The past couple of days on our Israel journey have been spent in the desert: Jericho, Qumran, Masada, the Dead Sea…and En Gedi (or more correctly, Ein Gedi — the spring of the goats). If you are a Hebrew Bible geek like myself, the name En Gedi conjures pictures of an oasis amid the desert, where vineyards grow (as in Song of Songs 1:14) , where warriors rest (1 Samuel 24), and where battles are fought (Genesis 14:7, 2 Chronicles 20:2, and Joshua 15:62). Today, En Gedi is surrounded by barren desert and forests of date palms, but the waterfalls still flow and the craggy rocks are climbed by tourists and school children alike, whether in search of history or just there to enjoy a day out in the desert.
Today it was my great gift to lead the devotion as we began our exploration of this oasis and my text was 1 Samuel 24. This is one of the great humorous stories of the Biblical text, with Saul falling into David’s hands while doing what soldiers on a long campaign often do, relieving himself in the bushes — but in this case right by David’s hiding place. And in another place and time, I might have done a word study or talked about David’s history or talked about the development of the monarchy in Israel or focused on David’s use of meshiac, messiah, or anointed one, when referring to Saul.
But the point of a devotion at the archaeological site referenced in the text, to me, is to talk not just about the text, but what the journey and the text bring together for you. And so, in my quest to learn to follow my intuition when studying text, I went with the fact that David didn’t kill Saul when he had the chance. And most of all, his speech that judgment was not his (David’s), but the Lord’s. You see, if Jesus is God-made-Flesh, David, well, he’s everyman, with all the warts and faults we all carry as part of our humanness. And if he can remember that judgment belongs to the Lord, well, there is hope for us in our struggles and disagreements.
For you see, nothing is more clear to me as I stand in this land — this land that has been fought over for millennia, this land where people of different faiths try to co-exist on such a tiny, inhospitable space, this place on which the whole world focuses both its hopes and anxieties. Judgment is not ours. Our job is to get along. The Rabbi who taught my Introduction to Judaism class said that you cannot begin to comprehend the complexities until you stand on the land, and he is right.
But David’s act of forgiveness, if you can call it that, is not just about wars and battles. It is to me a reminder that none of us have the answers. And David says something else important in his dialog with Saul — he reminds us not to be swayed by the opinions of others but to put our attention on the word of God. He says: “Why do you listen to the words of others who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm?’ (v. 8)”. As Baptists, we believe in the power of a personal relationship with God. There is no Baptist distinctive that tells us to listen to, as our guide Doron would say, the paka-paka of others.
And so, we opened with my favorite hymn, “Open My Eyes That I May See”, and we closed with me teaching the group a song from Hebrew class: Hineh ma’tov u’ma-nayim (Behold how good and how pleasing if brothers could sit together in unity, Psalm 133). And in one of those worship moments that could never be planned, the Israeli tourists walking by joined in with great gusto.
As one of my new friends on this trip says often, it is all good. And it was, it was all good.