by Omar C. Garcia
We spent March 10 hiking and climbing in the Negev, which means “dry land.” Located in the southernmost part of the country, the Negev served as the buffer between ancient Israel, Egypt, Edom, and the trade routes of the desert. Although I am a bit tired and a day behind on my posts, I wanted to write a quick word on what we saw and the prayer that God impressed upon me at each site.
The Sea | We started our day early in the morning on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet. The Dead Sea lies almost 1,300 feet below sea level in the Jordan Rift Valley between the Wilderness of Judah to the west and the mountains of Moab to the east. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea – no fish or seaweed or plants of any kind. That’s why it’s called the Dead Sea. Water flows in but it does not flow out. When ancient travelers came across the barren mountains of the wilderness of Judah and saw the water here, everything appeared normal and inviting. Imagine their disappointment when they discovered that this water would never quench their thirst.
My Prayer | Lord, it’s easy to become like the Dead Sea if all we do is to attend church but never be the church. Please help me to intentionally allow the truths I take in to flow out and refresh others by doing what you ask me to do.
The Spring | From the shores of the Dead Sea we made our way to En Gedi, a major oasis along the western side of the Dead Sea. This is the place where David hid when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29). We hiked through the Crags of the Wild Goats where Saul took three thousand men to look for David and his men (1 Samuel 24:1-2). At the end of our hike between steep canyon walls we stopped at a hidden waterfall flowing from the rocks. Unlike the water in the Dead Sea, this was living water – cold and refreshing. This water does not disappoint. The desert is a metaphor for how and where we meet God. In the desert water is life and in the Bible water is one of the central pictures of God (Psalm 42:1 and 63:1).
My Prayer | Lord, I don’t want to go through life taking little sips of living water — I want to dive in and to be completely immersed. I want to always thirst for you like a traveler in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Let me be content with nothing less than giving all of me to all of you.
The Mountain | Not far from En Gedi is the imposing mountain fortress known as Masada. Rising 1500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea, we hiked up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, 960 people followed the Jewish patriot named Eliezer Ben Yair to this rock plateau fortified by Herod the Great. The Roman army pursued and besieged them for two years. Rather than surrender to the Romans when the end was near, all but five people took their own lives. Consequently, Masada has become to Israel what the Alamo is to Texas. “Masada will never fall again,” is the firm resolve of the Jewish people.
On an “it’s a small world note,” while hiking down the mountain I met a mother and daughter from Chile. We talked about travel with a purpose as we made our way down the Snake Trail. When I mentioned that I had recently volunteered at Mother Teresa’s homes in Kolkata, the daughter told me that she had also volunteered there last summer. This is just one more testimony of Mother Teresa’s powerful legacy. Twelve years after her death, Mother Teresa continues to inspire people from all over the world to serve the poorest of the poor.
My Prayer | Lord, you are my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. Help me to seek refuge in you alone. Thank you that when the enemy attacks and besieges me, I can look to you as my shield and the horn of my salvation.
The Caves | Qumran is located just west of the northwestern edge of the Dead Sea. It’s the place where a young Bedouin shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea scrolls in a cave in 1947. And, it’s also the place where the Jewish sect called the Essenes lived. The Essenes set themselves geographically apart so that they could pursue complete devotion to God. They also were responsible for the copying and studying of Scripture. We visited the place where these devoted followers of God preserved and copied the Scriptures and then hiked into the surrounding mountains to look at the caves where they hid their manuscripts when the Roman army threatened their existence in AD 70.
Brian offered our weary team an optional hike to the top of one of the mountains between the Judean wilderness and the Dead Sea. Along with others, I took him up on the offer. It was a grueling climb. When we reached the top, Brian challenged us to recommit ourselves to be people of the text. Each of us pledged our commitment by writing out our intention on a rock and then placing it on a pile of similar rocks left by earlier visitors. This alone made the long climb worthwhile. I also took this opportunity to write a birthday greeting to Niki, my oldest daughter. I placed both of our rocks side by side on the mountain. I am not a perfect parent and Niki is not a perfect kid, but we have both learned to trust the text – God’s precious Word – to guide us. I am thankful that she loves Jesus and the text.
My Prayer | Lord, thank you for the Essene community and their diligent and careful work to preserve your Word. Like the Essenes, may I always be consumed with longing for your Word at all times. Help me to honor my commitment to be a person of the text. And thank you for blessing our family with Niki, a daughter who loves you and the text.