Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Israel Reflections #7, Nazareth and Nablus

In an attempt to give some background to our latest trip to Israel I've posted a few blog pages to break up the material and place things in more "bite-size" portions.  In this seventh post I want to share about Jesus' home town and our visit to the Nazareth Village, as well as our stop in Nablus on the way back home to Bethlehem.

Nazareth surprised me.  The trip to Nazareth is a trip "Up" - our vehicle climbing up small mountain roads to get there.  The city sits on top of a ridge north of the Jezreel Valley.  The city is home to 60,000 Israeli Arabs and Jews.  At the time of Jesus it was probably a village of only 200.

Of course, Nazareth was where Jesus was raised as a boy.  In fact, it was here that he was conceived in Mary's womb as the angel of God visited her:  Luke 1:26-27 
26  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

When Joseph and Mary answered the call to return back to Bethlehem for the Roman tax, they left Nazareth and traveled about 75 miles south, arriving in time for Mary to give birth to Jesus in an Innkeeper's manger.  After the birth, Matthew records that Magi ("Wise Men") from the East came to find the birth of the King's Son based on the appearance of a miraculous star that guided their way.  When they arrived in Jerusalem and went to Herod's court, they were sent to Bethlehem (about 7 miles south).  After giving presents to Mary and Joseph for Jesus they were warned in a dream to not go back to Herod, but return home.  At this time, Joseph was also warned in a dream of Herod's plan to kill all the babies of Bethlehem under the age of 2.  Joseph took Mary and Jesus and they left there to spend the early months of Jesus' life in Egypt.  Herod died in 4 B.C., which means Jesus was probably born in either 6 or 5 B.C.  At first it seems Joseph was thinking of going back to Bethlehem, but then another dream came to give him warning, and to cause him to go back to Nazareth;  Matthew 2:19-23 
19  But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20  saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
21  And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
23  And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

We arrived in Nazareth and immediately went to Nazareth Village - a sort of living museum replicating life as it would have been in Nazareth when Jesus grew up in the first century.

The scene is a fascinating portrayal of life in a rugged place.  

The houses were made of stone, and there were only a few hundred square feet of space which served for work, meal preparation, sleep, and even spaces for animals.

Jesus' father, Joseph was a carpenter...which meant much more than simply working with wood.  In all likelihood Joseph not only built things with wood, but also was skilled with stone and metal work too.  

We met "Joseph" on our visit!  I couldn't help but think my father, who was worked with wood, would have been impressed with his skills. 

Jesus lived the next 28+ years in Nazareth, and after his baptism by John he returned to Galilee and began His ministry, eventually going back to his home town synagogue - where he would have done Sabbath practically every week of his life.  In Nazareth village they replicated what a first century synagogue might have looked like.  

Here Jesus made his famous declaration:

Luke 4:14-21
14  And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.
15  And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
17  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
21  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Nazareth village was a fascinating place to see, observe, touch, even smell the first century village.

After we were finished, we headed south back towards Bethlehem - our home base.  We made one stop along the way - in Nablus, which is ancient "Shechem".  The significance of the place is biblically amazing.  Here's where God called Abraham to journey towards when he left his home and went towards the land of promise God was to give him, and his ancestors.

Genesis 12:1,4,6-7 
1  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
4  So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
6  Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.
7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him

Shechem has other significance.  It's here that Jacob brought his family when he returned from Haran and settled down.  It's also here that Moses instructed the children of Israel to return to - after they conquered the land - and here they were to repeat the instructions of the law on opposite sides of the two mountains that Shechem sits between - Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.

Well, that's all for today, check back shortly for the last one, or two.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Israel Reflections - #6, Caesarea

On one of Jesus' journeys with his disciples they left Capernaum and walked about 20 km north to the northern borders of Israel - an area referred to as Caesarea Philippi.  To the Romans it was called "Banias", or "Panias" and had a shrine erected to the greek god, Pan.

Historically it was the headquarters of one of Herod's sons Philip, who in about 14 a.d. made it a capitol city for the region he was to take control of.  He called it Caesarea in honor of Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor at the time of Philip's rule.  Later it was passed on the another Herod, Agrippa, who made more improvements to it and made it is regional place of rule.

