Israel Study Tour with Pastor Steve Williams

May 16-26, 2016

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Oh Jerusalem... Where to start!?

What a city! Modern day Jerusalem is home to 800,000 people, divided in approximately thirds between Arabs, Ultra Orthodox Jews, and Modern Israeli Jews. The city was first built by Canaanites about 4,000 years ago. Jerusalem sits on Mt. Moriah, where Abraham came to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22) and later where King David moved his capital city.

We toured the tunnels of the Western "Wailing" Wall of the Temple, and had time to go up onto the Temple Mount. This area is now controlled by Muslims. It's hard to describe what it was like to be on the mount... Like this strange blend of hostility and reverence... Everything is tightly controlled, and we even had Muslim security come by to listen to Ronen's teaching to make sure he didn't say anything "inappropriate". And yet it's a deeply meaningful place, considered a holy site by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. Steve made a great point that the feeling of being watched with a resentful eye by ultra religious folks is honestly probably similar to what Jesus encountered when he found himself on the same Temple Mount after overturning the money changing tables (Matthew 21:12-17).

Western 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.

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We also wandered through some water tunnels in the City of David dating back to when David captured the city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-9). Those same water tunnels end at the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus famously healed the blind man (John 9). Sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with whether we're in the Old Testament or New Testament when so much stuff from different centuries all happened in the same place!

And then there was the Holocaust museum. I could use a thousand words and never do it justice... And at the same time, there really are no words... Genocide is an atrocity of a magnitude I can't even begin to fathom. And in my opinion, the greatest tragedy is that genocide is not unique to the Jewish communities of Europe in the 1940s. Look at Armenia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia... The list goes on and on. I'm convinced that genocide is the natural consequence when we -- yes, you and I -- lose sight of the inherent dignity and worth that belongs to every human being simply because they are created in the image of God. So, we visit holocaust museums and genocide memorials in the hope that by doing the painful work of remembering the horror and destruction, we will never forget and let it happen again. Jesus, bring your kingdom in our world as it is in heaven!

We finished the day with a visit to Bethlehem. Interestingly, Bethlehem sits in modern day Palestinian territory, so the surrounding area is Arabic/Muslim. There is a Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox church built over the site most scholars believe Jesus was born, so we got some great ideas of how to redecorate NorthPointe when we get home ;) We also saw the inn/home, stable, and manger that could have been the very site of Jesus' birth. Which, naturally, looks nothing like my childhood nativity set and much more like what we've seen at Qatzim, Chorazim, etc. It's easy for me to be skeptical about whether this is the exact site of Jesus' birth, but as Steve reminded us, mostly it just matters that Jesus was, in fact, born!!

Man, what a full day! Hard to believe tomorrow is our last day here... Stay tuned to hear details about our experience reliving Jesus' final days in this city!

Bethlehem

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.[17] 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.

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