We’re headed for Arad. Our brains are cleared, the extra hour of sleep being of great assistance, and we’re ready for a day in the desert!
The original Canaanite city of Arad was huge for this part of the country. Its walls followed a natural rise of hills and enclosed around 25 acres of land. There must have been a good water source here at some time to support a large number of people. But really, why would you build a huge city out in the boondocks like this? Its not at all a natural, normal place to settle so there needs to be some strong reason to do it. It would have been great for a tax center on the road from Gaza to Bozrah or part of an alert chain for towns farther North. There is also evidence of copper mining being done in this area which would have been a good resource. The soil here isn’t very good for agriculture unless water is allowed to soak into it for a long period of time, otherwise it creates a hard crust on the surface that ends up repelling any liquid. Since the annual rainfall is only about 6″, getting good growing land isn’t going to happen on its own. There is evidence of dams being built at the end of wadis on order to trap water and then allow it to seep slowly into the soil to create a fertile field.
The city is also like the back door to the central hills. It may have served as an administrative town when it was later taken by Israel. The city was deserted sometime later though, perhaps in connection with a climate change when there may not have been enough water to support the people anymore. In the 10th century Solomon built a tough little citadel on top of the highest rise of the city instead of occupying in the whole walled area. It may only have been home to half a dozen soldiers and their families just hanging out and keeping watch.
What’s really interesting in light of this is the temple found in this small ‘city.’ It is built in the same way as Israel was instructed to build the temple to God, even including a holy place and a holiest of holies. But why a temple way out here especially since the requirement was to only sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem? And what about the writing that was found saying to “by Yahweh of Samaria and his [or its] asherah?” How can you add a pagan goddess of fertility to the one true GOD who created Heaven and Earth? There was a type of worship that seemed to be practiced in ancient times that was sort of a ‘God plus’ worship. So, did the people of Arad think, “We do believe in the true God but lets add a little fertility here to help along?” They did live in the desert with barrenness all around. On the other hand, perhaps this writing wasn’t even connected to the city of Arad and happened to be dropped by a traveler passing by or some other small settlement. Suppose these people at Arad so desired to worship the one true God and wanted to obey His laws and sacrifice to Him but they were stationed away out here and there was no possible way for them to get to Jerusalem for all the feasts. So they decided to build a temple exactly as God had commanded in order to honor His commands.
We head farther southwest to Beersheba which means well of seven or well of the oath. Here Abraham made a treaty with Abimelek the king of the Philistines in Gerar. The first time the city name shows up in the Bible though, is when Hagar and Ishmael were send away and they wandered in the desert of Beersheba. It appears later in the text when Isaac was in contact with Abimelek as well and made a treaty with him as his dad had done. He came to Beersheba and built and altar and called on the name of the LORD. His servants dug a well and were excited when they found water; they told Isaac about it and he called it Shibah, and from then on the name of the town was called Beersheba. So was it named when Abraham made his oath there or when Isaac dug the well?
In the days of Samuel, his sons served at Beersheba so there must have been a temple of some sort here. It would make sense since Isaac had built an altar here and they would have continued using this as a holy place. And where does the four-horned altar, that was found built into the walls, come from? Its pretty amazing to be able to picture the city somewhat the way that it used to be. The deep well just outside the gate where animals could be watered. Strong casemate walls and a 4-chamber gate indicate a pretty well fortified city. Inside there are large storehouses that may imply that this like a depository town or perhaps a tax city here on the border of Canaan along the highway.
And then we get to hike Wadi Zin! The view from the lookout at the mouth of the wadi is absolutely stunning. Jagged mountain faces rise high from the floor of the desert. There’s just a bit of green at the very bottom, winding along the channel carved by strong floods but if you look out in the distance there’s nothing but rocks and mountains and steep valleys. Absolute barrenness but oh so beautiful.
Our last stop of the day is at Makhtesh Ramon. The giant bowl depression in the desert even farther south. We read about the children of Israel wandering near here. Job also has some very descriptive desert images. He says about the Lord, “He moves mountains without their knowing it… He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” This is our God.