But who do you say that I am?
It's Sunday in Israel; the Jewish Sabbath is over and our normal day of worship has begun. We again started with a devotional time on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in gorgeous weather. Because it was Sunday, Pastor Terry preached a mini-sermon on Matthew 8 where the disciples and Jesus, who was sleeping, were in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when suddenly a fierce storm came up. The lesson was that often in life we are abruptly faced with a 'storm' that is totally out of our control. It could be something like as a tragic car accident or bad medical report, etc. We don't know what to do, and often there is nothing we can do. The disciples were afraid for their lives during this storm and they did not know what to do. Jesus simply spoke and calmed the seas. Our lesson today is that faith drives out fear. Our time in Israel has provided us with many history lessons about how trustworthy God has been throughout the ages. Rather than focusing on our circumstances, we should instead focus on the strength of our faith in God.
After our mini 'church service' it was a short walk to the docks and we boarded a boat for a memorable trip on the Sea of Galilee. Unlike the night-time storm described in Matthew 8, our morning was glorious and the Sea was very calm. No motion-sickness worries for our group! As we left the shore we first raised an American flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner. Next we raised the Israeli flag and our boat guide sang the Israeli National Anthem. Incredible. We then had some time to simply enjoy the ride and the views of many of the places we had visited for the past two days all the while listening to beautiful hymns (How Great Thou Art, It is Well with My Soul, and more). Then the boat came to a rest and our boat guide demonstrated how to fish using a net like the disciples did back in the days of Jesus' ministry. The nets were thrown twice, first on the left side and then on the right with no results. It's definitely not as easy as it sounds and the nets are extremely heavy and difficult to pull back into the boat, even without fish. To be on the Sea of Galilee fishing 2,000 years later is impactful and surreal. We will run out of adjectives before this trip is finished. We then began heading back to the docks and it was time for some very festive Israeli music and dancing! Our tour guide, Yehuda (which means Judah in English) and our boat guide taught us two fun Israeli line dances and we danced and smiled our way back to the shore.
After disembarking we walked to the Boat Museum. In early 1986, during a period of drought, two fisherman discovered the remains of a fishing boat in an area by the shore that was now dry. It was found to be from the very era of Jesus and the disciples. It took an extraordinary amount of work to excavate without destroying it, but it is now available for the world to see first hand in this museum.
It was now time to jump aboard our touring bus and we headed north for about 45 minutes to Tel Dan, which is very close to Lebanon. In fact, as we were driving, we could see Lebanon to our left and Syria was just over the mountains to our right. Today was cooler but still wonderful and we were delighted to see lush greenery with fabulous springs of crystal clear spring-fed creeks. I think I could live in such a place!! Peppered throughout this site were the remains of Israeli bunkers and war trenches that were used to protect Israel against the Syrians prior to statehood in 1967.
Tel Dan is figured prominently in the book of Judges 18, where it was originally referred to as the city of Laish. There are 12 Tribes of Israel and when they split, 10 were in the north and 2 were in the south. The two tribes in the south worshiped God at the Temple in Jerusalem, but the tribes in the north, under King Jeroboam (about 930 B.C.) ended up building two temples in the northern region, one in Dan and one in Bethel; he did this so that these people would not go to Jerusalem. These temples were modeled after the temple in Jerusalem and were built according to biblical specifications. However, they incorporated pagan gods into their worship, even worshiping the golden calf. Our lesson was from the book of Amos 5:22-24, where God said He would not accept their sacrifices or their worship; they had many gods and not a heart for just the one true God. Our faith lesson here was that we worship God wholeheartedly and that we have no other gods but Him.
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.
Also in Tel Dan we saw the ruins of two city gates, including one that is thought to be from time of Abraham, and learned of their significance. Gates were the front door to the city. They were used as a means of defense. They were used for commerce, and they were also considered to be a prestigious meeting place for prominent citizens. For defense, the width of the gates would allow approximately 30 soldiers through at a single time. If soldiers were attacking, they would easily be outnumbered by the soldiers inside the gate. For commerce, the city could set up gatekeepers who could make sure that traders paid their taxes before entering the cities to sell their wares. As for a place of prominence, please see references in Ruth 4:1-2, and in 2 Samuel 19:8.
As we were leaving Tel Dan the rain began to fall and we headed to Caesarea Philipi, which today is called Banias. The rain stopped and the sun came out just as we entered this city, which was also lush with beautiful wide streams of delicious running mountain water that flowed from the melting snow of Mt Hermon. We were not brave enough to fill our water bottles, but Yehuda filled his to the brim and said it's the best tasting water ever. The city of Caesarea Philipi was built by Herod the Great's son, Herod Philip. This culture believed in many pagan Greek gods (Greek mythology) and had a Temple for the god, Pan, who was believed to be a satyr, half man and half goat; a Temple for Zeus; a stage for dancing goats; and an area set aside as the tomb of dancing goats (yes, that's right...a goat cemetery) where the bones of many goats were discovered. Pan was considered to be the god of the wild, and primarily the god of unrestrained lust. In today's culture, the parallel would be the lure of pornography and such. Another prominent god was Hades, who was the supposed ruler of the underworld, which was considered to be the bland existence one went to after death. Caves were thought to be the openings for souls to enter Hades. Terry's lesson was from Matthew 16: 13-20, which took place in Caeserea Philipi....it's mind-boggling to imagine that we could have been in the very spot where these verses actually were spoken. In these verses Jesus asked Peter "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." This is where Jesus said that "...on this rock (i.e. Peter's proclamation) I will build my church, and the gates of hell (Hades) shall not prevail against it." Jesus was denouncing the lies of the pagan gods. Our faith lesson was that even though our culture often conflicts with message of the gospel and it seems as though the battle is lost, in the end God will prevail and we are not to fear.
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.
As we headed to our next and final stop, the top of Mount Bental in the middle of the Golan Heights, the clouds rolled in and the rain was fierce. Fortunately there was a wonderful coffee shop called Coffee Anan (which is a pun on the UN leader and which also means 'coffee of the clouds'...very appropriate!) at the top. Despite getting soaked, we ran through the downpour and thick fog for wonderful coffee and pastries and hoped the skies would clear. They didn't. We were disappointed because the views here are supposedly quite scenic. Nevertheless, we relaxed and visited with one another over a cup of java, and Yehuda gave us a history lesson of this area. The Golan Heights were under Syrian control until Israel conquered it in during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. There are UN forces here today keeping eyes on the terrorist activity in very nearby Syria.
The rain did not let up and it was another mad dash in the downpour back to the bus, and then a leisurely 45 minute drive back to our hotel and that's when we saw the sun again.
How do you describe our day? Our trip? Even this blog cannot do it justice. It can't. You just have to experience it. There are 24 of us who are very glad we are doing just that.
Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to our hotel that has served us and fed us well for four nights and we head to areas in and around Jerusalem, including Bethlehem and Nazareth. Until then...