Monday, December 10, 2012

10 Days in Greece!

Well, I’m actually back home from Israel now, but there’s so much that happened during my last few weeks that I haven’t told you about, so I want to take the chance to do that now. In this blog, I want to focus on my amazing travel break!

Our group! Micaiah, Sam, Brett, and I.
We got a week for a travel break in November, which was such an amazing blessing! I was able to go to Greece with three of my friends (Brett, Sam and Micaiah), and we had a total blast! We started out our trip in Athens, where we stayed for four nights. During those days, we toured around Athens, but also took a day to spend in Corinth as well. Then, we traveled to the port at Piraeus and hung out there for a day while waiting for an over night ferry to take us to Crete. We stayed in Crete at a little village called Elounda where Brett’s dad’s cousin lives! We got to tour around and see a lot of the sites, but we also just got to relax and take things slowly, which was an immense blessing. There were so many things we saw that I loved, so I’ll try to narrow it down to some of my favorite experiences.

Athens: Acropolis and Areopagus
The Parthenon atop the Acropolis
Athens is probably most well known for its enormous Acropolis that towers over the city, proudly declaring its paganism and idolatry. We went up to see it on our first full day in Athens, and I was just astounded by the sheer number of gods that were represented by different temples, monuments and statues. The architecture was beautiful, and I was astounded by the ability of the artists to make such intricate designs in stone and marble! But despite the external beauties of it, the intrinsic nature of such idolatry is heart breaking and wicked.

Understanding this brings a lot more significance and depth to Paul’s words in Acts 17. He preached this sermon on “Mars Hill,” aka the Areopagus, which is basically a giant rock near the Acropolis that has a tremendous view of the Parthenon. We went up the Areopagus and read Acts 17:16-34, which records Paul’s time in Athens and his address to the Athenians. He stared out by addressing the fact that the city was full of idols, and even had an altar to “the unknown god.” Paul used their idolatry as a way to share the truth of the One True God with them. He said in verse 24,
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything in it.”

Sitting on the Areopagus
The power of these words struck me as we read them, with the Acropolis in perfect view. There on that mountain were tons of temples constructed to house and serve the various gods of the Greek pantheon. Yet this God that Paul proclaimed, and whom I believe, is different than all of them, because He does not depend on man for His home or His wellbeing. Man cannot offer anything to God that He does not already have or posses. He doesn’t need anything from us, yet those other gods were completely dependent on man, because they were false. They were mere wood, stone and metal, formed and fashioned by man. This concept definitely sounds much like Isaiah 44, where Isaiah is mocking the whole notion of idolatry. He says that a carpenter goes and gathers wood and uses half of it for a fire to warm himself and make his own food, and then uses the rest to make an idol and he falls down to it and worships it. This whole concept is absolutely ridiculous and doesn’t make logical sense. In this god-man relationship, it is the man who is making the god, yet it is also the man who is serving the god. Isaiah 44:21 provides an important contrast to this:
“Remember these things, O Jacob and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant.”
God formed and created Israel, and therefore Israel shall serve Him. The maker does not worship its creation! The creation worships the Creator. This has some Romans 1 ideas too J So cool!

Anyways, I really enjoyed being on the Areopagus and contemplating these things. It really contextualized Paul’s words and brought an even greater appreciation for the revelation of God’s truth that has been revealed to me. I don’t deserve to know God, nor would I be able to know Him on my own. If left to myself, I too would be an idolater and would reject the truth. Yet for some reason, God saw fit to make Himself known to me so that I could enjoy His truth, peace, forgiveness and salvation forever. Praise the Lord!

Temple of Apollos at Ancient Corinth
We had quite an adventure trying to get to Corinth! We had to take a long distance bus from Athens to the modern city of Corinth, but because of a big misunderstanding, we stayed on the bus too long and actually drove past Corinth! So we had to get on another bus to get to Corinth, and then from there took a bus to the site of Ancient Corinth.

Ancient Corinth was really interesting! Like the Acropolis and the rest of Greek culture, there were still tons of idols and temples dedicated to various gods. There were even remains from a temple that was simply called “Temple E” because they weren’t even sure which god that temple was dedicated to. The main attraction at Ancient Corinth was the giant temple of Apollos. It was very impressive, indeed! Again, I am absolutely blown away by the architectural feats that the Greeks were able to pull off! I’ve never seen so many pillars in my life, and they were all beautiful and unique. Also at Ancient Corinth was the Bema where tradition says Paul stood when he preached to the Corinthians. We sat next to the Bema and read Acts 18:1-17. Paul went from Athens to Corinth, which is really cool, because that’s exactly what we got to do! Just like at the Areopagus, there was a full view of the temple of Apollos from the Bema seat. When Paul preached to the Corinthians, he had a clear view of their true spiritual condition as he was talking, because it was all around him! But despite all that dark paganism, there was certainly a glimmer of hope, for the Lord told Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Even with the rampant idolatry, God chose to reveal Himself to the Corinthian people, and chose to save them through the words and ministry of Paul! God is so good! He is able to save us from the depths of our sin, the hardness of our hearts, and the blindness of our eyes.

We also got to go up to Acrocorinth, which is the Acropolis (high place) of Corinth. There were remains from a giant fortress up there, and it was really fun to just climb around and explore! We had a tremendous view of the surrounding area and the sea. It was absolutely beautiful.

The Gospel in Greece

We were in Athens for one Sunday, and we really wanted to go to an evangelical church. So on Saturday night we got online and tried to find any churches in the area.  Micaiah stumbled across one called Trinity International Church and it looked really good! So our plan was to go to that church, and then afterwards, we’d rent bikes and ride around Athens.

The church was amazing! There were maybe 10 people in that room besides us, so it was an extremely small body. The teaching was absolutely solid! The pastor was half Greek and half South African, and was very articulate, and you could tell that he really loved God’s word and that congregation of believers. We were able to talk to him after the service, and he said their church used to be huge when there was an American military base in Athens, but once the base closed down, their body shrunk significantly. However, they were still so joyful and loving! They have a huge focus on reaching out to the Greek population, and had just recently started a Thursday night bible study in Greek that they were trying to invite people to. We really enjoyed being able to talk to them and get to know them. I wish I would have gotten a picture, because it was such a sweet moment, and probably one of our favorite memories from the whole trip!

After church, we did rent bikes and we had a fun time riding around Athens, stopping at a few stops, including the prison that held Socrates! But the best part of the whole bike rental was at the end when we returned them, because we got to share the gospel with the guy who rented us the bikes. We had told him that we were students, and then told him that we were studying the Bible. He ended up asking us why we were studying the Bible, which led into an hour long, amazing discussion! He was so fun to talk to because he was an attentive listener, but he also asked a lot of really good, honest questions. He grew up in a Greek Orthodox home and church, but has since rejected all things pertaining to God. He was a relativist to the max, and didn’t believe that there was any God active in this world (and if there is a God, then we all have reason to be mad at him). Sam was especially good at engaging him with some really good, thought provoking questions. The conversation went really well and he was really thankful that we were willing to sit and talk with him for so long. We left him with the encouragement to read the gospel of John to learn about who Jesus is, and we also encouraged him to go to Trinity’s Thursday night Greek bible study. He seemed like he would honestly consider doing both of those things, which was really encouraging. The seed has been planted, and now we can only pray that the Lord will cause it to grow. I really hope we see Manos in heaven some day! What a sweet moment that would be!!