When Jesus arrived with his disciples he took the opportunity to ask a question:  Matthew 16:13-18 
13  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Scripture doesn't give us a reason for the question, but this place was the furthest place from Jerusalem and the closest place in Israel to the Gentile territories.  It was also a center for worship of the Greek god Pan, and so identified more with Roman religion that the Jewish faith of Jesus and his disciples.  Perhaps this is why Jesus asked the question.  The fact that Jesus says, "Upon your confession Peter I will build my church" speaks loudly of the future.

Today, this area is an archaeological spot in the Golan Heights, just a few miles from Jordan and Lebanon.  We made our visit and discovered the springs that feed from the mountain side.  Truly a beautiful location.

We walked much of the grounds, probably two or so miles winding in and out of the river way which got narrower in spots and caused the stream to turn into a rushing torrent of water.

The ruins of the Palace have been partially excavated.  

Noticeably on the drive were a number of underground bunkers.  

This part of Israel was often attacked by various national armies in Israel's early days.  

Israel fought their first war in 1948 as they sought to establish their nation against the Egyptians in the south and the Lebanese/Syrian armies to the north.

This was reduplicated in 1967 when in the famous six day war, Israel defeated all of them which is where they claimed the territories from Jordan that they still hold in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus (ancient Shechem).  

Another conflict in 1973 called the Yom Kippur War led to peace talks in 1978 brokered by the U.S. at Camp David.  
It's safe to say that it never really led to any kind of permanent solution.  This tension has not subsided and there are Arab Muslims who continue to seek ways to fight a guerrilla war against what is referred to as Israel's "occupation".  

The rule of the Romans in the first century became the background for Jesus' coming...and the beginning of the church.  "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it..." is what Jesus said.  
After spending some time in Israel passing through checkpoints to leave one area and enter another one, one can understand how this area often experiences the "gates of hell" attacks.  It is the church and the message of the cross and the hope of the Gospel that is the answer.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Israel Reflections - #5, Galilee Other Spots

Last time I shared just one segment of our time in Galilee and that was the marvelous ruins of Capernaum.  I want to share a bit more of our time in Galilee and the other spots we made it to.

We traveled from where we were staying in Bethlehem north to Galilee - a trip about 100 miles - but it took us three hours before we arrived at our initial destination, a Kibbutz.

If you're not familiar with a Kibbutz, it literally mean "Communal settlement".  Israel has a large number of Kibbutzim.  Many are agriculture, but they are not all dedicated to agriculture.   There is a really good introduction to the average Kibbutz at the web site:

We were very near Mount Tabor, which is the traditional spot of the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus took three of his disciples,
Peter, James, John to the top of the mountain.  All the Synoptic gospels record it.  Matthew 17:1-8 records it like this.
1  And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
2  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
3  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4  And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
6  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
7  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”
8  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Near here was another mountain top - a place where Jesus is reputed to have taught the people in the Sermon on the Mount.

It's a beautiful place that overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the grounds have been turned into a sacred worship place by the Catholic church.

The areas near here were where Jesus did extensive ministry that included healings, teaching, and even feeding thousands.  Although there are sites given over to those events, it's clear that they could have been done from other places too; but at least we know they were done in this area of Galilee.

One of the joys of the trip up here was discovering a Cherkessian Folk restaurant near the Kibbutz.  The Cherkessians are an Ethnic group, largely culturally Muslim, who come from the Southern Soviet states in the Caspian areas.  We usually hear only of the bigger areas that have some terrorism connected to them like Chechnya.

This restaurant was rich in the cuisine of the area...good food.  We met the Son who was running the restaurant and he went into the back and brought his father out from the kitchen to meet us.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Israel Reflections - #4, Galilee

In the previous post I shared some of things we experienced in Hebron, and in the previous one, some of what we did in Jerusalem.

On our third day there we traveled to the Northern parts of Israel, driving up the eastern side in the Jordan River valley.

The Jordan River is the boundary between Israel and Jordan, and it is flat, arid, and a source of  dry farming such as the vast array of date farms.

We passed through the ancient city of  Jericho.  The mountains in the background reminded us of the barrier that Joshua and his army faced as they entered the land when God told them to go in and take the land.

