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Chapter six - Day of King David

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SIX

DAY OF KING DAVID

Saturday/Shabbat: Jebus, David’s Palace, Tomb of Absalom, Engedi, Masada, Dead Sea.

DAY SIX:  In which we learn about Jerusalem’s Holy Voltage.

 

Our luxurious “way house” for the next days and nights of our  pilgrimage is the Jerusalem Hilton, in 2014 renamed the Jerusalem Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, where we learned some things about “holy voltage.” 

 

We were hot, dusty and tired on reaching the hotel, so we showered and shampooed our hair in spite of the tight time schedule. Our video camera batteries were also exhausted and the recharger plugs didn’t fit the electrical outlet in the room. I plugged in my hair dryer, but the expensive converter we bought for the trip refused to work. Israel’s electric current is 220 volts instead of America’s 110, and most Israeli sockets have three round prongs, instead of two flat and one round prong like ours. 

 

I threw a towel around my wet head and pulled on a robe as we debated what to do. Finally, we called room service and explained our problem. Within minutes, the management delivered to our room, at no extra charge, a transformer. Viola! We have electricity available again. My hair was dry in time for another great meal and we could recharge the video batteries. Other guests came to heat their travel irons with our converter. *Tip: bring a converter – but contact the hotel if the converter doesn’t work.

 

OBSERVING SHABBAT:  Jerusalem celebrates three Sabbaths every week. The Muslim holiday is on Friday, the Jews’ Sabbath on Saturday and the Christians on Sunday. Of the three, Jews are the most devoted to their rules. Today is Saturday, the holy day Shabbat for this Jewish city. Our guide for today, named Oodi, is not Jewish. David Aaron will not be with us this day because being Jewish he plans to be in the Synagogue with his family for Shabbat, the Sabbath, which begins in his words, “when the sun touches the treetops” on Friday evening and doesn’t end until “you can count at least three evening stars in the sky” on Saturday evening. 

 

A WORD ABOUT ELEVATORS AND FIRE ESCAPES:  The elevators at our Jerusalem Hilton are pre-programmed for Shabbat so Jewish people have no need to push buttons. They are not supposed to perform any type of work on that day. There are no explanatory signs or posters – you just have to know. The elevator buttons are disabled and the elevators are programmed to go all the way to the top floor without stopping, and then come back down — stopping every other floor. One elevator stops only at odd numbered floors, the other one at even numbers. You must ride all the way to the twenty-first floor, then the elevator descends slowly, stopping every other floor. 

 

It helps if you know this on Saturdays. We didn’t. 

 

Being unschooled in the intricacies of Shabbat, Jon and I boarded the elevator from our seventh floor room. We wanted to go down to the lobby and outside to catch our bus for the day’s outing. To our surprise the elevator went up instead of down, and we soon tired of the game as our carrier began its slow descent with unexpected frequent stops.  We thought the elevator must be broken and decided we better exit at the next opportunity.

 

Worried about missing the bus, we got off the elevator about the fifteenth floor and ran down the fire escape. However, Israeli fire escapes are not like American fire escapes. We exited the stairway only to find ourselves in the basement laundry room with the stairway door locked behind us. We finally located a narrow steep stairway going back up. We had no idea where it might lead, but we started climbing and were surprised to open a door and find the hotel lobby. To our delight familiar faces were waiting for us at the bus and everyone had a good laugh as we all shared our elevator adventures.

TO MASADA AND THE DEAD SEA:   Oodi will guide us to the Dead Sea and Masada. As we ride the tour bus this Shabbat morning through the big city of Jerusalem, there is no bustling traffic. All Jewish shops and stores are closed. Businesses, offices and institutions are not open. Most public transport and places of entertainment are not operating. However, the city does not sleep.

 

 We see people walking together as families on their way to the synagogue. The men and boys wear severe black caftans and shoes. Some have tall black boots almost to their knees, worn with pant legs tucked inside. Nearly all the men and boys have some type of headgear. Some of the men are wearing large furry black hats on this warm morning. Other heads are covered with a “bowler” style, called streimel, and many wear black Yarmulke skullcaps. Hasidic boys have short hair except for one very long curl dangling over each ear. Kerchiefed women dress plainly and modestly in high-neck, long-sleeve dresses usually ending about the ankle over heavy stockings and sturdy black shoes.

We wonder aloud about the significance of the unique clothing, particularly fur hats and heavy clothing in the heat of an Israeli summer. Oodi answers that some things have simply been done so long no one knows why. They just DO it. 

 

Visitors do not have to wear hats and boots, but are expected to dress modestly with arms and legs covered most of the time. Our guide says we are permitted to wear shorts at Masada because it will be extremely hot. We thought the days extremely hot before, so with this warning we dress in shorts and sleeveless tops for the occasion. I carry along a wrap-around skirt in case we need to cover up later. *Tip – pack a “modesty kit” to cover up shoulders & legs when required.

 

The road from Jerusalem through the Judean mountains to the Dead Sea area is not a scenic drive as you might think of one in America. The road slices through a mountainous desert, all brown and shadowy and unfriendly. Along the way we occasionally glimpse burned out shells of military vehicles, a reminder of “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) throughout the history of Israel. The hills are barren, dull colored, and not striking in shape.

 

This Jordan Valley separates Israel from Jordan, two countries that are not on the best of terms. Tourists can cross the border into Jordan but Israelis cannot go there so easily. The roads may be picturesque in spring when brave desert flowers try to bloom, but late summer presents only scorching arid solitude, desolate and plain sand.

FLOATING IN THE DEAD SEA:  Jon and I and several of our group members peeled off our outer clothing to reveal swimsuits underneath and enjoyed the astounding experience of floating effortlessly in the water. It is incredibly easy to swim in the Dead Sea because the salty mineral water is so buoyant you cannot sink. However, while I floated on the surface Jon made disparaging remarks about my center of gravity dragging in the mud. I’ll get even with him later. 

Bathing in this water is a strange experience. No floating position can be held for long unless you are steadying yourself with your hands. You can stand up straight in water over your head and stay dry above the chest – but you can’t hold that position long either; the water will soon float your feet to the surface.

