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Up The Hula Valley

Up The Hula Valley


As I write this post, I am sitting on the balcony of my hotel with a view of the Sea of Galilee. As a Christian, it is difficult to put into words what it means to see this beautiful location. Peter, Andrew, James and John used to fish these waters. Jesus calmed a storm that raged on these waters. Jesus walked on these waters. All of those events happened within sight of where I now sit. I am truly humbled to be here and to be sharing this experience with this group of people. We started our final day in this region by visiting the ruins of Chorazim. Jesus cursed this city for their unbelief. While there, we were entertained by a number of rock badgers that cross-crossed the paths in front of us.

We followed that visit by driving north up the Hula Valley and visited Hazor. By standing on the top of this tel, it is easy to understand the strategic importance of this location. It is no wonder why Joshua conquered this city as part of his northern conquest.

We drove by the tel of Abel Beth Maacah. While going by, we read the account from 2 Samuel of the wise woman of this city who singlehandedly saved her city.

A visit to the northern part of Israel is not complete without a visit to Tel Dan. As you walk around the high place built by King Jeroboam, you are reminded how this single decision probably condemned his nation in the years to come. We also visited the Israelite Gate and the even more ancient Canaanite Gate.

Our next stop was at Banias, known in the Bible as Caesarea Philippi. By seeing he remains of the pagan temples that was the main part of this city, it is easy to understand why Peter stated that "Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God."

As we drove back to the Sea of Galilee, our path took us through the Golan Heights. We made one stop at an overlook where we could see the Syrian plain in the direction of Damascus. Saul walked near here when he saw his vision of the risen Jesus.

Tomorrow morning we will leave Galilee and go "up to Jerusalem". As we do so, I will think of my wife, who loves the sea, but graciously stayed home and watch the kids and allowed me to come here. I will also think of all of the memories that have been made in the past days and the more that will be made in the days to come.

Until then, Shabbat Shalom.

One Year Ago - Northern Galilee and the Hula Valley

The ruins of the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi.NOTE: I am continuing my series of retrospective posts on the our tour one year ago. I invite you to start at the beginning and read through all of them. Waking up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee is an experience like none other. Before the sun rises, you hear the water lapping up on the shore. Then, the eastern sky gradually changes from a deep, dark blue to a golden yellow. All of the sudden, the first rays of the sun poke through the trees in the Golan Heights. Every time that I see it, I imagine Peter, Andrew, James and John seeing very similar sunrises after a night of fishing. It is a beautiful thing to see.

One year ago, we spent the entire day traversing north up the Hula Valley. Our first stop was at Hazor. The size of this city is amazing and something that doesn't come through in the Biblical narrative. It is no wonder why Joshua thought it was so important to seize this city.

We drop past Abel Beth Maacah and remembered the story of Sheba. We walked through the tel at Dan. There we visited the High Place built by King Jeroboam to keep the people in the nation of Israel from traveling to Jerusalem to worship God. We also visited Caesarea Philippi and remembered Peter's confession of Jesus as the son of God.

As we drove back to the Sea of Galilee through the Golan Heights, we were able to look over into the modern country of Syria toward the city of Damascus. Paul received his vision somewhere in this area.

Our day ended at et-Tell, the possible location of the New Testament city of Bethsaida. Another wonderful day in the books.

Tomorrow: A full day around the Sea of Galilee.

2015 Israel Poster B

Have you been enjoying these posts on last year's tour? Are you interested in traveling with me this year? Then, I would love to have you join me. Our 12-day tour is scheduled for October 12-23. We will stay one night on the Mediterranean Sea, three nights on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and five nights in beautiful Jerusalem. During the day, we will visit dozens of sites that will enhance your understanding of the land and of the Biblical stories that take place in them. Reservations are coming in, but we still have some availability! This is a first-class tour with many extras thrown in that many Israel tours overlook. If you are interested, I encourage you to read the itinerary and contact me personally for more details.

Jeroboam's High Place at Dan

DSCN0382Soon after the fall of the United Kingdom, the nation divided into the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As king of Israel, Jeroboam did not want the people to travel back to Jerusalem during the year to attend the feasts. Therefore, he established two places for them to worship, one at Bethel and the other at Dan. The High Place that Jeroboam built at Dan has been found and you can visit it today. These steps lead up to the platform where the golden calf would have been placed.

Northern Galilee

Northern Galilee


This morning's sunrise was partly cloudy. Therefore, the initial sunrise over the Sea of Galilee wasn't impressive, but a few minutes later, the suns rays shined through the clouds to remind us that "The heavens declare the glory of God". hazorAfter a great breakfast, we headed north of the Sea to the Hula Valley. Our first stop was at the ancient city of Hazor. The location of this city is vitally important as it controls all traffic on the Via Maris in ancient times.