While the modern city is built on the plains, the ancient part of Jericho is in the foothills of the mountain range and must have looked like a formidable task.  What must have they thought when God said, in Joshua 6, 3  You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days.

They did...and at the end on the seventh day they marched around it seven times and the walls fell down.  Driving through Jericho there were no walls!

We had to pass through the checkpoint when we reached the northern Galilee area.

Checkpoints are a normal part of life in Israel.  They serve to separate the Jewish areas from the Arab Palestinian areas.

Palestinian Arabs cannot enter into those areas without permits.  Jews cannot enter into Palestinian Arab areas without permits.  They serve to keep things separated so that they can hinder chances of violence.

Once in the Galilee area we came to the edge of the Golan Heights.  From the top of the hills we caught our first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee.

It was a beautiful site to behold.  The Sea of Galilee is the biblical words to describe this lake.  It is fed from the run off of waters coming from Mount Hermon in the north as it flows down to the lake in the northern part of the Jordan River.

In Scripture it is also called Kinneret, and the Lake of Gennesaret.  It is about 14 miles long and about 8 miles wide at it's maximum.

There are so many biblical events associated with Jesus in Galilee.  He spent the better part of his three years of ministry in Galilee.  We visited several places, but today I'll focus on just one and pick up the others later.

The northern side of Galilee is where you find the ancient ruins of Capernaum.

Matthew tells us in 4:13 that Jesus ..."leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Capernaum was an ancient fishing village at the source of the Jordan coming from the north into the Sea of Galilee.  It was a crossroads for traffic coming from Damascus on the way to either Jerusalem or further on to Egypt.

Luke 4:31-32
31  And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath,
32  and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.

The picture on the right is the ancient synagogue where Jesus would have come to and taught.  It was here that a demon possessed man was confronted and the demon expelled.   It was here in Capernaum that Jesus healed the Roman centurion's son by just telling him to go home because he was healed.

The ancient synagogue is only part of what is there.

There have been several archaeological digs that have also unearthed the foundations of many of the homes and buildings that made up this small fishing village which seems to have been a few hundred citizens.

There is also a Catholic shrine present that is built over the remains of a home that was said to be Peter's home.  While it might not be accurate that this was Peter's home, it's clear that Peter and his brother, Andrew fished for a living when Jesus first came to their village and called them to follow him.  Matthew 4:18-19, 18  While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 
19  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Capernaum was truly an eye opening experience.  To stand in the middle of the synagogue and realize I was standing in the very place that Jesus would have spoken in 2000 years before was beyond all my expectations.  My mind was busy with thoughts of Jesus' walks through the ancient village and the days and nights he spent with his disciples doing ministry in and around this area.

More on this later, but this was a great day.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Some Reflections on Israel - #3

Linda and I had the privilege of visiting some friends of ours in Israel last month.  We traveled to Israel via London - a five hour flight to Tel Aviv, followed by a one hour drive to Bethlehem, where we lived in an apartment for the week with some lovely people - Erika and Frank, a young couple who are also working in Israel.

Frank is originally from Spain and he's tutoring Arab students in learning Spanish.  Erika is originally from Wales and is pursuing her Master's degree in Ireland and doing research with Palestinian children.  We loved our times with them.  They've been married less than a year and their adventure in life together is really just beginning, but we loved our times with them over cover, food and late night conversations.

After a couple of days in Israel we went to Hebron where we split up.  Linda went with Karen to a afternoon session with women from the University that Karen had organized.  Women in Palestine are often marginalized and treated as second class citizens.  In Muslim culture, women are not treated as anything other than child bearers, child raisers, and home keepers.  When we went to a Muslim home, we were ushered into a front living room where the man brought us, and the women remained in the kitchen, separated from us - largely because there were two men in the room.  I never met this man's Mom or sisters.  For Karen to run this class for women was an amazing assertion of their dignity and honor of their worth.

David and I, along with his friend Mohammed went on to visit a Palestinian dairy farm.

David has been working with Mohammed on this dairy farm to improve the milk production.

The farm is much like our own Wisconsin modern farms.

