They Knew He Was Coming

IMG_2821A little over a year ago, I posted a picture of the East Gate from the Old City. The picture was taken from the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations, which sits on the traditional location of the Garden of Gethsemane. The point was made that from the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have easily seen the “multitude of people” coming to arrest him.

Earlier this week, I was talking with Trent and Rebekah Dutton, who have both spent considerable time in Israel. We were talking about the physical geography of the city of Jerusalem. Rebekah wondered if the priests could see the activity in the Garden of Gethsemane from their home.

It is a good question. During the First Century, the wealthy and influential people who lived in Jerusalem lived on the Western Hill. It is called the “Western Hill” because it sat west of the original City of David across the Tyropoeon Valley. So, if the priests’ house was high enough on the hill, it might have a view of the Garden of Gethsemane.

As we were discussing this, I remembered a picture that I took in 2010 from the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. (That picture is at the top of this blog post. If you are reading this post in an email, then you might need to click on the title to view the post from a web page.) That church sits on the traditional location of the house of Annas and Caiaphas, who were both priests in the First Century. The picture is looking northeast in the direction of the Garden of Gethsemane. You can easily see the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene. That church sits just up the hill from the traditional location of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew, in his gospel, tells us:

And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people. – Matthew 26:47

Imagine this same view in the middle of the night. It would be completely dark. Undoubtedly, this “great multitude” would have numerous torches to light their way as they left the city, crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the garden. It is possible that the priests, sitting in their house, could have seen the activity in the garden knowing what was going on.

In addition, after they arrested Jesus, the priests could have probably seen the torches of the multitude coming in their direction as they made their way from the garden to the upper city. They knew He was coming.

Morning on the Sea of Galilee

sea_of_galilee_sunriseThe last time I was in Israel, our tour group spent three nights on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. As we arrived on the first afternoon, I encouraged the members of our group to get up a little early and watch the sun rise over the Golan Heights. To the best of my knowledge, I believe that every member of our group did this on at least one morning. Watching the sun rise is always a memorable event. However, watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee is something that you will never forget. I encourage you to watch this YouTube video and enjoy.

 

When I watch this video (or experience the sunrise from Tiberias), I am always reminded of the Bible stories that took place in the early morning on the Sea of Galilee.

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. – Luke 5:1-6

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. – John 21:1-6

Traveling to the Lands of the Bible

wilderness_of_judeaI grew up studying my Bible and learning that are contained in it. I knew that the Sea of Galilee was a body of water, I knew that Jerusalem was in the hills and I knew that Joppa had a port. But, it wasn’t until my wife and I traveled to Israel in 2010 that I finally understood how geographically accurate the Bible really is. It gave me a fresh perspective to go back and relearn all of those Bible stories again.

A couple of days ago, Mr. Gary Byers wrote a very interesting piece about archaeology and traveling to the Bible lands. While I may have some doctrinal differences with Mr. Byers, I do agree with many of the things he said in this article. In one section, he says:

…in 2005, I took my first trip to Israel…as I visited the places where Jesus walked, the Old Testament cities and Jerusalem, it was the lay of the land and the ruins that made an impression on me. It was real to me in a new way. Travel like this creates a framework for study of the Bible. Archaeology exposes ancient ruins and provides clues to the way people lived so we can better understand the cultures and people mentioned in the text. Gaining a contextual framework for Bible study through archaeology and travel has given me a greater love for the Bible. Armed with a better mental picture of the biblical world, the pages of the Bible spring to life as I read. The message is the same — it is God’s true Word — but I am able to approach this message with a fresh attitude.

Is it a requirement to travel to Israel to be a believer of God and a Christian? No. Does travel to Israel (and other lands of the Bible) help you understand the Bible stories? Absolutely. I enjoyed leading a tour of Israel last June and am looking forward to making plans for my next tour. If you are interested in going with me, just let me know. I’d love to talk with you about it.

Samuel’s Farewell Address

17_2_TelBetShean_Valley_smallIn 1 Samuel 12, Samuel speaks to the people of Israel about some of the decisions that they have made, primarily concerning the fact that they had requested a king (when God was already their king). However, he states that if the people and their king will obey the Lord, then all will be well. However, if they don’t, then “the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king”.

