In the 1800s, arguably the greatest land purchase in all of history occurred as the United States doubled in size with the acquisition of Louisiana. Louis and Clark embarked on a long journey going from border to border of this young nation. Although there may be a few differences, this is essentially the story of our trip today even it only took a few hours to venture from the east to west in Israel. Again there may be a few differences in this metaphor. Today, a good portion of the day has been spent in a bus, yet we are still amazed at how real and relevant the land and text is in our lives.
We packed up our bags and left the quaint hotel in Galilee that housed us for the past five nights. Our first stop of the day was Nazareth, the town where the Son of God grew up. As we overlooked the city that has grown exponentially since Biblical times, we studied the passage in Luke 4 where Jesus made known that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 which did not sit well with the very people he grew up with.
Situated inside a bowl atop the Nazareth ridge north of the Jezreel valley, Nazareth was a relatively isolated village in the time of Jesus with a population less than two hundred. Today Nazareth is home to more than 60,000 Israeli Arabs; Upper Nazareth is home to thousands more Jewish residents.
From there we ventured to Megiddo, which sits along the most important trade routes in the ancient world making this city an extremely important piece of history. Although countless hours can be spent in the text about the city of Megiddo, we focused on Josiah and how Israel wept at the unexpected end of his reign of Judah. Comparatively, we discussed the fact that Jesus is the greater Josiah as he has established his kingdom on the Earth and his reign will never end. To the west we continued as we made our way up to Mt. Carmel where Elijah proved to the nation of Israel that God is Lord over all; especially the fake god Baal. Elijah’s defining character trait is that he was a strong leader who remained faithful to God, to this we were called to follow his example. We made our last stop finishing our trek from sea to sea (Sea of Galilee to Mediterranean Sea), at Caesarea: the launching point of the Gospel to the rest of the world. Early church fathers such as Peter, Paul, and Phillip the Evangelist all spent time preaching the Gospel of Christ to this massive Roman city.
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.
The last few days have come with some healthy gut checks. Then, Mt. Carmel provided us with timely encouragement. In a world that focuses on autonomy and independence, it is easy to feel lonely. After Elijah’s showdown on Mt. Carmel, he flees to the wilderness. Despite God’s blatant intervention, he still feels alone and is asking the question “What is the point?” Elijah had just proved to the Nation of Israel that Yahweh is the true God and yet the nation falls back into pagan worship leaving Elijah to feel his work has all been a loss. The Lord speaks to Elijah in a whisper and through their conversation we are reminded that even if we feel alone, we do not need to despair. We are never burnt out for good, and he is still at work whether we come to see it or not. We see an Elijah with a faith full of what Israelites call “hutzpah” (like grit) and a confidence in the promises of God. Elijah fights not with clenched fist but open palms in prayer to the Lord. When we feel like our work is useless and our presence is insignificant, the Lord reminds us that our true prize is found in his eternal sovereignty.
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).
Thank you again for your prayers and your support of us on this great journey. We ask that you pray for us and our safety as we finish our time here in Jerusalem as well as for continued understand in the lessons we are learning. Pray that all of us will be like Elijah and remain faithful to God even when our circumstances want us to do otherwise.
By Matthew Meyers, Josiah White, Zac Wiltz
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