Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 17, 2018

Exploring Desert Places

Masada is one of the signature must-see sites while visiting the Holy Land. Our students visited this imposing mountain fortress that rises 1500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea. This place has an interesting but sad history, one that has led the Jews to resolve that Masada will never fall again.

When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, 960 people followed a Jewish patriot named Eliezer Ben Yair to this rock plateau. Herod the Great had earlier recognized the strategic significance and built an impressive “bug-out” palace at the top — just in case. It was a seemingly impregnable site.

The Roman army besieged Masada for two years and reached the top only after building an impressive earthen ramp. When the end was near, the patriots atop Masada chose to take their own lives. And, to make a statement, they left all of their food stores and water in place to show the Romans that they could have continued to survive. They chose instead to die as free people rather than face slavery at the hands of their enemies.

From Masada we made our way to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet. This super-salty lake lies 1,300 feet below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley between the Wilderness of Judah to the West and the mountains of Moab to the East. Absolutely nothing lives in the Dead Sea – no fish or seaweed or plants of any kind. That’s why it’s called the Dead Sea. Water flows in but it does not flow out.

Our students had an opportunity to float in the mineral-rich but slimyish water of the Dead Sea. Later in the evening we considered how the Dead Sea can serve as a metaphor for those who take in Bible nutrition but never burn off the calories. Taking in truth but never applying it leads to a dead spiritual life that benefits no one.

From the Dead Sea we made our way to the oasis of En Gedi. This is the place where David hid when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29). We hiked through the Crags of the Wild Goats where Saul took three thousand men to look for David and his men (1 Samuel 24:1-2).

At the end of our hike we stopped at a beautiful waterfall tumbling down the canyon wall. Unlike the water in the Dead Sea, this was living water – cold and refreshing. This water does not disappoint. On our hike out of the canyon, we stopped to watch Ibex drinking from the streams of En Gedi — and reflected on David’s words, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God” (Psalm 42:1).

One of our students remarked that prior to coming to the Holy Land, she had always read the Bible in black and white, “For the first time,” she said, “I am seeing the Bible in color.” That is one of the benefits of making a pilgrimage to the place where our biblical worldview unfolded. My prayer is that our students will always long for God even as “the deer pants for the water brooks.”

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