Have you ever felt different from other kids when you were growing up? When I was little, I would always hear kids my age about Disneyland and how they wanted to see Mickey Mouse and to be a princess for a day. While that sounds fun and adorable, I would rather imagine myself going somewhere more epic even for a young and delicate-looking girl like me. My dream place to travel? Egypt.
I was drawn to old and ancient lands on T.V. and books. The ones with a lot of depth, history and interesting narratives. That was my Disneyland.
Since that time I still haven’t been to Egypt but my journey to Israel in 2012 brought me closer to my childhood dream, my promised land. It was a journey that was two years in the making. I was filled with both anticipation and anxiety (see my previous stories about Israel here), and delight and grace.
God certainly prepared my heart for such trip amidst of all the trials in that season. The provision for me to go and the ability for me to cope with the ups and downs before and during the journey was an interesting narrative in itself. It became a significant trip while I was going through some personal battles. The experience, which was paired with the surrounding ancient ruins, fascinating histories, and monumental settings made the trip even more meaningful to me.
Here are three of the first few places that we visited at the beginning of our journey. These places (which were also part of my bucket list) provided some valuable insights in my life, in time for this Holy Week and Easter.
1. DEAD SEA SCROLLS
☑ Find out where the manuscripts from the Bible came from
They say that the caves behind me was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Between the years 1946 and 1956, the different scrolls were accumulated from the eleven caves that were located about two kilometers inland from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Thus, they named the old manuscripts the Dead Sea Scrolls.
They also said that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained almost the whole book of Isaiah and other parts of the books of the Old Testament.
What’s interesting about this?
Being at this place and learning more about it was special to me. As I’m really interested to know more about the Bible, how it was written, discovered, gathered, and survived for 1,900 years since it was completed leaves me astonished every.single.time. It definitely is one of those books that has a consistent theme from the Old Testament to the New Testament books. It was all about one thing: the relentless and redemptive love of God.
It’s also amazing to learn how God gives significance to the humblest throughout history. And in this case, it’s the shepherds. From being one of the first few people chosen to receive a personal announcement and invitation through the angels about the birth of Jesus, and to the discovery of the greatest ancient manuscripts of all time. (Maybe God also instructed an angel to lead the goat to wander off so the shepherds can discover the scrolls?)
So what did I get from this place?
Thank God for shepherds (and angels)! 😉 And besides that, how cool is it to have something that we can read that survived for close to two millennia! It’s an unsurpassed best seller, that’s still true, relevant and applicable to us. Pretty cool for an old school!
Next stop is a place where I want to go back to and float again. It was almost sunset and we didn’t have enough time to enjoy it. It was like we headed there just for a quick bath and a 30-minute (or less) spa break after a sweaty hike in the desert. But it was worth it!
2. THE DEAD SEA
☑ Float in the Dead Sea with some mud mask on my face
A serene-looking lake that I’ve been seeing from the heights of the Masada borders, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. It was so peaceful and quiet that almost no living thing (animal, aquatic creatures nor plants) thrives in this place except for some bacteria and microbial fungi. True to its name, it is almost dead!
But what makes the Dead Sea come alive for me are the thoughts that the same place where I’ve been was where King David used to hang out for safety. It was also one of the world’s first spa resorts where King Herod and for sure other ancient royalties and Biblical characters used to have fun or contemplated, in the lowest point on earth (1,388 ft. below sea level), floated on its hypersaline water, and gathered some mineral-rich mud pack for their health and beauty rituals!
What did I learn from the Dead Sea?
Sometimes people can also be likened to the Dead Sea. We tend to be “landlocked” in a way. We become enclosed by so many things around us (whether be it a hurtful past, disappointment, pride, unforgiveness, bitterness, fear, et al) that our tendency and way of protection is to isolate ourselves.
We miss what it is to be alive. We’re solely and slowly becoming dead because we don’t let the life within us and from others flow through us. Enclosed with our own pride and selfishness, we tend to keep what’s good from naturally flowing in and out of our lives, and from and to the people around us. So sad. I don’t want to be likened to the Dead Sea.
