Intentionally approaching God
Our first full day in Jerusalem was an incredible one! This city definitely does not disappoint. We began our journey by visiting the Temple Mount! The Dome of The Rock was strict and had me a little on edge, but absolutely beautiful! We learned all about the two different temples that were built before the dome. This beautiful golden dome mosque was built over the foundation stone (the place on Mt. Moriah where Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac)!
Next we took a tour underground under this holy city! Here we walked along the Western Wall and got to experience women praying along the wall and wailing. We then went outside to experience this "wailing wall" for ourselves! Let me just say, it was awesome. The passion the women around me had for the Lord was so incredibly beautiful! Lots of us prayed and wrote notes we stuck in the wall after. We later learned that these prayers we write are never thrown away or burned. They are placed in a burial tomb at the Mt. Of Olives because they are considered holy words. Thinking of all of these prayers people have left just put me in awe of how big our God is, and how He hears all of our prayers! I am blown away by the love our God has for us just by the fact that He has made a way for us to have a relationship with Him! It's what we are created for!
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.
Which speaking of, He is the "living water" our earthly bodies crave! Michael shared how in John 7:37 it says, "...if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink". Not only does he sustain us individually, but He continues to say, "whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'". The living water God provides us with quenches our deepest thirst, and it also flows out to a dry and thirsty world!
This was a lesson after we went through the most adventurous tunnel ever! Hezekiah's Tunnel is a 533 meter walk underground through a tunnel with water that reached passed my knees at some points! It was about a 40 minute walk all the way through, and we sang almost all the way through! The tunnels were like a narrow, walking through water version of the "Pirates of Caribbean" ride! The chilling water was just what I think we all needed to pick us up for the rest of the day! The thrill of exploring through these tunnels was a memory I will cherish forever!
A 1750-foot (530m) tunnel carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other, Hezekiah’s Tunnel together with the 6th c. tunnel of Euphalios in Greece are considered the greatest works of water engineering technology in the pre-Classical period. Had it followed a straight line, the length would have been 1070 ft (335m) or 40% shorter.
We went back to walk around the walls of the Old City. Here we went to the Southern Steps. This entire sight was built with precision, but the steps there were not the same width. It turns out that it was so that people of the day would be more intentional about approaching God! For us to pay attention and guard our steps. And isn't that so true in our lives? Many of these previous posts have included how we can't compromise in the decisions we make. Once we make one, it's easier to lead ourselves into a world of compromising and soon we are somewhere we could have never anticipated. Each step is a beautiful representation of walking towards Christ intentionally to experience Him in the deepest and most indescribable ways!
An enormous flight of steps leads to the Southern Wall from the south. They were excavated after 1967 by archaeologist Benjamin Mazar and are the northernmost extension of the Jerusalem pilgrim road leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount via the Double Gate and the Triple Gate, collectively called the Huldah Gates. These are the steps that Jesus of Nazareth and other Jews of his era walked up to approach the Temple, especially on the great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.  The stairs that lead to the double gate are intact and "well-preserved." The steps that lead to the triple gate were mostly destroyed. / The risers are low, a mere 7 to 10 inches high, and each step is 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing the ascending pilgrims to walk with a stately, deliberate tread. The pilgrims entered the temple precincts through the double and triple gates still visible in the Southern Wall. Together, the double and triple gates are known as the Hulda Gates, after the prophetess Huldah.
We made our way out of this mountain top, and traveled to none other than Bethlehem! We were in the very city where Jesus was born! We went to Shepherd's Fields and into the caves. We had Christmas in the caves to celebrate the birth of Jesus and worshiped with Christmas music! The voices and the echoes of the cave was breathtaking! And to think, we were so close to the location Jesus was born gave these songs a whole new emotion and realness!
Biblical scholars believe Bethlehem, located in the "hill country" of Judah, may be the same as the Biblical Ephrath which means "fertile", as there is a reference to it in the Book of Micah as Bethlehem Ephratah. The Bible also calls it Beth-Lehem Judah,and the New Testament describes it as the "City of David". It is first mentioned in the Bible as the place where the matriarch Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside" (Gen. 48:7). Rachel's Tomb, the traditional grave site, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem. According to the Book of Ruth, the valley to the east is where Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. It was the home of Jesse, father of King David of Israel, and the site of David's anointment by the prophet Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his warriors brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.
Last little note about Bethlehem; it was a place where lambs were raised. Michael pointed out how it was interesting how Jesus was born in this very place and is known as the Lamb of God! But here is where my mind was truly blown by God's love and power! The shepherds were seen as unreliable and lowly in those times. But who did God tell about Jesus' birth first? The shepherds in the field! (Luke 2:8-21) After they visited the newborn, Mary, and Joseph, "they made it known"! This made "all who heard it [wonder] at what the shepherds had told them".
God can use anyone as His messenger! We are never too incapable, not knowledgable enough, or any of the insecurities we may feel when sharing the truths God has shown us in our walks! He uses each and every one of us! He provides us with the living water- the water that sustains us and overflows for others to experience! A love we ourselves cannot provide for others if we are not drinking from this living water ourselves. A gift we are freely given and only need to accept! What I've learned from this trip is the Lord sustains me! He hears my prayers! He longs to be with me! He knows my true name and is waiting with open arms for each and everyone of us to experience freedom and joy with Him!
P.S. If you're reading this then GO TO ISRAEL! It will not disappoint! :) Liz S.