Rain In The Forecast

Rain In The Forecast

In speaking to the people of Israel, God says: 

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit." - Leviticus 26:3-4

Even today, Israel basically has two seasons: the dry season (May - October) and the rainy season (November - April). I have been trying to pay close attention to the ongoing rainy season due to the dry conditions that have persisted over Israel for the past 3-4 years. The good news is that within the past couple of months, Israel has received a good amount of rain. In fact, about two weeks ago, much of northern Israel received several inches of snow. Snow was even reported in the city of Zefat (Sefad), which sits just a few miles north of the Sea of Galilee. 

The effects of that amount of rain can easily be seen downstream. Rain that falls on northern Israel eventually finds its way into the Jordan River, which flows into the Sea of Galilee. Consequently, the level of the Sea of Galilee has risen several centimeters since November, including six centimeters in the last week. For those who have traveled to Galilee in the last couple of years, they have seen how low the water level is. The level of the Sea of Galilee still has a way to go. As of today, the elevation of surface of the lake is at -213.84 meters, which is still below the lower red line (the level at which water can be pumped out of the lake for irrigation). 

In looking at the weather forecast, the land is forecast to receive more rain this weekend. I am hopeful that this will help the level of the lake rise even more. 

(NOTE: The picture at the top of this post is from the top of Mount Bental, in the Golan Heights. This image was captured from a web camera during the snowstorm a little over a week ago.)

Early and Latter Rains

Early and Latter Rains

With a degree in Meteorology, I have a special interest in the weather. And, when it comes to the Bible, I pay particular interest to references to weather. In a few different instances, the writers of the Bible use the term "early and latter rains". Some examples include:

They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season. He reserves for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” - Jeremiah 5:24

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. - James 5:7

Contrary to popular belief, Israel actually receives a lot of rain every year. Admittedly, there are areas of the country where it is pretty dry (Jordan Rift Valley, Negeb, etc). But much of the land is very blessed by rain. 

The rain, however, falls in an interesting pattern. Every year, the rains start in late October and then continue until mid-May. This phenomenon is what the Biblical writers are referring to when they mention the early rains (October) and the latter rains (May). 

Since it is January, we are currently in the middle of the rainy season. The rains that fall right now help nourish the land for the rest of the year. Last week, Israel had an unusually rainy day. Many locations of the Galilee received nearly four inches of rain in one day. It was so much rain, that the water level of the Sea of Galilee rose three centimeters that same day. The Times of Israel had a very interesting story about it on their website.

Just as He did centuries ago, God is still ensuring that the land is properly watered. 

Jacob's Well

Jacob's Well

Jacob's Well, in the basement of the Bir Ya'qub monastery in Nablus.

Jacob's Well, in the basement of the Bir Ya'qub monastery in Nablus.

Earlier this week, I received an email from the Israel Bible Center. On it, there was a drawing depicting Jesus sitting by Jacob's Well in Sychar speaking with the Samaritan woman. I enjoy looking at drawings like this. Because cameras were not invented until only recently, any ideas that we may have about what the site looked like is based on historical records and our own imagination. How one person may read the record and depict it in the own mind may be different than the way that someone else depicts it. Knowing that, I have little confidence in any single drawing. But in each one, there is probably an element of reality. 

Visiting the site today takes even more of an imagination. The well currently sits in the basement of a Eastern Orthodox Monestary in the modern city of Nablus. Entering the church building and going downstairs almost forces one to completely forget that for thousands of years, this well was outside and accessible to anyone walking by. Of course, that also included Jesus. 

 

Drawing from the Israel Bible Center depicting Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well.

Drawing from the Israel Bible Center depicting Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well.

Anise and Cummin

Anise and Cummin

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In my last post, I presented a picture of frankincense and myrrh that that I took while walking around the Old City of Jerusalem. Today, I want to show you the seeds of two more spices from that same store. 