Then, Samuel performs a sign. He asks God for thunder and rain. And, the Lord provides it.

“Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. – 1 Samuel 12:16-18

Why did the people “greatly fear” them? Well, you have to know a little bit about the geography and climatology of the land to understand.

Location of the Sign
Slide06The people were assembled at Gilgal. (NOTE: I realize that there are a couple of different locations attributed to Gilgal. And, I realize that “a gilgal” could have been something that was built. But, I believe that in this passage we are talking about an actual location). Gilgal was location approximately 4-5 kilometers away from Jericho in the base of the Jordan Rift Valley.

As winds come off of the Mediterranean Sea, they reach the Central Mountain Range and rise. As the air rises, it cools and water droplets condense and eventually fall as rain. Therefore, the Central Mountain Range (including the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Samaria, etc) get about 26 inches of rain per year. However, as the winds top of the Central Mountain Range, they descend into the Jordan Rift Valley. In doing so, the air warms and the water dries up. Consequently, the city of Jericho (which is located about 10-12 miles from Jerusalem) only gets 4-6 inches of rain per year.

So, why were the people afraid? Because they realized that God made it rain in a place that doesn’t get that much rain.

But, I think that there is another reason.

Time of the Sign
Slide13Did you catch that extra piece of information that Samuel stated in his speech? He said that it was the time of the wheat harvest. What does that mean?

Well, the little rain that does fall in the Jordan Rift Valley falls between the months of October and April. The wheat harvest is in May (and may go into June). The people knew that God had made it rain at a time of year in which it never rains.

When the people saw that the rain fell in a place that rarely gets rain and at a time in which it never gets rain, they knew that this was a sign from God. And consequently, they were greatly afraid.

By better understanding the lands of the Bible, you can better understand the stories in the Bible.

Recently, I presented a lesson on this topic at Capshaw church of Christ. You are welcome to listen to it and let me know if you have any questions.

(NOTE: The picture at the top of the post is from Trent and Rebekah Dutton. You can see all of their pictures at http://www.simplebiblehistory.com. The picture is taken from the Central Mountain Range looking east across the Jordan Rift Valley toward the Trans-Jordan Plateau.)

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

file_zps329b453bI have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel a good bit during my life. One of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen is a sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. Each sunrise has its own personality. Sometimes it is perfectly clear and the sun rays shoot like spears over the Golan Heights. Other times, it is cloudy and shadows are cast across the waters.

Regardless, I can’t help but think of the many Biblical events that happened on, in and around these waters. On at least two different occasions, some of the apostles (who were professional fishermen) fished all night and failed to catch anything.

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:1-11

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” – John 21:1-7

I often wonder what the sunrises on those mornings looked like.

Rock Badgers

rock_badger_1There are so many advantages to traveling to the lands of the Bible. You can see the same hills, valleys, streams and locations that are mentioned in the Bible. By doing so, you can understand the Bible stories even more. In addition, a keen eye will allow you to see many animals that are mentioned in the Bible.

rock_badger_1On our recent tour of Israel, we saw many of these animals. Probably the one that got everyone the most excited was seeing a whole family of rock badgers when we stopped at the site of Chorazim. A few of them were kind enough to stop long enough to pose for a picture. I have included a couple of pictures in this blog post.

Rock badgers are mentioned a few times in scriptures. In Leviticus, it is mentioned as an unclean animal, and therefore, unfit for consumption. My favorite verses are from the Psalms and Proverbs.

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers. – Psalm 104:16-18

Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces. – Proverbs 30:24-28

Pictures of Israel

If you have been an active reader of my blog, you have probably heard me refer to my friends, Trent and Rebekah Dutton, a number of times. They live in the same area of the country as myself and I have been fortunate enough to travel to Israel with them.

About a year ago, they began their quest to obtain Masters Degrees in Biblical Archaeology. In order to accomplish this, they lived in Israel for most of 2013. They are currently back in Israel digging at the Philistine site of Ashkelon. They were kind enough to give me and my tour group a personal tour of Ashkelon earlier this month.

