Israel Study Trip

Day 4 – Ein Gedi, Masada and the Dead Sea

Bro. Willard Hackman led our group in a Lord’s Day morning meditation at a lookout point along the route to Ein Gedi. After drawing our minds to God’s promises to his saints listed in the book of Hebrews, we were encouraged with the thought of us also being included in the promises if we remain faithful to  God.

Our tour guide and tour host make a great team of instructing us along the way.

The barren wilderness stretched around us as far as our eyes could see. Occasionally a few shrubs dotted the hillsides and a few more grew randomly along the dry waterbed. The acacia tree is always green and found near water sources. The Israelites were instructed to construct the Ark of the Covenant from this wood as a reminder of their wondering in the wilderness. It is a type of wood that is unaffected by termites or other pests. No detail in the Scripture is without significance. God cares about the details of our lives just as he did about his children that he guided through this wilderness on their way to the promised land.

Acacia tree

It was a lovely morning to spend hiking through the desert and experiencing shade from the bright desert sun under scrubby desert balsam trees, thorny shrubs, bamboo grasses and other native plants that grew from small cracks in the rocks.

Ein Gedi is Hebrew for “spring of the young goats.” Ein Gedi is a symbol of refreshment. It flows freely from it’s source deep within the earth. God is our Ein Gedi, meaning He is the “Living Water”. We were encouraged to not be a broken cistern with stagnant water but to allow God through the Holy Spirit to enable us to be refreshment to others. When we refresh others, we also become refreshed. We found this refreshment while sitting on the rocks as we sang “As the Deer Panteth” and observed fellow travelers singing along in their native languages. Praising God is universal and we are all in need of Ein Gedi!

Masada is a natural mesa where King Herod built a magnificent fortress at the top right.

Masada, which is Hebrew for stronghold, is located near the western shore of the Dead Sea and can be reached on foot by a snake path or by cable car. It was the site of the Jewish Zealots’ last stand in AD 72. The stone structure included a quarry, a cistern, several storehouses, elaborate bathing pools, grand porches, a synagogue, and plenty of rooms for 967 people. The rooms were lavishly painted and the floors covered with mosaic tiles. He also wanted to provide a 10 year water supply and had narrow trenches built along the sides of the mound so they could collect water runoff when it rained.

Top: Original wall designs Lower left:heated spa area Lower right: cistern

Rather than giving in to defeat when they realized that they were being invaded, they killed the women and children then the last 7 men drew names to determine who should be killed next until they thought everyone had died. History says there were 2 women and 3 children hidden in a cistern who survived and wrote the story as we know it today.

Our next activity was a lovely time of floating in the Dead Sea to refresh our hot, weary bodies with it’s many natural minerals and health benefits.

As our souls have been refreshed through visual Biblical teachings, so our bodies have been sustained. We have been served a plethora of delicious fresh vegetables and fruits along with tasty main dishes and dainty desserts.

Israel Study Trip

Day 3 – Tel Be’er Sheva, Wadi Zin and Tel Arad

We started our day with a hike up Tel Be’er Sheva, the site of Abraham’s well and a city dating from the 8th and 9th century BCE.

This is the place where Abraham came when God promised him the land, and instead of coming in to conquer, Abraham dug a well (Be’er) and swore an oath (Sheva) with Abimelech for the use of the water. Genesis 21:31 Beersheba is in the south of Israel, the north end of the Negev (desert, meaning to wipe dry).

Be’er Sheva is the end of the patriarch’s road, beyond it is only desert. The southernmost city in OT Israel, so the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” means all the land. As we drove through this area we saw lots of Bedouin camps, the tents and camels seem to appear out of nowhere, as you look across the hills there are random dots of tents/shack houses and modern towns.

From Be’er Sheva we headed further into the Negev, south to Wadi Zin at Ein Avdat. Ein (Springs) Avdat (name of a ancient Nabataean city nearby), is truly streams in the desert. The source of the water is unknown but it is slightly salty. We tasted the needles of one of the trees for a little salt.

I never pictured the wilderness with such high hills, we were in a river valley (wadi) and the sides went very high above us. We all hiked back to a waterfall, then a few returned to the bus and the rest took a longer hike up to the top that included several switchbacks and two ladders to reach the top rim.

Andrew told us the wilderness is the land of God, and there is rabbinic teaching that the farther you go in the wilderness the closer you get to God. God brought his people through the wilderness to enter the land of promise, wilderness in our lives is to teach us something and God is always near,

After Ein Avdat we stopped for lunch at an area nearby with a gas station, coffee shop and McDonalds, then back towards our hotel to visit Tel Arad.

Tel Arad is an ancient city built ca.3500 BC, and later rebuilt as a Canaanite city. It is the oldest city in the area that shows signs of urbanization; a double wall, city planning, and use of trade. Because of its strategic location near the border and a crossroads it was important to several different civilizations including the Canaanites, who traded with Egypt, the Divided Kingdom of Judah, and the Romans.

There is a temple in Tel Arad set up and oriented East to West, just as the Jerusalem temple though on a much smaller scale. Because the altar is of uncut stone, it’s identified as a temple to YHWH probably buried during Hezekiah’s time (2nd Chronicles 31:1) and so preserved from destruction later. Interestingly, the temple has two altars of incense in the Holy of Holies possibly indicating mixed worship.

After more hiking around the site, we went back to the bus for a short ride back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner together in the hotel dining room. Some of us went out to explore the small shopping area and community space near the hotel, get some bottled water, and enjoy the lovely weather.

Israel Study Trip

Day 2 – Shabbat Meal with a Jewish Family

We got into Tel Aviv at about 4:00pm Friday evening. Getting our visas and customs went fairly quickly, Israel no longer stamps passports so we each got a small card to tape into our passport instead. After some freshening and luggage collecting we met our guide Najeeb and bus driver Elias.

We headed to Alon Shevut, a settlement in the West Bank, for Shabbat with a Jewish family. They live in a gated community that was sealed for Shabbat so we left the bus at the entrance and they walked us in. On Shabbat Orthdox Jews don’t use electricity or drive (or ride in) cars, so the streets were empty.

Shabbat meal starts with a song welcoming in the Sabbath. There was a blessing over the wine (from a cup that survived the Holocaust), a ritual washing before the Hallah bread, and then lots of food including humus with several different toppings, matzo ball soup, chicken, rice, salad, roasted tomatoes, cookies and coffee.

It was a special evening. They graciously invited us to ask any questions about their beliefs and way of life. We talked about Bible stories familiar to all of us, how to keep faith alive in the modern world, and how Israel is changing and balancing between secular and religious influences.

After the meal we drove to Hotel Inbar for our first night looking forward to sleep and more adventures.

Israel Study Trip

Day 1 – And We’re Off!

After weeks of preparation, the long anticipated day has arrived! Those of us from Pennsylvania met at Swatara Church and loaded all our luggage into the back of the Andrew’s van. After prayer, we started our eastward trek.

Ready to enter the airport. L-R Andrew, Julia, Warren, Willard, Miriam, Blanche, Marissa

Our first flight took us to Boston, where we met the rest of our group from that flew from Ohio.

L-R Brendan and Rylee, Dave and Michelle, Bailey, Dane

Our flight to Tel Aviv was delayed, but we finally found our seats and settled in for our long night ahead. Next stop – Israel!!!