Ein Gedi, Masada, and Qumran
First off, I should say that, I can’t believe how much we’re doing on this trip! I thought we were just going to be visiting a bunch of museums - but, we’re crawling through caves, and hiking through canyons, and riding camels and, like today, visiting waterfalls!
Before we got to the actual spring of Ein Gedi Richard had been speaking about Ezekiel 47. As he was speaking a picture was being formed in my mind of the water flowing from the temple in Jerusalem through the wadis of the Judean wilderness and the height of the water is increasing from knee deep to waist high to a mighty torrent. The trees are springing up on either side with their fruit and then the fresh waters reach the Dead Sea. Those waters from Jerusalem reach the shore of the Dead Sea where there is no life - no animals or fish - no deer panting at fresh water. The Dead Sea is not a place you would try to quench your thirst! So, then we got to the spring and Richard was reading John 7:37, reminding us that Jesus said, at the temple in Jerusalem, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink...”
You know, I’ve heard these things, of course. For the last year I’ve been studying and I’ve learned a lot, but something about today...being in that desert, wanting to get into that spring. I realized today that my own soul has been dry for so long. Even though I’ve been in church, I’ve been praying...I realized today the degree to which my soul was thirsty. But, it’s even more interesting than just that because, I’m standing there, and I’m dying to get into the water...but, I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t have the right shorts, I don’t have a bathing suit...and I’m tired and sweaty...and I don’t have the right shoes...” So, I’m right in front of this powerful waterfall, wanting to get in, but wavering back and forth. I finally take my shoes off and start entering, and I think, “these rocks really hurt my feet...” You know, it’s like one thing after another. And it was in that moment, I think, that I really realized how dry my soul is...as I was walking out to the waterfall and I went underneath it...I was so overwhelmed. I was crying because the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. I realized that, even in my own life, it wasn’t until I was put into some uncomfortable places and even with all my excuses, that I start moving towards that living water.
As I waded away form the waterfall the first thing I realized was that my shorts - which I had made such a big deal about in my own mind, since they weren’t bathing suit shorts - that the pockets were completely full and water was flowing out over the pockets. It was like this perfectly timed metaphor, God saying, “I will not only pour over you, but also fill you to overflowing...” like, “here’s something to take with you!” As I walked away I reflected on what we saw at Ein Avdat as we were walking through that wadi and saw the tree with it’s roots reaching out to the stream of water. I’m like that tree, and my soul is thirsty and I need to be stretching myself out to God, the living waters, so that even in the worst circumstances, His living water will bring fruit out of my life.
Masada means stronghold, and it was just that. A very mighty fortress on the top of a mountain. It was a very steep mountain that stood alone, and was not connected to any of the others. The sides of the mountain were very steep and were not easily traversed. In fact, there was only one small path, “ the snake path”, that went to the gate of Masada. Masada was in a very important location due to being right on the kings highway, making it a prime location for both trade, and protection for the region. It was such a great location, that when King Herod attained power in about 39 b.c. he wanted this location for himself, and was able to attain it. He made some amazing upgrades, which included a three tier palace and special store houses for trade. It turns out that upon excavation this was not a mere stronghold but it was actually its own business. With King Herod in control, Masada started producing their own perfume, storing salts for trade, and bitumen. Bitumen was important because it is used for the tar for roman roadways, salt for preserving food, and perfume as an expensive trade. Herod was able to create somewhat of a monopoly with all the trades he controlled and became very wealthy.
The reason all of this is important, is because Herod was not the only one to gain wealth in the region. Everyone seemed to be benefiting from his leadership and the trade he controlled. With great prosperity, also came a time of peace in the area. Pax Romana was in place, which was a time of peace in the realm or roman control. This is important, because the wealth that flowed into the area and the peace that came with it, helped to set up the perfect atmosphere for the gospel message to be spread. The disciples, years after Herod had passed away and left his land and control to his three sons, used these roadways, and were able to travel freely throughout the region to affectively spread the gospel. Masada finally fell years later, when a group of zealots took over the area and were under siege from the Romans. The Romans built a huge ramp, which took a very long time to build, and when they got to the top, the zealots had all killed one another. The stronghold itself was impressive, and the story of who lived and operated there was impressive. The siege story was of course impressive, but none of these come close to the most impressive part. God used the greed of a man named Herod, to bring great wealth and power into an area that ended up being a factor in a long period of peace. This peace was one of the key proponents to the gospel being able to spread as rapidly as it did after Jesus appeared to his apostles and sent them out. Masada is full of history, but truly shows how God was preparing the world for his message that was coming through His son Jesus Christ.
En Gedi is the largest oasis along the western shore of the Dead Sea. The springs here have allowed nearly continuous inhabitation of the site since the Chalcolithic period. The area was allotted to the tribe of Judah, and was famous in the time of Solomon (Josh 15:62). Today the Israeli kibbutz of En Gedi sits along the southern bank of the Nahal Arugot.
The summit of Masada sits 190 feet (59 m) above sea level and about 1,500 feet (470 m) above the level of the Dead Sea. The mountain itself is 1950 feet (610 m) long, 650 feet (200 m) wide, 4,250 feet (1330 m) in circumference, and encompasses 23 acres. The “Snake Path” climbs 900 feet (280 m) in elevation. From the west, the difference in height is 225 feet (70 m).
10 miles south of Jericho, Qumran was on a “dead-end street” and provided a perfect location for the isolationist sect of the Essenes to live.
The site was excavated by Catholic priest Roland deVaux from 1953-56. More recent excavations of the site have taken place under the direction of Hanan Eshel.