DAY 3 – TUESDAY, APRIL 29 This was our first full day, and what a great start to the trip it was. Waking up to sun and blue skies, we enjoyed breakfast together overlooking the Med Sea. Boarding our bus, we left at 7:30 and traveled south and east into the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Our first stop was Bethshemesh. We were introduced to what a “tel” was (an ancient mound/site), and could visibly see ancient walls and structures dating to various time periods, including First Temple (or “Iron Age” / Israelite). We read from 1 Samuel 6 about how the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant heading east in the Sorek Valley to this city by placing it on an ox-pulled cart. This was also the area (Eshtaol and Zorah specifically) where Samson grew up.
Next we traveled a bit south to the Elah Valley. Climbing “tel” Azekah, we read from 1 Samuel 17 about the David and Goliath story. On our way up to Azekah, we could see the city of Gath where Goliath was from. It was fun to see the huge flock of sheep and goats being shepherded here. We even saw how small a mustard seed is!
Further south is Lachish. Located on the most southern valley (of the five…. Aijalon, Sorek, Elah, Beit Gurvin, and Lachish), this city was devastated twice, once by the Assyrians (end of 8th century BC) and by the Babylonians (beginning of 6th century BC). Lachish was one of the 31 cities conquered by Joshua (Josh 12). In fact, the city was taken in 2 days by Joshua (Joshua 10). We heard about the famous Lachish Letter (one of 20) that mentions the “signal fires being seen between Azekah and Lachish, just as Jeremiah 34:7 says. While the Bible’s historicity does not need to be proved, archaeology certainly verifies its accuracies over and over again!
Driving to the next region, the biblical Negev, we enjoyed lunch at Roma’s, a famous Israeli sandwich chain. We arrived at “tel” Beersheba shortly after. After seeing a replica of the “horned altar” found here, we visited the site. This included seeing the water well, rounded streets, a typical “4-room” Israelite house, storehouses. We ended the visit by descending down into the cistern system.
Driving further to the eastern part of the Negev, we visited the second most significant site of the region, Arad. Here, we saw the temple that was built here in disobedience to God. It was perhaps Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:1-7) who brought “reform” to Judah by ending the worship practices here. About 1,000 earlier, Joshua conquered the city of Arad (Numbers 21, Josh 12). We drove to tour hotel in En Boqeq along the Dead Sea. We enjoyed floating in this salt/mineral body of water before dinner. After dinner, a number of us enjoyed a walk to a few shops down the street. What a great first full day this was as we explored the world of the Old Testament at all of these sites! (We are also thankful that Dennis and Dona arrived, even though a day late due to flight connection challenges in the US. Welcome friends!)
DAYS 4 – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30
The day includes Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, and Jericho. We then drive north up the Jordan Valley to the Sea of Galilee for the next three nights.