Returning from Israel only two weeks before the Paraguay renewal has created some lag time in any posts regarding that amazing trip. Even now, I cannot take the time to write about it as I would like, but some things MUST be said!
In February--about six weeks after we received an unexpected invitation to accompany Dr. Randall Smith on a 12-day study tour--four of us, myself, board members Suzy Jeffrey and Linda Forrister, and leadership team member Mariana Long--departed for Israel. The trip was neatly packaged in regard to the Paraguay renewal--we would leave two weeks after the team preparation retreat (pretreat) and arrive home two weeks before the renewal itself. The very idea of making such a trip seemed ludicrous, really. But... we had been praying for an opportunity to "spy out the land," and God had offered one with the very teacher we were hoping to hear! As Suzy Jeffrey said, "When the Lord drops something this wonderful in your lap (even with a discounted rate), you need to set up and take notice." So we did!
For 12 days we raced through Israel, following a man who possesses a never-ending supply of energy, a rapid pace, and an inexhaustible and comprehensive skill set. While living in Israel for over a decade, Dr. Smith owned a business near Jericho. He also studied in Jerusalem & holds degrees in Near East Archaeology & a Doctorate in Comparative Religion from Conservative Theological Seminary. His understanding of Biblical culture, history, geography & rabbinic teachings provides him with a unique perspective and one the four of us thoroughly enjoyed.
I had no idea what to expect (other than what I pulled from the pages of the Bible). Though I feel sure that I have spent more hours in the pages of the gospels than many, every turn seemed to provide some new insight. For this post, I decided to post only four surprises--not amazing things, for sure--just observances that amazed me.
- The Mount of Beatitudes was covered in wild flowers. No wonder Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field--how they grow! (note the picture above; that is the Sea of Galilee on the left. To the right are more hills, forming what is called a "natural amphitheater." Tests conducted using modern technology indicate that 3,000-5,000 people could hear a person speaking without amplification in that valley.
- Peter's mother-in-law's house (yes, there is good archeological evidence that they have located it) was not outside Capernaum as I have always imagined, but two doors down from the synagogue! No wonder the "whole town gathered at the door." (I loved Capernaum, by the way).
- I understood that Israel was small (about the size of Travis and Williamson counties I have heard--that's where I live, by the way), and I knew that virtually all the Bible occurred there. Once I even went through Genesis, drawing a tree in the margin of my Bible every time the Oak(s) at/near Mamre appeared--noting how many significant events had occurred nearby. But... for some reason I was totally unprepared to discover on one short walk: a) the source of the River Jordan, fed by the melting snows of Mount Hermon, b) the site of Jeroboam's altar--the place he built so that the Israelites could worship in the northern kingdom rather than return to Jerusalem (thus the site marking the beginning of the downfall of the kingdom at large); c) the gate attacked by Tiglath Pileser when he stormed into the country, intending to take it all in 722 BCE, and d) the city gate from 4,000 BCE--very likely the one that Abraham approached when he entered the land that God would show him.
- How mountainous--yes, really--is Israel. One truly does "go up" to Jerusalem all the way from the Dead Sea. And, Mount Hermon is 9200 feet and still had snow while the wildflowers bloomed everywhere in Galilee. The mountain seems even taller in a country where a significant part of the land mass is 500 feet below sea level....