After spending several days in the lush and serene northern region of Israel, we’ve used the last two days to explore sites to the south, many of them overlooking the Dead Sea. The difference in the landscape is striking, especially during this time of year—Israel’s rainy season. With only a short drive from the green and fertile hills of the north, we entered the desert region. Mountains still surrounded us, but green and signs of life were rarer sights. Fittingly for this arid land, many of our stops were centered around bodies of water.
The Jordan River has been a designated boundary of the Promised Land since the Old Testament, and it still serves as a border for some of the nation today. Though narrower than you might imagine, the river is still significant both historically and currently. It was the Jordan that the Israelites crossed to enter the Promised Land. And it was in the Jordan River that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. We visited an area of the Jordan River believed to be the location for Jesus’ baptism. We studied Jesus’ baptism and the launch of His ministry, then many took the opportunity to wade in the Jordan River. Many other people from around the world were there, baptizing themselves and engaging in other religious activities. It was powerful to see and touch the Jordan for ourselves.
Our next stop was the Qumran archaeological site, where we hiked the beautiful, rocky mountains to a few caves. It was in these caves and others that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, beginning in 1947. These ancient manuscripts dated back to 100 A.D.-300 B.C, and contained fragments of every book in the Old Testament except for Esther. They help prove the textual accuracy of our modern Bible. The fact that these scrolls were preserved for so long and later found are a testament to God’s provision and providence—and it was exhilarating to be there and feel like part of the story, the mystery.
Another hike through the mountains was in store for us at our next stop—Ein Gedi. 1 Samuel 23:29 tells us that David hid from Saul at this oasis in the middle of the desert. And as we read the story and climbed up to the beautiful waterfalls and springs hidden in the rocks, we understood why David would have wanted to hide there. It was a place of rest and refuge in the midst of a harsh land. There were plenty of creative places for David and his friends to hide in the caves and plenty of natural resources to help them survive. In this incredible place, David likely communed with God by writing songs to Him. Psalms 57 and 142 may have been written in Ein Gedi.
We ended the day with an unforgettable experience we’d all heard about—floating in the Dead Sea. It was a fun time to spend laughing and fellowshipping, as well as marveling at our creative God and enjoying His unique creation.
With the Dead Sea still in view the entire way, we began the morning by driving to Masada. This ancient fortress sits on top of a high rock plateau. About 2,000 years ago, Herod the Great ordered construction of the fortifications on top of the mountain, as well as a palace for himself. While Masada is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, what remains and what has been restored of the structures there are another glimpse into the era of history we’ve most focused on during this trip—the time when Jesus was on earth.
We ascended to the top by cramming into a cable car and then spent a few hours being guided through the archaeological site. Also visible below Masada is the ramp the Romans constructed in 73 A.D. to reach the fortress and wipe out the zealots on top, in order to squelch a Jewish revolt. Masada has both a sad and fascinating history.
In the afternoon, we set out for a hike among the mountains of the Judean wilderness—on a route used by pilgrims and travelers for thousands of years. The road between Jericho and Jerusalem. This is the setting for one of Jesus’ most famous parables—The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)—and the details of the story came to life for us as we walked among the stunning heights, clefts, and caves. It was likely a route that Jesus and others from the Bible took many times. We stopped along the way for teaching, prayer, photographs, and contemplation.
As the sun began to set, we arrived in the city of Jerusalem. We emerged from the tunnel into view of the Old City, with a traditional song about Jerusalem blaring in the background. From the top of the Mount of Olives, we could see the Temple Mount, the old city wall, and so much more. We took photos and enjoyed the view as the sun set behind the city. We can’t wait to begin exploring more of this amazing place.
Pray for wisdom, awareness, and safety as we spend time in Jerusalem. Pray for us as we all begin to consider how we will distill all these experiences and information into conversations, study, actions, and decisions as we return home.
Stay tuned! Check back in the coming days for more updates from our trip.