Honestly, I don’t know how I’m still running! By the time I finished writing and took a shower last night, it was 11:30pm. I decided not to take a Tylenol PM last night, to try to fully adjust to Israel time to old-fashioned way, so, despite spending the previous 17 hours in full-on information and sensory download, I could not fall asleep. I’ve noticed two main side effects of jet-lag: 1) Trouble falling asleep, and 2) a “spacey” mind. I never struggled adjusting to the time difference here; one night’s sleep took care of that. And I haven’t been waking up at odd hours of the night. But falling asleep has been frustratingly difficult. As for the spacey bit, you can see what I mean by my most recent videos. I’ll start talking about something and mid-sentence I’ll simply forget I was even speaking. After a few seconds, I somehow manage to rediscover my train of thought and safely deliver it back to it’s original place. Anyway, after waking up to see the sunrise over Kinnereth this morning, I only got about 4 hours of sleep.
It was worth it though. The sunrise was serene. Picturesque. The Sea was almost glassy; all around me were the sweet sounds of the birds and waves. The sight brought John 21 to mind. Thousands of years ago, when the sun rose over this same Sea, a relationship broken by pride and sin was restored through God’s loving forgiveness. This was a moment I’ll never forget.
Today we traveled along the eastern side of the Sea, which was entirely Gentile populated in Jesus’ day. As we drove up to the northern edge, we passed by the ancient towns of Hippos, Aphek and Gerasa, the region where Jesus healed the demon-possesed man (think soo-ee-cide). We also drove past the Old Testament city of Geshur, where Absolam hid from his father, David, in 2 Sam 13.
First stop was in the northern-most region of Israel, the territory belonging to the tribe of Dan. We walked through a beautiful nature reserve, wandering through heavily wooded paths with the thunder of a spring-fed river roaring in our ears. How it reminded me of home, hiking along the Russian river. These springs gush out 5,000 gallons of water per second, forming one of the main tributaries that eventually becomes part of the Jordan river.
Sitting in carved out rest stop, we studied Jeremiah 2:13:
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain [think “spring”] of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water”.
In Israel there are three ways to get water: 1) Dig a well, 2) dig an underground cistern to collect and store rainwater, or 3)Find a natural-fed spring. The first two options are obviously man-made, while the last is God-given. Through Jeremiah, God was telling Israel: “You have abandoned My grace to instead fill yourselves with your own perfomances (religion in the truest sense). But there is no relationship in this, and it won’t work”. I love the insight I’m getting over here!
Then we sat at the foot of a fig tree, studying Proverbs 22:6:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”.
The phrase “train up” refers to the practice Hebrew midwives use to teach stubborn infants to nurse. Picking green figs, they squirt some of the bitter juice into the baby’s mouth, which causes a natural pucker reaction. When put in the proper place, the child will naturally start nursing. “In the way he should go” again draws on a fig tree; unlike the picture perfect oak trees, with sturdy, predictable limbs, fig branches are thin, twisting in every direction. The phrase most literally translates “according to his own bend”. In this proverb, God calls parents to give their children an drawing thirst for the specific life God has called them to, knowing that the child will likely live in obedience if the hunger is properly placed.
Further down the trail in the Danite nature reserve we saw the excavation of Jeroboam’s high place (1 Kings 12:25-33), behind us the border between Israel and Lebanon. My favorite place in this excavated city was this ancient gate that dates to Abraham’s time (around 1850 BCE). It’s a red gate made out of mud bricks, formed in the Caananite town of Laish, later renamed Dan by the Hebrews. I stood along a gate that Abraham probably went through (Gen 14:14) !!!! Very cool.
Next we went to Caesarea Philippi, a city Jesus never went into, but spent some time in the area. And after exploring the ruins, I fully understand why He avoided the place. The ancient city was walled off on three sides, with a huge cliff protecting its back. At the base of this cliff is a giant cave, black and red from the various types of rock inside it. Locals way back when used to call it “the mouth of the underworld”, the perfect place to commune with the gods on the other side. Over a period of 200 years, five different temples were built in this place, one right alongside the other. First came a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar in 20 CE. Then came one to Pan (the greek god of the shepherds, popular in the hills of Dan), and a temple to Zeus. Just to the right of Zeus’ temple sat a temple to Nemesis (funny story of her name became part of our everyday language). And finally, Eligabulus build the Temple of the Dancing Goat, which I thought was a positively comical name… until I learned about its practices. I won’t even explain them for fear of becoming sick, but let’s just say that this site was the perfect, physical expression of how a culture naturally degrades without the influence and centrality of Jesus.
On that “light” note, we made a quick stop up in the mountains for lunch. I don’t know what it was called, but Kelsey and I shared this delicious thin flat bread that was spread with tangy goat cheese. Delicious! And then we went off to Har Bental (“Mountain, son of the morning dew” aka, the Hebrew origin of Mountain Dew), where we could see Lebanon to the west, Syria to the east and even Jordan in the distance. What a privilege to find myself in such a place!
Our last stop was Qazrin, a town dated back to 300-500 CE, looking at a restored Rabbi’s house. It was neat to see this house (different from the cave or insulae style homes); the bottom level was for animals, with a small upper story for people.
And then we came back to Ma’agan, our beautiful hotel along Galilee. Since this was our last night here, a few people wanted to take the opportunity to be baptised in the Sea, an area around which Jesus did so much. Ben Fetterhoff, Kelly and Peter (three of my classmates) were among the crowd, and I cried. I always cry at baptisms; even if I don’t know the individual personally, seeing a brother or sister in Christ publically proclaim their love and dedication to Jesus is so encouraging and worship-inspiring. What a great way to end a great day!