My husband and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Israel. After the fog of jet lag began to clear, the impact of this hauntingly historic nation began to flood my thoughts.
Our first lunch was in the ancient city of Jaffa. The falafel and the shawarma pita sandwiches are like burghers and hot dogs to the citizens of Irael. We enjoyed both! Jonah fled from the Lord’s command to evangelize Nineveh from Jaffa.
Herod the Great rebuild a “modern” Roman-style city on the ruins of a Phoenician city and named it Caesarea in honor of Rome’s ruler. The Mediterranean has crept over part of the ruins but the outline of the harbor Herod constructed is still visible. To entertain visitors to his port, Herod constructed a hippodrome and theater. Water, a precious commodity in this arid land, was brought from the hills by Roman aqueduct.
The Mt. Carmel range where Elijah bested the prophets of Baal gave us a dramatic view of the Jezreel valley. It was exciting to see where Bible history took place–and to see where prophecy will be fulfilled in the future. This valley is also known as the Valley of Megiddo or Armageddon where the final battle for world domination will take place [Revelation 16:16].
Tel Megiddo is an active archeological site. The foundations of several ancient cities have been unearthed here. As one city after another crumbled and fell, another was built on its base. It overlooked the ancient highway connecting Asia, Africa and Europe. Israel is a land bridge connecting these three major continents, which is why so many historic battles have taken place in this location. The best-selling book The Source was written based on the archeological dig at Megiddo.
Notice the highway in center/right in the distance.
A typical Galilean fishing boat from the time of Christ was found submerged in mud in the Sea of Galilee. A replica took our tour group across the Galilee to our beautiful hotel in Tel Dan. From the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee–Israel is all about the precious source of water.
Peggy thought the lush blooming shrubs we saw everywhere were bourgainvillea. We saw booms in purple, pink and a brilliant salmon shade. Although rain had not fallen in Israel for six months, drip irrigation and tenacity define the will of the land–and the people–to produce in spite of obstacles. The first of the winter rains arrived in Jerusalem the last day of our trip.
Beit Shean [Beth Shean], 17 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, is one of the Decapolis Cities [10 cities] that profited from the trade routes. It was the most extensive ruins we saw. Original sections of intricate mosaic floor had been preserved. We had a brief worship service in the theater where the acoustics were so good, we did not need a microphone. The Roman-style baths had heated water and an intricate system of under-floor heating.
We also saw Capernaum, the Mt. of Beatitudes and the Syrian and Israeli bunkers on the Golan Heights left from the Six Day War, 1967. Everywhere you look in Israel is historic.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem…a white city on three hills. The three valleys of the city cut green clefts among the tightly clustered buildings. Old blends with new.
The Wall reminded us that checkpoints and security are necessary to keep Israel safe. Inside Israel proper, children play outside after dark, swim on the beaches and mothers push baby strollers on dusky streets. Hitch hikers are common, young men and women. They hope to get a ride to reach their destinations faster and without cost and will hitch hike around bus stops hoping for free rides even in the Galilean hills and wilderness. Our tour guide said it is common to especially give rides to young soldiers, identified by their carrying M16 rifles which they are required to carry to and from base.We visited an olive wood carving shop operated by Christians in the city of Bethlehem in PA territory. I purchased an Eilat stone bracelet, the bluish/green stone of Jerusalem. The Church of the Nativity was crowded and more shrine than original site. The proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem made it clear how Mary and Joseph could have easily made the trip on foot to the Jerusalem Temple to dedicate baby Jesus. Another fascinating stop was our tour guides favorite market in Netanya near his home. It was not a supermarket but a spice and produce market. We bought locally-harvested dates, frankincense and myrr oils, spices, and lotions from the Dead Sea.
Our teaching pastor on the trip, Jonathan, was asked to read the passage from Proverbs 31 to his wife Jaime to celebrate the Jewish shabbot or Sabbath evening meal. We passed bread dipped in salt and a bit of red wine and listened to the Jewish families around us singing their prayers.
My Shabbot meal was roasted chicken, vegetables, hummus, and challah bread. Delicious! The hotel buffets were always kosher which means there was no meat at the morning meal and no dairy in the evening meal. Breakfast did have eggs and plenty of cheese, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables [which they eat extensively even at breakfast], yogurt and always a wide variety of breads. A whole honeycomb was often on the buffet table. The evening meal also included small cakes and sweets made without dairy.
I found the Dead Sea and the wilderness around it to be hauntingly beautiful. A smoky mist hung over the warm mineral water obscuring the hills in the distance. Although the sea is called “dead” because it is a stagnant body of water, it is alive with an abundance of salt and minerals. The Dead Sea is also the lowest elevation in the world, which many believe adds to its healing properties. We visited the famous Ahava mineral works and saw a video about how the properties of the “sea” are harvested for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. This was the outlet I was waiting for. I purchased a system for my particular skin care needs–elderly–and a tube of concentrated Dead Sea salts and minerals that help with aches and pains. Israel makes good use of every resource. We dipped in the sea and had a hard time keeping our feet; it is so buoyant there is a trick to getting down into the water without falling. The water is like oil on the skin and it is recommended that bathers not stay in it for more than fifteen minutes at a time.
