A God who listens
Coming into Day 6, after hiking and learning about the land of Israel, I am still star struck. As we journey to the different places around the Jezreel Valley and Coastal Plain of Israel, we were able to experience and hike around Beth She’an, Nazareth, Mount Carmel, and Caesarea.
Personally, a huge part of this trip is learning the culture, language, and places and for me to grasp the bible in a deeper way. A large part of this experience is reading in Hebrew, as the English versions have significant limitations in the translation. It does not do the fullest job of translating the feelings and meanings, so just learning the city's name like Beth She ‘an (meaning “house of strength”) changed my entire outlook on 1st Samuel 31. Today we were able to hike through the city where Saul fell and hung on the walls and why this was a massive blow to the Israelites. Ronen, our tour guide, explained the significance of the city due to its prime trading location, meaning that other armies like the Romans would take over and use it. He also took us on an adventure through the city containing beautiful and impressive Greco-Roman ruins, and how God used the city life for his teachings.
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.
Our next stop took us to the city of Nazareth, Jesus's hometown. The drive through the valley to get to the highly elevated city was beautiful, and you can truly see the blessings God has bestowed on the land. As we pulled into the town though, it had no evidence of ruins like the other sites and did not look beautiful at all. However, the most meaningful part of this location was the view at the top of these hills. These beautiful hills overlooked the entire Jezreel Valley and just imagining that Jesus was on top of one of these hills being in solitude talking to God as he was growing up was breathtaking.
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.
Mount Carmel, to me, reminded me of a drive to South Lake Tahoe or a drive on the backroads from Lincoln to Newcastle. Although the exact location of the story of 1 Kings 18, where the duel between prophets of Baal and Elijah is not known, it was still incredible to hear Matt speak about how this story is about a God who listens. It blew my mind how our God is always the one and only God who is still there for us and is waiting for us to talk to him.
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 final site we went to was the largest port in the world 2,000 years ago, Caesarea. This port looked out into the Mediterranean Sea, providing indescribable beauty to the Roman ruins. Here we discussed how new and information travels through cities like these and how they contributed to the spreading of the Gospel. We also talked about how the megalomaniac Herod the Great built this large port city, and how God set the stage for Peter, and then Paul to spread the Gospel to large crowds, perhaps even in the arena. The coolest thing about this place other than the stories and locations was how a stone plate of Pontius Pilate dated back to the time of Jesus was found here at this Port 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.
This entire experience in Israel continues to prove to me that our God is the one true God, that he is all powerful and he does listen and cares about us, and that he can make the best out of situations we believe to be unfruitful.