Day one in Israel and it is definitely the start of a grand adventure! We began our day at Yad Hashmona, which means ‘Memorial of the Eight.’ It is a kibbutz built in the region of Kiriath Jearim. In the story recorded in I Samuel 4-7:1-2, we saw how in this place God was forgotten. We learned from Rich Ferreira that it can be just as easy for us to forget about God as it was for the Israelites. You know, way back when… anywho. Rich laid out two points that really stuck out: 1) Just because we mess up does not mean God does not succeed; 2) Don’t forget God!
The biblical city of Kiriath Jearim is best known for the house of Abinadab which held the Ark of the Covenant from the time of Samuel until the time of David (about 120 years). Kiriath Jearim was originally a Gibeonite city that fell within the tribal territory of Judah near the borders of Benjamin and Dan. The prophet Uriah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, was from Kiriath Jearim.
After learning from Rich, we went on with our amazing tour guides Ronen and Ronen to learn all about the significance of the seven species of the land that can be found in Deuteronomy 8:8. We learned how olive oil and wine were made and even got to see what a tomb and mikveh would have looked like way back in the day. A mikveh, for any who do not know, is a ritual bath one does to become clean.
After our time in Yad Hashmona, we went over to Bet Shemesh. This is the place we read about in Judges 13-16 (the Samson story). Here Joey Webb spoke to us about compromise. Samson made quite a bit of compromises to the Nazirite vow that he was supposed to follow. Joey told us, “There will be times in your life when you will be tempted to compromise your faith.” This gave a lot of us, if not all, the chance to sit and look over all of Samson’s compromises and thinking of times in our own lives when we have made compromises, and realizing that in the end it’s never worth it. I personally hope to leave the habit of compromise behind at Bet Shemesh!
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.
This trip already has been so amazing! Fun fact about me (Grant S. Dewalt): One of my favorite things to do with the people I love is take them around the places I’ve been and share my life with them. Coming to Israel, it literally feels as if Jesus invited me to his hometown and is showing me around. I definitely didn’t expect anything as rad as this and I can only imagine it will get better! Yay! So stoked! KK I’m handing things over to the one and only Brian Nyberg now. He is the Best! Take it away, Brian…
At high noon, we had the amazing opportunity to go to Tel Azekah, a hill that overlooks the battlefield of the one and only battle of David and Goliath. Zachary Tingle gave us a very insightful talk about such encounter that involved history, religion, battlefield tactics, and physics (my favorite part). Honestly, I do not know if there are even adequate words to describe the scene, but I will try my hardest to share with you what I learned. Around 25 years prior to this battle was the battle that ended with a massive Israelite loss and the Ark of the Covenant being captured by the Philistines. The Israelites had strayed from God and so He gave them to the Philistines. The Philistines took the Ark to Ashdod and set it at the foot of the statue of one of their chief gods, Dagon. After the second morning, the people of Ashdod had gone to the statue to find it had fallen over for a second tome (the first time was the previous morning) and this time its head and hands were cut off. The Philistines had won an important battle against the Israelites and their God, and in so doing thought their gods more powerful. Now flash forward around 25 years. The Philistines had come up against the Israelites with the valley of Elah between them. Then a champion of the Philistines named Goliath who stood 6 cubits and a span, or 9’ 6”, walked out by himself into the valley and challenged all of Israel saying no one could defeat him. Zach had mentioned that the average Israelite in that day stood around 5’ to 5’5” tall. It says in I Samuel that Saul stood about head-and-shoulders above everybody else. He was a giant to his own people. This was a battle meant for Saul to display God’s power, but he didn’t step up. In fact, no one did really. Goliath stood unchecked for 40 days challenging the Israelites. Then a little shepherd boy comes along and I think we all know this story well enough so I am going to go straight to the part where Saul brings David into his tent. He dresses David in his armor and gears him up for the fight, but it wouldn’t work. The gear was unfit for David. It was unfit for David not only because he didn’t size up in it but because it wasn’t his. David’s real protection was his fear of the Lord, not somebody else’s defenses. When Saul met Goliath in the valley he refocused everybody on what was actually going on. This wasn’t a fight between David and Goliath; this was Dagon versus Yahweh. After David had killed Goliath, he cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword. This may seem gruesome, and it kind of is, but do you remember what happened before, when the Ark was set before Dagon? The next morning Dagon’s statue was bowing down with his head broken off. David was now reminding the Philistines of the power of the true living God. He had accomplished this because his fear was not placed in the enemies in front of him, but in the God who stands behind him. He didn’t put on someone else’s false sense of security (in this case it was Saul’s armor). He found his own security in God.
Tel Azekah and Elah Valley
The Brook Elah is famous for the five stones it contributed to the young slinger, David. Some surmise that David chose five stones instead of the one needed in case he needed to face Goliath’s four brothers.
Like I stated in the beginning, I feel words are inadequate for being here and in a very real sense they are. God is so good to us for giving us the opportunity to see the land filled with the history of His people, and I can say that we are all excited for the many days to come!
Hey, friends and family! Kelsey the cook here with a quick reminder that you can follow our adventures several different ways. Check out our blog at either this Joshua link (http://joshuawilderness.org/stay-current/news/ ) or this GTI Tours link (http://gtitours.org/online-tour-journal/170326-jwi/ ). You can also follow Joshua Wilderness Institute as well as GTI Tours on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to receive all our updates in your news feed. Search the hashtag #JWIisrael17 to see what our students are posting in addition to official Joshua Wilderness news. Thanks for checking us out! Come back daily for more stories from our students.