By Charissa Birnbaum
This morning, we started our day at a site called Yad Hashmona. Here, we saw what agriculture on a terraced hill looked like. We saw date palms, fig trees, and olive trees, and learned that the harvests of each crop would take place in different seasons. This emphasized the need for a community culture in order for the economy of a town to survive.
From there, we headed for Beth Shemesh, which overlooks the Soreq valley. Here, we looked over the Soreq valley where Samson's story took place in Judges 13-16. As we read Samson's story, we learned about a leader whose battles were for personal vengeance and victories were private. It was not until the end of his life, after enduring slavery and having his eyes gouged at the hand of the Philistines, that he was truly able to see. He ended his life repentant, and finally fought to bring salvation for his people and not himself. God was able to use Samon in the midst of his sin to continue drawing his people to himself; a work that would continue all the way through Christ.
From Beth Shemesh, we hopped over to the next foothill, Azekah, which overlooks the Elah Valley. Looking down, we saw the very site where David killed Goliath in 1 Samuel 27. In this story we see a confident warrior with every advantage in his hands, a militarily qualified and dethroned king too cowardly to fight for his people, and a shepherd, the youngest son of Jesse, Israel's annointed king, possessing a confidence not in himself, but in the God of Israel. Goliath is fearless, but his faith is in his own ability. Saul is fearful, because his faith is in his ability. David is confident, because his faith is in the Lord, the God of Israel.
If our faith is in our own ability to perform, we will eventually find ourselves facedown in defeat. Goliath, who had every right in the world's eyes to be confident in his ability to succeed, found himself dead on his face after an encounter with the Lord. Saul, fearful of his lack of ability to perform, finds himself in the same position later on in the Jezreel valley after falling on his own sword. What we see from David is a man whose courage came from outside of himself, a faith and a fear of the only One who is all-powerful! This story shows God's willingness to work in and through the lives of those who place their faith in Him alone.
From Beth Shemesh, we traveled to the not-so-little town of Bethlehem for the afternoon. After eating schwarma, we made our way to the Church of the Nativity. This was the site where they believe Jesus was born. There we had the special opportunity to sing in the Roman Catholic part of the church. As we sang "O Come Let Us Adore Him" in this beautiful place, I meditated on my necessity for Jesus to be incarnate in my heart, and for my life to be a place that welcomes him.
The most thought provoking part of the day was the tension that eminated out of Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Savior. Modern Bethlehem is an Arab town where most Israelis are not permitted to enter. The weight of this tension became real to me when we had to drop our beloved tour guide, Ronan, off at a bus stop before entering the limits of the city, where we met a different (equally awesome, of course) Palestinian tour guide. 30% of the population in Bethlehem is Christian, while the other 70% is Muslim. The believers in this town suffer frequent persecution.
These streets brought a new meaning to Goliath. Goliath represents a world that wants nothing to do with God and everything to do with itself. It is a world that promotes the greatness of individualism, the god of Me, and it looks like it is going to win. When we look at our circumstances and allow them to dictate our faith, we respond to that tension much like Saul: we shrink back in cowardice and let it have its way. When we see the tension and realize we serve a God who will one day defeat this Goliath with a word from his mouth, we are able to fight from faith that God has already won the battle!
Do I hear God's word and allow His voice to dictate my obedience? Or do I see the advantage of Goliath and reject the words of the Almighty?