WHAT ABOUT SODOM AND GOMORRAH?   Several hotels and a bathing beach at the southern tip of the Dead Sea mark the approximate site of the ancient evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The location of the “accursed cities” is now a beehive of industry; busy with salt quarries, evaporating pans, and processing plants for minerals extracted from the Dead Sea. 

 

In Genesis 19:26, Lot’s wife looked back at the destruction of Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. A Jewish legend says the reason Lot's wife looked back was to see if her daughters, who were married to men of Sodom, were coming with them. Instead, she saw God descending to rain fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah. 

 

There is a rock formation in the area that some refer to as Lot’s wife; our guide claims the salt slab appears about the size of a large car and doesn’t resemble a person at all. We looked and looked but never saw a grain or salt crystal of Lot’s wife. She was gone – if she was ever there.

 

Oodi says we don’t have to worry about turning into salt, and we can tan without fear because the below-sea-level location filters out the sun’s dangerous ultra-violet rays. 

SALTY WATER AND BLACK MUD:  Many people believe in the curative and healing powers of salt water and the black mud below surface. Several bathers dug mud from the lake floor and smeared it on their bodies. Salt crystals glitter in the sun along the shore. Jon and I bought several small bags of Dead Sea bath salts, some bars of black mud soap, and packages of the black mud for souvenirs and gifts. 

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The water contains radioactive properties due to its high radium content. You must rinse off after swimming; otherwise the salty water dries quickly in the hot dry air and produces a stinging, burning sensation. Numerous communal outdoor showers activated by pull chains scatter around the beach.

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Jon and I enjoyed this stop although very little time had been reserved for the Dead Sea visit. We jumped in the water long enough to take a few souvenir pictures then quickly rinsed, pulled clothes over our damp swim wear and ran back to the bus. We found our group patiently waiting to head for the mountaintop fortress of Masada.  *Tip: When you go to Israel, don’t miss floating in the salty sea. You will be glad you did.

THE ZEALOTS LAST STAND AT MASADA:  Next stop – Masada. Once a glamorous pleasure palace for Herod, this mountaintop resort became a deadly fortress with a sad ending. For well over fifteen hundred years the story of Masada was a more or less forgotten episode in Jewish history. Now the flat plateau ranks among Jewish history’s most awe-inspiring site. The one-time Herodian fortress became a central symbol of pride and bravery in Israel. The site is now a popular location for Bar Mitzvahs and military inductions.

 

 The plateau shaped like a giant steamship and topped by the large rock fortress of Masada, rises nearly fifteen hundred feet above the shore of the Dead Sea. In 36BC King Herod equipped Masada for a retreat in case of revolt in Jerusalem. He believed this naturally strong mountaintop inaccessible on three sides, impregnable.  Herod built Masada as a pleasure palace, adding a twelve-foot-tall wall of white stone around the entire top of the hill and constructed thirty-eight towers for dwellings. The completed fort featured hanging gardens, a swimming pool, an elaborate bathhouse, vast stores, a synagogue and ritual baths. The ruins of the walls and towers remain accessible to explore. We puzzled over how the Romans managed to deliver building materials to that height and even more how they survived working in the sweltering, shimmering heat of such a threatening desert mountain top. 

 

Maybe September is not the best time to visit the desert, but we were certainly glad it wasn’t July.

HOW DO WE GET THERE?  Many people choose the long snake path, a tortuous climb all the way up the eastern side of the mountain. One or two of our group plan to go that way but Jon and I chose the cable car to a landing near the summit. From the landing to the top, a steep open stairway ladder wasn’t too bad except when I looked down. My advice? Do it, but don’t look down. The ladder may be enclosed by now. 

THE VIEW FROM MASADA: We viewed the remains of Herod’s lavish steam room and elegant oval swimming pool, which drew its water from huge underground cisterns on the mountain. One source of water for Masada comes from the culverts cut into the stone sides of the plateau, channeling rainwater into a great cave-like cistern hollowed out inside the natural rock. We peeked inside this cistern and could see it was still well-stocked. 

 

A network of large, rock-hewn cisterns on the northwestern side of the hill also guaranteed an ample water supply, filled during the winter with rainwater flowing in streams from the mountain. 

 

An aqueduct carried water from a dam in the valley to the east of Masada, storing the liquid in another great cistern at the base. Access to this cistern could be reached through a tunnel down from the top. Fortunately Jon didn’t have enough time to explore this tunnel. I don’t like cellars or dark holes in the ground and didn’t have the courage.

 

 This Northern Palace was built on three slightly modified natural rock terraces, and assumed to be a private palace for the king and his family. The upper level was used for residential purposes; the two lower levels are the imposing reception halls. The lower reception level has a courtyard, storerooms, meal preparation facilities, and bathhouse. Because of size and layout together with the opulence of its decoration suggests that this level held ceremonials. Water was delivered through a network of dams and channels. The massive defensive casemate wall, contains about seventy rooms on its inner side and twenty-seven towers, with three gates piercing the wall. 

FROM A PALACE TO A FORTRESS:  A little more than a hundred years after Herod built the fortress, a zealot named Eleazar ben Yair led a group of rebellious Israelites in a revolt from this place soon after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. 

It was a brutal time and Masada was the last fortress hold out. On this mountaintop the brave inhabitants made their desperate last stand. Nearly a thousand Jewish men, women and children took their own lives rather than be captured after a three-year siege when the Romans blockaded the mountain.

At least two plastered mikveh have been restored. The Jewish rebels built them to fulfill religious purity laws. Also we saw remains of the rebels’ personal belongings, including garments, leather goods, baskets and housewares. 

From the top of Masada we looked down on stone remains of the Tenth Legion Roman encampments circling the fortress. Roman soldiers grouped into large numbers called legions. Each legion represented five thousand heavily armed foot soldiers and some cavalry. The legion included engineers, surveyors, stonemasons and carpenters, as well as other craftsmen composing a camp.

Masada features a natural landscape of majestic beauty overlooking the Dead Sea. The ruined palace symbolizes the ancient Jewish kingdom, its violent destruction in late first-century, the Jews’ last stand in the face of the huge Roman army and of the subsequent diaspora.

