Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lessons from the desert...

    I had two blogs going through my mind while I was in Israel but with everything going on, I knew I would need to wait until a quiet Arkansas morning to write them.  Now as I listen to the thunder and the steady rain outside, this seems like the perfect time to write about the second thing that was on my heart as we traveled.
     On our last Wed, we went on a bus tour to the South, headed for the Dead Sea and Masada.  We traveled through the West Bank to get to Jerusalem where we picked up some more passengers for the tour bus.  Traveling through the West Bank was fascinating to me even though we didn't come close to any villages.  I remember seeing the sign pointing to Jericho but that was about as close as we came.  As our guide explained to us, Jerusalem was the modern GPS focal point for the ancient traveler.  Follow the River Jordan until you come to Jerusalem and then you know to turn.. that type of thing.
    After our brief stop in Jerusalem, we headed out of the city, going through a  tunnel.  When we came out of the tunnel, the landscape was radically changed.  Jerusalem is truly a city set on a hill and it has lush greenery in places.  After we descended via the tunnel for what seemed like 5 or 10 minutes max, we came out into a barren, totally brown, rocky landscape. The contrast was stunning. I don't think anything on our trip impacted me like this did.
    Our guide explained that as clouds move over Jerusalem, they are forced to drop their moisture on the city and once they travel past Jerusalem, there is no more moisture for the downward side of the city or indeed for miles and miles to come.
    Just like that, we were in what the Bible calls the Judean Wilderness and what modern Israeli's call the Judean Desert.    As we drove through this barren area, the guide explained that this is where John the Baptist preached.   How anyone could even live in that area, I wouldn't know - obviously he had to be close to the River Jordan to survive. And of course it was there where John baptized Christ. It was also here where Christ faced His time of temptation.
    Today there are Bedouins who live in this area - we saw some along the way.  Their whole lives are based around a search for water yet this is traditionally how they have lived for centuries, this is their heritage.  Two things struck me in this area. First was the scarcity of water.  Even in Tel Aviv, citizens have a monthly limit on how much water they can use. If they go over, they pay a fine.  One morning it rained somewhere briefly in Israel and I heard people commenting on how it never rains in August ever, like this was a miracle.  So you can imagine how precious water is in the wilderness.   I understood why the patriarch Isaac had trouble digging wells and hanging on to them.  Ownership of a well in ancient times would have been a serious matter.  And I understood why Jesus spoke of living water that He came to bring to the people, water that would well up from within and would quench thirst forever.  He was speaking of spiritual water, eternal life-giving water. But the imagery would have been a powerful one in that land where you don't just go to a tap and turn on water without giving it a second thought.
    The second thing that caught my imagination were the rocks. For the first time I understood why the Psalmist often referred to God as a rock.  I realized that although we have large rocks in Arkansas, especially at the end of the grassy aisles on the Wal Mart parking lots :), for the most part - to me a rock is something that you hold in your hand or skip across the surface of the water or bend over to dig out of your shoe.
     The Judean desert was miles of rocks, hundreds and hundreds of brown boulders interspersed with brown rocks of every size and shape.   I understood for the first time what the Psalmist was saying.  The rocks I saw would not be easily moved by puny man and neither is the God that David knew.  If our will coincides with His will, He will hear us and grant our request. If our will doesn't coincide with His, our manipulations, our strength, and our wisdom will not dislodge Him from His purpose, His will for us.  A huge rock is immovable and our God is a huge Rock. .
   I also saw that to hide behind one of these massive boulders would basically mean that an enemy would have to go through the rock to get to the one behind it. And this is something that a mere man could not do.  There is a hymn that says He hideth my soul in the cleft of a rock.   I understood that the Rock is Jesus and that if God hides us in His Son, Yeshua, then our enemies have to go through this Rock to get to us.  I also understood that we can take ourselves out of the cleft of the Rock through the sins of worry, fear, anger, unforgiveness, self-pity. And when we step out of the cleft of our Rock, then the enemy has open-season on us because we have moved away from our immovable shelter.
    The Bible says over and over that Jerusalem is special to God. It was in Ancient times and it will be in future times.  Why He established His holy city in the midst of a tiny, very dry, rather difficult land, I don't know.   Why His city is set at a high elevation and is capable of producing greenery and then it  immediately falls off into a desert which produces nothing but rocks, I don't know.  And why this city has been a bone of contention between three religions for centuries, I also don't know.
   But I finally understand that my God is a Rock and this is no small thing.  And also, as the song says, He is a river in a barren land, which is also not a small thing.

 This is not the best shot of what we saw - neither of us had our cameras ready when we came upon the desert. But maybe it gives some idea of the landscape.

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