DAY 5 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 18: MASADA, ENGEDI, QUMRAN, DEAD SEA, JERICHO
This morning we checked out of our “Bedouin tent” quarters. It was an interesting night with all of us sleeping under one big “tent” (although a few slept out under the stars). Following a nice sunrise, we drove to our first site of the day, we read from Psalm 18:1-2 – “God is our fortress/metzada!” The weather was sunny, with temps around 65-70.
We arrived at Masada around 7:50 a.m. This site is one of the most significant sites for Jews because of what took place here in 70-73 AD. Most in the group hiked to the top by ascending the Roman ramp. A few drove around to the eastern side and took the cable car to the top. The view of the Dead Sea to the east is spectacular from on top! We saw a few of the ruins excavated here – the southern and northern palace, storerooms, the casemate wall, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. Shlomo shared with us the story of 967 Jews who found refuge here against the Romans for nearly 3 years. It is a story of courage and determination. Fifteen in the group hiked down the Snake Path (1.2 miles with a descent of 1,000 feet), while others took the cable car down.
Just 20 minutes north along the Dead Sea coastline is Engedi. Upon arriving, we walked back into the canyon and to the water falls of this natural oasis and source of water in the Judean Desert. A bunch got wet here under the water falls! It was here where David hid from Saul. We read this story from 1 Samuel 24. We also read from Song of Songs 1 (the “henna blossoms of Engedi…”) as well as 2 Chronicles 20 (about the “ascent of Ziz”).
Continuing north along the Dead Sea (see Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14) about 35 minutes we arrived at Qumran. During the lunch hour, about twenty in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 (this included the famous Isaiah Scroll). Following this hike/lunch, we visited the small archaeological ruins of Qumran. It was here where the Essenes wrote the scrolls. We saw ritual baths (Miqveh), the scriptorium, and a close-up view of Cave 4 where the majority of the scrolls were found in 1952. Slightly the south from Cave 4, we saw the new excavations of “Cave 12.” We read from Psalm 19 and “Psalm 151” (an extra psalm discovered here in Cave 11). We celebrated the remarkable preservation and specialness of God’s Word!
Next, we drove to the northern edge of the Dead Sea close by. What an amazing experience it was to float in this salty body of water (33% salt and minerals). While it was rather windy (causing waves) and a bit difficult to even stand up, it was lots of fun! We felt like corks out there!
Our last stop of the day was Jericho. We climbed the site and first looked eastward across the Jordan Valley. We saw Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34) where Moses died. Elijah and Elisha also had part of their ministry on that side (2 Kings 2). Jesus was baptized at a place called Bethany Beyond the Jordan (John 1). We also recalled the story of Joshua’s conquest of this city (Joshua 6). We saw the double retaining walls of this well fortified city, walls that supported a mud-brick wall on top. It was that wall that came tumblin’ down. The city was conquered in the 15th century BC (1,410 BC).
Driving to a “kibbutz hotel” (Al Mog) near by, we made a brief stop at a “Hebron glass” store. Arricing at the hotel, we checked in, enjoyed dinner together, followed by a free evening. What a great day this was in the Judean Desert!