Tobiah crouched in the dark cistern as he covered his ears in an attempt to block out the screams of his people. One by one the Jewish Zealots fulfilled the pact they made. They would not be taken alive by the Roman soldiers to live as slaves. Ten men where chosen to burn the fortress and everyone in it. Tobiah and his mother along with a few others hid in the reservoir. They wanted to live in order to share their incredible story.
Tobiah could hear his mother whimpering beside him. He reached out and grabbed her hand. “Mama, it will be okay. God will protect us.”
He felt her hand rub his head and then she pulled him closer. “You’re such a brave boy, Tobiah. Your father would have been proud.”
Tobiah’s father, Eli, was chosen among the ten men to kill the others left. Then he would take his own life. When it came time to kill Tobiah and his mother, Eli couldn’t do it, so he pushed them in the cistern and whispered into Tobiah’s ear.
“Take care of your mother, and tell the world our story.”
That was over two hours ago. The pungent smell of burnt flesh filled his nose. The screams began to subside and an eerie silence filled the once unshakeable fortress. The marching of soldiers feet drew closer and Tobiah knew it would be over soon. He held his breath as he prayed for protection for the small group squished together like sardines in their hiding place.
“Adonai, watch over our people,” Tobiah said as he clung to his mother.
To me, one of the most fascinating spots we visited in Israel was Masada. It is located on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea. The cliffs are about 1,300 feet high and since the Dead Sea is about the same distance below sea level, Masada is actually at ground zero. I remember standing on top looking over the railing at the Dead Sea and amazed at this concept. How could we be so high and actually be standing at sea level? Unbelievable!
The account of Masada is mesmerizing. To hear our guide tell us the story was magical. We hung on his every word. You could have heard a pin drop. It was almost as if we each held our breath as we waited for the tale to unfold.
Masada was built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE (Before Christian Era) as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. The fortress included storehouses, a large bathhouse, a synagogue, and living quarters for officials and their families. King Herod’s residential palace, consisting of three levels, stood on the northern edge of the steep cliff. It was separate from the rest for privacy and security reasons. These levels were connected with a narrow, rock-cut staircase. The top terrace contained several living quarters with a balcony overlooking the two lower terraces. These levels were specifically for entertainment and relaxation.
After Herod’s death, a group of Jewish Zealots stormed and overtook Masada. These Sicarii were outcasts from Jerusalem and they fled to the mountaintop to live out their days. They taunted the Romans from their place of refuge.
After many failed attempts to regain Masada, the Romans built a ramp and finally breached the walls of the fortress. What they found was a mass suicide of this Jewish sect. There seems to be conflicting reports on what actually happened, but it is believed that two women survived along with five children as they hid in a cistern. Judaism strongly discourages suicide, so the defenders drew lots and killed each other. The last man standing was the only one to take his own life.
This heroic and dramatic story of Masada drew many explorers to the Judean desert in an attempt to locate the remains of this amazing fortress. The site was identified in 1842, but excavations only took place in 1963-65. Today, you can visit the remains by walking up the “Snake Path” or taking the cable car. We took the latter! As we walked among the ruins, we were fascinated by the amazing archaeological venture of Masada. It symbolized the determination of the Jewish people to be free in their own land.
I’m thankful to not only be free in our great country of Canada, but in Christ. He paid the price and overtook the siege of sin. Another amazing fact is that in Hebrew, Masada means “fortress.” This reminds me of our fortress in Christ. Our stronghold. We don’t have to climb to a mountaintop to find it. He’s right here, right now. We only need to reach out.
Is He your fortress? Will you find refuge in Him? Do it today!
Psalm 18:2 (NIV)
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Taken from the cable car. People walking up using the “Snake Path.”
At the top of Masada. You can see the Dead Sea in the distance.
Look closely to see the black line in the middle. Anything from this line down is how they found it. Anything above the line they built to make it look like it did in those days.
Replica of King Herod’s castle built on Masada
Roman fortress (see square) below.
Looking down from Herod’s castle. This is the “fun” house.
This is the ramp the Romans built to breach the fortress walls!
One of the living quarters
Sue and I having fun at Masada!