Monday, March 2, 2009

Day 4 – Golan Heights, Mt. Bental, Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Golan Heights, and Mount of Beatitudes

I aplogize for the delay in Day 4, as it turns out several of us got sick, including Jason and I, but we are feeling better today and should be back on track.

With Day 4, came more rain, but the spirits of everyone continued to run high. After all, we are in Israel in the land where Jesus walked. Come rain or shine it is a blessing to be here. At one point in the previous day of touring, while we were waiting for the boat, Avi Maletsky, our bus driver, busted out his accordion for a little music. I will try and send the video in the next couple of posts.

We started day four with a tour of the Golan Heights. It is hard to believe that Israel has survived so many years of being persecuted and unfairly harassed. Our bus driver spent 17 years of his childhood, from birth, in a bunker (a bomb shelter) in the ‘kibbutz’ En Gev. He said it was terrible having Syria, from the Golan Heights shoot at them 5 or 6 times per day for many years. It was hard for him to talk about it. Even today, while we have been here, the Hamas continues to fire at Israel from Gaza. Truly it is a picture of darkness vs light, evil vs darkness.

It is not unusual for people to ask me if it is safe to come to Israel. After being here three times, and making friends like Avi, David (our previous tour guide), Ronnie Cohen (our current tour guide) and Steve and Pat Apple (Calvary Chapel Tel Aviv), you don’t think about the danger much. You begin to think of it as coming to visit old friends who live in this environment 24/7. It is a privelege to be here to support them. They are very thankful that we come.

We visited an old army post at the top of Mt. Bental. Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture, it was snowing and so foggy that we couldn’t see much of anything. At one point, it started hailing a bit, and the hail was hitting us in the face like buck shot. It was a bit painful and fun all at the same time.

We then proceeded to Caesarea Philippi where Peter answered Jesus’ question, “Who do men say that I am?” Peter, inspired by God the Father declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then acknowledged that it was upon that statement of faith, that Jesus would build His church, and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it.

I had the blessed opportunity to teach from this bit of Scripture found in Matthew 16. The setting was majestic as directly behind us, stood these mighty rock walls with various shrines to pagan Gods carved out of them. Our guide told us that the residents of Caesarea Philippi, were so into sacrificing to these gods that their hope would be to somehow, in their sacrifices, to prevent falling into ‘Hades’. This of course makes the conversation between Jesus and Peter all the more meaningful.

After our time at Caesarea Philippi and a great lunch at ‘kibbutz’ Kfar Blum, we headed all the way north to Tel Dan. We visited this ancient city that dated back to King Rehoboam, who re-instituted calf worship, for fear that the Jews who were now part of a divided kingdom would head to Jerusalem to worship. How easy it was for him to convince the people to worship a golden calf, in the same manner as the gold calf that the Israelites worship while waiting for Moses on Mt. Sinai. I guess some things never change much. People today are just as easily swayed to worship many other different gods rather than acknowledging the one true God.

One of the most amazing things we saw at Tel Dan, was a Canaanite gate which was dated some 4,000 years ago to the time of Abraham (see photo on left). It is most likely, that Abraham would have passed through this gate at one time or another. Tel Dan is also the site where the first discovery of King David’s existence was found. It seems that virtually wherever you go in Israel, there is one sort of archeological dig or another going on...and I am sure many more to be discovered.

Our day of touring ended, beautifully, at the Mount of Beatitudes (see photo on left). It was raining when we got there, so we did the bible study in the bus, looking at the natural amphitheater that the rolling hills of Galilee provided. It was here that Jesus taught what has become known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5, 6 & 7). After the study, the rain stopped and we were able to get out of the bus and get a closer look. It was the first time in all of my visits here that I has seen it from this vantage point. Truly it was one of my favorite visits.

Our next day of touring will begin our journey to the south, ending at the Dead Sea. So until then...Shalom!

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