The Wilderness East of Bethlehem

This photograph is taken from the top of the Herodion looking east towards the wilderness. It is striking how the farms seen in the foreground end where the wilderness begins. Going to the wilderness was a short walk for the people of the Bible. Visitors to Israel are often startled at how small the country is.In the foreground is the Dead Sea, barely 10 miles from Bethlehem. Across the Dead Sea are the mountains of Moab, the country Ruth came from. The fact that Ruth, who moved to Bethlehem with Naomi, could see her homeland on a clear day is quite surprising to the first-time visitor. Ruth probably moved less than 20 miles when she left her god for Yahweh, God of Israel. Even so, the move was a significant one. A commitment to God can be life-changing, even if life's circumstances change little.

In the immediate foreground is a small village. Although it is not Bethlehem, it is about the size Bethlehem was in Jesus' time. This village helps us imagine what Bethlehem was like. In biblical times, small communities existed around large cities much as suburbs do today. Those communities, including Bethlehem, were known as "daughter cities." In Luke 23:28, Jesus is speaking to women, but there is also a sense in which he may be referring to the cities surrounding Jerusalem that would be brutally ravaged when the Roman army fulfilled his prophecy in AD 70. When a large city was besieged, daughter cities were the first to be destroyed.

As the sun rises at this location, the shadow cast by the Herodion reaches towards Bethlehem. One can almost imagine Herod?s shadow looming over the baby Jesus in his manger. Today the Herodion is an interesting ruin, a symbol of Herod's failure, while Jesus' kingdom is eternal and continues to grow. Thank God that the powerful Herod was stymied by God's sovereignty, and that Jesus lived to complete his work.