It is only day three, but we have already seen so much! Today we had the opportunity to see three special sites along the Kings Highway, which runs north/south along the western shores of the Dead Sea: Masada, Ein Gedi, and Qumran. We are attempting to soak up all the history, language, culture, and geography that we can. It is important to know that God chose Israel to share Himself with the world including you and me. Jesus came into time, space, and culture to be the way to the Father. That time was around 2,000 years ago. That space was the land of Israel, and that culture was the Jewish culture. Hence, knowing the land, culture and history of Israel brings great context to the God we worship on Sunday, JESUS.
Masada I learned has more history than I can possibly share here. In short, it is a desert plateau on one of the most important trade routes of the ancient world next to the Dead Sea. It transitioned from military outpost to massive tradepost to an extravagant palace to the last stand of free Israelis for 2,000 years before 1948. After hiking or taking a tram to the spectacular summit, we learned how dynamic the time in which Christ came to earth was through Masada’s history.
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).
Ein Gedi or spring of the wild goats (think desert oasis) is the place recorded in 1 Sam 23 where yet to be King David is fleeing from King Saul who aims to kill him out of jealousy. Saul comes into a cave where David and his men are staying to use the bathroom. David has the opportunity to kill Saul but spares him because David is trusting God to make him King and judge Saul. We stopped at a place where the spring bursts out of the desert cliffs in a beautiful waterfall. We were all hot from the desert heat and dunked ourselves in the living (moving water). I couldn’t help but think that David was thinking of this moving water when he wrote in Psalm 42 “ As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you O God.” Our guide told us that a person couldn’t last in this harsh desert more than a day without finding water! Are we parched for God the way David was? I think David knew that God had delivered him from Saul like He delivered him from Goliath etc. Often our life feels like living in a dry desert with enemies at our heels. Remember that Jesus said, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14. Why keep going to wells that can’t fully satisfy when we can go to Jesus?
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.
Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These scrolls are the earliest copies of the Old Testament (written near Jesus’ time), and were discovered soon after Israel became a state again. A Jewish religious sect called the Essenes, who lived like monks of the middle ages, made the scrolls. The Essenes faded from history long ago but the scrolls survived to the modern era hidden in desert caves. To me the scrolls are another example that God is in control of all things and His word will last forever. We had the opportunity to see the caves and some of us even climbed into them! As I end, I would encourage you to discover God’s word again today and be reminded that He is real no matter what the world might say.
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.
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