Just for fun tonight, I’m going to start with the incidentals, so maybe you’ll laugh and be forgiving of any typos or dumb, incorrect things I might happen to say…it’s 1:25 a.m. and I can’t be held responsible for inaccuracy!
Our bus driver, David (pronounced properly DaVEED,) is probably in his early 60’s, almost completely bald, a little stooped in the shoulders, and very straight-faced almost to the point of being dour. He speaks enough English for us to communicate with him, but I don’t believe he is fluent. John and I sat with him at lunch yesterday and John, in his typical fashion, managed to pull out a few details…where he is from (Jerusalem,) is he married (yes,) does he have any kids (3,) but THEN, when we asked if he had grandchildren, his face COMPLETELY changed, softened, and transformed into a wreath of smiles. He pulled out his phone and showed us five adorable children from about 18 months to seven or eight years old. He flipped through a few more, passing his phone back to us to see the curly-headed baby girl. I asked what they called him, and he almost giggled when he told me: “Saba-doodoo.” Saba is one of the traditional Hebrew names for grandfather. The “doodoo” comes from the ‘D’ in his name.
SO, I think we have found John’s grandfather name. SABA-DOODOO. I love it!
We were discussing Judaism with Tsvi on the bus, and he was explaining how the Hasidic sect developed. He said they left Jerusalem to remove themselves because they had had a “full stomach with zee corrooption around zee temple!” I guess that’s the Hebrew way of saying they were “sick of it!”
On our way out of Jerusalem this morning, we passed a line of old army vehicles positioned on the side of the road. At the end of 1947 and beginning of 1948, Jerusalem was under siege, and any driver on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was likely ambushed by Arab snipers. They initiated a convoy system with army vehicles carrying supplies into Jerusalem; some were successful and some were not. The vehicles that were damaged were left on the side of the road. After the end of the siege and as time went on, the state of Israel decided to leave the convoy vehicles where they were (but bolted down to prevent looters from taking them) as a memorial. During a Memorial Day each year, those vehicles are covered with Israeli flags.
We asked Tsvi why some seem to despise Netanyahu, since it seems the economy is growing and there is such security in Israel. He said: “They theenk we stuck, nothing is moving forward with peace! But it takes two to tango; the other side ees not ready…but eet ees not his fault.” (Sorry, I can’t resist typing it in his accent.)
Jay asked about the significance of Jewish men wearing the skullcap, or yarmulke, (or kippah, as I’ve learned it’s also called.) It was explained that putting it on is a reminder that God is above you, and He protects you. Orthodox and religious Jewish men wear it all the time, but not all seculars do. It is a sign of respect at a “holy site” for a man to cover his head, whether with a kippah or any other sort of hat.
At this point in the trip, we all stink.
Tomorrow afternoon is our scheduled visit to the City of David, where Hezekiah’s Tunnel is located. There is a 90% chance of rain tomorrow afternoon, and the temperatures will only be in the mid 50’s. Mat is claustrophobic, like me, but Doug has talked him into going through the tunnel with the cameras to get some additional footage inside. So this was part of the conversation on the bus today:
Mat: “Hezekiahs’ Tunnel is TOMORROW? Man, that slipped up on me.”
Mat: “What is the percentage there will be a flash flood while we’re in there? What is the percentage there will be an earthquake while we’re in there? What about a rocket from Gaza while we’re in there?”
Doug: “I would guess there’s less than a 3 percent chance.”
Mat: “That’s still too high!”
(Hey, I’m not laughing too much. I’m still not going to do it. I’ll never say never, but I’m going to see what Mat thinks about it this year…)
Fitbit steps last Tuesday: 11,643. Wednesday, 12,221. Thursday, 11,663. Friday, 13,068. Saturday, 9,903. Sunday, 12,783. And today, 14,654. Not bad!
It’s been a busy two days, in some ways yesterday morning seems like ages ago! We woke up at the Dead Sea after the windstorm Saturday night and looked out to see chairs all over the beach and, of course, sand everywhere. I asked if it was normal, and I didn’t really get a straight answer!
We had a conference room to ourselves for worship, and sat in a semi-circle with a table nearby for our communion. Gerry, who lost his dear wife Cathy last summer, said a prayer that was so meaningful, especially with these words that I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “Help us not to hold onto this world too tightly.” Then Jason spoke to us from John chapter 20, about belief – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” (v. 29) Seeing so much evidence of Jesus all around us solidifies our faith even further, and gives us even more motivation to share the things that are written for the purpose “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you may have life in His name,” (v. 31). One of the things he said that I jotted down, I had occasion to remember later that day as John interviewed an archaeologist (which I will mention in a moment):
“There are many who think that they know Jesus, but they don’t know Jesus like Jesus wants them to know Him.”