THE TENTH LEGION ATTACK:  Rome’s Tenth Legion, bolstered with usual auxiliaries and thousands of Jewish prisoners as unskilled laborers, settled in Jerusalem. All in all the Roman camp numbered some ten to fifteen thousand, outnumbering the population of Masada’s Zealot rebels more than ten to one. Eight Roman army camps, linked by an earthen wall, encircled Masada with an impenetrable ring, but still the determined Zealots did not surrender.

The Romans built a great stone and earthen ramp stretching upward to carry their war machines up to capture Masada. The ramp is still there. The movie version about this project used these same historic battlements for filming. Standing on this windswept mountaintop, we hear the whisper of the wind across the ruins, like the cries of children echoing across the centuries.  Josephus wrote about Masada after hearing the story from two women who survived by hiding in a cistern. was in residence. According to the official guide book, the throne room as well as much of the stone furniture, mosaics and frescoes remain.  We didn’t see them. 

The largest room featured a particularly decorative mosaic floor with floral and geometric patterns within several concentric square bands, believed to be King Herod’s throne room, the seat of authority. We also heard good reports about a sound and light show at Masada, but we weren’t there at the right time.

Later we read in a guidebook about a fabulous triple-tiered palace we missed seeing beneath the citadel. Before leaving home, Jon and I watched a special presentation from the filming of the movie,  “Masada.” Aaron says the movie we watched portrays very closely those actual events of some nineteen hundred years ago. More recently the movie “The Dovekeepers” is based on the story of Masada. 

*Tip: Find the movies and watch them before you go.

A GROUP SUICIDE PACT:  Masada was abandoned after King Herod’s death. Some sevety years later this group of Jewish rebels with their families moved in and committed mass suicide rather than be captured by the Romans. Since the Zealots claimed Masada as their stronghold, history says when their leader Eleazar saw Masada’s coming demise, he convinced the men to kill their women and children and commit suicide, rather than submit to captivity. When the Romans finally breached the wall they found stores of food and other provisions, piles of corpses and a deathly silence. The soldiers could not rejoice at such an empty victory. According to Josephus, two women discovered hiding in the cistern told the story.

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WEARING SACKCLOTH AND ASHES:  In my eyes Masada wore sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps Masada stands today like the symbol of the rainbow after the flood not to glorify a mass suicide but to point to a better way of life. Oodi was right about it being extremely hot up there. Though others were engrossed in exploring the depths of Masada, Jon and I did not leave the roasting mountaintop reluctantly.

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I was glad I wore good walking shoes, light clothing and a hat for the Masada trip.

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With my fear of heights, as soon as we arrived on top of the mountain I started dreading the matter of getting off. Coming down the steep open stairway to reach the cable car landing was even more terrifying than climbing up. I’m glad I came, but when we return to Israel I will not choose to go back to Masada unless they provide easier access. Jon says he has permanent fingernail marks in his arm. *Tip: grit your teeth and face your fears. This is a once in a lifetime experience and you don’t want to miss a thing.

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Once off the mountain and on solid ground, we boarded our familiar blue bus and on the way to the next stop we discuss how this place – Jerusalem – became so special to so many people. We must climb in a way-back machine, back to Old Testament times to learn about the history of Jerusalem. Moving on.

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NEXT LESSON:  WHEN DAVID MET KING SAUL:  Much earlier than our other stories about King Saul and David, this event takes place when David is still a young boy. The prophet Samuel visited Jesse, a man of wealth, who was grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Jesse lived in Bethlehem and had eight sons. The youngest child, handsome David, caught Samuel’s attention. Samuel picked David to be the next king of Israel and anointed him in his home right then. It was not time for David to take the throne and Samuel did not want to put him in danger, so he did not make a public announcement (1 Samuel 17).

SCENE 1: DAVID, THE GIANT KILLER:  As usual the Philistines and the Israelites were at war. 

King Saul and the Israelites faced the Philistines near the Valley of Elah, southwest of Jerusalem. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. Twice a day for forty days Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, came out between the military lines and challenged the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome in one-on-one combat. Goliath is described as a giant, perhaps nine feet tall. “He wore a bronze helmet on his head and a coat of scale armor of heavy bronze; on his legs he wore bronze armor, and slung a bronze javelin on his back.   His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed 15 pounds. His shield bearer went ahead of him” (1 Samuel 17:4-7). 

 

Saul and the Israelites declined. They were terrified.

Jesse’s three older sons were serving in Saul’s army, leaving young David home to tend the sheep. One day Jesse sent David to the battlefront with food. Reaching his elder brothers in the lines, David heard that Saul promised to richly reward any man who could defeat Goliath and he wanted to accept the challenge. King Saul reluctantly agreed to let the boy try, and offered his own armor to the young man. David refused, taking only his sling and five stones from a brook. 

Here is what the Bible says happened: When they met on the field of battle, David hurled a stone from his sling with all his might and hit Goliath in the center of his forehead. Goliath fell on his face to the ground. David took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After killing the giant, David cut off his head with the sword. 

The Philistines flee. 

Goliath is dead.

David is a hero. 

The Hebrews rejoice.

 

We are sure we crossed the brook that furnished David the stone that killed Goliath, since a guide pointed out the very ground where that battle was fought.

SCENE 2: DAVID, THE MUSICIAN:  Another story when David is a little older is about King Saul becoming ill - perhaps with a headache because he was often troubled with depression. 

 

 Saul heard of David, a young warrior famed for bravery and also admired for his talent as a skilled harpist, singer, and songwriter. The king sent for David. The beautiful harp music soothed the king’s pain. Relief would come to Saul with the music and he would feel better. The king was so impressed he appointed David as one of his armor-bearers so now the teenage David had a part-time job at the palace (1Samuel 16:21).

 

From then on, whenever Saul became ill, David would take up his lyre and play. The king was so taken with David's talent that he asked Jesse to allow David to stay in the king’s court to play for him whenever he was depressed. Jesse agreed. Living in the palace, David became close friends with Saul’s son Prince Jonathan and other members of the family. “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David...” (1Samuel 18:1). 

