It was not impossible to survive in the wilderness. Savvy shepherds understood the seasons and knew where to graze when vegetation was around. They also knew that the limestone gorges, called wadis (wah-dees), like Makhtesh Ramon captured water in two ways. When the spring rains fell in the northern regions water would eventually make its way down to the wilderness. Some wadis collected the water around a spring or pool forming a steady supply of water but this did not happen very often. The second and more likely way that water was collected was in air pockets within the limestone. Shepherds who knew what to look for could see the difference in the stone and tap into the water beneath the surface. Wadis made it possible to survive in the wilderness- but only if you knew what to look for and how to navigate them.
Not long after we gazed upon the beauty of Makhtesh, our group explored another wadi with a very different terrain. The entrance to Avdat (Ahv-daht) is misleading. It is wide and semi-barren with high limestone walls flanking either side. The greenery is due to a small stream which is found near the center of the gorge. As we walked alongside the stream heading deeper into the wadi, its width grew until the end where we were greeted by a silvery thin waterfall cascading over the upper rim. A large pool of water had collected here and it was beautiful! As nice as a wadi may be, the comfort they offered in Biblical times was tenuous. There were no advanced warning signals for torrents of water that could rush over the edge or through the wadi and overwhelm men and livestock. So it was best to “proceed with caution” when it came to wadis! And good shepherds always had this in mind (Ps. 23: 1-3)
The ease of life that the water in a wadi offers is very tempting. It is that kind of ease that Jesus is referring to when He tells us that “wise men build their houses on the rock” (Lk. 6:46-49). Building in the bottom of a wadi certainly makes the water more accessible. And it’s so much easier to step out of your tent and scoop up the water rather than carrying a jug down from the rim and then hauling it back up again. But it’s unsafe! You never know when a storm will send a swirling mass of water over the edge. So as inconvenient as it may seem, building on the ridge above is far more advantageous.
In the Fall of 1992 a well-known sailor by the name of Michael Plant set forth on a journey across the North Atlantic Ocean. His route was mapped carefully, he was an expert at the helm and his boat was state of the art. Two weeks into the journey Plant lost contact with his home base and repeated attempts to reestablish contact were futile. Finally a freighter spotted the sailboat floating upside-down in the ocean but its captain was nowhere to be found. After investigation it was discovered that a weight which was supposed to be attached to the keel was missing virtually causing the ship to be top-heavy and when a storm came, the ship could not stay upright. A second discovery noted that the emergency beacon installed in the boat had never been officially registered so that even when the signal had been emitted it was not recognized by the radar. It was virtually ineffective. In a way, Plant’s boat was his wadi. It had all the amenities but it was missing the equipment he needed to weather a storm and when the boat capsized, the result was a tragedy.
Human beings are always looking for something to be easier, better or more convenient than what they already have. Like Plant we map out our lives carefully, consider ourselves to be experts at something and purchase state-of-the-art amenities to fill our homes with. But life has a way of broad-siding us with storms. Whether they are physical or emotional, or both, they capsize us and turn our world upside-down. The trouble is, putting trust in the comforts of this world, is like building a house in the bottom of a wadi. There is only one way to be prepared for the storms of life: build on the Rock. Where are you building (1 Cor. 3:10-15)?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 1/29/2017