Crete – Elounda by the Sea

We took a ferry over to Crete, and then took a very long bus ride all the way down the coast of Crete to where Ann (Brett’s dad’s cousin) lives in Elounda. It was amazing to be able to see the entire, beautiful coast of Crete! It looked just like I imagined Greece to look, which white houses cascading down the hills into the sea. It was amazing.

Elounda was an adorable little village right on the sea. It had its own little port, and a lot of cute coffee shops and restaurants. It was so quiet and empty because it wasn’t the tourist season. Sadly, most of the stores and restaurants were closed, but there was still plenty for us to do. Ann is also just as sweet and beautiful as the village in which she lives. She was so kind and hospitable, and literally even gave up her own bed for us! She cooked for us as well, and did everything she could to help us have an enjoyable time. Brett and I had a great conversation with her about her Greek Orthodox faith and we were really interested to learn about what the church teaches. We really enjoyed getting to know her and spend time with her. We even got to make a Thanksgiving meal for her, since we were there for Thanksgiving. She’s originally from England, so she’d never had an American Thanksgiving before, nor had she ever had pumpkin pie before! So we had a good time introducing her to such wonderful amenities.

Our time in Crete was very relaxing, but we still definitely took time to go out and do some things too. One day, we hiked over to a Koliketha beach, which was so beautiful! It was a little bit chilly, but Sam and I still decided to go swimming, while Brett and Micaiah watched from the shore. On our last day in Crete, we took a trip with Ann over to Spinolonga Island, which used to be a Venetian fortress, and was then turned into a housing place for all the lepers of Crete. It was an amazing place with an unbelievable story, and we really enjoyed going there.

After the Break
After Crete, we headed back to Yad HaShmonah! I have to admit that my attitude in returning to Israel was less than excited. Our time in Greece was so fun and amazing, and I knew that the next two weeks were going to be exceptionally difficult because it would be nothing but finals and projects, with hardly any breaks. Even before going to Greece, I was getting to the point where I was ready to go home, and so that feeling just grew even moreso after getting back from Greece. But with all that said, looking back now I can definitely say that I enjoyed my last two weeks at Yad HaShmonah. Yes, I had lots of projects to finish and tests to take, but it’s so hard to complain when it’s the BIBLE that I get to study in such tremendous depth! I’m planning on putting up a blog post about my creative project that I did for one of my classes … just as a little teaser … I copied a page of an extremely important, ancient document, and I learned a lot about it! I loved that project, and it’s kind of started me on a nerdy obsession with the topic. ;)

Anyways, there are several more blog posts I plan on putting up, even though I’m home from IBEX. So if you’d like to continue to read about my adventures, reflections, memories and lessons learned, then stay tuned! Thank you again for reading! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Negev

Last week, we spent an amazing 4 days in the Negev! The Negev is the area south of the Judean Hills where we've been staying. The Biblical Negev is the area of Gerar, Beersheba, and Arad but the desert highlands extend much further south as well. While there isn't a ton of Biblical history in the Negev (especially further south), there were some amazing sites that we got to go to, and some amazing hikes we got to go on!! So here are some of the highlights from the trip!

Out of all the sites we visited, Beersheba probably had the most biblical history attached to it. All of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, visited Beersheba at some point. For example, in Genesis 21, Abraham built a well at Beersheba and made an oath with Abimelech. That being said, Tel Sheva where we went, is not the Beersheba that the patriarchs went to. The ruins at Tel Sheva are from the Iron Age (the time of Solomon). It is quite likely that the remains of any Bronze Age Beersheba are actually underneath the modern city of Beersheba. But for obvious reasons, no one can excavate there, since there's a giant city! At Tel Sheva, excavators found the remains of a four-horned altar. The picture I have here is a replica. I actually just saw the altar they found when I was at the Israel Museum the other night! It looks pretty much the same, only the stones aren't perfectly shaped like they are in this picture. Beersheba is one of the sites that the two good kings of Judah cleansed of its idolatry. Both Hezekiah and Josiah are recorded tearing down the high places of Judah all the way from Geba to Beersheba. Archaeologists and scholars disagree on whether they think the altar found here at Beersheba was torn down by Hezekiah or by Josiah, but either way, the true pure worship of YHWH was restored, which is so exciting! In the picture, my friend Katie is demonstrating how Joab grabbed hold of the horns of the altar (in Jerusalem, though) when he sought mercy from King Solomon. However, Solomon did not spare his life because of the wickedness he had done in being so quick to shed blood for his own personal gain (1 Kings 2). 

Nahal Zin and Avdat

The border of the Promised Land extended all the way down to Nahal Zin, but the Israelites didn't really inhabit it. The practical border of the Promised Land (ie the area that they generally controlled) was from Dan in the North to Beersheba, discussed above, which is north of Nahal Zin. However, it was such a gorgeous hike! We hiked through the canyon along the water, and then up and out of the canyon to Ein Avdat. From there, we drove just a few minutes to the Nabatean fortress of Avdat. The Nabateans were the only people who were able to successfully inhabit the desert highlands. They made special use of the route leading all the way from Gaza on the coastal plain, through the Negev and to the Aravah in the east by selling and trading spices and all sorts of precious goods. Therefore, they became extremely wealthy during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Fun fact: Herod the Great's mother was a Nabatean! The Nabateans also converted to Christianity, so at their fortress, there were several remains of churches and baptistries. 

Machtesh Ramon
A "machtesh" is a giant crater formed by water erosion, and let me just say ... Machtesh Ramon is GIANT! It was within walking distance from the hostel we stayed in, so we hiked down into it in the morning. It was a gorgeous hike! I am a firm believer that the desert can be beautiful. I really struggled to find a picture that adequately demonstrated the unique topography of this area, and this panoramic picture is the best I could come up with! There were very rocky, steep cliffs surrounding the crater, and then the bottom of it was relatively hilly, but extremely wide and long. The machtesh extended in every direction, further than what we could see! I always tried to see the end of it, but was never able to! It was huge and absolutely beautiful.

