No trip to Israel is complete without a trip to Masada! Located on top of a rhomboid shaped mesa on the edge of the Judean desert, Masada towers above the Dead Sea valley at an elevation of 13,000 ft. Isolated from its surroundings by deep gorges on all sides, it is a natural fortification. King Herod recognized what a natural fortress Masada was nad built his fortress on top between 37 and 31 BC. Tormented by constant fear of being deposed from his throne, he was a man consumed with anger and hate – eventually killing his own wife and sons due to fear that they would cost him the kingdom.
Herod was not the first king of Judah to climb the ‘snake path’ to Masada’s top. According to 1 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, David hid from Saul atop Masada. Masada (מְצָדָה) is a Hebrew word that has been adopted into the English language “as is” without translating. In Psalm 18:2, the phrase, “my fortress” is one Hebrew word: מְצוּדָתִ֗י (m’tzu-dati). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), it is derived from the word מְצָד (m’tzad) which means “mountain-height”; “summit”; “fortress”; “castle”. 1 Samuel 22 tells the story of David taking his parents from Bethlehem to the land of Moab so they would be safe from Saul. Moab lies in modern day Jordan – just across the Dead Sea from Masada. With his parents safely in Moab, David went to Masada to find protection from Saul.
However, God sent the prophet Gad to David with a warning, “And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah.” 1 Sam. 22:5 The English word “hold” is the Hebrew – מְּצוּדָ֔ה (m’tzuda) which is what we call today Masada. Although Masada is a natural fortress, God did not want David to trust in the fortress of Masada, but in Him! The TWOT says, “Man erects his fortress out of stone to protect himself from external dangers. Nevertheless with great strategy a stronghold may be taken; (e.g. David captured the stronghold of Zion as mentioned in 2 Sam 5:7). God himself was the stronghold in whom David trusted throughout his trials (Ps 18:2; 91:2).”
The actions of King David and King Herod are somewhat indicative of their forefathers. David was the true king of Israel – a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Herod was an Idumean from Edom; a descendant of Esau. Remember the ancient choices of Jacob and Esau as recorded in Genesis 25:29-34. Jacob choose the spiritual, while Esau chose the physical. Herod looked at Masada and tried to create a fortress to protect himself from physical harm. David, however, looked at the God who made Masada to protect him!
Masada is an incredible place to visit and I hope if you go to Israel you go there. Remember to take your Bible and while on top, read Psalm 18 out loud and remember – that the God that made Masada is the God that protects us. Truly, a “mighty fortress” is our God!! Amenֵ