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Tel Arad

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Digging Deep Israel–Next Stop: Tel Arad

What can be better than Diggers looking at the digs of archaeologists who’ve uncovered the places we’ve read about in the Word? Our next stop was Tel Arad. “Tel” Is a word you’ll hear a lot if you study the archaeology in Israel. A tel is just a stacked mound of civilization. So one “occupation” of a piece of land built its culture and temples and homes and businesses and then, when it was conquered by another group, the new inhabitants would just take whatever they could use and build its own structures on top of the old civilization. Thus, a mound of land usually consists of several strata in the Bible Lands. The deeper you dig, the older the civilization. On this day, we were wanting to see the portion of Arad that pertained to the Israelites of the divided kingdom. 

Tel Arad is one of those mounds with layers of different civilizations. Arad is still a modern city in Israel, just west of the Dead Sea. The ancient tel is located near the modern city. There are several layers of civilization there, but the part we visited was the Jewish community that existed during the reign of David and  all the way through the divided kingdom of Judah until the capture of Judah by the Babylonians in about 597 BC. We read about God’s people dwelling in Arad in Judges 1:16: And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.

Some pretty amazing things were discovered in this place by archaeologists Amiran and Aharoni in the 1960s and 70s. 

Ninety-one ostraca (broken pieces of pottery ) have been found referring to the citadel there as the “House of Yahweh.” They contain commands about the sacrifices and lists of names. One piece, the Eliyashiv Ostraca was put together from pieces all found in the same room and contained his instructions to deliver wine and flour and other ingredients in specific quantities.  It’s pretty amazing that the entire terrain at Tel-Arad is littered with broken pieces of ancient pottery. We just literally picked up the little pieces of ancient civilizations.

A temple area was also found mentioning the “House of Yahweh”. It seems uncertain whether the inscription was referring to Arad or to the temple at Jerusalem. A standing stone (kind of a monument) was also in this place, generally assumed to be some kind of tribute to Yahweh. Of course, Bible students know that, by the time of the divided kingdom, worship was often polluted and that the offering of sacrifices in places other than the temple at Jerusalem was unauthorized worship. 

I looked with sadness over a citadel that had once been a thriving community of God’s people. The biggest spiritual lesson one takes from Tel Arad may be that, when people transgress or kick against the authority of Yahweh, the ruins of their civilizations stand as a reminder that nations cannot prosper when ignoring the sovereignty of the One to whom they sacrifice. It’s the clear lesson of I Samuel 15 (the one my mother drove deeply into my heart many times as she was punishing disobedience): “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams.” I will never forget that childhood lesson. May I always have the wisdom and courage to make it more than a quotation from childhood. May it be the mantra of my walk with Him in a world that equates spirituality with a warm feeling about God.  

The pictures you see are mine, just because I’m making a personal journal. You can find many more if you do your own internet search. The coolest (literal) place of the day (a 98 degree day) was in this cistern at Arad, but there were many very cool places! (I think I want to be an archaeologist when I grow up. Do you think it’s too late?)

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