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Kavode Tour: Israel 2019 - Day 4

Standing in the Valley of Elah

We began our day by traveling south from Jerusalem through the Judean Wilderness and into the Negev Desert to reach the desert fortress of Masada. Before reaching Masada, we stopped of at a small city and got coffee and an Israeli coffee shop. We then got back on the road and made the rest of our way to Masada, but not before seeing wild goats, herds of sheep, and a wild camel. When we reached Masada, we took a second and looked at how that one mountain plateau was isolated from all the other mountains. It is quite possible that Masada might have been one of David’s strongholds while in exile and hiding from Saul. Just 15 miles to the north was the desert oasis of Ein-gedi, where we know David hid from Saul, wrote psalms, and had the opportunity to kill Saul while he was relieving himself (1 Samuel 24). From our vantage point, we could see how the mountain was a natural fortress in the Dead Sea area.

After scoping out the area, we climbed up to the top of Masada next to a ramp built by the Romans to siege the city. Once we caught our breath, we learned about the history of Masada. King Herod built it as a hideout and fortress in case the Romans turned on him and wanted to kill him. History tells us that even though Herod created an oasis on top of this mountain, he never stayed or visited. Herod’s Masada contained a three-tiered northern palace that cascaded down the mountain side, a second palace, a bath house, a synagogue, and two swimming pools to name a few.

The real story of Masada comes after the time of Jesus during the Jewish Revolt in 67-73 A.D. Herod had allowed Jews to take care of his palace until he needed it, and after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, more than 900 Jews took refuge in Masada. To make a long story short, the Romans came to Masada and tried siege warfare on them for to years by setting up eight encampments and building a nine-foot wall around the mountain. However, Masada was equipped with 5 cisterns that contained a 100 million gallons of water each, and the Jews were had a farm on top of Masada. Therefore, while the Romans tried to starve and thirst them out, the Jews could’ve lived up there forever. In response, Rome begins to use Jewish slaves to build a ramp to the top of the mountain on the backside. When the Jews know their death is eminent, the community decides to end their lives, and so the men went home and killed their wives and children, and then turned on each other with only the leader committing suicide. In all, 961 Jews lost their lives, but if you think this is horrifying, you’re wrong. It was mercy. Look at the savagery of Rome towards those who don’t submit to the sword; this was an act of mercy.

After leaving Masada, we went to a Bedouin camp. Bedouins are nomadic Muslims who live much like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have. While we were there we rode camels, drank tea and coffee, and had a true Bedouin lunch. The significance of this stop was a) riding camels and b) learning the cultural norms that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have lived by as we have lost that in modern society.

We then traveled to the Valley of Elah! This was the most important spot that I was looking forward to the entire trip. This is valley where David took a stand for Yahweh and defeated the giant of Gath, Goliath. Here, Cliff read us the story and added his own commentary on 1 Samuel 17.

The soldiers were gathering in the Boundary of Blood. This was the place where Israel had to make a last stand or they would lose everything. Just over the next ridge, their families were making them food and waiting for them. If they did not win, their families would be raped and slaughtered and wiped out. So many of the Israelite men show up with sticks and rocks against men when weapons of iron. It is in this scene that David comes and brings food to his three oldest brothers on the front line of Saul’s army. While he is visiting them, David hears the pagan blaspheming the God of Israel, and the Spirit of God burns in him. But not only that, he hears about what Saul is offering any man who kills the Philistine’s champion. To avoid writing a whole sermon, David goes to the river bead, finds five stones, and kills Goliath. After killing him, David takes Goliath’s sword, cuts off Goliath’s head, and then proceeds to carry it around with him as they slaughter the Philistines.

This was a turning point in Israel’s history, and quite frankly it’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible because it demonstrates the power of Yahweh. It was overwhelming to stand in that valley, to walk in the creek bead where David selected his stones, and where Yahweh triumphed over the manifestation of evil in Goliath through David’s sling.

We finished our day with a night tour of the old city in Jerusalem. We walked around the outside of the walls discussing history. We went and saw the Kidron Valley where both David came through to capture the Jebusite fortress and make it into his capital, and the valley that Jesus passed through multiple times but especially on Palm Sunday. We saw two of three possible sites for the death and burial of Jesus. I was thoroughly convinced that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was it; however, Cliff may have convinced me otherwise for a third and less know location. We then walked down and saw where the original City of David sat. Finally we finished our night at the Western Wall. This was the day I have been looking forward to all week and it was life changing. I hope to share more in the future.


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