Inheritance of Benjamin and its Clans

My definition of JUC field studies: An incredible way to bring the Bible alive right before your eyes, bringing credibility and definition to what you’ve studied in the classroom. Yes, I love field studies. This one happened on Sunday, September 25. It was great as always. Hot and stifling in the Rift Valley, rainy and cool near Jerusalem and sunny with a lovely breeze from the Mediterranean in Gezer.

We had a beautiful beginning, overlooking the desert to the east and down to Jericho and the great Rift Valley. A person can understand what the writer of the ancient text referenced in Deuteronomy, “…through all that vast and dreadful wilderness” And one of my favorites,  In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye… {Deuteronomy 32} What a God this is!

Oh the beauty of the wilderness
Yay for NET buses!

We talked about the Byzantine monastic movement that happened in this wilderness. People felt like they were missing something in their lives and wanted to draw nearer to Christ. In the beginning a number of men came to the desert and lived in caves trying to find the mind of God. They had to be somewhere where they could get water though and so alongside Herod’s ancient aqueduct worked just fine. Now there is actually a monastery partially down in this wadi. So what is it about that desert that we like, painful though it is? I cannot imagine the dedication of living in this barren place and yet I love to come here and experience the land. But when desert happens in my life it hurts, yet I know that this is where I grow. Where I am drawn ever nearer to my Savior’s side. This is where he speaks tenderly to me and gives me hope. Sometimes its hot. It takes a long time for things to happen, but in the end there is always growth. There is comfort and shade when I think I can’t go anymore. So, when I’m in the deep and dreadful deserts of life, Lord help me remember Your promise that You will make the Valley of Achor (valley of trouble) a door of hope.

Modern day Arab right there

We hiked down into Wadi Kelt (Qilt) then. Down, down, down. Past St. George’s Monastery stuck against the sheer rock side of the mountain, until we reached the ancient road, The Ascent of Adummim. Oh, it was a lovely walk. How much better can it get than to walk in the desert? Imagining people living in Jericho that needed to travel up to Jerusalem for Passover. There’s the man that fell among thieves and even Jesus would have walked a similar road on his way up to Jerusalem. What strong faith (and thighs) the people of that day must have had!

The Monastery
The Ascent of Adummim. See that little trail to the left of the canyon? Cause that's where we walked.

When we got to Byzantine period Jericho, there is of course a huge palace of Herod’s. Its stunning how this man, puppet of Rome, built such impressive structures and seemed to prosper yet he had no fear of God whatsoever. He was hated by the people he ruled over and even by his own family. This palace is another part in his escape route; from here he could easily run east if things got more heated than was comfortable. I try to imagine living in his day. Being one of his slaves or even just townsfolk. To feel this tension and the ever present thought that you need to keep an eye out over your shoulder for ‘that fox’ because even his own family wasn’t safe from death. It isn’t surprising than that the people were so ready for the Messiah to return. Save us from the Romans. Save us from this brutal king!

The dining/entertainment room in Herod's palace.

We drop a bit deeper into the Rift Valley to what’s dated by some, as the oldest and also lowest city in the world. Ah, Jericho, city of Palms. This oasis in the harsh wilderness. What a refreshing sight it would have been for travelers to crest a hill and see this haven tucked into semicircle of tight mountains. Is there a wonder that people settled here? The ground is great for agriculture. There are a multitude of connections to strategic trade and it’s the Levant’s natural gateway to the East. Might this be why those people so long ago wanted to build a fortified city? To be able to control trade and protect themselves seems almost a given. Even though its stifling hot and miserable down here, it is also a natural hot political spot to control. So considering all this, we’ll move forward a bunch of years and there’s the Israelites coming up on the east. They’ve lived in this “vast and dreadful” desert for years, more recently have been doing battle with Moab and Amon and now finally God leads them to cross the Jordan and here is this oasis, right on the crossroads of potential. What a city to conquer and what great implications it had for this nation that was trying to get settled in a new land. Yet, Israel isn’t the only people who want this land. There’s a constant nip and tuck going on with neighboring kings and empires.

Its true. (Well, at least some folks believe so.)

As we move west following the Taiybe Ridge Route into the hills we begin to see the characteristics of the Emek or Eastern Plateau. A wonderful foothold, still within the desert but showing some very valuable ground. There are plots of beautiful reddish soil. There’s a bit of growth around. Its not an oasis by any length but it is a good resting place for an army headed west for battle. A bit of refreshment, a break from harshness of desert. Would Joshua have stopped here with his army on their all night march to Gibeon (Joshua 10)?  To catch their breath before pressing on to attack?

We stop on the Central Benjamin Plateau. Here’s Gibeon, Gibeah, Ramah and Mizpah are in a tight sort of triangle right on the strategic routes to the sea and between North/South trade. So if Joshua was able to control these cities he’d have a tight hold on the majority of trade going to the coastal highway and from the coast to the east.

Gezer is our next stop. On the edge of the Jezreel Valley and the Coastal Plain, this was an ancient Canaanite city whose king Joshua just defeated and killed but when they settled in the land they didn’t drive out the Canaanites living there. The Philistines then move in from the west and take the coastal plain along with Gezer. Israel meets them in the Shephelah and the battle lines are drawn. For years they battle over cities. At times they get pretty comfortable together and Israel’s daughter marry Philistine sons and vice versa. They start worshiping Philistine gods and don’t drive out the people completely as God had commanded them to do. So they get in trouble. But when they repent, God forgives them again and sends Judges to help them.

The beautiful Jezreel Valley with the hills of Judea in the distance
as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house…

Gezer was a pretty impressive city in its time. There’s a wonderful Mediterranean breeze. Beautiful flat farmland stretches out on all sides. Solomon’s wife received this city as gift from her father when she married Solomon. Now if that wasn’t an impressive present! Solomon built it up along with other important cities along the coastal highway such as Hazor and Megiddo. It had strong casemate walls and his signature 6-chamber gate. You’ll be able to see all your enemies if they try to move across the plains before you or the Aijalon Valley behind. It should feel secure but somehow there’s still a feeling of vulnerability to city. Ever striving to control the trade along the coast other kings also wanted to rule here and it fell often. Seeing the huge standing stones we know there must have been important events taking place. Were they marking a victory that God gave or perhaps a covenant made?

As we close our day, we can understand a bit more of the struggle of Benjamin. The constant battleground this tribe lived in and the ever present fight for control. Can we as the common folk, live our lives in such a way that it brings a peace to those in battles around us? When we struggle in deserts, do we become more forgiving and loving to those around us who are hurting? Can we be a standing stone testifying to the goodness of God and his leading even through the pain?

Thanks dear folks for stopping by. If you get tired of reading the lengthy epistles just look at the photos and whisper a prayer for us day by day 🙂 This weekend we’re heading for the Negev. Desert. Dead Sea. Engedi. Sweat. Brain stretching. Three whole days. Yay!

3 thoughts on “Inheritance of Benjamin and its Clans

  1. Glad you enjoy them Cheri, somethings it seems sort of long and monotonous to me. 🙂
    Exactly Mark, it was pretty amazing to be there again and see the stones and remember our very first session three years ago right in the city gate. There’s been a lot more excavation done than when we were there too.


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