Ein Gedi hike.
(photo credit: BiblePlaces.com)
Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel—and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.
Ancient travelers who made their way along the shores of the Dead Sea
would no doubt shake their heads when they saw it. How could so much
water stand in such a barren place—and none of it be drinkable?
the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Jordan Valley looked like
the “garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10). But afterwards, even the many
springs that bubbled beside the Dead Sea tasted too salty to swallow.
The plentiful waters gave nothing in the way of sustenance. They only
offered a spiritual prompt of the need to take God seriously.
this depressing backdrop of death and desperation flows the spring of
Ein Gedi. Its name means, “Spring of the Wild Goat,” and suggests that
animals—as well as people—depended upon its fresh and plentiful streams
(1 Samuel 24:1-2). Because Ein Gedi represented one of only two springs
that offered fresh water west of the Dead Sea, every nomad, wanderer,
and warrior stopped there as they passed. The Bible records Ammonites,
Edomites, Meunites, and Moabites—Judah’s neighbors east of the
Jordan—gathering there before their attack on Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles
Ein Gedi served as more than a popular pit stop for travelers. With
regional water so scant, the spring hosted numerous settlements
throughout history—thousands of years of continuous habitation. God
allotted Ein Gedi to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:62), from which came
David. David’s familiarity with the oasis and its caves allowed him to
select hiding places from the jealous King Saul (1 Samuel 23-24). David
may have written Psalms 57 and 142 here, as the superscription for each
psalm mentions David composing them in a cave.
Hasmoneans made Ein Gedi their royal estate and administrative center
in the 2nd-century BC. Eusebius described Ein Gedi in his Onomasticon
as being “a very large village of Jews.” The area has a Canaanite
temple as well as Roman forts, a Byzantine fort, and an Israelite
fort—all situated to protect the nearby roadway.
blotch of green on an otherwise colorless landscape, Ein Gedi came to
symbolize not only beauty, but also that which stands out as unique.
David’s son, Solomon, is compared to “a cluster of henna blossoms in the
vineyards of Engedi” (Song of Solomon 1:14).
Even today, the Ein Gedi National Park remains a distinctive oasis for flora and f
The flora grows near the streams and includes cattails, reeds, the
Christ-thorn, the Sodom apple, and the acacia tree. Mosses and ferns
cling to the cliffs. The fauna include hyraxes (coneys that look like
large rodents), desert leopards, and panthers. But the most common
animal visitors see is the ibex, a wild Nubian goat. With hooves that
make climbing look relaxed, they scamper across the cliffs effortlessly.
Their piercing brown eyes and distinctive horns capture the attention
of every hiker who sees them.
The Visitors Center offers maps
for several levels of hiking and various lengths of trails. Hikes can
last from one hour to seven. The most popular trail follows the Wadi
David’s stream—which flows from the immense Shulamit falls—and requires a
leisurely hour round-trip. For those guests who want some pampering,
the Ein Gedi Health Spa (about 4 km south of the national park) offers
hot sulfur baths as well as private access to the Dead Sea.
fails to describe the relief that Ein Gedi would have given the weary
traveler in antiquity. Even today, the oasis offers refreshment for the
locals and the tourists alike.
In this barren region that has
struggled to support life since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,
Ein Gedi has flowed for thousands of years like a longstanding testimony
to God’s grace. How to Get There:
From the Jericho area, travel south along Route 90 to the Ein Gedi National Park.What to Do There:
Visitors Center offers helpful information of all there is to see. The
main interest centers on the flowing water, including hiking trails
along the Wadi David and the Arugot Stream. The first-timer should hike
the easy trail along the Wadi David; a more experienced hiker would
enjoy the Upper David Trail and the Tsafit Trail. Read Wayne’s blog and subscribe to his weekly Podcast at www.waynestiles.com.