Article By: Ryan Swedburg
If someone were asked to describe the terrain of Israel, chances are “desert” would be the first word to come to mind. In reality, Israel is a far more varied country than many Americans may assume. Wheat fields, rolling hills, forests, rugged and rocky slopes, and a beautiful coastline along the Mediterranean also comprise a large section of the Promised Land. However, the desert of Israel, known as the Negev, was one of the locations the 2017 IBEX contingent visited. From the gulf of Aqaba and the bustling resort city of Eilat, to the fortress of Masada and the nearby Salt (Dead) Sea, to the quaint residence of David Ben Gurion at Sde Boqer, we explored many desert sites during our trip.
In the gospels, Jesus prophesied that not one stone of the temple in Jerusalem would remain atop another (Mk. 13:2). Approximately 40 years later, this prophecy was fulfilled when the Roman army, under the emperor’s son Titus, sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. While Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD, rebel Jews managed to hold out against Rome at Masada for another three years. Since then, the impenetrable nature of this desert fortress has caused Masada to become a monument to Israeli national pride.
We climbed this imposing and ancient fortress from the remnants of the siege ramp built by the Romans. Once atop Masada, the ruins of multiple palaces built by Herod were visible. Further, the ruins of cisterns, bathhouses, and a watchtower were also intact. Given Masada’s seemingly insurmountable slopes, it is no wonder that Rome had such a difficult time defeating the residents of Masada.
So many Scriptures speak of God as a mighty rock and dependable fortress (e.g. Ps. 18:1-2). Seeing the strength of Masada and knowing that God’s protection is unimaginably stronger, helped me to more clearly understand the truth of these comparisons. It is a distinct possibility that Masada was the location of David’s stronghold described by Old Testament authors (e.g. 1 Sam. 24:22). As David penned Psalm 18, perhaps he had Masada in mind when he likened Yahweh to a stronghold, rock, and fortress.
A figure crucially important to the rise of modern Israel is David Ben-Gurion. It was Ben-Gurion who famously declared Israel’s birth as a nation on May 14, 1948. It was also Ben-Gurion who almost exclusively held the office of Prime Minister from Israel’s birth until 1963. Given Ben-Gurion’s status in Israeli society, it would be natural to assume that he would have preferred to live in a palace in a prominent city. However, David Ben-Gurion was not a typical politician. He chose to spend many of his later years residing in the small kibbutz of Sde Boqer. About 65 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Sde Boqer sits in the middle of the Negev and hardly resembles a residence fit for royalty. Yet, this small community was where David Ben-Gurion chose to retire.
Remarkably, due to the careful preservation of his home, we could visit Ben-Gurion’s desert abode in the exact condition it was on the day that he died. It was clear that Ben-Gurion valued nothing more than the bare necessities of life. His home was a small, modest dwelling with no luxurious furnishings of any kind. Apparently, Ben-Gurion was also an avid reader, as books were strewn about his desk, and bookcases lined his office walls.