Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Israel 2016, Day 8

Our first visit, early this morning, was about an hour south of Jerusalem to a site known as the Herodian. this was a fortress Herod made for himself in case he had to flee from enemies. It was purposefully constructed to look like a volcano from a distance. In reality, it was a strong tower built up to resemble a mountain. 

The complex was exceptionally lavish with large rooms, pools, a sauna room, a theater and an elaborate water system which we got to walk through. Take a look at some of the features before we move on to why this location is important.  

The Herodian, taken through the buss window

Model of the entire complex
Of course, the see the site, we had to walk up many steps and steep paths!

The living quarters were extravagant
This area housed the storerooms, bath and sauna
Herod was buried on the grounds. This is a replica of His tomb, the actual tomb and sarcophagus are in the Israel Museum, which we visited yesterday..
The cistern/water system was huge and highly developed. We were able to walk though most of it. 
 As interesting as the Herodian is, the reason we visited was to get a panoramic view of the Ascent of Ziz, which is depicted in 2 Chron 20, This ascent is one of the few approaches to Jerusalem from the southeast/Dead Sea region. From the Herodian, looking east, you can see the ridge line that the Ascent follows all the way to the Dead Sea.

I 2 Chron 20, King Jehoshaphat Hears that the Moabites have formed an alliance with the Ammonites and Meunites, all in the Transjordan area. Each of them were familiar and formidable enemies on their own. Combined, they were a massive and deadly army. The army had already crossed the Jordan with a "great multitude" assembled at En Gedi, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. They were ready to come up the Ascent of Ziz to attack Jerusalem. 

The capital city was about to fall. Jehoshaphat was in a terrifying situation and was facing sure defeat and the slaughter of all his people. Here's how he responded. 

2 Chronicles 20:3–4
3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
Jehoshaphat was a wise man. Instead of panicking or acting impulsively, he prayed and led the nation to pray. Take a few minutes to see how God responded to Jehoshaphat's faith and dependence upon God. 

Personally, I have a tendency to jump right in and act when faced with a challenge. On the other hand, if the challenge is as great as the one Jehoshaphat was facing, it can be easy for any of us to get overwhelmed by the situation and become paralyzed with fear. 

God promised Israel that He would protect them and preserve them as long as they trusted in Him and obeyed Him. He never promised them they would not have hard times. But He did promise them He would be with them and deliver them. 

He has made the same promise to us as believers. 

Next stop, Bethlehem! Most sacred sites in Israel require visitors to enter with knees or shoulders covered. The day was very hot, about 96 degrees. So, it was time to make use of my "convertible pants." They have legs that zip on and off just above the knee.

This is my third trip to Israel but my first visit to Bethlehem which is a Palestinian controlled area. We had to drive through an Israeli check point on the way in. We were waved through easily enough. Upon entering what was once a very small ancient village, we found a large, modern town. They even have a coffee place called "Stars & Bucks" which looks suspiciously familiar. 

The Church of the Nativity is in the center of town. It is built over the spot where Christ was born. Most biblical scholars believe the location to be accurate.

The line to get in was long but it moved swiftly
One of the guards, when asked his name, replied, "My name is 'Jihad'. How do you like it?"

I'm not sure what the deal is with small openings like this one. They seem to be fairly common.
 The interior of the church is divided into two sides. One side is controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church, the other by the Roman Catholic Church. The Greek side is built over the birthplace of Christ. 

Yup! This is what it looks like inside. Apparently, renovation have been going on for some time. 
The line to get in was exceptionally long. This is the exit to the lower chamber built over the area the manger was positioned. 
This is what it looks  like inside. Visitors can reach down into the hole in the middle of the star and touch the spot where Jesus was born.
The Greek Orthodox chapel is exceptionally ornate and has a mesmerizing fascination even though it is in the middle of reconstruction.
The Roman Catholic side sees less traffic. This hallway separates the two. 
The Catholic chapel is beautiful

The square in front of the church leads into the town.
Another view of the church.
The main entrance
Of course, there are numerous souvenir shops of all types.
There's even a real Starbucks.
Amal and his 12 year-old son run the Starbucks. They're standing in front of Amal's father's shop. Truly fine folks and exceptionally gracious.I had an iced coffee and bought a Starbucks Bethlehem mug. Amal gave me a gift and a discount!
Steps, of course, are inescapable. 
Aaron Ian and Esther in front of Stars & Bucks coffee shop
A fascinating mix of modern and traditional dress is out on the street.
Outside of the church square and the shops surrounding it, Bethlehem in much like any other city. 
 We had lunch at a shop/eatery in town owned by a friend of Dr. G's. 
Our host, Shabbad was engaging
We had a dish called Maqloubeh. It is presented in one pot and, with a huge flourish, turned upside down and slammed onto the serving tray. 
It was a delicious concoction of rice, chicken, carrots, broccoli, curry and spices.
Mike and Paulette
Of course, souvenirs were available.
Sang, donned a priest's outfit and gave us a blessing.
In return, his wife gave him some priestly tickles. 
Leaving Bethlehem, we encountered another Israeli check point. This one was more time-consuming and vigilant. Israel has to be on constant lookout  for contraband or weapons being smuggled into the Israeli areas. 
A guard tower at the check point

We traveled east to the Shephelah, the lowland region between the coastal plain along the Mediterranean and the Hill country of central Israel. There we visited a town called Gezer, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Aijalon Valley, the primary approach to Jerusalem from the west. 

Being a vital defensive point of the Hill Country, Gezer has a history that goes back to the Canaanites. This was the entrance to the Canaanite city, a fortified gate.

Gezer overlooks the three mile wide mouth of the Aijalon Valley
 Joshua and his people failed to occupy Gezer. Solomon received it as a gift when he married Pharaoh's daughter. Solomon expanded the city and fortified the gates, building six chambers into the main gate making it treacherous to attack. It was a step uphill walk to the more recent part of the city. 
Add caption
Then a steep downhill walk to the gate itself. 
Dr. G did a teaching on 1 Kings 9

Our final stop of the day was Nebi Samwil overlooking Gibeon and east of Gezer. Gibeon is one of the four towns that are positioned at the corners of the Benjamin Plateau, north of Jerusalem. The plateau is crucial to the defense of Jerusalem as it is the only practical way of entering the town fro the west or north. The Muslims believe Samuel is buried at Nebi Samwil.

Josh 9 tells of the deception of the Gibeonites. Josh 10 reveals the strategically vital role Gibeon plays in defending Jerusalem. 
The chapel is huge. 
Gibeon's terraces can be seen for this high point
Most of the Benjamin Plateau can be seen here. Jerusalm is to the right, about five miles away. 
As we visit these sites, it is becoming increasingly clear the role they play in Israel's history. Reading the passages that mention them comes alive in a way that would be difficult to understand if the background remained vague. 

This is one of the great benefits of coming to Israel. Those who have been here can tell you how it impacts thier understanding of the Scriptures and how God uses each person and each location as part of His plan of self-revelation. 

After only a week here, I'm challenged and moved by what I've seen and heard. Most of the group seems to be moving beyond the initial exhaustion and fatigue. We're getting our "walking legs". We're also coming together as a group of fiends who are having an incredible experience.  I'm eager to see what lies ahead. 

Our bus took us back to Jerusalem, dropping us off near a mall just outside the Jaffa Gate. 

1 comment:

  1. John- friends or fiends? :)

    Isn't auto spelling great - hopefully everyone can overcome the fiendish good times and develop strong bonds of friendship
    On the other hand this is very interesting stuff - thank you for writing so faithfully