On our way to Jerusalem
On the one hand, to start the day on the friendly, peaceful shores of the Sea of Galilee and end the day at Jerusalem is very exciting. On the other hand, it also comes with a somber reminder of the same journey that Jesus would take. In the case of Jesus, he was making the journey to his crucifixion.
While the beautiful, serene shores of Galilee provided a bit of respite for our hearts and minds, our stops today would leave us wide-eyed and jaws-dropped as we would look upon the architectural genius and might of the Roman Empire along with the breathtaking scenery surrounding a classical, Biblical vista.
Our first stop was Bet She’an National Park, which houses the incredible ruins of the glory that was the Roman and Byzantine city of Bet She’an. As we sat together in an actual Roman theater, we marveled at the scope of Roman influence that permeated this part of the world. We were able to see everything from a large bathhouse to an actual city street. We looked upon marble columns that lined the nearby bazaar. We were even able to see and interact (it was quite amusing) with the Roman latrine. When it comes to using the bathroom, the Romans certainly outdid themselves.
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.
You can’t go very far in Israel without stumbling on a site where important battles have been waged (with perhaps more to come). Our next stop, Megiddo, was no exception. Megiddo is an ancient Biblical city that sat on an important valley thoroughfare in the Jezreel valley. This was naturally a place where battle would take place simply due to it’s location. One such battle led to the demise of King Josiah as he chose, against God’s will, to get in the way of the Egyptian army. Many think this will be the site of the final battle, Armageddon (which has a key root word, Megiddo).
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.
Sometimes God fights your battles for you. Our next site was definitely was the location of one such occurrence. It’s a story that many of us have always enjoyed…the story of Elijah and his showdown with pagan prophets on Mount Carmel. Any thoughts that you and I have had about Mount Carmel simple don’t do it justice. This peak provides a sublime view of Israel in every direction. And, it was a great place for Marc Ediger to remind us of the power of God and Elijah’s unwavering confidence in that very power. Even more, Marc challenged us to pray the same prayer with the same confidence trusting that God makes for an unconquerable ally.
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).
If mountain heights aren’t your thing, you might have preferred our next sea level stop, Caesarea Maritima. On the coast of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, we again were able to witness the beauty of Roman architecture, this time brought to the region by Herod the Great as a means to impress his Roman overlords. With ingenuity well before his time, Herod turned a sandy seashore into a bustling, profitable port of entry. The secular aspects of this site were beyond fascinating but pale in comparison to some of the important happenings of the early Christian revolution in Caesarea Maritima. This was a hub for spreading the gospel. Much of the book of Acts takes place in this very spot, including the conversion of a centurion named Cornelius which opened up the gospel to the Gentiles. Also, Paul stood trial in the Caesarea Maritima courthouse.
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.
Finally, it was time to make our final leg of this journey to Jerusalem. And now, settled into our hotel for the evening, we can look out and see the lights of Jerusalem fill the panorama. This sparkling city has much to behold, and as we rest tonight, we look forward to what God will reveal to us in this holy place.