In Matthew 23 we read:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
— Matthew 23:23

Anise and cummin were used as spices for the flavoring of foods. This practice is still common today. 

Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and Myrrh

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I love walking through the Old City of Jerusalem. Within the city, there are half a dozen spice shops. These shops allow you the opportunity to see things that it is more difficult to see in the United States. When I was there a few weeks ago, I ran across a couple of bowls which contained frankincense and myrrh. 

Of course, this reminds me of the passage in Matthew 2:9-11:

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Back to Israel

Back to Israel

Well, the time has come for me to head back to Israel. I will admit, this is a bit strange since I just returned from Israel less than three weeks ago. But, I consider myself very, very lucky. Less than a month ago, I had the privilege of leading a tour group and introducing 27 other people to the beautiful land of Israel and connecting that land to the Bible. Today, I have another privilege. I have the opportunity to travel back to Israel with the rest of the team from Appian Media

Last year, we were able to produce five videos about the life of Jesus. Entitled "Following the Messiah", the videos followed the life of Jesus from His birth to the selection of His disciples. We were also able to create a separate video on the ancient Jewish city of Magdala as well as add a large number of resources to our digital library. 

On this trip, we will complete the videos of the life of Jesus, focusing on His miracles, teaching, and of course, His death, burial, and resurrection.  

No doubt, this will not be my last trip to Israel. In fact, I have already been making plans for my tour next year. I have incorporated a couple of small changes to the tour to make the tour even better. 

As we leave today, we ask for your prayers for our success in creating these materials that can be used in teaching others about Jesus.

NOTE: The picture at the top of this post is of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes. Observe the ruins of the city of Capernaum on the shore of the sea. In Matthew 8, the passage describes how Jesus went to Capernaum after concluding the Sermon on the Mount.

Back Home Again

Back Home Again

This year's tour has concluded. We have all made it back home and are spending the time looking through our pictures and reflecting on the things that we learned and the fun times that we had. 

The folks on the tour were fantastic. They were open to any idea that I had and were ready to learn. And we took advantage of it. We traveled from Dan to Beersheva. We watched the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee. We floated in the Dead Sea. On Sunday morning, we worshiped together. We laughed a lot. And, at some locations, we even shed a tear. 

I was even able to go to a few places that were new to me. I have never looked over into Syria from the top of Mount Bental. Now, I have. I have never been inside the edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulture. Now, I have. And, I have never viewed the Shephelah from the top of Tel Lachish. Now, I have. 

To those who joined me this year, thank you. I enjoyed so much spending time with you. 

For a student of the Bible, traveling to Israel is a wonderful experience. It allows you to "see" the Bible in new and exciting ways because you are walking where they walked. 

I am already looking forward to my next tour in July 2018. If you are interested in traveling with me, please contact me.  You will never regret traveling to Israel.

 

From Galilee to Jerusalem

Wow...we have had a busy few days. So busy, in fact, that I have been unable to write a blog post. But, our group has made it safely to Jerusalem and we are enjoying our time together.

On Thursday, we travelled north up the Hula Valley and visited the sites of Hazor, Abel Beth Maacah, Dan, and Caesarea Philippi. After lunch, we traveled through the Golan Heights and were able to enjoy the view into Syria from Mount Bental. We ended our day by seeing the first 

Friday's stops included Capernaum, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Nof Ginnosar, and an opportunity to step into the sea. We were able to have lunch at a local restaurant to have "St. Peter's Fish". We ended our day by climbing to the top of Mount Arbel and viewing the entire Sea of Galilee. It was a wonderful day.

This morning, we left the serenity of the area of Galilee and headed toward Jerusalem. On the way we made stops at Jezreel, Spring of Harod, Bet She'an, Jericho, and the baptismal site. Our arrival in Jerusalem was met with much cooler temperatures than what we experienced to our north. It was a welcome relief. 

Not only is the group doing great, but they are an absolute joy to be around. Tomorrow, we head towards the Dead Sea.

