“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon, than for you.” Matthew 11:21-22
I wonder why such terrible judgment was placed upon the people of Chorazin? They had a synagogue, so they must have at least had some religious belief. But they also had frieze fragments with depictions of Medusa heads, the sun god Helios, and centaurs that adorned their synagogue. Why would they place these mythical, idolatrous pieces of decor in a house of worship? Maybe it was some indication of the condition of their hearts. The Lord Himself had visited their village and even worked miracles among them, yet their hearts still remained hard and unchanged. This is a hard thing that we have to learn at some point in our life: for some people, it won’t matter what we do or say – their hearts will not change. They do not seem to have the desire to live in submission to God.
Also found in the synagogue was a “Moses seat”, a “VIP seat” if you will. The reader of the Torah, an honored person, would sit here. Matthew 23:1-8 says this:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders. But they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.”
As we sat around the edges of the old synagogue at Chorazin this morning, John read this to us. Thinking about the pieces of idolatry they found there, and the Moses seat, he talked about assimilation, and the constant challenge to keep our lives in line with God’s commands.
Were the Scribes and Pharisees tempted to be more like the world than like the Lord? Am I? Sadly and honestly, sometimes the answer is yes.
Were they hypocritical and hypercritical and full of pride? Am I? Again, sadly, sometimes the answer is yes.
Jesus didn’t criticize them for following the letter of the law – He was angry with them for binding their traditions on men, and for pretending to be one way but acting completely the opposite. He encourages His hearers to embrace and hold to God’s standards – just as the Scribes and Pharisees were supposed to do – but He wanted them to never forget the purpose or the spirit of the law like the Scribes and Pharisees had done.
Day three: the day we are tempted to drag just a little bit! Excitement carries us through the first couple of days. Then jet lag, sleep deprivation, different beds, and a LOT of WALKING tend to catch up with us.
But an espresso machine in the morning definitely helps. And chocolate croissants.
And I locked myself into another bathroom, this time at the hotel. The little locks below the doorknobs twist until the bolt slides into place, but this one kept twisting and not moving the bolt. Everyone was already on the bus ready to leave, and there I was again, stuck in the bathroom. A few minutes (okay, maybe it was seconds) of hyperventilation prevention and some yoga poses (not really) I knelt down to watch the bolt turn as I twisted the lock. It flopped around a few more times, but finally I twisted slowly and saw the bolt grudgingly pull away from the door frame, then I jerked the door open, much to the surprise of a Chinese woman who had just walked in. We laughed nervously at one another before she went into the same stall. (Maybe I should go check and make sure she’s not still in there…)
We were on the bus by 8, headed to Chorazin. I had not been here before, and the ruins were impressive. It is located on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. Our bus driver, David (Murray says DaVEED) whipped the bus into a little parking lot and just over the edge of the hill we saw large, black basalt stones that made up the village of Chorazin. Large ancient homes were clustered at the front of the site, and further in we saw a mikveh, a place for ritual cleansing and baptism. This one happened to be covered, and there was actually water in it. The only trees in the site were far from the settlement.
We found the synagogue behind the homes, with replicas of the “Moses seat” and frieze fragments depicting the Medusa head and the sun god, Helios. We sat here and John talked to us about the assimilation – the clash of culture that seemed to be going on here 2000 years ago, and how it happens to us in the 21st century as well.
We saw tons of pudgy little “rock rabbits” (Murray called them) – the rock badgers mentioned in Psalm 104:18 and Proverbs 30:26.
Back on the bus, and this conversation occurred:
Jason – “Murray, say ‘gig’em!’”
Murray – “Giggle?”
Jason – “No, gig’em!”
Murray – “Yiggem?”
Jason – “C’mon, Murray, it’s a football team!”
Murray – “HOOK ‘EM!”
(We all got a good laugh from that.)
We took off for the 45 minute drive to Tel Dan. Since I’d had about 3 ½ hours of sleep last night, the bus immediately rocked me to sleep, no doubt with my mouth hanging open…I wouldn’t be surprised if my brother took an incriminating photo! (By the way, my brother told me “I don’t really read your blog, I just skim it in a panic looking for my name…”)
Dan is in far northern Israel, very close to both the Lebanese and Syrian borders, for all you scaredy-cats. It is a very lush, almost tropical environment. Last year when we were here, it rained the entire day and seemed like a rainforest. In contrast, today was very warm and sunny, but still everything was green. Dan is a huge, ancient city that dates back to at least 2000 BC. Genesis 14 records Abram pursuing the captors of his nephew, Lot, as far as Dan. A huge, impressive mudbrick gate is still standing that was likely a gate that Abram passed through in his pursuit.
