Good news for ALL the people!
Turns out we aren’t the only ones that think Jerusalem is a special place. Our visit to the Temple Mount provided any proof we needed to know that multitudes are drawn to this city, We were a part of today’s multitude along with other Christians, many Jews, and many Muslims. Dan reminded us that this special spot started with a biblical story that can be difficult to understand. It is the story of when Abraham brought Isaac to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him, before God put a stop to it. Dan helped us to understand how this was an important moment in the history of mankind as Abraham put all pagan practice in the rear-view mirror and completely trusted God.
We were able to witness decade after decade of construction followed by destruction. We were able to garner more information about the history of this place as it pertained to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We learned about David making this the capital of Judah. We were able to walk in the Rabbinic Tunnels that exposed parts of the Western Wall that dated back to ancient times. Touching these walls helped us to understand the massive undertaking Herod the Great took on to build a flat area on the mountain for the temple.
We were also witnesses to just how important the Western Wall is to the Jewish people. We watched them pray at, what is to them, the most holy place on earth. We were not just witnesses, however, and took time to offer our own prayers along the wall.
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.
Leaving Jerusalem, we made our way to Herodium. This is another one of Herod the Great’s impressive architectural sites. But, what sets Herodium apart from the others is this was the final resting place for King Herod as it was a special place to him.
Herodium is 3 miles southeast of Bethlehem and 8 miles south of Jerusalem. Its summit is 2,460 feet above sea level.
Herod built or re-built eleven fortresses. This one he constructed on the location of his victory over Antigonus in 40 BC.
Next, we were able to visit Bethlehem, but even more, we were hosted by Christians that still call Bethlehem home even though many Christians have had to leave. We were treated to a delicious lunch and spent some time shopping in the bazaar. It was a great way to encourage the local Christians.
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.
Finally, we made our way to the shepherd fields and thought about what it would be like to be watching your flocks just outside the city of Bethlehem as the savior of the world is being born,. Even more, what would it mean to hear the angelic pronouncement about this birth and to be invited to bear witness to the incarnation. We learned that the shepherds most likely made shelter in the caves in these hills, and were able to look at some possible locations where the shepherds of Luke 2 might have been.
As we imagined these good shepherds looking upon THE Good Shepherd, God with us, we were a good distance from the hustle and bustle of the holy city of Jerusalem. This was a great reminder that whether you are gazing at ornate temple art, leaning into a special wall, or looking at a field where shepherds tend to their flocks, God is here. God is with us, and we need nothing more than this to make any dwelling, cave, or palace holy.