 

Saul’s youngest daughter Princess Michal (Mee-shall) fell in love with David the musician. 

 

Eventually King Saul made David a commander over his armies and gave his daughter Michal in marriage, in return for David’s victory over the Philistines. However, before long the King is shocked to learn how much his subjects admire David. When David returned from battle, the Jewish women heaped praise upon him and referred to him as a greater military hero than Saul, singing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”  King Saul took that song as an insult — he felt his people loved David more than Saul – and jealousy grew in his heart. Probably by now Saul had heard that Samuel had anointed David to be the next king. In any case, from that time on Saul considered David a rival to the throne and therefore an enemy. This was irrational because David remained forever loyal. Saul tried several times to arrange David's death but the plots failed. David became even dearer to the people, especially to Jonathan and the other young people in the palace (1Samuel 18:17,19:5).

SCENE 3: DAVID, THE LOVER: Michal was passionately in love with David. She had been happy in the palace as David’s wife. When her father's messengers came searching for David to kill him, Michal hid him. She sent Saul’s messengers away, pretending David was ill and laid up in bed. Michal placed objects in the bed to make it appear he was there. She got a rope and perhaps a basket and lowered David down from an upper window to escape. Michal did not flee with David. She stayed in the house to buy time, to give him a better chance of getting away (1Samuel 18:20, 19:11-16).

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Judging by later events, this may have been the biggest mistake of her life.

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The soldiers returned, entered the bedroom, and saw they had been tricked. David was gone. The soldiers, fearing Saul’s wrath, took Michal back with them to the palace to face the King. Saul, now beside himself with frustration and anger, demanded to know how his own daughter could have betrayed him. Michal expected that after Saul's anger has subsided David would come back to her or at least that he would send for her. She thought he would be grateful for what she had done and he would want her with him. Instead, months passed and then possibly years with no word from him. 

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In time Michal eventually heard the bitter news that David had taken another wife, and then a third. 

SCENE 4: DAVID, THE FUGITIVE:  Jonathan had warned David that his life was in great danger and helped him flee.  Although on the lam and lacking supplies, David didn't want to implicate anyone or endanger them for helping a fugitive. Where could he go?  He decided to visit the high priest who gave him food and a sword. David escaped into the wilderness, where he gathered a band of followers while evading the king's pursuit. When King Saul found out the high priest had helped David, the king’s paranoia overruled his intelligence. He executed not only this priest but all the priests and their families as traitors. 

Only one man escaped, the high priest's son Abiathar. The high priesthood was handed down from father to son, so Abiathar should have become the high priest at his father’s death. But now Abiathar had become a wanted man also. He fled to join David, who had collected and become responsible for many followers, by now numbering about six hundred families. In the meantime, David’s strongest supporter died, the prophet Samuel. All the Israelites gathered to lament him but David could not even attend the funeral. He remained in constant danger while being hunted by the powerful king. 

 

LIFE MOVES ON: In the years while David was absent King Saul forced Michal to marry a man called Paltiel, from the city of Gallim. A woman had no choice in those days. Paltiel was a good man and Michal became happy with him. As the years passed, her bitterness began to fade as did any lingering affection she might have held for David.

During this exile, David's best friend Prince Jonathan was able to visit him once and the two had a joyous reunion. Jonathan expressed great support for David, declaring “Someday you will be king, and I will be your right hand man,” (1Samuel 23-17). This was great encouragement coming from the heir-apparent to the throne, but it also tells us that David could have sent for Michal.

 

DAVID’S SECOND WIFE:  Samuel 25 tells an intriguing story about how and where David found a good wife in the wilderness. A wealthy man named Nabal owned one thousand goats and three thousand sheep. David and his men helped Nabal’s servants care for the animals in the desert. David sent messengers to Nabal to provide some food for his men since they had been helping watch over his sheep. Nabal refused rudely. David was furious and told his men to prepare for battle, announcing they would kill Nabal and all his family and the men who worked for him. However, Nabal’s sensible and beautiful wife Abigail intervened. A servant informed Abigail about the matter and she quickly prepared “two hundred loaves of bread, two barrels of wine, five dressed sheep, and two bushel roasted grain, one hundred raisin cakes, and two hundred fig cakes,” (1Samuel 25:18).

Abigail loaded these gifts on donkeys and sent her servants ahead to take them directly to David. When she entered into the ravine behind them on her donkey, David and his men met her. Abigail dismounted and bowed low before David. She apologized for her husband Nabal and called him a fool. She asked David not to kill innocent people and asked him to remember her when he became king. David accepted the gifts and sent her home in peace. 

David told her, “Return home in peace. I have heard what you said. We will not kill your husband.”

Ten days later Nabel died of a stroke. When David heard of Nabel’s death, he sent messengers to ask Abigail to marry him. Abigail happily agreed and she became his wife. The saga does not end here, however.

THE WATERFALL AT ENGEDI (Ein Gedi):   For our next history lesson, our modern “camel and driver” headed for Engedi where David fled from King Saul in Old Testament days, (1Samuel 23:29). David and his men hid in the cave at Engedi upon being warned that King Saul was coming that way. Not knowing David and his men hid further back in the cave, King Saul stepped inside the shelter to relieve himself. David was so near he could have killed Saul in the darkness, but instead he cut off a piece of Saul’s garment. David later used the scrap of cloth to prove his presence to Saul and that allowed a temporary truce. 

 

Jon and a few brave souls from our group climbed the long rugged path at Engedi to reach Abraham’s well and see the beautiful year-round waterfall with a pool and tropical vegetation. The cave where David hid from King Saul is beside the waterfall. Jon took time to swim in the pool. He said this waterfall and the nature area at Engedi was the most beautiful and memorable place we had been. Others claimed it was just a long miserable hot and difficult climb. Maybe they said that so the rest of us wouldn’t feel bad at having missed the adventure, but someday I hope for another chance. There were several soldiers at the rest area, and I shot a wonderful photo of a handsome young Israeli soldier who stopped to rest a moment at the picnic table, his rifle slung across his lap and his knapsack at his feet. 

