The epic story of how the Israelis lost, then regained their deterrence.

JEWISH MUSICIANS in Russia, 1890: The exiled Jews in the second era of Judaism were perceived by Europeans just as they were by the Edomites.  (photo credit: PAUKRUS/FLICKR)
JEWISH MUSICIANS in Russia, 1890: The exiled Jews in the second era of Judaism were perceived by Europeans just as they were by the Edomites.(photo credit: PAUKRUS/FLICKR)

The Song of Sea describes new geopolitical realities that followed the miracles God did for Israel: “Then were the chiefs of Edom affrighted; the mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away. Terror and dread falleth upon them”

Yet sometimes thereafter, those chiefs of Edom were no longer afraid. They deny Moses’s request for a “transit visa” on the way to the Promised Land. They threaten Israel and then attack with a heavy force. The Israelis retreat.

Edom’s shift is logical. After all, the miracles of the Exodus occurred years ago, the well-advertised intention to conquer Canaan did not happen and the Israelis were stuck in the desert. Edom could have reasonably concluded that God was no longer with Israel.

They were also likely aware of Israel’s sins, repeatedly angering God: the Golden Calf, the spies, the murmurs. Moreover, the question if God is with Israel was raised by the Israelis themselves: “Is the Lord among us, or not?” they asked early on. Then in the Ma’apilim war, God clarified that he was not. Indeed, Moses communicates to the generation of Israelis that because to their sins, they were pre-exiled from their land.

Centuries later this dynamic is replicated. Europeans in the Middle Ages concluded that God was no longer with Israel, and that Europeans replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. Here too, the Jews themselves provided supporting evidence, citing in their weekly prayers, “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land.”

Indeed, the exiled Jews in the second era of Judaism were perceived by Europeans just as they were by the Edomites, as weaklings who could be bullied – certainly not people who should be allowed to dwell in the cafés of Europe nor near the wells of Edom. (When Europe finally allowed Jews in, a populous counter-movement emerged that ultimately led to the European-wide genocide of its Jews).

Edom’s rejection seems to catch Moses by surprise. He appeals, upgrades the carriers of the message, and sweetens the terms (A similar protocol used by Moab when trying to recruit Balaam). The Israeli submissive attitude is reminiscent of their last encounter with Edom centuries prior.

Back then, Jacob (Israel) feared retribution from Esav (Edom), and took extreme measures to contain the anticipated attack.

YET ESAV did not attack, and even granted Israel’s requested terms of travel. This time the reverse: Esav denies Israel and indeed attacks! Israel surrenders. Not only the path to the Promised Land had been blocked, but Edom’s refusal was indicative of an international coalition that had likely emerged in order to stop the Israeli advance.

“The people who came out of Egypt” as they were described by the King of Moab, made no secret of their intentions to invade. Therefore, there was an alignment of interests to stop them, as evident by the Moab-Midian alliance.

The first battle of Edom – an arrowless battle in which the Israelis unconditionally surrendered – demonstrated to the coalition that the Israelis were indeed no longer as powerful, and that God might no longer be with them.

Therefore, it is no surprise that when the Israelis renew their efforts to advance toward Canaan, they are attacked by another member of the coalition: the Canaanite King of Arad. He delivered a devastating blow to Israel and took captives.

If there were still minority opinions in the nations’ intelligence apparatus about the viability of the Israeli threat, it was likely gone after Arad. The indication that God was no longer with the Israelis was overwhelming: They were stuck in the desert for 38 years, their high priest is dead, their elderly are dead, the generations born in the desert are demoralized, crying for 30 days!

On top of this, in every single military confrontation, the Israelis have been humiliated: the Ma’apilim war, Edom, Arad. Things look that just like as Moses warned, the nations concluded that God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, “to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the Earth.”

The chiefs of Edom are no longer affrighted; the mighty men of Moab are no longer trembling, and as evident from the battle of Arad, the inhabitants of Canaan are no longer melted away.

