As I was flying in to Haifa from Istanbul, Turkey, I looked out my window at the land below, and it was absolutely thrilling to know that I would be on Israeli soil within the hour. But the landscape was forbidding! Later, driving down to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem, I remembered how that bleak landscape had risen up to greet me as we landed. I thought about these lines from Matthew’s gospel: ‘then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil’ Ah yes, I thought, ‘in such a place!’
The Dead Sea is 1350 ft. below sea level and the drive down was, for me, utterly unique. I had not quite imagined the really stark nature of the countryside. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. In fact, we were told that some of the deep “drop-offs” and steep crevasses are so deep that sunlight never reaches the bottom! And yet, there were green oases of date palms cropping up here and there at infrequent intervals.
As we travelled through the countryside, our guide read Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd…” What an amazing experience it was to be driving through this landscape, and to be hearing the 23rd Psalm read aloud. There is nothing that can compare…surely not on bent knees by the side of my bed! I heard the Psalm as I have never heard it before.
Overlooking the Dead Sea is the incomparable fortress of Masada. We arrived at the ruins by cable car. Before we began our trip up to the ruins of this fortress, our guide read a little of its history from the writings of the famous Jewish historian, Josephus. But the overwhelming experience of Masada, I will leave for another time.
Standing in the middle of the ruins of this magnificent place, into my mind crept these verses from the psalmist: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?…thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour, thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of thy hand….” (Psalm 8:4,5,6)(KJV).
Joy James Williams
Director of Christian Formation and Education
Saint James in the Hills