The only reason I’m able to type this is because it turns out climbing a mountain and hiking in 90+ degree heat all day uses every available muscle except fingers.
Today was exhausting but so insightful and inspiring. Here are a few major things I learned and experienced:
The first thing we did today, that took most of the day, was climb Masada.
(I got nervous, but was told it’s called “Snake Path” because the path itself looks like a snake, not because there are actual snakes…which I’m pretty sure there still were that we couldn’t see…)
Located in the smack dab middle of the desert, this was an enormous mountain that had a number of elements of significance to it. For one, it was the mountain that David referenced whenever he spoke of a stronghold in the Psalms. It was powerful to be standing at the foot of this enormous mountain and think of David’s words such as:
I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies. – Psalm 18:1-3
There were a few other interesting elements of Masada but historically, one of the most significant elements was the fact that Herod the Great (the same Herod who was alive when Jesus was born and commanded all the Jewish boys under 2 years old be killed) built a city for himself on top of it. The top covers 47 acres and was home to fields for growing crops, 5 gigantic cisterns for water storage, a bathhouse with hot, cold, and lukewarm baths, and not 1 but 2 throne rooms for Herod, among other things.
Here’s a view of Herod’s main throne room overlooking the desert and the Dead Sea:
Herod designed Masada to support a ton of people for 10 years with water, food, and military positioning. Herod was a paranoid, pompous, psychopath who did so many terrible things like kill his own wife (which he immediately regretted) and banished his kids, but dang he could a pretty amazing fortress on top of a mountain (via the work of slaves, mind you).
Our next stop was at a family homestead, very similar to where Abraham and all ancient families would have lived.
The Jewish people were a patriarchal society, meaning that the father was the head of the family (wife, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc.). Among other things, it was his job to provide for the family, protect the family, and maybe most importantly: redeem any family member who became marginalized, captured, lost, went broke, or anything else that left them helpless. In such a case, the father of the family would do literally anything to redeem him/her and bring them back into the family, where they were loved, had food and shelter, and were accepted as an equal by everyone else in the family.
You can see this in Scripture with stories like Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a prostitute, thereby welcoming her into his family from that point forward no matter what. This was done by God to powerfully illustrate His love for all mankind, despite their continual sin (like Hosea’s wife returning to a life of prostitution), she would always be welcomed back by him. It’s also seen in the great lengths Boaz went to in welcoming Ruth into his family (Ruth 2) and her utter gratitude at his loving actions.
This brought such light to God as our father. Living in a world of often times very imperfect fathers, this can be somewhat difficult to grasp, but in the ancient Jewish culture, their understanding of a father was directly wrapped up in someone who was unrelentingly loving. Sitting in a house, much like where Abraham would have lived, I couldn’t stop thinking about the heart of God as our father and how He would (and did) stop at nothing to bring me, you, all of mankind back to Himself.
Our final stop was a spot overlooking the desert that’s one of 3 possible deserts believed to be where God’s people wandered for 40 years. It looked pretty much like you’d expect: big, hot, and dry. And after spending a day hiking in Adidas shoes, a moisture wicking shirt, a thermacool technology towel, and buckets of sunscreen, I had new appreciation for the experience of desert living that the Jewish people endured for so long.
However, at the same time, Rod taught us that the power of the desert. We often times think of the desert as a season to get through, when it is always the place we get to know God the most.
At one point, Rod said: “We as Christians pray for God to end our seasons of suffering. The Jewish people pray thanks that God is with them during their seasons of suffering.”
He also said: “In the desert, we have nothing…and we lack nothing, because we have a shepherd.” God’s people wandered in the desert, but they weren’t alone. They had a shepherd. God who went before them as a cloud (by day) or fire (by night). At one point, we stopped the bus unplanned to get out and watch two shepherds lead their flock of goats through the desert along paths known as “right paths” (Psalm 23) and eating tiny tufts of grass known as “green pastures” (Psalm 23) that were just enough of what they needed. Not an overabundance (although there can be seasons of that), but times in the desert are when we trust God to give us exactly what we need, which He does every time.
Finally, we ended the day with some time of solitude in the desert and one last hike up the cliffs.
As I sat and read Deuteronomy 6 and 8, I was struck with the heart of God’s words being so much like a loving father, speaking to His children. All throughout God’s commandments and laws, He continually tells His people that their obedience leads to the greatest life they can live. A life of purpose and joy and prosperity. God doesn’t give people rules to watch them try and obey them, He gives them to us like a loving and wise parent would tell their child not to run in the street or eat their vegetables. He speaks wisdom to us that, when we obey, leads to the life God created us to live.
My body is tired, my brain is tired, now my fingers are tired. Off to bed and then another day in the desert tomorrow!