Why in the world did I take a picture of a hill?
Click on the picture and look closely. Do you see the stones near the top? These are the remnants of what was once a city wall, and the hill is the remnant of the ancient city of Azekah. That’s important for one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament: that of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).
Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
It’s a nice little walk, up the hill, to the top of the “tell” (that’s what you call a hill that was once home to cities of the ancient world) but when you get there, you have a beautiful view of the Valley of Elah (second picture – click it to enlarge). Note the road snaking through the middle of the picture. The children of Israel camped just beyond the road on those hillsides. Goliath would have stood about where I am standing to survey the armies of Israel. Note that while the text talks about the Philistines on one hill and the Israelites on another, it’s fairly obvious the Philistines really occupied the high ground.
Having decided Goliath’s taunts were embarrassing to the extreme – and that the adults obviously weren’t going to act, David walked from the far side of the picture toward what is now the road. Note the ditch on the near side of the road. That’s the stream from which David chose five smooth stones and that’s where Goliath headed to meet the boy yelling: “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks? Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
It ended badly for Goliath of course. But when you’re living in your own Valley of Elah, and things look a bit desperate, remember the boy David. When God’s children, through faith, live in the name of the Lord Almighty, there is no reason to fear and every reason for a confidence the world may think borders on the insane. Victory is assured.
In early October I spent a morning on the Sea of Galilee. It’s really a rather large freshwater lake – 33 miles around, eleven miles long at its longest and eight miles wide at its widest. The morning we were on it, the water was quite smooth. Three large launches carried our group of about three hundred to the center of the lake where we tied the boats together for a period of worship.
A lot of us were wondering: “What would it be like to be on a storm here?” We didn’t have to wonder long. After the devotional, it began to rain and the wind began to blow. But our boats were large with powerful engines. Most of us just got really wet.
The boats came ashore at Kibbutz Ginosar (ancient Gennesaret – where Jesus landed after feeding the 5000) and I visited the Museum of the “Galilee Boat.” In the mid 1980′s, two brothers discovered an ancient boat, buried in the mud of the receding lake. Israeli archeologists carefully rescued the vessel and it is now on display at the Yigal Alon Museum in Ginosar. About 27 feet long and 7 ½ feet wide, there was a place for four rowers, as well as a mast for a sail. It has a relatively shallow draft – much like that of a flat-bottom boat. The boat interested me for two reasons: First, it dates to the time of Jesus. While there is nothing tying this particular boat to the Lord, it was being used when Jesus was there. Second, it is the only real example we have of a fishing boat of that time. While Jesus may not have used this boat, he no doubt used one like it.
Small, flat bottomed boats do not appeal to me. I’ve found them incredibly unstable and I cannot imagine being on one in a storm. Though the sea was calm when I was on it, in 1992 a storm drove waves some 10 feet high near the city of Tiberias doing extensive damage. If the storm of Matthew 8:23ff was anything like that one, it’s no wonder the disciples, though most of them were experienced fishermen, were genuinely afraid and thought they were going to drown! Jesus’ criticism of them points to the huge importance of trusting God. For believers, there is no excuse for “little faith.”
This week’s pictures are those of Caesarea, a city built from scratch by Herod the Great.
When we think of Herod, we think of a man so cruel he ordered the extermination of all boy babies born in Bethlehem over a two year period (including when Jesus was born) – a man of whom Emperor Augustus once said: “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his child.”
Make no mistake. The Herod who gets little (but all notorious) mention in the gospels was a major player on the world stage. In the conflict between Augustus and Mark Anthony (which resulted in Augustus becoming Emperor), Augustus believed he could never prevail unless he could win the support of Herod. Later, Herod became the Emperor’s best friend – next to Vipsanius Agrippa (creator of the Roman navy).
Herod’s greatness is reflected in his building projects. He rebuilt the temple (nearly doubling its size), and built numerous whole cities, among them Caesarea, which became the provincial capital of Judea. Herod lived in Caesarea (rather than Jerusalem), as did the Roman procurators and Herods who followed him. The first picture is of what is left of the colonnade of his palace which jutted out into the sea (second picture is of his swimming pool located close to the ocean).
Today, you can see the ruins of the theater (third picture), Herod’s palace, a track for chariot races (fourth picture), the ruins of the harbor (the largest man-made harbor in the ancient world), and the aqueduct Herod designed to bring fresh water 13 miles to the city.
Cornelius lived in Caesarea (Acts 10), and it was in this very theater where Herod’s grandson, Agrippa, was proclaimed to be a God. Refusing to correct the crowd but glorying in their acclamation, Agrippa was struck by divine illness and died (Acts 12:19ff).
I cannot help but be reminded of Mary’s premonition during her pregnancy. The coming of Jesus would turn the world on its ear. The great would be brought low and the low would be exalted. Hamlets like Nazareth and Bethlehem and insignificant towns like Capernaum would take on unexpected fame just because Jesus walked there. The great cities of Herod (including his temple) lie in ruins or are no more, the ultimate end of all that seeks to glorify the work and power of man above that of God.
Love you all.
[Note: This is the third in my "Holy Land" series, reflections on my visit there in October. If you click on the pictures, they will become larger if you want to look more closely.]
I shot this picture overlooking Nazareth early one evening. Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth, which was then but a hamlet five miles south and east of a major metropolis named Sepphoris (now a national park). Following in Joseph’s footsteps, Jesus became “the carpenter” in Nazareth, but his deep ties to the village did not keep the jealous villagers from rejecting (and nearly killing) him at the beginning of his ministry. The view below is from the hill from which the residents of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus to his death (see Luke 4:28ff).
From that point on, Jesus moved to Capernaum, a much larger community on the shore of the Galilee. On one occasion, the Elders of Capernaum came to Jesus in behalf of a Roman centurion who had built a synagogue for the town. The officer’s much beloved servant was ill to the point of death and they requested Jesus heal him. Ruins of an ancient synagogue (shown here) exist but it’s not the one of Jesus’ day. This one was built some 300 years later. However, if you look at the foundation of the synagogue, or below, you can see different, black stones. These would have been part of the Synagogue in Jesus’ day.
Of great interest to me was the Church in Capernaum. What you see in this final picture to the left are ruins of an octagonal church building built in the fifth century. This building was built on top of a previous church building dating back to the first century, but that church building had originally been a home. The home was renovated to accommodate a place for people to assemble and the octagon church was built on top of that assembly room. Written on the walls of the assembly room was graffiti: “Christ have mercy” or “Lord Jesus Christ help your servant.” Some archeologists believe the name “Peter” also appears on the walls. It is believed this house was the home of Peter. In 1990, a new large church was built on top of all these ruins to protect and preserve them.
The coming of Jesus into the world turned things upside down. Who would have ever thought Nazareth would be such a large community – and that the metropolis of Sepphoris would be just an archeological site. But Christ’s coming didn’t just change the fate of cities. It mainly changed the fate of people who, by faith, would and do leave obscurity to become the very children of God.