From One Coast to Another

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Our first full day in the land of Israel saw us traveling from one coast to the other. We started by watching the sun rise over the resort city of Netanya on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. From there, we traveled to Caesarea Maritima. This large seaport city was truly a jewel in the crown of King Herod's building projects. We toured the theatre, palace, hippodrome, and harbor. 

We then climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and revisited the story of Elijah's contest against the prophets of Baal. Our view was very clear and we could see for miles. There are so many locations of Biblical stories that can be seen from there.

After lunch, we toured the ancient city of Megiddo. Once again, the views across the Jezreel Valley were fantastic.

We concluded our day with a visit to Nazareth Village. This first century replica village helps the visitors understand life during the time of Jesus.

We have arrived at truly one of my favorite hotels in Israel, the Ron Beach on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We will spend three nights here touring the land of Galilee. 

The tour group is doing great and everyone is having a great time. It is an honor to travel with them and learn more about the Bible. 

Back In Israel

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We had a couple of air flight delays and some traffic issues going around Tel Aviv, but our tour group is safely in Israel. We are staying tonight in the resort city of Netanya overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. 

Tomorrow, we will head north to Caesarea Maritima and then through the Jezreel Valley toward Tiberius.  

I am happy that we are all doing well and that we are excited to begin our adventure. More pictures and videos coming tomorrow. Now, I am off to bed. Shalom. 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The reservations have been made. The flights have been booked. And the bags are packed. Tomorrow morning, we will be heading to Israel on another tour of this beautiful land. My tour group will meet in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon and begin our adventure. I can not wait. 

I will be posting here every evening and give you an update on what we have seen, where we have been, and what we have learned. So stay tuned.

For those members of my tour group: Travel safe and Lord willing, I will see all of you in Israel!

NOTE: The picture above is looking east from Tiberias across the Sea of Galilee. 

 

When Paul Left Caesarea

When Paul Left Caesarea

During the first century, the city of Caesarea was the Roman administrative capital for the entire region. King Herod constructed the second largest port in the world at Caesarea. It consisted of two "ports". The outer port is where many of the larger ships would be docked. Transportation to the outer port would take place via smaller boats which were docked in the inner port. 

The steps in this picture are from the inner port dock at Caesarea. During the first century, travelers would have used these steps to climb down from the dock to enter a small ship. This small ship would transport them to the outer dock where the larger ship would be located.

After the apostle Paul used his privilege as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar, he was loaded onto a ship and sent to Rome. It is possible that Paul used these exact steps as he left the city of Caesarea for the final time. 

Well Watered Valley

Well Watered Valley

Looking east across the Jordan Valley toward the Trans-Jordan Plateau. 

Looking east across the Jordan Valley toward the Trans-Jordan Plateau. 

In Genesis 13, we read:

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. - Genesis 13:8-11

One of the misconceptions by people who have never traveled to Israel is that the entire land is a dry, barren wasteland. And, while there are portions of the land that are very dry (notably, the wilderness areas south of the Negeb), much of the land is green, lush, and vibrant with life. 

In the passage that I mentioned above, Abraham gives Lot the choice of the piece of land he wants to settle. Lot gazes down into the "well watered" Jordan Valley and decides to locate his family in this region. As you can see from the picture, this land is still agriculturally rich and crops are still grown in this region. 

(NOTE: Looking at the picture, you would think that the Jordan River would be visible. In reality, it is not. The river flows through the center of the Jordan Rift Valley, but sits very low and it not visible most time of the year.) 

Water from Mount Carmel

Water from Mount Carmel

During the first century BC and AD, the coastal city of Caesarea served as the Roman Administrative Center of the province of Syria. Even today, Caesarea Maritima displays any number of the massive building projects overseen by King Herod. Form the theatre, the praetorium, the hippodrome, and harbor, all still have the identifiable thumbprints of King Herod all over them. 

From an engineering perspective, one of the most awe-inspiring projects is the aqueduct system which transported water into the city. Having a population of over 100,000 people, water was a necessity. King Herod built an aqueduct that stretched eight miles from a spring at the foot of the Carmel mountain range to the city of Caesarea. Much of this aqueduct can still be seen today.

The picture at the top of this post was taken from the top of the theatre in Caesarea looking northeast. The range of mountains you can see in the distance is the Carmel. This was the source of the fresh water which was brought into the city of Caesarea.

Often, we have the tendency to think about the people in ancient times as being uneducated or somehow intellectually less than we are. That is not true at all. It may have taken them a little longer to accomplish a task, but they got it done. And often, the task was completed in such a way that is far superior than what we are capable of today.

(Note: People who have visited Caesarea Maritima will notice the miniature model of the city under the covering in the bottom-right hand portion of the picture. Visitors often stop at this model to better understand the ruins that they are seeing.)

The Jordan River

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Beginning at the foot of Mount Hermon, the Jordan River travels through the Hula Valley before entering the Sea of Galilee. At approximately 700 feet below sea level, the Sea of Galilee is the lowest fresh water lake in the world. After exiting the Sea of Galilee, the river twists and turns its way about 70 miles before emptying into the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the face of the earth. 

The Jordan River is mentioned many times in the Bible. The Israelites crossed this river as they began their conquest of the land of Canaan. Elijah and Elisha crossed this river. Naaman was told to wash in this river to cure his disease. In New Testament times, Jesus was baptized at a site very near the Jordan River. 

Because the Jordan River serves as an international boundary, access to the river is not easy. This picture, taken just south of the Sea of Galilee, is one of the few places where the public can access the water's edge.

Fishing on the Sea of Galilee

Last June, I was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and was able to catch a picture of this gentleman fishing in the lake. Obviously, in the first century, fishermen used nets as opposed to a rod and reel. But, it is still very interesting to see that even today, people still love to fish this beautiful area. 

A View of En Gedi

Earlier this week, Melanie Lidman wrote an excellent article that was published in Times of Israel about the declining water in the Dead Sea. I have written about this situation a number of times in my journal. I even briefly mentioned it in Episode 3 of Appian Media's "Following the Messiah" series when we visited the traditional baptismal site of Jesus. 

In the article Ms. Lidman references the changes to Highway 90, which runs along the western side of the Dead Sea. About three years ago, potholes developed around the bridge near En Gedi. Repairs to the bridge pillars were attempted, but the damage to the surrounding ground was too severe. The road was eventually rerouted and roundabouts were inserted. 

I have driven over this new road a number of times. But, last June, I was able to climb up above En Gedi and see the whole area for myself. The picture at the top of this post was my view from that vantage point. I have put a red circle around the bridge that was mentioned in the article and which is no longer in use. The En Gedi Visitor Center is in the bottom left and if you look carefully, you can see the new road as it leaves the shore of the Dead Sea and bypasses the bridge. 

The other interesting feature of note is the presence of trees and shrubs in the picture. This is the result of water that continually flows through the valleys of the Judean Wilderness. This water is collected and drains through this area, feeding the local vegetation. It is no wonder why David ran to this area while he was being pursued by King Saul. He needed water...and that could easily be found at En Gedi. 

Appian Media Videos - Following the Messiah

Wow...it has been a long time since I have posted. I apologize for that. I will try to do better. But, for the past several months, I have been busy working on another project.

About a year ago, I was contacted by a couple of Christians in the Indianapolis area. They wanted my help in creating some Biblically-accurate videos about the life of Jesus. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Last June, six of us traveled to Israel and recorded the video for the first five episodes of a series entitled "Following the Messiah". These episodes cover Jesus' life from His birth to the selection of his apostles.

After many months of hard work, the videos were officially released on Saturday. To celebrate the occasion, we had a public showing of two of the episodes at a wonderful theatre in Indianapolis.

I encourage you to view the videos. As I said, they were shot on location in Israel. They can be used in Bible classes, family devotionals, or any number of ways. They are all about 25 minutes in length are free to download. They can be accessed via the Appian Media website.

Please watch the videos and give us feedback! We would love to know what you think and what else you would be interested in seeing.

Rare View of Mount Hermon

dsc_2564 I have been lucky enough to travel to Israel several times. But last June, when I was traveling with the team from Appian Media, I was able to see something that I have never seen before. While we were staying in Tiberias, it was clear enough so that I could see Mount Hermon from the lake. The picture at the top of this post was one (of many) that I captured. Most of the time, there is too much haze in the Hula Valley to see the mountain from this distance.

The above picture was taken late one afternoon. You can clearly see Mount Hermon and the location where the Hula Valley (with the Jordan River at its base) empties into the Sea of Galilee.

Mount Hermon sits about 60 miles north of the Sea of Galilee on the modern-day borders of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. It rises over 9,000 feet in elevation. Since the Sea of Galilee sits approximately 700 feet below sea level, the top of the mountain is nearly 10,000 feet above the location of this photograph. The Old Testament city of Dan and the New Testament city of Caesarea Philippi sit near the base of the mountain.

In the 4th century, Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem suggested that since many of the activities in the lifetime of Jesus happened around Mount Tabor, therefore he preferred that site as the probable location of the Transfiguration. Consequently, that site has been recognized as the traditional location of the event since that time.

However, many recent scholars prefer the location of Mount Hermon for the Transfiguration. Just prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus and His disciples were at Caesarea Philippi. This is told to us in Matthew 16:13, when Jesus discusses who they believe He is. Peter responds by saying that "Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God." Then, six days later (Matthew 17:1), Jesus took Peter, James, and John onto a "high mountain". While it would have been possible to travel from Caesarea Philippi to Mount Tabor (a distance of about 70 miles) in six days, it seems more logical that the "high mountain" that was mentioned in Matthew is referring to Mount Hermon, especially since they were already in the area. I agree with this assessment.

Walking Like Jesus (Ascent to Adummim)

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NOTE: This is the final article in a series of posts as we have looked at places where Jesus walked. If you would like to go back and look and some of the previous posts, they covered the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a Roman Road in Galilee, the hills of Samaria, and on the Sea of Galilee.

Luke tells us:

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. - Luke 19:28

This verse comes toward the end of Jesus' life here on earth. After visiting the city of Jericho, Luke tells us that Jesus left the city and went up to Jerusalem. The picture at the top of this post is of the hills west of the city of Jericho. A road known as the Ascent of Adummim goes up these hills.

Jesus walked here.

As the crow flies, the distance between Jericho and Jerusalem is about 12 miles. However, over that 12 miles, there is an elevation gain of about 3500 feet. The road is desolate, barren, and travelers are totally exposed to the sun.

I have hiked a good bit in the Smoky Mountains. One of the things that you quickly learn while hiking is that it is very difficult to talk and walk at the same time. You need to use as much energy as you can to keep walking. So, you end up doing a lot of thinking.

Jesus probably did the same. He probably spent a good deal of time thinking. What did He think about? Honestly, I do not know. But, I can guess. He probably thought about:

1) How hot and dry it was. It would not have been an easy walk. 2) The week that was ahead of him. He knew what He was going to have to go through. 3) He was probably thinking about you...and me. He knew that if He did not walk up that road and go through the trials of the next week, we would have no hope.

So, what lesson can we learn from Jesus walking up this road? We can learn that we need to be willing to make sacrifices for others. What Jesus did for all of us is the single, most important sacrifice that has ever been made.

Do you want to walk like Jesus? Then walk up the Ascent to Adummim and be willing to make true sacrifices for others.


How would you like to travel with me to Israel and see many of these places that I have mentioned? I am leading a tour next June and I would love to have you join me. For more information, see my website. Do not let this opportunity pass you by!