Our team has certainly come together well during our first week. While many of the team are from Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, we have others who have joined from places like Michigan, Louisiana, and Texas. We have people from several different denominations and church backgrounds within the group. Members have consistently demonstrated love and kindness to one another in small ways while also managing to laugh about some of the unexpected turns along the way. This feels like true Christian unity – or what I imagine it should feel like.
Our last stop today was Mount Bental in the northeastern part of the Golan Heights. This mountain is just south of Mount Hermon and has been contested with Syria over the past 70 years. We hoped to see Lebanon and Syria from this location, but experienced our first rain of the trip. We sat in the coffee shop named Coffee Anan (“anan” means “cloud” in Hebrew) as the cloud literally sat on top of us. We waited briefly in hopes the weather would clear, but ended up heading back to the bus through a cold, driving rain. While disappointed (and cold and wet), the mood remained remarkably upbeat and peaceful.
Ever have one of those experiences where God gives you a reminder of His presence with you. Back in my room, I opened the Word and found myself reading Psalm 133. Listen to this:
- Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
- It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, On the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
- It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
This simple psalm of David lifts up the blessing we experience through unity with one another. David makes two comparisons to emphasize just how precious unity is – oil and water. This week we have learned about the essential nature and many uses of olive oil. We have also learned about the essential nature of water. Civilizations have fought over areas that provide ample and pure sources of water.
However, unity is not to be compared with any oil or any water. It is compared with the extra virgin oil used to anoint the priest – the very best and most “precious oil.” And unity is not to be compared with any water source – not even fresh running water from a spring in the desert. No, unity is like the “dew of Hermon” – supplied by God Himself in the most refreshing form we can imagine. But we didn’t have to imagine – we were allowed to experience God providing water. And we didn’t have to guess why our tour was interrupted today. His explanation has been recorded by David 3,000 years ago and preserved for our blessing and instruction.
Father, thank You for revealing Yourself in small and undeniable ways.
Our Monday events: Early this morning we had overcast skies, but the sun's rays were streaming through the clouds and it was beautiful as we began our final morning devotion on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Since day one, Terri has led us in worship songs every day and today Andy taught us an African praise song that required lots of fun participation. The beautiful setting and the singing is a great reminder to us of the power and love of Christ.
We loaded the bus for our next adventure and drove through mountains and some heavy rain to the city of Nazareth. Not much has been excavated in Nazareth, but this is where Jesus was raised as a boy. Pastor Terry read from Matthew 13:53-58 where it says that a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household. He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Our takeaway was that faith can move mountains, but the lack of faith produces very little. We then stopped on the edge of the hill overlooking some very steep and dangerous cliffs where it is believed to be the place spoken of in Luke 4 beginning in verse 16. Jesus spoke in the temple, reading from the book of Isaiah. After he spoke, the people of Nazareth asked him if he wasn't that Joseph's son, the boy that grew up here. They were angry that a mere neighborhood boy would profess to have such great knowledge about God’s kingdom and the ways of the Lord. They rose up and brought him to the brow of a hill so that they could throw him down the cliff. His ministry was not finished yet and he passed right through their midst and left. Standing at these cliffs that were probably where this happened and brought this story to life in such an amazing way.
We got back on the bus and crossed the Jezreel Valley headed for Megiddo. This is another massive Tel with underground springs that was first settled more than 7,000 years ago. Experts say that 25 civilizations were built here and destroyed. King Ahab built a great city here with a splendid palace, stables, gates, huge walls, temples, vast grain bin, water cistern, including a deep tunnel where they could secretly retrieve water in case there were enemies nearby. Megiddo is mentioned many times in the Old Testament (Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Kings, and others), and in the New Testament, Megiddo is central to the book of Revelation. In Hebrew, the word, Megiddo, is referred to as Armageddon, and this is where it is believed that the final battle takes place. Christ comes and destroys evil by the sharp sword coming from his mouth, which is the Word of God. As we stood on the mountain top looking out across the valley, it reinforced how precious our lives are and how each day is a gift from God. We are so thankful.
From the earliest times (EB) to the earliest historical records of the area (Thutmose III) to the future (Revelation 16), Megiddo assumes a prominent role. This is largely owing to its strategic location astride the Megiddo Pass (Wadi Ara) and inside the busy Jezreel Valley.
While here we climbed down into the tunnel to a water spring. This trip was 183 steps straight down and many meters through a chiseled out tunnel to find the spring. The trip out was only 80 stairs and with all the hiking we've done, it wasn't too taxing on us. So glad we didn't try this on day one!
Today's lunch was at an authentic Druze restaurant and the meal was excellent. Salads are the norm at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and this was no exception, but today's selection included many tasty new items and herbs. We ate pita bread with either chicken or falafel and we feasted yet again. Darn, it's raining again...
We then made a short bus trip to the top of Mount Carmel, which is where Elijah challenged King Ahab, who worshipped the god Baal to a sort of duel. Two alters were built for sacrifices and the challenge was for each to ask his God to destroy his own with fire. King Ahab called on the god of Baal to no avail. Then Elijah soaked his wood in water (for emphasis) and when he asked our God to send fire, it came immediately and destroyed the altar completely. Israel's heart, which was far from God, turned back to the one true God.
Biblically, Mt. Carmel is referenced most often as a symbol of beauty and fertility. To be given the “splendor of Carmel” was to be blessed indeed (Isa 35:2). Solomon praised his beloved: “your head crowns you like Mount Carmel” (Song 7:5). But for Carmel to wither was a sign of devastating judgment (Nahum 1:4).
The last stop of the day was Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea. There was a storm far out and the waves were tremendous and the skies had cleared so we could walk out to the water passing under ancient aqueducts. We were able to touch the water and took pictures.
Caesarea was built as a port city by King Herod who created a sea wall completely around a port to create calm water for ships in port. King Herod was a shrewd business man. The port not only served as a place of commerce where he could charge taxes, it also provided a location for a quick escape from Israel in case of an uprising. The sea wall around the port is no longer visible from the shore. It has tipped over into the sea most likely as a result of tsunamis. Herod also built a Theater, which has been somewhat renovated and the city today uses it for many activities. We got to go down into what's left of the Hippodrome, which is where they had chariot races and where Christians were sometimes executed and eaten by lions. Herod also had his court and jail here and it is believed that the apostle Paul came to Caesarea to preach and was imprisoned here for probably a couple of years. Another interesting fact is that in 10 B.C., Herod brought the Olympics here and the games were played in the Hippodrome. This was reportedly the first time that three medals for each event were awarded; previously, only one medal per game was awarded.
We then headed to our new hotel in the heart of Jerusalem; it's another beautiful resort with wonderful food! Tomorrow we go to Bethlehem and other places in and around Jerusalem. Shalom!
The city and harbor were built under Herod the Great during c. 22–10 BC near the site of a former Phoenician naval station known as Stratonos pyrgos (Στράτωνος πύργος). It later became the provincial capital of Roman Judea, Roman Syria Palaestina and Byzantine Palaestina Prima provinces. The city was populated throughout the 1st to 6th centuries CE and became an important early center of Christianity during the Byzantine period, but was mostly abandoned following the Muslim conquest of 640. It was re-fortified by the Crusaders, and finally slighted by the Mamluks in 1265.