Accents From Abroad
This is the second instalment of the account of the visit of our Associate Editor to the Middle East. How quickly matters change there! No peace on earth, and no good will toward fellowmen forms a descriptive parody. God is over all blessed forever! He alone can make wars to cease.
It was the first time I had ever I been frisked, but this is now a routine procedure at the Athens Airport, as well as at many airports throughout the world. Finally, after our four-hour delay, we were airborne around 6:40 p.m. on Saturday, May 19th. Our TWA 747 jet soon reached its cruising altitude as we headed out over the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tel Aviv. It was a great feeling to know we were actually on our way to Israel, and for the majority of our tour group members the dream of some day visiting His Land would soon come true.
A Hebrew Hippie
Much of the almost two-hour flight was taken up in conversation with — for want of a better description — a “Hebrew hippie.” He was returning home to Tel Aviv after almost two years of communal living in various parts of the world, having “wintered” in the Canary Islands. His outward appearance was typical of “hippies” the world over, coupled with the fact that his “Right Guard” had worn off and he had a case of halitosis. Nevertheless, I found him to be an intelligent young man and able to speak English fairly well. I sensed the circumstances as a God-given opportunity to talk to him about the Scriptures, the claims of Messiah, and the meaning of life.
A professed atheist, he readily listened to the witness which our Lord enabled me to give, and I can only play that our conversation might at least have been a link in a chain of witness that may some day bring him to the place of confessing faith in Christ. It was evident that his mind was by no means closed to the truth.
An unusual sight greeted us as we made our approach to Lod Airport just outside Tel Aviv. Hundreds of bonfires were burning all over the city, their flickering, torch-like orange-coloured appearance making an unforgettable scene, like something out of a fairy tale book. Later, the only information I could obtain as to the significance of the bonfires was that it was a celebration of some event dating back to the time of the Maccabees.
About sixty-five years ago the area now occupied by Tel Aviv was nothing but sand dunes. Today it is the cultural and commercial centre of Israel, being the largest city in the land, Tel Aviv - Jaffa having a combined population of 348,000. Israel’s present population is a little over 3,000,000, while the total land area of the nation would fit into Lake Erie with room to spare. Nevertheless, it is one of the world’s seven self-sustaining nations.
A town by the name of Tel Aviv (Tel-Abib) existed in ancient Babylon (now Iraq), and Ezekiel mentions it in his prophecy. “Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib” (Ezek. 3:15).
That evening, having passed through customs with relative ease and little delay (it would not be that way upon leaving Israel!), we travelled 21 miles north by bus to the relatively new resort town of Netanya. The Sabbath had ended and upon entering the main part of town the scene was like a little “Times Square.” People were milling about everywhere, all in a seemingly festive mood, and most of them young people. By midnight we were at last settled in the King Solomon Hotel located on the shores of the Mediterranean.
It was wonderful to actually be in His Land and with so much to look forward to in the days ahead.
Early Sunday morning we proceeded northward about 10 miles to Caesarea, named in honor of Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome (27 B.C. - 14 A.D.). The city was founded by Herod the Great about 22 B.C., and for nearly 500 years it was the capital of the Romans in the Holy Land. It was the home of Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:40, 21:8), and it was here that Herod Agrippa I was smitten by an angel and eaten of worms (Acts 12:20-23). Caesarea was also the home of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert of whom we have record in the Book of Acts (Acts 10). The Apostle Paul visited the city many times (Acts 9:30; 18:22; 21:8, 16), having been imprisoned there for two years (Acts 24:27), and as a prisoner sailed from Caesarea for Rome (Acts 27:1). It was the centre of a Jewish revolt in 66 A.D. and was destroyed by the Moslems in 1291.
Of particular interest among the ruins of Caesarea is the second century Roman amphitheatre located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea south of the Crusader wall. Its ruins were unearthed in 1961 and midst the debris there was found a fragment of a Roman inscription which mentions Emperor Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. It is the first archeological evidence of the famed procurator of Judea under whose rule (26-36 A.D.) Christ was crucified.
