Summary: Today we climbed out of the Jordan Rift Valley, first visiting Beer Sheva in the Negev, next stopping in Lachish, a city that guarded one of the main ascents up to Jerusalem from the West, and Azekah in the foothills where David killed Goliath, before heading up to Jerusalem for a night visit.
Beer Sheva: We started the day be leaving the Dead Sea and heading to Beer Sheva, a city rich in ancient biblical history. This city is on the border of a region called the Central Negev, and is known for being very dry and arid. It does not receive enough rain to produce crops, but is used for grazing during wetter periods. On the way to Hebron, we passed the city of Arad, which has the distinction of being the first war for the Israelites after the Exodus because the king of that city attacked them while they were still wandering before entering the land. There have been interesting archeological finds in Arad, including clay tablets documenting concerns around Edomites by the Israelites who had moved in after Joshua’s conquest. The Edomites were coming into the Negev when Judah was busy defending itself from the Babylonian invasion in 586 BC, leaving the area relatively undefended.
This is one of the areas where Abraham spent a great deal of time. The city is situated between two Wadi’s (ravines that transport water during rainy season). It is a strategic place where water would collect from those two Wadis. South of here is dessert. North of here, Israel is planting the largest forest in the country, hoping it will improve the climate in the region. In Genesis 21, Abraham sends Hagar away to the wilderness of Beersheba, just south of here, and then buys the water rights to the area, naming it Beersheba. There is no archeology here dating before the Israelite period, so the city seems to have originated with Abraham.
“Abraham said, “These seven ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that this may be a witness for me that I dug this well.” Therefore that place was called Beersheba, because there both of them swore an oath.”
Genesis 21:30-31 ESV
The city remains have been well excavated. There is a typical Israelite case mate double wall, used for storage in peacetime, and filled in to make a thicker wall during wartime. The city has an impressive water system that we walked through on our way out. The most interesting find was a four horned altar made of finely carved stones which was used for sacrifice as evidenced by charring. The horns would have been used to secure animals ahead of being sacrificed. Exodus 20:25 requires altars to be undressed/unhewn (i.e. made with stones that were not improved by tools). The altar found here does not follow the law for altars. It was perverted worship. It was worship of Yahweh, but not according to God’s direction on how He was to be worshipped. This is referred to in Amos 5, when Amos encourages Judah to seek the Lord but not in the wicked ways of Beersheba. The town which started with Abraham became known as a place of perverted worship.
“For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba;”
Amos 5:4-5 ESV
Lachish: After exploring Beersheba, we headed over to Lachish, the 2nd most important city in Judah behind Jerusalem during the period the Old testament. The city is located in the “Shephelah”, or “foothills” the practical western border of Judah. There was a plain along the coast inhabited by the Philistines, then a region of foothills where Lachish and other fortified cities were located guarding important access routes into the interior of the country, followed by the hill country (where Jerusalem is located). The foothills region functioned as a border guarding entry up to Jerusalem.
The foothills consists of 5 major East West valleys that provide access from the Coastal plain up into the Hill Country. The northernmost access point is along the aijalon valley, guarded by the city of Gezer. Next is the Sorek valley, guarded by the city of Beth shemesh. Next is the Elah valley, guarded by Azekah. Next is Guvrin, not passable so not fortified. And furthest to the South is a valley guarded by the city of Lachish.
There was a major battle that took place in Lachish. Sennacherib of Assyria wanted to attack Jerusalem. To do it, he first had to conquer the cities in the foothills or else he would have been vulnerable to attacks from the rear and his supply lines would have been cut off. The last and most powerful of the cities to fall was Lachish, leaving Jerusalem vulnerable.
““In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish…”
2 Kings 18:13-14 ESV
Instead of Jerusalem falling, Hezekiah prays, and God strikes down the invading army (186,000 men). Greek historians recount the army turning back from Jerusalem because of a plague of mice, providing a nice confirmation that they were defeated without a battle. In Nineveh, a relief was found describing the victory over Lachish. Letters were found where they were watching for the watchfires of Azekah but could no longer see them, indicating that the city had fallen. Slaves from there would have been taken to Lachish to build the siege ramp used to penetrate the gate enabling the Assyrians to capture it. The Babylonians later had to attack the same cities before mounting an attack on Jerusalem.
“Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained.”
Jeremiah 34:6-7 ESV
Recent digs on the site found a Canaanite temple predating the Israelite period. The find was published this week. Sherpa shared the publication with John Black, our tour guide. John called a friend who was studying under the publishing archeologist to find out where the dig was. Here is a picture of John on the location! There is still so much buried in Israel. Nearly every location we visited had current excavations.
Azekah: Just like Lachish guarded an approach to Jerusalem, Azekah guarded the Elah valley which also leads to the interior of the country. You can see Gath, a philistine city located on the coastal plain from Azekah. Beth shemesh is also nearby within eyesight. Azekah overlooks the location of the battle between David and Goliath. The Israelites were camped on the north side of the valley, likely near Shaarim, and the Philistines were on the opposite ridge near Succoth. Two gates were found at Shaarim, and the meaning of the city name is “two gates.” David’s brothers were in the camp and David is sent by his father to see how they were doing. David descended from Bethlehem down the Hooson ridge route which snakes from Bethlehem to the Elah valley. 1 Samuel 17 shares the story of the fight. The story isn’t supremely about David. The point is to highlight the difference between David’s faith and Sauls lack of faith.
Jerusalem at night: To finish the day, we walked thru old Jerusalem at night, stopping at the Western Wall. Many Jewish faithful were flocking here hoping to be closer to God because of its proximity to the place where their temple once stood. Jewish believers ask men to wear head coverings to approach the wall and to pray. The Bible expressly forbids men from symbolically covering their heads for prayer because there is nothing that separates us from God if we have placed our faith in Jesus. He has imparted His righteousness to believers. Out of respect for their practice, we did not approach the wall.
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head,”
1 Corinthians 11:4 ESV
We humbly read Romans 11 together as we watched men and women of Israel try to approach God, but not according to the truth of His scripture. We said a prayer for them that God would open their hearts to the truth of the gospel and accept Yeshua as their Messiah.
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;” Romans 11:25-26 ESV
Hike the Good Hike!
Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)