February 16, 2019

Excursion to Egypt and Israel (2)

by Mike Willis

Days 2 and 3

On our second day, we traveled from Cairo to Mt. Sinai. We did not go to the land of Goshen to see the excavations there because of time limitations. Instead we traveled by bus from Cairo arriving at Mt. Sinai about 7:00 p.m., a journey that took the Israelites about three months (Exod. 12:1; 19:1). The Israelites traveled from Succoth to Etham (Exod. 13:20) and then from there to Pi-hahiroth (Exod. 14:2). Pharaoh thought they were lost in the wilderness and pursued them. The miraculous deliverance of the Israelites occurred when God separated the waters of the Red Sea to allow the children of Israel to cross on dry land (Exod. 14). The exact location is unknown, but most scholars believe that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea somewhere around Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lakes region (James Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 191). We crossed the Suez Canal further south and headed toward Mt. Sinai

[imagebrowser id=3]The exact location of the stops which the Israelites made along the way to Mt. Sinai are unknown. There are traditional sites for Marah, Elim, and Rephidim which we visited. Marah was the first stop for Israel after the deliverance at the Red Sea. Here the waters were so bitter the Israelites could not drink of them. Moses was instructed by God to cast a certain tree into the waters to make the waters sweet (Exod. 15:23-26). At the traditional site of Marah, bedouins have erected booths to sell their wares. The booths remind one of what the children of Israel erected to observe the Feast of Booths after they settled in Canaan.

After our brief stop at Marah we journeyed south to Elim. The biblical text says that there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees there (Exod. 15:27). The palm trees give evidence of the presence of water but we did not see it.

In the wilderness of Sin, the Israelites complained about not having food to eat. They remembered the flesh pots in Egypt where they could eat until they were full. They complained to God so God sent manna from heaven to feed them. The terrain from Cairo to Egypt shows the barrenness of the desert. One has little trouble understanding why the Israelites were complaining.

Scripture relates that at Meribah the children of Israel murmured because of lack of water. They were so upset that they were ready to stone Moses (Exod. 16:4). The Lord enabled Moses to strike a rock and water would come out to quench their thirst. There was no stop that was identified with this incident so we continued south to Rephidim where we had our evening worship. At Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked the faint and weary who lagged behind (Deut. 25:17-18). A great battle ensued where Moses went to the top of a hill where he could see the battle. So long as Moses lifted up his arms Israel prevailed; when he became fatigued, the Amalekites prevailed. Aaron and Hur supported Moses' arms so that the battle would be decided in Israel's favor (Exod. 17:8-16). While we were assembled at the traditional site of this battle, Andy Alexander preached on the text from Exodus.

We arrived at Mt. Sinai after dark and had our supper. We went to bed as soon as possible because the next day would be a long day. We were awakened at 12:30 a.m. in order to climb Mt. Sinai. Not everyone felt that he could climb the 7000+ foot mount so they slept in while the rest of us boarded the bus to drive to the foot of Mt. Sinai. The guide offered us the choice of riding camels until we came to the steps ascending to the top or walking. I chose to ride the camels along with Laketa Williams. That was an experience itself, but I will forego telling about it. We arrived before those who were walking so we waited in a bedouin tent until those who were walking arrived. Then we proceeded up the 800 steps to the top of the mountain. The steps were not concrete steps, but rock steps that were quite uneven. We were climbing in the dark using flashlights so that we could arrive at the top by sunrise. Many of us stopped along the way exhausted. The younger and stronger among us made it to the top and took some phenomenal photos of the sun rising on Mt. Sinai. As for me, I went up Mt. Sinai wanting to experience the feeling of being in the same place as Moses received the Ten Commandments. I was so physically stressed by the climb that I had little time to think about spiritual things. Perhaps some of those in better physical condition than me enjoyed it more.

At the foot of Mt. Sinai is St. Catherine's monastery. This is the location where Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874) found the Sinaiticus Manuscript in 1859. The monks were using the old documents to light their fires when Tischendorf identified them as valuable. Codex Sinaiticus consists of 346.5 pages of vellum made from antelope skins. It is assigned to the middle of the fourth century. In the New Testament, Sinaiticus is the most nearly complete among all the older Greek manuscripts that we possess, but the Old Testament has only pitiful fragments from the earlier part.

We left Mt. Sinai about 11:00 a.m. and journeyed toward Eilat where we would cross over into Israel. By 11:00 a.m., many of us had already had almost an eleven hour day. We were exhausted. As we journeyed north I kept thinking of how I would have reacted had I spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. I am afraid that I would have complained as much, if not more, than the Israelites because of the conditions under which they lived. I marvel, not that they complained, but that Moses was able to hold them together throughout the wanderings.

I planned a stop for tea at a bedouin tent along the way. There is nothing that I have done that gives people a feeling for the angels visiting Abraham so much as the bedouin tea. The bedouin tent illustrates what an ancient tent looked like, in contrast to Indian tepees. One can imagine Abraham and Sarah dwelling in some such tent as this. When we arrived at the tent, the woman lit a fire from dried branches and began boiling water and making ash bread. Within a few minutes, she had bread and tea to serve sixty people. One can imagine what it was like when Abraham had the fatted calf slain and prepared food for his guests to eat (Gen. 18).

We crossed into Israel about 3:30 p.m.

Truth Magazine Vol. LII: 9  p12-14 Septermber 2008
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