Water is the vital component of Israel. All water is recycled or carefully collected from the Jordan, Galilee and the springs. Israel is also the leader in the desalination of sea water from the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Water is a metaphor for the young nation of Israel. Only where Israel has irrigated is there lush forests of dates, avocadoes, cherries, citrus, tomatoes, potatoes, vegetables, persimmons, melons, and virtually anything else that grows. The soil produces abundantly a 4-season crop rotation in the moderate climes. But water is scarce and valuable. Just as Israel must have water to survive, the people of Isral need Christ, the living water [Jn. 4:13-14] to spiritually survive and thrive. In Ezekiel 47, the Lord will manifest His spiritual presence in the Kingdom by creating a kind of artesian spring that gushes out from under the threshold of His newly-built Millennial Temple. His presence as King in the kingdom is the source of this living spiritual and literal water of life.
Before leaving the Dead Sea area we visited the well-known archeological site of Masada. Masada is revered by Israel as a symbol of Jewish tenacity. Rather than be captured by the Romans, this remnant of Jews from the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 killed each other–men, women and children–rather than be tortured and captured by the legions of Rome.
My husband especially enjoyed the Mount of Olives because from its perspective, he could see across the Kidron Valley to the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount wall and put the pieces of Jerusalem together.
When Christ Jesus touches down on the Mount of Olives at His return [Zech. 14:4], the mountain will split creating a rift or bigger valley between the mount and the Temple Mount. This valley will extend to the Mediterranean on the west and the Jordan River on the East. The artesian spring from the Temple will fill this new valley with water. A natural waterway will result connecting Jerusalem from two directions to the Mediterranean and Red Seas making it more accessible for pilgrimage during the Kingdom. The Jordan will spill into the newly elevated Dead Sea filling and cleansing it. Ezekiel 47 prophesies that the waters of the Dead Sea will produce a multitude of fish like the Mediterranean during the Kingdom but the salt swamps will be kept for their natural benefits. On either side of the newly restored Jordan River, trees producing multiple harvests will be for food and “the healing of the nations.”
Our Lord, the master of visual aids, will use this spiritual water from the Temple to heal the land and spiritually heal the people who breath in the spiritual life completed in Christ [Zech. 12:10-13:1-2].
We walked the narrow streets and covered alleys of the Old City passing Arab, Christian and Jewish “quarters” that had been inhabited for centuries. Many homes and shops had to be rebuilt after the destruction of the city in A.D. 70 and during the wars but families returned to their foundations. I felt time slip away in the Old City.
From the Mount of Olives we followed the same path down the hill Christ took on Palm Sunday. We had prayer time in the olive garden where Christ prayed the night He was arrested. From this garden, the sounds of the city across the valley must have filled his ears. The garden may also have been filled with families camping out in the groves around the city–poor pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover who could not afford or find space within the city proper. He may have sought a solitary space in which to commune with His Father.I felt close to the Lord in prayer when I touched the Western Wall and prayed for the peace of Jerusalem [Psalm 122:6]. When the Prince of Peace returns, He will bring global peace not only for Israel, but for the world. My friend Colleen and I left small notes in clefts in the wall with prayers, as is tradition. The Jewish people are largely secular and in spiritual darkness regarding the Old Testament Jewish religion. The Jews are His chosen people [Deut. 14:2]. The land of Israel is given to them forever [2 Chron. 20:7]. But they are currently in darkness regarding the truth of Christ. I honor them and respect their traditions not for the sake of who they are today, but who they will be in Christ at His return. After coming through the fire [Zech. 13], the remnant of believing Jews will live with Him in the earthly Kingdom promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It is for the sake of God’s holy name that all His covenant promises will be fulfilled. As a preview of their redemption, we worshipped with a Messianic Jewish congregation, King of Kings in Jerusalem, on Sunday evening. The worship was enthusiastic and Spirit-filled with over 1,000 at the English evening service. They hold their Hebrew service Sunday morning.
It was chilly on the Temple Mount. The breezy coolness was appropriate in an atmosphere dominated by Jordanian administrators of the site that is dominated by the Dome of the Rock on the north of the site and the Al Aqsa Mosque on the south. The Dome of the Rock is a monument but the Al Aqsa is an operating mosque of Islam. Some Orthodox Jewish groups were on the mount but were accompanied by armed Israeli police as they prayed.
Some day, perhaps soon, Christ will take the Temple Mount in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and plant His flag [Revelation 14]. As Israel is the epicenter of the world [Ez. 5:5], so Jerusalem is the epicenter of Israel and the Temple Mount is the epicenter of Jerusalem, which is why it is such a contentious issue. The one who possesses the Temple Mount ultimately possesses the world according to God’s plan. This makes Israel both a blessing–and a target.
Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher claims it is covering the site of Christ’s tomb, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb has more archeological evidence of authenticity–more of which was unearthed while we were there.
I kept the empty tomb for last because it is profound for its very emptiness. There is not enough space to speak of Hezekiah’s tunnel, singing in the church at the Pool of Bethesda, the Pool of Siloam, the bar mitzvahs at the Western Wall, viewing fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and seeing Jerusalem city life in a land that lives in constant threat of war and invasion. One profound experience was seeing a courtyard of Jewish children playing with a soccer ball during school recess. The sound of children playing and elderly people leaning on their sticks is a preview of the peace of Jerusalem that will exist for a thousand years when YESHUA HA-MASHIACH [Jesus the Messiah] comes. Shalom Israel.