The fortifications, towers, aqueducts and piers of Caesarea are today mute testimonies of the might and power of the Roman Empire. The second century high-level aqueducts, typical of Roman influence, conducted sweet water from the mountain springs to Caesarea.
From Caesarea we again travelled northward some 30 miles to Haifa, Israel’s third largest city (pop. 217,000). Haifa itself has no Biblical significance, but today it is a vital nerve centre of Israel possessing the country’s main port, its heaviest industries, including oil refineries, and its best engineering institutes. It is also the world centre of the Bahai faith. The city is situated at the meeting place of mountain, valley, and sea, having the best sheltered bay on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Haifa enjoys a temperate and healthy climate, and to me it unfolded some of the most magnificent scenery to be found in the Land.
Mount Carmel (Carmel meaning “vineyard of God”) overlooks Haifa and, of course, the Prophet Elijah spent much of his time there, the mount having been associated with many important events in his life.
After a delicious and welcome lunch we journeyed over the Mount Carmel Range to Megiddo, 17 miles southeast of Haifa. The mound known as Tell-et-Mutesellim is the site of the ancient fortress city of Megiddo. It was of great strategic importance because of its location at the opening of a narrow pass on the Great Road which connected Gaza and Damascus. It has been the site of at least twenty cities in the last 3,500 years, having been one of Solomon’s fortified chariot cities (1 Kings 9:15; 10:26-27; 2 Chron. 1:14-17; 9:25).
From the ridge of the tell (i.e., mound) we could look out over the Y-shaped Valley of Armageddon (also called the Valley of Jezreel and Esdraelon) which will be the scene of the final battle between the forces of good and evil at the end of the Great Tribulation and at the time of Christ’s Second Advent. It is Israel’s largest valley stretching from Haifa to the Jordan Valley, being 30 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest point. It is presently the breadbasket of the nation. Although there was a bit of haze in the sky, coupled with a brisk wind, the weather was ideal and the scene exquisitely peaceful.
Megiddo has an extensive Biblical history and is first mentioned in Joshua 12:21. Considerable archeological work has been done there, including the excavation of Solomon’s stables, which at one time housed at least 450 horses and about 150 chariots. On the eastern part of the mound at the bottom of the excavations are the remnants of a edge of the mound, dating back to about the 19th century B.C.
The most interesting thing at Megiddo, at least to me personally, was the water tunnel at the western edge of the mound, dating back to the 12th century B.C. The ancient engineers sank a 120-foot shaft, and from the bottom of the shaft they bored a tunnel through the rock for 300 feet to a spring outside the city. In this way water could be brought into the city even in times of siege, the spring’s opening having been hidden by a wall and a covering of earth so that besieging forces would not notice it.
Our Christian Arab guide, Elijah Subeh, gave me part of a polished stone arrowhead which he found that afternoon, a token of some past conflict at Megiddo. The same is now a meaningful keepsake on a bookshelf in my home.
The Well of Harod
Of further significance that afternoon was a visit to the Well of Harod, the spring, or well, beside which Gideon and his men encamped (Judges 7:1). It was here that the Lord reduced his army to the 300 men who lapped the water, putting their hand to their mouth, and with these chosen men Gideon routed the mighty Midianite army that night.
My picture was taken at the spring, lapping the water much as Gideon’s 300 must have done. Please be assured, however, that I have no illusions that I would have been among the 300 in Judges 7.
The spring, which flows from under a large rock formation, is located in the area of Mount Gilboa about four miles southeast of the city of Jezreel. Many that afternoon, particularly young people, were enjoying the park and swimming pool which are linked with the spring, the modern name of the spring being Ain Jalud.
From the Well of Harod we travelled northeast, passing near Nazareth and Mount Tabor, both of which were visible in the distance. There was a brief glimpse of the Jordan River and then at last the fulfilment of our keenly anticipated view of the Sea of Galilee and its beautiful blue waters. After getting settled in our hotel in Tiberias, the Galei Kinnereth, which rests on the shores of the sea, we made our way northward to the YMCA site overlooking the water. There in that beautiful setting, midst the fading light of day, Mr. Roy W. Gustafson spoke to us from John 6, having centred his helpful devotional message on the young boy and his lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish.
