Humbled by the desert
Everyone said it would be pretty chilly in Israel in February, but so far it's been short sleeves, sunscreen, and gorgeous weather. Will it last? Who knows, but we are enjoying it.
Today we began with a devotional down by the beautiful Dead Sea and learned that water flows from the Jordan River into it and then goes no where. It's the lowest elevation on earth and because it has no outlet, it becomes very salty (almost 10 times saltier than the ocean) and is no longer potable or life giving. The analogy was clear...while things can appear beautiful on the outside, if there is no substance inside, it's dead.
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.
Following our devotion we hopped on our tour bus and headed into the 'wilderness'. Our fabulous guide, Yehuda, provided us with the rich history of the area and explained the ways of the Beduions, or desert dwellers. We saw first-hand how a female Beduion shepherdess (?) led her flocks of sheep and goats to graze along the sides of the desert mountains. It was here that Terry began our lesson about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land. It wasn't a quick trip; they spent 40 years wandering in the desert first. He read from Deuteronomy 8:3 where it says that for those 40 years God fed them with manna and their lives were totally dependent on Him. He did this to humble them. God wanted to know what was in their hearts, and whether they would keep His commandments or not. Then Terry fast-forwarded to the time Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. When Satan tempted Jesus, He replied that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word from God, which was from this same Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy. The desert teaches by humbling us so that we will put our trust only in God. Fortunately, our actual desert time was a mere 40 minutes but this passage and our location brought the lesson to life and made quite an impression...one none of us hopes to ever forget.
Our next stop was a Beduion camp. The first order of business was....well....after all today was 'Hump Day'...we rode camels! :-). There were two riders per camel and it gave us all quite an appreciation for desert living. They are most certainly not a comfortable mode of transportation, but they truly are beasts of burden and have the ability to work in the harshest of desert conditions. Once our ride was over (thankfully!) we were treated to wonderful Beduion hospitality. Our first treat was a cold drink and fresh fruit. Then, in traditional Beduion style, we were invited into their tent, and served sweet hot tea, cardamom coffee, and finally homemade (errr, rather tent-made) pita bread, which was probably the best I've ever tasted! The lesson at this stop was about hospitality. We were shown that these traditions were alive in the days of Abraham and continue today. As a church, we are called to break bread with one another in fellowship and to live life generously.
Next was lunch where we enjoyed another picnic feast, and this time we were in a park at Tel Arad in the Judaean mountains. Following lunch we hiked up to the top of the Tel where we saw the ruins of a large fortress, water cistern, as well as the only ever discovered temple of God outside of Jerusalem. The walls surrounding Tel Arad are mostly still standing and more than impressive. Yehuda's history lesson combined with Terry's Bible lesson gave us a much deeper understanding of how God uses metaphors of earthly things, such as mighty fortresses and immense water cisterns, to convey spiritual teachings upon us. While water and fortresses serve to sustain and protect us physically, our faith and our obedience serve to protect us spiritually. Our standing in the middle of these structures together with this lesson was incredibly impactful.
It was now time to drive back to our beautiful hotel for some free time in and around the scenic Dead Sea and then another fabulous dinner. Our group is getting lots of exercise and fresh air...sleep will come quick!
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