Thursday, May 5, 2011

From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea

Today was another full and exciting day in Israel. Even though we spent more time on the bus than off the bus, we saw too many amazing things to put them all into one blog post. So, here are a few highlights.

When we approached the area of the West Bank, we had to switch from our regular tour bus to one that was designed specifically for the area. It is called a "security bus," which means it is bullet-resistant. According to our tour guide and brother in Christ, Erez, very few tours go deep into the West Bank because of safety and security concerns.

The contrast is so very stark between the Palestinian and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinian settlements are, quite frankly, ghettos--and bad ones at that. Whereas the Jewish settlements are well-kept and very modern. While this may offend some, it's quite abvious to even the casual observer who cares about the land and who doesn't.

Our first stop was Elon Morah (The "Oak of Morah). This was Abraham's first dwelling place in the Promised Land. From that spot, we had an incredible view of the Jordan Valley, including Shechem, which is modern-day Nablus. Nablus is in the northern West Back and is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. The Palestinian city has a population of more than 125,000 and is best known as the "Capital of Palestinian Terrorism."

The city is nestled between to low mountain peaks--Mount Gerizim (The Mount of Blessing) to the south and Mount Ebal (Mount of Cursing) to the north. Joshua 8:30-35 tells the story of just one of the remarkable events that happened on these two mountains.
At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, "an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool." And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
Then we moved on to Shiloh.

As we made our way up the rocky path, which led to the archaeological discovery of ancient Shiloh, Ron Love and I talked about who had likely walked this same path before us--Joshua, the Judges of Israel, Samuel, Saul, David. It was at Shiloh where the Tabernacle of the Lord stood for more than 400 years (Joshua 18:1).

Erez pointed to a flat area that seemed to be set apart from the rocky foundations of the ancient city of Shiloh. He told us the area is where the Tabernacle likely stood.

Several of us walked down to the place. I couldn't believe I was now standing where the Tabernacle of the Lord once likely stood.

Earlier, as we stood in an observation tower, Erez told us that archaeologists found literally millions of shards of ancient pottery around the area of the Tabernacle, which indicated millions of people had been there, on the surrounding hills, encamped--probably during the three major festivals of the Jewish year.

As I walked from the site where the Tabernacle stood to the observation tower, I looked down and noticed piece after piece of what looked like red pottery. I picked one up to examine it closer. My heart quickened when I realized what I was holding in my hand--an artificat from ancient biblical times.

I continued to pick up pieces as I made my way back to the observation tower. They are so much more than souvenirs. They are tangible connections to a very real, historic, and spiritual past.

With each passing day in Israel, the Bible becomes all-the-more alive. I will never look at the text of Scripture again as simply true words on a page. Ever since I came to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Bible has been alive to me--God's living, breathing, active Word. But it is even more than that now. Now that I am seeing these places, touching these place, experiencing these places; the Word of the Lord is leaping off the pages of Scripture and captivating every part of my being, my soul.

I cannot thank the Lord enough for giving me this blessed opportunity to walk where the Patriarchs walked; to walk where the heroes of the faith walked; to walked where the disciples walked; to walk where Jesus walked.

There is more to tell, but it's getting late. And tomorrow is another full day as we head to place like Masada, Jericho, and the Mount of Olives.

But I would like to leave you with one light-hearted moment that happened, today. Please watch these two short videos (Part 1 and Part 2).