Israel Study Tour with The Kings University

October 27 - November 8, 2016

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From the desert to the mountain top

Dear friends and family,

We have finally ceased our long wandering in the desert! This morning we all woke up to birdsong, and greenery, and a beautiful view of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee. We stayed the night at a Moshav, similar to a kibbutz except that private ownership is encouraged in a Moshav, whereas a kibbutz is community-owned.

Following breakfast, we boarded the bus for our first hike of the day, a climb up the Arbel. The bones of this country are hard and rocky, but the soil is much richer here which allows for cattle farming. The cows of Bashan are definitely fat. A steep climb up the stony sides of the Arbel brought us past the Horns of Hattim, where the rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus sought refuge against the rabidly anti-Jewish policies of Antiochus Epiphanes. We saw many caves and fortified hiding places along the way.

Mount Arbel

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.

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At a resting stop along the trail, we looked down on a small Arab Muslim village. One of our community led us in prayer, with tears, for the entire village to be able to hear and respond to the good news of Yeshua the Messiah. We blessed the village, and continued up the craggy trail to the top. Our guide and rabbi, Rod, sat down with us under a tree and talked about the Lake of Galilee (~800 feet below sea level, 8 miles wide and 13 miles long; prone to sudden storms which can be quite dangerous).

A Middle Eastern worldview perceives the sea as chaos or the abyss, just like the chaos that existed before creation. The people who fished its waters were bold and courageous. But Yeshua’s talmidim (disciples) were probably mostly teenage boys, and they probably did not know how to swim. When they could not cross the lake because of the storm and saw Yeshua walking toward them on the water (Mt. 14) their initial thought was that he must be a ghost – it is ghosts that live in the Abyss.

These youngsters been chosen by Yeshua to be his talmidim and they were supposed to not only learn from him, but in following him, do exactly as he did, speak exactly as he spoke, teach exactly as he taught, go exactly where he went. In this moment of absolute terror, Peter asks Jesus if it’s really him, and Yeshua answers “I Am!” ( pointing out that he knew exactly who he was). As a good talmid, Peter next wants to know whether this walking on water Thing is part of the stuff they are supposed to imitate. When Yeshua says, “Come!” Peter steps right out of the boat.

Interestingly, it is not Peter’s lack of faith in Yeshua that creates problems for him, it is his lack of faith in his own ability to follow his rabbi. Seeing the winds and the waves and taking his eyes off the Master, Peter begins to sink. But he shouts out for help, and Yeshua reaches for him and walks with him back to the boat.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to know why we have a pretty good idea that most of Yeshua’s disciples were still in their teens, the clue is also found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17:24-27. The Temple Tax in the story is only extracted from men who are 20 years or older. Read the story and check it out!

The other interesting thing about the Arbel is that it is the only real mountain in this area of the Galilee. Most (probably 90%) of Yeshua’s ministry occurred in and around the triangle between Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. So when scripture tells us that Jesus went alone up to the mountain to pray, it’s almost certain that he was climbing up the Arbel. He must have walked and prayed there frequently!

Following our morning hike, we re-boarded the bus and went to find some lunch at a local hole in the wall. Falafel (a deep-fried mixture of chickpeas on pita bread and vegetables) was delicious and filling. We celebrated Rich’s birthday, too, with birthday cake for dessert. He’s not over the hill yet!

Our next stop was Tabgha, or Seven Springs. This is a place that may very likely have been where Yeshua initially called the disciples. It is a rocky beach with excellent fishing prospects. The alacrity with which they dropped their nets and followed him is part and parcel of the way rabbis and talmidim found each other in those days, although in most cases rabbis chose students from among the most promising in the local schools. Unlike other rabbis, Yeshua chose his talmidim. They were not the best students, not the most “academically” promising, but rather the ones who were courageous in the face of the unknown, the chaos of the waters and the crossroads of the then-known world. Tax collectors, fishermen, zealot, and skeptic; all of these left what they were doing and immediately went to learn how to be exactly like their rabbi.

Tabgha

Two miles west of Capernaum is what Josephus referred to as the “well of Capernaum.” Undoubtedly a popular fishing spot of the locals because of its famous “seven springs,” Heptapegon (today the name has been corrupted to Tabgha) is the traditional location for several episodes in Jesus’ ministry.

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Tabgha may also be the place where Yeshua restored relationship with Peter after the resurrection. Peter, concluding that he was clearly not worthy to follow his rabbi after having denied him before the crucifixion, had gone back to the trade he’d grown up in. Having pulled his net up with a huge catch of fish, and having realized it is Yeshua on the shoreline, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to shore. He and Yeshua then have an amazing conversation.

“Simon, son of John, do you agape (love unconditionally) me more than these?” Yeshua asks.
“Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo (love you like a brother) you,” Peter responds. “Feed my lambs,” says Yeshua.

Again, Yeshua asks, “Simon, son of John, do you agape me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you!”
“Take care of my sheep!” replies Yeshua.

Finally, Yeshua says, “Peter, do you phileo me?”
Grieved at being asked a third time, Peter responds, “Lord! You know everything! You know that I phileo you!”
And Yeshua says, “Feed my sheep.”

I love it that our Master speaks to us where we are at. We may not be able to confess it the way we should, but he will take what we are able to give and run with it. Peter could not at that point confess unconditional love for Yeshua; perhaps the immediacy of his failure and his inability to remain at Yeshua’s side when he was most needed weighed too heavily on his heart. Yeshua responds with compassion and understanding. As Rod pointed out, we serve a God who believes in us. He sees us as he created us, and calls us to become like his Son, Yeshua. God gets dusty with us. He lives where we live and walks where we walk. As one of our group said today, “The dust of the feet of the rabbi is the dust we are made of.” We need to be covered in the dust of our God so we can go and make talmidim just like Yeshua did.

We finished the day by visiting the three cities of the triangle; Capernaum where Yeshua’s home ministry base was located, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. In the ruins of the synagogue at Chorazin is a replica of the Seat of Moses, the seat where the rabbi would sit and teach about Torah. Yeshua strongly rebuked the Pharisees of these cities because although they had an incredible depth of knowledge about the Scriptures, they did not walk the talk.

Capernaum

Jesus made Capernaum his home during the years of his ministry: “Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum” (Matt 4:13).

Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen living in the village. Matthew the tax collector also dwelt here.

Capernaum is one of the three cities cursed by Jesus for its lack of faith.

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The synagogue at Capernaum was particularly precious to me because that’s the synagogue that was built by the godly Centurion. Remember the story? He came to Yeshua asking for him to heal his servant. As Yeshua began to get ready to come, the man stopped him, and said, “just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man under authority. I say to one come, and he comes, and to another go, and he goes.”

Yeshua was astonished at the centurion’s faith, and healed the servant in that very moment. As a follower of Yeshua, grafted in to the community of God, I am blessed by the reminder that following in the footsteps of our Master, being his hands and feet, is our way of covering ourselves in his dust. We are his workmanship. We are his friends. We are his talmidim. May we always be the ones who drop everything and run to follow him.

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