Heading to the Desert
This morning we said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee and headed south. Our first stop being Harod Spring in the Jezreel Valley. Here we saw Gideon’s Spring. For seven years the Israelites had been doing evil in the sight of the Lord worshipping Baal. God had warned his people that He was a jealous God and would not tolerate the worship of other gods. He sent the Midianites as judgment—thousands of them would come to this valley at harvest time taking the crops of the Israelites. God used wicked people as judgment against Israel. He had a special purpose for His people: to be the nation that would bring the Messiah to the world. As the people cried out to God, He chose Gideon to deliver the Israelites. We know from from Judges 6—7, God reduced the army from 33,000 to 300. God was going to be the one to ensure victory over the Midianites and the glory would belong to Him. He works in our lives much the same way, putting us in situations where it’s not by our strength that we will succeed but by His power. The difficulties and trials in our lives remind us to be dependent on God.
Next we headed east to Beth Shean. This site has a very long history dating back to the Canaanites in the twelfth century BC until it’s destruction by an earthquake in AD 749. One of the major advantages to touring the land of Israel is being able to understand geographically where places are located throughout Scripture. When reading 1 Samuel 31 where Saul and his sons die, the geography details can be confusing. Yet, after just passing by Mt. Gilboa where Saul and his sons were killed, and then just a short distance away from where we were is the site where the bodies of Saul and his sons were hanging, we were able to look in the distance and see how close the ancient town of Jabesh Giles’s (modern day Jordan) was that is also talked about in 1 Samuel 31.
Our guide pointed out while at Beth Shean how David had promised that he would never harm Saul or his sons. By their death in battle, God was ensuring His promise to establish a dynasty through David. Had David had children with Saul’s daughter Michal, the line would have belonged to Saul. Again God showing His sovereignty in establishing David and one day the Messiah from the line of David.
Beth Shean was also a Greek (333-63 BC), Roman (63-334 AD), and Byzantine city (324-632). During the Greek and Roman period the city was a major metropolis with roads built of marble and mosaic tile, with drainage and sewer systems. Entertainment filled the city with a theater, an amphitheater, and a hippodrome. Our guide explained how the entertainment was used by the Romans to keep the people happy in order to discourage any rebellions. By continually trying to keep the people happy and not bored, this wealthy city’s entertainment became more and more graphic. The people no longer took ownership of their homeland and eventually the moral and cultural decline made the Roman Empire an easy target of the vandals to overtake them and the Roman Empire came to an end.
We drove down down down to the Qumran Caves. What a difference an hour or so makes in Israel! We left the green of the Galilean region and ended in the desert! A sectarian group known as the Essenes or by their Hebrew name the Yahad lived in the caves located northwest of the Dead Sea, beginning around 170 BC until being destroyed by the Romans in AD 68. The Essenes (Yahad) were a group of Jewish men who left Jerusalem and were awaiting the Messiah’s coming. Expecting that the Messiah would arrive any day, they left their families behind. Their plans was to then return to Jerusalem with the Messiah. The leader of Yahad was a former temple priest who was disappointed in not being named High Priest. They created a community where they increased the typical ritual bathing from weekly to twice a day. This was how they compensated for not being able to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Most importantly the Yahad copied the Scriptures and those Scriptures were discovered in 1947, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Until this discovery, the oldest manuscripts were from the 9th century. The discovery of these manuscripts shines a light on the inerrancy of Scripture. God will always preserve His Word and we can always have great confidence in that truth!
Driving to our hotel on the Dead Sea for the night, it’s amazing to see such a beautiful body of water in the middle of a desert, 1400 feet below sea level, the lowest point on earth. Seeing Jordan across the Dead Sea, I think of Joshua leading the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan river as the were finally entering the Promised Land. Also as I see how low the water is today and how it truly is a desert, I am reminded of God’s promise to turn the desert into a fertile green land and the Dead Sea into fresh water in Ezekiel 47.
The other time I came to Israel was in 2000 and it was about 55 degrees—but I HAD to go in the Dead Sea even if it was only for 30 seconds because who knows if I would ever come back. I wasn’t planning to go in this time but it’s sunny and 80 degrees so I’m going in! Let’s all hope I look 20 years younger when I return home.
Links where we visited today:
Jezreel Valley: https://www.bibleplaces.com/jezreelvalley/
Beth Shean: https://www.bibleplaces.com/bethshean/
Qumran Caves: https://www.bibleplaces.com/qumrancaves/
Dead Sea: https://www.bibleplaces.com/deadsea/