When we visit places mentioned in the Bible, we understand the events in a much more profound way. We see the landscape, flora and fauna, which in many cases have not changed.
The first words that God says to Abraham (then Abram) are lech lecha, meaning “Go for yourself from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). The book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of the Torah, closes with God also showing the Land. “Moses ascended from the plains of Moav to Mount Nebo, to the summit of the cliff that faces Jericho, and God showed him the entire Land.” (Deuteronomy 34:1)
In a sense, it’s possible to say that God was the first tour guide. It seems that there is something very powerful about simply seeing the Land of Israel that the Torah wants to impress upon us. Certainly, when we visit places mentioned in the Bible, we understand the events in a much more profound way. We see the landscape, flora and fauna, which in many cases have not changed.
One destination in which the Bible really comes to life is Tel Azekah. Tel Azekah is a hill above the Elah Valley where the battle of David and Goliath took place. “And the Philistines assembled their camps to war; and they assembled at Sochoh, which belonged to Judah, and they encamped between Sochoh and Azekah in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel assembled, and they encamped in the Valley of the Terebinth (Emek Ha’Elah), and they set the battle in array against the Philistines. And the Philistines were standing on the mountain from here, and Israel was standing on the mountain from here, and the valley was between them.” (1 Samuel 17:1-3)
A Rabbinic commentator known as the Radak clarifies that they were camped in the valley, but the strategists ascended the mountain. It’s hard to get an exact picture from the words in the Bible, but when you stand on the mountain called Azekah and look out over the beautiful Elah Valley and Sochoh, another hill across the valley – and see the stream below from where David chose five stones to fight Goliath – it all becomes completely clear.
Once you ascend Azekah, you immediately realize its strategic importance. From there, you can see all the way to Ashdod and Gat (ancient Philistine cities) as well as Beit Shemesh (an ancient Jewish city) and, of course, the entire battlefield in the valley below. There are active excavations at Tel Azekah, and archaeologists have thoughtfully left some ancient pottery shards for visitors to take a piece of ancient history home.
Upon leaving, you’ll also want to go down to the stream where David chose the five stones. “And he took his staff in his hand, and he chose for himself five smooth pebbles from the brook, and he placed them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, and in the sack, and his slingshot was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.” According to a Midrash (story from rabbinic literature), the five stones represented God, whose name Goliath had blasphemed; Aaron, whose descendants, Hophni and Pinchas, he had slain; and three for the Patriarchs whose descendants he had threatened.