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Masada. The very word conjures up images of strength and security. On our 3 day field study of the Negev and Dead Sea area (south of Jerusalem), one of the highlights for me was getting to see Masada, to climb the siege ramp, and to savor the commanding view.
Thought by some to be “the most spectacular site in the country” and it is the scene of one of the most dramatic episodes in history. It is a huge formation rising out of the floor of the Judean desert, just to the west of the Dead Sea. The cliffs on the east edge of Masada are about 1,300 feet (400 m) high and the cliffs on the west are about 300 feet (91 m) high; the natural approaches to the cliff top are incredibly difficult.
It was quite possibly a refuge for King David himself when he was fleeing from King Saul. It was first fortified by Alexander Jannaeus (103 – 76 BC), but expanded by Herod the Great. Herod seemed to think of it as the last refuge for himself if trouble should come, and he developed an extensive site that included a whole palace for his personal use besides the opulent Western palace, swimming pools, storage for food and weapons, gardens, and cisterns. Lots and lots of cisterns. It was estimated that there was enough storage for water to supply 1,000 people for a year.
Masada is most famous as the last hold-out for those rebelling against Rome after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The Sicarii had taken over the fortress and had refused Romans offer to surrender. Flavius Silva came then with 8,000 to 10,000 and built a ramp that reached to the fortress. They brought in a battering ram, and then used fire. It was certain that they would breech the wall, but before they finally took it, the Jews inside committed mass suicide, choosing to take their own lives (some 960 of them) rather than submit to the terror of the Romans.
The site covers some 25 acres (my estimate), and it was easy to imagine oneself living there in the time of Herod, or the time of the Jewish rebellion. Imagining oneself safe against all harm, protected against every eventuality. But then the unimaginable happened. Rome came to assert its power, to prove that nothing would stand in its way. Trusting in their extensive fortifications were not going to be enough. I, too, am tempted to trust in things I have constructed. Masada is a great reminder that only in God Almighty will I find true safety.
Signing off – Father Wismer