The Help of God in the Conquest of the Kingdom of Og of Bashan. - Deu 3:1. After the defeat of king Sihon and the conquest of his land, the Israelites were able to advance to the Jordan. But as the powerful Amoritish king Og still held the northern half of Gilead and all Bashan, they proceeded northwards at once and took the road to Bashan, that they might also defeat this king, whom the Lord had likewise given into their hand, and conquer his country (cf. Num 21:33-34). They smote him at Edrei, the modern Draà, without leaving him even a remnant; and took all his towns, i.e., as is here more fully stated in Deu 3:4., “sixty towns, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.” These three definitions refer to one and the same country. The whole region of Argob included the sixty towns which formed the kingdom of Og in Bashan, i.e., all the towns of the land of Bashan, viz., (according to Deu 3:5) all the fortified towns, besides the unfortified and open country towns of Bashan. חֶבֶל, the chain for measuring, then the land or country measured with the chain. The name “region of Argob,” which is given to the country of Bashan here, and in Deu 3:4, Deu 3:13, Deu 3:14, and also in 1Ki 4:13, is probably derived from רְגֹוב, stone-heaps, related to רֶגֶב, a clump or clod of earth (Job 21:33; Job 38:38). The Targumists have rendered it correctly טְרָכֹונָא (Trachona), from τραθών, a rough, uneven, stony district, so called from the basaltic hills of Hauran; just as the plain to the east of Jebel Hauran, which resembles Hauran itself, is sometimes called Tellul, from its tells or hills (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 173).
(Note: The derivation is a much more improbable one, “from the town of Argob, πρὸς Γέρασαν πόλιν Ἀραβίας, according to the Onomast., fifteen Roman miles to the west of Gerasa, which is called Ῥαγαβᾶ by Josephus (Ant. xiii. 15, 5).”)
This district has also received the name of Bashan, from the character of its soil; for בָּשָׁן signifies a soft and level soil. From the name given to it by the Arabic translators, the Greek name Βαταναία, Batanaea, and possibly also the modern name of the country on the north-eastern slope of Hauran at the back of Mount Hauran, viz., Bethenije, are derived.
The name Argob probably originated in the north-eastern part of the country of Bashan, viz., the modern Leja, with its stony soil covered with heaps of large blocks of stone (Burckhardt, p. 196), or rather in the extensive volcanic region to the east of Hauran, which was first of all brought to distinct notice in Wetzstein's travels, and of which he says that the “southern portion, bearing the name Harra, is thickly covered with loose volcanic stones, with a few conical hills among them, that have been evidently caused by eruptions” (Wetzstein, p. 6). The central point of the whole is Safa, “a mountain nearly seven hours' journey in length and about the same in breadth,” in which “the black mass streaming from the craters piled itself up wave upon wave, so that the centre attained to the height of a mountain, without acquiring the smoothness of form observable in mountains generally,” - “the black flood of lava being full of innumerable streams of stony waves, often of a bright red colour, bridged over with thin arches, which rolled down the slopes out of the craters and across the high plateau” (Wetzstein, pp. 6 and 7). At a later period this name was transferred to the whole of the district of Hauran (= Bashan), because not only is the Jebel Hauran entirely of volcanic formation, but the plain consists throughout of a reddish brown soil produced by the action of the weather upon volcanic stones, and even “the Leja plain has been poured out from the craters of the Hauran mountains” (Wetzstein, p. 23). Through this volcanic character of the soil, Hauran differs essentially from Balka, Jebel Ajlun, and the plain of Jaulan, which is situated between the Sea of Galilee and the upper Jordan on the one side, and the plain of Hauran on the other, and reaches up to the southern slope of the Hermon. In these districts the limestone and chalk formations prevail, which present the same contrast to the basaltic formation of the Hauran as white does to black (cf. v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 75ff.). - The land of the limestone and chalk formation abounds in caves, which are not altogether wanting indeed in Hauran (as v. Raumer supposes), though they are only found in eastern and south-eastern Hauran, where most of the volcanic elevations have been perforated by troglodytes (see Wetzstein, pp. 92 and 44ff.). But the true land of caves on the east of the Jordan is northern Gilead, viz., Erbed and Suêt (Wetzst. p. 92). Here the troglodyte dwellings predominate, whereas in Hauran you find for the most part towns and villages with houses of one or more stories built above the surface of the ground, although even on the eastern slope of the Hauran mountains there are hamlets to be seen, in which the style of building forms a transition from actual caves to dwellings built upon the ground. An excavation is first of all made in the rocky plateau, of the breadth and depth of a room, and this is afterwards arched over with a solid stone roof. The dwellings made in this manner have all the appearance of cellars or tunnels. This style of building, such as Wetzstein found in Hibbike for example, belongs to the most remote antiquity. In some cases, hamlets of this kind were even surrounded by a wall. Those villages of Hauran which are built above the surface of the ground, attract the eye and stimulate the imagination, when seen from a distance, in various ways. “In the first place, the black colour of the building materials present the greatest contrast to the green around them, and to the transparent atmosphere also. In the second place, the height of the walls and the compactness of the houses, which always form a connected whole, are very imposing. In the third place, they are surmounted by strong towers. And in the fourth place, they are in such a good state of preservation, that you involuntarily yield to the delusion that they must of necessity be inhabited, and expect to see people going out and in” (Wetzstein, p. 49). The larger towns are surrounded by walls; but the smaller ones as a rule have none: “the backs of the houses might serve as walls.” The material of which the houses are built is a grey dolerite, impregnated with glittering particles of olivine. “The stones are rarely cemented, but the fine and for the most part large squares lie one upon another as if they were fused together.” “Most of the doors of the houses which lead into the streets or open fields are so low, that it is impossible to enter them without stooping; but the large buildings and the ends of the streets have lofty gateways, which are always tastefully constructed, and often decorated with sculptures and Greek inscriptions.” The “larger gates have either simple or (what are most common) double doors. They consist of a slab of dolerite. There are certainly no doors of any other kind.” These stone doors turn upon pegs, deeply inserted into the threshold and lintel. “Even a man can only shut and open doors of this kind, by pressing with the back or feet against the wall, and pushing the door with both hands” (Wetzstein, pp. 50ff.; compare with this the testimony of Buckingham, Burckhardt, Seetzen, and others, in v. Raumer's Palestine, pp. 78ff.).