THE WEALTH OF ENGEDI AND AHAVA COSMETICS:  Not only a place of extreme beauty, the abundant springs and year-round temperate climate of the Engedi oasis provided perfect conditions for agriculture in ancient times. In later years King Solomon compared his lover to “a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of Engedi,” an indication of the beauty and fertility of the site (Song of Solomon 1:14).

Egypt and Rome fought for control of the Engedi area because of the income from expensive perfumes produced here. In the New Testament story of Jesus’ birth, wise men from the East brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The latter two gifts are fragrant but bitter gums, derived from plants of this region, used to make perfume and incense. At one time, trade in those two bitter gums launched commercial empires spanning the Arabian Sea. 

Engedi is still known for expensive perfumes. Several women in our group purchased some of the Ahava cosmetics, produced at this place. For instance, the Burkes planned to head on a trip extension to Egypt from Israel. Jean couldn’t fit her purchases in her suitcase so I brought them home for her and coveted them. In return, Jean brought us some precious spices, saffron and curry, from Egypt. One of the benefits of traveling with a group would be you learn from each other.

DAVID, THE KING:  

After King Saul’s death along with his three sons (Michal’s father and brothers) at Beit She’an, The Jews proclaimed David King of the southern kingdom of Judea in 1006BC. Saul's son Ishbaal was crowned king of northern Israel/Palestine. A continuing power struggle resulted between David and Ishbaal. David wanted more territory for himself.

DAVID AND MICHAL … AND PALTIEL:  Once David was anointed King, he sent a messenger to the city of Gallim and demanded his first wife Michal be taken from her husband Paltiel and brought back to Jerusalem.

 Michal and Paltiel’s marriage had apparently been happy. They may have had children, although the Bible does not say. No doubt Michal objected to David demand, but she was powerless. In that one battle at Beit She’an when Michal lost her father and three brothers, she also lost her royal status. 

 

David’s order tore Michal away from her husband Paltiel, even though she begged to stay with him. David wanted her back in his harem, not because he loved Michal but because her lineage as King Saul’s daughter would strengthen David’s claim to the throne (2 Samuel 3:13-16). 

 

Paltiel, forced to surrender the wife he loved to an uncertain future, was so grief-stricken he followed weeping, as Michal was taken away. He continued his protest until one of David's envoys forced Paltiel to turn back. Michal apparently did not want to leave Paltiel and did not go willingly. She was a pawn in the political game of that day. 

 

We know that in the beginning Michal felt deep emotion for David because it is the only time in the whole Bible that a woman is described as loving a man. However, there is never any mention of David loving her.  Just as in modern romances one is loved, the other is the lover. 

 

Michal fell in love with the wrong young man. She lived in David’s palace harem the rest of her life as a virtual prisoner. She never conceived a child of her own, suggesting continuing animosity between David and herself, as well there might be.  After all, during the years of their separation, David had married two other women; Abigail, widow of Nabal, and Aninoam the Jezreelite. Both marriages brought David money and supplies for himself and his followers.  

 

He would go on to marry at least five more women.

JUDEA & PALESTINE BECOME ISRAEL:  David was anointed at the city of Hebron, the place where Abraham had pitched his tent many years before (Genesis 13:18). David ruled the separated southern kingdom from Hebron for seven years.

After some fighting, David defeated Saul’s son Ishbaal and seized the northern kingdom. Once Saul’s son Ishbaal was out of the way David reigned supreme in Hebron. By the eighth year of his reign David combined the two territories of Judea and Palestine into a United Israel. He had doubled the size of his kingdom, but he was not yet satisfied.

Between Hebron in Judea and the northern kingdom of Israel lay the mountain enclave of Jebus, occupied by the warlike Canaanite clan of Jebusites. While this enemy remained, political and military control of a united country was impossible. David needed a different capital city. Even though Hebron was only a short distance away, David believed he needed to move from Hebron to Jebus because of its better location, which included a good water supply and was also more central to the northern provinces. 

Only one thing stood in his way. Jebus did not want David and his people there. The drums of war begin cadence.

THE KING AND THE JEBUSITES: The Jebusites considered their fortress to be impregnable. They looked down from their stout walls and boasted that David’s men could not defeat them or even get in (2 Samuel 5:6-8). 

 Leading his army into the steep valley below the fortress settlement David and his army prepared to attack. As he stood there with his forces the Jebusites taunted him: “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” 

They were wrong. David’s men laid siege to the Jebusite city. David’s comrade-in-arms, Joab who was actually David’s nephew, “went up” the hidden water shaft/tunnel system with his soldiers for a surprise attack on the unsuspecting city. That won the battle. This water shaft is still there for you to visit, called Warren’s Shaft for the archaeologist who discovered it. 

Joab was the son of King David’s sister Zeruiah and after this victory David named Joab as captain of his army. Joab and his brothers Abishai and Asahel appear to be much older than David. Joab continues to be an important part of the story.

The city of Jebus had resisted conquest for centuries, but the inhabitants apparently were so surprised they surrendered the city to David intact, even with little bloodshed. David knew this conquest would become a proud national victory. David moved his capitol from Hebron to the former Jebusite city.

However, David’s realm still appears rather small as empires go, covering an area about the size of the state of Maine. Jebus became known as the City of David because it was the home of David’s Palace after he became king. Bethlehem was also known as the City of David because he was born there, the son of Jesse.

FROM JEBUS TO DAVID’S CAPITOL:  To transform the Jebusite city into the Israelite capitol David recycled many Canaanite defense walls and support structures. The city was in an excellent strategic location but its narrow hilltop location required the construction of artificial platforms to provide enough room for all his building activities.  David “built up” the city from the supporting terraces to the surrounding wall while his army commander Joab restored the rest of the city (1 Chronicles 11:8). 

 

David paid fifty shekels of silver to buy the hill to the north of his city from Araunah the Jebusite, who may have been the last Jebusite king. Araunah used the site as a threshing floor. The purchase price included Araunah’s oxen, which David sacrificed on an altar he built there (2 Samuel 24: 24-25). This “threshing floor” is the rock protrusion on top of Mount Moriah, now known as the temple mount and base for the later temple.

