June 15, 2014
How my daily Bible readings came to life as we visited Israel this past week
Preface: I am reading the whole Bible this year in an interesting different way: chronologically through the New Testament, with relevant Old Testament passages added each day. I made my first visit to the Middle East this past week (David's second trip to Israel - first was on business). This photo is at the Wailing Wall - a section of the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I'm in the middle in the green shirt with the tan hat, making my way to pray at the wall.
There are not wonderful enough words to describe our trip to Israel and Palestine, and how it impacted my experience reading the Bible (passages that had been chosen and scheduled back in the summer and fall of 2013 before I even knew I would be making this trip). I will try to mention a few ways the Bible came more to life as I read it in the Holy Land.
We were able to identify with the Scripture as we saw Israeli oak trees (Gen 13:18), tamarisk trees (Gen 21:33), used shekels (still the currency of Israel, Gen 24:22), needed to wash our feet when getting back to our room each day (Gen 24:32), mounted and dismounted a camel (Gen 24:61, 64), dipped our feet in the Jordan river at the likely spot of Joshua's crossing (on the very day of the scheduled reading of Dt 27:2! God knew!), drove up the long, steep hill towards Jerusalem from the lower country (2 Ki 16:5 "up to Jerusalem"), saw a blind person on the road in the old city (Dt 27:18), heard about people accepting bribes (Dt 27:25), and walked on Jerusalem's city walls/battlements and through its various gates, touched the stones and saw the various foundations (Is 54:11-12).
"Our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 2:4) - we saw the contrast, the bondage of being stuck in sin and under the law, with no hope, because the Jews don't think the Messiah has come yet, and in the meantime they can't offer sacrifices anymore because there is no temple (the Temple Mount is under Muslim control). We also saw the bondage of man-made traditions and religion that has been added on to what God actually says in the Bible (excessive Sabbath laws like not being allowed to press an elevator button, and excessive food laws like not being allowed to have meat and dairy in the same meal or kitchen, separation of men and women, no enjoyment of sex allowed by ultra-orthodox Jews, only as a duty).
"No Jew nor Greek... male nor female... all one in Christ" (Gal 3:28) - we saw the separation of the 4 quarters in Jerusalem - Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. We also saw the separation of men's and women's sections at the Wailing Wall and the memorial site of King David's tomb (unfairly disproportionate with much more room and nicer conditions for the men, while the women are crowded in a small space). These could all be one in Christ. There is still a huge division in Jerusalem, so visible. It made it very apparent why this verse is needed.
"Justice to the nations" (Isaiah 42:1) - this is so needed in the Middle East - so much evil has been done, and the divisions are so deep and long-lasting. Jews, Christians, and Muslims who all feel oppressed and have suffered so much...
"The coastlands" (Is 42:4) - we drove all up the coast of Israel along the Mediterranean, so this is now a beautiful picture in my mind.
"...nor My praise to graven images..." (Is 42:8) - we saw people kneeling down and kissing objects and lighting sacred candles to immediately extinguish them and bring them home to relatives in other countries, and basically worshipping buildings, spots on the ground, or icons (these were all in orthodox Christian churches)... Churches are full of images and pictures of people, but synagogues don't have any. Simpler seems better...
"the well-watered valley of the Jordan" (Gen 13:10) - yes, indeed - brown and tan dry desert ground all around, but contrasting lush greenery along the Jordan River, very clear.
"the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free" (Gal 4:25-26) - Jerusalem did seem in slavery a bit, to the conflict between nations/ cultures/ religions/ languages/ traditions, the divisions and hatred and enmity (even between different "Christian" factions), the uneasy peace specifically for the sake of tourist money flowing in. I do so look forward to the Jerusalem above, which will be united in Christ and free of hatred.
Gen 21:14-19 talked about the need for water in the wilderness for Hagar & Ishmael - it's life or death. We saw the very, very bone-dry Judean desert. Water is life.
The deeds of the flesh: enmities, strife, disputes, dissensions, factions --> not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21) - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a prime model of all of the above, just horrible - various "Christian" denominations are in charge of distinct portions of the church (where they say Christ was crucified & buried, but it actually doesn't make any sense (to me); it was more likely near the Garden Tomb site), and they can't agree together on anything, because none of them want to give up an inch of their space and a war would start if one of them swept a bit of the other sect's floor or someone moves a chair or ladder. Some of the monks have put each other in the hospital (Armenian, Greek, Ethiopian, Syriac, Coptic Orthodox, Franciscan Catholic).
"They will fight against [Jerusalem], take it and burn it down." (Jer 34:22) - there is a layer of the city, 6 metres under current street level in the Jewish Quarter at least, that excavations show was burned.
"Peace and mercy upon the Israel of God" Galatians 6:16) - it needs it so much. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah's first coming, or have given up and decided not to believe in God after all... both because they did not recognize Jesus' first coming, the One who IS our peace...
The Bible is true!!! Visit Israel if/when you can... it's an amazing experience. We know a truly excellent private tour guide, if you can go that route. Expensive but oh so worth it.