One of the most interesting and overlooked parallels in Scripture is the location of the Israelite camp just before the conquest of Canaan and what appears to be the route of attack by the end-times army of the Antichrist when it comes against the holy mountain of God at Jerusalem. We know from Exodus and Deuteronomy that the Israelites camped on the plains of Moab before crossing the Jordan to begin the assault on Jericho.
Likewise, Gog of Magog, whom we’ll show later in the book to be the Antichrist, will bring his army to the very same place—to die.
And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and drive you forward [or, “drag you along”], and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north [yerekah tsaphon, Baal’s mount of assembly], and lead you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 39:1–6, 11)
“The Valley of the Travelers, east of the sea.” Many of us have read that verse and paid little attention to the name of Gog’s burial place, maybe assuming it was symbolic.
If “the sea” is the Mediterranean, that could be anyplace from Dan to Beersheba—in other words, just about anywhere in Israel. This has allowed prophecy scholars to keep the war of Gog and Magog separate from Armageddon, which many still incorrectly place at Megiddo. But “east of the sea” actually means ancient Moab, which was east of the Dead Sea. This opens a fascinating new look at the war of Gog and Magog.
The Hebrew word rendered “traveler” is ōbĕrîm, a plural form of the verb ʿbr, which means “to pass from one side to the other.” In this context, then, a Traveler is a spirit that passes from one plane of existence to another, in the same sense that the ancient Greeks believed the dead had to travel across the River Styx to reach or return from the underworld.
It is interesting that this was the very place, just northeast of the Dead Sea, where Israel camped before crossing the Jordan to begin the conquest of Canaan. How do we know this? Because places where Israel stopped after the Exodus refer to the dead, and specifically to the Travelers.
And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. (Numbers 21:10–11)
Oboth has the same sense as ōbĕrîm, although it’s more specific. Oboth derives from ʾôb, which refers to necromancy, the practice of summoning and consulting with spirits of the dead. ʾÔb, in turn, is related to the Hebrew word ʾab, which means “father.” In the Old Testament, the word “fathers” most often refers to one’s dead ancestors. For example:
And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers [ăbōṯ]”. (Genesis 47:29–30)
Oboth, then, means “Spirits of the Dead.” And, you’ve probably already noticed that the second half of the compound name Iye-abarim is very similar to ōbĕrîm. Excellent work! Iye-abarim means “heaps (or ruins) of the Travelers.”
Not coincidentally, this area east of the Jordan Rift Valley, from ancient Moab to Bashan, southeast of Mount Hermon, is home to thousands of dolmens, megalithic tombs made from slabs of basalt and limestone that weigh as much as fifty tons.
While dolmens are found all over the world, there are more of these tombs in Jordan and the Golan Heights than anywhere else. They are simple structures, mostly in a trilithon formation—two standing stones and a capstone, like a “table” across the top, with no cement holding the slabs together. Sometimes additional stones are placed at the front and back, occasionally with a porthole cut to include a frame around the opening cut to hold a removable flat stone. Skeletal remains have been found at enough of them to conclude that the primary function of these intriguing structures was burial of the dead.
These ancient monuments are fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, although Iye-Abarim was located just northeast of the Dead Sea, the highest concentration of dolmens in the region is on and around the Golan Heights, where the Rapha king Og and the deity called Rapi’u, King of Eternity, once ruled. A recent survey of the Golan found more than five thousand megalithic burial sites, most of which are dolmens. In Jordan, another twenty thousand dolmens have been found, although many are threatened by the expansion of modern cities and quarrying for rock and gravel. (Which makes sense—dolmens were built where great big rocks were close to the surface and easy to find.) Secondly, and this is an interesting admission: Scholars really don’t know anything about the people who built them.
The dolmens are generally dated to the third millennium (3000–2000) BC. On the Golan Heights, they are more narrowly dated to between 2250 BC and about 1800 BC. Based on pottery shards found near some of the dolmens in Jordan, the megaliths closer to the Dead Sea may be as old as the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, circa 3300 BC.
If the Bible is accurate, and it is, then the time and location suggest that the builders of the dolmens were the Rephaim tribes, who constructed them in the centuries before Abraham’s arrival in the area. By the time the Israelites returned from Egypt around 1406 BC, only Og’s small kingdom remained of the Rephaim—possibly the last of the dolmen-builders in the Levant.
It’s tempting to go overboard with speculation, but we don’t serve our God well by wandering too far afield without evidence. Still, credentialed scholars link the megaliths to the Rephaim, although instead of identifying the dolmen-builders as Rephaim they tend to view things the other way around, believing the dolmens “were the basis for belief in giants, the Rephaim, Anakim, Emim, Zamzummim, and the like.”
In other words, scholars think the people who moved into the lands alongside the Jordan River invented stories of giants because they imagined that really big men must have moved those really big rocks.
The evidence suggests otherwise. More on that next month.