Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day 5 & 6 – Beit Shean, Gideon’s Spring, Dead Sea, Masada, En Gedi, Qumran and Abraham’s Tent

I will attempt to get us caught up on two days of the tour. I will try to make it brief without losing a bit of the sense of what we experienced.

Our first stop on Day 5 was Beit Shean, which is most known for as being the city where Saul and his son Jonathan were hung when they were killed on Mount Gilboa after being defeated by the Philistines. While there is not much to see in regards to that incident, it is always exciting just to know what took place in the area you are visiting.

The most remarkable part of visiting Beit Shean is the Roman city of Skythopolis. Truly it is one of the most amazing archeological digs in Israel. This city was discovered when the local municipalities were building a playground for the children of the city. Years later what unfolded was an entire city (see photo on left). The city was destroyed by an 8 or 9 point earthquake. It was spectacular seeing where the massive columns of the city toppled over breaking the road beneath them.

As for me, there has been new discoveries with each trip. On our first trip to Israel, the bus stopped at an amphitheater and we were able to get out of the bus and see the arena and the places where the animals were kept, animals which unfortunately were used in killing the Christians, which the Romans enjoyed for their entertainment. How tragic it is how depraved a man’s heart can be.

This arena was used for gladiator fighting and this trip we were able to get out of the bus and wander about the arena (see photo on left). At one point we entered the room where the gladiators would enter the arena. Needless to say it was surreal, knowing that 2000 years before men were waiting to go out into the arena and fight to the death. You could just imagine the sounds of the crowd and the anxiousness of the gladiators as they were waiting to walk out.

After Beit Shean, we visited Gideon’s Spring, where the Lord scaled Gideon’s army of 32,000 down to 300. We had a bible study in Judges 6 & 7, learning how God provides the victory against what can seem like insurmountable odds. What a reminder to us that we must trust God in our every circumstance, even when it seems like we will be defeated. God is always faithful!

As we prepared to head south, to the Dead Sea, we found out that the road had been flooded out and thankful for the quick thinking of our bus driver and tour guide, we took an alternate route which added about a half hour to our trip to the Le Meridian, the hotel at the Dead Sea. We got there in plenty of time to go and swim, or I should say float in the Dead Sea. The water was a bit too cold for me, although I did go in long enough to say that I did. We spent some time in the indoor heated Dead Sea pool (same water as outside).

The salt content is at 38% which is unbelievable considering the Pacific Ocean is less than 1%. As you can see by the photos, everyone had a good time and the next morning we would be off to Jerusalem after stops at several more sites. Some of you have asked about pictures of our bus driver, Avi Maletsky, and tour guide, Ronnie Cohen...so here they are! (see photo on left)

Our first stop on Day 6 was Masada. Masada in another most amazing archeological discovery that the historian Josephus wrote much detail about. We went from the lowest point on the earth, 1,400 feet below sea level, to 1,400 feet above sea level to a city built on a mesa type mountain. Originally, it was a city and palace built by Herod, to flee from any insurrection that might occur. He was quite paranoid about such things. There is no indication that he ever stayed there and after 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed, close to 1,000 religious Jewish zealots took refuge up there and lived for several years before being overtaken by Rome when they found out that they were there.

The tragedy of the story is that rather than face the brutal slavery by the Romans, they chose to take their lives. They drew lots for ten spots, then agreed that one by one each of the ten would kill the families that remained, then the one would take the remaining ten’s lives. This enabled only one, to commit the unforgiveable sin of suicide, according to Jewish law. I would recommend, if you have not yet seen it, to get ahold of a copy of the miniseries that was done capturing the event. It stars Peter Straus and Peter O’Toole. I asked our tour guide how historically accurate it was and he indicated that it was quite accurate.

Our next stop was En Gedi, which is where David hid in the caves. It is referred to in 1 Samuel 24 as the Rocks of the Wild Goats. Pastor Jason did a bible study there, exhorting us in the importance of being honorable in our actions by loving our enemies. When David could have taken Saul’s life, he chose to honor God instead. We took a great little hike up a trail to the various falls in the area. No doubt, David and his men would have bathed in the very springs and natural water falls we were seeing. The various animals that were running around were an added treat.

As we proceeded towards Jerusalem, we stopped at Qumran, the place where the dead sea scrolls were found. We watched a film about the strict sect of the Essenes who committed themselves to copying the Scriptures. In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy threw some rocks in an attempt to scare his flock away from the caves and back to him. You can see, by the picture on the left, the cave where many of the scrolls were discovered.

Our final stop before Jerusalem was Abraham’s Tent, or Genesis Land, which was just 20 minutes from Jerusalem. The trip from Qumran to Abraham’s Tent is quite spectacular, driving through the Judean wilderness where Jesus would have traveled on his way from Galilee, past Jericho, and into Jerusalem. It was also, somewhere in the Judean wilderness, where Jesus was tempted by Satan for forty days and forty nights.

Of course, as you can see by the picture on the left, the highlight of Abraham’s Tent was the camel rides. After putting on our cloaks, provided by Abraham himself, we mounted the camels. This was the second ride I took on a camel, the first was with Jenny, and I have to say it was much more ‘painful’ than I remember. As the camel was heading down the road, my legs started cramping up and I was wishing that the camel ride was over. Everyone, who wanted to, got a chance to ride a camel...not something you do every day!

We arrived in Jerusalem by early evening where we will stay for four nights before heading home. It is amazing how tiring touring can be. All we do is eat breakfast, get on and off the bus a bunch of times, eat lunch, get on and off the bus a bunch of times, eat dinner...and then pass out for a good night’s sleep. There is not a lot of chumming around at night, people are just too exhausted. Fortunately the beds are comfortable and you never have to worry about a wakeup call, because it is pretty rare for anyone to be able to sleep past 5:00 AM. We will probably get into a good sleep routine about the time we head home.

Tomorrow, we head to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. I hope that this post finds each of you well. We miss you and are looking forward to being home again. So...until tomorrow...Shalom!

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