Last night was the beginning of Shabbat (the Hebrew word we’re translated as Sabbath), so the streets of Tel Aviv we nearly dead after sundown (as you know, the Hebrew day starts at sundown, not sunrise). And, praise God, I slept soundly; I only woke up long enough for me to wonder if I would be able to fall alseep again. I think by tomorrow I’ll be completely on Israel time.
8 am we all loaded on the bus. Our first and only night in Tel Aviv was over; time to start the tour. First stop: Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea by the Sea). This was the Roman capital in Israel. We explored a Roman theater, learned all about the “clanging gongs” (more literally a “sounding brass”) and “tinkling symbols”.
We saw the palace of the Agrippas (and whoever else) and I actually stood where Paul appealed to Caesar. Within the same household (1 generation prior) Herod Agrippa was eaten by worms here too. Gross, yes. But also awesome.
The agrippas had a sweet set up; their palace (rather small), was right on the Mediterranean Sea, with a theater to the south and a chariot-racing stadium to the north. Everything in Israel is made from stone; picture various shades of brown (Nacho Libre quote “My favorite color is light-tan”). The contrast that with the most vibrant sapphire-blue water you can imagine, and you’re seeing what I enjoyed this morning.
Next we went up to Mount Carmel, most literally Karem = vineyard, El = God. “God’s vineyard”. You don’t irrigate a vineyard; it “waters itself” by absorbing the morning dew. The Carmel Ridge (it’s not really a mountain) is one of the most “wet” parts of Israel. It almost always recieves rainfall in the rainy season. The farther north and west you go in the country, the greener it it grows. Mount Carmel overlooks the valley of Meggido, the largest agricultural plain in Israel. So when King Solomon says, “Your head corwns you like Carmel” in Song of Songs 7:5, he menas she has beautiful, rich hair.
From this height, I could see the Mediterranean Sea, Nazareth, Nain, Shunnam, and Mount Tabor. Israel, at its widest part, is only 50 miles across. Isn’t that wild? Over looking the plain, we studied Rev 16:13-21: valley of Meggido = Har-Magedon = Armageddon. This si where, after the 7 years of tribulation are over and all the nations turn on the Jews in fury, Jesus returns in judgement for the earth before He establishes His millenial Kingdom. In the Hebrew perspective contemporary to John, God does not send judgement to you, He merely harvests whatever you sowed for yourself. We grew the grapes, and God gives “the cup of the wine of his ferice wrath.” Rev 16:19.
Then we stopped for lunch, and we’re off to Zippori. Nothing Biblically happened here, but this is the only archologically excavated Roman villa close to Jesus’ time we have in Israel. So we walked through a house much like the Pharisees and Sadducees would own in Jesus’ day. I now have a visual setting for Luke 14-17.
And finally, to Nazareth! Funny enought, modern Nazareth is much, much bigger than Jesus’ hometown; it completely encircles the original site. The Catholic Church of the Annunciation (where we celebrate Gabriel announcing Mary’s upcoming pregnancy) actually sits on top of the majority of historic Nazareth. So it’s a pretty good assumption that this church is the actual site, since Nazareth was Joseph and Mary’s hometown. The central altar of the church is surrounded by stained glass windows, and the upper level is the modern church, built in 1968, with a brand new, HUGE pipe organ. All around the sanctuary are mosaics, paintings or statues of Mary and Jess from various Catholic churches around the globe. They very door of the church shared the Gospel, walking you through Jesus’ whole life, announcement to ascension.
Then we went “next door”, to an excavation right next to the church, examing what the average Nazareth and Bethelehem home looked like: a cave. There isn’t really enough wood in the area to turn into lumber for building a house, and caves are significantly cooler than the stone houses they make in Israel. These caves have three chambers: a family room (where you eat, sleep, etc), a guest room (sometimes used for storage as well), and in the back is the winter-stable. Since the second room is used for guests, we have translated it as “inn”. That gives the Christmas story a new light, doesn’t it? Rather than picturing Joseph checking every Israeli motel for a spare room, we see Joseph and Mary (the un-wed-but-pregnant youngster) so ostracised in the community that they aren’t even accepted in anyone’s guest room. Instead, Mary has to give birth in an overcrowded cave, with the animals. Christmas is so much more real now.