 

David did not live to build the temple, but he did set up a Tabernacle and bring the Ark of the Covenant to his city, and he also constructed a palace of cedar for himself in this new place. 

A tall landmark pillar called the Tower of David, an ancient citadel near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, apparently has nothing to do with King David. This tower actually marks the former location of Herod’s palace.

Two major archaeological monuments lie south of the Temple Mount in the City of David--the ‘Large Stone Structure’ and ‘Stepped Stone Structure.’ Building on previous suggestions, researchers use textual and archaeological evidence to identify these monuments as the remains of King David’s palace. However, this location is still tentative. The site of Jebus where Jerusalem began on the lower slope just outside the old city walls was quite small, only about nine or ten acres, with an estimated population of two thousand.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE ARK OF THE COVENANT?  King Saul, David’s predecessor, had paid no attention to the old religious symbol, the Ark of the Covenant, since its capture and subsequent return by the Philistines after the battle at Shiloh. The Ark remained in Philistine country for seven months, but they believed the chest brought them so much bad luck they wanted to be rid of it. The men of Kiriath-jearim took the Ark to the hillside home of Abinadab and the holy object remained there for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:1-2). The Ark held the holiest relic of the Israelites, stone tablets of the Ten Commandments received on Mount Sinai by Moses. David decided to move the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem, to establish his new capital as a religious center and not just a political one.

Because of an unexpected injury and death to one of the men bringing the Ark, David temporarily placed the sacred object at the home of Obed-edom for three months in a house outside Jerusalem. When he heard that it brought good fortune to the people who were caring for it there, he decided it could be safely transported inside the walls of the City of David (2 Samuel 6:9-12).

 

One of my favorite Bible stories is the colorful description of David’s jubilant entrance into the temple area. Then David and all the house of Israel played music on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on drums and on cymbals. Judging from the importance of the occasion and all the instruments mentioned, this was quite a production. The atmosphere was joyful, exciting, and engaging. Can’t you just imagine the procession as the music played and the King led the people in the celebration parade.

MICHEL DIDN’T LIKE IT. SHE THOUGHT IT WAS SHAMEFUL:  Not everyone enjoyed the festivity. Michal looked through a window and saw her husband leaping and whirling about, wearing only an ephod, part of the ceremonial dress of the high priest. It was worn outside the robe and probably kept in place by a girdle and by shoulder pieces. According to Exodus 28, the ephod is a priestly garment made of two pieces of fine colorful linen, front and back, joined at the shoulders with a sash. However the garment was designed the covering must have seemed too skimpy to Michal. She did not approve.  As the priests carried the revered Ark of the Covenant, David led the procession, dancing, whirling and leaping to the music of harps and cymbals while bringing the Ark to the new tabernacle in the City of David (2 Samuel 6:14-22).

Michal went out to meet David, and all the pent-up anger inside her came pouring out. After all she was a king's daughter - now forced to watch her husband behaving like what she considered a vulgar buffoon, not at all kingly in her eyes. Michal told David his dancing was unsuitable to the dignity of a king.

“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

This blazing quarrel is the last that we hear of Michal, except for the remark that she remained childless.

BRINGING THE ARK TO THE TABERNACLE:  So they brought the Ark and set it in its place in the tabernacle in the City of David. The Twelve Tribes always camped in the formation of a great square with three tribes on each side. In the center they placed the Tabernacle and inside the Tabernacle rested the sacred Ark of the Covenant.

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“The Ark was placed inside the tent which David had prepared for it and he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house” (2 Samuel 6:17-19).

AND THEN CAME BATHSHEBA:  The story of David’s relationship with Bathsheba (2 Samuel Chapter 11) is one of the most human stories in the Bible, almost like a modern soap opera. 

 

In summary this is what happened.

David's palace overlooked the tabernacle and the city. South of the palace was the citadel and the city itself. The city was on lower ground than the palace. Restless one night, the young King paced the roof of his palace from where he had a view of the homes and gardens in the city. He spied a woman taking a bath in the courtyard below and thought her the most beautiful girl in the world. David asked to learn her name, which is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.

 

In the spring, at the time when kings usually went off to war, David sent his military commander Joab out with the whole Israelite army. They attacked and destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah while David remained safely in Jerusalem. Uriah, one of David’s generals and arms bearer to Joab, was away at this war. 

 

Even though David knew Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife, the King sent for her. Unable to deny himself, David spent the night with beautiful Bathsheba - perhaps several nights.

 

When Bathsheba tells David she is pregnant, the King faces a dilemma. Knowing he had done wrong, David summoned Uriah home from the army. He hoped Uriah would re-consummate his marriage and think the child his. David thought this would cover up what he had done.

 

Uriah refused. Warriors preparing for battle commonly vowed to abstain from sex, as a practice of discipline. After repeated unsuccessful efforts to convince Uriah to have sex with Bathsheba, the king decided his only recourse was to have Uriah killed in battle. David confided his secret to his army General Joab and had Uriah ordered to the front, where he was more likely to be killed – and so he was.

KING DAVID’S MOST FAMOUS WIFE:  After Uriah’s death, David married the pregnant widow Bathsheba. She gave birth to a son who was not strong. David considered this his punishment and became so distraught over the baby’s illness he refused to eat for seven days. 

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On the seventh day the baby died. 

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Then David got up from the floor, washed, applied lotions and changed his clothes. Then he went into the tabernacle house to worship. After that, he went home and asked for something to eat (2 Samuel 12:20). (Note – the number seven seemed to be a magical number in that day.)

THE BIRTH OF SOLOMON:  When enough time passed, David comforted his wife and made love to her. Soon Bathsheba became pregnant again and this time she gave birth to a healthy son. Delighted, King David named the baby Solomon. This baby is destined to be the golden child, gifted with unusual wisdom.

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After becoming King things had gone very well for David, perhaps too well. He seemed to have the Midas touch -- everything turned to gold. He is depicted as an acclaimed warrior, musician, and poet as well as a righteous king, although not without faults. After all, we know he committed adultery with the beautiful Bathsheba and caused the death of her husband (2 Samuel 11:14-17).

