Sunday, June 17
Scripture reading: Deuteronomy 34
The scripture reading for today speaks of Moses climbing Mount Nebo where God gave him a glimpse of the Promised Land. We saw this mountain across the Dead Sea.
Because of Moses’ disobedience, he was not allowed to enter with the children of Israel. Pastor Brian commented that he always felt sorry that Moses couldn’t go into the Promised Land. However, Moses had been the right leader for the People of Israel at the right time. Going forward into a new land, it was time for a new leader, Joshua, to take over.
Pastor went on to share that, like Moses, all any of us can do is be faithful where and when God plants us. We are all just one link in God’s grand plan, but what a privilege He gives us to partner with Him! And occasionally God allows us a glimpse into the future, as Moses saw on Mount Nebo. The view is breathtaking!
Our first stop was Masada. French archeologists discovered this historic fortress in the middle of the wilderness. Herod originally used this plateau to build one of His palaces. In 66 AD, the Jews rebelled against Rome.
Four years later, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and around 960 Jewish men, women and children took refuge inside Masada’s fortified walls more than 1,400 feet in elevation. At first the Romans tried to wait out the rebels hoping they would starve. But the Jews proved resolute. Rome then sent 10,000 troops to build an earthen ramp up to Masada to try to break through the fortress walls. The residents of Masada used large rocks to roll down the ramp and throw at the builders to make their work difficult. These rocks and most of the ramp are still there today along with the encampment sites built by the Romans. The Jews fortified the walls with tree trunks on the outside. Imagine every day of your life watching your enemy come closer and closer to you, knowing you will either be taken captive as a slave or killed.
The rebel leader Elazar Ben-Yair rallied the people when it became obvious the Romans would soon breech the walls. He reminded the people of their pledge to serve only the one true God, not the Romans and their gods. According to the historian Josephus, the rebels agreed to a mass suicide. The men drew lots to determine which ten of them would kill the other nine and then kill himself.
While there is some doubt as to the complete accuracy of this account, the Romans did find hundreds of corpses. Only a few women and children escaped. Archeologists have found ten shards of pottery with numbers on them which may be the lots that the men drew.
Regardless of the details, Masada became a symbol of courage and bravery throughout Jewish history. The Israeli military still uses Masada today as the site of their swearing in ceremony.
We traveled on to Qumran National Park. The Dead Sea scrolls were found in the caves in this area in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy. A member of our group asked why these scrolls were significant to us today. Pastor Brian explained that they verified the complete accuracy of the Old Testament which means we can trust God’s word, our Bible.
One fascinating tidbit from Qumran was a large water cistern that archeologists estimate quit working in 33 AD. They found a large crack in the bottom. If you remember the passion of Jesus, when he died on the cross there was a huge earthquake. Many believe this was the cause of the crack in the cistern even this far from Jerusalem.
After lunch and a bit of shopping, we were off to the beach! Several of us braved the salty waters of the Dead Sea. This is the lowest point on earth at 1,340 feet below sea level. Because of the extreme salinity of the water, everyone floats! It is a strange sensation and the most difficult thing is getting your legs back under you. One lifeguard assured us that the 64 minerals in the water would make us look 20 years younger. We’re still waiting for that to take effect.
After our shower, we boarded the bus for Jericho. This city is famous in the Old Testament where Joshua and the Israelites marched around the walls for six days and on the seventh, God caused the walls to fall. It is also the hometown of Zaccheus, the wee little man who climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus. We passed “A” sycamore tree in Jericho, not “THE” sycamore tree. We also got to nibble on sycamore uts which are quite tasty–sort of like a milder pistachio. Jericho is also the oldest city in the world.
Heavenly Father–thank you for your faithfulness to your people even when we, like the Israelites, are stiff necked and want to do things our way. Thank you for your word that shows us your love and grace. Help us to be like the Sea of Galilee in not only taking water in, but sending it back out; not like the Dead Sea where nothing lives or grows. Make our hearts and lives fruitful for you, Lord. In Jesus name. Amen.