About six months ago, I was given permission to view a preview package of some pictures that they have taken while they lived in Israel. These pictures are fantastic. They have packaged these pictures, complete with maps and Biblical descriptions, into a couple of sets that you can purchase for $5.00. I believe that these are some pictures that every preacher and Bible class teacher should have. As I have stated a number of times, understanding the Biblical geography helps you to understand the Biblical stories.

In encourage you to consider purchasing a set (or both sets) of these pictures for yourself. You can go directly to their website (http://simplebiblehistory.com/) and see some samples. You can also read their entry on their blog about the history of the making of this package of pictures.

As I said, these are great pictures and I encourage you to purchase them. Then, use them to teach others about the Bible.

(NOTE: The picture at the top of this post is taken from the top of Mount Gilboa, looking northwest. Across the Harod Valley, you can see the Hill of Moreh with the Nazareth Ridge in the distance. If you are reading this blog from an email, you might need to click on the title to view this post from a web page to see the picture.)

The Final Day

Well, the tour is over. I am sending this post from my home in Athens, Alabama. Due to time limitations, I was not able to send a post last night.

We woke up yesterday morning a little later than usual, allowing us to have some extra sleep and time to pack our bags for the voyage home. We started the day at the Israel Museum. We spent about 2.5 hours there, but that was only long enough to make us wish that we could spend a week. There are three primary sections to the museum: 1) The large model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, 2) the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and 3) the museum itself.

We toured the large model (about a half acre in size) first. This is a wonderful visual aid to understanding Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. If given the opportunity, I would love to teach a series of lessons using that model as my background. You can describe so many stories from the Gospels and Acts by examining the model in light of Scripture.

We then turned our attention to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Having visited Qumran earlier in the trip, it was nice to see the actual scrolls being displayed.

Finally, we visited the archaeology wing of the museum (there are many other wings that we did not even walk into). Our quick tour of that wing showed us so many things that related to our tour and passages in the Bible.

duttonsHaving finished at the Museum, we headed southwest toward the coast. I have two friends, Trent and Rebekah Dutton, who are currently getting their Masters Degree at Wheaton College in Chicago in Biblical Archaeology. To accomplish that goal, they have been participating at a dig at the ancient Philistine city of Ashkelon. They agreed to meet us at the site and to give us a personal guided tour of the site and of the work that they are doing. It was a fantastic tour and I believe that everyone enjoyed the personal touch. The main thing that I learned from the tour is how large the city of Ashkelon was. The site itself (which is made up of three tels) rivals the size of Hazor in the north on just pure size. In addition, by seeing its location on the coast makes it easy to understand why it was such an important city.

From there we headed north toward Joppa. We spent about an hour touring the city and seeing how beautiful it is. It is through this port that cedar wood from Lebanon was delivered to build Solomon’s Temple. Jonah tried to run from God here. And, Peter received a vision which instructed him to teach to Good News of Jesus to the Gentile people.

tel_avivAfter a final dinner, we headed toward the airport. Ben Gurion International Airport is known as one of the most secure airports in the world. You need to arrive early because there are several different levels of security to go through. We all made it through fine and boarded our flight to New York City. The flight was smooth and even landed a little ahead of schedule. At New York City, we all parted ways to go to our separate home destinations.

It was a great tour. I could not have asked for a kinder, more fun group than the people that came with me on this tour. They never complained and were glad to be spending this wonderful time together.

Visiting the land of Israel opens the Bible in ways that you had never considered. I’ll end these series of posts by reminding us of the words of Moses as he spoke to the people before entering the land of Canaan:

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. – Deuteronomy 8:7-10

I agree. It’s a wonderful land. And, I can’t wait to go back. Until then, shalom.

A Day In The Lowlands

The lands of the Bible in this region has four longitudinal zones. There is the Coastal Plain, the Central Mountain Range, the Rift Valley and the Transjordan Plateau. However, there are a few smaller areas sandwiched in between those primary zones. One of the is the Shephelah.