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David had at least six other wives besides Michal and Bathsheba. Having a large harem was a matter of status, but also a king needed many sons because of high infant mortality. The sons should grow to lead the nation after the death of the old king.

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Among his many sons were four important ones who will affect the future of Israel. These four are:

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Amnon, son of Ahinoam, the Jezreelite

Absalom, son of Princess Maacah of Geshur

Adonijah, son of Haggith 

Solomon, son of Bathsheba 

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Amnon was firstborn, David’s second son Chileab probably died young because he is not mentioned again, Absalom the third and Adonijah the fourth. Solomon came much later. 

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The brothers were never close. They had different mothers and no doubt suffered from much more than ordinary sibling rivalry. Jealousy and intrigue no doubt always lived in the palace of the king and his harem. The Old Testament says God told David because of his bloodshed he would always have strife in his house.

THE SAD STORY OF DAVID’S CHARMING SON ABSALOM:  King Talmai of Geshur gave his daughter, the royal Princess Maacah, in marriage to David at Hebron as a political alliance (2 Samuel 13:37). The capital of Geshur was Bethsaida, home of Jesus’ disciples James and John. 

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King David and Princess Maacah became parents of the royal babies, Prince Absalom and Princess Tamar. As he grew, Absalom was praised as the most handsome young man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot.  Absalom was proud of his fine head of hair and he would only cut it once a year. 

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We are not told if he was wise or compasionate, but everyone said Absalom was very good looking. His father must have been proud to introduce this young man as his son. 

THE RAPE OF PRINCESS TAMAR:  Absalom’s sister Tamar was equally beautiful.  In this case being beautiful was a burden. Absalom’s oldest half-brother Amnon lusted after Tamar. He was obsessed with her. He thought about her constantly and finally tricked her into coming into his bedroom, where in spite of her resistance he violently raped her. After the rape, Tamar’s life was ruined. A deflowered girl would never be accepted as a wife in that day. She would be condemned to spending the rest of her life in a back room of the harem, childless and despised. In despair, Tamar tore her elaborate royal robes and marked her forehead with ashes. She begged Amnon to marry her. He would not. After the rape Amnon was ashamed, but he behaved as if Tamar had seduced him. 

 

Tamar told her brother Absalom truthfully what happened, and he vowed revenge. Absalom and his mother Maacah expected David to punish the rapist, even though Amnon was King David’s heir-apparent to the throne. When King David heard of all these matters, he became angry but did nothing to punish his beloved first-born son Amnon for his misdeed. Seemingly he adopted a “boys will be boys” attitude.

 

Tamar never married. In that day a bride would be stoned to death when the husband discovered she was not a virgin - no matter the circumstances. Absalom comforted Tamar, telling her to just keep still and wait. He told her she would always have a home with him; he would look after her. “So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house.” (2 Samuel 13:20)

BROTHER HATED BROTHER:  Absalom hated his brother Amnon after that. Absalom’s anger seethed for two years. He had no intention of letting this fellow - even a half-brother - off so easily. David had never punished Amnon, and Absalom felt honor bound to take revenge for his sister’s rape. Absalom planned the killing that took place two years after the rape. Once the deed was done, Absalom feared his father’s wrath so he escaped from Israel. He went to live with his maternal grandfather, King Talmai of Geshur for three years. 

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King David’s initial response was painful grief over the death of Amnon, as anyone who has ever lost a child understands.  David was able and willing to move on with life but he could not bear losing two sons. Amnon was gone; Absalom was alive. 

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David loved Absalom. No matter what he had done, David missed his son – and David remembered a bloody past of his own. The king knew Absalom could not come back home, since he was a murderer under sentence of death if he returned. At last David made arrangements through General Joab for Absalom to return to Jerusalem, although he was forbidden to see his father for two more years. Absalom asked Joab to intervene on his behalf so he could see his father.  Joab refused. Absalom was so angry he set Joab’s field on fire.  This tells us Absalom may have been a spoiled brat. He told Joab, “I might as well have stayed in Geshur.”

ABSALOM’S REBELLION:  In spite of the murder, Absalom still considered himself heir to the throne. Now that Amnon was dead he would be next in line, but impatient Absalom didn’t want to wait. This rebellious son secretly prepared a revolt to wrest the kingdom from his father. 

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To impress people Absalom bought a chariot and horses and hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. He got up early every morning for four years and went out to sit in the gates of the city. When people brought a case to go the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from and they would tell him their tribe.  Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” 

His charming manners, his personal good looks, his insinuating ways together with his love of pomp and royal pretensions captivated the hearts of the people (2 Samuel 15:5).

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Absalom went to Hebron, the old capital where he had been born, and declared himself king. The people living there supported Absalom because they resented David’s relocation of the capital to Jerusalem, moving the court and all the importance connected with a capital city. 

Finally David had enough and was forced to react. He told General Joab to take his army to Hebron and stop the rebellion. In the war that ensued, Joab’s army was victorious.

THE DEATH OF ABSALOM:  Racing to get away from his pursuers, Absalom became unable to control his chariot. He abandoned it for a mule, but the mule ran wildly through the woods and Absalom’s long beautiful hair became entangled in the branches of a tree. The mule kept going and Absalom was left hanging helplessly.

King David had ordered Joab to take his son alive, but the army pursued Absalom and killed him. Actually Joab disregarded the King’s request and killed Absalom in cold blood. While the Prince may have deserved death for his rebellious actions, Joab clearly disobeyed orders.

King David and Princess Maacah’s beautiful son was killed like an animal, speared through the heart as he hung helpless in a tree branch. Handsome, charming Absalom, son of King David, died at age 29. Upon learning of Absalom’s death David’s grief was immense. The king covered his face with his hands and wept uncontrollably saying, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). 

King David’s mourning over his son’s death is understandable as a father - he is genuinely grieved. We can certainly sympathize. Joab did what he thought best for the country. The kingdom was at stake. We learn later that apparently David never forgave Joab for killing Absalom.

We saw Absalom’s Tomb, also called Absalom’s Pillar (Yad Avshalom) an ancient monumental rock-cut tomb with a conical roof in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. “Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the Monument after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom’s Monument,” (2  Samuel 18:18).

