Monday, March 16, 2009

Day Four - The Way to Jerusalem

Liberty University's Israel Tour 2009 as Experienced by One Student
Thursday, March 12, 2009
(Click here for today's photos.)

Morning comes early in Israel, and with it our itinerary is changing on the fly. Then again, that is something you always have to be prepared for in Israel. As we are getting ready to leave the hotel this morning after another wonderful breakfast, Dr. Caner jumps on the bus and speaks with Tzvika. Turns out, he thought we were going to Caesarea Philippi today, but Tzvika corrects him that we are going to Caesarea Maritima. Two very different places in very different locations. As I said, this is Israel. Change is to be expected. I am, however, surprised that we are backtracking quite a bit to where we came from when we landed. On my prior trips, we always overnighted in Netanya, which happens to be my German hometown's sister city, to have a more natural flow of the itinerary. Since this is Israel, however, distances are mercifully short.

Caesarea MaritimaOn our way to Caeasarea Maritima, or "by the sea" (not only located along the Via Maris or Way of the Sea, but also directly on the Mediterranean), we pass Megiddo Junction and cross the fertile and broad Jezreel Valley, the site believed to be the location of the future final battle between the forces of Satan and Jesus Christ, referred to as Armageddon. We will see more of the valley later, but it makes me take pause to think about where it will all come to a head. Upon leaving the valley, we cross through a more mountainous area and pass Um el-Fahm, a large and apparently rather prosperous Arab town. Soon we reach the coastal plain and reach Caesarea, home of Israel's only golf course and some very expensive homes. Caesarea Maritima, the ruins of Herod's ancient seaport, are close by. This ancient site saw many different groups of occupants through the centuries, as the various parts of the excavation show, including remnants of a large crusader city.

Our first stop is the amphitheater for a joint worship service with the TRBC group. It takes some time for everyone to file in. As soon as everyone is settled in, one of the guides, David Kidron, who "shepherds" the yellow bus, gives us an introduction to Caesarea, followed by a short worship service with Charles Billingsley leading our singing and Dr. Caner providing the Scriptural background to what we see. As we leave the amphitheater, Tzvika explains several areas of this large archaeological site, such as Herod's fresh water swimming pool, a large rectangular area cut into the rock right by the Mediterranean, the stone showing Pontius Pilate was indeed governor in Judea (the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem) and the hippodrome, place of Roman entertainment, but also of early Christian suffering. Tzvika shares with us that he recently dived at Caesarea - there is now an underwater museum to explore the amazing building techniques of the Romans.

Erin and the MediterraneanOnce Tzvika sets us free, we have only about fifteen minutes to explore this huge site. Dr. Yates, Erin and I set off on an abbreviated running (not walking) tour of Caesarea. I want to make sure they see the bathhouse excavations. On the way back to the bus, Erin insists on dashing down to the shoreline to say she has had her feet in the Mediterranean - and she literally does when a wave gets her one foot soaked as we are trying to take photos. We make our way back to the bus where there is another photo op: photos with Dr. Caner! There are some attractions in Israel that are not 2,000 plus years old after all. We get back on the bus and stop a few miles down the road to take a quick look at the Roman aqueduct.

Our next stop is Tel Megiddo, so we have a bit of a bus ride ahead of us again. Again, we pass Um el-Fahm, and I find myself thinking about my Israeli Arab friends, the Daas family. I know that life is not terribly easy in Israel for its Arab citizens who, while ethnically speaking, are Palestinian Arabs, yet unlike the Palestinians we typically read about in our press, are citizens of the state of Israel. While they are citizens, it is not an easy life in many ways as occupational choices can be limited. Yet here in Um el-Fahm, as well as in Tira where my friends live, it appears that there is definitely a level of prosperity, and I wonder where this comes from. I know from my friends that property is passed on within the families, yet Arab families tend to be larger than Jewish families (at least among the secular population). It is definitely a thought I need to process further in the future.

