Biblical Tours is a special series highlighting a collection of sites in the Holy Land as told by Israel’s very own tour guide, Gary Littwin. Familiar passages will literally take on new life and new meaning. You will absolutely feel the connection and the tangible, for-real bond which connects modern Israel and all of us to ancient Israel. Be prepared for some surprises as well!
Last week we explored the Grave of Samson. Today we’re continuing in the plains of Judea.
What is the Judean plain? It’s actually a rather hilly strip of land in central Israel, about 90 kilometers north to south and 15 to 20 kilometers east to west. It’s bordered to the east by the Judean Mountains, to the west by the coastal plain, in the north by Rosh HaAyin/Afek and southern Samaria, and in the south by the Shikma riverbed just north of Gaza.
Our next stop in this action-packed area is Tel Azeka, overlooking the site of the famous clash between David and the giant Goliath. After driving south from the President Forest, we arrive at Britannia Park. Upon entering the park, we follow the signs up towards the Tel.
From the parking area it’s a biblical walk through the book of Samuel. Approximately every 10 meters, we see a stone marker inscribed with passages describing the story of David and Goliath, which can be found in 1 Samuel 17. Following a steep path and set of stone stairs to the top, we’re greeted by a stunning view of the Elah valley.
The battle lines as described by the prophet Samuel become clear: the Philistines had advanced out of the west from the birthplace of Goliath in Gat, about 10 kilometers distant, and were arrayed between the hill of Socoh, clearly visible to the east, and Azekah, where you now stand.
The army of King Saul faced them in the Elah valley. Just across the valley is the archeological dig of Hirbet Kiafa, or the biblical city of Sha’araim, an incredible site first identified by Israeli archeologists only about 8 years ago. (The site has exciting implications for the whole field of biblical archeology.)
Back to the battle: there is a standoff with neither side moving for 40 days. Whatever his faults, King Saul was a shrewd commander. He was outnumbered and outgunned since he had nothing with which to counter the iron chariots of the Philistines, and he understood that under such conditions, an assault on the Philistines would not end well.
Meanwhile, the young David is sent by his father Jesse to bring a care package to his brothers serving in the king’s army – something that most Israelis today can identify with – and he volunteers to take on the champion of the Philistines: Goliath. David of course defeats the giant in an incredible act of faith in G-d, audacity, and sheer bravery.
King Saul was smart enough to exploit the psychological advantage and at that moment he ordered an assault which smashed the demoralized Philistine army and sent them reeling back to the west.
For tours with Gary, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org