Travel: Mount Gilboa-Once Cursed, Now Blooming
“Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil....” (Samuel II 1:21)
Thus David lamented upon hearing of the deaths of King Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa.
It was particularly Jonathan’s desperate suicide rather than falling into the hands of the cruel Philistines, which moved David to curse the very mountain, stained with the blood of his beloved.
Today indeed despite the efforts of modern Israeli farming and forestation by the Jewish National Fund, huge bald gaps confirm David’s curse.
Today Mount Gilboa is safely out of Philistine hands. It is a magnet for visitors seeking nature, picnics, and vistas and to be where the Bible comes alive. Each spring, nature lovers from all parts of the country flock to see the beautiful Gilboa iris (iris haynei) in bloom.
When driving along the scenic road on the ridge, one sees the multi-colored carpet that is the Jezreel Valley spread like a quilt below. To the south are the Galilee Mountains. To the east are the mountains of Moab, just beyond the Jordan River Valley.
One can flip the pages of the books of Samuel, of Judges and of Kings sitting atop the mountain and point to where the most dramatic events took place in the times of the Bible.
Ein Harod’s spring gushes at the very base of the mountain. The same waters quenched the thirst of Gideon’s 300 chosen fighters set to defeat the vast army of the Midianites. Across the valley is the modern town of Afula.
In the Jezreel Valley, King Ahab was confronted by the accusing prophet Elijah after he had Navot executed at the advice of his evil Queen Jezebel.
One can see the lone round Mount Tabor across the valley where the Deborah the Judge and Barak led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanite general Cisera and his massive army of 900 iron chariots.
Return to the Land
In the early twentieth century, Yehoshua Henkin was appointed by the Zionist movement to survey the land for real-estate opportunities for the returning sons and daughters. Neglected and depleted land, stony fields and malaria-infested marshes were sold by absentee Arab owners for top dollar to the young pioneers.
The Children of Israel were exiled from the land until their descendents returned to it. On his documented pilgrimage to the Land of Israel, American novelist Mark Twain described the land in the 1860’s as “a desolate country, a sullen mournful expanse….”
The earliest kibbutzim set down roots first amongst Spartan tents and tower and stockades that have eventually become country club-like communities. The “sullen mournful expanse” is today the bread basket of Israel and perhaps the entire Middle East. It is here that prophesies of the deserts blooming jump right out at you.
One of those who were absolutely taken by the Biblical prophesies about the Land and the People of Israel was the very colorful and dashing Orde Charles Wingate, who served as an officer during the British occupation. A war hero and highly decorated officer, Wingate, unlike most of his colleagues, did not harbor anti-Jewish sentiments. In fact, as a devout Christian he long felt a love for the people of the Bible. His beliefs prompted him to do what he could to help the Jewish People as he witnessed their return to the Promised Land. From the same spring that Gideon planed his attack against the Midianites, Wingate trained his Jewish unit and used the Bible as his battle map.
The famous night squads included some of Israel’s early military leaders. They later employed the unconventional training that they received when they became commanders in the IDF.
So successful was Wingate in helping Jews defend themselves from Arab terror that he was expelled from the country by his superiors. The British government had a different agenda. General Wingate saved the British colony of India from Japanese invasion and died in a plane crash over the Burma Mountains. In his diary he lamented the fact that he would be barred from celebrating the rebirth of the Jewish nation
He is still known as “HaYedid” (The Friend) in Israel today.
Mount Gilboa has seen much history pass through its ridge. But it is still waiting for you to visit.
Shalom Pollack is a veteran Israel tour guide, who guides and plans tours for families and groups. He also writes and lectures on Israel and will be on a lecture tour in the US this coming October-November. Pollack recently produced a DVD, "Israel - Ancient Roots, Modern Miracle.” Clips can be seen on his website, www.shalompollacktours.co.il