In this post, I hope to chronicle all the things we did on our four-day excursion through the Negev. In all, the trip was simultaneously enjoyable and humbling. It was exciting and interesting because of all the things we learned and all the places we saw. The Negev is mostly barren desert, but even the dusty, dry hills and tells and the pounding sun provide their own kind of sublime beauty. No, wandering through Wilderness of Paran may not feel as good as snorkeling in Elat or feeling the warm Egyptian air rush from the south, but I feel there’s something to be said for feeling cold, clean water rush down your parched throat as you stand in the midst of a vast wasteland. The dark land of brown and tan brings pain and testing, yes, but coming through all that and feeling relief is, as I said before, a shade of the sublime.
Because of its dry climate, it is difficult to support an invading force. Only the best prepared forces with plenty of water can survive an extended campaign in the Negev, and even then, their conquests must be done quickly before their supplies run out. One can observe this at Masada, where in 73 A.D. the Romans were faced with a difficult siege of the giant Herodian fortress because they lacked the means to sustain a drawn-out starve-out of the Jewish revolts. Armies never invaded from the south because of this, and even the Egyptian campains hugged the coastline to the Mediterranean. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the Moses’ Israelites had to march across the rift valley and, because of Edom’s stubbornness, further south before getting on the Way of the Wilderness before stopping near Mt. Nebo on the eastern side of the Jordan River. It is impossible to sustain a long-lasting government in the Negev without extending north, or at least having a strong ally in the Judean Hill Country who is able to provide assistance during drought and protection from invading enemies and raiders.
The Negev provides a special kind of uncertainty, something Bill calls a “maybe-you-can-make-it-and-maybe-you-can’t” mentality. There is climatic instability; you are never sure if there’s going to be enough water to sustain life. One can only trust in God for provision. This is significant for understanding why God brought the Israelites into the wilderness in the first place. They could only rely on God’s provision and wisdom to lead them through the wilderness, the treacherous terrain and the “fiery serpents and scorpions”. This way, the people could not take pride in their own strength or wisdom to deliver them, but only God’s. This is a message that the Israelites learned very slowly, and it even took an entire generation to die out in the barren wasteland, but eventually they learned to trust in the Lord and not their own strength, and so the Lord raised up Joshua to lead them into the land. This trip colored and added dimension to just a sliver of what was so terrible and difficult about living and wandering in the Wilderness for forty years as the Israelites did, and also gave us a glimpse of the power and faithfulness of God for bringing them through it all kicking and screaming.
Our first stop on the first day of our four-day Negev trip was in Beersheba—a site Abraham named when he lived there in the 3rd Century B.C. It is located in the central basin of the Negev, and it is where Abraham lived for much of his life in the Lord’s service. Jacob lived there for several years like his grandfather, and Samuel’s sons were involved with it also—as described in I Sam. 7:2. Abraham, Lot and Sarah traveled to Beersheba for the first time in Gen. 12:9-13:2, but were forced to travel to Egypt because of famine.
Sarah probably took ownership of Hagar when the Pharaoh forced them to leave. In Gen. 21, Hagar and Ishmael were expelled into the “wilderness of Beersheba”, and Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran and started his family there. Later in Gen. 21, Abraham and Abimelech settled on property and water rights at Beersheba, which leads to Beersheba receiving it’s name—“well of the oath.” When we were in Beersheba, we simply looked around at wells and cisterns and other ruins in the excavations. One of the most interesting things was the horned alter replica., which is based on the design of the replica they found dismantled in Beersheva. It is possible that Hezekiah destroyed it during his religious purging as recorded in II Kings.
Our second stop was the Iron Age city of Arad, where we visited some fortifications that included a Jewish temple dating back to that time period. Beneath us, there were ruins from an earlier version of Arad, one that dated back to the Early Bronze Age, meaning that it is very likely that Abraham and Lot would have walked through the very streets we did.
After visiting David Ben Gurion’s home in Sedeh Boker, we drove to Ain Avdat and took a hike through the Nahal Zin. Part of what made this hike so interesting is what had happened just a couple days before. Earlier that week and especially the weekend before, it had rained quite a bit in both that area and most of Israel, so there was a long, serpentine rivulet worming through the canyon. We walked along the stream, which caused problems for some—including me—who stepped in the water or slipped in the mud, smearing it down one side of their bodies. It was unusually cool for that area, as it was unusually cool for most of the week. But the temperate air made the trip that much more pleasant, as we didn’t have to deal with the scorching heat that most IBEX teams do. Our next stop was Avadat, a city built by Naboteans—copper miners from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The ruins were rather well-maintained and the area was a neat place to walk around. Our final stop of the day was Mactesh Ramon, a giant crater in the middle of the Negev, likely formed by the Flood. We stayed in a hostel that night in Mitzpeh Ramon. And the evening and the morning was the first day.
The second day began with some wandering alone through the wilderness of Paran, and personal meditation on Deuteronomy 8. As I noted before, this trip helped me realize how dependant the Israelites were on God, and this trip to the wilderness brought that to focus. On a practical and personal level, the passage and the wilderness made me think about how sometimes we don’t think about how we’re a knife’s edge away from disaster or personal tragedy, and only the power and love of God keeps us from such fates. This small detour renewed my mind in God’s faithfulness and providence. Later, we hiked through the Red Canyons, followed by our trip to the modern city of Elat on the Gulf of Aqaba, replete with snorkeling and staying at a hotel with strange postmodern designs and billions of irritating junior high-age kids who played in the elevators at midnight with cans of Mountain Dew in thei hands, bouncing around and banging on doors. Besides that, our time in Elat was some of the best of the trip.
The next day was a trip to Timnah, then a walk through the Egyptian copper mines and the sandstone that surrounded the area. We visited a tabernacle model inside the park, and a Messianic Jewish woman took us around the tent and showed us how she thought each element pointed to Jesus. While her literal interpretations and application of the tabernacle’s elements to Jesus’ life may not have been legitimate, her overall point was. The tabernacle itself points to Jesus, and can only point to Jesus, as the true Jewish messiah. More on that later. Following a visit to the Hai Bar Desert Zoo where we looked at native predators and scavengers, we drove to Masada. That night, we hiked through the soft, powdery, moon-like Marl Canyons outside the Masada complex.
The next morning, I got up at 5 AM and hiked to the top of Masada in about an 40 minutes or so. It was winding, but worth it (ha. alliteration is awesome. hey!) After the hike up Masada, we drove to Qumran and looked at some of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered before heading back to Yad Hashmonah.
One last thing. I know many of you are reading this blog, and a lot of you can’t write anything, but for those of you that can, I would love it if you dropped a comment here and there. It’s very hard on a writer to get no responses. Makes him feel lonely. Which I kind of am, I guess. The poem is a good example. That was my first and very tenative toe-dip into the Wasteland of poetry (if you understand why I capitalized “Wasteland” in context of poetry, you get a star. And you must also comment in order to claim the star). Anyway, Shalom y’all.