Israel Study Tour with Cornerstone University

Jan 3-13, 2016

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A community of faith which spans the history of mankind

Jake Oswald writes:

We began the day by visiting the awe-inspiring site of the Herodian, a fortress built by Herod the Great in the first century. He was the King of the Jews who was appointed by Caesar because of his incredible political savvy. His great aspirations for fame, power and prestige were almost thwarted because he only ruled over a very small area. Instead of giving up, he used techniques we still can’t figure out to build some of the most amazing structures in the world. The fortress of the Herodian is one of these structures. It sits on top of a mountain and had very large walls, so large that Herod could see over Bethlehem and into Jerusalem from the tower. He demolished the mountain next to his so that he could pile up the rubble around the Herodian, creating a very steep climb up to his fortress. It would be nearly impossible to siege this structure. In his desire to defy nature, he also created water cisterns within the mountain that could hold over ten years’ worth of water for the whole fortress in a place where water is very difficult to acquire. In order to accomplish this building project, he had to: command an incredible amount of slaves, impose very heavy taxes, kill anyone who threatened his plans, and dominate everyone in his path. It is nearly impossible for us to imagine the earthly power of this man.

Herodium

Herodium is 3 miles southeast of Bethlehem and 8 miles south of Jerusalem. Its summit is 2,460 feet above sea level.

Herod built or re-built eleven fortresses. This one he constructed on the location of his victory over Antigonus in 40 BC.

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As we stood at the top of the rubble of the Herodian today Dr. Joe Stowell described for us the stark contrast between the Herod we see in the architecture and the Jesus we read of in the Gospels. Right at the height of King Herod’s reign the real King of the Jews, Jesus, was born. He was born in Bethlehem, a city which Herod could see with his naked eye from his fortress. While Herod owned many buildings as impressive as the Herodian, Jesus was lying in a hard manger without as much as a room in which to sleep. While Herod was King, Jesus was an infant. By the time Jesus began his ministry, Herod had died and his sons had taken over, but the infamy and accomplishments of Herod were well-known to Jesus and his audience. So it is quite possible that Jesus had Herod in mind when He calmed the storm to show his authority over nature. Herod had slaves, but Jesus was a servant. Herod neglected and exploited the poor, but Jesus blessed and cared for them. Herod’s reign was temporary but Jesus reign is eternal. Finally, Herod’s tomb was full but Jesus’ tomb was empty!

After seeing the Herodian it was fitting to visit the place of Jesus birth in Bethlehem, in the Church of Nativity. The church is shared between three major Christian groups: Armenian, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. Each group has a separate area of worship and they take turns using the space. The birthplace and manger of Jesus are underneath the floor of the Eastern Orthodox church. At first, I was a bit surprised to see all of the adornments around the worship areas and especially around the birthplace. Although it was not my preference to have all the gold plated things all around, I had to realize that much of what is present exists because many people have given sacrificially to offer something of value to commemorate our savior.

Chad Sparling writes:

Immanuel, “God with us”. This distinct title is given to Jesus Christ, born in the town of Bethlehem, also known as the City of David. Our day began with a trip to Herodium followed by an impactful visit to the Church of the Nativity. While many different parts of the church date back to numerous periods, many consider this to be the site of the birth of Jesus Christ. While we are all weary from our travels, I am sure that all of my peers would agree with me that the significance of standing, praying, and singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing in the birthplace of our Lord and Savior is a moment which will resonate deep within our souls for all of eternity.

Our days here are long and tiring with lots of walking, hiking, and talking. The visit to the Israel museum was no different, but the excitement and anticipation I felt for this specific site gave me the energy boost I needed. We began this site with a visit to the massive model of Jerusalem as it would have looked like during the time of the second temple. The massive city of Jerusalem stands out with complex passageways, unique architecture, and a rich - yet tense - religious history. We were able to see how important the geography of the land is to the protection of this precious city and to marvel at the enormity of the Temple Mount. It truly is humbling to sit on the steps where Jesus entered the temple and to navigate the same streets where Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles.

I believe that we as Christians sometimes underestimate the importance of our literary and architectural history. These two historical segments meet at the Shrine of the Book. Within this complex lies the important literary works known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are important for numerous reasons, one being that they stretch our history of biblical literature back an extra 1000 years. Most of our modern Bibles are based on the Masoretic Text of 1008 A.D. The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls - found in a small cave at Qumran in 1952 - comes from the fact that many of them are nearly identical to the Masoretic Text of 1008 A.D. This allows us to see that the same Biblical text(s) we have in 1008 A.D. are essentially the same as we had during the time of 100-200 B.C. Thus, to see these in person gives me the opportunity to see how those at Qumran lived and to understand what they read. I connect with those who followed YHWH over 2,000 years ago, and I join into a community of faith which spans the history of mankind, yet it subtly bows down to the Maker of heaven and earth, Yahweh.

Our last site that we visited today was my favorite exhibit of the entire trip so far. We were given the privilege of viewing thousands of years of history all within one wing of the Israel Museum. These ancient architectural finds showcase the cultural and political influence before, during, and after the time of Israel. Many items stood out, but I will briefly touch on a few that I believe enrich my faith in a way which was not possible prior to this trip. The first artifact that stood out to me was the Tel Dan stella found at the site of Tel Dan. Tel Dan is an ancient site, full of history and intrigue as a key city located in the northeastern part of Israel. This stella contains a reference to the “House of David”, a key textual indication of the Davidic dynasty found in the Bible. This piece is important because it confirms what we find in the Bible with extrabiblical evidence. Such evidence gives me hope that we will find more information during the archaeological dig that will take place at Tel Dan in the summer of 2016.

The site of Tel Arad is one which is located in the Judean desert region of Israel. One of the pieces in the Israel Museum is that of a recreation - with some original pieces - of what many archaeologists believe is the holy of holies that was located at Arad. While this holy site was not entirely identical to that of the temple found in Jerusalem, it does provide insight into what it must have been like to be a high priest during the time of the old covenant. Another piece in the museum ties in beautifully here because of the importance of the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. There is a bone fragment which has a nail driven right through the middle of it that is preserved in a glass case in the museum. While it is somewhat haunting, this piece reminded me of the overwhelming presence of love and sacrifice that filled Jesus as he took on the evil kingdom of Satan and defeated it once and for all. Surely we live in a time of waiting, but we can point to the resurrection and boldly say, “My King wins.” Jesus Christ has set forth a new covenant with the people of God so that we may approach the Father and dwell in His presence. The days of continual sacrifice and ritual cleansing are gone, and behold the days are upon us when the Holy Spirit makes a home within the people of God and enables us to walk in His power and to follow the example of Jesus Christ as he lived here in this land, a land of pain, promise, and redemption.

Shalom.

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