Glimpses of Israel - The Wilderness of Judea

by Joseph Hunting

One of the finest panoramas of the rolling Judean wilderness is from the summit of the Mount of Olives looking eastwards towards the Dead Sea.

A little reflection reveals how intimately this tract of countryside has been associated with Israel's possession of the Promised Land. Even before Joshua captured Jericho Abraham traversed this wilderness with Isaac as they journeyed to Mount Moriah. Later the armies of Joshua made a forced march through the hills at night from Jericho to Ai.

One of the hills was the scene of the drama enacted each year on the Day of Atonement when the scape-goat bore the sins of the children of Israel into the wilderness.

It was in the Judean wilderness where John the Baptist announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand as foretold by Isaiah: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

And it was in the strange and eerie wilderness that Messiah spent forty days and forty nights fasting prior to His brief ministry.

The road to Jericho which descends from Jerusalem through the Judean wilderness is immortalized by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Ruins of a building traditionally mark the site of the famous story which answers the question, "Who is my neighbour?"

Today the wilderness of Judea is part of the West Bank illegally annexed by Jordan for nineteen years from 1948 to 1967. Whereas Israel's modern cities are in the forefront of twentieth century sophistication, the Judean wilderness remains silent and unchanged. Even the Bedouin shepherds tending their small flocks of goats in the wadis still live as their ancestors have done for centuries.

In time to come this wilderness will change to accommodate another great wave of Jewish people returning to Zion as prophesied by Isaiah: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." (35:1)