Exploring the desert
This morning we got another early start so we could take full advantage of the day. After seeing a great sunrise, we all met downstairs and enjoyed a breakfast overlooking the Dead Sea. With full stomachs and all our gear, we loaded up and headed out to explore the desert.
First stop was Masada. It was just breathtaking looking up and seeing this huge flat top mountain in front of us. We were told that you can hike the snake back trail and actually saw “young” people doing it, but we opted for a nice cable car ride to the top. There our guide Ronen (Pastor Steve said we would love him and he all do) gave us a great lesson about Herod and how he was such a forward thinker (along with being power hungry) stuck up a deal with the Romans selling out his own family to gain power, control and wealth. So many great parallels to politics, capitalism and greed. Herod recognized how powerful Israel was (or could be) because they had the trade route that both from Asia and Africa. We finished the tour hearing about the fall of Masada where the Zealot defenders made their last stand against the Romans in 73 AD.
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).
Our next stop was a Bedouin camp. We started off doing something everyone coming to the middle east should do once in their life...we rode camels. There were two riders per camel (and I think I saw my camel give a disappointing look that he drew me), and it gave us all quite an appreciation for desert living and the fact that we have cars! They are not a comfortable mode of transportation, but they truly are beasts and have the ability to work in the harshest of desert conditions. Once our ride was over we were treated to wonderful picnic lunch provided by Ronen.
After lunch we invited into a tent (some of us sitting on the ground while others sitting on a stone bench), where Ronen taught us about hospitality using the story of Lot. Hospitality is something that seems to be lost and so it was a great challenge about being hospitable to even people we don’t know. While we were hearing the story of Lot, our host Suelamen (?) served us sweet hot tea, cardamom coffee, goat cheese and finally homemade (rather tent-made) pita bread. 1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to outsiders without grumbling.”
Back on the bus we went to Arad and hiked up to see the ruins of a large fortress, water cistern, as well as the only ever discovered temple of God outside of Jerusalem. The most meaningful thing for me at this stop was how we had seen this temple that had been destroyed and then read 2 Kings 18:22 that Hezekiah had ordered this to happen to end pagan worship (which we saw evidence of at the site).
We concluded our day by putting on our bathing suits for what can only be described as something everyone should do once. Float the dead sea. You don’t sink, it feels very weird but it’s used by people all over the world as spa treatment and healing of the skin because of the heavy salt and other minerals in the water. After the float some of us were treated to a mud bath, where we lather up in mud and let it dry before washing it off.
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.
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