An old empty cistern
Shalom from the Holy Land! Day one in Israel has been full, fun, and successful! As we have processed through the day, our notes, and photos, we are already overwhelmed with all that we have learned and seen.
We left bright and early this morning from our hotel and headed to Yad Hashmonah. The day started off cold and windy as we gathered for a quick devo, some worship, and prayer. Yehuda, our amazing tour guide, showed us replicas of an old wine press, olive press, and the various historic methods to watering and growing grapes. It was here we were reminded of Isaiah 5 when God looked down over his creation of the choicest vines only to find that it yielded bad fruit. God cares for us deeply. So much so that he has given us every tool needed in order to yield good fruits in our lives. As John 15 instructs us, we must remain in him so that we may bear good fruits.
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 journey continued on to Beth Shemesh, which means House of the Sun. There, we stood on top of a Tel, which is layers upon layers of civilization that are built on top of each other over time. Excavations throughout history give us an idea of what life was like thousands of years ago. Yehuda explained just how many cities had once stood right beneath our feet. It was here where we could look down upon the Valley of Sorek where Terry reminded us of the story of Samson.
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.
We were standing in a place where we could visualize the whole story that we read about in Judges 13-16. Samson was raised in Tsorah as a dedicated Nazarite, which implies a vow to avoid drinking wine, cutting his hair, and being around deceased bodies. As many of us are, he was drawn to the culture and development of the Philistines (the grass is always greener, right??), so he continually made trips across the valley to their land where he would eventually fall in love with Delilah, a woman who would seduce and deceive Samson. Little by little, he had compromised his values and broke commitments to the vows he had once made ultimately leading him to lose everything, including his relationship with the Lord.
Nearby, we walked down into an old empty cistern that has a capacity of 232,000 gallons of water. This limestone cistern supported the water needs of an entire city. It is no longer functioning as a traditional cistern to hold water, but a reminder that the things we chase in life that aren’t from God are like a cracked cistern - draining the Living Water (Jeremiah 17:13) and leaving us spiritually empty.
From there we went to Azekah and overlooked the battleground of David and Goliath. Through this story, Terry reminded us of three things: God uses weak things to confront and overcome the strong things of this world, God uses everyone regardless of age or experience, and He uses us with what we already have and not what we think we need.
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.
Wow, so much to take away from today, and we have only just begun! The bible came alive right in front of our eyes as we were led through all of the sights and locations. The main themes of the day for us were the importance of obedience to the Lord in the (seemingly) small things. The day-to-day disciplines that might not feel like much are making us more like Christ. The inverse is also true: the day-to-day compromises that might not feel like much are pulling us away from Christ. How are we filling our souls? Our cisterns? Are we drinking from the Living Water that is available to us? Or are we choosing the things of this world to temporarily scratch an itch of sin? Our prayer is that we will have the boldness of David, who faced the giant in his way using what he had and trusting that The Lord would come through victorious.