We then got in the bus and began our curvy, steep, 45 minute trip back up the western side of the Dead Sea to the impressive mountain fortress called Masada. It is dry and extremely hot here, but the Israeli National Park Service has built a beautiful, modern building with models, plenty of gift shops, a cafeteria, and a cheesy little introductory movie to watch before you go to the top. It is interesting, but the narrator is filmed speaking Hebrew, but it is dubbed in English with a very dramatic male speaker, which made it a little bit funny.
We made our way to the cable car (since none of us felt like taking the snake path up the side) and made the quick 3 minute trip to the top. (I remembered the little girl crying in fear last year, and the crowd on the cable car singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” last year, and me thinking – do we really need to sing that song??)
When we made it to the top, we found a shady spot and Jon talked to us about what happened here. Masada is infamous for the siege of the Romans against the Jewish zealots who were inside, which took place around AD 70. Josephus recorded much of what happened here – a “last stand” of freedom fighters ending in death for all of the Jews except for two women and a few children. The Romans built a huge rampart of stones and packed earth on the western side of the mountain, then moved a battering ram up to the top and eventually broke through the wall of Masada. But before the Romans could take captives, the Jewish men – preferring death over slavery or abuse, killed their own families, then cast lots to choose ten men to kill the men; then one was finally chosen to kill the remaining survivors before turning the sword upon himself. It is a terribly sad story.
But what I love about Masada is the comforting aspect of its high, steep cliff faces, the shelter of the rocks, and the many times that David spoke of it as a stronghold, a rock, a fortress, and a deliverer. It is a visual picture to imagine him running from Saul, and climbing his way to the top, being able to spot enemies from miles away, feeling safe and protected in the same way that God provides us with a rock, a fortress, and a deliverer.
“Be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me. For you are my rock, For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me. Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength. Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” Psalm 31:2-5
Inside Masada are massive cisterns dug out of solid rock, huge storerooms that kept Masada supplied for years (and incidentally, two storerooms were found full, so we know Masada didn’t fall because of starvation), beautiful frescoes, and luxurious accomodations for Herod’s palace.
You need to see it for yourself!
We made a quick stop at Ein Gedi, though we didn’t all get out. A taxi driver picked up Doug and Mat to take them on a wild goose chase, I mean, a filming expedition up to the falls there at Ein Gedi, and then on to another of Herod’s palaces up beyond Jericho (although I’m not sure if I’ve got that correct, and John’s asleep, and I’ll fix this later…) 😉
Our next stop was Qumran, further north on the northwestern tip of the Dead Sea – almost due east from Jerusalem. We ate lunch in their cafeteria (I’ve learned that almost all of these sites are maintained by the National Park service, complete with clean bathrooms, cafeterias, and gift shops, of course!)
There were hordes of people here: Japanese, American, Russian tourists all trying to see the same thing. It was even hotter here than at Masada, I think!
“Third John” and I had the same thoughts – our impressions from pictures of Qumran made us think that it was in the middle of nowhere, deep in the Judean desert. But it’s just a few hundred yards from a busy highway and only a mile or two from the Dead Sea. The caves where they found the “Dead Sea Scrolls” are easily visible, but they are across a deep wadi with barriers preventing visitors from crossing. Wide wooden walkways help guide you around the site. There are many mikvehs for ritual cleansing – some have two sets of stairs leading down: whether for men/women or for clean/unclean we do not know. There is a scriptorium, where scribes carefully copied and counted every letter, being extremely meticulous in their handling of the word of God. Both men and women alike lived here, trying to remove themselves from the corruption in Jerusalem.
Here John talked to us about the prophecies that were made about the coming Messiah, found in the book of Isaiah. Chapter 40 foretold the destruction of the northern ten tribes, chapter seven foretold the virgin birth; chapter 53 talked about the “suffering servant”. Chapter 40 foretold “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”.
The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is huge: up until they were found in 1947, the oldest text of Isaiah was dated between 1050-950 AD, but the scrolls found at the Dead Sea were discovered to be dated much further back, to around the third century BC. Yet all of the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus, who wasn’t even born until at least 150 years later.
1 Peter 1:24-25 says: “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever…” A direct quotation from Isaiah 40:6-8. He keeps His word – He makes sure that His word endures forever.
Here John also reminded us that those who fled from Jerusalem to Qumran wanted to get away from society. We, too, are tempted to remove ourselves from what we consider contamination, but our lives need to provide light and salt to a dark world, and when we remove ourselves, it is impossible to do this.
