Six days in the Holy Land
By Dan Betzer
From my hotel balcony, I can see south a couple of miles to ancient Joppa, where Jonah boarded a ship for Spain, attempting to flee from Gods directive where Peter was staying at the house of Simon the tanner and received the vision from God that opened the gospel to the Gentiles.
While the future of Megiddo thrills me, the history of the place intrigues me. In all directions you see the stages of Old Testament drama.
To the west stands Mount Carmel, where Elijah called down fire from heaven and defeated the blasphemous prophets of Baal. To the northeast is the city of Nazareth where our Lord lived for nearly 30 years. Off to the southeast is Mount Gilboa, where King Saul fell prey to the lethal onslaught of the Philistines. On the other side of Gilboa is the recently excavated site of BetShean, the city where Sauls body was fastened against the outer wall.
And the centerpiece of this whole area, of course, is the Sea of Galilee. I have stood on the banks so many mornings to watch the sun peek over the Golan Heights, illuminating the sea like a giant natural jukebox of colors, swirling and merging together to greet the day. The Galilee area is stunning to behold its convoluted hills twisting and turning in harmonious folds like the intricacies of music, dropping at last into the lake itself.
The history of the world was changed here in this stunning country of green mountains, hill towns and fertile valleys.
Across those plains and valleys sounded the trumpets of Joshua. The Babylonians marched here ... the Persians ... the disciplined infantry of Alexander the Great ... the legions of Rome under their imperial eagles.
But none of it compares to Jerusalem. This city was captured by King David 3,000 years ago, when it was little more than a fortified ridge. Her existence is divine. How else can one explain the city that has no sea, no river, no ancient trade route?
Yet her history is imprinted with the love and awe, the passion, yearning and devotion of mankind. Prophets, conquerors, kings, Jews, Christians and Muslims have stamped their words and deeds on her memory.
The name "Jerusalem" means city of peace, yet bloody wars have raged about her. Men have loved her, yet hated one another within her walls.
She has been destroyed and each time rebuilt. And like a symbol of her permanence, her huge tawny limestones have been used again and again Herods massive stones and the pillars used by the Byzantines and the Crusader capitals used by the Mamelukes.
Each of Jerusalems builders used the old and added his own fresh expression of piety and love.
But above all the Jews have loved her. Mourning her previous desolation more deeply than any others, they have returned to her with reverent devotion and love.
As you walk Jerusalems streets, look at her buildings, take in her people, her sounds and scents, you can make of her history a personal and unforgettable experience.
From this high point, one can look east across the deep plunge of the Judean desert toward the Dead Sea and the Plain of Jericho. The word "Negev" means "dry," and that is the name of the southern region of Israel, which covers the largest part of the land. It stretches from the hills of Judea to the Red Sea.
Once, together with the entire Sinai Peninsula, it was considered to be "the great, fearsome desert." Few travelers ventured to penetrate it, and those who dared came back with stories of great hardship.
But today with the new roads, modern accommodations and means of transport, the conquest of the desert is a thrilling trip for everyone.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth not under water 1,300 feet below sea level. The concentration of minerals is so high and the water so heavy you can float on your back and read a book.
Today, near the ancient city of Sodom, the modern plant of Sedom extracts potash and other chemicals from the sea. Many are concerned about the recession of the water in the Dead Sea. My first year there in 1971, we stayed at a little hotel right on the waters edge. Today, that hotel is a good 250 feet from the water.
Ezekiel prophesied that when Messiah rules, a canal will connect the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. Today its known as the "Dead-Med" proposal. It would connect at En Gedi, precisely where Ezekiel prophesied.
I have taken several thousands of people to Israel with me over the past 29 years. I want so much for my friends to catch an insight to the people here, to the sabras (Jews born in Israel) as well as the hundreds of thousands who have migrated home from around the world, motivated by a magnetic force that you and I will never quite comprehend.
A former ABC-TV producer, a Jewish man, left his power base in America to move to Jerusalem. He invited me to his home for lunch one day and told me of the powerful drive that brought him here.
He said, "Its the coming together of all those bones Ezekiel saw in the valley," which is found in Ezekiel 37.
Someone has said that you cannot know the fullness of a mountain unless first you measure the valley. You cannot comprehend the miracle that is Israel unless you first measure the unnumbered valleys through which these people have traveled.
That valley might be a shepherds field near the ancient town of David ... or the valley of Jehoshaphat wherein lies a garden called Gethsemane or a death valley at the Dead Sea which lies in the shadow of a place called Masada ... or a valley the whole world will one day know called Armageddon.
Many of the valleys are not topographical but historic and emotional, such as Auschwitz or Treblinka or Mauthausen.
One morning, some years ago, I slipped away from my downtown hotel and walked several blocks to a garden. A friend let me in before dawn. I slipped into a dark cave and sat down inside. At that time there was no wrought-iron fence around the rock slab, and I was able to sit on the very place it is believed that our Lord was buried for those three brief days.
It was my privilege to sit there alone and watch the light of dawn begin to illuminate the garden outside.
Just a short distance from that tomb, I walked around a turn in the pathway and faced a hillside, the face of which appears to have been carved by the hand of a sculptor. This is the hillside the Greeks called Golgotha or the place of a skull. At the foot of this bluff, I believe (not on the summit), our Lord Jesus was lifted on a cross, nails in His hands and feet, thorns in His brow, and a spear finally tearing open His side.
In Gods eyes He was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes, wrote Isaiah prophetically, there was no attractiveness at all. We despised Him, a man of sorrows. We turned our backs and looked the other way. Yet it was our griefs He bore, our sorrows that weighed Him down.
There He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Amazing grace. Have you experienced it?
From ByLine With Dan Betzer, a radio ministry of Media Ministries of the Assemblies of God. Used with permission.
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