The center of our lifestyle
The day again started on the shores of the Galilee with a devotion. As we looked out over the Sea of Galilee where so much of Jesus’s three years of ministry took place, the sky was overcast. The day looked like it would be gray all day and we expected rain.
After loading the bus it was a short trip through Tiberias to Mount Arbel. There was rain on the windshield of the bus, but Yehuda said it was just moisture from the clouds. We hiked up the mountain and was mostly hidden in the cloud cover. On top we discussed that the valley below was the way from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. It may very well have been the first path traveled by Jesus towards fulfilling the promise of salvation. We could see the old and new cities of Migdalia, which are also known as Magdela; this was the city where Mary Magdalene was from. People were often referred to by they city from which they came. The view from the other side was of the city of Tiberias.
Mount Arbel (Hebrew: הר ארבל, Har Arbel) is a mountain in The Lower Galilee near Tiberias in Israel, with high cliffs, views of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, trails to a cave-fortress, and ruins of an ancient synagogue. Mt. Arbel sits across from Mount Nitai; their cliffs were created as a result of the Jordan Rift Valley and the geological faults that produced the valleys.
Terry gave a short lesson and reminded us that Jesus often went away to the mountains to pray and take time to be alone and 'recharge His battery' (see Mark 6:46; Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12; and Luke 9:28). Today was last half of the Jewish Sabbath and it seemed fitting to be here and have a chance to rest. We were given about 20 minutes for personal reflection, for prayer, and to just be still on the mountain. Another tour group was nearby and someone played the guitar while the group softly sang praise songs. It was overcast, it was a bit cool, there was a slight breeze, we overlooked of the entire Sea of Galilee, the shore, and the valley to Nazareth. Peaceful.
Our next stop was Bet She'an, which is an ancient city on a hill. We arrived at what is typically the 'other end' (not the normal entrance) of the national park. Without going into details, I will tell you that our entry into Bet She'an was 'unorthodox'. I probably have piqued your interest, but want to this part of the story is really more of a 'conversation piece' so, dear blog readers... make it a point to directly ask your friend(s) who are on this tour what 'the rest of the story' is.... :-)
Beth She'an is located on the Via Maris and was very important for trading and commerce. Of major Biblical significance, this is where King Saul was defeated by the Philistines. This site is where the Philistines paraded Saul's dead body for all to see. When Saul died, then David became king.
At the top of the hill we first found the remains of an Egyptian Governor, and that was only the beginning of what we would see here. We walked a little further and then..WOW!! We saw the excavated ruins of old Roman and Byzantine towns. Unlike the ancient Jewish villages we toured yesterday where family and community life revolved around the synagogue, this was more like Las Vegas (as several members of our group commented). We saw huge Corinthian columns and the ruins of large fountains, country clubs / gymnasiums, an immense theater, homes, and baths, all surrounding the 'Agora', or open market area that was the filled with all sorts of shops around the enormous courtyard.
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.
This Greco-Roman style of city was in stark contrast to the sense of community and family (Insula) we found in the Jewish cities and towns. This culture revolved around commerce, entertainment, and of things outside the family and the home. Yesterday's blog described the Jewish way as centered around the synagogue and family and that is how Jesus described heaven to us in Scripture.
We find that our lives today are much like the Greco-Roman lifestyle and our faith is often tested by the pressures of society. The pull of this lifestyle will pull people from the truth of God. Our lesson here was that of our values and standing firm in our faith. God is our center and is what our families and our lives should revolve around.
While at Beth She'an, we began to see rays of the sun peeking through the clouds, and then the hillside lit up with the sun, which lasted for the rest of the day.
Our next stop was Yardenit, a baptismal site on the Jordan River. Twelve members of our group chose to baptized or rededicated to Christ in baptism in the Jordan River. The surroundings were tranquil and spectacular. The river banks were beautifully tree-lined, the temperature was about 80 degrees, it was sunny and we had a gentle refreshing breeze. Perfect. Pastor Terry and the twelve entered the water, and one by one were baptized. The clouds were gone and full sunshine lit up the river in all of its splendor.
After everyone had changed back into dry clothes, we had time to shop and taste many varieties of date honey. Delicious! Next we jumped back on the bus and headed to the area's most popular coffee shop! It was not Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, but it was just a good (maybe better!) and such a relaxing treat. By this time it was 5 o'clock and we were headed 'home' to our hotel, but our guide, Yahuda, decided we should take a detour and he brought us to the world's first kibbutz called Deganya. Yehuda told of the famous battle on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel became a nation. The kibbutz had sent all women and children away in anticipation of this attack and only 26 men were left. The Syrian Army was attacking, using old French tanks they had from WWII and the 26 Jewish men had dug trenches all around the kibbutz, and had only Molotov cocktails for weapons. As the first tank entered the kibbutz, one of the 26 stood and threw the Molotov cocktail into the tank...it was set on fire and the rest of the Syrian army retreated! What a God moment for the State of Israel!!
Here's a fun group fact: one member's Fitbit has tracked our walking/hiking and reportedly, since we left the airport in OKC, we have taken more than 123,715 steps, walked more than 52 miles, and climbed more than 300 flights of stairs. Gosh, that makes me feel better about eating dessert at nearly every meal!! Shalom!!