Travels Through Israel
Last week on Monday through Wednesday, we took a trip to Upper and Lower Galilee with Baruch and Bracha Maoz. We began early Monday morning by driving up the easternmost four-lane highway, (highway 6) in Israel. This highway is actually just inside the territory of Israel. To our right were the Palestinian territories and communities known as the West Bank (of the Jordan River).
As the sun rose over the Judean hills we could see more and more of The Wall, which is so much in the news. Most of The Wall is actually a fence that has much the height and appearance of fences enclosing Pennsylvania Turnpike property. Ninety percent of The Wall is such a fence, but it is heavily patrolled by Israeli troops. The ten percent of high wall appears only where Palestinian towns are so close to Israeli territory that gunfire from the towns can reach the highway.
There was still a heavy mist, not yet burned off by the sun, as we drove through the Valley of Jezreel. Mount Megiddo (from which the name Armageddon comes) was visible. This is a vast and fertile valley stretching from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. In the days of the Judges enemies of Israel would come often to Jezreel to plunder the fruitful agricultural areas of this region.
Jabin, the Canaanite king of Hazor, sent his general, Sisera, in this direction in the time of Deborah. A town named for Deborah was visible near the foot of Mt. Tabor as we drove by. Sisera, Jabins general, invaded with 900 chariots, but the Kishon River overflowed with silt that rendered the chariots ineffective. At Deborahs command Barak, the Israelite general, swept down from Mt. Tabor with 10,000 men to destroy the Canaanite army. Sisera fled on foot. He was taken into an Israelite home by a housewife whose name was Jael. Sisera went to sleep, never to wake again, for the woman Jael drove a tent peg through his temple as he slept (Judges 4 & 5). (Incidentally, one of our granddaughters, Amber Bennett, has as her middle name, Jael, in honor of this woman.)
Later the Midianites from the East came annually to pillage Jezreel until Gideon, that mighty man of valor, defeated a huge army with 300 men (Judges 6-8).
As we climbed from the valley into lower Galilee the beauty of that region was striking. Everywhere there were date palm groves, olive, banana, orange, lemon and grapefruit orchards, as well as well kept and well irrigated fields. The Sea of Galilee (known in Israel as The Lake of Galilee) is 157 meters below sea level and has a circumference of 35 meters.
At the southern end of this sea (lake) we stopped at Tiberius for breakfast (Doesnt that sound strange in itself?). Fishermen were already unloading baskets of fish from their early morning catches. Restaurant proprietors were coming to buy fresh fish for the day. Tiberius is now a resort town with modern hotels and beautifully cared for areas along the Sea of Galilee.
We had the privilege of visiting Capernaum at the northern end of the Sea. When Jesus began his public ministry he began by preaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. But when he announced that He was the fulfilment of Isaiahs prophecy predicting the Messiahs coming, Jesus fellow townspeople attempted to hurl him off a cliff. From that time our Lord lived in Capernaum for the three years of His public ministry. Most of His teaching and most of His miracles were done in Capernaum and nearby towns.
I felt a peculiar gladness that the Lord Jesus lived most of His brief life in such beautiful surroundings. Capernaum is nestled along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Now one can find only the ruins of houses from his era. The outline of the town, with small houses, narrow streets and a synagogue very like the one in which He worshiped, but rebuilt a few hundred years after He lived there. Peters house was located in Capernaum, as were, no doubt, the houses of other disciples. Above the lake are fertile hills from which the magnificent snow-capped Mount Hermon may be seen at the northern extreme of Israel.
It is winter now, yet not only is citrus growing on the trees of Galilee, but also lilies of the field are beginning to appear, although these will be in greater abundance in the spring. In Tiberius, though not in Capernaum, one can see the clash of the modern and the ancient. Historic structures of one or two thousand years earlier mix with a Burger King or a McDonalds! Certainly the distance between the two towns has shrunk, with the coming of the automobile. Driving here is done in European style, but one drives on the right side of the road. If you travel to Mt. Hermon, skiing is available! Now there are motor craft on the Sea of Galilee. It is a very odd feeling to be living in something of a time warp as you travel throughout the land.
We saw so much more than we can possibly tell in one report on Galilee. The first night we stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast in a Galilean town, built on a hillside. Mt. Hermon was again visible in majestic splendour. One section, which has cobblestone streets and old stone buildings, is now occupied by local artists shops.
On the way home we stopped to visit an Arab pastor and his family (Israeli citizens in a heavily Arab sector). This pastor is about 40 years old. He and his wife have five sons. You can imagine how we felt as we visited in his living room – an Arab Israeli pastor and his wife, and a Jewish pastor with his wife! They spoke in English for the sake of the visiting American pastor and his wife! We talked of theology, books, churches and progress in the faith. The Arab and Jewish ministers are friends who exchange pulpits and support one another in their ministries. It was an unforgettable evening, ending with a time of prayer together. It was there that we once more saw worked out in such beauty the truth of the psalm concerning lovely Mt. Hermon. Oh, how we have seen it in the assembly of Grace and Truth church as well, with its multi-lingual and even deaf members, all united in the worship of the Messiah, even our Lord Jesus Christ!
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on Aarons
Beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of
Mount Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord
Bestows His blessing, even life forever more.
Places do not make the Bible come alive. Rather, it is the other way round. Scenes do not acquaint us better with Bible characters. It is in the Bible that we get to know the hearts of saints, apostles and Savior. Scripture imparts to us their spirits and thus makes the places where they have lived seem special. If ancient inhabitants of the towns and regions have not been introduced to us by their words, there is little the scenery can impart to us. By the Word of God, and therein the recorded words of saints in days gone by, our fellowship reaches back in time to their experiences. More than that, they are now the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:23). We, as the present day church, have come to them (Heb. 12:22) in one great assembly before the throne of God. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]