But then the story twists. After their initial defeat, the Israelis engage in a religious ritual. They vow to God, and just as in Egypt, “The Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities.”

With their first victory in 38 years, Divine deterrence had been restored. The chiefs of Edom were affrighted again – so much so, that as the Israelis advance in their vicinity, Edom does not attack!

FROM A geopolitical point of view, Edom’s failure to attack in the second go-around is hard to understand (akin to the future inhabitants of Edom’s failure to attack in 1973). Israel was vulnerable: lack of water, low morale, bitten by serpents, “and much people of Israel died.” Sihon and Bashan attacked when Israel came to their vicinity, Edom did so before. Why not now?

Evidently, the counter-operation in Arad was an infliction point in the biblical narrative. It generated deterrence that enabled the Israeli journey north toward Canaan. This is just as centuries prior, following that encounter with Esav, an Israeli counter-operation in Shechem generated deterrence needed for the Israeli advance south into Canaan: “And they journeyed; and a terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.”

Once the crossing of Edom was completed, the Israeli anthem evolved from “Then Sang Moses” to “Then Sang Israel.” This song was once again heard clearly throughout the region: Raahcav reports of melting away of the inhabitants of Canaan. Instead of opposing Israel, she chooses to bless Israel. A splinter Midianite group decides to do the same. Hence, God’s promise to Abraham has been fulfilled in both directions: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse.”

Today, as Israel’s deterrence has once again been restored, more and more of the current inhabitants of Edom, Moab and Canaan seek to benefit from the new song of Israel, composed by Theodor Herzl and carried through Zionism. Indeed, among the 6,000 participants at a recent Herzl’s birthday celebration hosted by the America-Israel Friendship League and the Herzl Center, were people from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Observant Muslims, Christians and Jews alike maintain that God is indeed with Israel. But in a stunning development of human history, a new movement arose in recent centuries, for which the age-old question is outright irrelevant: European atheism

As frustrations in Europe mount, so does the intensity of its opposition to Israel. Hence, the Abrahamic equation is once again coming alive: There are those in Europe that opt to oppose, and a growing number of Israel’s neighbors who choose to be blessed.

The writer is chairman of the AIFL Think Tank and author of the upcoming book Judaism 3.0.;

Related Jerusalem Post articles by Gol Kalev:

What inspired Herzl’s Zionism? – New insight into the origins of Zionism, which Herzl established as a Jewish ideal.

Europe should benefit from Herzl– The Jewish state’s visionary planted the seeds for a more perfect Europe in Israel. As Europe debates its optimal road towards renewal, it could learn a lot from Herzl and his brainchild.

To Egypt or to Israel? – Both Herzl and Joshua & Caleb understood what establishment Israelite leadership of their respective time did not – the exodus from Egypt/Europe is the return to Judaism even before it is the return to the land of the Jews.

The inauguration of Judaism 1.0 – The Temple was the point-of-orientation for Judaism When the Romans destroyed the Temple, they destroyed Judaism’s anchor. Yet, Judaism did not evaporate. Instead it transformed, adopting a new anchor – Rabbinical Judaism, centered around Halacha (Jewish Law),  the canonization of the Oral Torah and the yearning to return.

Jewish transformation – Judaism 3.0 – For 2,000 years of exiles Judaism was bound by internal glue of religiosity and external one of insularity.  With the radical decline in religious observance and elimination of outer walls, once again, Judaism has lost its anchor.  But at the same time a new one emerged – Zionism, which is now turning into the organizing principle of Judaism.


Get updates on Gol Kalev's upcoming book: Judaism 3.0

Author’s note: Thanks to all who sent comments and reactions. To clarify, I am not asking if God is still with Israel, but rather suggesting that the world’s nations stance on this question impacts their attitude towards Israel. This is written in the bible itself: “Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say: Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deuteronomy 6;4). Hence the rise of Atheism is a disrupter in the world’s relationship with Israel.

For inquiries and comments, please email: