Accents From Abroad
Our Associate Editor, W. Ross Rainey, in this number concludes the interesting and helpful account of his visit to the Holy Land.
Journey to Jerusalem
Early Tuesday morning we left Tiberias to go up to Jerusalem (wherever you are in Israel you always speak of going “up” to Jerusalem). On the way we saw such places as Cana of Galilee, Nazareth, the Tell of Dothan (where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brethren), Samaria (rich in Biblical history), Shechem, Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, Jacob’s Well at Sychar, Shiloh, Bethel, Mizpah, Ramah, Gibeah, even a distant glimpse of the tiny secluded village where Sirhan Sirhan was born (the young Arab who murdered Sen. Robert F. Kennedy), and at last the Holy City.
A visitor is not long in Israel but that he realizes it is a land of contrasts. One especially vivid memory of that morning serves as a choice case in point. Riding along toward Samaria, we watched Israeli fighter jets engaged in practice bombing. The bombing site was about half a mile from the highway and in the midst of farm land. People were busy working in the fields much as their ancestors had done 2,000 years ago and paid absolutely no attention to the swooping jets and bursts of orange fire and dense black smoke from the bomb hits.
Believe it or not, there is no decent eating place between Tiberias and Jerusalem, so after getting settled at the five-star Intercontinental Hotel we enjoyed a late lunch with a magnificent panoramic view of the Holy City from the main dining-room where we were seated. The hotel is located on the Mount of Olives and not only overlooks the city but the Garden of Gethsemane and the Kidron Valley as well.
In the late afternoon we visited an Arab shop in New Jerusalem, then went to another shop in Old Jerusalem (the walled city), having made our entrance on foot through the busy Jaffa Gate.
Weeks could be spent in and around Old and New Jerusalem, and though by then you might be exhausted you would have by no means exhausted all there is to see.
The day was climaxed by our usual evening Bible study, Roy Gustafson having helpfully directed our thoughts to key Scriptures which show the centrality and cruciality of Jerusalem as the world’s centre in the past, present and future.
Wednesday morning we headed south out of New Jerusalem, past Rachel’s Tomb, the Valley of Eschol from which Moses’ twelve spies brought fruit, and on to Hebron in the Plains of Mamre, the place where God promised Abraham an heir and the Land itself (Gen. 15:1-18). Following a brief Bible reading at the Well of Abraham and a visit to a shop where souvenirs of Hebron glassware, and other items, could be purchased, we travelled over a remote road through the Judean Hills toward the Herodium, site of palace and burial place of Herod the Great. Enroute we were able to visit a Bedouin tent and see firsthand how these desert nomads live. At this spot I was able to get a picture of the younger brother of the man who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. At another location we witnessed sheep-washing just prior to their being shorn.
From the vantage point of the Herodium we could see the location of the Cave of Adullum, as well as Bethlehem. Passing by the Shepherd’s Fields we visited Bethlehem, most of our time having been spent at the fortress-like Church of the Nativity, built over the traditional spot where Christ was born.
That afternoon we visited the Hebrew University and the Shrine of the Book which, among other things, houses the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Leaving the campus we had a quick look at the outside of the Knesset Parliament building and the Knesset Menora (a seven-branched candelabrum), a symbol of the State of Israel and a gift from the British Parliament. Returning to New Jerusalem we stopped to see a marvelous model of the city itself, the Judean Hills forming a picturesque background. On a scale of 1 to 50 it showed us a Jerusalem as it was during the time of Christ.
In our evening Bible study Roy Gustafson presented a splendid message on key prophesies regarding our Lord Jesus Christ, having traced his lineage and ultimate birthplace from the “seed” prophecy of Genesis 3:15 to the city prophecy of Micah 5:2.
Thursday morning we walked through the Dung Gate to the remaining remnant of the Western Wall of Herod’s temple, better known as the Wailing Wall. From there we went to the edge of the Eastern Wall which faces the Kidron Valley, Gethsemane, and the Mount of Olives. From the top of the wall we looked down on Absalom’s Pillar, the Bnei Hezir Tombs, and the Tomb of Zacharias. We then proceeded to the elaborate and colorful Dome of the Rock, also referred to erroneously as the Mosque of Omar, the Moslem temple built over Mount Moriah (see Gen. 22). Next on our agenda was the Via Dolorosa and a guided tour through the remain of the Antonia Fortress built by Herod the Great in honor of his friend Mark Antony, and taken to be the traditional site of Christ’s condemnation by Pontius Pilate. Before returning to our hotel we took time for a glimpse of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9).
In the afternoon we visited Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb located north of the Damascus Gate outside the Old City. Here we were genuinely blessed through a stirring message given by a young Dutchman who is one of the caretakers in charge of the area. He knows and loves Jesus Christ, having been saved several years ago at a Billy Graham Crusade meeting, and carries on a vital ministry in relation to the thousands who visit this popular site annually. Just below Gordon’s Calvary is a bus terminal with the usual hubbub and honking characteristic of such a place. Midst the beautiful and meaningful setting of the Garden Tomb I found the noise of the outside world quite annoying, having been reminded afresh of the world’s crass indifference to Christ, even at the very site of Calvary.
That evening we enjoyed seeing the film “His Land.” However, with all due respect to the film, there is absolutely no substitute for being right there in His Land itself.
On the Jericho Road
Early Friday morning we headed down to Jericho and the Dead Sea. The journey is indeed down, for while Jerusalem is 2,550 feet above sea level, Jericho is 853 feet below sea level and the Dead Sea — the lowest spot on earth — 1,292 feet below sea level. On the way we stopped at the traditional site of the Good Samaritan Inn (Luke 10:25-37), my main memory of the place being a cranky camel which put up quite a fuss when his master made him get up and down to accommodate the desires of a few who wished to have their picture taken while sitting on his humpy back.
