Jordan / Israel Signature Study Tour

September 2-14, 2023

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Day 05 - “Who Do You Say that I Am”: Katzrin, Mount Bental, Tel Dan

 

Shalom from Galilee! We started our morning on the western shore of the Sea and, from there, headed northeast to Katzrin. Katzrin isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but provides us with an incredible visual of a typical village in first-century Israel.

 

Katzrin, though, is unique from other sites in that it offers a cultural experience – complete with costumes. The experiences available rotate from season to season. For instance, around the time of the olive harvest, you will learn how olive oil is made. During the time of the grape harvest, you’ll learn about how grapes are crushed, strained, and then aged into wine. We learned about how wheat is crushed into flour, mixed with water and oil, then baked over a fire. It was absolutely delicious (especially dipped in olive oil and hyssop).

 

We then split into two group – one headed for the ancient synagogue and the other for the reconstructed home. The home was particularly fascinating because it provides so many incredible pictures for us. The small lanterns used to dimly the light the homes and what it means to “hide your lamp under a bushel.” The dark interior that offers a different perspective on the woman who swept her home looking for a single coin in Jesus’ parable. The guest room that, in the Christmas story, we so often mistranslate as “inn.”

 

And it has a thatched roof – not unlike the one that four friends tore through in order to get their paralyzed companion to Jesus. Roofs in first-century Israel were multi-layered. Beams across the width of the house, branches packed in tight perpendicular rows, then mud and clay to seal in the gaps, another row of tightly packed branches and another layer of mud and clay. Making a whole in such a roof large enough to lower a man lying on a mat would not have been easy or quick.

 

But these men were absolutely committed to getting their friend to Jesus. It’s a convicting story, really.

 

Would we do that? Do we do that? Who needs us to bring them before Jesus? And to what lengths will we go to get them there?

 

From Katzrin we went to Mount Bental where Dan, our Israeli guide, shared a bit of modern Israeli history and discussed with us the current political climate in Israel and in the Middle East.

 

We then journeyed further north to Caesarea Philippi, the capital city of of Herod Philip’s domain during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Caesarea Philippi was a cultic epicenter with a temple to Augustus Caesar and a shrine to the Greek god Pan - the god of shepherds (depicted as half-man and half-goat) and of mysterious places). By the way, we get the word “panic” from Pan. He was a chaotic god. There was also a temple to Zeus and a shrine to the Greek goddess Nemesis (the goddess of revenge). There was even an underground spring coming from the mouth of a cave which, to the ancients, was a passageway to the underworld, or the gates of Hades.

 

In other words, this was a place that good Jewish boys (like the disciples) didn’t come. But Jesus brought them here and asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Listen to the exchange in Matthew 16.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:13-19, NIV)

Jesus and the disciples were looking out at what many believed to be the gates of Hades – the entrance to the underworld. They were looking at the absolute chaos of Greco-Roman worship complete with orgies and temple prostitutes. And Jesus looks at this and says, “This will not prevail. This will not win.”

It’s just an incredible site.

We ended our day at Tel Dan.

Tel Dan was, as you might have guessed, where the tribe of Dan settled. However, Tel Dan is two hundred miles north of where the tribe had been given their territory allotment in the book of Joshua.

Dan, though, failed to finish conquering the territory given them. Their failure seems to have had something to do with their embrace of the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations. The Lord had told them that since they made covenants with those nations and didn’t destroy their pagan altars, the Lord would not drive out their enemies. So, Dan never settled into their given land.

But rather than repent of their disobedience and turn once again to God, the tribe of Dan decided to seek out a different land – one easier to conquer. They settled on Laish and it’s unsuspecting and unprepared people. They claimed victory over Laish and renamed it Dan.

Fast forward to 1 Kings 12. The kingdom of Israel had divided with Jeroboam ruling over the ten northern tribes and Rehoboam ruling over the two southern tribes. Jeroboam, though, had a problem. The Temple was located in the southern kingdom, in the territory of Benjamin. So, where would the northern tribes worship?

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. (1 Kings 12:26-29, NIV)

And so, in a reenactment of Aaron’s sin at Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-4), Jeroboam perpetuated the downward spiral into idolatry and chose Dan as a center of worship.

When God told them that, as a result of Israel’s disobedience, He would not drive their enemies from the land, He asks the people, “Why did you do that?” (Judges 2:2). When I read those words, I hear the voice of a heartbroken Father.

“Why would you chase after these other gods? Don’t you know they can’t fight for you? Don’t you know they can’t love you? Why didn’t you trust Me? I had so much in store for you. If only you had trusted Me.”

I think those are questions the Lord could so often ask us, too.

Our last stop at Tel Dan ended on a high note. The first mention of Dan in the Bible actually occurs in the book of Genesis.

After Abraham and Lot had parted ways, Lot managed to get himself captured by a couple of Canaanite kings (you can read the whole story in Genesis 14). Upon hearing of Lot’s capture, Abraham immediately marshaled 318 men, all born in Abraham’s household, and pursued Lot as far as Dan. He then divided up his men and routed them to a city north of Damascus. In other words, Abraham went to incredible lengths to get Lot back.

That’s the biblical concept of go-el. That is, redemption. Abraham was not about to let a single member of his family even, as Randy pointed out, a relatively high-maintenance one like Lot. Rather, Abraham would do whatever it took to restore Lot, to bring him home, to the family.

Randy reminded us that this is our call. We are to be participants in God’s redemptive work in the world. No, we don’t provide their ultimate redemption – only Jesus can do that. But we can be pursuers. We can be encouragers and inviters and pray-ers. The Lord absolutely delights when even one lost sheep, one missing coin, one wayward son or daughter is found.

As you can tell, we covered a lot today. Tomorrow we’ll spend around the Sea of Galilee and I think I speak for our entire group when I say we couldn’t be more excited.

Thank you, again, for your prayers. We had a handful stay back today so they could better recover and it seems as though everyone is on the mend.

Shabbat Shalom!

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