Sunrise at the Sea of Galilee
After spending several mornings listening to the sounds of the birds outside my window while I relaxed in bed, I knew I needed to rise early on this last morning in the Galilee so I could wander around and take pictures.
I loved the peace and tranquility along the lake, broken only by the songs of the birds. It was a lovely time to reflect on God’s goodness and the events of the trip so far. I recall that Jesus more than once is reported to have risen early – before daybreak – to go to a quiet place to pray.
Qasr el Yahud – The Baptism Site of Jesus
There are several places reputed to be the location where Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River. Two are right around the Sea of Galilee and Qasr el Yahud, the one we traveled to, is much further south.
One of the reasons this is believed to be a more likely location is that it is much closer to Jerusalem, perhaps 20 miles, and it is very close to Jericho. Some believe that because it is stated that John came in the spirit and strength of Elijah (Luke 1:17), and Elijah ascended to heaven from the banks of the Jordan across from Jericho (2 Kings), therefore John would have been baptizing at the site of Elijah’s ascension.
There are also remains of a monastery dating back to the 5th century AD and numerous accounts through the centuries starting around that time, describing the site and the location of the baptism of Jesus.
If you are interested in learning more about the history and reasons this site is supposed to be the most authentic, you can read more on the website The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ.
You will notice from the pictures just how muddy the waters of the Jordan here. They make me think of Naaman’s comment when Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan River seven times to be cleansed of his leprosy in 2 Kings 5. “Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel?” Was that pride, or has the river always been a little on the muddy side? (Jarm DelBoccio’s The Heart Changer gives a lovely account of Naaman’s story.)
Another interesting thing we learned about the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. In the 1960s, Israel built an enormous pumping station on the banks of the Sea of Galilee which diverts water from the upper Jordan River (which feeds the Dead Sea) and provides water to the entire country. In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began diverting the Yarmouk River, which feeds the Jordan further south. As a result, the river is narrower than it had been and the Dead Sea is drying up.
We had several pastors with us and they baptized those from our group. After those who had desired were baptized, a young lady from Brazil approached our group and asked if she could be baptized as well!
Because the Jordan River is the border between Jordan and Israel at this point, we were cautioned about not wandering to the other side of the river. On that side was another area for baptizing (and a church), so people were getting baptized on both sides of the river.
Bedouin shepherds have long roamed the hills and valleys of the deserts of Israel with their flocks. Sometime between 1946 and 1947, Muhammed Edh-Dhib, a Bedouin shepherd who had no idea his name would go down in history, was looking for a stray goat. Amusing himself by throwing stones, he was startled to hear the sound of breaking pottery when one stone went into a small hole. When he climbed in to investigate, he discovered several ancient manuscripts in a jar and took them back to camp to show his family.
Hoping to make some money, they eventually brought the scrolls to Bethlehem. The first dealer they went to turned them down as being worthless. Eventually, they found a buyer (three scrolls were sold for 7 Jordanian pounds, approximately $28!).
The scrolls they found are now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls – some of which date back to 408 BC, which is after the Babylonian exile and during the Persian Empire’s reign.
Note the caves in the pictures below. While they may not be the exact caves the scrolls were found in, they would have been caves like these. Can’t you just picture a goat springing from rock to rock up there and a young boy scrambling behind?
For years I have read the scriptures where it speaks of David hiding from Saul in caves in the desert – the strongholds of Ein-gedi (I Samuel 23 – your Bible may spell it En Gedi). And, as you probably picture it, I always imagined dry, dusty terrain with few trees. I was stunned to discover that Ein Gedi is an oasis. Not one with palm trees, but one with much vegetation and many pools of water and waterfalls! Somehow, this doesn’t seem as much a hardship as it did before.
I was interested to discover that Solomon references this area as well in Song of Solomon 1:14 “He is like a bouquet of sweet henna blossoms from the vineyards of En-gedi.”
This area is so beautiful! Full of caves, grottos, and wildlife. We saw an ibex (though not so I could get a picture of it), many hyrax, and birds. I did find it humorous that it was the common house sparrow that kept showing up.
The route we traveled took some effort. There were rough steps hewn into the rocks, which helped, yet there were places where the rocks were slippery. I was so thankful for the rails that had been placed in strategic spots!
We found that many of the people enjoying the hiking and the area were local families. In fact, I think there were more locals than there were tourists. That could have been another result of things beginning to shut down because of the Coronavirus, or it could be due to its off-of-the-beaten path location.
The Dead Sea
We ended our day at the Dead Sea. I’ll tell you more about it in the next post of the series but wanted to share a few pictures from our hotel. It was perhaps ironic that after wandering through the area King David stayed in when he was a fugitive, we slept at the King David Hotel – far nicer accommodations than he enjoyed!