Monday, February 7, 2011

Streams in the Desert

Last weekend I spent a couple days at Masada and Ein Gedi, 2 hours southeast of Jerusalem and along the Dead Sea. Here I was able to see three separate ecological regions, each with Biblical significance. (Hey and apologies to my readers who could care less about religion; I'll get into politics and culture more with future posts. Stay tuned.)

Masada is the ancient fortress of King Herod, the Roman collaborator whose fear of overthrow led him to kill his own sons, wife, and massacre all the babies in the little town of Bethlehem. Perhaps fear led him to choose Masada for a fortress—it is mountain in the middle of the desert, overlooking a dead sea with no communities for miles. He chose personal security over engaging with people. Probably smart, since people hated him.
Decades later, around the time of the 70 A.D. rebellion, a group of Jewish rebels would use Masada as their own fortress against the Romans. But the Romans built a massive ramp and system of forts around Masada (the foundations of which I could still clearly see), and soon the wall was nearly breached. Fearful of Roman captivity, nearly every single of the thousand Jews there committed suicide. Masada is kind of place with negative connotations (except for Israelis, who empathize with their last stand. Many military induction ceremonies are held at Masada).
View of part of Herod's palace at Masada
            Thus when I went to Ein Gedi the next day, it was a remarkable contrast. Ein Gedi gets several of mentions in the Bible, for example in I Samuel 24:1. Here, quite unlike Herod, David chooses to trust God and spare King Saul’s life, despite the fact that Saul was hunting David down in this desert region. But how was David surviving here? Because Ein Gedi is the site of natural freshwater spring! Waterfalls and pools gather in a narrow valley, allowing trees and animals to thrive year-round. The imagery was intense, and reminded me of cool things God has shown me, Liz, and F&M’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship about “streams in the desert” (for starters, see Isaiah 43:18-20 and Jeremiah 17:7-8). It’s incredible how just a tiny bit of water can transform a landscape.
Ein Gedi spring
            And thus it was really cool when I was flipping through my Bible I “coincidentally” found another mention of Ein Gedi. It was in Ezekiel 47. Here, there’s another trickle of water that transforms the land. In a vision Ezekiel sees a future Temple in Jerusalem, one in which water mysteriously flows out from under the sacrificial altar and miraculously grows exponentially until it’s so large that “no one could cross”. Ezekiel sees that the river flows down to the Jordan Valley, joining the Jordan River and then pouring into the Dead Sea. But then something cool happens: this water transforms the Dead Sea into a Living one. “Where the river flows everything will live. Fisherman will stand along the shore, from En Gedi to En Eglaim.” Along the banks of this freshwater river will grow fruit trees that always bear fruit, regardless of season, and whose leaves will be for healing (all of this is just like Revelation 22:1-2).

Thus the Dead Sea, so salty that nothing can live in it and can make my thin frame float effortlessly, is one day prophesied to be made alive again. And it all starts out from a small trickle of water from the altar in Jerusalem.

Now I’m not sure whether all these prophecies are to be taken literally or not. But there is certainly symbolism here. Jesus, the sacrifice upon the altar, shed both blood and water upon his death in John 19:34: blood for our redemption, and water for our transformation into truly living creatures. The trickle of water from him refreshes all who accept him.

So before I left the Dead Sea, I took my green water bottle and poured my freshwater into the brine. “May the dead come to life” I said, echoing the prophecies spoken before. All that I can do is to pass on the living water that I have been given; trusting that one day, all the deserts will become forests.


  1. Beautifully written! Sounds very enlightening... Keep posting, Andrew! Be well!

  2. What a meaningful ritual, pouring your fresh water into the Dead Sea. Jesus is Living Water.


  3. This was really interesting to read because I've been wanting to read the Bible but I haven't found time to read the whole thing yet (and because, it's kinda big and I'm a really slow reader).

    I'm a commited christian so I'll be interested in reading your blog furthermore :D :D