God’s people lived in the desert for 40+ years. Today is our third and final day in the desert. While I can’t wait to spend the day not walking around sweating sunscreen and climbing mountains in 100 degree heat, our time in the desert was so powerful.
Today we got to know (yada) two main locations: Ein Gedi and Quamran.
Ein Gedi is an oasis in the middle of the desert near Masada and The Dead Sea.
It was a little shocking to see so much green and hear the movement of water after spending 10 hours a day for the last two days only hearing, seeing, and feeling hard, dry rocks and dust. Now there was a clear trail of green life that we were hiking along, heading towards the source of this life.
There are two kinds of water in the desert: 1). Dead water (like the kind that sits stagnant in a cistern and 2). “Mayim Chayim” (pronounced MY-M KYE-EEN) = Living Water. It’s hard to find in the desert but it is the difference between life and death. Jesus said He is our living water (John 4 and 7) that we must then be to other who are thirsty in the desert. After hiking in 110 degree heat all day, this water sure felt life giving.
Then after seeing the Mayim Chayim and hearing Rod teach on it, we hiked to another location and got to submerge our filthy, sweaty, overheated bodies in it!
The question was asked: Do I thirst for God the way my body thirsted for that water? When I feel like I’m in a desert and can’t make it another step, am I seeking God to be my Mayim Chayim? And once I receive it, am I being living water, Mayim Chayim to the people (family, friends, neighbors, strangers) in my world who are walking through a desert?
Also, the water that we experienced at Ein Gedi flowed through underground channels all the way from the Judea Mountains. The amazing thing is that geologists (of which we had a Jewish Geologist on our hike that day) believe it takes about 2000 years (yes, you read that right) to flow all way from the mountains to the place we were splashing in it. Meaning, it’s possible the water we refreshed ourselves with started its journey from the mountains when Jesus was walking the Earth within a few miles! Mind: blown.
Unfortunately, we eventually had to leave to eat lunch, but it was quite a memorable and refreshing experience. It was difficult to head back into the desert after being in the amazing-feeling water, but our shepherd (Rod) was leading us, so we followed.
From there, we headed to Quamran to hike the mountain where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Here’s the mountain we climbed to the top:
I was excited in general to experience this but had no idea the things I would learn that day. I can’t tell the whole story but I’ll give you a fly-version. About 200 years before Jesus, a group of Jewish people, known as the Essenes, left Jerusalem to live in the desert and reconnect with God. They were frustrated with the Roman influence drawing people away from the ways God called His people to live. So they left comfort for the desert, to draw close to God.
They lived a life of repentance, fellowship, work, and food. They sought God with everything they were and called themselves “sons of light”, “the poor in spirit”, or “people of the way” (which is what followers of Jesus would be called as the early church grew). They also wrote the Dead Sea scrolls.
This was of huge significance in the world of theology and archeology. Up until then, the earliest copy of the Old Testament was dated around 1000 A.D. The Dead Sea Scrolls were dated to have been written in 250 B.C. and they matched up perfectly. This gave incredible validity to God’s Word and the accounts of the Bible.
The question to us is then: What comfort do I choose to leave, in order to find God?
One of the 12 caves where some of the 900 Dead Sea Scrolls were found
Finally, we ended the day by arriving at our hotel, which is right on the Mediterranean Sea and got to go for a quick swim before dinner. The small jellyfish stings were worth being in the first cold water we’ve had since arriving.
Now we’re out of the desert and on to experience more of God’s Land! See you tomorrow!
Sun set on the Mediterranean
So far each day has consisted of multiple stops throughout our day but today was only one: Mount Sinai.
Granted, there are a number of possible locations for the actual mount Sinai (3 possible among archeologists and 9 possible among Jewish historians) but the mountain we climbed is believed to be a very good possibility among many theologians based on the Biblical math of Israel’s journeys.
It was a really fun day. Very hot, but very fun. The hike/climb was a great variety of hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing. The mountain range we hiked through and climbed up was stunning. Beautiful red slate rocks with a variety of black volcanic rock and green copper laced rocks intermixed. It was a desert rainbow of color.