Wilderness of Paran
The Wilderness of Paran is where the Israelites were camped when they sent the 12 spies from Kadesh- Barnea into the Promised Land to spy it out. We stopped in the Wilderness of Paran just to contemplate this tragic story. We got off the bus, and each of us was able to go and read Numbers 13-14 as well as Deuteronomy 8 for ourselves. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, God promised the land of Israel to the Israelites. He promised it initially to Abraham and his descendants, and then continually renewed and confirmed that promise throughout the years! So when Moses led the people out of Egypt, their destination was the land promised to them long ago. Moses sent 12 spies, 1 of the leaders from every tribe, to go spy out the land. Sadly, 10 of the spies came back giving a negative report. They said that although the land was beautiful and full of all that God had promised them, the people inhabiting it were too big and too strong for them to go up against, and that it would be impossible to take it for themselves. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to convince the people that since the Lord had promised them the land they would have no problem taking it, but they wouldn’t listen. They thought that since the other peoples were stronger than them, they would have no chance against them. They didn’t trust in God’s promises to them, even though He had already rescued them from slavery, miraculously delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians, had promised the land to their forefathers and had proven Himself to be faithful to them, they rejected Him. Therefore, God told them that their generation would be punished, and none of them would be able to enter the land promised to them, but rather, they would have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Deuteronomy 8 was a great passage to read after reading this extremely heart breaking passage. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses was speaking to the Israelites right before they would go in to inhabit the land after their 40-year sojourn, and he told them not to forget God and the fact that He was the One who was providing for them. He was the One who delivered them and kept them alive in the wilderness by giving them manna. He was their livelihood and their means of existence. And in the same way, He would be the one to cause them to grow and prosper in the Promised Land. It wouldn’t be their strength or might or righteousness that would bring them prosperity. It was only God’s grace! What a good reminder for us as well! We have nothing to offer God, nor do we deserve any of the blessings He’s graciously given us. We don’t deserve salvation, and did nothing to earn or work for salvation! It is entirely His doing (Ephesians 1). On top of that, He has given us so many blessings on this earth that far surpass our needs. Yet sometimes we have a tendency to be boastful and proud about all of those things. We take pride in our salvation, or even our sanctification. We boast about our looks, intellect, families, circumstances, etc. Yet all of those things are from God! He is the perfect provider, and the gracious giver! Our thanks and praise should be given to Him. Our boasting should be about how great He is. My prayer is that this can be my daily mindset, so that I don’t distract from the glory that God alone deserves!

Snorkeling in the Red Sea

We ended Day 2 with some snorkeling in the Red Sea J No big deal! It was absolutely beautiful! Our hotel was also in Eilat, and we were able to spend some time on the town in the evening after dinner, which was a ton of fun!

Timnah Park
AMAZING hiking! Timnah is the site of some ancient copper mines. The mountains and rocks here are just beautiful, and are in some of the funkiest shapes I’ve ever seen! We had a blast just exploring and hiking around for a while, and got some really great views as well.

Timnah Park also has a life size model of the Tabernacle! We visited it and had a guided tour explaining everything there. It was really cool to actually picture what the Tabernacle would have been like for the Israelites! I really enjoyed it. Our guide was also a believer, and she made some great connections between the Tabernacle and the person of Jesus Christ. Just as God allowed His presence to dwell among His people through the Tabernacle, so also did He choose to dwell among men by sending His son to live among us! John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” His glory came to earth! God made His dwelling among men! What an amazing concept! And now, He even chooses to live within us through His Holy Spirit, so that we too are Tabernacles of a holy God.


Day 4 of the Negev Trip was definitely my favorite, and sadly, it was our last Land and Bible field trip! There are no more trips that our entire IBEX group will go on, which is so weird, and totally sad! Anyways, we had stayed the previous night at a hostel right at the foot of Masada. Therefore, we could go up to Masada whenever we wanted to. Most of us went up for the sunrise, and wow … it was totally worth it! It was quite an intense hike up, but a beautiful sight from the top! The site itself was also really great! There are some amazing ruins there from all of Herod the Great’s building projects, including His palace, a Roman bathhouse, guard towers, storehouses, and the biggest cistern I’ve ever seen! Herod wanted to have all the amenities of Rome while living in the seclusion and safety of a desert fortress. 

Masada is probably most popularly known because of the Jewish revolt that happened there, and ended in mass suicide. A sect of the Jewish people held out at Masada from 66-73 AD before the Romans came and attacked the fortress. One night, the Romans finally broke through the wall, but decided to wait until morning to run in and siege the city. That night, the leader of the sect, Eleazar ben Yair, convinced the people that it would be better for them to die as free men at their own hands, rather than as captives at the hands of the Romans. Therefore, the heads of households all ran to kill their own wives and children, and then those men cast lots to choose 10 men to kill the rest of the men, and out of those 10 men, one was chosen to kill the rest of them. Out of the 900+ Jewish people at Masada, the only survivors were 2 women and 5 children, who hid during the slaughter. In one of the rooms at Masada, excavators actually found fragments of pottery with the names of people written on them. These fragments (also known as ostraca) are most likely the lots cast to choose the 10 men who would kill the rest of the men. It was so surreal to be standing in that room where those ostraca were found, and to be thinking about the dramatic and tragic event that happened there.

All that being said, Masada was amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the remains. It is a really impressive fortress.

The Caves of Qumran!
Our last stop of the trip was at Qumran, and this was an extremely exciting trip for me! Qumran was a village of Essenes who were scribes by trade. They wrote hundreds of books and scrolls 2,000 years ago, many of which have been found hidden in caves near Qumran. They scrolls and books were probably hidden during the Roman conquest of the area, and were so well preserved for 2,000 years because of the dry condition of the desert. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, right? Well … those are the scrolls found at Qumran! Among the Dead Sea Scrolls was a scroll of the entire book of Isaiah! It is the most well preserved of the books, and is absolutely amazing! The Isaiah Scroll was found in Qumran Cave 1, and we actually got to hike up to it and go inside of it! I was super excited …. Like way more excited than you’d expect! For some reason, the Dead Sea Scrolls have really sparked my interest, and I’d honestly really love to study them more when I get back home. For one of my classes, we have to do a creative project, and my project is actually copying a page of the Isaiah scroll. So as I’ve been studying the scroll, scrutinizing the page I chose, and learning about the scroll itself as well as the scribes who wrote it, I’ve became extremely interested in it. So naturally, I was really excited to actually be at Qumran!

The Negev trip was amazing, and a total blast! Lots of the students have been trying to decide which trip they liked better – Galilee or Negev – but I think it’s impossible to choose between them. They’re such different trips! Galilee had a much heavier influence on Biblical events because we were right where Jesus lived. It was the center of commerce and society. The Negev, however, was nearly desolate. Hardly anyone lived there because it was a dry, hot, waterless desert. I loved Galilee because not only was it fun, but it also ministered to my soul and taught me so much about Christ and His ministry! But I loved the Negev trip because it was adventurous and active the whole time! I loved hiking around and to see all the sites. Of course, I loved learning about the Biblical events that did occur there, but there weren’t as many of them. Anyways, the trip was a huge blessing! It was a really great finale to the Land and Bible class.

In other news: I leave for Greece tomorrow! It’s time for our 10 day travel break and it starts TOMORROW! We had our Land and Bible final today, which went very well, praise the Lord, and now it’s time for some relaxation! I’ll be in Greece with three other people for 5 days, and then we’ll spend the remainder of our time in Crete. I am totally excited about it and I can’t wait to share all my adventures with you soon!

Well, I’d better pack and maybe get a bit more homework done. Thanks for hanging in there for another exceedingly long post.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Week of Highlights!

I’m currently on a bus heading south to the Negev, where we’ll be spending the next four days! Before I have to start writing field reports for all the places we go this week, I figured I’d take some time to update you all about the events of the past week and a half. The semester is speeding by quicker than I imagined! We’re all swimming in homework, projects, reading, field trips and reports, but I think I can speak for us all and say that we’re still absolutely loving it. With just over a month left, it’s exciting to think about being home, but hard to think about saying goodbye to this wonderful experience!

