by Pastor Andy Braams
Our next to last full day had us traveling back south towards the Dead Sea. Our first stop was Qumran. Perhaps, you have heard of the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were found in caves near the Dead Sea, by some shepherd boys who were throwing rocks into the caves (while looking for a lost sheep) in the late 1940s. After hearing something shatter, they explored the caves, found several containers, and began burning some of the first parchments they found. Eventually, they realized that these documents might be important so they sought advice on how to proceed, eventually selling the rights to the scrolls.
The scrolls themselves, most likely hidden when the Romans took control of the region, contain several writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek mostly dating from the 3rd Century B.C. to the 1st Century A.D. These writings prove how accurately the Bible has been translated over the last 2,000+ years. Every book of the Old Testament has been found except for the book of Ruth, which is estimated to be one of the parchments that was originally burned by the boys. For instance, all except a very small portion of the entire book of Isaiah has been found.
The area of Qumran was a religious settlement where a few individuals came to learn and copy Scripture. Before copying Scripture, each person involved would take a bath so as to be clean in order to handle God’s word. They were so precise that you entered the bathing pool on one side and exited on another so as not to track through where you had been dirty before entering. Generally, the same quill and ink well was used when transcribing Scripture. However, whenever the name of God (YHWH, or Yahweh – and pronounced Yah-way) was to be written, a new quill and ink well was used. The original discovery of the area found desks, tables, chairs, as well as ink and quills. Unfortunately, much of the area was destroyed in an earthquake around 30 A.D., which may have been the same quake that occurred when Jesus died (Matthew 27.51). It should also be noted that John the Baptizer likely spent time here as this was also near the area where he would begin his formal ministry.
After going down to the Dead Sea (where you can float with both your arms and legs above water!), we headed to Jericho for lunch. Of course, the Jericho in the Old Testament was destroyed by God when the Israelites, led by Joshua, marched around it (Joshua 6). New Testament Jericho was an important place as it was the winter home of Herod. We know it best as the place where Jesus met the “wee little man” named Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10). We had lunch at a restaurant named Temptation Restaurant, which sits very near the Mount of Temptation which is where Satan took Jesus for one of the three moments of testing Jesus faced (Matthew 4.1-11). The roof of the restaurant also allowed a great overhead view of the ruins of ancient Jericho. After lunch, we saw Elisha’s Stream, which still flows strong today. The stream received its name because when it was sour and unusable, the prophet Elisha threw salt in it and “healed” the water (2 Kings 2.19-22)
Our last two sites were ancient palaces. The first was Hishan’s Palace which dates to the 8th Century. A major significance of this site is that it contains the original mosaic called The Tree of Life, which has been reproduced in many ways for sale throughout the Middle East. The next stop was Herod’s winter palace which was wide-spread and is the place that he died.
This night would be our last night in Israel as we would cross back over to Jordan in the morning for our final full day of the trip. We still had one major highlight to see which I will cover next week. The area where we had spent our day was in the southern portion of Israel where the Israelites first moved into the Promised Land, where John began baptizing, where Jesus was tested in the wilderness and later met Zacchaeus who was in a tree, and where the Word of God had been preserved for some 2,000 years. These sites, and their stories, provided an oasis in an otherwise desert-like place. I am reminded of Jesus’ words that He is the living water. When we find ourselves with little hope, with the world caving in around us, or in a barren place, may we not be deceived by those temptations that appear out of nowhere as a mirage. Rather let us find our true oasis in the living water that provides both now and for eternity. His name is Jesus. And He will direct us to the true Tree of Life (Revelation 22.2) where we can eat eternally, if we only trust Him.