Baldness came upon Gaza

Baldness shall come upon Gaza. It shall be forsaken. [Jer 47.5 MT / 29.5 LXX; Zeph 2.4] The writer, after having unconsciously rested a night on the site of ancient Gaza, as the smoothest place that could be chosen whereon to pitch a tent, was for the first time aware of the literal interpretation of the prophecy, when he saw it on the spot. Detained for a day till camels could be procured, (the plague being then prevalent in Gaza,) the author spent it in traversing the sand hills on which the manifold but minute remains of an ancient city are yet in many places to be seen. Though previously holding to the interpretation given above, and not imagining that any clearer illustration could be given, and ignorant or forgetful, at the time, of any historical testimony that the site of modern differed from that of ancient Gaza, it was impossible for him to doubt that a city had once stood where innumerable vestiges of it are to be seen. The debris of ruins recognised at first sight by every traveller in the East as clearly indicating the site of an ancient city, are abundant, but most minute. Innumerable fragments of broken pottery, pieces of glass, (some of which were beautifully stained,) and of polished marble, lie thickly spread in every level and hollow place, at a considerable elevation and various distances, on a space of several square miles. These obvious indications of the site of an ancient city, recurring over a wide extent, are so abundant, that the number of different places in which they profusely lie cannot be reckoned under fifty,—which not unfrequently are surmounted by sand on every side. They generally occupy a level space, far firmer than the surrounding sand, and vary in size from small patches to more open spaces of twelve or twenty thousand square yards. The successive sand hills, or rather the same oblong sand hill, greatly varied in its elevation, and of an undulated surface, throughout which they recur, extends to the west and west-south-west from the sea nearly to the environs of modern Gaza.

Before approaching Gaza, unconscious where the ancient city stood, it might well be asked what is meant by baldness coming upon it. But having traversed the place on which it stood, and beholding it as it rises naked and bare above the plain, the writer could not fail to see that its perfect baldness shows how truly that word of the Lord rests upon it. On his first visit, he looked in vain for any fragment of ruin one cubic foot in size, for any shrub, or plant, or blade of grass, to relieve or interrupt the perfect baldness that has come upon Gaza. He saw nothing but a jackal freely coursing over its bare surface. The sand of the desert is nowhere more smooth and bare; and the dark spots, where nothing but the vestiges of ruins lie, are so flat and level, that they form no exception to its baldness.

Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion. 39th edition. (London: Longman, Greens and Co, 1872), pp 378-379

The Reverend Doctor Keith offers an intriguing interpretation. Those familiar with life in seaside communities would be well-aware of the ability of the encroaching sands to choke the life out of arable soils and garden plots, rendering an area “bald” of vegetation, particularly when there is no human intervention to prevent such sandy encroachment. The processes are as active today as they were in the times of Rev Dr Keith and the Prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah. As Gaza, like various other cities in the area, had been destroyed at various times in the past, it will likely have suffered its ruins to be covered by windblown sands more than once. In the word of the Lord given to the Prophets, then, we see merely a description of typical or even guranteed results, such that they would hardly require prognostication or a vivid imagination to invent: Gaza rebels, is emptied of people, and the beach sand covers all, just as before, just as will happen again. This perspective of seeing the Lord’s hand in stereotyped processes with repeated historical exempla is something to be developed. There does appear to be quite a number of these tropes in the prophetic literature especially, some of which are mirrored in literature external to the Bible (like the Mari prophecies, which I described here). Collecting and comparing those themes or tropes would be enlightening.

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