The Shephelah is a small area within the land given to the tribe of Judah with a fertile, rolling plain. Even today, there are plenty of crops growing all over this region. For our interest on this tour, we are interested in the Biblical events that occurred in this area.

We started our day by driving to the Sorek Valley, the stomping grounds of the judge Samson. The site at the eastern end of this valley is Beit Shemesh. We stood at this site and could envision Samson tying the foxes together and setting the fields ablaze. Also, we could see the milk cows dragging and cart behind them carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

elahOur next stop was at the Valley of Elah. After you visit this beautiful valley, you will never read the story of David and Goliath the same again. I am continually impressed by the geographical accuracy of the Biblical writer in telling this story. We stood in the valley and reread parts of the story describing those details. Afterwards, everyone went down into the brook to pick up some “small smooth stones” to take home.

Lachish was next on our list. Seeing this site helps you understand its strategic importance. You can still see the siege ramp built by the Assyrians as they captured the city. The dig season for this site is going to be starting in about a week. We could see the people beginning to move equipment into place in the gate area. I look forward to hearing what they find.

beershebaAfter a bit of a drive, we found ourselves at Beersheba. This site sits on the northern edge of the Negev. This is a beautiful site and easy to walk around and see. They have built a tall tower to view the landscape and we had the opportunity to walk through the water tunnel.

Our final stop of the day was at Nebi Samwil, just north of the city of Jerusalem. From this vantage point, you can see the Benjamin Plateau and overlook the city of Gibeon. The sun stood still here at one time, but not today. We took our pictures and then headed toward the hotel.

Our tour is quickly coming to an end. We have one more big day tomorrow before heading to the airport to catch a late-night flight. As I type this, I can hear the songs of the evening call to prayer for the Muslims. And, I can look out my hotel window and see the Jewish people walking home after finishing their prayers by the Western Wall.

I’ll try to post tomorrow night, but time and Internet availability my limit the opportunity. But, I’ll be back online soon.

Shalom.

Walking Through The City

Today, we walked. And then we would walk some more. Then, we ate lunch. Then, we walked some more. We are all tired, but we’ll never forget the memories that we made today.

We started the morning early. To get access to the Temple Mount, you need to get up early and get in line. They open the gates at 7:30, so we left our hotel around 6:45. By 7:00, we were inline and by 7:45, we were on the Temple Mount. We walked around the outside of the Al-Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. We discussed the Biblical events that occurred in this location (Solomon’s Temple, Second Temple, the Day of Pentecost, etc).

church_of_holyAfter exiting the Temple Mount, we took a short visit to the Pool of Bethesda before making our way to the Via Dolorosa. There is considerable discussion about whether or not this is actually the path Jesus walked on the way to the cross (I think not), but it is a beautiful way to walk through the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City. We finally arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulture, which is the traditional location of Calvary.

After lunch and a bit of shopping, we continued through the Muslim spice market to the Western Wall. This original wall from the Second Temple is always something that everyone will remember.

Our next stop was at the Davidson Archaeological Center where we viewed some of the excavations going on just south of the Temple Mount. This also included the opportunity to sit on the First Century steps. From this location, you have a wonderful view of the City of David sitting just to your south.

As we toured the City of David, we were able to visit the large stone structure, which is possibly the palace of King David. From there, we made our way to the Gihon Spring. The group that runs this excavation and park have made tremendous upgrades to the Gihon Spring viewing area since I have been there. It was wonderful.

inscriptionAfterwards, our group split up and some of us walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. When the Assyrians were about to attack Jerusalem, King Hezekiah redirected the water flow from the Gihon Spring so that the water would run into the walled city. Water still flows through this tunnel today. The tunnel is about 500 meters and built through solid bedrock. It takes about 30 minutes to walk and it was refreshing to have the cool water rush across your feet.

We ended our day by walking (yes, walking again) up the Herodian channel from the Pool of Siloam and the Temple Mount.

Overall, it was a great day and I’m enjoying so much being with all of these people on the tour. It is quickly coming to a close. Tomorrow, we head to the Shephelah, one of my favorite parts of this land. Until then….