Sunday, October 28, 2012 – Sorek Valley Hike
Our Regional Studies class went on a hike to the Sorek Valley in the Shephelah, which is where Samson lived. We started at Zorah, where Samson was born, and finished the hike at Tel Batash, which is the ancient site of Timnah, where Samson met his first Philistine wife. Samson is a clear demonstration of a man being used by God’s Spirit and for God’s purposes. Samson wasn’t a very example for Israel to follow. He was absorbed in the lust of the flesh, and often acted out in anger and pursued relationships with women. Yet God chose to place His spirit upon him, even before he was born, and God used him to exact his judgment on the Philistines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 – Samaria Field Study
We all had our second to last field study this past Wednesday, and we went to Samaria. It was a pretty relaxed day. Our first stop was at Khirbet el Maqatir, the most likely place for the city of Ai that Joshua destroyed in Joshua 8. Most scholars think that Ai was located on a nearby hill called Et Tell, but there are not Late Bronze archaeological remains at that site, which would be necessary in order to correspond to the Biblical timing and account of Joshua 8. Maqatir does have Late Bronze remains, and it geographically fits the account about where Ai was located. It is just east of Bethel (Joshua 8:12),  and ravines on the north and western sides of the city that would be ideal for Joshua’s armies to camp and hide in (Joshua 8:13). While Maqatir has been excavated a little bit, there is still much work that needs to be done in order definitely confirm it as the site of Ai.

After Ai, we went to Shiloh, which is where Joshua set up the tabernacle after the conquest (Joshua 18). The tabernacle remained there until the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant at Aphek during the days of Eli as priest, when Samuel was growing up in the presence of the Lord. It was so amazing to be at the site where the Tabernacle was actually established! The prophet Jeremiah also used Shiloh as an object lesson for Jerusalem in Jeremiah 7, right before the Babylonian conquest. The people of Jerusalem, though walking in blatant sin and rejecting their covenant with the Lord, thought that since they had the Temple of God in their midst that they would be safe from any foreign threats. They thought that God would save them simply because His Temple was there, regardless of their actions. But Jeremiah reminded them of Shiloh in verse 12:
“But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.”

Because Shiloh rejected the Lord, and they did not obey Him, He gave them up to the Philistines.
Likewise, He would deliver Jerusalem over to the Babylonians because of their covenant unfaithfulness to Him. God cares first and foremost about obedience and repentance. Without those things, He will not be pleased and will not hesitate to bring judgment.

Standing on Mt. Gerazim, looking at Mt. Ebal with Shechem down below!
Our last stop of the day was at Mt. Gerazim! This was probably one of my favorite sites simply because I wrote a paper last year about Mt. Gerazim and Mt. Ebal. These two mountains surround the city of Shechem, and are extremely significant. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, Moses commanded Israel to go to these mountains and proclaim the blessings for following the covenant and the curses for neglecting it after entering the Promised Land. Shechem was where God first promised the land to Abraham and his descendants, and therefore, was an extremely important site to the Israelites. Therefore, when Joshua followed Moses’ directions and went to Mt. Gerazim and Mt. Ebal in Joshua 8, I can just imagine that it was a very powerful moment! Half of the tribes of Israel stood on Mt. Ebal and proclaimed what the curses would be if they disobeyed the covenant, while the other half stood on Mt. Gerazim and proclaimed the blessings that they would receive if they did obey the covenant. This site just oozes with the faithfulness of God! He called a certain man to obey Him, and gave Him tremendous promises of land, descendants and blessings, and then fulfilled those promises (at least in part) a thousand years later! What a wonderful, magnificent and faithful God we serve! That being said … Israel did not always live up to their end of the deal. They disobeyed Him, and there were even times right at this site of Shechem where they rejected Him and worked against His covenant. Yet He was still faithful. The same is true of me! I continually reject the Lord as I choose to act sinfully and choose to serve myself rather than joyfully submit to my loving Savior. Yet He is still faithful to me! Being at Mt. Gerazim was such a good reminder of this! Even though we were only there briefly, it’s probably one of my favorite sites so far.

That was the end of our Field Study! Funny thing …. This trip was on Halloween, so the girls all decided to dress like someone else for the day! I dressed like my friend Brett, she dressed like Christine and Christine dressed like me. It was SUPER fun! Then after we got back, the whole group had a costume party! They opened up this closet for us that had lots of random clothing and props, and we got to create any kind of costume we could! Then at the party, we got to present our costumes by doing a little skit. I was in a group with Christine and Kyle, and we did a country western rendition of the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting king Solomon. It was quite fun and hilarious! I was the queen of Sheba, and was dressed as an Indian. Therefore, I was called “Shebahantas.” Kyle was Solomon (Sheriff Shlomo) and Christine was the town gossip, Jessie (we took some creative liberty with the story). The whole night was really fun!

Friday, November 2, 2012 – Free Day in Tel Aviv!
We had a free day on Friday after class, so I organized a trip to Tel Aviv! 12 people came with me, and we spent time shopping, exploring, and some people went to the beach too. There was an adorable arts and crafts market there, and I absolutely LOVED walking around, talking to the artists and doing a bit of shopping. There was a shuk there too, probably even busier than the one we went to in Jerusalem! I had such a fun day, and was really thankful that we got to do that! And praise the Lord … the whole transportation aspect went very smoothly! We didn’t miss any of our buses, nor did we ever get separated. It was a good day to kind of forget that there was homework to do, and just relax and enjoy the more cultural aspect of Israel.

<< Above are Paige, Katie and Susan at the shuk, and then a picture of my favorite jewelry stand at the arts and crafts market.

Sunday, November 4, 2012 – Hebron Trip
The little placard reads "The tomb of Abraham our Father"

Our group is really fortunate. We got to go on a trip that not many IBEX groups get to go on because of the tense political situation. On our trip on Sunday, we went to Hebron, Ziph and Maon. Bill led this trip, and his wife and 2 daughters came with us because they had never been to these sites. Both of the IBEX secretaries came too for the same reason. Our first stop was in Hebron at Machepelah, or the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The patriarchs were buried in Hebron, and Abraham first purchased the plot of land when Sarah died. Even though Abraham was promised the entire land of Israel, he died having only ever truly possessed one plot of land in Hebron. Thus, this site we visited was the beginning of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Machpelah is separated into two sections. The Jewish section has the tomb markers of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Leah (Rachel is buried at Ephrat), and the Arab section has the tomb markers of Isaac and Rebecca. The tombs themselves are below the building in the bedrock, so there are just markers sitting above where they’ve guessed that these patriarchs and their wives were buried. When we were in the Arab part, the girls had to wear these robes in order to cover our heads and arms and backs and everything else, I guess! It made for some good photos!

Our next stop was at the wilderness of Ziph, where David hid from Saul in 1 Samuel 23. While hiding there, Saul’s son Jonathon met him there and asserted that David would certainly be the king of Israel. In verse 17 he said, “Do not be afraid, because the hand of Saul my father will not find you, and you will be king over Israel and I will be next to you; and Saul my father knows that also.” During the time that David ran from Saul, there were many times that other people confirmed or confessed that David was truly the Lord’s anointed and would be the king of Israel some day. What’s absolutely astounding to me is that David was amazingly patient through this whole time! He never tried to manipulate or take the kingdom for himself. He didn’t fight against Saul and he refused to kill him. He simply waited for the Lord to hand him the kingdom, and He certainly did. In many ways, David’s patience parallels that of Jesus Christ’s. They both waited until their time came, and were completely submissive to the will of God the Father. In fact, Jesus is still waiting for His Kingdom. He’s still waiting for God’s timing in order to usher in His complete and perfect Kingdom. Also, David and Jesus did not scorn or return the many abuses they received. It just reminds me of 1 Peter 2:21-24, which says:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor wan any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

We have such a wonderful Savior, and a great example to follow!
The view from Ziph

Reenacting Abigail pleading with David
Our next stop was at Maon, where Nabal in 1 Samuel 25 was from. He lived at Maon with his wife, Abigail, but had business on Carmel nearby. When David asked Nabal to provide some supplies for him and his men in return for protecting Nabal’s shepherds, Nabal refused, and David set out to kill him and his house. On the way, however, Abigail met David and pleaded with him to spare them. She also stated that the Lord had appointed David as ruler over Israel! We stood where this meeting potentially took place, and then hiked up to the top of Mt. Maon. It was a really fun trip, and we are extremely blessed that we were able to go to all these places! 