Now, even if the existing ruins of Hauran date for the most part from a later period, and are probably of a Nabataean origin belonging to the times of Trajan and the Antonines, yet considering the stability of the East, and the peculiar nature of the soil of Hauran, they give a tolerably correct idea of the sixty towns of the kingdom of Og of Bashan, all of which were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, or, as it is stated in 1Ki 4:13, “with walls and brazen bars.”
(Note: It is also by no means impossible, that many of the oldest dwellings in the ruined towers of Hauran date from a time anterior to the conquest of the land by the Israelites. “Simple, built of heavy blocks of basalt roughly hewn, and as hard as iron, with very thick walls, very strong stone gates and doors, many of which were about eighteen inches thick, and were formerly fastened with immense bolts, and of which traces still remain; such houses as these may have been the work of the old giant tribe of Rephaim, whose king, Og, was defeated by the Israelites 3000 years ago” (C. v. Raumer, Pal. p. 80, after Porter's Five Years in Damascus).)
The brazen bars were no doubt, like the gates themselves, of basalt or dolerite, which might easily be mistaken for brass. Besides the sixty fortified towns, the Israelites took a very large number of הַפְּרָזִי עָרֵי, “towns of the inhabitants of the flat country,” i.e., unfortified open hamlets and villages in Bashan, and put them under the ban, like the towns of king Sihon (Deu 3:6, Deu 3:7; cf. Deu 2:34-35). The infinitive, הַחֲרֵם, is to be construed as a gerund (cf. Ges. §131, 2; Ewald, §280, a.). The expression, “kingdom of Og in Bashan,” implies that the kingdom of Og was not limited to the land of Bashan, but included the northern half of Gilead as well. In Deu 3:8-11, Moses takes a retrospective view of the whole of the land that had been taken on the other side of the Jordan; first of all (Deu 3:9) in its whole extent from the Arnon to Hermon, then (Deu 3:10) in its separate parts, to bring out in all its grandeur what the Lord had done for Israel. The notices of the different names of Hermon (Deu 3:9), and of the bed of king Og (Deu 3:11), are also subservient to this end. Hermon is the southernmost spur of Antilibanus, the present Jebel es Sheikh, or Jebel et Telj. The Hebrew name is not connected with חֵרֶם, anathema, as Hengstenberg supposes (Diss. pp. 197-8); nor was it first given by the Israelites to this mountain, which formed part of the northern boundary of the land which they had taken; but it is to be traced to an Arabic word signifying prominens montis vertex, and was a name which had long been current at that time, for which the Israelites used the Hebrew name שִׂיאִן (Sion = נְשִׂיאֹן, the high, eminent: Deu 4:48), though this name did not supplant the traditional name of Hermon. The Sidonians called it Siron, a modified form of שִׁרְיֹון (1Sa 17:5), or נְשִׂיֹון (Jer 46:4), a “coat of mail;” the Amorites called it Senir, probably a word with the same meaning. In Psa 29:6, Sirion is used poetically for Hermon; and Ezekiel (Eze 27:4) uses Senir, in a mournful dirge over Tyre, as synonymous with Lebanon; whilst Senir is mentioned in 1Ch 5:23, and Shenir in Son 4:8, in connection with Hermon, as a part of Antilibanus, as it might very naturally happen that the Amoritish name continued attached to one or other of the peaks of the mountain, just as we find that even Arabian geographers, such as Abulfeda and Maraszid, call that portion of Antilibanus which stretches from Baalbek to Emesa (Homs, Heliopolis) by the name of Sanir.