One in Christ, regardless!
When we woke up this morning, we said goodbye to the scenic and homey Ein Gev Kibbutz by having our devotional time. Dr. C. Wayne Rice and Tucker Feix began by leading us in singing hymns. Pastor Terry Feix tied together our lessons from yesterday by talking about how seeing so many of these biblical locations provides unique perspective on bible reading. Names of places that we formerly had no reference of are now being replaced by images, experiences, and stories. Having passed into the second half of our trip, I can already see this happening. A human element has been added to my perspective of bible stories. Instead of envisioning these stories in a far away bible world, I now am able to see that the stories involve physical places, human emotions, and real life interactions. I have such a greater appreciation for the truth of the Bible and the impact of the stories contained within it. We serve a real God who used real people to bring his grace, truth, and salvation to us today. This has inspired me to dig deeper into reading the bible--even the stories I've heard so many times. I hope that reading this blog and seeing the pictures over the course of our trip will help you to have the same inspiration. Now for the sites of today:
Heading southwest from the sea of Galilee, we traveled through the Jezreel Valley (the largest in Israel) into Nazareth. As you probably recognized, this is the town where Jesus was raised. The story of how he ended up there is quite interesting. When the wise men did not return to Herod the Great to tell him where Jesus was, Herod ordered that all children under the age of two be killed. Joseph was warned of this in a dream and was told to flee to Egypt. After Herod the Great's death, his kingdom was split between his three sons. His son Herod Archelaus was given the territory of Judea in the South (where Joseph was from) to rule. Joseph wanted to avoid him so badly that when they returned from Egypt, they decided to settle in the tiny town of Nazareth in the North, which was ruled by Herod Antipas. Archalaus ended up being such a poor ruler that the Romans removed him from his position. This is one example of how real world politics influenced bible stories.
The spacious Jezreel Valley spreads out to the north and east from Mount Carmel, providing convenient passage for international travelers in ancient times. The fertile alluvial soil makes this the country’s breadbasket as well. The Bible speaks of the gathering of armies in this valley at the place of Armageddon.
The modern city of Nazareth is much bigger than when Jesus lived there, having an estimated population of 130,000 now. It is split into two parts-- Upper Nazareth and Lower Nazareth. Upper Nazareth is 80% Jewish and 20% Arab. It appeared to be a modern city as we would recognize it. Lower Nazareth is 100% Arab (60% are muslims). Here, Yehuda told us that most people do not pay taxes to the local government, so services like trash pick-up are not provided. This resulted in an abnormal amount of flies buzzing around us as we gathered on Mt. Precipice, which overlooks the city. We read the story in Luke 4 about Jesus in Nazareth when the people demand a miracle in order to believe that he was the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy (Is. 61), as he claimed. After he rebuked them, they tried to throw him off of a cliff (likely the very cliff we were standing on!), but he slipped away through the crowd. Like the people of Nazareth, we are prone to think that God has not given us enough evidence to believe, and if we could just see a sign, then we would believe wholeheartedly. We hold back our faith, afraid to put trust in the uncertain. However, we have seen and experienced more than enough to be certain. We have the whole bible, as well as churches, teachers, and a whole history of Christian tradition. The people in the bible had much less to go off of. At the end of the day, the fact is simple: those who need more signs do not have a heart that is open and willing to have complete faith in Jesus Christ. True faith, even the size of a mustard seed (which we saw in person yesterday), will persevere whether miracles are performed or not. Unfortunately, it is natural for Christians to doubt and question at times. As a scientifically minded person, I often find myself wishing for more evidence, so I was convicted of this today. In these times, we must pray that the Lord will soften our hearts and help us in our unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Situated inside a bowl atop the Nazareth ridge north of the Jezreel valley, Nazareth was a relatively isolated village in the time of Jesus with a population less than two hundred.
Today Nazareth is home to more than 60,000 Israeli Arabs, and Upper Nazareth is home to thousands more Jewish residents.
