I’ve been writing reflections on the pilgrimage to Israel I took in June of this year. To read all of them, click here.
June 20, AM
Our first stop on our second day (the first full one) was Azekah. As we had at Gezer, we hiked up to the site without knowing what it was, this time getting off the bus by the side of the road. Our group leader, Tim, wanted to start off the trip by getting us acquainted with various locations in the Shephelah, the foothills between the coastal plain to the west and the Judean mountains to the east. The word shephelah means “lowland”; some Bibles translate it that way, while others treat it as a proper name. For a few hundred years while Israel was trying to establish itself in the land, it was a place of pressure and conflict.
While Gezer was on the Aijalon Valley, Azekah overlooked the Valley of Elah. The Philistines occupied the coastal plain at the western end of the valley, and camped near Azekah when David fought Goliath (1 Sam 17). Even after the Israelites were more established, the Shephelah continued to be an area of conflict. After the kingdom was divided, Azekah became a town along the Judean border with the northern kingdom of Israel, and Rehoboam fortified it against his northern neighbors (2 Chr 11:5–10). An Assyrian inscription claims that Sennacherib conquered Azekah during his invasion of Judah in 701 BC (2 Kgs 18–19).
As we looked south over the Valley of Elah, Tim talked to us about David and Goliath while we sat on benches where the words of 1 Samuel 17 were inscribed in Hebrew. In listening to this story that I had heard many times, what struck me this time was that Samuel had already anointed David king, although to all appearances he was still a young shepherd. David’s brothers had been present when David was anointed king, and yet they treated him as their pesky little brother. David had faith in both God’s own character and what God had said about him, even though it seemed like very little had changed: nothing was different about his outward circumstances, and the Philistines still looked more powerful than the Israelites.
Here I reflected on the ways I so often refuse to believe that God is able and desires to act in the world. The ways I feel inadequate, like I don’t belong, like I have little to contribute, when these things are not an accurate representation of reality at its deepest level. The ways I insist on gathering more data when I know it would be better to act; I would just rather not risk being vulnerable.
At the end of his talk, Tim asked, “God has given each of us a pouch with stones. What will you do with those stones?” The stones I have are not those that other people have. Am I okay with that? Am I content to believe that it isn’t so much about the stones at all, but the God who guides them?