Tour Journal For Israel In Depth Study Tour September 30-October 12, 2012

Day 2 – Into The Land

Day 2 – Into The Land

We started the day as Marty gave as on overview of the land.  “Over here,” he points, “is the Coastal Plain. This is the land of the pagans.” We were standing in the Shephelah, which means “low” or “foothills,” at Tell Gezer. Marty stresses that it’s in the Shephelah where worldviews are formed. It sits right in between the Coastal Plain and where he points to the other side of us, the Judah Mountains, where the people of God, the Israelites, lived.  He challenges us to consider our area of influence. Do we hang out in the Judah Mountain with people who think and believe just like us, isolating ourselves from the pagans? Do we influence others that do not know God, or do they influence us?  He poses, “Who influences whom in your life?”  Our heads droop a bit, realizing that we often allow the world to mold us rather than us mold the world.

Tel Gezer was an ancient city that has been excavated, and we entered through the city gates of Gezer and first noticed a long trench that ran down the middle of the ancient city and sections of remnant stones marked what was long ago King Solomon’s city—a gift to him from the Egyptian Pharaoh as a dowry when Solomon married the pharaoh’s daughter.  The city sits right in the pathway of the Via Maris, the main trade route from East to West where more than a million people would traverse annually, trading goods and connecting two distinctly different worlds in business deals.  Gezer was a happening place back in Solomon’s day.

King Solomon, like any king, held the key to the city, so to speak.  With his throne, he held the distinct responsibility of protecting those in his kingdom.  When invaders would come to plunder and destroy ancient cities, it was necessary to build a city that would withstand such attacks with thick fortress walls, cisterns to hold water and a waste system (the “trenches” we first noticed), yet there was one weak area in the city: the city gates. But these city gates also represented refuge for those who found favor with the king during enemy sieges. Those outside the city walls in nearby “daughter cities” relied upon the king to provide such refuge by allowing entrance into Gezer so they could have life-sustaining water, a place to sleep and a safe haven from their attackers.

Craig looks us in the eyes, one-by-one, impassioned, telling us that we—set apart as holy priests—also share in the King’s duty to be a city on a hill—to provide refuge to those in need, to pull them in and share the Living Water that gives Life.

We walked a bit to see some ancient standing stones, large misshapen white stones reaching high up to the heavens about 20-feet tall where some ancient civilization would come to worship their god or goddess. Scholars believe these stones are most likely Asherah poles, of which the Bible speaks.  We learn that people from all ancient civilizations came to a high place and put stones in honor of their god, praying for their needs, and our Bible records our earliest men doing so: Noah, Abraham, etc.

If the ancient Israelites’ leaders, like Hezekiah, wiped out all idols, cast away all other worship of other gods, we’re left to wonder why these ancient stones still remain standing.  Obviously, the Israelites, a people group fickle in their faith, struggled blending in with their culture and doing as they did.  Chided over and over again by God for worshipping idols, the Israelites could not seem to keep their eyes on their one God, the “I am.”

And then Craig tells us to look inwards. Are we standing stones that are alive or dead? Are we pillars for God who represent Him, who are faithful to Him, who serve only Him, who have eyes set on Him?

Not far away, Craig leads us to an ancient cistern where we read several verses about cisterns, including Jeremiah 2:13 where God rebukes the Israelites for two sins: forsaking Him and digging their own cistern.  But the cisterns give water, sustain life? Why would that be sinful? we wonder.  Whatever we build where we become independent of God, where we no longer depend on Him to guide us and support us, is sinful, in God’s eyes.

In Beth Shemesh, Craig talks about the life of Samson—a child set apart by God at birth for a special purpose.  An angel appears to his mother, telling her of Samson’s bright future.  Samson’s father, Monoah, means “compromiser,” and he must have had an influence on his supernaturally strong but naturally stupid son, Samson.  Samson turns out to be a compromiser himself, never really having his own God-encounter and therefore never formulating his own faith in God.  He intermarries with women of pagan nations and disobeys God, eventually losing his power and his life.  Does God have great things in store for us that we throw to the wind—that we compromise and miss the mark?

Onward we moved to Azekah where Craig contrasts Samson to David (means “beloved”).  We learn about David as a young shepherd boy who is small yet courageous. He believes God when He tells David that God will be with him, not to be afraid, as he goes up against Goliath, a giant Philistine who dares anyone to battle against him.  David picks up five smooth stones for his sling shot and his shepherd’s staff as his war tools, and in his youthful smallness he conquers the “unconquerable giant.”

Craig points out that God uses David, the small guy, to conquer the big guy, to show the Philistine’s, Israelites’ enemy, that God can do the impossible. But it takes a partnership with God. David was faithful in the little things, in his daily life as a lowly shepherd boy, so that he was prepared when God wanted to use him for a big thing.  Craig encourages us to rethink our daily “little” things we do, and one of participants shared at the end of the lesson that in her life, she’s realized that God doesn’t waste a thing. We got to pick out our own five smooth stones as souvenirs, from the precise river from which David would have selected his giant=slaughtering stones.