We stopped a number of times to hear Rod teach on the importance of Sinai in the story of God’s people.
There are 4 main deserts in Israel and 3 of them are described with the Hebrew word midbar, which is translated “desert.” These include the deserts that David, Abrahm, Isaac, and Jacob lived, worked, and prospered in. But the third desert is the Sinai desert, where a different Hebrew word is used: yeshimon, which is translated “wilderness.”
In the midbar, life is sustainable. It is the land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3- land of the shepherd and the farmer). But in the yeshimon, in the Sinai desert, you cannot survive without outside help. This is why God provided manna (Exodus 16), water (Exodus 17), and leadership to His people (Exodus 13). He was their shepherd while they walked (not wandered) with God in the desert. God meet us in the wasteland because we cannot survive without Him. And He provided “green pastures” (Psalm 23), which isn’t an abundance, but instead just what we need.
Mount Sinai is not only known for being the destination of Moses when He met with God, but it was also known as Mount Horeb where Elijah ran to meet with God and encountered His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19). We stopped at one point and had a few minutes of stillness on God’s mountain to listen in the silence for His whisper. I found a cleft in the rocks (much like Moses in Exodus 33:22) and sat.
The silence was stunning. It was like someone muted the world as I sat high up on a mountain overlooking the beautiful desert below me. I didn’t hear God speak audibly or even in my spirit, but I did sit in the silence and acknowledge His presence and praise Him for who He is. It was a powerful moment in the midst of vibrant stillness.
Then we made our way to the top of Mount Sinai.
It was beautiful. Again, nothing earth-shattering happened (good thing too, since we were up so high) but it was powerful to be on the mountain of God and listen to Rod teach us of God’s love for His bride, His people, Israel, and then us grafted in through Jesus (Romans 11:17).
Mount Sinai is God’s wedding chapel.
The 10 commandments are His wedding vows.
The Promised Land is His prepared home for us.
God looked down on His people from the top of Sinai and, much like a groom standing at the front of a church and seeing His bride walk toward Him, was overwhelmed with love for His chosen people, His segula, His precious.
Then we all stood up on the top of the mountain and shouted: “I do!”
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!
Welp! Day 1 is in the books! It was a day full of sweat, dust, sweat, sunscreen, sweat, and I feel like I’m forgetting something…oh yea, sweat! The temperature was in the mid/high 90’s all day and got over 100 as we descended toward The Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth (approximately 1000 feet below sea level). But, despite the heat, sun, and salt water we swam in (both from our pores and the large body of water) it was an amazing day.
I’m not sure how to summarize all that we learned and experience throughout the day. It’d be a little like watching Inception or The Matrix or Yo Gabba Gabba and having to succinctly describe it in two words. So, instead of trying to talk about everything we learned, I’ll just briefly mention the two most significant truths I felt God speak to me about. While the day was filled with things like spending time in a cave that was probably very similar to the one Jesus was born in, finding ancient pieces of pottery along the trail, connecting the dots to parts of Scripture I’d never made before, and drinking my body weight in water, here are the things I found most impactful:
1). Throughout the trip so far, Rod (our guide and main teacher) has impressed on us the importance of what it means to “know.” Unlike knowing in our western culture (where knowing something usually has more to do with data and facts), the Jewish people approach it very differently. The Hebrew word for know is the word yada, which comes from the root word for “hand”, meaning that the Jewish perspective of knowledge has to do with touching and feeling and experiencing, more than just retaining information mentally. Knowing is about touching, not just hearing.
So as we hiked, as we felt the heat, as we felt the dry desert plant life clawing at our ankles, as we tripped over rocks, I began to truly experience this land and these places I’ve so often read about in Scripture in a new way. The most significant was when, at our first stop of the day, Rod pointed out over a valley that was the ancient location of Gibeon, where God caused the sun to stand still while He helped Joshua defeat the Amorites in battle (Joshua 10).