With the heat increasing by the hour we visited Old and New Testament Jericho, the Brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1-6) which overlooks the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psa. 23:4), and the Spring of Elisha (2 Kings 2:18-22). From near the Spring of Elisha we saw some of the excavated ruins of Old Testament Jericho, as well as having a good view of the Mount of Temptation in the distance (Luke 4:1).
Nearby is Qumran, a communal settlement of the Essenes, an ascetic and monastic brotherhood among the Jews from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D. who practiced a community of goods and rigorous discipline, and who for the most part shunned the company of women. As the Roman armies advanced, they hid their writings in caves, where they remained hidden until 1947. Way in the distance, on a rocky, rugged, steep mountainside, we could see the entrance of the cave in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, one of the most important finds of Biblical archeology. From there we went down to the Dead Sea itself, an incalculably rich body of water 47 miles long, 11 miles wide, with an area of 394 square miles. It is estimated that six-and-one-half million tons of water flow into the Dead Sea daily, with almost the same amount evaporated each day.
Tiredness, a touch of the “bug,” and the unseasonably warm weather commenced to take their toll of our tour group with half or more of our number absenting themselves from the afternoon’s activities and unfortunately missing some interesting and important places. On our agenda was the Garden of Gethsemane, Bethany (Luke 10:38-42), the Gihon Spring (where Solomon was crowned king and located at the entrance to the 1,700-foot Hezekiah’s Tunnel, an S-shaped tunnel which was cut out under Mount Ophel from Gihon to the Pool of Siloam about 800 B.C.), the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7; Luke 13:4), and the House of Caiphas, the traditional site where Christ was brought before Caiphas from the Garden of Gethsemane.
The only snake I saw while in Israel was in Gethsemane — it was dead. I couldn’t help but think about that Old Serpent, the Devil, and his past presence not only in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in the Garden of Eden as well (Gen. 3).
That evening marked our last nightly Bible study session, Roy Gustafson having directed our thoughts to Hebrews 10:12, from which text and context he effectively stressed precious Gospel truths.
Saturday, May 26th, was a free day, a time to rest, to get a little washing done, to wander through the Old City, to shop for a few gifts, or perhaps to return to a meaningful spot. In the morning I cut across an old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives just below our hotel to the Panorama Hotel in order to fulfill my Uncle Les’ request to look up an old Arab acquaintance. My mission having been successfully completed, I took an early afternoon opportunity to share taxi expense to the New City, getting out near the Damascus Gate. After making a couple of purchases in an Arab shop and enjoying a relaxed, interesting conversation with one of the shopkeepers, I returned for a brief meditative visit to the Garden Tomb and Gordon’s Calvary.
Packing, enjoying the pleasant evening air, and getting a last look at the distant lights of the Old and New City marked the evening hours.
Sunday morning we left Jerusalem the Golden for the Village of Emmaus with a glimpse of Gibeah (Josh. 9:1-27; 1 Kings 3:3-9; 1 Chron. 16:39; 21:29) and the Valley of Aijalon (Josh. 10:1-14). Being the first day of the week it was fitting that Roy Gustafson shared with us the account of Luke 24 at a beautiful spot on the actual road to Emmaus. Following this moving and meaningful experience, we returned to the New City for an Arab meal with all the trimmings. The only drawback to me was that it was food we were not used to and, consequently, much of it was wasted — something I don’t like to see anywhere, and no less so in that part of the world where many do not have sufficient food. From there we continued toward the sea coast to the twin cities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, then to Lod Airport.
It was at the airport that the usual Israeli efficiency went awry. The customs authorities were understaffed in handling the necessary strict regulations governing all departing people and flights. The result? Many of us left Israel with a rather unpleasant memory, the only real hitch during our entire visit. I was almost four hours getting through customs, having spent most of that time standing and waiting. As a result I was just about the last person to board our SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) DC-8 jet flight to Copenhagen, only to be told as I stepped aboard that the coach section was full and I’d have to ride first-class. I thought, What a pity! Imentrance to the 1,700-foot Hezekiah’s spirit revived, and for the first time in tens of thousands of miles air travel I enjoyed a lavish meal in first-class with mini-tablecloth, armchair comfort, foam rubber footrest, and the courteous efficient service of both a steward and stewardess.
Our four-hour flight took us over Rhodes, part of the west coast of Turkey, Thessalonica, Vienna, Prague, East Berlin, and finally into Copenhagen. The next morning there was only time for a brief visit to the famous Tivoli Gardens, then to the airport for our SAS flight to New York. Our late arrival into Kennedy Airport caused us to miss our Detroit connection, so it was not until 10:00 p.m. that we arrived back in the Motor City, the day having panned out to be the longest of my life — 29 hours! It was great to be safely home again — there’s no place like it! Nevertheless, looking back over the entire trip, it had been in many ways the most meaningful two weeks of my life and I was filled, as I am today, with a deep sense of gratitude to our Lord for the joy, privilege and blessing of visiting His Land, and for all His “goodness and mercy” along the way.
In closing, there are two words of advice I’d like to pass along: (1) If you plan to visit Israel, make sure you go with experienced leadership and the kind that will emphasize visits to Biblical sites. (2) If at all possible, don’t wait until the sometimes sickly sixties, the sagging seventies, or the aching eighties to make the trip. The tour I was on was advertised as a “Holiday in the Holy Land.” To be sure, the trip was a fabulous change, but it was no holiday. All of us returned home weary, and some were just plain exhausted, so the younger you can go the better.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psa.122:6).