And now, I'm at my hotel in the Negev! We'll be here in the Negev until Saturday, and will be visiting all sorts of exciting sites here in the desert! I'll definitely put up a blog about it as soon as I can. 

Please be praying for us! The semester is absolutely hectic right now, and at times I feel like I'm drowning in things to do, and lacking the time to do them. But that being said, I'm still totally enjoying the blessing I have of being able to study Scripture where it all took place! Please pray that I don't lose sight of that tremendous blessing and that in all things, I will be grateful, content and excited for all that the Lord has in store for me right now! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Archaeological Digs and Historical Hikes!

 This is my goal: More frequent, shorter posts! I hope this works out!

This week has been quite a busy adventure, and totally wonderful! Having just gotten back from Galilee, we just jumped right back into a crazy, hectic, fun, exciting schedule! We had normal classes on Monday and Tuesday, but then Wednesday- Friday, we got to go on an archaeological dig! Some of the IBEX students are actually in the archaeology class offered here, and they had to go to all three days of excavating. I, however, am not in the class, so I only went to the excavation on Wednesday and Thursday. Having never excavated anything before, it was a completely new and exciting experience for me, and despite its challenges, I really enjoyed it!

The Western Wall
The site we excavated at was actually just in our backyard; it's one of the hilltops we can see through the window of our cafeteria as we're eating our meals! We took a bus from Yad HaShmonah and it only took us like 5 to 10 minutes to get there. The site is called Khirbet Eres, and the excavator is actually the author of the archaeology class's text book. His name is Ami Mazar. The site was very small compared to other archaeology sites we've been to. Mazar had already started excavations on the site and believed that it was some sort of Persian military fortress from the time period of Ezra and Nehemiah. There is no evidence of a massive destruction, so it probably just ended up being abandoned. The site had three main areas of excavation:
1.The Western Wall: Mazar had already uncovered much of the remains of a wall on the western side of the fortress. One team of students concentrated their work there, removing more dirt from around the wall, and collecting pottery as they went.
Sarah found a whole rim in one of the rooms!
2. The rooms: There were 2 rooms that were pretty well uncovered before we got there. The students working in that area got to dig deeper in order to find the floor of the rooms. They found some amazing things in their efforts, since they were so close to the floor. They found fully in tact pottery handles, and even a full rim of a pot, as well as some brass nails, a broken stone wash basin, and a warped sling stone. They had a lot of fun!
3. The ...... well we're not sure what it is: This is where I dug! We got to start completely from scratch! When we got to the site, Mazar said he believed that there was a wall in the southern corner of the site, and asked us to find it! So we started by hacking away some bushes, throwing some rocks over the edge of the site, and then digging and moving more rocks as we went! We found lots of pottery (as everyone else did too) and even found some huge stones that look like they could have been part of a wall. As we were trying to theorize about where the wall was or could be, Mazar joked with us, "In archaeology, 2 stones next to each other is almost a wall, and 3 stones next to each other is definitely a wall." Archaeology is a funny thing ... it was hard for me to see everything come together, because to me, it just looked like a bunch of rocks! But that being said, it was definitely exciting to try to figure things out. Plus, we found dozens of scorpions along the way! That certainly added an aspect of excitement and danger to our efforts!
Katie and I were particularly dirty after
excavating mystery site number 3!

I really did enjoy the archaeological excavations, but I have to say, I wouldn't want to make a career out of it. It was fun to get super filthy and dirty, and it was fun to try to recreate history with all the evidence we were finding, but it was hard work! But in all honesty ... who can say that they helped on an archaeological dig of a site dating back to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in Israel? The opportunities we have here are so amazing!

Friday was a free day for me, which was a total blessing. I got a lot done and just got to relax!

Recognize this wall? :) 
Then on Saturday, it was back to the craziness! Five IBEXers and I actually decided to go on a hike on Saturday morning before going to church in Jerusalem. We are all taking a class called Regional Studies, which is basically a hiking class that studies the intricacies of the geography of the Bible, and one of the requirements for the class is to plan and go on a hike of your own. So, we planned a hike right in the hills behind Yad HaShmonah, and decided to do it early in the morning before leaving for church. We left at 6 am, hiked down into the Nahal Yitlah behind our campus, and up the ridge of the next mountain. Those paths were not very well marked, so we definitely had to do some bush whacking! But we had a map and knew the general direction we needed to go in, so it all worked out in the end! Once we got to the ridge, we went to Bet Tul, where there were some ruins. The excavation site has been well preserved, and even turned into a park! We walked along the ridge, around Khirbet Eres where we excavated with Ami Mazar, and we decided to hike up to the site just to see it again and take some pictures. Then we finished the hike by walking through Abu Ghosh, the Arab village near our campus. It was a really fun hike, and it was so nice to be out and around early in the morning! It was beautiful, and nice and cool outside. We had such a good time, and even got class credit for it! We showered real fast and got ready for the day, and then spent Shabbat in Jerusalem!

 Today (Sunday) our regional studies class went on a hike in the Sorek Valley! This is the valley where Samson was born, and where many events in his life took place. We started out at Zorah, where Samson was born, and where the Spirit of the Lord first moved upon him, and we ended at Timnah, where he met his first Philistine wife. The hike was a pretty easy walk once we got down into the valley. It still blows me away that I get to hike in these places where such ancient history took place! I remember reading these stories as a child, and now I get to experience them more! I get to understand how long it would have taken for Samson to travel between his home in Zorah, to Timnah where his wife was. I get to experience the deep valleys and canyons of the land, and understand why cities were generally built on hills and ridges, rather than in the valleys (except for Timnah, which was built in the depths of the Sorek Valley because of the rich agriculture). This is such a wonderful experience! I'm loving every bit of it!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Galilee! -- walking where He walked!

Ok so first and foremost ... I know an apology is in order. I cannot believe how long it's been since I've blogged, and I am so sorry! I really wanted to do this consistently, but have totally failed. This semester has been absolutely crazy, so I've been putting it off ... even more so that I thought I was! I really am sorry, and wish more than anything that I could recap everything I've learned and experienced since the Joppa/ Tel Aviv trip ... but that would be so difficult! If you're not my friend on Facebook, add me! Just send me a message and tell me you read my blog and want to see photos from my Israel trip, and I will accept your friend request! I have lots of pictures posted with some general descriptions of where we went.