I’d heard the story before and it hadn’t necessarily meant anything significant to me, but at that moment the sun was beaming down on the valley and it was an amazing sensation to look and see (to yada) the exact place where the God of the universe stepped into creation and so blatantly demonstrated His power and presence by stopping the rotation of the Earth for His purposed to be accomplished through His people. Because of my imagination (or undiagnosed tendency towards ADD…or probably both), I stood looking over the valley and could vividly picture the battle going on and God’s people growing in their strength and energy as they realize the miracle that was happening all around them.
Truly God had been in this place and it sent chills over my body to gaze on the exact place where God’s power had once been so miraculously manifested.
2). The second moment of knowing for me came overlooking the valley of Elah, where David defeated Goliath. Once again, through Rod’s teaching and the ability to look at the actual place where this took place thousands of years ago made the story I’ve heard countless times before come alive. I no longer could just recite the facts of what happened, but felt my understanding grow as I now knew (yada) the story in a different way.
Rod said that shepherds were and still are generally between the ages of 10 and 14, making David most likely just a kid. As he hears Goliath taunting God and His people, David convinces King Saul to let him fight, picks up some stones, and then runs to meet Goliath (1 Samuel 17:48) with his sling.
Of course we know the rest of the story, but one of the things that most stood out to me were the numeric meanings contained in this account. Rod taught us the significance of numbers in the Bible. For example, the number 12 symbolizes a complete family, the number 40 symbolizes trusting and preparation, and the number 3 symbolized resurrection.
The number 7 symbolizes completion or perfections (God’s number) and the number 6 symbolizes imperfection or man. In the description of Goliath, 1 Samuel makes a point to mention that his height was six cubits and the weight of his spear head was six hundred shekels. The reason the writer makes a point to describe these features but not others, was to make clear that Goliath symbolized imperfection; he symbolized man. And he even calls for a man (another 6) to come fight him to decide the battle.
But instead of getting a man, Goliath gets God. He gets a 7. And according to my homeschooling, 7 is always more than 6. David comes at Goliath with the God of the universe and even with a heavy spear, God wins.
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” – 1 Samuel 17:45-47
Here’s the brook where David found the 5 smooth stones, one of which he used to kill Goliath. We all got to take a stone as a souvenir.
For me, day 1 was a day of beginning to yada the accounts of Scripture more. To see and touch and feel the places and environments that God’s people walked and talked and heard from the same God I desire to yada more every day.
Now, after we all had a chance to swim (more like float) in the Dead Sea, we head off the bed for a solid night’s sleep until we’re on to the next tomorrow!
P.S. Here are a couple more pics of things we did today:
Learning about David hiding in a cave, crying out to God in desperation…while inside a cave with a tree growing out of it. It was really beautiful and nice to get out of the sun.
Floating in the Dead Sea! The water was borderline too hot and painfully salty, but it was such a bizarre sensation to be forced to float by the density of the water. It was like being weightless! And even when you’d want to force your feet down in the water, it was very difficult and awkward to do so because the water kept pushing you up! So weird and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
We made it to Israel!
It’s 1am our time so I’m going to make this a short post. I’m headed off to bed before we get up in 6 hours for an aggressive day of hiking (according to our guide) in weather that’s hotter than usual (according to our guide)! Yay! The 10 hour flight from O’Hare to Istanbul and then the 3 hour flight to Tel Aviv both went smoothly as I mostly watched movies and slept. It’s dark here so we haven’t seen anything unique or interesting yet.
I wasn’t planning on posting tonight in order to make sleep the priority, however I’ve already gotten the chills once and I had to mention it. On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, our guide (Rod) was giving us a brief geography lesson while we were stuck in a traffic jam. And despite it being pitch black out, it was interesting.
I’m sure I’ll write much more about all I learn in a geographical sense later this week, but what struck me is that Rod mentioned that our hotel tonight is very near the Biblical town of Emmaus!
For those of you who know me or have read Never Alone, you know that one of the most impactful Biblical accounts in my life is when Jesus walked with two of His disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24). It’s a beautiful illustration of how God presence and power can be right next to us, teaching us, even when we aren’t aware of it.
Off to try and sleep! More later!