Following a late dinner my Christian friend and I enjoyed a relaxed stroll along a dark sidewalk which led south from the hotel and parallel with the gently lapping waters of the Sea of Galilee. We had been assured that it was perfectly safe to walk there late at night, so we thoroughly enjoyed at that hour what we could not have done safely at a similar hour over 6,000 miles away in Detroit.
Our first full day in His Land was at an end, but it would never be forgotten.
Tiberias is the capital of Galilee, the latter being the most northerly of Israel’s three provinces, Samaria and Judah being the other two. Tiberias is about 2,000 years old and owes its beginning and name to Herod Antipas, who in 20 A.D. began to build on the ruins of an ancient town called Rakkat, having named the new city in honor of Tiberias, the Emperor of Rome.
The old city lies along the lake-shore, while the new city stretches across the hillside above.
Located 108 miles north of Jerusalem (via Jenin), the Sea of Galilee, meaning “ring,” is 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, 80-150 feet deep, 685 feet below sea level, 64 square miles, and 32 miles in circumference. In the Scriptures it is also called the “Sea of Chinnereth,” from the name of a town on its shores and meaning “harp-shaped,” relating no doubt to the sea’s actual shape (Num. 34:11; Deut. 3:17; Josh. 12:3; 13:27); the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), after the fertile plain on its northwest shore; and the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1, 23; 21:1). Ancient rabbis used to say, “Jehovah hath created seven seas, but the Sea of Gennesaret is His delight.”
Monday morning we crossed the Sea of Galilee by motor launch to Capernaum. In the distance we could see the Mount of Beatitudes, as well as men fishing with nets, much as they did in Christ’s day. Biblical events too numerous to recount here are connected with both the sea and the city. Capernaum was our Lords’ Galilean headquarters for two years, while the ruins of the city are a mute reminder of its downfall as predicted by Christ (Luke 10:12-15), more of His miracles having been performed there than in any other city.
From Capernaum we journeyed north to the Golan Heights overlooking the Valley of Hula. At one time this valley was only a swampy lake, but now, like so much of Israel, it has been transformed into one of the most productive agricultural centres in the nation, the drainage of the lake having been completed in 1957. It was not until the Six Day War (June 1967), however, that the area could be developed. The Israeli Army stormed the Golan Heights, ousted the Syrian forces from their strongly fortified positions and ended the long suffering endured by the settlers who in Israel’s northern section had been subjected to heavy bombardment and shelling by the Syrians. We need not wonder why Israel’s Prime Minister, Mrs. Golda Meir, has firmly stated that the Israelis would never give up the Golan Heights. Remnants of the Crusaders, as well as the Six Day War, are prevalent in the area, and we were warned not to stray from the road because of the thousands of “live” land mines still in the district. Along the road our bus was stopped at an Israeli machine gun outpost in order to obtain clearance through an area in which the army was engaged in target practice.
We had a good view of Mount Hermon and the Hermon Range. Having seen both Mount Hermon and Mount Tabour, I am thoroughly convinced that our Lord’s Transfiguration must have taken place on the former.
Our next stop was Banyas, or Caesarea-Philippi, one of the four sources of the Jordan River, and the place where Peter uttered his great confession and Christ spoke prophetically of the Church (Matt. 16:13-18).
We enjoyed lunch at the Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar (see the title of Psa. 22), a kibbutz being a communal or collective village and governed by the general assembly of all members. It was here that I was introduced to a young outstanding Hebrew physician, Dr. Brian Pockroy, who is presently serving a tour of duty in the Israeli Army. He is a personal friend of my missionary uncle, Leslie S. Rainey.
From there we went to the Mount of Beatitudes, then )passed south through Magdala and back to Tiberias. It had been an unseasonably warm day, the afternoon temperature having been close to 100 degrees, so a swim in the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon proved delightfully refreshing.
That evening we had many Jewish listeners as on a large back patio of the hotel Roy Gustafson spoke about the nation Israel and its place in history, or perhaps I should say its place in HIS-story.