Coming full circle
Thursday was our final day in Israel and like every day prior, it was packed full of sightseeing, walking, climbing, history, spiritual lessons, and fellowship. We spent the majority of the day in the old City of Jerusalem, the old City of David, and ended the day across the north side of the city at the Garden Tomb. The impact of our trip, and especially today, will last a lifetime.
We were up and out of the hotel by 6:30am and headed straight for the Temple Mount (at the top of Mt Moriah) so that we could be first in. Quick history reminder: Mount Moriah is where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, but God provided a ram at the last moment, thus sparing Isaac’s life. Later Herod the Great extended the Mount’s natural plateau by enclosing the area with four massive retaining walls, one of which is the Western (or Wailing) Wall. The expanse of the mount, or courtyard, is the equivalent of 17 soccer fields. It is just massive. In the days of Jesus, the Temple and surrounding courtyard were where the people would come to worship God during the feasts, such as Passover and Sukkot (feast of the Tabernacles), usually traveling great distances by foot or by donkey, etc. Travel was slow and arduous, and the climb to the top of the Mount was not easy, even today. The Temple was destroyed by fire by the Romans in 70 AD and many civilizations have existed in and around this massive structure. In about 691 AD, a Muslim shrine, referred to as the Dome of the Rock, was built and remains today.
The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people because of Muslim control of the Temple Mount. Known in recent centuries as the “Wailing Wall,” this was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. The plaza was created as an area for prayer when Israel captured the Old City in 1967. At times tens of thousands of people gather here for prayer.
We then went to the old City of David, which is on the southern side of Mount Moriah, where the remains of walls, streets, steps, and much more from the days of Jesus have been excavated. We saw the remains of a Jewish house complete with its courtyard and three surrounding rooms; because it was built on the side of the mount, the back room was actually raised (the first split-level, perhaps?).
We then got to explore and squeeze our way through the ruins of a very narrow tunnel that led to an underground spring deep below the surface. This site is called Warren’s Shaft and so named after the British engineer who discovered and led the excavation during the late 1800s.
Next was a long walk down the southern slope of the City of David to the Pool of Siloam, which is living water fed by the natural springs. The pilgrims would have to climb down the 900+ steps to the Pool of Siloam for their ritual cleansing and then hike back up to the Temple Mount. This pool is mentioned several times in the Bible and Pastor Terry read from John 9. The works of God are displayed in so many ways and this was no exception. This passage tells of this being the place where Jesus spit, made mud, put it on the eyes of a blind man, and instructed him to wash it off in this very pool. The blind man obeyed and when he washed the mud off, he could see. For the first time in his life, he could actually see the mount and the Temple and climbed ‘up’ rejoicing. When asked who healed him, he said he didn’t see him…all he knew was that he was blind, but now he could see! The metaphor is that when we believe, trust and obey, then our eyes are opened, our sins are healed, and we turn our eyes ‘up’ to God.
Pool of Siloam
he Pool of Siloam (Hebrew: בריכת השילוח, Breikhat Hashiloah) is a rock-cut pool on the southern slope of the City of David, the original site of Jerusalem, located outside the walls of the Old City to the southeast. The pool was fed by the waters of the Gihon Spring, carried there by two aqueducts.
Lunch was another treat! This time our guide and driver set out bags and bags of delicious (authentic!) Jewish bagels, with plates of hummus and olive oil; goat cheese, hyssop, and olive oil; hyssop and olive oil; and then plates of chocolate…all for dipping our bagels and enjoying. Eating like this in an outside courtyard gave a chance to rest, refuel, and have fun fellowship. We left stuffed, energized, and ready to go.
Our next stop was the Jewish quarter of the old city and it was the most beautiful, clean, and relaxing quarter in the entire old city. We had the good fortune to see family processions for boys about to have their bar mitzvahs, and the ‘parade’ included music, singing, and clapping…what a happy occasion! We walked all around the beautifully maintained quarter. Outside of Western Wall we toured the remains of Robinson’s Arch. Named for a Biblical scholar who identified its remnants, Robinson’s Arch is the name given to a monumental staircase carried by an unusually wide stone arch that once stood at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. This arch was built as part of the massive western retaining wall and is where we got to stand and walk on stones that were there during Jesus’ time. We then sat on some of the original southern steps leading up to the Temple by Robinson’s Arch. We faced south with the Mt of Olives to our left (east). These were the steps Jesus was walked up after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is directly across the valley on the Mt of Olives. Our being here, especially so close to Easter, was mind-blowing.
Our last stop of the trip was probably the most significant, at least for me. It’s really hard to say what has been the most outstanding…everything really…but this was the culmination of our journey and it tied everything together. We traveled just across the rocky knoll north of the Damascus Gate in the City of Jerusalem to what is actually believed to be the Biblical Golgotha, or place of the Skull (the formation of the rock cliff resembled a skull). Bible says that Golgotha was the location of the crucifixion and burial and although there is no hard evidence, much of the topography and the excavated ruins heavily point to this being ‘the place’. The remains of an ancient tomb, believed to be the very tomb that Joseph of Arimathea offered for Christ’s burial, have been excavated. We first sat overlooking Golgotha, then viewed the tomb, and finally sat in an adjacent area for our final lesson and to share communion. Incredible.
Pastor Terry’s lesson tied our trip together by explaining how 2000 years before Christ’s resurrection, God entered into a covenant with Abraham in the desert area where our trip first began. This original covenant ended with the new covenant described by Jesus during the Last Supper and fulfilled with Jesus’ resurrection. I cannot do the lesson justice in this blog; I will, however, do my best to emphasize Terry’s main points.
