Monday, October 29, 2007
Life in the biblical Negev is a daunting task. In this hot and arid climate, the children of Israel wandered forty years as nomads. We spent only a fraction of that time there, but after all the hiking we did, I was ready to head back to greener pastures at the Moshav.
Once we left the Moshav on Wednesday morning, I knew we were in for it. Bill started out by talking about how all who believe are in the father are Abraham’s children through faith. I started thinking about Abraham’s life. He never had it easy. He was a nomad from a foreign land who believed in an unknown God and spent his days wandering the wilderness waiting for his promised blessings. What a life. Deep down, I knew that this trip would not be complete without a feeling of uncertainty of what the next day would hold, because this was the experience of the Israeli children, and all who settle the Negev. The arid climate lends itself to frequent drought, and livestock, vegetation and mankind all depend on consistent provision from heaven for daily provision. This was the reason God tested the Israelite children with the manna. He wanted to remind them that he gives them life everyday, and in no way are they independent from him. Here in the Negev, life is uncertain and risky; you might be able to make it or you might not. Dangling by a thread, life is hanging in the balance and everything is at stake. In order to settle and make cities here, you need your own water supplies because the springs are not enough. Cisterns must supply the needs for the people, and the only way to supply water for the cisterns is from the sky which falls at a rate of about 12 inches a year. Therefore, God directly gives and takes life by his infinitely powerful unseen hand.
Our first stop was Be’er Sheva. Traditionally known as the southern boundary of the promised land which is “from Dan to Be’er Sheva.” Acting as a southern boundary and buffer for both the Edomites to the east and Egyptians to the south, Be’er Sheva was an essential military point as well as a successful commercial hub. We were able to see our first ancient Israeli alter here, an “altar of earth”, (Exodus 20:24) hewn from stone with prominent horns on the four corners. The horns on the altar are symbolic of power and forgiveness: Power because they are a sign of bulls’ horns-a mighty weapon, and forgiveness because of the tradition of grabbing the horns as an act of repentance and contrition from unintentional sin. During the time of the transition of power in Jerusalem from David to Solomon, two men sought forgiveness by taking hold of the horns of the altar; Adonijah and Joab. Solomon spared Adonijah from harm, but he took the life of Joab. The altar itself is rhombus shaped; five cubits deep by five cubits wide by three cubits high. The altar located in the Solomonic temple was extra large; twenty cubits wide by twenty cubits deep by thirty cubits high. The altar at Be’er Sheva was much smaller, only five cubits wide by five cubits deep by three cubits high. The altar here was destroyed by Hezekiah and again by Josiah, as the Bible records the account of the decimation of Israeli high places. The origin of the name of Be’er Sheva is an interesting story. It was occupied during the time of Abraham by Canaanite inhabitants. In Genesis 21:22ff, Abraham bartered with Abimelek for the rights to the well at Be’er Sheva, and names it after his oath, “Be’er Sheva”, or oath of the seven. In Genesis 26, Isaac reconfirms the name Be’er Sheva. Genesis 46 records God’s promise to give the land of Israel to Joseph at Be’er Sheva.
At our next stop in Arad, I was amazed that it was such a large city. During Canaanite time, as the Israelites came upon the city and tried to take it after God had already closed entrance into the promised land. Moses did not accompany the attacking force, and they failed miserably as they were soundly defeated. They were not quite so unsuccessful forty years later when they left the wilderness and launched a revenge raid on Arad and smashed it to pieces. It is important to recognize that Arad was only inhabited during the early bronze age and the iron age. There was a large citadel with an altar here, another Israelite high place from the period of the southern kings of Israel. It is recorded in I Kings that neither Asa, Jehosophat, nor Jehoash rid the land of high places. This high place in Arad was probably noted as one of those high places devoted to the worship of YHWH, because the worshipers had erected Matze Bote, which were standing stones dedicated to YHWH. One other important contribution to archeology is a house structure found here identified as Canaanite, which has acquired the name, “arad house.” The pattern for this house is commonly found throughout the land, and was first found in Arad.
From Arad, we had a brief visit to Kibbutz Sde Boker, “field of the cowboy”, the retirement home of David Ben Gurion, the first and third prime minister of Israel. Ben Gurion had a firm belief that whoever settles the Negev will inherit the land, and as an affirmation of this conviction, he moved out to the Kibbutz and began to work in the fields with the young men, and he only brought five thousand of his favorite books. An interesting fact: Ben Gurion was afraid of becoming senile in his old age, so to stop his brain from deteriorating he would stand on his head for at least thirty minutes a day in order to supply it with enough blood supply. The house was small and modest, set in the middle of the rural Kibbutz.
