Thank you for sharing in our trip to Israel! This blog post will take us through our final two days of touring this beautiful country. Israel is a land of contrast and variety, and we experienced this in many ways. Not only is there great diversity in its people, ethnic groups, cultures and religions, there is also much diversity in its geography. This small country, approximately the size of New Jersey, boasts of snow-capped Mount Hermon in the north (rising 9232 feet above sea level) and the Dead Sea in the south — the lowest place on earth at 1388 feet below sea level. In between these two points (about 130 miles) lie valleys, plains, deserts and hills.
We spent one full day in the Judean desert exploring the ruins of Masada, enjoying the beauty of En Gedi (a desert oasis), and floating in the Dead Sea!
Though it is not mentioned by name in Scripture, Masada figures prominently in Jewish history. This massive mountaintop stronghold was built towards the end of the last century BC by King Herod the Great as a fortress-palace, a place to flee for refuge if needed. In addition to being built on a mountaintop, Herod fortified it even further by building an extensive defense wall around the perimeter. Within the complex were huge cisterns for water (hewn out of solid rock) and storage buildings for food and weapons, in case of a prolonged siege. King Herod never had to flee to Masada but he did enjoy using it as a winter palace. After Herod died in 4 BC, Masada was unoccupied for over 70 years.
In 70 AD, however, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, a group of 960 Jewish nationalists fled to Masada. It was here they took their final stand against the Roman army. Masada, because of its mountaintop location and massive defense wall, proved impregnable for three years. Finally, though, the Romans were able to build an assault ramp and eventually break through the defense wall. When they broke through the wall, however, they found the Jewish men, women and children dead and their food and supplies burned. Deciding they preferred death on their own terms rather than death or enslavement by the Romans, they took their own lives. According to early historians, only two Jewish women and five children survived. The story of Masada is a fascinating but sad bit of Jewish history.
A short distance from Masada, Ari, our Israeli tour guide, pointed out some caves in the mountains. He told us these are the caves of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946/1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest copies of biblical manuscripts that have ever been found. These manuscripts had been wrapped carefully, then tucked into airtight clay jars and sealed. Because of the hot, dry atmosphere of the Dead Sea area (and God’s amazing timetable), these ancient portions of Scripture were preserved throughout the centuries. Today the Scrolls are kept in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.
Next, we continued through the desert until we came to the beautiful oasis of En Gedi. En Gedi is a freshwater spring that bubbles up in this rocky, arid region. It was here that David, on the run from King Saul, found refuge in area caves. I Sam. 24 tells the story of King Saul entering a cave to “relieve” himself, not knowing that David and his men were hiding deep in the cave. David silently crept forward and cut off part of Saul’s robe. Later, from the safety of a nearby cliff, David confronted King Saul with the piece of cloth to show him he had no desire of harming the king. As Pastor Marty retold this somewhat comical story, he suggested that the part of the robe David cut off was significant — it was the “royalty mark” on the hem. King Saul knew that because David had not killed him — but only cut off his robe’s royalty mark — David would replace Saul as Israel’s next king. “I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands” (I Sam. 24:20).
Marty then asked us to fast-forward to the time of Jesus. In Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 9:40-56, we read another story about the hem of a King’s robe. One day, while on his way to heal a young girl, Jesus was crowded and pressed upon by a mass of people. He felt power go out of him when a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched the hem of his robe (the royalty mark) and was instantly healed. Surely this is the Messiah!
As Marty shared Scripture with us, we sat surrounded by the same ancient mountains and cliffs — in the same beautiful oasis — that David spent time in. It’s very likely that while David was spending long days hiding from King Saul, he wrote a few Psalms. It’s believed that Psalms 57 and 142 were written from the caves of En Gedi, and possibly a few others.
Our final day in Jerusalem brought us back to the Old City. We began the day just outside the walls of the Old City at the site known as the City of David. Our tour guide, Ari, told us we were going to “walk 2 Samuel 5.” This chapter of Scripture tells us how David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the city. Apparently the Jebusites, thinking they were safe, taunted David, now the king of Judah, by saying, “‘You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and the lame could keep you out!'” (2 Sam. 5:6a). The Jebusites arrogantly thought Jerusalem was impenetrable because it was built high on a hill and was surrounded by strong walls. David, though, had a brilliant plan. He said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame’ and ‘blind’ who are David’s enemies” (2 Sam. 5:8). So when Ari told us we were going to “walk 2 Sam. 5,” he meant we were literally going to walk through the same water shaft!
From there we walked to the Western Wall, another one of my favorite places in Jerusalem! The Western Wall, in years past known as the Wailing Wall, is the only fragment of the Great Temple to survive the Roman destruction of 70 AD. It is the most sacred structure of the Jewish people. “Its ancient stones stand testimony to a glorious Jewish past, a proud heritage and an extraordinary national rebirth. It is a focus of Jewish longing and prayer for redemption and renewal.” (taken from an information pamphlet). Non-Jewish worshipers find this area to be sacred and significant, as well. Indeed it felt like a tiny glimpse into heaven (although imperfect), where John’s vision foretells: “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb…” (Rev. 9:9).
After leaving the Old City, we walked to the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of where Jesus was buried and resurrected.
After we left the tomb, we met together in a small nearby chapel. It was the perfect place to come together as a group for one last time of worship. Angie led us in singing and Pastor Marty led us in a time of Scripture reading, prayer and meditation. Then we wrapped up our time together in this Holy Land by celebrating communion. As we ate the bread and drank the wine in this beautiful garden chapel, we were reminded that near here, 2000 years ago, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. “This is real love — not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (I John 4:10).
Thank you for reading these blogs posts! What a joy and privilege to be able to travel to Israel, to walk where Jesus walked, to see what he saw and to experience this unique and ancient land. It’s a trip I will never forget. But one of my biggest takeaways was the reminder that we don’t have to go to a temple or mountain or holy site or any other physical place to experience the presence of Jesus. After all, these places will eventually come to ruin, be replaced by other structures or simply be forgotten over time. The promise of the new covenant — established by the blood of Jesus — is that we are now the temple of God’s Holy Spirit! All who love Jesus and revere Him as their Lord and Savior carry His Spirit — His Presence — within them. “Because I (Jesus) live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:19b-20).