Israel’s second Biblical marathon took place during this year’s Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) along a largely uphill route, through Ephraim, Benjamin and Samaria.
For 400,000 Israelis living along the route of the marathon in the ancient Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria, life parallels the uphill struggle as they live with tensions between themselves and their Arab neighbors plus the prospect of a two-state solution that could mean forcing them out of their homes. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that the Palestinian refusal to accept settlers in a future state is tantamount to “ethnic cleansing.”
The challenging Biblical marathon follows the route taken by an ancient Israelite messenger who brought news of the slaughter of 30,000 Israelite soldiers and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant to Eli, the nation’s leader, as recorded in 1 Samuel 4. The bloody battle took place between the Israelite camp at Ebenezer (near modern day Rosh HaAyin) and the Philistine camp at Aphek. The Benjamite messenger ran with the tragic news all the way to Shiloh, right at the center of today’s West Bank, where Eli was residing.
The news of defeat, the capture of the Ark and the loss of his two sons in battle caused the aged priest Eli to fall back in his chair and die. His bereaved daughter in law also died in childbirth, after naming her son with her dying breath Ichabod, which means “the Glory has departed from Israel.”
Amazingly, the Benjamite runner’s route was the same distance as a marathon, 42.2 kilometers or 26.1 miles, as discovered by the late Yosef Yekutieli, founder of the modern Israeli Olympic Committee and Football Association. Out of 3,000 runners this year, a smattering of international contestants from Europe and North and South America participated with Israelis along the closely guarded route.
This year’s winner was Israeli Ariel Rosenfeld of Kfar Saba. Rosenfeld is Israel’s leading ultra-distance runner and considers his greatest achievement the 154-mile Spartathlon (Athens to Sparta race) – perhaps the most challenging ultra-marathon in the world. He has also won Israel’s 61-kilometer Sovev Emek ultra marathon four times as well as the 100-kilometer course in 2013, finishing over an hour ahead of the next runner.
The re-enactment of this highly symbolic Biblical event is testament to Israel’s historic connection to the land. The establishment of the nation of Israel is the work of God and he long ago established the “route” for today’s runners:
“‘But you, mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the Lord. I will cause people, my people Israel, to live on you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children.’” Ezekiel 36:8-12 (NIV)
Finally, it is important to note the significance of the marathon’s end point, Shiloh. Not only is this the center of one of the world’s most disputed territories, it is also commonly understood by Bible scholars to refer to the Messiah himself.
As the marathon was uphill, so is maintaining the security of the nation of Israel. The end of the race however ensures victory and an appointment with the Messiah himself.