Her name was Joni, and she had a wonderful laugh.
Joni was a tour guide, and our bus filled with travelers had quickly grown to love her. We laughed at her bad jokes, we smiled when she handed out small gifts every morning, and we enjoyed her immense knowledge of Israel’s history.
One day we were traveling south of Jerusalem when Joni jumped up, spoke sharply to the bus driver in Hebrew, and then ordered us all off the bus.
We were in the middle of nowhere.
We crossed the road easily. There was almost no traffic. There were no markers, no churches, no sign of any other tourists. We were in a shallow valley that obviously belonged to a local farmer.
“This,” Joni announced with pride, “is where David defeated Goliath!”
We hiked quickly into the valley, found a dry creek bed, and everyone collected a stone as a souvenir.
With that, we headed back to the bus. Our planned destination was still to come, but I wasn’t convinced this unplanned stop was a legitimate one.
“Joni,” I asked quietly, “are you serious? Do we really know that this is where David beat Goliath?”
Not every site in Israel is the genuine place. Remember that if you ever hear a tour guide saying, “This is the traditional site of …” The word “traditional” is a clue that we really don’t know where the location might be.
But this time, Joni showed me a different side of her personality. Her eyes flashed with anger. Her fists clenched.
“Look!” she said with intensity. “Azekah! Socoh!” Joni was pointing at distant hills. “This is Elah. Ephes Dammim is here. Bethlehem and Judah, there! Gath is just over the hills, there! And in the valley, a dry creek bed with stones. This is the place!”
Joni had a stone in her hand, too, and I decided not to play the part of Goliath. When I got back on the bus, however, I found the story again in 1 Samuel 17. Sure enough, the first four verses of the account were all geographical locations. In the years to come, as I became more familiar with Israel’s geography and archeological discoveries, I understood Joni’s passion.
For indeed … the valley we had visited is the place!
These days, we often make that valley our first stop. We spend time there, re-living the story and enjoying the opportunity to stand in a place where no church building gets in the way, where no crowd of tourists can distract your attention, where no noisy city can block your view of history. In places like Elah, it is possible to still hear God’s call to a courageous faith.
There are lots of places like Elah scattered around Israel. Want to see them for yourself? We’re going back in March, 2015. This will be a lighter version of our “hiking” tours. Instead of taking the long hike into Elah, we’ll stop where Joni first stopped our bus. The short hike won’t be so demanding, but the lesson will be just as powerful. Check out the details of the trip, and make plans to come with us!
As it was for David, it is for you. The Valley of Elah is waiting!