THE SO-CALLED TOMB OF ABSALOM:    The lower part of the Absalom Monument is cube-shaped and carved out of solid rock, while its upper part is built of stone. About twenty-foot tall, it is not a tomb but a monument like a tombstone. The façade features high pillars, capitals and decoration. Inside the structure a number of rooms were used for burial. No one is buried inside now, definitely not Absalom. 

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For centuries Jewish tradition associated the monument with King David’s rebellious son. Some Jewish parents are said to visit the site with their children to warn them what happens when children misbehave. However, archaeologists say this monument was actually built a thousand years after the time of Absalom. There is no record of Tamar and her mother Maacah after the death of Absalom. The ancient world offered no mercy to a royal who failed.

STANDING ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES:  The Kidron Valley separates Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount and the City of David. The Mount of Olives is one of three peaks of a mountain ridge running a little more than two miles just east of the Old City across the Kidron Valley.

 

The peak to its north is Mount Scopus, while the peak to its south is the Mount of Corruption. We hear clearly the melancholy call of Muslims across the valley summoning their members to worship in Jerusalem. They pray five times daily; at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and nightfall. A crier or muezzin chants the call to prayer from the mosque tower (minaret) and even we Christians are moved by the sanctity of the sound.

THE BEAUTIFUL GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE:  The now dry Kidron valley forms the eastern boundary of Jerusalem. In Biblical times the bed of a small stream, Kidron, flowed south into the Dead Sea. On the other side of Kidron valley, Mount Olivet, better known as the Mount of Olives, presents a ridge from north to south about two and a half miles long east of Jerusalem.

Leaving Mount Olivet we walk down the very steep and narrow “Palm Sunday road” where you need walking shoes with good gripping soles. Although the route Jesus took began from Bethany to Jerusalem, the present Palm Sunday road starts from the Mount of Olives and ends at the Garden of Gethsemane. *Tip: Forget your stylish Jimmy Choos. You need to wear good walking shoes with gripper soles every day. 

The Hebrew word gethsemane translates to olive press. In biblical times the word “garden” designated an orchard or place where vegetables grow. Olive oil produced at this place is well known to biblical scholars. Oil is still pressed from these gnarled, majestic olive trees, hundreds of years old, in the Garden of Gethsemane.  In fact scholars estimate the age of these trees to be anywhere between one and two thousand years, but they are not the same trees from Jesus’ day.  Historian Josephus reports the Romans cut down all trees around Jerusalem for their siege equipment when they captured the city in 70AD. However, these strong trunks could have grown from shoots of those original trees because when an olive tree is cut down shoots come back from the roots to create a new tree, although you have to wait fifteen years for an olive tree to bear fruit. 

OLIVE FRUIT IS BLACK WHEN RIPE:  Approximately the size of an apple tree, the olive produces beautiful clusters of white flowers in the spring. The fruit is green, turning black as they ripen. Even now the natives harvest olives every autumn by beating the branches with a stick, just as they did in Bible days (Deuteronomy 24:20). We stop at the Mount of Olives, Mount Olivet, and go into the Garden of Gethsemane. The famous garden, located on a slope just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, still boasts many ancient olive trees to this day. The garden area is full of olive trees, lilies and other native flowers. Tall walls of stone, topped with cut glass, border the path where we walk, a precaution to make sneak attacks from an enemy more difficult. 

 

Evidently a warning of attack exists today because soldiers are standing guard on top of all the buildings and on all the streets. They are fully armed and look fierce, but we found them friendly to tourists and they reminded us of our young people back home.

KING DAVID REIGNED IN THE CITY OF DAVID:  According to the Bible, David remained the second King of Israel for a forty-year reign, the first seven in Hebron and thirty-three more in the City of David. Jews, Christians and Muslims all revere David as a great prophet and king. Renowned for his composition of many of the Psalms, his life of faith, wisdom and courage continues to inspire believers in spite of his failings.

 

THOSE AWFUL YOUNG PRINCES:  David had many wives and mistresses, therefore many sons; but those four boys --Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah and Solomon-- always vied to be successor to the throne. As previously told, the field narrowed when Absalom killed Amnon and in turn General Joab killed Absalom, leaving only Adonijah and Solomon as prime contenders. The most likely successor to David’s crown would have been Adonijah, the elder. However, after King David became feeble and forgetful, Bathsheba created a power struggle between Adonijah and Solomon by claiming David promised her son Solomon would be chosen. The family intrigue continued after David’s death. David became king at the young age of thirty and he died at age seventy (2 Samuel 5:4). Wikipedia estimates David’s death in 970BC. At David’s death, the city was still quite small. He had been too busy with court intrigue and hard-fought battles to think about improvements to his capital.

GENERAL JOAB IS LABELED A TROUBLEMAKER:  Joab and other commanders began questioning David's judgment in his latter days (2 Samuel 24:2-4). As David neared the end of his reign, Joab offered his allegiance to David's eldest son, Adonijah rather than to the promised king, Solomon (1 Kings 1:1-27). On the brink of death, David told Solomon to have Joab killed citing Joab's past betrayals and the blood that he was guilty of such as violating David’s order not to kill Absalom.

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DOWN IN THE VALLEY – THE KIDRON VALLEY:  At the bottom of the Mount of Olives close to the bed of the Kidron Valley, we noticed a number of extremely impressive burial structures carved in the rock. These burial caves and monuments commemorate the rich past of Jerusalem and its priests. Scholars think they date near the end of the Second Temple Period (70AD). Despite their relatively late dating, these tombs are popularly known by names connected with the Old Testament.

The pyramid-topped “Tomb of Zachariah” at the bottom of the Mount of Olives in the Kidron Valley is actually an ancient monument with no burial provision inside. Although carved out of solid rock and named after the ninth-century biblical prophet, Zachariah, the marker belongs to a much later period.

In addition to the mistakenly named Absalom’s Monument, we see other tombs in the hillside behind the monument pillar. These caves of Jehosophat contain small burial niches. Monks lived in them in the fourth-century AD. 

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