When you picked up this booklet, you might have thought it would be about the geographically overburdened pages of our Bible like those we find in the second half of Joshua. In such cases, little else seems to fit on the page except the place names. As Joshua describes the borders of each land parcel given to the tribes of Israel, we meet sentence after sentence that sounds like this. “Their southern boundary started from the bay at the southern end of the Dead Sea, crossed south of Scorpion Pass, continued on to Zin and went over to the south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it ran past Hezron up to Addar and curved around to Karka. It then passed along to Azmon and joined the Wadi of Egypt, ending at the Mediterranean Sea” (joshua 15:2–4). To be honest these are the kind of pages that challenge even the best biblical geographers.
But when I say there is geography in the Bible, I am not just talking about pages like this in Joshua. I am talking about the chapters and verses we know quite well or at least think we know quite well. Take for example the story of David and Goliath. Of all the Bible stories in the Old Testament, this is among the most familiar to Bible readers. They know about Saul, David, and Goliath. They know about Goliath’s armor and David’s sling. But when I ask how the story begins, they almost always get it wrong.Would you? Here are the opening words. “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp” (1 samuel 17:1–4). That is a lot of geography! What is more, it has been placed at the very beginning of the story where writers put important information meant to influence our reading of all that follows. Have you included these verses in your study of this story?
The same could be said of Psalm 23, the most well-known of the psalms, which is also filled with geography.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake (psalm 23:1–3).
Perhaps you are beginning to feel the discomfort I felt years ago. When I take a close look at Scripture, it is hard to find a single page without the geography I had been disregarding. It appears both in the Old and New Testaments. It is evident in every literary genre from story, to proverb, to epistle. Ironically the very thing we have been ignoring is actually pretty difficult to miss.