I often love to reminisce about my experiences during my year of study in Jerusalem back many sabbatical years ago. It’s funny how most of my memorable encounters all have in common a certain level of adventure too. For those of you who know me, adventure has always been a part of my life. From doing stupid things like swimming in hurricanes off the New Jersey shore, to my ultra-marathon races I still enjoy doing (e.g. 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and even 100 miles), I can think of several adventurous experiences from my days back in the 80’s in Israel.
Towards to the top of the list of my adventures are things like taking a 4 day biking/camping “study” through the Shephelah (e.g. the Lowlands of Judah), or back-packing 100 miles up the Sinai coastline (before Israel handed it entirely over to Egypt in June, 1982), from Sharm el-Sheikh to Elat. Also ranking towards the top is exploring Warren’s Shaft in the City of David (let’s just say before it was officially open to tourists). Under the cover of dark, four of us archaeology students just had to see if we could climb this 52 foot shaft like Joab did (at least according to the old theory, see 2 Samuel 5). With candles and ropes, let’s just say I’ll save this story for another time.
But one adventure that truly speaks of God’s intervening hand being upon us was the hike in the Wilderness of Judah. On this particular day adventure, Steve and I aimed to study the story of Joshua 7 & 8 more closely, given the geographical indicators mentioned in the context of Joshua’s attack upon the Canaanite city of Ai located on the edge of the Judean Hills north of Jerusalem. Our goal to study the topography around the site of Ai (traditionally, Et tel), to see where the ambush team in the story would have hid in conquering Ai in their second attempt. Next, we began to walk eastward from Ai towards Jericho, a hike of about 12 miles, the opposite direction that the Israelites came in their attack of Ai shortly after taking Jericho. We wanted to re-trace their route. We ran into a small problem however, a decreasing amount of daylight.
Not prepared to tackle the vastness of the Wilderness of Judah without flashlights, our plan was to make by dark as far as a Greek Orthodox monestary called in Arabic, Jebel Qarantel (the “Mount of Temptation”). We knew that the Late Byzantine Christians (5th century AD) built a chapel on top of the cliff overlooking Jericho (see the picture) to remember Christ’s temptation. We also knew that the path from these ancient ruins to the Jericho Plain below to the east went through this monastery. So the plan was simple: Ask the monks permission to allow us to pass through, enabling us to descend this final pathway before dark.
Steve and I ran into one slight problem though… the monks did not open the door to allow us to pass through! So “Plan B” (which we made up on the spot) was to return somehow the same way we came. Dark now, we had little chance to find the single path trail we previously took. But God intervened in the strangest of ways, for now growing closer to us was the sound of barking dogs. However, these dogs were owned by the local Arab Bedouin, dogs who roamed the wilderness at their will. Being a bit intimidated in hearing the sound of these animals coming closer and closer, it caused us to veer off what we thought was the single-path trail on to a gravel road used only by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). It as a road we didn’t know even existed! And believe it or not, the gravel road took us right to an IDF station. We explained who we were and the fact that we were lost. The soldiers immediately called Jim Monson, our professor in Jerusalem (JUC), who came to our rescue. I still remember his white Volkswagon van coming to pick us up. The rescue was now complete!
Forest Gump once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” I’m glad that even in our stupidity God still watches over us!