I love to travel and God has made it possible for me to explore many places in our big, beautiful world. In fact, my next fiction book incorporates lots of travel. And, it’s called A Gypsy for God and should be out later this summer. But for now, I want to take you on a journey to the Holy Land of the Old Testament. Next month, we will continue the adventure with a look at the New Testament Israel. So, grab a cup of coffee and help me relive my two week Israel trip this past February. I’m sharing the trip in Biblical order.
Genesis 19:18-29 – Sodom & Gomora
We spent several days in the area around the Dead Sea and even floated in the water, but I will spare you those photos. A small area of resorts line the shore and draw Israelis for weekends escapes. Otherwise, the area is desolate and surrounded by wildness and bleak mountains. In Genesis, we learn the Lord rained down sulfur on the area because of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomora. Verse 29 explains it this way: “Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities–and also the vegetation in the land.” And that destruction is still visible today.
To the west of the Dead Sea, we found mountains made from the salt. Along the top of the mountains, a pillar of salts stands tall. These structures remind us of what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back towards the cities against the Lord’s instructions. God’s wrath is very clear in this area. Thousands of years later, nothing grows in the area. Ezekiel 47 foretells us of a time when the Dead Sea will get transformed from its current salty state that cannot support life into freshwaters teeming with sea life. And freshwater fishes are now found swimming in a few of the 6000 sinkholes which developed over the last few years, very interesting. (click on images below to see description).
1 Samuel 17 – David & Goliath in the Elah Valley
Some sites we visited took hours to explore while others only took minutes, but the time did not add or lessen the importance of the stop. As we headed into Jerusalem, we pulled off to the side of the road to visit a field. We stomp down a hill as the traffic flew past us. Then we discovered we stood on the battlefield from David and Goliath. For such a quick stop, it really stirred my heart to picture the Philistines on one hill and the Israelite army on the other as Goliath yelled across the expanse. And then God granted David the victory. After the Bible reading, we walked down to the remains of a stream and picked up five rocks each. I brought my rocks home to remind me that God will allow me to succeed when I follow His plans for my life.
1 Samuel 23:29-24:13 and 31 – En Gedi and Beit-She’an
For our next group of stops, we visited more of the areas from David and Saul’s time in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 23, we find David hiding out in caves to escape the wrath of Saul in the En Gedi region. This area is now a national park with steep trails, caves, waterfalls, and wildlife. Hundreds of caves dot the mountain sides on both sides of a stream that runs through the middle. The ruggedness of the area provided for a great hideout. In this same area, David encountered Saul using one cave as a toilet. David snuck up and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. Later, David regretted his action and called across the valley to Saul to ask for forgiveness. I could almost hear the shouts of both armies calling out to each other and echoing down to the streams below.
We also visited the ruins of Beit-She’an from 1 Samuel 31. This is the city where they found Saul’s dead body and displayed him on the walls of the city. The ruins from those days sit high atop a mountain. But below that city, the Romans built another city many years later. We explored these ruins as well. Here, we found some interesting spots that showed how advance the Romans were in their building skills. They built indoor public bathrooms, along with spas and saunas. Another amazing day of exploring.
1 Kings 12:25-33 & 18:16-45 – The Dan region and Mt Carmel
The Dan Stream rises in the Tel Dan nature reserve–the largest and most important of the sources of the Jordan River. Archaeologist uncovered the remains from the Canaanite (Bronze) period and the monarchal period and included sections of the city wall with a well-preserved Canaanite city gate. Another gate from the Iron age showed an area where a king would sit as he heard from the citizens of the city. These ruins gave a vivid picture of life around the gates of these ancient cities, as they were the center of activity in times of peace. In times of war, the gates would be closed. This area sits on the border with Syria, so the gates might be closed in our modern times. The military still has watch areas to spy on their enemies.
We read about Mt Carmel in 1 Kings 18. The spot is the place Elijah called for 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah in a spiritual challenge. Elijah told the pagan prophets to call down fire from their gods to light the flames of the altar. Elijah mocked them by telling them to shout louder. By evening, they gave up and now it was Elijah’s turn. But first, he doused the altar with water three times before calling on our God to light the fire.
I love verse 38; “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. God showed up mightily, as He will do in our lives, too. Elijah then had all the false prophets killed in the valley below and the people returned to worshiping the one true God.
Seeing these sights (and others from the OT) made the Bible stories jump for the pages. As our guide said often, Israel is the land where the Bible hugs you. And he was correct. The difficulties and survival of God’s people stood out in these desolate lands. They could not do what they did without God and neither can we. If you ever get the chance to go, I recommend it and we felt safe the entire time we were in the country.
Join me next month as we look at the New Testament sites.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for all the ways you teach us. Thank you for the opportunity to share our journey with others to encourage them. Please guide us always and direct our paths for your glory. We also pray for the peace of Israel. In Jesus’ Holy Name. Amen.