In Genesis 17, God promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation and when he and Sarah were way past child bearing years, she gave birth to Isaac. God promised him this Holy Land but said His people would be strangers in the land that would not be their own for 400 years. Despite no evidence whatsoever and never seeing the culmination of the many descendents and the establishment of a great nation, Abraham was faithful. Then God sent Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. During Passover, every first born was to die, except for the Israelites who were instructed to slaughter an unblemished lamb, paint the doorways of their homes with the blood, eat the meat along with unleavened bread, and prepare to leave that night after the angel of death visited and took the first born of every Egyptian, including Pharaoh’s first born. That is when Pharaoh finally let God’s people go.
After 40 years of wandering the desert, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land, and the Israelites finally settled here. Even though Moses never reached the Promised Land, he too was faithful to the end.
The old covenant required that blood be shed to atone (or cover) sin. One unblemished lamb was slaughtered and then the priest would lay his hand on another unblemished lamb, which is called the scapegoat. This scapegoat was led off the cliff and carried away the sins of the people. During the Last Supper, Jesus explained the new covenant in terms of a marriage. The cup of wine was the customary way a groom and bride would enter into a marriage covenant. Drinking from the same cup would symbolize their agreement, or covenant, to each other. Jesus also used the ‘cup’ reference while in the Garden of Gethsemane as he waited to be arrested. He prayed to God that if there was a way for this ‘cup’ to pass from Him, to please do so, but if not that God’s will be done. The symbolism of the ‘cup’ and its significance to marriage is in keeping with other passages in the Bible that references the church as being the bride of Christ; it also personalizes this covenant for each and every one of us as we celebrate communion and each drink from the ‘cup’.
At the end of this message we were served communion. The significance of this lesson that brought our trip and our understanding of the Bible full circle was extraordinary.
Our sightseeing and our lessons are now over.
We left for the hotel, had less than two hours to pack and eat our final meal together with our guide and driver before leaving for the airport to check in three hours prior to our 11pm departure. Flights were all on time, but our less than 90 minute connection in Newark where we were required we go through passport control and customs turned into a very stressful run through the concourses. Everything worked out….Of course it did!!
One piece of Scripture that I’d like to remind us of is from Psalm 122: 6, which says “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! ‘May they be secure who love you!” The ancient nations that attacked Israel have long since been covered over by the sands of time. It is no coincidence that the United States has been the most blessed and prosperous nation on earth while being the chief ally and defender of Israel since her statehood on May 14, 1948. The promises of God regarding His relationship with Israel stand as a stark warning to any nation that chooses to be the enemy of Israel. It would behoove America and all nations to stand beside God’s chosen people and pray and act for the peace of Jerusalem.
Personally, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to travel with this group under the leadership of Pastor Terry and his wife, Laura, and for the leadership of our Israeli tour guide, Yehuda, and our driver, Yigal. The friendships made will no doubt be life-long and extend for eternity. Our group consisted of 19 from Oklahoma, two from Michigan, two from Texas, and one from Louisiana. I wouldn’t change a moment of this trip and am forever changed. Thanks for reading!
~ Linda Piatt
Finally, here are some thoughts shared by a few of our traveling companions:
• From Terri Lynn Knight: My hope for all of us taking this journey was that would see the places where Jesus lived, taught, won hearts, suffered, died, and rose again, and that all of who He was and is and will ever be would be made real in our lives. I prayed for safe travels, and that eyes, hearts, and minds would be opened to a new understanding of the unfailing Word of God.
• From Leroy & Iris James: We've been all over the world to many places and seen so much but, none of those trips and places left us with the beautiful knowledge and feelings we gained from this Experience. Iris and I want to thank Terry, Laura, YeHuda, and all you for this wonderful experience.
• From Andy Deck:
“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
On the flight back from Israel, I was trying to process all that I had experienced. How could I possibly sum up the past two weeks? As I reflected, my mind circled around a single concept – gratitude.
First, I’m grateful for my wife – for many reasons – but, in this case, I am grateful for her longing to visit Israel. Personally, I had never felt compelled to travel to Israel. Now I wish I had gone years earlier.
I’m also grateful for our leaders on this trip. Terry did an excellent job creating the flow and providing the key teachings and applications throughout our journey. Laura orchestrated so many details before and during our time in Israel. Yehuda was a wealth of knowledge in many areas that made the trip so much richer. Yigal moved us safely and efficiently all across the nation while getting our lunch together each day. Linda invested hours recording the trip through the blog so we might all have a record of our adventure. These leaders allowed us to remain immersed in the journey without distractions.
Previously, I have expressed gratitude for our fellow travelers. God pulled together the perfect mix of people from different backgrounds, ages, and experiences. I’m increasingly grateful for diversity to fully appreciate the breadth of God’s creation. I would miss so much without God’s reminders that my way is not the only way.
I’m grateful for God’s provision of money and a job with vacation that allowed us to take this adventure of a lifetime.
But when I try to distill all my thoughts and experiences from our journey to Israel, I return to gratitude once again. Not for those important aspects mentioned already, but for a fresh perspective on the most important Gift ever given. I’m grateful for God’s consistent provision in all places and often in unexpected ways. I’m grateful for God’s unmatched wisdom revealed in His amazing plan and favor shown to His people throughout history. But without question, I’m most grateful for God’s undeserved love fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
I have been reminded of my utter hopelessness when left to myself. I have been reminded of God’s relentless pursuit of His sheep. And I have been reminded that Jesus loves me enough to leave heaven, live perfectly, teach well, suffer quietly, die painfully, and rise again. To offer love and joy and hope.