What's Your Spot in the Holy Land?

I found my favorite spot in the Holy Land. I've been to it twice. The first time was with others, the second alone. On my first visit I got a general introduction to the geography and topography of the place with the help of a guide, on my second I found "my spot." “My spot” is accessible only by I rough gravel road that runs through the valley and winds up across the back of the valley’s steep north ridge.

The place is the Elah Valley, the valley where David fought Goliath (1 Samuel 17); the spot is on the north-eastern ridge of the valley just below an archaeological site called Khirtbet Qeiyafa (also called Sha’arayim). This site is thought by director of the site to be a fortification that David himself may have built. You can even read about it in the most recent issue (Jan/Feb 2017) of Biblical Archaeological Review, an archeological laymen’s periodical for those casually interested in the archaeology of Israel. BAR is the only periodical I subscribe to.

First thing in the morning I rented the least expensive car at the Avis Rental place in Nazareth, Jesus’ home town! I had just finished leading a historical-archaeological study tour of Israel with Judson University, where I am a guest professor, which I titled from “Dan to Beersheva,” the Bible’s own phrase for the full length of the Land (see Judg 20:1; 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Sam 3:10; 17:11; 24:2; 24:15).

I led twenty people on an intense, fast-paced experience through land of Israel from Mitzpe Ramon in the far southern Negev to the bottom of Mount Hermon in the north. Along the way we placed the stories of the Jewish Scriptures and the Apostolic writings of the New Testament into their geographical and historical context. What an amazing thing to do!

The Bible is never more alive than when you read it in the Holy Land.

The Bible is never more alive than when you read it in the Holy Land.

I had rented a car because it was the most inexpensive and convenient way for me to travel the couple of hours down to Jerusalem where I was to spend a handful of days working at the famous French Dominican biblical and archaeological library Ecóle Biblique located just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

While driving south I spontaneously decided to find the Elah Valley again. I thought to myself, “I’m in Israel. I have a car. I need to visit a site!” I remembered the Elah Valley was in the general direction I was heading. So I set out on a mission. Finding places in Israel, especially like the Elah Valley, is not as easy as you might think. There are no road signs to the Valley. No specific directions. You basically have to know where something is and figure out the best way to get there.

This kind of travel adventuring though is just the kind of thing I live for. Consulting between a Road Atlas of Israel, Google Maps and, yes, my Bible (!) – It’s absolutely the craziest experience to use your Bible to find a real place!! – and with some difficulty I did make it to the Elah Valley. Then figuring out how to get up to Khirbet Qeiyafa was also a challenge. But again with preseverance, I found the right gravel road – there are several alternatives in the immediate area – and I worked my way gingerly along the extremely bumpy road which is suited more for a four-wheel drive SUV than the low-profile compact car I had rented. I took the car as far as I felt comfortable. The road seemed to become more treacherous with every hundred yards. Along the way at first the road passed a couple of houses but on the whole it was deserted. I parked the car and began to walk around.

I realized quickly that I was the only human being on top of this ridge and the thought gripped me. I thought to myself, “This is the place where Israel’s army was arrayed for battle against the Philistines three millennia ago. The story I have known since I can remember, having learned it as a toddler. This deserted archaeological ruin in front of me may very well have been built by King David. This is all open to me. I am here by myself. Wow!”

It was hard to really take it in. I walked through the archaeological site again taking pictures. Literally not another soul around. The site was mine.

I then made my way south to the eastern edge of the Valley’s ridge. I was looking for a panoramic perspective of the Valley. I found a spot under a tree which gave a clear and full site of the Valley. It was a beautiful day.

I sat down. I opened my Messenger bag and pulled out my Bible. Thumbing through to 1 Samuel, I turned to chapter seventeen. There overlooking the Elah Valley from the ridge, perhaps the exact view King Saul had as he watched the events unfold below him 3000 years ago, I read that story I had read probably 100 times before in my life.

But this time reading the story was unlike any other time.
I found “my spot” in Israel.

Come with me and find yours!

I am teaching/leading the tour again this May 15-24. I’m pleased to announce we have a few more spots open for people to join us. But you’ll need to act fast if you’re interested. Please contact me directly as soon as possible at joel@joelwillitts.com for more information.