Our fifth day in Israel began with some time at the Dead Sea. We were able to rest just a bit at the lowest place on earth: 1420 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea derives it’s name from the fact that absolutely nothing can live in the water because of the high levels of salt. Although we know it as the Dead Sea, the locals call it the Salt Sea. The vast majority of the water that pours into the Dead Sea comes from the Jordan River to the north.
After a good breakfast and some time to study we headed out and began to work our way up to Jerusalem.
Masada – The first stop of the day was a very exciting one for me because it included an incredible hike up one of the most amazing mountainsides that you will find in Israel. The story of the fortress at Masada is an incredible one filled with sorrow. In order to tell a long story in a short time I will give you a brief summary. Masada has been a place of refuge and protection in Israel for several thousand years, however in the 1st Century BC, Herod built an amazing palace there for his own protection. He was primarily looking for protection from Cleopatra, but he was also a paranoid schizophrenic, so he was convinced that everyone was out to get him. After his death (caused by his own pride) and several years later the zealots moved from Jerusalem down to Masada in order to be free from the control of the Roman empire. In 73 AD, shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Romans decided that Masada had to go as well, so they surrounded the mountain fortress and began to wait. What they didn’t realize was that the zealots had enough food and water for 4 years stored there so they were fine. Eventually the commander, a man named Silva decided to leave and come back later. In 74 AD the Romans built a siege ramp that still exists today. After two months of labor by 5,000 soldiers, the Romans were ready to conquer the 960 men, women and children that lived at Masada. The Zealots decided to burn almost everything and take their own lives rather than be brutalized, raped and sold into slavery by the Romans. Now to this day the Jews have a saying: “Masada will never again fall.”
En Gedi – Our next stop for the day was at En Gedi which means Spring of the Goats, and yes there are wild goats called Ibex that you can see there. There are also Rock Badgers and one of our friends got bitten today while trying to feed them! En Gedi is the location of the events surrounding 1 Samuel 24. Samuel describes for us how David is being hunted down by King Saul because of a jealous rage. David and his men have taken refuge in the high ground surrounding the waterfalls at En Gedi. You should really read this story and imagine this amazing spring and waterfall that would have provided amazing shelter and refreshment in the midst of a scorching desert (and yes it is that).
Jerusalem from Mount Scopus – Mount Scopus is a part of the Mount of Olives which is significant for several reasons. The Mount of Olives is the location of Jesus’ ascension and one day of his return. It was also I’m not going to take much time describing Jerusalem tonight except to say this: coming into the city that God chose for Himself I am completely overwhelmed! This is the city that Jesus came to in order to die – and He did that for me and you! Let that sink in. He died the death I deserved to die! Now, I will show and tell you more about Jerusalem in the coming days, but for now, I urge you to remember that God is not done with Israel!
One more quick teaser for you: tonight I visited the Western Wall which is one of the most holy sites for Jews today because of it’s close location to the previous Holy of Holies in the Temple. Check out the religious Jews praying today at the wall. We will see you tomorrow!