Elah valley brook.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours
"And the LORD said unto Samuel: 'How long wilt thou mourn
for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill thy horn
with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite; for I have
provided Me a king among his sons…And Samuel did that which the LORD spoke, and
came to Beth-lehem (I Sam 16:1-4)".
Driving through Israel this time of year is such a pleasure. The beige and dark
brown countryside has turned into a bright green due to the first crops
sprouting up after the initial winter's rain. Even the uncultivated, jagged
hills and mountains are covered with a sprinkling of green. The nature
reserves, hilltops and fallow fields will soon show off their winter flowers,
bringing pink, yellow and red hues to our beautiful countryside. For those of
you who have only visited Israel in the summer, Israel is like an entirely
different country in the winter. I love to go outside and walk around, Bible in
hand. Try it.
Jesse's hometown of Bethlehem is just
a hop, skip and a jump away from downtown Jerusalem, the city that David was
born to make the capital of his kingdom. Literally it's just a fifteen minute
drive away. Head south on Beit Lechem Road and make your way onto Hevron Road,
which is a part of Route 60. Once you pass Road 398 on your right you will be on
land which is today a part of Jerusalem, but between 1948 and 1967 was occupied
by the Jordanians. To your left is the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa and to
your right the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, both built over the 1949 ceasefire
lines but considered by Israel to be a part of Jerusalem.
After passing the Mar
Elias Monastery to your left, you will see the city of Bethlehem on the other
side of a massive, concrete security fence. There are places to stop along the
road to gaze into the Palestinian controlled city, or if you have a foreign
passport, go for a tour. I have been sending
tourists there happily with a Palestinian tour guide without any problems for
four years straight.
Samuel comes to Bethlehem, a small, poor village and
God points out a young, shepherd, son of Jesse, as being the future King of
Israel. He is the opposite of Saul, who was tall, strong and a fierce warrior.
David was just a harp-playing country boy. Today Bethlehem looks different as
the link between David and Jesus in the Gospels and Jesus' subsequent birth
there turned the little sleepy Jerusalem suburb into a center of Christian
Feel free to drive up to the fence and check it out. Notice that the
fence is only concrete in the urban areas and as it winds through the Judean
Hills it turns into a chain link fence. Between the beginning of the second intifada in September of 2001 and December of 2005, 1100 Israelis
were murdered by Palestinians despite the fact that two separate peace plans
were offered which would have created a Palestinian state in most of the West
Bank (including Bethlehem), parts of Jerusalem including the Muslim Quarter and
all of Gaza, hence this security fence. Since the fence went up terrorism has
been almost nil.
Continue on Route 60 turning right onto Harosmarin Street and
then your first left again continuing on Route 60 headed towards the Gush Etzion
Tunnels. The tunnels will take you under the Palestinian city of Beit Jala.
Before the Oslo Accords transferred control from Israel to the PLO over all of
the Arab population centers in the West Bank, Bethlehem and Beit Jala were made
up of a steady population of 60 percent Christians. Today, the Christian
population of these cities is just above 10%.
When you come out of the tunnels,
make your first right onto road 375. You will cross between the Palestinian town
of Hasan and the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit. Notice the difference
between the two villages and the fortifications along the roads. You will soon
come to a forest of planted trees bringing you to the Green Line and a
checkpoint. After crossing it you will again be inside Israeli territory since
1949. The whole trip shouldn't take more than a half an hour to this point.
Continue on road 375. Pass Etziona Junction. You are now in the center of the
Elah Valley. Two kilometers to your left is Mount Socoh. Take notice of it as
it’s intrinsic to our story. All around it are ruins of Bronze and Iron Age
cities and villages. Continue straight until you get to the end of road 375 at
its intersection with Route 38 called HaElah Junction. Take a right. After four
hundred meters pull off to the right side of the road onto the dirt track. Keep
room for tractors to pass by and watch out that you don't puncture your tire on
the side of the asphalt road when you pull off. Walk north on the dirt road
along the fields until it bends to the right. Follow the path to the right. Look
for a bit of high ground. Look to the southeast and you can see Mt. Socoh which
we passed earlier. Look to your northwest and you can see a giant tel (layer,
upon layer of destroyed civilizations making up an artificial hill, often
trapezoidal in shape). This is the ancient city of Azekah. Beyond Azekah to the
west is Gaza and Gath: Philistine country. On the north side of the dirt road
you were following is the Elah Brook which only runs after the heavy rains. The
rushing rain water washes over the stones, smoothing them out."Now the
Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered
together at Socoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Socoh and
Azekah... And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched in
the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines…And
there went out a champion from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath of
Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he stood and cried unto the
armies of Israel, and said unto them: …Choose you a man for you, and let him
come down to me. If he be able to fight with me and kill me, then will we be
your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then shall ye be our
servants and serve us.' And David said to Saul: 'Let no man's heart fail within
him. Thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.' … And he took his
staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put
them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his scrip; and his sling was in
his hand; and he drew near to the Philistine (I Sam 1-40 condensed)."
see the battlefield here exactly as it is described in the Hebrew Bible. We have
a stalemate. The Hebrews led by Saul won't come down into the valley knowing
that the Philistines have chariots of iron that are best used in the open plain.
The Philistines won't go up the hill here knowing that their chariots are
useless there. So what we have here is a battle of champions to the death,
winner takes all: Little David and his sling against the seven foot tall giant
from Gath. We all know how it ends. David uses his brain not his brawn. He
slings the smooth stones from afar knowing that he can't get close to this
monster of a man. That's the key to this story and it has proven correct
throughout the history of the Jewish people. When we act with our brains, we
thrive and survive, when we get cocky and content, we decline and become
Go down into the Elah Brook and see if you can find five smooth
stones. Enjoy.Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree
at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently
studying toward a PhD.