Israel Study Tour with Calvin Theological Seminary

January 3-15, 2016

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Lord of Creation and Lord of my Life

Shabbat Shalom! Happy Sabbath from the Sea of Galilee! After yesterday’s life-renewing rain, today has again been sunny and gorgeous here in northern Israel. From sundown yesterday to sundown today, it was Sabbath for observant Jews. Most Israelis appeared to have the day off, so in our travels we saw families spending time together outside, as many of us do on Sunday afternoons.

We spent most of our Israeli Sabbath in “God’s garden,” as Professor Amanda called it. We meandered for several hours in two nature reserves in the northernmost part of Israel: Tel Dan and the Hermon Stream (Banias). In these parks and on our travels, we were treated to the Lord of Creation’s rich variety of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits; waterfalls, streams, and springs; rocks, cliffs, hills, fields, and, gloriously, the snow-covered Mt. Hermon. Due to yesterday’s rain, we also slipped and slid through significant mud and over wet rocks. Thank God that none of us have sustained any notable injury!

Tel Dan

On the northern frontier of the kingdom, Dan was particularly well fortified. This gatehouse was built in the ninth century BCE, probably by Ahab, and is part of a series of gateways discovered.

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In both of the nature reserves, we explored significant ruins. At Dan, we saw the excavation of a “high place” that appears to mimic the specifications given in the Old Testament for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. This site is giving new insights into the worship practices of the northern kingdom of Israel. We were challenged to remember that God desires true worship matched with true actions: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Caesarea Philippi

This abundant water supply has made the area very fertile and attractive for religious worship. Numerous temples were built at this city in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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In Banias, we saw some of the ruins of the ancient city of Caesarea-Philippi, including Herod Agrippa’s palace. The most famous landmark in Banias is probably the natural cave known as the Cave of Pan, which may have been thought of as “the gates of Hades” (see Matthew 16:13-20). We were reminded that it was in this city that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And that it was also in this city, whose residents emphasized throughout the centuries worship of many different gods, that Peter responded by confessing that Jesus was the Son of God. We reaffirmed our faith by singing, “We bow down, and we worship you Lord. Lord of all Lords you will be!”

On our way back to the hotel, we drove through Golan Heights, a high, fertile plain with many vineyards. Due to its proximity to Syria, this region also contains miles of barbed wire, bunkers, and military personnel. Assured by our tour guide that we were safe, we nevertheless were mindful that the Lord of all creation and Lord of our lives is not yet acknowledged as Lord everywhere. We pray for courage and love and wisdom to participate in the bringing of his kingdom across the globe.

Tonight marks the halfway point of our time in Israel/Palestine. We spent some time together after yet another delicious dinner sharing highlights, surprises, and hopes for the coming week. Although he wasn’t mentioned by anyone in our group, I think we’d agree that one highlight has been our tour guide, Walid. Walid’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for the land and people of Israel and Palestine have helped to bring this place to life for us. He and our bus driver Eliahu (Eli) buy and prepare lunch for us every day. Walid tells us way more about this country than we could get from a tour book. And his jokes keep us smiling (and groaning). Walid’s wife died very suddenly this past November. As you pray for us in the coming week, please also pray for Walid and for his young daughter, Sarah (who has also traveled with us for several days). Pray that they will experience Christ’s love through us and find comfort in Him.

Thank you for praying for us too. One thing hard to convey through photos is the way that our group, many of whom met each other for the first time less than a week ago, is growing together as a family. We’ve had many enthusiastic conversations about ministry experiences and hopes. We’ve expressed care for those not feeling well. Today we searched (and found) two missing group members. We’ve shared snacks, medications, clothes, laundry soap, hugs, Bible verses, insights, prayers, jokes, songs, and hopefully only a few germs. We’re grateful for this time to journey together. As we end this first week, our prayer is that we all—including you too—will experience Christ’s Lordship in our lives and find in Him much joy.

Cara DeHaan

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