After Sde Boker, we went on a hike of the Nahal Zin. The Zin wilderness is a vast expanse in southern Israel that covers a large portion of the Negev. It was a beautiful hike down through the deep nahal canyon. After a long drive into the canyon, we hiked up wadi Zin until the trail turned sharply up the canyon wall and criss-crossed up the side of the nahal.
After the long hike, all of us Ibexers were tired from the long day and more than happy to stop and enjoy the sunset at the top of the nahal at the youth hostel Mactesh Ramon. Before turning in for the night, we had a chapel meeting in the cliff outside the hostel-a moment I will never forget. It was late at night and the almost full moon lit the landscape with deep hues of grey. Simply Beautiful.
Day Two: “Viva Las Eilat”
As the day began, I realized it was not going to be very academic in nature, so a brief overview will do. We visited the Red canyon and the potty wadi which resembled in many aspects much of Arizona, except for the Ibex roaming the hills. Then, we went to Eilat, and I ate some Pizza Hut pizza. It was the closest I have come to home since I’ve been abroad. Eilat is the cleanest city in Israel, and must be because it is such a large tourist trap. Modernly, it is Israel’s Las Vegas. The neon appeal of the city and the coral reef enhance the visitor’s attraction. The reef is the northernmost reef in the world, and located conveniently on the shore. I saw many fish I’ve never seen in the wild before, including the alluring lion fish, the creepy moray eel, and the Technicolor parrotfish. The water was warm enough that we didn’t need to bother with wet suits even though I was submerged for approximately two hours. If you do the math, that’s enough time to get really pruny. From the beach we toured the Eilat Stone Shop, a show room for precious and semi-precious stones. Although gimmicky, this stop was educational. I appreciated it because Israel trades the largest volume of diamonds in the world, so getting into it an Israeli diamond shop fulfilled the requirement.
Day Three: Flat tires and Hyenas
After an early breakfast, we departed for the National park at Timnah. The ancient Egyptian mining shafts are located here because they wanted to draw the large amounts of copper out of the hills. Here we faced our first traveling stall. Our bus lost it’s front left tire, and we were forced to wait at the park until help came. To use the time productively, Bill led an Ibex first, a two mile hike around the park. This was the hardest hike I have ever been on. It consisted of a gradual climb up a ridge for the first half of the hike, and then a steep ascent to the summit, followed by a steep descent with slippery rocks that made for an interesting descent. After the hike and bus repair, we toured the Hai bar predator zoo. Here they had a plethora of animals; from hyenas to snakes to ostriches to porcupines. Then we drove to Masada, and on the way we stopped for coffee at Café Aroma, a nice treat. Upon a late arrival at Masada youth hostel, we had dinner and then had chapel out on the Dead Sea marl. The full moon lit up the white sand landscape and made for a picturesque evening chapel.
Day Four: I Hiked Masada
I woke up at the crack of dawn, five o’clock to be precise, to hike up Masada. Masada is a hilltop fortress that was the final hold out of the Jewish people in the revolt of 70 A.D. the Romans finally took Masada after a three year siege. First they built a wall surrounding the large hill to keep the Jews inside from escaping and Jews without coming into Masada. The hill is 300 meters high, (900ft “ish”) and has a flat plateau on top. During the Jewish resistance, almost one thousand Jews sought refuge here. It was breathtaking to see the second stage of the roman siege; a large earthen ram that led all the way from the ground to the wall on top of the hill.
Next, we visited Qumran, home of the caves that held the Dead Sea scrolls for almost two thousand years on the bank of the Dead Sea. These caves were located approximately 200-300 feet up the side of the cliff. We visited cave one where the initial find was made. In these caves, 13 caves total, is a portion of every book in the Bible except for Ester, and there was also secretarian and Apocryphal literature.
Once we left Qumran, we made an unsuccessful attempt to visit Nahal Parat, Jeremiah’s home town. After this long trip, we made sure to stop at Yad HaShmonah, my Israeli residence, and I made sure to go to bed early. You should do the same. I will not forget this trip for the length of my days. The Negev as a whole is unrelentingly rugged. The mysterious Dead Sea and the Edomite hills that form the eastern boundary and the Egyptian Sinai wilderness forms the western border with the gulf of Eilat inbetween. An individual would not survive here, only a community that understand the source of the blessings needed to supply life.
Friday, October 19, 2007
So far, we have only seen the middle section of the Israeli state. In both geography and climate it is fairly consistent or monolithic. Rocky hills with short trees and scattered underbrush gives way to a barren rocky land on the eastern slope.
Day One: The Jezreel valley and
The morning of the first day covered familiar ground quickly in order to proceed to the unexplored region of the Northern Tribes, within an hour we were already up the international highway in the seaside plane to the northern entrance to the Jezreel valley, the
We stopped at a rolling stone tomb circa 135 AD. This tomb was carved out of soft limestone, and used after the Jewish revolt in 132. It would be similar to the Tomb in which Jesus was buried.