Entrance to MegiddoFor now, my mind switches to other things as we pass the Megiddo High Security Prison, where the most ancient church in all of Israel was found not long ago. Some amazing mosaics were discovered here, but needless to say, due to the location of the church in the middle of a high security prison, the chance of seeing them is slim to none unless you commit a serious crime in Israel. I remind myself to keep my eyes on the Israel Antiquities Authority website of Israel in the future. Soon after, I turn my thoughts to Tel Megiddo as our bus pulls into the archaeological site. Tel Megiddo is an amazing witness to history: 26 layers of civilizations are piled on top of each other at this excavation site. Tzvika gives us an explanation at the model of the Tel (which means hill or mound). It is truly mind boggling how many people have passed through here! We leave the model to walk up the hill through two sets of gates, one of which is from the time of Solomon. It features the typical six-chambered gateway found in other excavation sites of Solomonic cities, such as Hazor and Gezer.

We spend quite some time on top of the excavation site to not only admire this truly spectacular archaeological find, but also to take in the vast area across from it, the Jezreel Valley. I am reminded that this place has seen so many battles already, and it has had its disproportionate share of battle deaths, not the least of which was King Josiah, who fell to Pharaoh Necho II at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 BCE. Nazareth is straight across from us on a hilltop at the other side of the valley. Jesus would have looked down on this valley, the future site of Armageddon, every day of his growing years. What a thought. He knew what was ahead for Him, but also for this, our history, as it comes to an end.

Entrance to the water shaft at Tel MegiddoBefore having lunch, we go through the water shaft at Megiddo, which according to the famous Yigael Yadin who also excavated Masada, can be attributed to King Ahab who reigned in the 9th century BCE. To get there, we have to descend 183 steps and then climb out on the other side - about another 65 or so steps up. Water is kind of low at this time, which does not bode well for Israel's water table overall. I was here a few years ago, and abundant water was flowing below our feet to the collecting pool at the end. Water is a true problem in this small country. I am reminded of Leviticus 26:3-4, where God tells Israel: "If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit". IF you walk in my statutes...I think it is a safe bet to assume Israel today is not.

Elke on top of Mount Precipice with the Jezreel Valley below herAfter making our way out of the water shaft, we are finally allowed to go eat - everyone is very hungry by now as it is almost 2 pm. At lunch, I run into the Percers who are also enjoying sitting in the sunshine and tasting some Israeli food. Once done eating, we pack up, get on our bus and head towards Nazareth. We pass through a new tunnel, which I hadn't seen yet on our way up to the city. My hopes of getting to see any part of Nazareth are dashed when the bus drives up a steep hillside slightly outside of town. In the past two years, I have always managed to visit Nazareth Village, which is an amazing place to learn about life in the time of Jesus and which has guides who joyfully share the Good News of Jesus Christ with visitors. But today, I am actually in for a surprise as we are headed to a place I have never been: Mount Precipice, by tradition the "brow of the hill" from which the villagers of Nazareth threatened to throw Jesus after He spoke in their synagogue. As we get out, Dr. Yates shares the passage from Luke 4:16-30 with us. The view from the top here is spectacular as one can see a very big part of truly vast Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor, by tradition the Mount of Transfiguration, to the east. Mount Tabor is also the site of Barak's military push against Sisera's army. For a little taste of the view from up here, view this.

As we get back on the bus, we are all truly flooded with impressions of our day. From the beautiful sunlit shore of Caesarea Maritima, from where Paul took the Christian faith to Rome when he sailed from there as a prisoner of Rome, to the Valley of Armageddon, where the final battle will be fought, this is HIStory from first to last. How much there is to do for each of us to spread word of the Kingdom of God until that time comes! After a quick clean-up and another delicious dinner, we all head over to a meeting room at the Ramot Resort Hotel to have a worship and teaching time. Michael John Clement is leading the worship music, and Dr. Caner is teaching. What an appropriate close to a truly astounding day. We all turn quiet in our hearts as we worship the King. On my way back to my room, I can't help but feel safe in the knowledge that come what may, I am on the winning side.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Great blog! Great photos! One of these days I'd like to get back there...