From there, we drove to the northern edge of the country of Israel and viewed the site of Abel-Beth Maacah. Although it is impossible to take an entire tour group to the site, this is a favorite of mine because of how the city is situated on a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding area. Although we didn't stay long, our visit to the city went much better than Sheba's (2 Samuel 20).

We then drove a little farther north to the Israeli city of Metula to have a view over into the country of Lebanon.

dan_solomonic_gateTel Dan was our next stop. After walking through the nature preserve, we arrived at the High Place built by King Jeroboam, first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. This single bad decision by King Jeroboam basically sealed the fate for his country. The people followed him and they never recovered. We walked through the Solomonic gate and finally viewed the ancient Canaanite gate.

Leaving Dan, we traveled to Banias (ancient Caesarea Philippi). The cultic worship that was evident during the time of Christ makes Peter's answer to Jesus' question so much more meaningful ("Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God").

jordan_riverAfter driving through the Golan Heights (with a stop of a view toward Syria), we arrived at the Jordan River, just north of the Sea of Galilee. Due to the shortage of rain during the most recent rainy season, the flow was probably lower than I have ever seen it. But, it is always a thrill to be able to see such a famous river.

We arrived back at the hotel tired, hungry and pleased with the day. Heading to bed to get a good night's rest before tomorrow.

From Israel, Shabbat Shalom.

A Different Perspective

Tel Dan sits in the middle of the valley in Northern Israel.One of the great things about traveling to the Bible lands is the ability that you have to see things in a totally different perspective. For years, I read the stories in the Bible and had developed mental images for the places in which they lived. When I made my first trip to Israel, I realized that many of my mental images were completely wrong. You begin to understand why cities were located in certain places and not located in other places. Close up of Tel Dan. The brown covering is shielding the Bronze Age gate.This morning, I was reading a blog post by my friend Steve Braman and I was reminded of a picture that I took last September. When the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, God instructed them to drive out all of the current inhabitants of the land. Unfortunately, they did completely do what they were told and that caused them problems for hundreds of years. The tribe of Dan was originally given land along the Mediterranean Coast but due to their unwillingness to completely obey God's command, quickly developed problems with their neighbors. Consequently, the Danites soon decided to move. They travelled toward the north and finally conquered the the town of Laish (Judges 18) and renamed the city Dan.

The Bronze Age gate at Tel Dan.Dan is located north of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of Mount Hermon. Walking around the tel allows you to learn about the size of the city and view the surrounding mountains. However, there are other ways of viewing the city. Back in September, I was able to see the city from a different angle. As we were driving up into the Golan Heights, I turned around and was able to capture the picture at the top of this post. (I was in a moving vehicle, so you have to excuse a bit of blurriness and the window reflection.) In the middle of the valley, you can clearly see the city of Dan. The brown cover that is visible is over the Bronze Age gate that is being excavated.

If we were given the ability to talk to Lot's wife, she would probably tell you that turning around is not a good idea. However, it can sometimes pay off. I am so glad that I turned around that day. Seeing the city from this perspective allows you to better understand the importance its location. I continue to be amazed at how much you can learn when you are over there.

Turning Your Back To God

Interpretive sign near the High Place at Dan.When Jeroboam became the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, he was faced with a problem. His people wanted to worship God and in doing so, they would have to travel back to Jerusalem, which was now inside the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeroboam knew that allowing the citizens of Israel to return to Jerusalem would result in them not returning to his kingdom. In 1 Kings 12:26-27 we read,

And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.

Why was Jeroboam so worried about his people returning to Jerusalem? Well, it has to do with the people's perception of Jerusalem at that time. Look back at the previous verse. It says that the "house of the Lord" was at Jerusalem. We can also get another idea by reading 1 Kings 14:21:

And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king. He reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put His name there.

Jerusalem was the city that God had chosen to put His name. It is where Solomon built a large temple to the Lord. In the minds of the nation of Israel, Jerusalem was the center of their religion and consequently, the center of their world.

Jeroboam built this High Place at Dan for the people to worship.So what did Jeroboam do? Well, he made small changes to their religious practices. He changed the feast days. He allowed non-Levites to become priests. He also built places of worship in the northern and southern extremities of his kingdom so they could "conveniently" worship without having to travel back to Jerusalem. One he built at Dan and the other he built at Bethel. The picture attached to this blog post is of the remains of the high place that Jeroboam built at Dan. Jeroboam built a golden calf and placed it on this platform for the people of Israel to worship (1 Kings 12:28-33).

