2014 – Traveling to Israel

Walking in the footsteps of giants, legends and heroes who have changed the world is humbling.  It is hard to put into words, but my faith became more real.  Strolling the cobblestone streets in old Jerusalem where David and Solomon were King, Daniel was a boy, Paul was a citizen and Peter and Jesus were visitors made it surreal. Jerusalem is so small. From the Mount of Olives you can see almost everything…the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Kidron Valley, the Eastern Gate which is shut till Messiah returns,  Gethsemane, Calvary and the Tomb, and then simply by turning toward the summit you can see the Church dedicated to His ascension.

 

Within minutes of Jerusalem we were in the vast Judean desert where Bedouins still tend their sheep living in tents and lean tos as they have for thousands of years.  On the west side of Jerusalem the rolling hills are teeming with agriculture, but once you travel over the crest you begin the gradual decline down to the Dead Sea through the stark, mountainous and lonely Judean Desert.  Luke said Jesus went to a lonely place to fast and pray.  This wilderness is certainly that.

 

It was prophesied that the dessert would bloom again and it has with groves of date and olive trees. To do this the Israelis have pioneered and perfected drip irrigation and desalination techniques.  Within an hour’s drive of Jerusalem, on our way to the Dead Sea, we drove by the Palestinian city of Jericho, the ancient home of Rahab the harlot.

Matthew describes John the Baptist as a man who subsisted on grasshoppers and wild honey.  John probably  lived with the very strict Jewish Essenes  between Jericho and the Dead Sea, and out there he was lucky to find a grasshopper to eat.  I saw nothing but rocks and dirt.  However, it was confirming to see the baptismal pools unearthed by Archaeologists, a mere stone’s throw from the caves where a Shepherd boy discovered the dead sea scrolls in jars of pottery hidden in the caves of Kumron since about 100 B.C.   Pieces of every book in the Old Testament were found there, except for the book of Ester.

The Dead Sea may be dead, but it is beautiful.  It is awkward to swim there because the salt makes the water too buoyant, but it is fun to float if you don’t get water in your mouth or eyes.   Overlooking the Dead Sea on the southern end is the famous mountain fort of Masada.  Up 1300 feet by Gondola, the fortress is where a small band of surviving Jewish rebels fled Jerusalem after the fall in 70 A.D.  The small band with women and children committed suicide rather than be captured by the Romans.

A few hours north of the Dead Sea are the beautiful resort cities on the Sea of Galilee.  Rivaling any resort towns in the world in their beauty, I realized Jesus knew how to pick a place to live.  We dined at a sea side restaurant surrounded by small fishing boats and gazed out over the water to the flickering lights on the opposite shore in Jordan.  I could imagine the man Legion living among the tombs over there.

The next morning I was baptized in the sea of Galilee, reaffirming my faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and His power to make me an eternal being.  The Sea of Galilee is more what we would call a lake and the resort cities of Magdala, Capernaum, Tiberius, Gennesaret are like driving from Ft Walton to Destin before all the development there.

Magdala is Mary Magdalene’s home town and a recent synagogue has been uncovered that dates to the first century. This is most likely where Jesus and Mary worshipped.  In Capernaum, standing among the ruins is the house that belonged to Peter’s mother and was the hub of their activity.  It later became the meeting place for their new fellowship.   A short walk up the hill is a beautiful view of the sea and is where Jesus gave us the attitudes that lead to blessings.  Down the mountain is the beach where Jesus called out to his disciples while they were fishing and shared a breakfast. It was there where He gave Peter the instructions to feed His sheep.   And it was in Gennesaret that he got in the boat to teach.

A little further north are the borders of Syria and Lebanon.  We looked into Lebanon from the tank entrenchments, and over into Syria from the Golan Heights. Down the valley we could see Damascus and hear the artillery exploding in the distance.

Heading South we had lunch in a Kibbutz that does their best to be self sustaining.  Many work the fields or with animals, but the majority go into town and work as lawyers or high tech executives.  After lunch we climbed the winding road to the top of Mount Carmel where Elijah called down fire from heaven to show up the prophets of Baal. Elijah didn’t mention the beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea.  Today, standing on this property is the Yemen Orde Youth Village that began as a home for orphans of the Holocaust, but now is mostly occupied by Ethiopian Orphans that were airlifted to Israel in what is known as Operation Solomon.  The Ethiopians’ are Jewish as a result of a child conceived between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon while she visited Israel.

Going south again we drive through the infamous Jezreel Valley all the way to the section known as the Valley of Armageddon.  This valley is where Jezebel was thrown from a window and eaten by dogs, where Gideon and King Saul both fought for Israel and the place where the armies of the world will one day align for battle against Israel.

Still further south toward Gaza on our way to Sderot,  we went through the valley of Elah where the Philistine and Israelite camps faced off waiting for David to emerge and make his challenge to the giant warrior.

Once in Sderot, the bomb shelter capital of the world, we viewed the ancient capital of the Philistines as we looked into Gaza.  Four crudely made Hamas missiles hit Sderot the day before our arrival.

Back in Jerusalem, on the western slope of Mount Herzl, we had the somber experience of recounting man’s inhumanity to man at the Holocaust memorial called Yad Vashem.  Seeing the photographs and hearing the methods the Nazi’s used to herd the unsuspecting Jews into the gas chambers was chilling.

On a more hopeful note, we visited with Dov Lipman a former U.S. citizen and now a member of the Knesset who immigrated to Israel ten years earlier because of his commitment to a Jewish homeland.  It was interesting to listen to him talk about making the difficult decision to renounce his American citizenship in order to become a member of Israeli Parliament.

My impression of Israel had been shaped by years of media coverage and I was anxious about my visit.  My impression has changed as I met Israeli generals, journalist for the Jerusalem Post, a member of the Benjamin Netanyahu cabinet, local Rabbi’s, Arab shop keepers, Israeli venture capitalist, representatives from the Palestinian authority, soldiers and just everyday people trying to have a normal life in the midst of much political turmoil.

You might think getting separated from my group on the streets of Jerusalem at midnight would have upset me, but I wasn’t the least bit afraid.  It felt more like being in Florence than Atlanta.  I guess I am trying to say that the people seem wholesome and not menacing.  One Israeli summed it up for me, “We are determined to live a normal and happy life despite all that is going on around us.”

One of the most enjoyable evenings was celebrating a Jewish Seder meal with the family of a Josephus history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  The family was sweet and hospitable and the way they honored their traditional meal with their family was touching.

Sabbath Meal

This trip altered my life.  I stopped blogging when I got home, because I needed time to process my experience.  I felt like anything I could say was inadequate.  I needed to reevaluate my priorities.  What is really important?  Is our time short? The faith I thought I had just took a steroid shot.

It has been nine months since I have written anything.  I spent six months studying the first six chapters of Revelation.  I am taking more serious the admonition of Jesus to be watchful. I have settled down a bit since last April, but changes that trip wrought in me has changed the trajectory of my life in ways that only time will tell.

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