The Judean Desert
Day 3 of our trip marked the first day of the desert sites. At the end of the day yesterday, we drove to our hotel, which is situated right on the shore of the Dead Sea. This morning, Yehuda explained that the Dead Sea is located in the Rift Valley along a fault line that separates Israel from Jordan. There is evidence to believe that long ago, the plate containing the country of Jordan moved 70 miles to the north while the plate containing Israel sat still. This created the Dead Sea and several mountain ranges.
Next, we traveled away from the Dead Sea into the Judean Desert. This particular area of Israel averages around an inch of rain per year. Vegetation was very scarce, so the ground beneath us consisted mainly of rocks and dust. Even though it was still morning, the sun was beating down on us, and there was no shade to be found in the desert. The harsh conditions allowed us to appreciate the environment of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert for 40 years before they entered the promised land. Pastor Terry Feix then led us in a lesson about God's provision in the desert times of life. Like the Israelites relied on manna from heaven and water that God caused to flow from a rock, we must also fully depend on God for provision. It is in the desert times that we are most reminded of that, and being in the middle of a physical desert today added to that fact tremendously.
While we were in the desert, we observed two Bedouin women dressed in traditional fashion that covered all but their eyes. They were shepherding a herd of sheep and goats (one of which was talking on her cell phone, reminding us that this is modern times, not biblical ones) while riding donkeys. This began our exploration of Bedouin culture. Our next stop was at a Bedouin oasis in the middle of the desert. Our group was able to go on a camel ride through the Judean Desert. While most of our camels were tame and well-behaved, there was a humorous episode in which two defiant camels refused to cooperate. Yehuda told us later that camels "still had a mind of their own." It doesn't take much to realize that camels' backs are not ideal for riding. However, the uncomfortable ride still proved to be a favorite part of the trip for many. After the camel ride, we entered a Bedouin tent set up to give us an example of Bedouin hospitality. We were treated to a traditional Bedouin welcoming with hot sweet tea, extra bitter coffee (in tiny cups), and delicious homemade pita made of just flour and water. Yehuda taught us more about the Bedouin culture, and Pastor Terry Feix explained that although Abraham was not a Bedouin by ethnicity, his nomadic lifestyle was similar to this.
Our last stop was at the ancient Canaanite city of tel-Arad. The city was massive (by ancient Israel's scale), and included a walled fortress and miniature version of the temple in Jerusalem. Because the city was close to the southern border of Canaanite territory, it had to be fortified and defended. Pastor Terry urged us to identify and support the fortresses we have established for the Christian faith--not military fortresses, but things like hospitals, clinics for the uninsured, or missions in the inner city. These are the places that we fight for our faith to share love and the truth of Christ to others.
Like many cities in the Holy Land, Arad was repeatedly settled because of its strategic geographical location. Though situated in an area with little rainfall, Arad was inhabited frequently in ancient times because of its position along the routes coming from the east and southeast.
When we arrived back at the hotel, many decided to swim in the Dead Sea. The water is so salty that one cannot help but float. The sea also contains oil and minerals that are said to enrich the skin. This was a fun and therapeutic way to end our hot day in the desert.
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