waterhole to waterhole as grazing vegetation would be limited near any given waterhole. During Moses’ 40-year sojourn in Midian, he surely got to know all the water holes in Midian very well. The ancient waterhole at Al-Bad would have one of those Midianite water holes and I think it all but certain that Moses would have been there often during his 40 years in Midian. There is another key factor that is most interesting. When you compare the map showing the location of the Al-Bad waterhole (see third link) in Northwest Saudi Arabia with a map which shows the location of Jabal al-Lawz, the waterhole shown in the National Geographic article is extremely close to Jabal al-Lawz. Comparing these maps to a topographic map of that region, it appears that Jabal al-Lawz is just east of this pictured ancient waterhole. Indeed, it may be possible to see Jabal al-Lawz from the waterhole, although I cannot say that for sure without being there. At any rate, they are very close to each other so I think it is impossible that Moses did not visit this prominent waterhole in the land of Midian.
Consider that Moses, when he was fleeing from Egypt into Midian, stopped to rest at an unnamed waterhole in Midian (Exodus 2:15). It had to be a prominent waterhole as it was frequented by the daughters of Jethro, a “priest” of Midian, a very high-ranking leader in Midian. What if the ruins of a prominent Midianite waterhole shown on page 86 of the print version of the article in the National Geographic magazine (and also shown in the photo gallery in the second link) was the very well where Moses stopped to rest when he entered Midian, met the daughters of Jethro and met his wife, Zipporah? Forty years later, Moses was leading his flocks in the region west of the wilderness which included Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) when he had his famous “burning bush” encounter with God or an angel/messenger speaking for God. Topographic maps of this region show there is a lowland just to the west of the mountainous wilderness that includes Jabal al-Lawz. That lowland could have had grazing space for flocks and would have included wells for water. This is right in the area where the map of this well’s location is shown in the third link. Moses may have just left the well in the photo in the National Geographic magazine before he journeyed a slight distance to the Jabal al-Lawz mountain and had his “burning bush” encounter.
When the Israelite tribes journeyed to Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God, after the Exodus, they numbered perhaps 3 million people. Exodus 12:37 states that 600,000 men plus women and children and all their livestock left Egypt in the Exodus. This is a massive amount of people and animals that needed water to drink regularly. Exodus 15:22-16:3 records that this mass of people had to move from oasis and waterhole to the next oasis and waterhole and several times God had to save them miraculously by providing water in the desert for them. Since the ancient waterhole shown in the National Geographic magazine article is close to Jabal al-Lawz (Mt. Sinai), the Israelites doubtlessly stopped at this waterhole on the way to their encounter with God at Jabal al-Lawz. The Israelites may have stopped at this ancient desert oasis/waterhole often during their wandering forty years in the wilderness before God allowed their offspring to enter the Promised Land that the Israelites delivered from Egypt had no faith to enter (except for Joshua and Caleb – Numbers 14:1-10).
I hope that you enjoyed this post. It is remarkable how much biblical history involving Moses and the tribes of Israel may have taken place at the very waterhole complex that is shown in the National Geographic magazine article. It used to be an oasis and you can tell from its ruins that it was once a sizable complex of wells and buildings which could supply water to a large mass of people and livestock. It is in the land of Midian and is close to Jabal al-Lawz, the real Mt. Sinai. My bet is that this ancient well is the one mentioned in the Bible so prominently.
Isn’t it amazing what a single photo can evoke?