But, when you visit this site, another idea comes to mind. When Daniel was taken away in to Babylonian captivity, the scriptures mention that he prayed three times a day looking out a window which faced Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). Why did he do that? Well, he understood the importance of the city. Jeroboam didn't want the people of his nation to even think about Jerusalem. Therefore, this place of worship was built so that the worshippers would face north…away from Jerusalem.

How can I know that for sure that this was Jeroboam's intention? Well, honestly, I can't. At least not with the information that I currently have. But, it is an interesting thing to consider. It would be nice if we could find the accompanying site in Bethel. Is that place of worship also facing away from Jerusalem? We will just have to wait to find out. Excavations are ongoing at a couple of prospective sites in Israel.

Regardless, we know that the northern kingdom of Israel never followed God again. Their entire existence consisted of one king after another which drove them away from God.

What lesson can we learn about this place of worship in Dan? Well, we know that if you practice religion out of convenience, you'll soon compromise what you know to be right. And finally, turning your back to God will only lead to destruction.

2012 Israel Trip - Day Four

2012 Israel Trip - Day Four


Well, today got off to a strange start…but, as always, everything works out in the end. We were originally scheduled to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. However, there was no boat at the dock at 8:30. So, our tour guide called the rental company and there was a miscommunication on the date. They had us scheduled for tomorrow morning. No matter. With only about a million things to see and do in Israel, we just shuffled our schedule a bit, loaded the bus and headed out. We spent the entire day north of the Galilee region. Our first start was at the city of Hazor (it is pronounced "hot-sore"). Hazor is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but it was a very important city. When the Israelites came into the land, Joshua conquered the city as it was one of the most important cities at that time. Later, Solomon built huge walls at Hazor to protect it. Many of these walls (including parts of the gate) are visible today. By standing on the tel, you can easily see the geographical importance of the city.

From Hazor, we made a brief stop at Abel Beth-Maacah. If you consider yourself a Bible student and don't recognize the name, don't feel bad. It's only mentioned a couple of times, most notably in 2 Samuel 20. Go back and read the story again. (Warning: The story doesn't end well for Sheba.) The location of this city has been known for years, but they have just started initial excavations of the tel this year. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post.

Our next stop was an unexpected bonus. In the First Century BC, Herod the Great erected three temples to Augustus. The first one was at Caesarea Maritima. The second was at Samaria. The third was near Paneion. For years, it was thought that this temple was located at the traditional location of Caesarea Philippi. However, recent excavations at Omrit has cast doubt on that. At Omrit (which is located about three miles from Caeserea Philippi), they have found the ruins of a Roman temple that is similar to the ruins at Caesarea Maritima and Samaria. The site is located along a VERY SKINNY single lane road that a regular car could barely navigate. However, our expert bus driver, Fawzi, was determined. After a few minutes and several near misses of trees, etc, the site was within view. It was fantastic to see it and help us to better understand the time of the first century.

From Omrit, we went to Dan. The city of Dan was originally called Laish until the Danites conquered the city after the conquest. The Danites were originally given land along the Mediterranean coast, but due to their neighbors (Philistines), they decided to relocate to Laish, which they renamed Dan. Dan became a very powerful city in Solomon's time. By the time of the Divided Kingdom, Jeroboam constructed a "high place" so that the nation of Israel could come here to worship the false god Baal. Archaeologists have found the "high place" and I have included a picture of the steps leading up to it.

Our next stop was at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked his disciples "…but who do you say that I am?" Peter famously answered, "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God". Ferrell Jenkins spoke to us about the importance of Jesus asking his disciples this question at this location. Seeing the area helps you to understand the true meaning of the conversation.

On our way back to the Galilee area, we drove back through the Golan Heights which is now under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. For much of the ride, you were right on the border of Syria. How close were we? Well, check out the picture. At one of our stops, I was able to take a picture of a Syrian flag flying in one of their cities.

Finally, we made a brief stop by the Jordan River just north of where it flows into the Sea of Galilee.

Overall, it was a great day. Our boat ride has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning, so we'll try to enjoy that tomorrow. Until then…Shalom.

BONUS: As I understand it, the Third Grade at Athens Bible School is following my blog and mentioning the places I mention in their Bible Class. I thought that I would throw in a bonus picture for all of them. Being in another country is really interesting. You have to deal with different languages, different customs and a different way of life. However, occasionally, you come across something that reminds you at home. That happened at lunch today. We stopped by a familiar restaurant. From the picture, can you guess where we stopped?