Traveling By Land in Biblical Times

From Issue: Discovery 8/1/2003

Have you ever thought about how comfortable it is to travel in the 21stcentury? While riding in a minivan to your grandparents’ house on a hot summer afternoon, you likely will sit on a covered, cushioned seat, and have the air conditioner blowing on you in order to keep cool. All the while, you might listen to your favorite songs, or watch a movie on the little TV that comes with many vans today. If you happen to feel a bump in the road that is not absorbed by the van’s shocks, you might become a little annoyed, be-cause you are not used to being “disturbed” while riding down the road. In just 3 1/2 hours you are able to journey a little more than 200 miles to your grandparents’ house on only half a tank of gas. Best of all, you get there just in time for supper—grandma’s specialty of fried chicken, fresh vegetables, and apple pie. The biggest frustration for you during your journey was that it just seemed to take too long.

Now, compare your normal traveling experience in the 21stcentury with someone from Bible times. If you were like the average person back then, you would have walked almost everywhere you went—to work, to worship, and even sometimes to your relatives’ (who might live thirty miles away). When God gave Abraham the land of Canaan to inhabit, He instructed him saying, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever…. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Genesis 13:14-15,17). About 2,000 years later, when Jesus was on Earth, it seems that He walked nearly everywhere He went. Although animals such as mules, donkeys, horses, and camels often were used when traveling really long distances, walking was still the most common method of travel.

Whether walking or riding on an animal, traveling in Bible times was uncomfortable, tiresome, and dangerous. The Bible describes Jesus as “being wearied” after traveling from Judea to a city in Samaria known as Sychar (John 4:5-6). When writing to the church at Corinth concerning the trials that he had endured as a servant of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote that he had been “on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers,…dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness,…through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corin-thians11:26-27).

To avoid the extreme heat of the Sun, travelers would often journey by night, and get their direction from the stars. People also traveled at nighttime in order to help escape detection from thieves, who (like in the parable of the Good Samaritan—Luke 10:29-37) would hide beside the road (perhaps behind large rocks or bushes), waiting for someone to rob. And if that was not enough, a journeyman in Bible times also had to beware of wild animals along the way. Lions, leopards, and bears were just a few of the animals that used to lurk about the land of Palestine, especially in the wilderness of Judea. (Do you remember how “a young lion came roaring against” Samson as he traveled through the vineyards of Timnah—Judges 14:5-6?)

Truly, traveling in ancient times was much different than it is today. It was both wearisome and scary for people to leave the comforts and safety of their village to journey elsewhere. In view of the many dangers that travelers encountered along their journeys, we should be even more thankful for the godly men of history who traveled great distances to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.


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