Today marked a slower paced day filled with significant stops. One of our group, Melissa Herbelin, would later say that she was not excited about the prospect of our first stop before she arrived but afterward was thrilled to have been there. We woke up at the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. But our first stop, Masada, was over 1300 feet up from the ground. It was home to a fortress and palace built by Herod the Great as a place of refuge were he to need it for political reasons in the often tenuous times of the Roman Empire with its intrigues and alliances. Accessed today by a cable car, the steep mountain detached from the rest of the Moab Mountains was thought impregnable. It was there that the last of the Jewish zealots and rebels against Rome, 960 of them, withstood the great Roman legion until finally committing suicide. The remains are impressive, from Herod’s three-tier palace to the deep cistern and other edifices like the synagogue, storehouses, and the ingenious aqueduct system the king put in place. Herod never lived there, but the insurrections held up there until their deaths signaled the end of the revolt. Many have wondered if David wrote some of the psalms from this impressive spot before Herod build his stronghold there. Dan Owen chose to focus us on the tenacity of the Jewish zealots and Roman army as each fought to defeat the other, and he told us their cause was not eternal. He encouraged us to fight with that intensity for our eternal goals.
About ten miles north of Masada, we arrived at En Gedi. This is an oasis of incredible lushness in the midst of the dry, brown Negev desert. Home to the rock badger, Nubian ibex, and endangered starling, among other creatures, it is home to two large and several smaller waterfalls. Ron Crawforth led us to consider events, like Saul’s pursuit of David (1 Sam. 24) and some of David’s Psalms, like Psalm 37, that could well have occurred in this precise oasis location. Not many other places would fit the description so well.
Finally, we came back to the Dead Sea to see one of God’s great marvels. It is pondered that this area was part of the grazing area seen by Lot and part of the choice land he took for himself and his herds, an area later destroyed by God with fire and brimstone (cf. Deut. 29:23–“brimstone and salt”). Several of our group floated or stood in the water of this unique, mineralized sea. They played and marveled at the lowest place on earth.
We continue to make this journey as a group bound by Christ and being bound closer to one another. Very little complaining is heard and a general spirit of joyful fellowship wins each day. Thank God for the times in which we live and the opportunity we have to journey in the footsteps of Christ.