Sunday, September 07, 2008
Israel, Day 6, Dead Sea
The desert of En Gedi is where David hid from the first Israelite king Saul and developed his small army of troops. It’s east of Jerusalem and on the west side of the Dead Sea. We saw the connies and the Ibex, both mentioned in Psalm 104, my personal favorite Psalm. Connies are like ground hogs and the ibex’ are like a mix of a deer and a goat. The animals in this gorge are quite used to people so we got to see a bunch of them. According to 2 Samuel 24: 2, “So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.” That is exactly where we were, the “Crags of the Wild Goats” or Ibex. And it’s very much the same as it was three thousand years ago when David and his men lived off those wild goats and drank the waters that come down the cliffs. Sorry I didn’t bring my camera, which was stupid. I led a short worship service and then Bill taught about David and the caves here in the gorge. Saul came with his army and before going into the gorge to fight David he needed to “relieve himself”. He went in the cave where David and a few of his men were hiding. David had a perfect opportunity to kill Saul, but instead only cut off the edge of his garment. Saul, humiliated, left with his forces and let David live. Go read this whole chapter of 2 Samuel, or all of 2 Samuel, which is what I think I need to do. I am not familiar enough with all of these stories that are now coming to life here in the desert.
After the service everyone started back down the trail on which we hiked. I ran up the other way, just to see where the sound of running water was coming from. We knew there was a water fall way up the mountain, but I guess my uncle and our guide had forgotten about the small fall and pool of water just a few yards up the trail. I waded into the water. This was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen here thus far, a desert waterfall with green plants all around it. I’ll post pictures later when I get them from someone else. There were about five others who followed me, I was the only one who went in the water.
Mazada was our second stop for the day. This is where Herod built a fortress. It’s an amazing high plateau. Later in history the last 700 Jewish rebels lived here who were being sought after by the Romans after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is when Mazada became forever known in history. The Romans set up camps all around the high plateau. It seemed there was no way they could attack the small city on top. Over time they built a massive earthen ramp and wheeled a giant battering ram against the wooden gates at the lowest part of the city. They used first and burned the gates. The next morning the Romans found the city perfectly quiet. Two women and five children were all that remained. Every man had agreed that suicide would be better for themselves and their wives and children than slavery by the Roman Empire. I was overwhelmed with by the idea of making this choice for my family. Most of the men would have waited until their families were asleep that night and then killed them with knives. Hundreds of women and children, who all would have otherwise been raped and abused or made slaves by the Romans. No one knows what happened to the seven survivors. They must have caught word of the plans and they hid in a water whole. Or, their husbands and fathers could not or would not do the job.
Now for the Dead Sea, it’s 33 percent salt. The ocean is only about 7 percent. The color of the water is a crystal clear blue, like the ocean in the tropics. Almost nothing can live in the dead sea, not even algae, so it’s very clear. We walked down to the water and thought it must be at least 100 degrees out today. When we got into the water we were shocked. The water had to be about 100 degrees too. It was not warm, it was hot, literally the temperature of a bath. The Dead Sea is also interesting because it makes you float like a cork in the water. Because of the high mineral content the density of the water is far greater fresh water, it’s heavier, so the water within our bodies wants to float on top… and it does. You can lay on your back and literally float like you’re on a raft. Today, because of the amount of water being used for drinking and agriculture in Jordan and Israel as it flows down the Jordan and into the Dead Sea, the Sea is drastically shrinking. It won’t disappear for many, many years, but it is a concern. The water in the Dead Sea is not usable for anything except making skin care products. The minerals are very good for your skin. As I said, the Jordan River flows in the Dead Sea, carrying no salt, but there is not outlet to the Dead Sea. The water just evaporates, and is carried in clouds back up to Mount Hermon and the North, where it rains and snows in the winter, and comes back down the Jordan. It’s a closed water system. The bottom of the Dead Sea is hard and beautiful salt crystals, I’m glad I wore shoes in the water.