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Ein Gedi

Ein Gedi – An Oasis in the Wilderness
Ein Gedi (En Gedi) is an unexpected and refreshing oasis just above the Dead Sea in Israel. It’s one of those biblical locations that only under the strangest of circumstances could be questioned as to its authenticity. Or, as one scholar has phrased it, “If today’s Ein Gedi is not the biblical site -- there would have to be another spot exactly like it.”

Ein Gedi – The Dead Sea in Israel
Ein Gedi, along the western edge of the Dead Sea, approximately 1300 feet below sea level, deep in the Judean Wilderness and surrounded by a bleak moonscape with less than four inches of rain per year and temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months -- there’s nothing else quite like it.

One visitor from Scotland back at the turn of the 20th century arrived here on horseback and was so overwhelmed, he wrote these words:

    “He who has been to En Gedi fears lest he exaggerate its fertility to those who have not. The oasis bursts upon him from one of the driest and most poisoned regions of our plant. Either he has ridden across [the Wilderness of Judea], seven hours without a spring, three with hardly a bush, when suddenly, over the edge of a precipice, 400 feet below him he sees a river of verdue burst from the rock . . . . Or he has come along the coast, through sulphur smells, with the bitter sea on one side, the desert cliffs on the other, and a fiery sun overhead, when round a corner of the cliffs he sees the broad fan of verdue open and slope before him . . . . [The] water, strange and sudden, with the exhilaration of the view across the sea, produce most generous impressions of this oasis, and tempt to exaggerate its fertility. The most enthusiastic, however, could not too highly rate its usefulness as a refuge, for it lies at the back of a broad desert, and is large enough to sustain an army.”
This kind of contrast, and the life-giving and life-saving value of a place like Ein Gedi, is just the kind of thing you’d expect to find in the Bible. And find it we do.

Ein Gedi – The Biblical Accounts
Ein Gedi, and the area around it, is actually known by two different names in the Bible. In addition to En Gedi, which means “spring of the goat kid,” it is also called Hazazon Tamar, which we get from a connection in 2 Chronicles 20. Before the Israelites received this area with the rest of the land as an inheritance from the Lord, the Canaanites and the dreaded Amorites lived here, or somewhere nearby. It was never a metropolis, as you can guess from its remote location -- but it was a convenient water stop for travelers who wanted to cut some time off their journey, or herdsmen with animals to keep alive. And it was important enough in antiquity to be mentioned in the list of cities conquered by the alliance of five kings who, in turn, were defeated by Abraham when he rescued his nephew Lot.

Ein Gedi – David and Saul
Ein Gedi is probably best known as the place where David hid from the murderous intentions of King Saul – and where David spared Saul’s life in an episode that I’m sure Saul did not want repeated. Here’s the account from the Book of 1 Samuel:

    Now when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, "Behold, David is in the wilderness of En Gedi." Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. The men of David said to him, "Behold, this is the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'" Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly. It came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's robe. So he said to his men, "Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD'S anointed." David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7).
How embarrassing! Saul ducks into one of the caves at En Gedi to take care of business, and it just happens to be the one David and his men are hiding in. And instead of killing Saul, David cuts off part of Saul’s garment -- and then feels guilty about it? Nobody could make this stuff up. The upshot of this story is that although David proved his lack of bad intentions toward Saul, just a couple of chapters later Saul goes back to his favorite personal hobby -- trying to track down and kill David. But for at least a time, this stronghold in the Wilderness of Ein Gedi was David’s salvation.

Ein Gedi – A Picture of God as our Rock and our Fortress
When you stand at Ein Gedi and observe its perfect defensive position with no viable approach from any direction but the Dead Sea, its endless supply of water, its rocky natural mini-fortresses, and its essential convenience for David during his years of running from Saul, we can begin to better understand some of the terminology David used in the Psalms.

Psalm 18 begins, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Strong enough language all on its own, but when you stand at Ein Gedi, it means so much more.

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