With that out of the way ... I am so excited to tell you all about Galilee! Last week, we spent the entire week up in Galilee! There are so many things I'd love to tell you about, but sadly, I am limited by time and space. So, I want to highlight my favorite sites, memories and reflections from the entire week! Since we were in Galilee, you would probably assume that we spent all of our time studying the life and ministry of Christ, but there actually was still quite a bit of Old Testament history that we learned about too! Being able to study both was so exciting, and I particularly enjoyed focusing on the life, miracles and promises of Jesus during His Galilean ministry. 

Favorite Sites: 

1. Megiddo and Hazor
6 chamber Solomonic gate at Hazor! 
     These are two different sites that we visited on different days, but they have one very interesting thing in common: both were fortified by Solomon, and have well preserved Solomonic gates! 1 Kings 9:15 says, "Now this is the account of the forced labor which King Solomon levied to build the house of the LORD, his own house, the Millo, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer." Solomon had many important building projects, including the fortification of these important cities. They guarded the international highway, and monitored different areas of access to the Hill Country, and therefore to Jerusalem. Megiddo guarded the Jezreel Valley, and Hazor in the Huleh Valley controlled the northern access to the Hill Country. The gates at these sites were absolutely amazing! It is just so cool to look at the remains of those walls and think that they were built under the direction of king Solomon himself! 
     Another cool thing about Hazor ... Joshua conquered it! It was the main city in the northern campaign of the Promise Land conquest, and was one of three cities that Joshua actually burned to the ground (the other two being Jericho and Ai). 

2. Nazareth
     At the end of our first day, we got to spend a lot of time in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus! Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he grew up in Nazareth. However, as He says in Luke 4:24, "no prophet is welcome in his hometown." He was rejected by the people who knew him best, so for the duration of his ministry, he moved to Capernaum. Sadly, the same rejection of Christ is still rampant today in his hometown. There were banners hung up at the main intersection, proclaiming Allah and Islam, and rejecting anything different. Walking around seeing the dirty streets, the busy traffic and the lost people absolutely broke my heart. I know this is the world we live in, but seeing the blatant rejection of Christ in the place He once lived makes this reality so abundantly clear.
            There was a church in Nazareth on the traditional location for where Gabriel told Mary she’d give birth to the Messiah. But the banner pictured here was hung right outside of it. There may be a memory, or even a tradition of Jesus Christ here … but the people have turned from Him in their hearts.

3. Capernaum
This is actually a perfect transition: Going from Jesus’ hometown as He grew up, to his hometown during His ministry! As stated earlier, Jesus moved to Capernaum because He was rejected at Nazareth. However, He also moved there because it was a larger city, located near the International Highway, so it would allow His message and the news of His works to spread quicker and further. Most of the miracles recorded in the New Testament occurred at Capernaum, and Jesus spent a lot of time there, and in the area. We spent an entire day in the area around Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee, and it was probably my favorite day! In fact … here’s a brief itinerary of where we went on this day:
·     Plains of Bethsaida, where Jesus fed the 5,000
·     Capernaum
·     Chorazin
·     Mt. of Beatitudes – Sermon on the Mount
·     Tiberius – major city! Jesus isn’t recorded going there, though it is likely He did.
·     Ginnosar (which I’ll mention later)
Notice the basalt foundation of the synagogue.
That's from the time of Jesus!
There’s so much I’d love to talk about, but I definitely want to tell you about Capernaum! The most impressive thing about the site, was that there is a very well preserved 3rd century synagogue there. However, that synagogue is built on the foundation of a 1st century synagogue, dating to the time of Christ! The synagogue we stood in was not the same one Christ stood in, but it is on the exact same location as the synagogue that Jesus was in. In that synagogue, He spoke the difficult words of John 6, and called Himself the Bread of Life. In that synagogue, Jesus taught and then healed a demon-possessed man on the Sabbath. It was an incredible feeling to be so close and connected to the very sites where Jesus stood and performed many miracles. Even though Jesus dwelt in Capernaum and performed many miracles there, the people still did not believe in Him or repent. Matthew 11:20-24 records,

“Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.  ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.’”

Jesus performed most of His miracles in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. The New Testament mentions many in Capernaum, none in Chorazin, and only one in Bethsaida. However, no matter how many Jesus did in each city, they still rejected Him. Christ even said that it would be better to go to the Gentile cities because they would repent! This indicates that the message given to the Jews was meant for the whole world! Israel was meant to be a kingdom of priests that received special and personal insight into the person and character of God, and was therefore given the task of telling the rest of the world about Him.

4. Caesarea Philippi
This site was honestly revolutionary for me. The district of Caesarea Philippi is where Jesus went with His disciples, and Peter proclaimed Him to be the Messiah. Matthew 16:13- 17 gives the account:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

The cultural context of this passage gave me such a deeper understanding for the profundity of these words! Caesarea Philippi was an area that was totally dominated by pagan worship. There was a temple for the pagan god, Pan, who was a sort of Greco-Roman nature god, and there was even a temple for the worship of Caesar. In that same area where pagan worship was so blatant and even encouraged, the Son of God entered the scene and was proclaimed to be the One true God! How wonderful is this?! I don’t know how close Jesus and His disciples were to these temples, but they certainly knew that they existed. They knew the pagan inclinations of these people, and yet Peter was able to confidently proclaim that Jesus was the Christ. The Messiah. The Son of God. The One true God!
            In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus affirmed His deity to Peter, James and John during the Transfiguration. Elijah and Moses even showed up as witnesses to who Christ truly was. And as if that wasn’t enough, God the Father spoke from heaven, proclaiming Jesus to be His Son. After we visited Caesarea Philippi, we went up to Mt. Hermon (which is a mountain range, not a single mountain), which is the most likely location for where the Transfiguration took place. It was such a wonderful time to focus on the deity of Christ! How wonderful it is that God became FLESH and dwelt among us! We who are so lowly and sinful and undeserving … yet He humbled Himself and lived as a man to die as a sinner, and then be raised victorious over sin and death. We serve such an amazing Savior!

Fun Memories!
1. Camping on the beach!
            On our second night, we actually got to spend the night on Ahkziv beach, which is on the Mediterranean Sea! The first night we were in a hotel in Nazareth, and then every night after the camp on the beach, we were in a hotel right on the Sea of Galilee. This night on the beach was so memorable, and I will seriously never forget it. Most of the group stayed up on the grass near where our stuff was all set up, but some people went down and actually slept under the stars, and only about 10 meters from the water! I slept on the sandy shore with four other girls, and we had just the most wonderful time. We sat on our sleeping bags and just sang worship songs for at least an hour. One I particularly remember singing was “God of Wonders,” and one of the lines goes, “Lord of all creation, of water, earth and sky.” Just that line astounded me! We were so close to all three! We could hear the waves crashing, as we were laying on the earth, looking up at the millions of stars in the sky! It was a beautiful night, and surprisingly enough, I slept really well! That was probably one of my favorite IBEX memories so far!

2. Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee
            We ate lunch in Tiberius one day, and then took a boat ride up the shore of the Sea of Galilee a little ways to a city called Ginnosar. The boat ride was so fun! The guys who owned and drove the boat mounted an American flag off one side of the boat (an Israeli flag was on the other side) and played the National Anthem for us. It was kind of weird … but very sweet. I’m sure they do that for all the dorky tourists who come their way! We just cruised along for a bit, and then we stopped in the middle of the water, and meditated on the miracle of Jesus calming the storm! This is one miracle that would be absolutely impossible to fake. Jesus reached into creation and changed it. No one can do that. Only God! Christ is creator, and has complete control over creation, and He made that abundantly clear on the very Sea we were sailing on.
            Speaking of Jesus and boats … in Ginnosar, we saw the “Jesus boat!” This boat that has been termed, the “Jesus boat,” is an ancient boat that was discovered in the mud of the Sea of Galilee during a severe draught when the water level was exceptionally low. The boat dates to the 1st century, so many have speculated that Jesus actually sailed on it. There is no way of knowing, but it is amazing that a wooden boat from 2,000 years ago is now sitting in a museum!

3. Jordan River Tubing!
            (I now realize that all of my memories so far revolve around the major water sources of Israel! So cool!) On Day 6 of our stay in Galilee, we did a little hike, but then actually got to inflate some inner tubes and float down the Jordan River! For obvious reasons, I did not take pictures with my camera, but I did have a disposable waterproof camera with me, so I took pictures with that. It was such a blast! I don’t even know how to describe it! There were a few times where people got sucked under trees by the quicker currents, but for the most part it was smooth sailing. There was one mini-waterfall that a bunch of us went on multiple times. It was really fun! The Jordan River is not as wide as you’d expect it to be. I think I’ve always had the image of a massive, gushing Colorado-type river ripping through the nation of Israel, but that is hardly the case! Nevertheless, I loved floating down the River. That is a rare, and very treasured experience.

My dramatic, conquering face!
(Even though Arbel conquered me!)
4. Sliding down the cliffs of Arbel
            One day, we hiked down the cliffs of Arbel, where Jewish rebels hid when they revolted against Herod the Great as their king. The caves at Arbel are really awesome, and as I was walking down from some of them, I kind of lost control. I jogged down the steep, loose-dirt hill, but my momentum wouldn’t let me stop! I got faster and faster, until I got to the path, and then tripped over the stone outline of the path! I got pretty scraped up and bruised, but it just adds to the experience. ;) Now I can say that I fully empathize with the Jews of Arbel, because I’m sure they fell, tripped, slid and stumbled all over this mountain as they were running from Herod and the Romans. I’m just really hoping these scrapes don’t scar. I’ve got too many scars!

Some Reflections:
            My favorite thing about being in Galilee was the timeliness of everything I was learning. The week happened to be a particularly difficult one for me for reasons outside of school. As I was overwhelmed with lots of things that were outside of my control, I knew that I was being pushed towards Christ, and my dependency on Him was being highlighted and my desire for Him was being heightened. Then, as we went to all the different sites, we learned about Christ, and I again felt as if I was being pushed towards Christ. As we studied His life and ministry so carefully, I realized something entirely elementary, yet completely profound. When Jesus walked on this earth, He promised rest, comfort, love and care for those who would trust in Him. Those promises are still applicable today! Just as Jesus wanted to provide healing and care for the people He was with then, He also wants to extend His care for me 2,000 years later. His promises still apply! His power still applies! His grace is still effective! This was the most fitting and encouraging message, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I can fully trust Christ to handle the burdens of my heart, and the burdens of other peoples’ hearts because He has proven to be so faithful with them. My love for Jesus has been deepened in more ways that I could imagine! I am so thankful that He came to this earth and lived such a humble life, though He deserved unceasing splendor, glory and praise. I am so glad He offers grace and peace for those who love and trust in Him. I am so glad He came specifically to this land and proclaimed His supremacy over the rampant paganism, and even in light of the unrepentant around Him. I am in love with His Word and am continually amazed by its richness and beauty. My experience in Galilee is one I will never forget, and I pray it will continue to impact me for the rest of my life!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Safe, Sound, and Having a Blast!

Hey everyone! I know it's been quite a while since my last post, and many of you have probably seen the hundreds of pictures I've put up recently and been confused that there hasn't been a blog post to go with them yet! Well, a lot has happened in the last week! With classes going full speed ahead, and new field trips every week, things get pretty busy around here and I haven't had a lot of time to blog. So my goal for this post is to fill you in on some of the highlights from my past week, even if that means not including all the really neat stuff I've learned along the way.

Sunday, September 9: Judean Hills Regional Studies Hike
This picture is looking over the Chesalon Valley, with Mt.
Tsuba directly behind it. There is also another hill faintly
behind Tsuba, and between those two hills is the
deep Upper Sorek Valley.
I am in a class called Regional Studies, which is basically an intense hiking class in which I get to learn about the land and geography and experience it first hand. On this hike, we got to learn about part of the northern border of Judah as stipulated in Joshua 15:9-10 that separates it from Dan and Benjamin. We started on the Kiriat-Jearim ridge route, which is right next to the Moshav where I'm staying. This route was the main way to get from the Judean Hills (where the Moshav is) to Jerusalem, because it traveled on the ridges of the hills and entered Jerusalem from the north, rather than going directly east over and through two extremely steep valleys. Of course with modern technology, there is now a road that goes directly from Kiriat- Jearim to Jerusalem, through those valleys. On our hike, however, we deviated from the KJ route and hiked directly into the first valley, called the Chesalon Valley. We hiked  down into it, where there was a spring called Ein Limon (Lemon Spring) and got to eat our lunches and swim for a little bit. This was the first of 3 springs we would stop at. The springs here are absolutely amazing, and are a huge testimony of the Lord's faithfulness and kindness to His people! Deuteronomy 8:7 says, "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills."The water that had collected from the heavy rain season in winter collects in the rocks, and slowly drips out so that the land has a constant supply of water, even in the dry, rainless summer. Ein Limon is just one example of such a spring, and there is now a little pool built there to collect the water so that tired hikers can take a quick dip before traversing the steep valleys once more!

We went from Ein Limon towards Mt. Tsuba, which is only mentioned once in Scripture, as the home of one of David's 30 mighty men (2 Samuel 23:36). Along the way, we stopped in a beautiful vineyard and Bill talked about the repeated imagery of grapes and vineyards in Scripture. Isaiah 5 talks about Israel as God’s vineyard that He cared for, yet it produced sour grapes. Then Christ used the same imagery in a parable as a metaphor for how Israel was rejecting the Lord’s ownership of them (Luke 20). He also told His disciples that He is the vine and those who abide in Him are the branches (John 15). If we don’t abide in Him, then we can’t do anything! We’re completely dependent on the vine in order to produce fruit. We snacked on some the grapes and contemplated the beauty of such imagery, and how significant it must have been to the Israelites, who were obviously very familiar with grapes and vineyards. After the stop in the vineyards, we moved on to Mt. Tsuba and climbed around on the Crusader ruins that are there today. We also got a beautiful view of many of the hilltops mentioned in Joshua 15:9-10 as the border cities of Judah. 

The view from the top of Mt. Tsuba. Many of these hilltops are the border descriptions for the north side of Judah.
After Mt. Tsuba, we basically just hiked to two more springs. We went to Ein Tsuba at the base of Mt. Tsuba, then hiked parallel to the Upper Sorek Valley (the second deep valley in between KJ and Jerusalem) to Ein Sataf. At the end of the hike, Bill bought us all ice cream as we waited for the bus to take us back. He said it was our tuition money paying for it. ;) (Thanks Mom and Dad!) 
Wednesday, September 12: New Testament Walk in Jerusalem
The archaeology professor here at IBEX, Chris, took all of us to Old City Jerusalem to focus on the New Testament events and historical sites. We went to the Temple Mount, which is now completely controlled and utilized by Muslims, the excavation site of a street that ran along the western wall of the temple mount in the time of Christ, the stairs at the southern entrance of the temple mount, the excavation site of the Herodian quarter where the priests lived during the time of Christ, and the Garden Tomb, which is the other suggested place for where Christ was crucified and buried.

