Meaning and Significance
John Sprague's Blog
WOW, our 1st full day in Israel was a full day! Our leaders, Richard & Matt, with our guide Ronan, took us to 5 sites starting in Israel’s hill country and ending at the lowest place on Earth the Dead Sea. We were busy exploring the area, learning the site’s role in the Bible as well as its influence on Israel’s history and culture.
We began our day with a full breakfast buffet at Neve Yearim Hotel and departed at 7:30am to visit 5 sites:
Our first stop was the Yad Ha Shmona Biblical Garden, established by Finnish people in the 1950’s, you’ll need to ask one of your friends on the tour about the back story when we return home.
We then traveled to Bet Shemesh an ongoing archeological dig and climbed down into a large water cistern constructed by the inhabitants of the area in the time before Christ. This was Samson’s home area and seeing the land made his story in the Bible come alive.
Our third site was Azekah which overlooks the beautiful valley in which the Bible’s story of David and Goliath played out. Richard & Matt’s reading of the Bible and pointing out likely areas of Israel and Philistine armies placed us in David’s story.
We visited the Caves of Adullam, in the area where David hid when he was pursued by Saul. Some brave members of our group crawled through some of the caves.
Our last stops of the day were Beit Guvrin and Beit Guvrin prosperous communities which produced interesting and underground structures.
We ended our day at the Dead Sea and are staying at the Isrotel Ganim hotel.
The Biblical Village on the slope of Yad HaShmonah provides visitors with hands-on exposure to the manners and customs of the ancient Israelites. The garden includes olive trees and press, grape vines and several winepresses, wheat field and threshing floor, watchtower, Bedouin tents, ancient Galilean synagogue, and a burial cave. All have been constructed according to the best archaeological knowledge of ancient life.
A border city between Judah and Dan, Beth Shemesh was given to the Levites. Beth Shemesh was the most important Israelite city in the Sorek Valley as it watched both east-west traffic through the Sorek Valley and north-south traffic along the “Diagonal Route.” Recent excavations have shown a thriving city here from the Middle Bronze Age through the Iron II period.
I think my earliest memory of the David and Goliath Bible story was from a re-enactment of that battle from a children’s Vacation Bible School – a Jr. High kid with a toy slingshot mock fighting a large, adult man dressed as Goliath the Philistine. The skit backdrop was some paper and props in the front of the church sanctuary.
Today, as our group sat high at the top of Azekah overlooking the valley where David fought Goliath, that Bible skit I saw as a kid came alive. The view below me was the story’s real backdrop. This was the actual place where these true events played out. Incredible! One of our guides fleshed out the story, pointing to the hills of Socoh on the right where the Philistines encamped. To the left were the Israelites. In the middle was the valley where David challenged and killed him. We could see the hills where David would have come running to bring supplies to his brothers. I imagined him hearing Goliath taunt them and defame the Lord’s name. I could see David showing his courage and love for the Lord as he told Saul he would take on Goliath. The plain where they would fight was right before us. Lord, thank you for this real place. This actual land. This true story. May I rise in courage and faith in life like David. May I remember your act of faithfulness with David, and in the story you are writing in my life. Out of your love for me and the gift of this trip and experience today, may I love you more deeply. Thank you so much, Lord.
Tel Azekah and Elah Valley
The Brook Elah is famous for the five stones it contributed to the young slinger, David. Some surmise that David chose five stones instead of the one needed in case he needed to face Goliath’s four brothers.
Beth Guvrin (Maresha)
Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park is a national park in central Israel, 13 kilometers from Kiryat Gat, encompassing the ruins of Maresha, one of the important towns of Judah during the time of the First Temple, and Beit Guvrin, an important town in the Roman era, when it was known as Eleutheropolis.
Archaeological artifacts unearthed at the site include a large Jewish cemetery, a Roman-Byzantine amphitheater, a Byzantine church, public baths, mosaics and burial caves.
Ben Ting’s Blog
What a wonderful start to this first full day in Israel! After a packed schedule of visiting the Sorek Valley, everyone on the bus enroute to our hotel by the Dead Sea looked exhausted, but also content. There were too many special moments to recount. One of the most memorable for me was sitting on top of a hill looking over the Valley of Elah. With the noonday sun beating down and a hot breeze gently blowing, I scanned the landscape below and felt myself melting into history. All the biblical stories I had studied and heard sermons on suddenly came to live. While listening to Matt’s imaginative retelling of David killing Goliath, I could almost see the standoff of the opposing armies in that ancient battle and the young shepherd boy running toward the lumbering giant.
I realized that traveling is so much more enjoyable when I am able to attach meaning and significance to what I see. While I have seen other parts of the world which are also very interesting, some even awe-inspiring, the Holy Land feels different. As Ronen, our able tour guide put it, visiting Israel can change my Bible-reading from black-and-white to full color. What an intriguing thought! And this is only the first day!
Known in the Bible as the “Salt Sea” or the “Sea of the Arabah,” this inland body of water is appropriately named because its high mineral content allows nothing to live in its waters. Other post-biblical names for the Dead Sea include the “Sea of Sodom,” the “Sea of Lot,” the “Sea of Asphalt” and the “Stinking Sea.” In the Crusader period, it was sometimes called the “Devil’s Sea.” All of these names reflect something of the nature of this lake.