East south of Jerusalem, there is the Judah wilderness “Land of drought, weary and without water”. Continually going about 50 kilometers, it reaches Ein Gedi, locates at the west shore of the Dead Sea. This is an area of about 10 thousand square meters called Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. There grow many different plants, palm trees, green vegetations, chirping birds and fragrant flowers, and water falls and streams, overflowing with life and vitality. This forms a strong contradiction to its neighboring wilderness of Judah and Dead Sea.
Most scholars believe Ein Gedi is the location of Ein Gedi mentioned in the Old Testament. In Genesis Chapter 14:7 and II Chronicals 20:2, it is also called “Hazazon Tamar”. Wild goats often appeared in this area. So the meaning of its name is “fountains of Goats”. In I Samuel 24:2, it is called “Rocks of Wild Goats”.
In Song of Songs Chapter 1:14. The Shulamite woman had used the most beautiful language she knew to respond to the praise from her bridegroom to her: “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Ein Gedi.” So we know this area has been a land of oasis full of life and vitality since the ancient time.
Although the Ein Gedi area has abundant water supply, rich in animals and plants, its landscape is complex and roads treacherous, many steep cliffs and deep valleys, huge rocks and caves. It is close to the Dead Sea and its rain fall and soil quality were not good enough to support the demand of agriculture. So, it is not suitable for large population to settle down except for raising sheep and grow fruit trees. Until, 10th centuries B.C., there had not been much population to live here. With its geographical characteristics, it was evident that David chose to hide in Ein Gedi when escaping from the pursue of Saul for a period of time.
The Bible records “Hazazon-tamar” (Ein Gedi, Ref. II Ch 20:2) was occupied by the Ammonites (Gen 14:7) in the time of Abraham (about 2166 B.C. to 1991 B.C.). Chedorlaomer king of Elam and four northern kings fought in the Canaan area and defeated the Ammonites. (Gen 14:1-7).
After the Israelites entered Canaan (about 1406 B.C.), Ein Gedi was allocated to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, one of the six cities in the wilderness of Judah. (Jos 15:61-62)
When Saul was the king of Israel (about 1050 B.C. – 1010 B.C.), young David was called into the palace to play harp for Saul to chase away the tormenting spirit. When the Philistines invaded, the newly unexperienced David killed the giant Goliath (I Sa 17:41-54). David then gradually was respected as the military commander for his bravery, intelligence, and meritorious battle ground achievements (I Sa 18:30). This also resulted Saul’s jealousy and his feeling of the threat to his kingship. So he planned to kill David. David was forced to escape as a fugitive and hide in the wilderness of Ein Gedi over a period of time (I Sa 23:29).
When Saul Led 3000 elite troops to pursue David at Ein Gedi, they once were at the rocks of the wild goats, at the place where the road passes some sheep folds (Some scholars believe these stone sheep folds were the wall built at the cave openings to cover the abnormal weather conditions in wilderness from harming the sheep). Saul had to enter the cave to relieve himself. And David was hiding inside that cave and could have easily killed Saul. But because he feared Jehovah, he not only did not act to kill but also instructed his subordinates to not harm Saul. He only cut a piece of Saul’s clothes to show that he did not want to harm Saul. (I Sa 24:1-15)
During king Jehoshaphat (about 972 B.C. – 848 B.C.), the united army of Moabite, Ammonites, and Edomites, had invaded the western entrance at Kingdom of Judah, Hazazon-tamar, which is Ein Gedi and was marching toward the interior of Judah. King Jehoshaphat in the mist of extreme danger, led all the people to fast and pray to God and He answered their prayer. When the Israelites met the enemy at 30 kilometers north west of Ein Gedi in the wilderness of Tekoa, God fought for the Israelites and led the enemy armies fought among themselves and were completely destroyed. (II Ch 20:1-24)
The prophet Ezekiel saw the vision of the revival of Israel that the water from the new holy temple flowing into the Salt Sea (Dead Sea), and sweetens its water, made the lifeless Salt Sea a fishing ground and fishermen were fishing and drying nets in the sun at the west shore of Salt Sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim. (Eze 47:1-10)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
John H.Walton, Victor H.Matthews, and Mark W.Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press, 2000
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