Israel, Jordan Study Tour with Grace Bible Church Houston

December 26 - January 5, 2016

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The pull of worldly desires

Most of us did not know the story of Bet She’an (House of Strength) as we climbed the tel. We were cold, rain was coming down on us….again. We stopped at the top of the hill and learned that this point was a crossroads between the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan River Valley. Behind us was Mount Gilboa, the place of King Saul’s death. Wes called us to the edge of the tel and we had a view of Beth She’an, an incredible city of the Decapolis. Before us, we could see a theater, streets, a market place…the ruins of a once thriving city. As we began to tour the ruins, Wes reminded us of the prodigal son. Although we don’t know the exact town that Jesus was speaking about in His story, we know that this place offered all of the temptations that would draw a boy from the country away from the faith of his fathers. Because of the time that we have spent in smaller villages such as Qatzrin, we now have the perspective that the hearers of the words of Christ would have had. A boy from a smaller village, would have grown up with his family and faith at the center of his world. He would have had the influence of generations before him modeling life for him. As a boy from a smaller village came over the hill and looked over Bet She’an he would have begun to feel the pull of worldly desires. There was food to buy, beautiful architecture, public baths, and more importantly the luxury of public toilets. We all had the pleasure of sitting…together…on the beautiful marble toilets. It was truly a bonding moment for all of us. As we traveled through Bet She’an, thinking on the Prodigal Son…it was not difficult to see the parallels in our own lives. As we travel back home, I think it is on all of our minds, to remember this place. To remember that Jesus has called us to Him. To remember that God wants our focus to be on Him. Another sweet reminder from that story, is that even if we wander into the city and lose our way, that our Father will welcome us back into His family. Bet She’an is full of crumbling marble, broken tiles, and toppled pillars. As we left, the words of Psalms 46 were heavy on my heart, “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts….’Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Beth Shean

Located 17 miles (27 km) south of the Sea of Galilee, Beth Shean is situated at the strategic junction of the Harod and Jordan Valleys. The fertility of the land and the abundance of water led the Jewish sages to say, “If the Garden of Eden is in the land of Israel, then its gate is Beth Shean.” It is no surprise then that the site has been almost continuously settled from the Chalcolithic period to the present.

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Next we traveled to Mount Carmel. This is the place that Elijah killed the prophets of Ba’al. We stood in the rain…again. Elliot shared from 1 Kings the story of Elijah. We were reminded repeatedly of God’s provision. As we finished up our lesson, a beautiful rainbow stretched across the valley. Another display of God’s beauty! After our time at Mount Carmel we traveled to a very special place. A falafel restaurant. We were able to fill our plates with hummus, veggies, strange sauces that we don’t know the names of, and most importantly…falafel. These moments of great food and rest have provided us with time to share sweet conversation and loud laughs. (If you haven’t heard, we have a number of epic laughers in our group.)

Mt. Carmel

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).

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As incredible as the first few stops were, our final stop of the day might have been the corporate favorite. The location of Caesarea is breath taking. It sits on a rocky coastline. There was once a palace and beautiful buildings. We gathered together in the theater and listened to Wes read from Acts about Simon Peter listening and following the command from God to travel from Joppa to Caesarea. He not only heard God speak to him, but he acted on those words and made the difficult journey to Caesarea…where the gospel was first shared with the Gentiles. Also, in this place Paul was imprisoned. Caesarea was the place that the gospel went out to the ends of the earth. Sitting with the Mediterranean Sea crashing onto the was such as encouragement for us to take the gospel and share it.

Caesarea Maritima

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).[2] 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.

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As we made the assent into Jerusalem, we reflected on the path that we had traveled through the day. We began at the Sea of Galilee and ended in Jerusalem. The weight of that journey and that the Son of God walked in these places is all together wonderful and overwhelming. Our hearts are full and our minds are reaching the point of saturation. It is exciting to see what our days in Jerusalem hold…tomorrow, in Jerusalem!

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