We arrived at Masada, or, "the stronghold", this morning at 9 am. Good thing, because it promised to be over 100 degrees today! Instead of walking the snake path to the top, which Herod I would have used to reach his winter palace (as opposed to his summer palace in Caesarea), we took the cable car. In three minutes flat we arrived at the top.
This group did not want to use structures that belonged to this hedonistic king so they built very simple stone buildings towards the middle of the Mesa. They had storage rooms, ritual baths for purification, living rooms, cisterns and a synagogue. They would keep food in covered clay pots buried in the rock. Over 70 years later, honey and grains were found as fresh as the day they were stored! How did so many people survive for so long without water? The aqueduct built for Herod's palace could hold enough water from one day's rain for 1,000 people, which would last them three years...amazing!
Because they could not worship at the temple in Jerusalem, they used a meeting room or synagogue instead. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the synagogue became the place of worship.
When the Romans in 73 AD, built a ramp on the west face of the mountain (the easiest approach to access the top), the patriots knew that they would soon be captured. In order to avoid slavery, rape and abuse, they chose to have each father slay his wife and children as they would a sacrificial lamb. The 400 men left cast lots, ten were chosen to slay the men remaining, then one remained to kill the nine and then himself. Those ten potshards used to choose them were found on site when archeologist searched the area. This was a war of values, and though suicide was never an option, even during the holocaust, the rebels had to make a choice.
When the Romans burst in, they found no living to take hostage, other than two women and five children, who told the story to a historian waiting with the Roman army. He later was named Josephus!
Chen pointed out that the Jews above all else must preserve life. When a doctor, nurse or military person puts on his uniform, he promises to protect life and rescue others from the enemy at all costs. The Israeli army comes to Masada to take their oaths.
I thought of the story of Rahab, who hid the spies from the enemy in Jericho...was that a lie, or an act to protect life? I asked Chen how the Jews would view that situation. He said, "Of course, she had to do it to protect life."
A short ride later, we arrived in En Gedi (springs of the baby goat), and that's just what we saw, a mother and two baby ibex grazing along the side of the road! This area was know for its date palms and persimmon bushes (not the fruit), which harvested a sweet perfume. Women in Europe would wait for the ships that sailed with their precious cargo from this area hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, the formula has been lost, and the bush no longer grows in En Gedi.
David was thought to have written Psalm 57 here, when he hid from Saul. And it was also here that David cut a piece of fabric from Saul's robe while he was in the cave.
Of course, we couldn't miss a stop at Qumran, where, in 1947, a Bedouin shepherd boy found copies of ancient Scripture dated 2,000 years old, inside a cave in the side of the mountain. The Essenes left the scrolls as a foundation for the future. What I didn't know was that John the Baptist came from the Essenes who retreated to this area to meditate. They made every word count. No unnecessary words allowed, as they prepared for judgement day. Evidently, it is surmised that he became their priest during his time with the group. We know from Scripture that he lived in the desert and wore a plain, rough tunic, which is common with groups set apart from the world.
We made a short stop along the busy main route into Jerusalem, on a section of the road where it is steep. People needed to watch their step, and as they slowed down and/or look down, or they would be prey for robbers. We saw the remains of an inn with beautiful mosaics depicting food and wine. Because it was such a perfect place to stop for travelers, the Crusaders built a small fortress on the same location.
Samaritans disagreed with the Jews about the place to worship. Was the place or the worship itself more important? Regardless of the views, a Samaritan brought a Jewish man into this inn after he had been robbed on the road. The injured man was previously passed by a priest (Cohen), and a Levite who served in the Temple. The Samaritan truly showed love to his neighbor in this way.
Now it was time to ascend to Jerusalem, but just before we did, we saw Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, on the hills to the left, where Jesus would have stayed while he was in the city of David. It was a very easy (in terms of length, but not climb) walk to Jerusalem.
As we entered the city, the song, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem" was playing over the bus intercom. A very touching moment as the gold dome of the rock appeared in the distance. The Temple Mount is the size of 11 soccer fields. We could see the bricked over Eastern gate, where Christ will enter in the Millennium. Muslims have closed it, and place a cemetery in front of it to prevent the Jewish/Christian Messiah from coming as prophesied. Praise the Lord that nothing can stop His coming!!
Chen said that the Jews say that when God created beauty, He divided it into ten parts. Nine were given to Jerusalem, and one to the remainder of the world. I thought about that for awhile. Why would this city be considered beautiful? I would probably have chosen one by the Mediterranean, or another nestled in the hills, like Nazareth. No, it's not the outward beauty, but what the city symbolizes for all Jews that makes it beautiful. One that symbolizes Jewish history, connection with their God through worship, the feasts, ancestry and culture.
We were taken to the top of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus would have wept for the city, knowing of its future destruction. The oldest cemetery in Israel, from ancient times was before us...I believe those would have been the graves of people raised from the dead after Jesus' resurrection.
It was a meaningful journey for us as Christians today. Tomorrow promises more of the same!