We stopped at Jericho then, an area controlled by the Palestinians, who really have no interest in maintaining any of Israel’s history. The site is of the “oldest city in the world” yet it remains uncovered, and it is eroding. Still, fascinating things are found here. Recalling the story of Rahab the harlot and her belief in God based on what she had heard about Him, it is easier to *see* the picture in my mind. The Jordan River is visible from Jericho, so the king of Jericho and its inhabitants must have seen the crossing of the children of Israel over Jordan. I wonder if it sent them into a panic? If Rahab had heard of God, then others in Jericho must have as well. Proofs of the truth of this story (found in Joshua 6) are plentiful. Jars full of food were found, proving that the city was not under siege for very long. The mudbrick wall had collapsed in upon itself, forming a ramp for the children of Israel to go up into the city (what the Bible speaks of as falling down “flat”.) There is evidence of the city being burned, as is told in the biblical account. The north side, likely where Rahab lived, looked to have been left alone. It is all very interesting.
Back on the bus, and a quick stop at the Wadi Qelt for some pictures. A few Bedouins and their children immediately approached us with little trinkets that they were selling, plus a camel for pictures. It’s heartbreaking, to me, to see the living conditions of these children and the fact that they are “used” in their childlike state to bring in income.
Finally back on the bus – and headed to Jerusalem! I tried to make note of what I noticed as we entered. We were on a steady ascent, a gradual uphill climb that was steep enough to slow the bus down considerably. The closer we came to the city, the more homes and apartments we saw on top of the hills. The terrain is very rocky, and very hilly. Doug fastened his GoPro to the front windshield (which made DaVEED very nervous because he thought it would fall off) so we could get footage of the drive into Jerusalem. About ten minutes later, we had to pull over and Doug had to jump out, because it was beginning to rain and the giant bus windshield wipers were trying to knock off the GoPro!
I don’t know how to describe it, but there was something special about the way I felt when we caught sight of the old city of Jerusalem for the first time. The old walls of the city of David are beautiful and so historic. Even the gold dome of the Dome of the Rock is beautiful, despite its purpose, because it signifies that we are in Jerusalem. The beautiful city of God. So much rich history here, so many physical and spiritual battles were fought here, so many Bible heroes walked here and so many long to live here. . It’s just breathtaking! Tragedy happened here as well, but the tragedy was turned to triumph by a Man who walked the streets and taught and healed here.
We stepped off the bus at Mt. Scopus for a short devotional in the dripping rain. The air was noticeably cooler, and smelled of fresh pine.
John read Psalm 135 to us, and then Psalm 134: Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!
Simon then offered a touching prayer, thanking Him that “2000 years later, your power still rules the world.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but I was invigorated as we got back on the bus and pressed on into the city. Limestone homes, offices, apartment buildings, and complexes (it is a requirement for new homes to be built with “Jerusalem Stone” – limestone) with red tile roofs make the landscape appealing in the newer sections. It is a mix of both modern and much older styles. The closer into the old city you drive, the closer the homes are to one another. Crammed into every nook and cranny, some designs with no rhyme or reason, homes fill every available spot. The terrain reminds me (for our Austin friends) of the land around Lakeway and out on 360 near the bridge – rolling hills and short, stubby cedar trees, but with many more buildings jammed on all levels of the hills.
We passed an old orthodox gentlemen with his coat pulled over his head to protect him from the rain. We passed children on bicycles. A Jewish man with side hair curls, a long black coat and a flat brimmed traditional hat sprinted to catch a bus. Mothers pushed their babies in traditional prams. It is a bustling place. I love it! We are on the twelfth floor of a downtown hotel with views to the north and west of the old city (I think. Still not good with directions…) 😉
After supper, John was excited to interview Dan Bahat, a well-known archaeologist who excavated the Western Wall tunnels (for use in the Bible Land Passages videos.) He said this: “I just want to know the truth and convey it to others. Any intelligent person ought to want the same.” He was fascinating to listen to, regarding the archaeology in the area, his knowledge of both Old and New Testament scripture, and his experiences throughout the years, but he then began talking about his belief regarding the resurrection of Jesus (that He was not resurrected, but buried elsewhere) – and he denies the Messiahship of Jesus. It made me think about Jason’s earlier comment – “there are many who think they know Jesus, but they don’t know Jesus like Jesus wants them to know Him.”
We hit the sack at 11 last night, and I got a “full forty minutes!” as “Elf” said…well, maybe a few more than that, but it was a short night! Up and at ‘em early.
Today, we visited Bet Shemesh, Tel Azekah (overlooking the Elah Valley where the battle between David and Goliath was fought), Tel Lachish, and Beersheba – all located south and west of Jerusalem, and a more detailed description will have to wait until I can keep my eyes open another time!
Tomorrow we go to Bethlehem, then to Gallicantu, believed to be where the house of Caiaphas stood. Then we will head to the City of David and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. After supper, those of us who want to will take a trip over to the fascinating Israel museum. The weather is changing – I can hear the wind picking up outside. Tomorrow’s high is in the 50’s and there is a big chance for rain. Please continue praying for us! We are all well and I have loved getting to know these wonderful people!