DAY 3 – MONDAY, MARCH 16
Today was our first full day here in Israel and what a great start it was. Following breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, loaded up the bus, and departed around 7:45. Our first site was Gezer. Located in the Shephelah (low-lands of Judah) and specifically the Ajalon Valley, this city played an important strategic role for both the Canaanites and Israelites. Along with Megiddo and Hazor (further north), Gezer was a city fortified by Solomon (I Kings 9). At the sites we saw a huge Middle Bronze/Canaanite tower and gate, the Solomonic gate, and messebot of the famous “standing stones.”
Traveling south the next valley (the Sorek), we stopped at Beth Shemesh. Here we read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant given back by the Philistines. Continuing south was Azekah and the Elah Valley. We read from 1 Samuel 17 (the David vs. Goliath story) and Jeremiah 34:7 which records that Azekah and Lachish (further south) were the two last Judean cities (in addition to Jerusalem) during the Babylonian invasion in 588-6 BC. From Azekah we could see the probable “battlefield” / narrow valley where David defeated the Philistine giant. We also could see Gath (Tel es-Safi) in a distance to the west (where Goliath as from).
After eating lunch at Beit Guvrin, we traveled through the southern Shephelah to Beersheba, a city located in the region of the Negev. Here we read from Genesis 21 about Abraham and the “well treaty” made with Abimilech. We also talked about the “cup” of the well, celebrating God’s endless goodness and blessing poured out for us. We also saw the gate structure, a 4-room Israelite house, and storerooms before descending through the impressive cistern system on our way out of the site.
Our last stop was Arad. Here we saw the Early Canaanite city eventually destroyed by Joshua, as well as the temple that was built here. It was Josiah who reformed Judah by destroying temples and high places like this. We even saw a few black irs plants. They bloom only for a few weeks here in the Negev!
To end the day, we drove to Hanokdim located in the Judean Desert. Here we rode camels before dinner. After eating together, we ventured out into the desert (away from the lights) to gaze at the beauty of the stars. We also sang a few songs and enjoyed a time of reflection. Tonight we are all sleeping under one tent, just as they did in the days of Abraham. It is a unique experience!
DAY 4 – TUESDAY, MARCH 17
We plan to visit Masada, Engedi, Qumran, the Dead Sea, and Jericho before heading north to the Sea of Galilee.