REFLECTIONS ON ISRAEL || a tale of two seas and some baggy pants
[December 29th to 31st]
A 4:00ish, December 29th flight to Atlanta from New Orleans was followed by a 10:55 flight that went 12 hours on into Tel Aviv and ended with a relieved and excited group of 45 people. The night of December 30th came and went quickly with both the long flight and a 7 hour advance in time (from the east coast timezone). After experiencing “Passport Control,” we boarded a bus at the Ben Gurion airport.
Avner was our driver. Gilla was our guide. She is a longtime friend of Clay and my dad. My mom actually came twice with Dad I believe. She and Gilla hit it off. Mom used to talk so fondly of her. To finally meet her, this historically-educated, heart-felt, humorous, highly devoted Jewish woman, was a real treat and will be an ongoing joy thanks to Facebook.
It was about 8:00pm local time, and we had a two hour bus ride south to Mispeh Ramon to spend the night near the Negev Dessert and the Egyptian border at the Ramon Inn. We were given a late-night, delicious introduction to Israeli food and sent to our beds for a jet-lagged night of sleep in preparation for our fast-paced but thorough sight-seeing tour that began the following morning.
Breakfast was yummy. The orange juice was actually better than home. Later I found out that Israel, even with all of its long-standing water supply issues, is the largest supplier of citrus for European countries. I witnessed firsthand why.
I have not been to the Grand Canyon in America, but I can now say I have been to Israel’s. Walking distance from the Ramon Inn was one of Israel’s 63 National Parks. This one commemorated a crater with depth that cannot be captured by camera. The experience was breath-taking in two ways. Both because of the view and the temperature. It was cold. Not just for a Florida-resident either. We didn’t stay there long as a result.
North up the road we stopped at Avdad, the home to 4th Century church buildings and a settlement that dates back much farther. This hilltop village not only was a key community along one of the major trade routes of antiquity, it was also believed to be a stop for the Magi from the east as they neared Jerusalem following a new star. One of the gifts they carried, perfume, was a significant component of the commerce of that region. Thus, Casablanca often visited and bought perfume and its ingredients from there. There was a huge wine press. There were ruins with inscriptions that labeled one section as a “northern church” and one as a “southern church.” Maybe the evidence of an early church split? More likely used for different purposes. But I thought it interesting, with the state of the “church” of the southern United States, that such an impressive relic would be called “The Southern Church.” I pray we will be and keep becoming so much more than a relic as “the southern church” in America.
Our next stop was Beer-Sheva. You may well recognize the name, either from reading the Bible or from studying history. In the Scriptures, Abraham built a well there when he made an oath of peace with Abimilech (Genesis 21). Thus, the name Beer Sheva, which means “Well Oath.” One of the men in our group, his name JP, told us a personal story while we were there of the medical struggles he and his wife have had with their two and 1/2 year old daughter. Much like Hagar, he said, when she wept and cried out hurting as her son lay dying of hunger not too far from where we were standing (also Genesis 21), he and his wife had experienced that despair. And much like God opened Hagar’s eyes and blessed her, God had opened their eyes to trust him thru the pain and see the blessing of her continued progress. In the setting of that ancient well and in the context of hearing that story, I prayed, “Lord, please open up my eyes to know you as the Living Water that sustains.”
We loaded the bus, bypassed Jerusalem to the west (we would spend our final 3 days there), and headed up the Mediterranean Coast to Caesarea Maritime, or Caesarea “by the sea.” This was a well-known Roman outpost and port. Pilate most likely lived there or at least had a residence. Paul came before King Agrippa there (Acts 26). There was a well-preserved theater along with a Hippodrome – a 12,000 seat oval-shaped stadium home to chariot races (aka the founding place of NASCAR). I have to say the most moving moment for me at this location, however, was the first time my eyes beheld the Mediterranean Sea. I can’t explain why this sea possesses such mystique to me, but it does. And to be on its eastern shores was breathtaking. The wind that day was fierce and the waves surfable, if not for the jagged rocks. Those rocks were the remains of a man-made lagoon and port that spanned some 40 acres and docked many boats doing international commerce or diplomacy of some kind. My friend Rob and I snuck off for a latte and some conversation as we looked out over the water toward the near-setting sun. Special memory.
Our next and final sight-seeing stop of the day was also very mystical to me. You may understand why when I tell you that it was Mt. Carmel. Elijah faithed down hundreds of prophets who stood against him. God answered Elijah’s trash-talking prayer and lapped up both his soaked sacrifices and the water-filled moat around the altar, demonstrating the fearful power of a God nearer than those prophets had anticipated (1st Kings 18). The sun was setting toward the Mediterranean Sea, almost in fire-like fashion, definitely enhancing the moment as one of the men in our group retold the story of Elijah and the false prophets. To the east, we could see the valley of Megiddo. It was my first time seeing it. Also the prophesied site of a great standoff that according to Revelation will be anti-climatic for those on the anti-God side. They will prepare for a great battle, armed and ready, and the Lion of Judah will simply speak, lapping them all up in a similarly consuming way as to what happened to the Elijah’s sacrifice. It was a bit overwhelming thinking about it as we looked over this vast expanse. A moving moment at this stop.
One funny or at least interesting note. The inhabitants of a small town there near the peak of Mt. Carmel are a people whose faith has one odd tenant. They supposedly believe that the Messiah has yet to come, and when he finally does he will be birthed miraculously through a man. The joke in the country is that this prophetic belief is the basis for the baggy pants that all the men wear among this unique group. And they do wear baggy pants. Interesting.
I was getting bus-sickness a bit as we curved our way over the next two mountains in the dark. We were on our way to the area that I had been most excited to see. Even in the dark, it was still intriguing. And we arrived at our hotel there on her southern shores, a cold wind struck us. It was the same type of wind that struck this sea many times and very suddenly. And we were finally there, after my long anticipation. The sunrise couldn’t come fast enough so that I could finally see the Sea of Galilee.
We spent the next four days there. I will tell you of our first day in that region in the next post…