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Icons of the Bible: The Ancient City of Damascus and God's Providence in It

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Icons of the Bible: The Ancient City of Damascus and God's Providence in It
Icons of the Bible: The Ancient City of Damascus and God's Providence in It

“God is in the midst of the city. It shall not be moved. God will help it when morning dawns.” Psalm 46:5

God has always been at work in all things, all places and all people, from the very first cities and even in all the cities around the world right now. His purposes will not be thwarted. his grace is available to you in all circumstances to help you do and think things you could not do on your own.

You are part of the Body of Christ, you are the church, so be the church no matter where you are. Do good and let your thinking and doing be a witness to the world!! - Andy

Icons of the Bible

What is the Significance of Damascus in the Bible?

One of the oldest cities in the world, Damascus was, and still is, the capital of Syria. The oasis city sits on the edge of the Syrian-Arab desert about 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem and is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of western Asia. Damascus plays a significant role in both the Old and New Testaments and is perhaps best remembered as the scene of Paul’s dramatic encounter with the risen Christ and the place where he converted to Christianity.

In Bible times, Damascus lay at least a six-day journey on foot from Jerusalem. Northeast of Mount Hermon and about 50 miles from the Mediterranean coast, Damascus was a leading commercial and transportation center. The city’s location along a river at the crossroads of two major international highways (the Via Maris and the King’s Highway) guaranteed its prosperity and importance.

Although Damascus is close to the desert, ample supplies of water from two rivers allow the region to support vineyards and abundant crops of fruits, grains, nuts, cotton, wool, silk, olives, and tobacco. The Abana River (known today as the Barada) is the primary water source for Damascus. It flows from the northwest mountains through a deep ravine into the city. The Pharpar River (now el-A waj) runs on the outskirts of Damascus, supplying the gardens and orchards. Together these rivers irrigate about 400 square miles of land.

The first mention of Damascus in the Bible is in connection with Abraham’s rescue of Lot after he was kidnapped by a confederation of Mesopotamian kings (Genesis 14:15). Abraham’s senior servant Eliezer was from Damascus (Genesis 15:2).

The Bible does not refer to the city again until the time of David when Damascus and its kings began numerous dealings with Israel. As part of the Aramaean confederacy, Damascus was often associated with wars against Israel. King David eventually conquered the Aramaean kingdom of Syria (2 Samuel 8:5–6), but King Rezin of Damascus regained control of Syria during Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:23–25).

After Solomon’s death, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, and Damascus increased in power. At different times, both Israel and Judah made pacts with the ruling kings of Damascus (1 Kings 15:18–20). Eventually, this led to Damascus dominating both Hebrew kingdoms. For the remainder of the Old Testament, both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel remained entangled with Damascus in battles for control.." from the article: What is the significance of Damascus in the Bible?

Map of Ancient Damascus

Caravaggio’s Famous Painting - “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”

Caravaggio’s Famous Painting - “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”
Caravaggio’s Famous Painting - “Conversion on the Way to Damascus”

I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’

And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:14-18).

What Happened on the Road to Damascus?

The events that happened on the road to Damascus relate not only to the apostle Paul, whose dramatic conversion occurred there, but they also provide a clear picture of the conversion of all people. While some have an extraordinarily dramatic conversion known as a “Damascus Road experience,” the conversion of all believers follows a similar pattern of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, described in Paul’s own words in Acts 9:1–9; Acts 22:6–11; and Acts 26:9–20.

Putting the three accounts together, the details of this amazing experience come together. Paul, who went by the name of Saul at that time, was on his way to Damascus with a letter from the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem giving him authority to arrest any who belonged to “the Way,” meaning those who followed Christ. So intent was he on “opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9) that in “raging fury,” he breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Here was a man who truly hated Christ and all who were associated with Him.

Suddenly a bright light shone on Saul, causing his entire party to fall to the ground. Then Jesus spoke to Saul, asking him, “Why are you persecuting me?” in a voice understood only by him. Saul recognized that this was a deity of some sort because he called Him “Lord” and asked who He was. When Jesus identified Himself as the very One Saul had been persecuting, one can only imagine the terror that filled Saul’s heart. Saul was speechless, no doubt thinking to himself, “I’m a dead man.” The Acts 22 version of the story indicates that Saul’s response was to ask what Jesus wanted him to do. The Acts 9 and Acts 22 retellings of the story have Saul saying Jesus told him to rise and go to Damascus where he would be told what to do.." from the article: What happened on the road to Damascus?

Not Everyone Can Be Paul (But Everyone Can Be Ananias)

painting of paul and ananias
Paul and Ananias

"..Enter Ananias

Luke, the author of Acts, provides the answer for us: “There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10). That’s all we get. We don’t have any indication that Ananias had any special education or training. We don’t know if he was young or old, what he did for a living, or what his family was like. We have no idea whether he was a man of great or little standing in his community. We only know that he was a follower of Jesus. Just a regular, old disciple that was ready when the Lord called his name: And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Here I am, Lord!” he said. “Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he can regain his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” (Acts 9:10-16).." from the article: Not Everyone Can Be Paul (But Everyone Can Be Ananias)

The Crown of All Hebrew Manuscripts: The Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא‎ Keter Aram Tzova or Crown of Aleppo) is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the city of Tiberias in the 10th century C.E. under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate, and was endorsed for its accuracy by Maimonides. Together with the Leningrad Codex, it contains the Ben-Asher Masoretic tradition, but the Aleppo Codex lacks most of the Torah section and many other parts.

BEFORE the discovery of the cache of Hebrew scrolls in the Dead Sea caves in 1947, aside from a few fragments, our Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts were from the late 9th to the 11th century C.E. That is bit a mere thousand years ago when the thirty-nine Hebrew Old Testament Bible books date from 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. Does this mean that prior to 1947, textual scholars and translators were uncertain about the Hebrew Bible that lies behind our English Old Testament? No, there was the most important Hebrew manuscript, which is called the Keter, the “Crown,” that originally contained all the Hebrew Scriptures, or the “Old Testament.”

Why were there so few ancient Hebrew manuscripts when we consider the enormous amount we have for the New Testament? Following the customary Jewish practice, any Hebrew Bible manuscript that was considered too worn for further use, it was locked away in a genizah, which was a storeroom in the synagogue. After some time passed and they had accumulated a number of worn Hebrew manuscripts, they would be taken outside and buried. The Jews carried out this practice for fear that their Scriptures would be profaned or misused. Why? Because these manuscripts contained “Jehovah” (Heb., יהוה), the Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew letters representing the sacred, personal name of God.." from the article: The Crown of All Hebrew Manuscripts: The Aleppo Codex

Today, the city of Damascus is the capital and second largest city in Syria. Its current population is estimated to be about 1.7 million with an additional million or so inhabitants in the greater metropolitan area. In Paul’s day, Damascus was part of the Decapolis on the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. Around the year 635 the city came under Muslim control, and even today, the vast majority of the inhabitants are Muslim. The capital city itself contains more than 200 mosques.

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