PICTURE: at Makktesh Ramon, a place in the Negev, south of Jerusalem. This place looks a little bit like the Grand Canyon.
The last few days we have been out on the road, down in the Negev. We have been to various places like Mizpe Ramon, Arad, Avdat, Qumran, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea. Some of these places you have probably never heard of, but they have important archaeological remains that give us insights into understanding biblical history and culture. If I have a chance I will write more tomorrow about some of the interesting visits and insights from the Negev.
One of the places we visited was BEERSHEBA.......
It sounds like an ancient fermented drink. Serve me up a “Beersheba” please! Beersheba is a town at the southern edge of the territory that the Lord gave to Israel, “from Dan to Beerhsheba” (Judges 20:1; 1 Sam. 3:20; et. al.). Beersheba was an administrative center where people came to trade. It was the primary city of south Israel. Beer Sheba actually can either be translated “The Well of Seven” or “The Well of the Oath.” It was here that Abraham dug a well and settled down (Gen. 21:22-34) after his long wanderings from Haran. “It was here that Abraham “called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God” (Gen. 21:33). I was thinking about this as I stood on the ruins of ancient Beersheba.
A couple of weeks ago I met a couple of computer programmers in Jerusalem. They told me this sad tale of being stuck in Beersheba for a few days with nothing to do. I suppose they meant that they had nothing to do in the evening, and that might have been true. Of course they were in the modern city of Beersheba, and we were out at the archaeological dig, which is only open during the day. So, they didn't even get to see what I would say is the most exciting part of Beersheba, the dig.
Beersheba was also the place where Isaac built an altar to the Lord (Gen. 26:15-23) and where Jacob received direction from the Lord to take his family to Egypt along with a promise that Israel would eventually return to the land (Gen. 46:1-7).
Centuries later the citizens of Beersheba encountered trouble because they had an altar that did not conform to the Lord's directions (Amos 5:5; 8:14). There have actually been worship centers which have been discovered in Beersheba (and nearby Arad). These worship centers may be the “high places” that are spoken of in Scripture, places where false worship took place, such as the worship of Asherah, a female deity, worshiped around something called an “Asherah Pole” which we don't really know what it looked like, since we don't have any archaeological finds that have been verified as an “Asherah Pole.” Why did people in Beersheba (along with Arad, Bethel, Gilgal, and other places) stray from their devotion to “the Eternal God” of Abraham their forefather? (see Amos 5:4,5; 8:14). Perhaps it is for the same reason that we sometimes stray: our hearts are “prone to wander” as the old hymn goes.
Unless we discipline ourselves in “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) we will wander. The root of the word “disciple” is, of course, related to the word “discipline.” One who is a disciple of Jesus disciplines their life to conform to the life of Jesus. It's not that we live perfect lives, but that we are constantly perfecting ourselves. This is an authentic life, a real life, and not a caricature of a Christian who looks down on others. We only look at Jesus as our aim and to Jesus as our strength. To look to our right or left “at other people” is to be diverted from our discipline. The Lord has given us the gift of “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12) as an encouragement to strive to become like Jesus. There are many “religious people” in Israel. Our aim is not to become more “religious.” Our aim is to become more filled with the life of Jesus in us and through us, both individually and corporately.