Entering the tel, we crossed over several wooden walkways that cover the rushing waters of a spring that feeds into the Jordan river. (I could sleep on one of those walkways…the sound of the rushing water was so soothing!) The further into the site we walked, the rougher the pathways grow. We crossed over many large rocks with water running over them. I know it was a challenge to some of our group who have a little difficulty walking, but they all pressed on and did wonderfully! We climbed past tropical-looking trees with twisting, gnarled trunks, finally emerging into a large clearing where Jeroboam had built a “high place”, a place for idol worship and animal sacrifice. There is a cistern still standing below the altar, and high, wide steps above it. As we gathered around and sat on stones for our devotional, a large Russian tour group noisily walked directly through our group on their way to the steps beyond. It was very distracting!
Here John talked to us about 1 Kings 12 and the story of Jeroboam and Rehoboam. Dan stands as a monument to the division and apostasy that occurred within Israel, and especially the northern ten tribes as they substituted idolatry for the true worship of God. He talked about how archaeology is a window into the ancient past. Yes, we can learn facts about Jeroboam, but will we learn to apply the lessons and avoid the mistakes he made? Mistakes of idol worship, and the temptation to do what is easiest for us instead of what God directs? There is so much to think about.
Above the “High Place” is a path that leads to an old bunker from the Six Day War of 1967. I’m learning that Chelsea doesn’t take the beaten path – she had to walk all the way through the bunker! Up here we could see the tip of Mount Hermon, beyond which lies Syria.
After about a ten minute walk down from the top, we arrived at the Canaanite mudbrick gate that is believed to be from Abram’s time. It is covered by a huge metal and fiberglass roof to protect it from the elements. It’s just incredible to think how old it really is.
Just around a curve from the Canaanite gate is the entrance to the Israelite gate. Enormous black stones, many of which show evidence of a long-ago destructive fire, make up the walls of the city, as tall as three men. A wide courtyard in front of the walls is where fragments of the Dan Stele were discovered in 1993 and 1994. The Tel Dan Stele is important because it references Judah as the “House of David” and celebrates the victory of a king of Aram over Israel and Judah. Since the explanation is much more complicated than my exhausted brain can comprehend, I will let Associates for Biblical Research explain: “…all this at a time when a number of scholars were challenging the existence of the United Monarchy and a king named David.”
We left Tel Dan and made a quick five minute drive to a Lebanese restaurant just outside Caesarea Philippi. The choices were Falafel, Schnitzel, Shawarma, or a hamburger, any of which would be placed inside pita bread along with a salad. I had the Schnitzel, and it was good! We sat outside on a deck with spring water rushing below us. Fun!
Next on the agenda was Caesarea Philippi, also known as Banias. Again, I remembered the rainy, dreary day we spent at Banias last year, and was glad for the sunshine today. As depressing and dismal as the site can be, with its evidence of so much idolatry, sexual perversion, and mysticism, the area below the cave is absolutely beautiful. Large man-made pools hold the rushing spring water as it travels down the side of the mountain. Greenery is planted in abundance along these pools, and nice, wooden walkways allow passage over the water. Down below, it is difficult to see the cave, so only the rusty-colored rock cliff face shows, and contrasts beautifully with the greenery.
We sat and Jon talked to us about what it must have been like at Banias 2000 years ago. He said “you could compare this to the Las Vegas strip! Can you imagine what a scary prospect it must have been to think about coming here to teach the gospel to people like this?”
While the rest of the group rushed across the street to some ruins that are normally off-limits (a park ranger let them in,) Angela and I made the trek to the top to see the cave. It was considered a portal for the gods to enter the earth. But all it is, is a large opening in the side of a cliff. Doves cooed and hopped around inside, and occasionally groups of them flew out with the rustle of wings. To the right of the cave are niches carved into the rock face that were used for idols. There were places where ritual sacrifices were made, and bones buried. To me, it is sad to imagine the worthless worship that was going on here.
We made our way back down and decided to have some ice cream while we waited for everyone else. We watched people pass by – a Yeshiva school full of boys there on a field trip, with old Rabbis accompanying them…Americans, Russians, South Africans. It was a busy place.
After leaving Banias, we began the drive back to the hotel, and John discovered that he’d lost his steroid eye drops somewhere on Tel Dan. (He’s also broken one pair of glasses and lost another…) Luckily, we have Dr. Pennings with us, and Murray guided us into a pharmacy, where John explained his symptoms (and the medicine he needed) to Murray, who translated to a pharmacist, who checked Dr. Pennings medical credentials, and filled John a prescription on the spot. For about $15. Fantastic!
Some of our group took the bus into Tiberius for supper tonight. John and I stayed and had supper with Fred, Anh, Gerry, Jay, and Simon. It was so wonderful to get to know these beautiful people! We walked out to the pier overlooking the Sea of Galilee and enjoyed the fading sun. I snapped a photo of the face of Mount Arbel. Looking forward to going there tomorrow, as well as Magdala, Capernaum, and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee! It’s hot and dry here; the forecast for tomorrow is 90 degrees!
Incidentals for the day:
TSVI IS COMING TOMORROW!
Murray once ran a falafel stand in New York City. We asked his opinion for the perfect way to enjoy it- he said: “Put a schmeer, a dollop of ‘hoomus’ on top, some cabbage, some salad!”
Thanks for helping us spread the word about Bible Land Passages!