The Temple Mount was crazy. As everyone probably knows, this is where the Muslim chapel, The Dome of the Rock, is located, which is built on the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven. However, what most people don't realize is that the Dome of the Rock is not the most important building up there. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the 3rd holiest site in Islam, and is located on the south eastern corner of the Temple Mount. We stood in line to go on the Mount for at least an hour, but only got to be up there for about 20 minutes, because there are very limited times that tourists are allowed up there. It was really neat to be up there and think about the fact that on that very spot was where Solomon built the temple. In fact, since the exact location of the temple is not known, and more importantly since the location of the Holy of Holies where God's presence dwelled is not known, Jews are forbidden to even go up on the Temple Mount. We saw a Rabbinic edict posted outside the entrance.

The next few stops all had to do with the Temple Mount, and were actually focused on the life of Christ. We got to go to an excavation site of a street that ran right along the western wall of the Temple Mount. The stones there today are at the exact same level that there were when Christ lived and walked there, but the stones have been since replaced. Then we also ate lunch on the southern side of the temple mount, and most of the stairs leading up to it are actually the original stones placed there, and were therefore the very steps Jesus walked on to enter the Temple or teach near the entrance! So cool! This southern entrance was probably where Christ did a lot of teaching. It was the entrance used by those who had to travel to Jerusalem, so it was the perfect spot for Him to teach. This entrance is the most likely place for where Jesus gave his address in Matthew 23 as He chastised the Pharisees and others for their hypocrisy. Due to His location, He was probably using his surroundings to make examples and metaphors to illustrate his points. If He was standing on those stairs, the Temple would be right behind him, and the Kidron Valley, which had many graves and burial sites, would be directly east of Him. In His address He used metaphors and examples involving the gold of the temple, the altar, tithing, and the image of "white washed tombs." All of these examples would be obvious and natural inclusions in His address if they were right around Him as He stood at the very entrance where we ate our sack lunches that day. How amazing is that?!
This is the street running along the wall of the Temple
Mount. There is an upperstreet (where the remains of
stairs are) and a lower street (that I'm standing on) that
would be lined with shops. 

I'm standing on the stairs at the Southern entrance,
looking at the Mt. of Olives and Kidron Valley.

The courtyard in the Herodian Quarter
We also went to the Jewish quarter where there was a couple excavation sites in the Royal District, also known as the Herodian Quarter, where the wealthy families lived, including the priests and High Priest. Seeing this area gave us a bit of a picture of what the house of Annas and Caiaphas could have looked like, where Jesus was taken and tried before He was crucified. This might not have been the actual house, but gives us an idea of what it could have looked like. There was a courtyard outside the houses as well, which would be much like the one where Peter stood with the servants and denied Christ 3 times. 

Me at the suggested tomb
of Christ.
The last stop was the Garden Tomb, also known as Gordon's Calvary. Charles Gordon was a British scholar who believed this location to be the site of the death and burial of Christ because it literally resembled a skull (since Matthew, Mark and John all call the place “Golgotha,” which means “place of a skull”). For several reasons (described in my first post about Jerusalem) we don't believe this is the true site, but that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is. However, it was a beautiful place to visit, and the tour guide was super sweet! She was English, and volunteered at the Garden Tomb giving tours and such, and she genuinely believes that this is the site where Christ was crucified and buried. But she ended her presentation in the best way possible. She said that at the end of the day, it doesn't matter where Jesus was buried, because He's not there anymore. We worship a living Savior! One who is not bound by the grave, but one who has conquered death and sin so that we can live and have hope in Him! Hallelujah! Amen! Praise God that our Savior lives, and that He has made it possible for us to live forever through Him! 

Friday, September 14: Beach Day!
On Friday, we headed to the coast! We went to the modern city of Jaffa, which was Joppa both in the Old Testament and the New Testament times. This site just proclaims the importance of the gospel through it's history! Jonah fled to Joppa before sailing to Tarshish as he was deliberately disobeying God's command to go to Nineveh and pronounce His judgment. Then in Acts 10, Peter was staying with a man named Simon in Joppa near the sea when the Lord gave him a vision, revealing to him that the message of Christ needed to be proclaimed to the Gentiles too. So just as in the story of Jonah and the Ninevites when God showed mercy to a Gentile nation, so also does God continue to show mercy to Gentiles around the world by allowing them to come to the saving knowledge and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ! There are so many other connections between Jonah and Peter too! Peter, according to Matthew 16:16 was a descendant of Jonah! Anyways, the city of Joppa (now Jaffa) is right on the Mediterranean Sea. We walked all around Old Joppa, and probably walked somewhere near where Peter was staying at Simon's house. So cool! 

Then we hung out at the beach. You guys... I swam in the MEDITERRANEAN SEA!!! So cool! It was absolutely beautiful. We were there all afternoon until well after sunset. The water was about 85 degrees so it was easy to just swim around for hours. Oh my goodness it was absolutely incredible! It was definitely one of my favorite days so far. I love the beach, and this was far better than any beach day I've had at the Pacific! The weather was warm, and so was the water! We ended the day by having a time of worship and a little devotional on the beach right after sunset. It was an absolutely beautiful time. 

Psalm 95:5
The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
And His hands formed the dry land. 

There's one last note I want to make real quick, and it's pretty important. I want everyone to know that I feel completely and entirely safe here. Yes, the day that we went to the Mediterranean Sea there was a riot in Old City Jerusalem, and I can see how that can be exceptionally concerning for people back home. But keep in mind, that the revolt was on Friday, which is the Muslim day of prayer. We will never go to the city on a friday, because if the Muslims are going to stir up trouble, it will usually be on a friday after they've had their morning prayers. But to be cautious, we didn't go into the City for church the following day as we had planned to do. 

I know crazy things are happening in the world. I've been reading the news about the violence and the riots happening around us, as well as the greater potential threats out there too. My professors are well aware of the situation going on as well, and they assure us that they take our safety very seriously. I trust them and their judgment entirely. Bill has lived through wars in this country and is very in tune with what is happening in the Middle East. He sent me a really helpful e-mail about how he's thinking through the world situation and how he would handle the situation if for some reason we needed to evacuate. If you want me to send you that e-mail, I will, because I think it's very reassuring. 

I just wanted to make a quick note to let you know that I am safe, I feel very safe, I trust my professors, and above all, I trust the Lord. If you want to talk to me further about these things, please don't hesitate to! 

Thank you all for reading! I'm missing home a lot, but am feeling so blessed to be here, and it's actually really fun for me to take this time to reflect on it too. 

Tomorrow I'm going to Benjamin! I get to see Jericho, among many other exciting things! Hopefully there'll be a blog about it soon ;) haha ok ... my computer is going to die in 18 minutes and it's 11:00 pm so I'd better go. Hope there's no spelling or grammar errors because I don't have time to check! haha  Goodnight everyone!!