Next, we continued through the Jezreel valley to the ancient city of Megiddo. This city was located in a highly strategic position. The Romans built a road called the Via Maris that connected the empires of Egypt and Assyria. Megiddo was located along the Via Maris about halfway between the two empires. Because no one could cross the desert, the road was essential for travel. Whoever controlled this road controlled the trade. So naturally, everyone wanted control of this area. This led to Megiddo being conquered and rebuilt 25 times throughout its history, which began over 5,000 years ago. Although it's mentioned many times in the bible, Megiddo is perhaps most famous for being the site of Armageddon (coming from Ar-Megiddo, meaning "Mt. Megiddo" in Hebrew), the final battle between Good and evil mentioned in Revelation 16:16. It is only fitting that such an ancient city whose history has been filled with violence and conflict would serve as the final battleground. We were reminded by Pastor Terry today that this battle is won by the spoken word of God, not by violence. It is a battle in which Satan and evil never stand a chance. God is all-powerful, and is infinitely above the powers of evil. We can be supremely confident in our faith that He is in control. This theme came up again later on in the day.
From the earliest times (EB) to the earliest historical records of the area (Thutmose III) to the future (Revelation 16), Megiddo assumes a prominent role. This is largely owing to its strategic location astride the Megiddo Pass (Wadi Ara) and inside the busy Jezreel Valley.
After having lunch at a local restaurant, we hiked to the top of Mt. Carmel. This is the site of Elijah's competition against the 450 prophets of Baal to see who could get their respective god to light an altar with fire from heaven (1 Kings 18). We listened to the story and background information as we sat in the shade and looked out across the valley. We talked about how Elijah was really the only prophet of God left who wasn't either dead or hiding. Yet, God used him in a direct contest against the prophets of Baal to show that He was the true god. All it took was one faithful person to glorify God against the 450. I admire Elijah for both his courage and confident faith. He had the courage on many occasions to call out the false beliefs of Ahab, Jezebel, and nearly all of his culture at the time. This could have easily cost him his life, yet he did it anyway. I am convinced that this boldness came from his confidence in God. He strove to do the Lord's work without any fear of consequence. I sat on the mountain and asked myself today if I would ever have enough faith to challenge the prophets of Baal, taunt them, pour twelve jars of water on the altar, then pray for fire from heaven without even thinking about whether or not it would ever come, or that I was making a huge mistake. I don't believe that I could. How convicting that was! Being in that very place helped me see that Elijah was a real person, just like we are. If he can have that kind of faith, so can all of us. Once again, we must pray for help in our unbelief whenever we find ourselves lacking.
Biblically, Mt. Carmel is referenced most often as a symbol of beauty and fertility. To be given the “splendor of Carmel” was to be blessed indeed (Isa 35:2). Solomon praised his beloved: “your head crowns you like Mount Carmel” (Song 7:5). But for Carmel to wither was a sign of devastating judgment (Nahum 1:4).
We finished the day at Caesarea, a city located on the Mediterranean coast. Originally, the city was small and insignificant. Then, Herod the Great decided to make it into a great city and deep water port. It soon became an essential part of the empire by providing a port on the eastern Mediterranean coast, as well as hub of entertainment in the city. Caesarea changed over the years as it transferred from the Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, and Crusaders. It was eventually destroyed in an earthquake, then resurrected again recently into a modern city. In the bible, the story of Cornelius's conversion in Acts 10 takes place here. Cornelius was a Gentile, and his conversion marks the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles for the first time. Because we don't live in a culture divided into Jews and Gentiles in the US, it is difficult to visualize the distinction at all. However, after being in Israel surrounded by Jewish people, I realized how big of a deal this conversion is. I am very much a Gentile. Therefore, the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles 2,000 years ago is the foundation for my very own conversion and faith. I am thankful for a God to whom there is no Jew nor Gentile, for we are all able to be one in Christ, regardless of our heritage, social status, or gender (Gal. 3:28).
The city and harbor were built under Herod the Great during c. 22–10 BC near the site of a former Phoenician naval station known as Stratonos pyrgos (Στράτωνος πύργος). It later became the provincial capital of Roman Judea, Roman Syria Palaestina and Byzantine Palaestina Prima provinces. The city was populated throughout the 1st to 6th centuries CE and became an important early center of Christianity during the Byzantine period, but was mostly abandoned following the Muslim conquest of 640. It was re-fortified by the Crusaders, and finally slighted by the Mamluks in 1265.
Lastly, we visited aqueducts on the beach built by both Herod and Hadrian that bring water into the city. The scenery was breathtaking as the sun began its descent over the blue Mediterranean.
Tomorrow, we begin our tour of Jerusalem. Thank you for reading and following along with us in our experiences.