Then we trekked on to Adullum, the cave where David hid from the jealous King Saul who sought to kill his predecessor.  Our Israeli guide explained how they’ve found hundreds of caves in this Shephelah region where the Israelites fighting against the Roman officers could kill off some officers then flee to the area caves, which had small openings and intertwined tunnels that had hidden entrances and exits, much like groundhog holes.  Here is where a select group of brave men from our group dipped into a tunnel hole and crawled through a 60-ft tunnel, oftentimes not much wider than their bodies.  In the dark, dank tunnel, the guys emerged about 30 minutes later, all dusty and manly, as we women cheered on their chutzpah, much like the women of David had cheered thousands of years earlier when he slayed Goliath and returned to camp.

Trying to defy the sun slipping away the day, our bus picked up the pace as it headed to Lacish.  We first saw a pomegranate tree and discussed its biblical significance.  It’s one of the three sweet fruits in ancient times, in addition to grapes and figs.  Although we Westerners have taken the word “law” and tagged a negative connotation to it, the ancient Israelites would have considered God’s law not a burden but a sweet path (Hebrew word shevil”) for a life of protection and freedom, like 613 “I love you’s.”

We walked a bit more to the largest vineyard in Israel, and by all our accounts, probably the most beautiful we’d ever seen. Canopies guarded over the carefully planted grapevines that crawled upwards of 10 feet, with clusters of large green juicy grapes that hung low, ready for the pick.  “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Without me you can do nothing. IF you remain in me, I remain in you” a trip participant read aloud.  I reached out and touched the hanging grapes and was surprised how heavy they were.  The cluster suspended from a particularly small vine that seemed as if it would break under the pressure, but there it hung secure and protected, by God’s design.  I thought to myself of this verse: “No one can snatch them out of my hands.” I envisioned God my father clasping onto me, the sturdy branch that helps sustain life for the cluster of grapes that holds all my heavy burdens.  Jesus is the hearty branch who clings to us with a steadfast grip, never letting us slip from His mighty hand IF we abide in Him.  IF we abide in Him. I ponder the word “abide.” We leave the vineyard, all with a new tangible experience of seeing what it might mean for the Vinedresser to care for every single saint in His garden.  He does His part, and we must do ours. Our single goal is to stay clinging to our Vinedresser.  And it is through that clinging that we produce good fruit.

Our last “pit stop” was the tell at Lacish, which means “impregnable.” Lacish was built up high, high with formidable walls surrounding it to protect its civilians from their surrounding enemies who’d try to overtake them.  If you got Lacish, you basically were on your way to overtake Jerusalem.  Lacish, then, was a city that had to protect itself because it protected the Holy City of Jerusalem.

When the Assyrian king Sennacherib, with his quarter of a million strong, brutal army men, came with chariots and sophisticated war equipment to kill and drag away the Israelites by their Achilles tendons, the Israelites shook in their brown leather sandals. But the good and faithful Hezekiah, king of Judah, cried out to the Lord to save them. He believed that God could save the thousands of Israelites held hostage at Lachish. The Israelites awoke the next morning to find 250,000 dead Assyrians at the foot of the Lachish tell. God had answered Hezekiah’s plea.

In his conclusion, Marty asks, “How big is your God?” Do we give God BIG things for God to bless? Do we ask Him for the possible….or the impossible? Do we believe that He can conquer our enemies, calm our storms, heal our bodies, sooth our souls? How much do we give God to bless? The question “How big is my God?” rang in my head as we took a two-hour bus drive to our final stop for the night: a Bedouin camp.

Here, we walked into The Disneyland of the Bedouin world.  Someone realized that tourists enjoyed a peek into the life of the modern-day Bedouins and built a tourist spot where we can see how ancient men, such as Abraham, lived—those who dwelled in tents that were constructed much like the tabernacle of God.  We sat on the floor of woven rugs with a fire at the center as our Bedouin guide discussed the simplistic life of a modern-day Bedouin.  They live by strict rules that the Israelis allow them to govern on their own, and they are known for their hospitality.  All men Bedouin, dressed like sheiks with turbans and ancient robes like you’d see in church Christmas productions, serve us rich coffee, hand-ground and delicious.  They have specific rules for hospitality to sustain visitors passing by in the dangerously hot desert. They reject no stranger into their home. To them, it would be a crime. They live in small communities and help one another even without anyone asking for help. They share their duties, their accumulated goods and their life in a way that puts us Americans to quick shame.  There’s something alluring about the Bedouin life—an ancient life for many that is as old as Abraham but still remains intact today.  Sure, many Bedouins have succumbed to the pressures of Modern society—the  children go to school,  young men and women attend universities and become doctors and lawyers, yet they still remain in their Bedouin communities, drawn to it for the same reason that mesmerizes us: it’s pure simplicity.  We find some of their cultures odd—multiple wives, fathers with 15-20 children each—yet we come to the camp to trace our minds back in time of the Patriarchs in order to grasp what those ancient tent-dwellers of our Bible must have lived like.

It is here that we lay our heads tonight, in rooms filled with wooden bunk beds much like a rustic outdoor camp for kids. We all contemplate how in the world we’ll sleep tonight with the neighing of donkeys, the chanting of the Israelites here on “holiday” who talk and laugh as a part of their weeklong Succoth festival, but somehow we manage to crawl up into our bunks and get some shut eye. Day 2 is done.


Today's Photos

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