What took us so long to get to the Dead Sea? Did we get lost or something? Perhaps you can say that we enjoyed this next place too much. It was like being teleported to another period in a cinematic site called Masada (insert/begin playing Star Wars-like Original Sound Track here).
☑ Explore the Masada and its ruins
This desert fortress (Hebrew meaning of Masada) in the southern district of Israel captured my itchy traveler’s cerebrum, feet and endurance as one of the most fascinating places that I explored. I’ve been hearing about this place even before my trip and saw aerial videos like this that tickled my mind more with curiosity.
Imagine being transported to a setting that you only see in movies. It’s a hot place to begin with, with nothing else around you but ruins and stories behind the isolated rock plateau. You can only imagine how the place was constructed, how people started to travel and live here, and how they survived. A grand and glorious life perhaps? Or a lifestyle filled with fear and isolation?
From King Herod to the Zealots that lived here, this place is full of intriguing stories that only what’s left from its past splendor really knows about. Beyond its grandeur is a place more heightened by the significance of its dramatic and tragic ending.
(Zealots: the group of anti-roman rebels of the 1st century CE. Their movement started in 6CE but became really active in the period of Jewish revolt. Their most basic belief was that all means were justified to attain political and religious liberty.)
Braveheart, The Gladiator, 300, just a few of the motion pictures that I think can help me capture the mental image of the historic and heroic acts that occurred during the siege of Masada.
To many, Masada is more than just a world heritage site.
“It is a place that symbolically chronicled the determination, perseverance, power, surrender and faith of the Jewish people to be free in their own land.”
This site witnessed a lot of stories for sure.
Elazar Ben-Yair’s (last Sicarii commander of Masada) final speech clearly was a masterful oration: “Since we long resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time has now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice…We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”
My thoughts from this ancient landmark?
Whew! Quite heavy to think about that people needed to commit mass suicide (and even kill each other) to gain the freedom that they’ve been fighting for. Very tragic. (It’s like Romeo and Juliet multiplied by a thousand.)
Masada was an extraordinary place with such remarkable history.
I know this might be far from the stories that I got from exploring the place but since it’s also the Holy Week and Easter, I’m just reminded about the verse from the Bible in Philippians 1:21 where Paul said,
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
Sounds tragic too? Here are some commentaries regarding the verse:
“For to me to live is Christ – Whether I live or die, Christ is gain to me. While I live I am Christ’s property and servant, and Christ is my portion; if I die – if I be called to witness the truth at the expense of my life, this will be gain; I shall be saved from the remaining troubles and difficulties in life, and be put immediately in possession of my heavenly inheritance. As, therefore, it respects myself, it is a matter of perfect indifference to me whether I be taken off by a violent death, or whether I be permitted to continue here longer; in either case I can lose nothing.”
“Death is gain because death means more of Christ, and he’s better than anything this life can give us.”
And here’s what I think:
For me, the best kind of “suicide” was to die to my old self and to receive the new and true life that comes through and from Jesus. It’s still an ongoing process, to let go of my “old self”, from my own selfish goals, my pride, my weaknesses and pains, my guilt, my disappointments, and to the rest of my sinful “My, mine, and me’s”, and to replace them with His (Jesus’) grace, forgiveness, strength, mercy, favor and purpose. But I’m learning.
And my prayer is that I’ll continue to get to know Him, to always be reminded about His promises in His Word (1 the old school scrolls a.k.a. The Bible), to have the new life that He’s given me to continuously flow in and out through me (2 not to be a Dead Sea), and to never stop growing and living whether I’m on top or under siege (3 Masada).
Sometimes true freedom is not how we picture it. Freedom can start from losing our old selfish self so we can gain something new and more lasting. And that’s the same thoughts that I have this Holy Week and Easter.
I remember that more than what I lost, it’s actually what I gained. And what I gained was Someone dying for me (Jesus) so I can live and gain a new and eternal life.
What about you? What do you remember and celebrate this Easter Sunday? More than the bunnies and the eggs, I hope you get to really remember and journey to your own Promised Land. I hope this video makes us remember. 🙂 A meaningful Easter to all!
This Holy Week and every day after Easter, my hope and prayer is for you and your homes to always be filled with His PEACE.