Q&A: Were there also checkpoints in ancient Israel?


Oh, yes. Here are a few examples, just from the first few books of the Hebrew Bible:

The most obvious instance of a checkpoint was the one set up by the Gileadites to catch retreating Ephraimite soldiers, after the Ephraimites’ defeat in battle. Since Ephraimites were known to have a particular kind of lisp—pronouncing /sh/ as /s/—the Gileadites put a simple test to every man they caught:

Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. [Judges 12:6]

God Himself, it seems, was inordinately fond of checkpoints (manned by angels, of course). Abraham was among the first one to experience this (although he seems to understand immediately that these are messengers of God—presumably based on their appearance):

And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them , he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground [Genesis 18:2]

Abraham’s concubine Hagar also encountered an angel after being banished into the desert by Sarah—although there he didn’t so much stop her, as find her:

And the angel oF THE LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. [Gen. 16:7]

Jacob experienced it twice:

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. [Gen. 32:2]

and later, that night, the seminal encounter where he won his honorific, Israel (‘He who wrestles with God’), with ‘a man’ whom he encounters at or near the ford at Jabbok:

And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

Centuries later (or so we are told), Moses is stopped on Mt. Horeb by an angel appearing in burning bush:

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. (Exodus 3:2)

A very definite angelic checkpoint encounter over forty years later, after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, as they were approaching the Holy Land from the plains of Moab to the east, when Balaam—on a mission to curse the Israelites, on behalf of Balak, the Moabite king—is stopped in his tracks by an angel which he can’t see, but his ass can:

And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way (Numbers 22:23)

There are numerous other examples—like when Saul tries to catch David, or David’s men catch Absalom, etc. etc. But I’d better get back to my day job…

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