The Nuances of the Text
Today the weather was incredible! Not as hot as yesterday and the sky was a beautiful blue with huge fluffy white clouds. The sun was warm, but a cool breeze kept us comfortable as we hiked up to Tel Beth She'an which is situated in the Jezreel Valley in northeastern Israel. This ancient city was where Saul and his sons were killed and the nation of Israel was defeated just prior to the conquest and reign of King David. As we studied, some of us leaned against the very city walls where Saul's body was hung by the Philistines (1 Samuel 21)!
As we began our descent, we caught the breathtaking view of Scythopolis, an ancient Roman city that was a hub of "modern" life & culture from about 700BC. This city was highly influential in shaping the culture of the area: trade, theater, sports, bath houses, and (of course) polytheistic idol worship. Imagine the shock of young Hebrew men bringing their olive oil or date honey to trade and finding a cosmopolitan area with every pleasure known to man! (A rough comparison would be a farmer from Kingsburg finding himself in San Francisco or New York.) As Steve pointed out, it really gives context to Romans 12:1-2 which says, "Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God."
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.
We stopped in Megiddo, a very strategic city situated along the only road that went east-west from the Israeli mountains to the Mediterranean. It offered a cool vista of the mountains of Samaria, Gilead, Galboa, and Tabor as well as the valley of Jezreel (also known as the valley of Armageddon). Ronen described the valley as "Jesus' backyard", as Nazareth sits on the other side. An incidental finding here was a manger -- which, like most things in Israel, was actually most likely made of stone in Jesus' day. Goodbye to every nativity scene I ever played with as a child!!
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.
A major highlight today was climbing Mt. Carmel and reading aloud the story of Elijah facing off against the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-46). Ronan's understanding of Hebrew really drew out the nuances of the text in powerful ways. As we read, it started raining -- which seemed appropriate given the context of the story! Then Ronnie shared some practical applications for prayer: we need to be humble (v. 42), specific & persistent (v. 43), and expectant (v. 44). I am loving the short Bible studies we do at most sites!
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).
Lastly, we stopped along the breathtaking shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea Maritima. Built by the megalomaniac Herod the Great, the harbor, palace, theatre and hippodrome are incredibly elaborate even 2,000 years later! This is also where Paul appealed to Caesar in Acts 25, and where ancient evidence was uncovered that confirmed Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death around 30-33AD.
And tonight, we (finally) made it to Jerusalem! I can't wait to explore this city! As Steve would say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet..."
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.