A much bigger story between God and Israel
Site #1: Beth Shemesh
Beth Shemesh means "house of the sun" in Hebrew and was originally named after the pagan Canaanite sun-goddess Shemesh. The ruins of the ancient biblical city are built on a tel, or hill, consisting of civilizations built on top of one other. The city was in the territory of the tribe of Dan, on the border with the tribe of Judah.
Judges 13-16 tells the story of Samson, also from the tribe of Dan and also named after the sun (Oy vey!) He was destined by God to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. In doing so, however, Samson repeatedly focused on himself and ignored God’s overtures for a true relationship with Him. Samson lied to his parents, demanded to marry a Philistine girl, gambled, and ate unclean food (Oy vey! Oy vey! Oy vey! Oy vey!) There are numerous references in this passage to “eyes” and “seeing,” symbolizing temptation. Ironically, Samson’s eyes were gouged out and, despite selfishly pleading for God to restore his sight, he showed that his God was greater than the Philistine god, Dagon. The story illustrates how God can use even a self-centered vessel like Samson to accomplish His purposes when “the spirit of the Lord” is with him.
-Bryan, Oaks father of 2 current students
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.
Site # 2: Azeka
Azeka is a REALLY cool site to see. How many times have we heard about the story of little David beating huge Goliath?! Likely dozens. Well today, we hiked up a path about 5 min from where the bus let us off and then bam! We were overlooking a beautiful valley. Bethlehem was off in the horizon and rolling hills and green plains in the forefront. We read from 1 Samuel 17 and then learned that that very valley was where David fought Goliath!
While that is INSANELY cool to be standing there, the best part of learning about that was seeing how much it really was a part of a much bigger story between God and Israel. The Israelites has to learn and relearn that the pagan gods all around were different from Yahweh. And Yahweh was worthy of full trust and obedience. David beating Goliath was really God beating the Philistine gods- with David and Goliath as the forefront of battle.
-Allie Davis, Current High School Bible Teacher
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.
Site #3: Caves of Adullum
The caves David hid in from king Saul were a really cool experience. I expected it to be a big cave in the ground but it was more like tunnels. I didn’t know what I was signing up for. We began through these tunnels which were a part of an underground city & hideaway for ancient Israelites. The insides of the caves were thin, crumbly limestone. Whoever dug up these tunnels recently must’ve been really skinny because at one point I was army crawling through them. Then after making my way out I started thinking about how David could’ve been in the exact same spot as me, scared to be discovered by the jealous king’s men. It made me realize that these stories that have been told to me my whole life are not just stories, they are history.
-Hallie, Current 8th Grader
Woohoo, we’re in Israel! After eating breakfast and loading up onto the bus, we headed to Yad Hashmona, a garden (with no flowers or green onions) designed to reflect what life looked like in biblical times. We started out overlooking the valley that represents the historic border between the two territories of the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. (Wait, what? Crazy stuff.) Mr. Molina began our day with a prayer, a few words of encouragement, and some scripture. Then, with Bibles and journals in hand, we began our tour. As Ronen poured out the story of the land of milk and honey, we followed along in our Bibles and watched the history come alive in the garden. We learned the history of Jewish family burial caves—just like the one Joseph of Arimethea offered to Jesus’ disciples for His burial. We began to understand the significance of almond tree symbolism in scripture and the importance of olives in ancient Israeli culture. We stood in a grape press and sat in a threshing room, learning about everything from which seasons signaled the harvest to how ancient Jewish men chose their brides. As the tour came to a close, we were gifted with one final piece of information. Kiriath-Jearim (the ancient name for Yad Hashmona) hosted the Ark of the Covenant for twenty years! I would consider that an auspicious start to our journey.
Rachel, Current 12th Grader
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.
The caves at Adullum were not originally on our itinerary. Our option a was closed early on Friday for Shabbat. So we had to go with plan B, which was crawling around some caves, which half of us thought was brilliant idea!
These were the caves that were used as hide outs for David as he hid from king Saul and also during the Maccabee and Bar Kochba revolts, but they were more commonly used as shelters by society’s outcasts; the temporarily homeless, the mentally ill, criminals, guys who didn’t want to pay taxes.
But that was all in the past and we were going on a cool cave exploring adventure. Everything was labeled, it was clean (for a cave) and felt safe. I could see how this could the kind of place homeless people might live in squatter camps. And it would have been super awkward to crawl through those same caves with some homeless dude camped out in them. That would have totally changed the whole cave experience! And I certainly wouldn’t trade an overnight in a nice hotel for one of the carved out rooms in the cave.
When David was on the run from the king, he was living in these kinds of caves with with other homeless guys, criminals and social rejects. He couldn’t just go to a hotel room with other nice people after an adventure, get cleaned up and grab dinner.
David describes his roomies in Psalm 57:4
I am forced to dwell with ravenous beasts. Men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
And in Psalm 142 David cries out to the Lord for mercy and for help, which was all he could do at that point. He couldn’t control the circumstances in which he found himself and he couldn’t fix them himself either.
I loved crawling around the caves and I’d totally do it again, and I’m totally grateful that I got to get cleaned up, eat dinner, and to sleep in a nice clean hotel room afterwards.
-Sean Clark, Middle School History Teacher