Final reflections: Israel tour

Ponder what we’ve seen in the last two and a half weeks.

As you read this, the tour group from Riverview are probably on a plane flying back to Australia. We’re reflecting on what it’s meant to visit key places in Israel and Jordan where so many significant events in Biblical narrative played out.

Next week this blog returns to normal — seeking to understand the Gospel of Matthew from the perspective of the kingdom of God, Jesus central lens.

IsraelTour2017_Map

Transjordan and Mount Nebo

Moses was unable to lead Israel into Canaan, but he glimpsed the land from Mount Nebo east of the Jordan River.

Tomorrow we travel through ancient Moab, originally descended from Lot (Genesis 19:37). The Moabites tried to prevent Israel entering the Promised Land. They hired Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, they beguiled the Israelites to turn from God (Numbers 22 – 25). Nevertheless, Ruth from Moab became David’s great-grandmother (Ruth). Continue reading “Transjordan and Mount Nebo”

Eilat, Wadi Rum

We cross into Jordan to journey northwards on the eastern side of the Salt Sea — the route Moses took when leading Israel to Canaan shortly before his death.

A wadi is a streambed that flows only in the rainy season. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned about the foolish person who built his house on the sand rather than on rocky terrain. Then when the rains came, the house on the sandy floor of the wadi didn’t survive. Jesus’ way isn’t the easiest, but it is the most enduring for those willing to follow (Matthew 5:24-27). Continue reading “Eilat, Wadi Rum”

Qumran, Masada, Dead Sea

The Judean Wilderness beside the Salt Sea reveals how Jews tried to keep their history alive when Rome invaded in AD 70.

In the dry and rugged terrain of the Judean wilderness, it’s not hard to see why David would have taken advantage of the spring at Ein-Gedi while hiding out from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29).

Jesus was baptized by John in “the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1) at “Bethany beyond Jordan” (John 1:28). While we’re not sure where that was, it sounds like the Jordanian side of the Jordan, opposite the Judean wilderness, perhaps across from Qurman. (Others have wondered if it may have been further north, just a few kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee.)

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the caves at Qumran. The Qumran community thought the Jerusalem temple leaders were irredeemably corrupt, so God had called them to be his holy place. Here in the wilderness they saw themselves as a voice calling Israel back to holiness (Isaiah 40:3). They used a miqveh (ritual bath) for cleansing. There are some interesting parallels with John the Baptizer (though there’s no evidence he was an Essene). John used the same text from Isaiah to describe his ministry, and baptized to cleanse people for the Lord’s arrival (Matthew 3 || Mark 1:1-11 || Luke 3:1-22). Offering cleansing in the wilderness apart from the temple was potentially explosive for the son of a priest (Luke 1:5). Continue reading “Qumran, Masada, Dead Sea”

The temple area (Jerusalem)

Half the world’s population consider the temple area in Jerusalem to be of the holiest places on earth.

The old city walls we see in Jerusalem today were built by Sultan Suleiman in the 1500s. The only remains of the temple complex are the foundation stones of the Western Wall (previously the Wailing Wall). Please respect this area as a place of prayer. It’s as close as you can get to what was the Most Holy Place—the place of God’s abode on earth in Old Testament times. Here you will see Jewish people with a wide range of beliefs. Some may wear phylacteries—literally tying Scripture to their foreheads (Deuteronomy 6:8). You will see written prayers pressed into the spaces between the stones. Continue reading “The temple area (Jerusalem)”

Sabbath in Jerusalem

In Hebrew, Friday is called “Preparation.” Jewish families do the necessary preparation to avoid working once Sabbat begins at sunset.

Tomorrow is Sabbath in Jerusalem. Consider taking time to rest, to read, to ponder, discuss, and to assimilate what you have seen and heard in the last ten days. You may like to read some of the Psalms that celebrated Jerusalem as God’s dwelling place in Old Testament times (Psalms 26, 41, 42, 48, 75, 84, 87, 95, 125, 127, 133, 134, 137, 137, 146, 147. 150). Continue reading “Sabbath in Jerusalem”

Bethlehem, birthplace of the king

King David was born in Bethlehem, as was his most famous descendant — Jesus.

Jericho was Israel’s first victory in capturing the Promised Land. Its protective walls fell (Joshua 6). It was also where Jesus healed a blind beggar and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 18:35 – 19:10). Jericho was his last stop on his final journey to Jerusalem.

At the start of his ministry, Jesus had faced the tempter in the Judean wilderness. From a high mountain he had been offered all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:1, 8). We can’t be sure where this mountain was, or if it should be understood as a visionary experience. The crucial thing was that Jesus was tempted to collude with evil, but chose a much more difficult path by which he was given “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” — the path of the cross.

Bethlehem today is in Palestine. Rachel was buried here (Genesis 35:19). But it’s real importance was as the birthplace of King David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). God promised David that his son would always reign (2 Samuel 7:12-16), so all the kings of Judah were descendants of David of Bethlehem. Continue reading “Bethlehem, birthplace of the king”

Old Jerusalem

For 3,000 years, what happened in Jerusalem has impacted the rest of the world.

1000 years before Christ, King David’s army captured the hilltop fortress of the Jebusites and converted it into “the city of David.” He repaired the supporting terraces (“millo”), fortifying the city to make Jerusalem Israel’s capital (2 Samuel 5:1-12 || 1 Chronicles 11:4-9). There Solomon built the temple on Mount Zion (1 Kings 5–7 || 2 Chronicles 3–7). Continue reading “Old Jerusalem”

The passion (Jerusalem)

We’re about to enter Jerusalem, focusing on the last hours of Jesus’ life.

For months, Jesus planned his final return to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He arrived like a king to accolades of the crowd (Matthew 21:1-9 || Mark 11:1-10 || Luke 19:29-38 || John 12:12-15). He entered from the east (across the Kidron Valley coming down from the Mount of Olives). For the crowds, it recalled the time when David himself had returned to Jerusalem to resume his kingship after Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 19:15; 20:2). Continue reading “The passion (Jerusalem)”