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Hebraic Directions

Several methods were used in the ancient world to determine a direction.

The Hebrews used at least three of these methods: basic direction, local geography and the position of the sun. For the Hebrews, the terms north, south, east and west carried more meanings than just simple neutral directions. They also had other significant connotations and implications. Other directions such as northwest and southeast were seldom used in Bible times.

The world of the Hebrews is divided into four parts, termed "the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12; Rev. 7:1; 20:8). The basic direction for the Hebrews is the east – from the rising of the sun.

In determining any direction, the Hebrews faces the point where they know the sun rises each day. Thus, the east is the front, sometimes called the place of dawning.

All other directions receive their designations relative to the east as the front. Thus, west is the rear, north is on the left, and south is on the right. The correct sequence of the directions is clockwise (not crisscross) -- east-south-west-north, similar to the Chinese:

Numbers 2
- On the east side, toward the rising of the sun (verse 3)
- On the south side (verse 10)
- On the west side (verse 18)
- On the north side (verse 25)

Numbers 35:5
And you shall measure outside the city
on the east side two thousand cubits,
on the south side two thousand cubits,
on the west side two thousand cubits,
and on the north side two thousand cubits.
The city shall be in the middle.
This shall belong to them as common-land for the cities.  

The Hebraic word qedem for "east" means the front, the fore part or before.

The word "south" originated from a Hebrew word negeb meaning "dry country" which usually refers to the Negev (Gen. 20:1), a dry region. Its root word meaning is to be parched; from its drought.

The root word yam for "west" means to roar; a sea breaking in noisy surf or large body of water. This Great Sea refers to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Hebrew word tsaphown translated as "north" came from the Hebrew root word for "look out", which was also the name of a high mountain in Syria. It further means properly hidden, dark, gloomy and unknown.

All the Hebraic directions (east, south, west and north) have their special Biblical meanings only when Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, is placed at the centre.

As the Hebrew method of affixing directions assumes that a person is facing the sunrise, the east. The left hand of the person, therefore, indicates the north; and the right hand indicates the south.

In Ezekiel 16:46, the KJV and ASV versions use the clauses "thy left hand" and "thy right hand", whereas the NIV and NKJV versions use "the north of you" and "the south of you". Biblically speaking, the right hand is the hand of strength and blessing, but the left hand usually indicates deception and treachery (Judges 3:15,21).

When the Son of Man judges the nations, He will divide His sheep from the goats. His sheep, the righteous, will be placed at His right hand-- the place of honor. But He will set the goats, the unrighteous, on His left hand-- the place of condemnation (Matthew 25:31-33).

These Hebraic meanings are of great importance. We are not wandering without any specific direction. Our faces are arrayed towards the east, the Risen Son, the dawning of His glorious kingdom on earth when our Creator returns and reigns as the King of kings and the LORD of lords. And at His right hand are pleasures forevermore! (Psalm 16:11)

Which is the most important gate in Jerusalem? The East Gate which is also known as the Golden Gate. During the time of the First Temple, the East Gate was the main entrance into the Temple area. It was also the gate that Jesus entered on a humble donkey in His triumphal entry.

The Bible proclaimed that Jesus would return and enter Jerusalem through this gate. So, Moslem leader Saladin had it sealed in 1187. It is still sealed today (please see picture below).

Afterward he brought me to the gate,
the gate that faces toward the east.
And behold, the glory of the God of Israel
came from the way of the east.

His voice was like the sound of many waters;
and the earth shone with His glory.
Ezekiel 43:1-2

goldengate.gif (40027 bytes)

If you are interested, please also read about The East Gate (The Golden Gate).

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary