Peaks and Valleys…Highs and Lows…
On a day that is quite special to the Israeli people, we experienced some wide-angled vistas that gave us clues why this area is set apart. From supersized chalk rock caves to mountain views, we were given the gift of seeing what we have been reading in the Bible for years.
Our day started at Yad HaShmona a moshav shitufi (communal village), located in the Judean hills close to Jerusalem. Its was founded in 1971 by a small group of Finnish Christians and was named for eight Jewish refugees from Austria who escaped to Finland in 1938. We got to see replicas of the synagogue, an olive press, a watchtower, and a threshing floor. Our time in Yad HaShmona provided great insight into early 1st century life in Israel. Along with this insight, we were honored to be present on a special day in Israel that mourned the loss of those who fought for the nation’s independence,.
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.
Our next stop was hillside at the edge of vineyard overlooking the Sorek Valley. Here, near Beth Shemesh, the Biblical stories of Samson came to life as we were able to see the actual location where Samson killed lions, chased young women, and challenge the Philistine army.
It became obvious this area of Israel was home to many battles as God’s warriors fought for the land God promised them. Of course, there is no Biblical battle greater than David v. Goliath. After Beth Shemesh, we made our way up to Azekah, where we were able to envision the Philistine army offering their champion for challenge in the valley below…a challenge a young shepherd boy and His mighty God would face with a slaying sling.
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.
Not everything to see was on the surface of this Holy Land. Below the surface at Maresha, we were able to enter a few different caves carved deep into the chalk rock of the region. Our guide, Dan, was able to share significant archaeology that he, himself, was a part of during excavation. The value of archaeology to Biblical study became quite evident.
Beyond the valleys of battles and the caves of intrigue, we made the two hour bus ride to the Dead Sea 1300 feet below sea level. We ended our day floating peacefully in the salty waters of the sea, with thoughts of a God who takes limited, small (but willing) human beings and slays giants and overthrows pagan armies. HE is a God who is with us as we face our enemies in the valleys of life.
Azekah (Heb: עזקה, ʿazeqah) was a town in the Shephelah guarding the upper reaches of the Valley of Elah, about 26 km (16 mi) northwest of Hebron. The current tell (ruin) by that name has been identified with the biblical Azekah, dating back to the Canaanite period. According to Eusebius' Onomasticon, the name meant "white" in the Canaanite tongue. The tell is pear shaped with the tip pointing northward. Due to its location in the Elah Valley it functioned as one of the main Judahite border cities, sitting on the boundary between the lower and higher Shephelah. Although listed in Joshua 15:35 as being a city in the plain, it is actually partly in the hill country, partly in the plain.
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