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Crossing "Jordan" for ever

In the summer of 1920 Ibn Saud had defeated his rival to the north, Ibn Rasheed from the Shammar, and by capturing his capital of Hail had extended his frontier up to that the British had imposed on him by Sir Percy Cox, the British High Comissioner of Iraq, at Uqair, a port in Hasa province. When both, the representatives of King Feisal on one side, and Ibn Saud on the other, made extravagant claims, (the Iraqis claimed that their authority reached south into Nejd twelve miles south of Riad and Ibn Saud claimed the Euphrates as the northern border of his kingdom), Cox lost his patience and started drawing lines on the map of the Middle East which are today the frontiers between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Kuwait. At the same time Glubb arrived in Iraq and witnessed the Shammar tribe crossing the Euphrates below Ramadi in their flight from Ibn Saud:

“For five days the Shammar flowed in a constant stream across the bridge – five of the most strenuous days of my life. Before my eyes passed in review a complete pageant of that nomad life which had not changed in its essentials since the days of Abraham, but which was so soon to pass away. An almost unending procession of tanned men´s faces, framed by long ringlets like those worn by young ladies of the Victorian age. Horses stepped daintily on to the bridge with fine muzzles, arching neck and tails carried high – the breed from which in the past were drawn the ancestors of the thoroughbreds of the world. On their backs sat riders in dirty cloaks frayed at the edges, their bare feet swinging by the horse´s flanks. They looked unkempt and ragged to English eyes, but they managed their horses with unconscious ease, riding only  on a  pad  without  stirrups and  using a  rope or a head-collar  in place of bit and reins. Some carried  long  lances decorated with  ostrich feathers, but the  majority  had rifles  slung  on their backs. At other times came great camel litters, wooden crescent-shaped frameworks hung all over with carpets, tassels, white shells and blue beads. They seemed to lurch uncomfortably from side to side. Now and then the face of a smiling girl would peer out from behind the curtains.

“The whole pageant was dominated by camels. One by one the great herds would pace slowly up to the bridge-head. There is no shade in the desert for hundreds of miles, and the slow heavy camels would pause or shy ponderously at the unaccustomed shadows of the date palms. On reaching the head of the bridge the whole flock would pause, pushing and jostling against one another. Long necks were stretched out suspiciously, staring eyes gazed vacantly at the swift-flowing Euphrates and the frail wooden bridge. Then from the front of the herd, an old, rather moth-eaten camel would tread slowly forward on to the planks of the bridge. A boy of twelve or fourteen would be lying flat on his stomach along her back, his cotton night-shirt tucked up to his hips. Advancing ten yards along the bridge, the old camel would stop, and look contemptuously at the swift Euphrates twirling and spinning below the frail planks of the bridge. Then the herdsman, in a shrill voice, would give his call: Way-oh! Way-oh! Way-oh! Hei! Hei! Hei!

The jostling herd at the bridge-head would quieten. One long neck after the other would rise, the thin head turning slowly to listen. Yes, that was a familiar voice! Then suddenly the whole herd would press forwards that voice and on to the bridge. In a second the old camel was tearing across the frail planks, the herd-boy bouncing on her back. Behind her charged a solid phalanx of enormous animals, the outside ones leaning in at an angle of sixty degrees, pushing their neighbors to prevent themselves being pushed into the stream. The plank decking of the bridge clapped up and down, the pontoons sank to their gunwales as the charge passed over them, and then shot up again as the weight passed on…For five days the pageant continued. The lumbering flocks, the cantering horsemen, the swaying litters, the deep voices, the veiled faces of which only the eyes were visible. Then the last flock was over, the last of the swaying litters and lean horsemen disappeared once more into the shimmering mirage of the desert to the east of the river.”

Glubb was deeply moved by the scene. From that moment onwards the desert and its people held him in thrall. He was not to know at that time that he was witnessing the passing of an era, the end of an economy based on the camel. There are still black tents in Arabia today but instead of camels and horses pick-up trucks are parked alongside them.

The voice of the herder, the picture of the boy on the leading camel mare making her and the whole herd cross the unknown river can be regarded a metapher for the role of the GREAT SHEPHERD OF MANKIND, Jesus, and the yearning of the FATHER IN HEAVEN. He has sent his son, in order to be our rafiq through life, and the door to a new world when we all shall one day cross river Jordan for ever. 

The other picture from the Bedouin world that can be applied to the Messiah is the Akid on a white horse coming from heaven on the last Day of Judgement. That day he will gather his complete herd and bring it home to our heavenly father as the booty of a raider in Bedouin style! 

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