DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16: BETH SHEMESH, AZEKAH, GATH, BEIT GUVRIN, LACHISH, BEERSHEBA
Today was our first full day here in Israel. The predicted rains didn’t come until about 4 p.m., so while the wind was strong all day and temps were cool (in the 50s), at least we remained dry. We would spend the entire day in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah!
After a great breakfast and checking out of our hotel on the Med Sea, we drove to Beth Shemesh. Climbing the tel (ancient mound of layers of ruins), we could see a few things that connected us to the Bible. Across the Sorek Valley we could see Zorah, where Samson was from (Judges 13). Looking west we also could see the area where ancient Timnah was located (where Samson’s first wife was from). We also read the story from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Beth Shemesh from the Philistines (the Sea Peoples, as the Egyptians called them, a people group from the Aegean Sea area).
Driving south to the Elah Valley, we climbed to the top of Azekah. Looking west, we could see Gath, the home-town of Goliath. Looking east, we could see the narrow part of the valley where the battle between David and Goliath took place. We read from 1 Samuel 17. During the Babylonian invasion of the land, Azekah was the one of the two last-standing Judean cities left (Jer. 34:7).
“Today was visited five biblical sites. We didn’t see any other groups at these places. It was a great first day of being able to read the Bible and literally see where it happened! While the weather was very windy all day long, we all had a great time!” – Tour member –
Driving west along the Elah Valley, we arrived at Gath (Tel es-Safi; this is where Dr. John dug in 2018). Since the bus couldn’t make it through the muddy patches of the dirt road, we walked to the lower areas of excavations. We stood in the gate where we read from I Samuel 21 and 2 Kings 12). It was Hazael, the Aramean from the north, who brought an end to Gath in 830 BC. Most in the group then climbed two the crest of the tel, braving the incredible 40+ mph winds on top! The top ruins we saw date primarily from the Canaanite, Philistine, and Israelite periods.
After lunch at gas station cafe, we visited the Roman ruins of Beit Guvrin. Here we saw an amphitheater, one of only two in Israel. Boarding back on the bus, we drove to the east side of the site where we entered two caves, the Columbarium (for raising pigeons), and the Bell Cave. Here Shlomo shared a song on his recorder. We also read from Micah 1 and 5. The prophet Micah was from here (called Moreshah in the OT).
Our final site of the day was Lachish. This was first a Canaanite city taken from Joshua. Later Rehoboam refortified it (2 Chr. 11). King Sennecherib and his Assyrian army besieged the city at the end of the 8th century BC (Isaiah 36-37, 2 Kings 19). Part of the siege ramp can still be seen today. 155 years later, the Babylonians destroyed the city. Climbing to the top of the tel, we saw the 2 gates and walls, and the palace foundation. The rain began here all the while the winds howled at nearly 50+ mph. We were almost swept off the tel. 🙂
Our drive to Beersheba from Lachish took about 50 minutes. As we drove, we past by the southern portion of the 700 km protective fence/wall that was built about 15 years ago in order to protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorism. We arrived at our hotel in Beersheba for dinner and another brief gathering. It was a great first full day!