Next, we stopped at
Elijah had a stand off with the prophets of Baal here. (I Kings 17-18) He challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire from the heavens to burn up a sacrifice on the altar. This was to prove once and for all that Baal was the true God, but once they quit, Elijah took his turn and called down fire from God and burned up the sacrifice. He then pursued the Priests of Baal and struck down 450 prophets.
We then went to the Harod spring. This is the place Gideon chose his men. I dropped my Bible in the spring. Maybe I am ready for battle, huh?
Day Two: I live by the sea in a land called
We started out the day at Kefar Cana, just outside
Our next stop was Sephoras or “bird”. It was the capitol of
From there we traveled to Zippori, quite a beautiful National park with many large mosaics which many scenes. Some contained up to 1.5 million tiles of 23 colors. A scene of the worship of Dionysus the roman god of drunkenness where many young men we depicted dancing with centaurs and drinking wine. Another scene was a
We then had lunch in the Jezreel valley at McDonalds in the Golani Junction, and after lunch, we went straight to the Arbel cliff where we surveyed the
Day Three: River Rats
Early the first morning at Galilee, Matt, Theo and I rose before the sun to watch it come up over the
After a little breakfast, we went to the cove of the sewer between Heptapagon and
When we arrived at the site of
From there, we traveled east on the shore line to the Mount of beatitudes. The Church on the top of the hill was built with a generous contribution from Mussolini, an irony I can’t quite fathom, but then again, I don’t know many power hungry men who do not use religion for power. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded twice in the gospels, once in Matthew 5-7, and again in Luke 6. Matthew gives a broad overview and Luke gives a brief synopsis. Scholars hold different opinions on where the sermon was actually given because it is necessary to harmonize the fact that Matthew says Jesus went up the mountain side and sat down and began to teach, while Luke says he went down and stood on a level place. Some scholars say these accounts are separate, and there is no need to harmonize them, because Jesus had to preach the same gospel over and over to different crowds, while still some say it is a flat place on the top of a hill, while others but the events one right after each other. I do not see that it makes much difference. All that matters is that we cherish the depth of words Matthew recorded and the breadth of words in Luke.
At Tabgha, there is another church built on a site dedicated to these words, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This is also the place Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples after the resurrection and asked him to affirm his devotion three times in John 21:15-25. He asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times; a stroke for every denial before Christ was crucified.
From here we went to Nof Ginosar and saw a 1st century AD boat that was dragged up from the sea bed and preserved by infusing the wood with wax.
After the 1st century boat, we ate lunch at Tiberius. When I was done filling my belly with Pizza, we left for Et Tel known as
We were able to spend the rest of the afternoon ditching out duties for inner tubes and we floated down the
We stopped quickly at a couple locations to see the cattle of the
We then visited the
From here we departed for Tel Dan. During the conquest under Joshua, the Danites failed to push the Philistines out of their allotment on the
We ended the day breaking into both Hazor and Chorazim. We were running well behind schedule, and Bill gave us permission to explore Hazor without any other tourists. I vote we do it that way from now on. Too bad it was our second to last field trip.
Beth Shan was my favorite stop. It held impressive roman ruins. A large theatre, largest Byzantine road I have ever seen, and many buildings line valley below the Canaanite Tel Beth Shan. On the top of the Tel, you can see all the way to
I learned more about Jesus’ life this week. I walked in his sandals and saw the home of his disciples. I tasted the water of the Sea and slipped on the rocks of Arbel. I slept a night in Jesus’ hometown. This trip changed my life.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The opening moments of a long day started out with coffee and water. Strike that, and make it a very long day. Joshua 18 sites the original Israeli capitol during Joshua’s time in
Next, we went to Aphek, which has seen better days. At the head of the Yarkon river in the coastal plain, lies ruinous footholds of a Canaanite fort, which some Turks decided would make a great site for their fort which stands, half erected today. Renamed Antipatris by Herod the great after his father, this ancient city controls roughly 2/3rds of the land’s water supply. The apostle Paul overnight here on his way to Caesarea from
From the trees and breezes of Aphek to the Mediterranean sea, we arrived at
It is said that the Romans marveled at Palestine for three reasons:
- The People who are never peaceful
- The Sea where nothing sinks
- The Temple that you can see from the coast
the cross between you and the father
separated from the face of God
you are silent like a sheep to the slaughter
you died with your crown stained with blood
the image of God is polluted
tainted by the nails in your hands
the darkness of sin you refuted
creeps in through the spear of man
the veil between me and my savior
my dim eyes fall quickly asleep
anticipating my failure
i have a kiss and you've turned your cheek
i play the role of the serpent
the venom is your first taste of death
you embrace me, steadfast and fervent
just as you loved me before your first breath