We’ve already seen that moving east (of Eden) was normally rebellion in Genesis terms but what about the north? I often get slagged about being from the north, and I jokingly often apologise about it when I speak publicly at events in Cork. But what about the Bible and the north?
Well in most books there doesn’t seem to be much to differentiate the north from anywhere else apart from in Jeremiah. For whatever reason, Jeremiah is all set to twin any mention of the north with trouble. Here’s a few references:
(chapter 1) 14 The Lord said to me, ‘From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,’ declares the Lord.
‘Their kings will come and set up their thrones
in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;
they will come against all her surrounding walls
and against all the towns of Judah.
(Chapter 4) 6 Warn everyone to go to Zion!
Run for safety! Do not wait!
I am bringing trouble from the north.
Everything will be totally destroyed.”
(Chapter 10) 22 Listen! The report is coming –
a great commotion from the land of the north!
It will make the towns of Judah desolate,
a haunt of jackals.
(Chapter 46) 20 ‘Egypt is a beautiful heifer,
but a gadfly is coming
against her from the north.
(Chapter 50) 3 A nation from the north will attack her
and lay waste her land.
No one will live in it;
both people and animals will flee away.
Apart from Jeremiah, a very few other instances remain of trouble coming from the north, Daniel 11 being one of them.
But why the north?
Well, what makes it even more unusual for those of you who know Israeli geography, is that although it’s not likely to ever have trouble from nations in the sea or desert (west and east respectively), that a few nations that are being described as from “the north” are not geographically located there at all. Babylon is situated eastward of Israel, as is the Medo-Persian empire. Here are a few more references you can explore:
(Isaiah 14:31; Jer 46:20, 24; 47:2; 50:3, 9, 41–43; 51:48; Ezek 26:7)
The only reason I’ve ever read is the following:
“In Mediterranean latitudes the northern circumpolar stars never set but remain forever in the sky, unlike those stars that rise nightly only to set in the west. These far northern stars, picturesquely designated “the imperishable stars” in ancient Egyptian because they never set, became a picture of immortality and eternity in the ancient Near East.
It is therefore appropriate for the north to be the biblical locus for the eternal God’s sacred mountain, which goes by more than one name (Mt. Zaphon, “north;” Mt. Zion). It is a celestial locale, not to be confused with any earthly place, for God “stretches out the north over empty space” (Job 26:7 NASB). From here God administers the cosmos, summoning the starry hosts “to heaven … above the stars of God … on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north” (Is 14:13 NASB). The physical location of Jerusalem, where God’s terrestrial house was built by Solomon, was irrelevant to its metaphysical significance as a counterpart to the northern celestial abode: “His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Mt. Zion in the far north, the city of the great King” (Ps 48:1–2 NASB)”
Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). In Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed., p. 596). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
So the north doesn’t always produce trouble. It’s the symbolic home of God – where he dwells, and where blessing and judgment will always flow. Perhaps that’s why the Northern Irish always call the province “God’s wee country”, though I have my suspicions otherwise.