Students in Israel: And Abram journeyed to the Negev

Students experience the Land of the Bible in the Negev as they journey to the south of Israel.

Ibex at Qumran caves (photo credit: Melinda Dicus)
Ibex at Qumran caves
(photo credit: Melinda Dicus)
Like the patriarchs, we journeyed to the Negev, in the southern regions of Israel. Negev means both "dry" and "south". Our first stop in the Negev was at Beersheva, a city whose biblical significance began in the days of Abraham. The tel (ruin) at Beersheva (Tel Sheva) is probably not the city that was around during the time of the patriarchs. That patriarchal city is most likely buried under the modern city of Beersheba. The name Beersheba, "well of the oath", originated in an oath between Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar, as recorded in Genesis 21. Abraham's son Isaac confirmed the name of the place (Gen. 26) and an important event took place here in the life of Jacob. After hearing that Joseph lived, Jacob packed up and moved to Egypt. The move was difficult for Jacob since he was leaving the very land promised to him and his descendents by God. At Beersheba (Genesis 46:1-4), God reassured Jacob that his descendants would become a great nation and would eventually return and settle the Promised Land. We next visited Tel Arad. The king of Arad attacked the second generation Israelites who had come out of Egypt. Numbers 21:1-3 relates that Israel successfully counter-attacked. Arad was re-named Hormah, orDestruction. Later, during the Judean monarchy, Tel Arad was dominated by an Israelite fortress which also housed a temple or "high place". Such places were condemned by the prophets, and destroyed by good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Kings 23:8). Further south, we stopped in Sadeh Boker, a kibbutz where David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, had a house. This stop was an interesting change from ancient to modern history. The most impressive room in Ben Gurion's house was his library. Sadeh Boker is on the edge of Nahal Zin, which is the southern boundary of the Promised Land (Numbers 34). I had not realized that the original land given by God to the ancient people of Israel has some different borders compared to the modern State of Israel. In the south Israel's modern borders actually extend beyond the borders of the Promised Land. In the western parts of the Wilderness of Zin is the city of Kadesh Barnea. We were unable to visit this city since it is just across the border in Egyptian controlled Sinai. It was from Kadesh Barnea that the spies were sent by Moses to spy out the Promised Land (Numbers 13). Kadesh Barnea was the children of Israel's main camp during the 40-year desert sojourn. We stayed overnight in a nice youth hostel on the edge of a huge natural crater called Mactesh Ramon. On the second day, we stopped for 40 minutes (instead of 40 years!) in the Wilderness of Paran, to reflect on Moses' words in Deuteronomy 8. It was easy to sit in the wilderness - thinking of the wanderings of the children of Israel - knowing that there was an air-conditioned bus, plenty of water, and transportation to civilization waiting for me at the end. Israel was to remember the desert experience when they lived in fine houses in the Promised Land. Even though we did not see any biblical tells or ruins in Elat, the city is of biblical importance. 2 Chronicles 8:17 records that Solomon went to Elat "on the shore of the sea". Hiram of Phoenicia sent ships which Solomon used to import gold and other fineries from the east. We enjoyed snorkeling along the coral reef at Elat. We stopped at Timnah to see a life-size replica of the Old Testament tabernacle. I was impressed with how small the tabernacle was. In such a tent the Almighty dwelt on earth among His people? In addition, the tabernacle had a lot of empty space. The furniture and altars in the tabernacle did not take up much room. I was struck by the fact that the horns of the altar are a symbol of power, forgiveness, and protection. A person in fear of his life could run to the altar and cling to the horns, pleading for mercy. The land of Esau's descendants, Edom, is now in the modern country of Jordan. As we drove up the Aravah Rift Valley the high peaks of ancient Edom were just beyond us. I realized that Israel was a really small country and surrounded by many other countries and people groups who did not like her. When the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, they wanted to pass through Edom in order to reach the Promised Land. Unfortunately, the Edomites refused. This attitude was typical of Edom's treatment of his brother Israel throughout the succeeding centuries. Edom always tried to take advantage of Jacob's weak moments. The prophet Obadiah predicted Edom's doom for such behavior. One highlight of the trip was hiking up the rocky plateau of Masada on the western side of the Dead Sea. In Old Testament times, Masada ("fortress") may have been a place where David hid from Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 22:4-5. A number of times in Psalms David refers to God as a stronghold or fortress (Psalm 18:1-2). From a human standpoint, Masada was almost completely impregnable and offered great security from threatening enemies. Similarly, God is a refuge, stronghold, and fortress. Masada was built up by Herod the Great for his own security. The Herodian ruins on the top are impressive. The fortress also served as the last stand for Jews during the 1st Revolt against Rome (66-73 AD). The Jewish historian Josephus described the Roman siege and tragic suicide of the last Jews at the site. Earlier in the semester we swam (floated!) in the salty waters of the Dead Sea. We had camped out and hiked in the Judean Wilderness region along the Dead Sea at En Gedi. David hid from King Saul here (1 Samuel 24). Now we focused on the site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These scrolls give us an idea of what the Old Testament text was like around the time of Jesus - a portion of every book of the Old Testament has been discovered here. The texts may have belonged to a group of Essenes. The non-biblical sectarian literature provides an important window into Jewish theological thinking around the time of Christ. We visited the ruins of the site, and then climbed up to Cave 1, where the original seven scrolls, including two scrolls of Isaiah, were discovered. Previous Entries David and Samson were here Frustration on the Temple Mount Frustration on the Temple Mount Mt. of Olives, Bethlehem and Herodian A walk through the Old City of Jerusalem