The farm has an open barn system with bunk feeders, and milk parlor set up.  It's high tech, but they've struggled a lot with keeping cows healthy.

This is where David and Mohammed come in.  They've provided some modern methods to improving the cow's health.

Interestingly, most of the milk produced on Palestinian farms is not for drinking, like we do.
Palestinians love yogurt and make a cheese that's much like our cheese curds, but milk for drinking is not the predominant use of milk.

Hebron is a Palestinian city.  It is - like Bethlehem - a city of historic meaning.  Biblically, Abraham brought his flocks and herds south to Hebron.  He bought a field in Hebron to bury his wife Sarah.  When Abraham died, he was buried there.  Abraham's son, Isaac along with his wife Rebekah lived in this area and they also were buried there.  After Isaac, Jacob and his wife Leah (not Rachel) were also buried there.  These Patriarchs are recognized by both Muslims and Jews.

Muslim side with the Tombs
Jewish side, looking at Abraham's tomb
In Hebron they built a shrine which contains the burial sites of the Patriarchs - one side has a Mosque for Muslims and the other side has a Synagogue for Jews.

It's an interesting division based on their mutual recognition of the significance of these Patriarchs.

Hebron is an old city.  It's been inhabited by people for over 6000 years.  Not only the Patriarchs, but David served as Israel's King for his first seven years in Hebron (he was King for 40 years).
The old city has narrow streets... even allowing for the same traffic that was there thousands of years ago - Goats!

Our day in Hebron ended with a meal of Kabobs and some amazing vegetable dishes with Pita and Hummus.

If you have any questions as we go along, please write a comment below.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Some Reflections on Jerusalem - #2

Last week I shared a few things about our recent trip to Israel.  We were there for 8 days and during that time visited Jerusalem twice.

Jerusalem is an interesting city.  A modern city it also envelopes a small "Old City" that existed in Biblical days.  The city is full of contrasting life:  Modern & Old,  Strongly Religious and Humanistically secular.

When I took this first picture we had stopped to have a bite to eat at one of the many market stands that dot the streets.  In the background is an Orthodox Jewish man reading and praying.

Orthodox Jewish are plentiful.  Usually dressed in familiar attire, men usually wear hats, and women head coverings.  Men and boys have long locks of hair hanging on the side...all of which is based on traditions handed down through the centuries of teachings by the Rabbis and made into Law.

We began our tour of Jerusalem the first day by going to the Mount of Olives.  The Mount of Olives have biblical significance in several ways:  David went up the Mount to escape Absalom's rebellion.  Zechariah, the prophet, prophesies the Messiah coming to the Mount, splitting it in half.

Jesus used that prophesy while on this Mount to teach his disciples about his second coming.  Jesus came to the foot of the Mount and entered the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

The Mountain side today is full of graves; but one can still get a panoramic shot of the whole of Jerusalem where you can get the geography of the Old City, the Kidron Valley, the Hinnom Valley and the Muslim Dome of the Rock that dominates the Eastern side.

Beyond the Dome is the Western Wall of the Jewish faith - the only bit of the Jewish Temple left after the Roman destructions in the first and second centuries.

The Old City is a bustling set of small alley way streets that are full of small markets selling everything one can imagine.
It is crowded, noisy, and fascinating to walk through.

We entered the Old City through the Damascus Gate - the current entrance that dates itself back to the 16th century, but dates back to the 2nd century.

Eventually we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a church built over the site reportedly to be the place where Jesus was crucified and eventually buried.  There is another site that is outside of this area that might be a better alternative for where Jesus died...we'll look at that another day.

The thing about Israel is that are many "holy" sites where such and such happened...and of course the various churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Armenian Orthodox, etc..) claim a certain amount of authority in "running" the tourists through.  We tried to avoid the normal tourist places and keep our walks going to look for the "other" things.

One of the interesting "finds" of this first visit was
Hezekiah's Wall...and 8th century B.C. structure that formed the ancient wall of the Old City.

2 Chronicles 32:1-8
1  After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.
2  And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem,
3  he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him.
4  A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?”
5  He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance.
6  And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying,
7  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.
8  With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

We ended our first day with a walk to a roof top cafe and a final shot at the Old City from on high.