God’s Mercy and Trustworthiness
Today started off by making a climb from nearly 1,300 feet below sea level at our hotel next to the Dead Sea to the top of Masada, a few hundred feet above sea level. The hike from the base to the top of Masada was around an hour, with about 1,500 feet in elevation gain. We then spent the next couple of hours exploring the fortress located on the top of an isolated rock plateau that was Masada, and learning about i’s history and significance to the people of Israel. Masada was built by Herod the Great over the course of several decades, and finished around 8 B.C. Masada was the last stronghold for the Sicarii rebels (Jewish Zealots) during First Jewish-Roman War. The story of the Roman Siege of Masada in around 70 A.D. is particularly iconic because, rather than surrender and become Roman prisoners, historians believe that the leaders of the Sicarii rebels initiated a mass suicide of all of their own (including themselves) that remained in hiding at Masada, in order to die free. In addition to its unique history, Masada was also quite impressive in that it was located at the top of a rock plateau in middle of a desert (receiving less than 2” of rainfall per year), which was quite strenuous just to access, much less to construct and make livable. Not to mention it offers spectacular views of the Dead Sea and Jordan in the distance below. In more comical and almost irrelevant news, after watching a small group of Ibex move treacherously and impressively across the side face of a canyon with ease yesterday at Wadi Zin, we saw one at the base of Masada today after our hike that had taken to a less strenuous life of selfies with tourists and a consistent supply of junk food offered in return (see photos at the bottom of this page).
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).
Following Masada, we took a quick trip up the road to Ein Gedi, an oasis around a natural spring which is now a nature reserve just to the west of the Dead Sea. Aside from its natural beauty, Ein Gedi is notable biblically as the place where David fled from Saul when Saul was trying to kill him (1 Samuel 23:29-24:7). In one of the most memorable stories leading up to David’s kingship, David has an opportunity to kill Saul, but instead spares him and only cuts the corner of his robe as evidence to later prove to Saul his mercy. During our lesson at this site, we learned about two ways in which this story in this place points us to Christ and the Cross. First, David’s mercy toward Saul here (literally sparing him from death) gives us an image of Christ’s mercy toward us (sparing us from death). Second, we see in Saul a predominantly inward focus (1 Sam 24:17), which we ourselves are so often guilty of having, that contributes to his destruction. In contrast, we see David consistently desiring to do the Lord’s will, and to trust in Him.
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.
Following two energy-intensive hikes and some excellent views of the Dead Sea below, we moved on to our third and final site of the day: Qumran. Before doing anything else, we stopped and had some schnitzel (breaded chicken) for lunch at the restaurant at the base of Qumran. Following that, we headed over to the Qumran site, which included the caves in which the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a Beduin boy. The Dead Sea scrolls are believed to have been hidden in this Qumran cave around 68 A.D., but some believe that the scrolls could have been written as early as 100-200 B.C. These are the oldest known manuscripts of the Old Testament, and a great source of encouragement and confidence in the accuracy and trustworthiness of Scripture, as they are fully consistent with the translations of the Old Testament that have been developed without these manuscripts to reference. From this, we can have great confidence that Jesus would have read the same OT scripture we read today.
Finally, we headed north for the next phase of our trip, to the Ginosar Kibbutz, our lodging on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee.
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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