Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Israel: Day 2, Golan Heights
Today we visited two amazing sites in the extreme North of Israel. Both sites were remote and not at all crowded with other tourists. Later in the trip we’ll visit the popular sites in Jerusalem, Bethlahem and Nazareth, but these first two days have focused on Jesus’ early ministry and his ministry in the remote villages of north, and one city that Jesus never went to, Dan.
This is an area that has seen heavy military action over more recent years. Here's a picture of the trenches that the Israeli's used when fighting Lebanon and/or Syria.
Dan is located in the forested mountain region of the North of Israel. During the time of the Judges, more than a millennia before Christ, the Israelites were a loose confederation of tribes, all fighting with each other and with their real enemies, the Canaanites. Early on the tribe of Dan attempted to settle near the Mediterranean Sea, but were unsuccessful at overthrowing the Canaanites who lived there. So the tribe of Dan, about 600 people, traveled up into the hill country, where they found a small city of people living in a town called Laish. According to Judges 18: 27 – 29 and Joshua 19: 47 the Danites burned the city and killed all the people. How nice right? They resettled the town, which grew into a large city.
The tell (mound of ruins) at Dan is only about 10% excavated, it’s a huge city and has become completely reforested. There are springs and beautiful rivers all around. The headwaters for the Jordan River begin in this area and north at Mount Hermon, the tallest Mountain in Israel, about 10,000 feet! What has been excavated is the temple where Jeroboam set up an alter with a golden calf. After being told by the the new king in Jerusalem, Jeroboam, that they would have to continue paying taxes and working for little pay the people decided they would quit going to Jerusalem three times a year for their feast celebrations and just worship at Dan and Bethel, that’s where the golden calf came in. The golden calf goes all the way back to their days in Egypt when they probably worshiped just as the Egyptians did, until Moses introduced them back to their ancestral God Yahweh. To think that the Israelites were monotheistic is wrong, they were supposed to worship only Yahweh, but they believed every people group had their own god or gods, and they often went back to worshiping how they had in Egypt or how their neighbors worshiped. So, right from the beginning and throughout their history the people at Dan reverted to worshiping Hawthorn, the goddess of the golden calf. Check out the photo with the metal bars above the ruins, that’s where the giant alter was. I think the metal structure is to show where the alter with the calf would have been. The ruins here actually date all the way back to the time of Ahab, around 800 BCE, 2800 years ago!
Go read 1 Kings chapter 12 and you’ll get the whole story, it’s pretty cool. All the pictures above are from the area of Dan.
Second we went to Caesarea Philippi also in the north. This was an amazing place and it was the place where Jesus asked his disciples “who do you say that I am” and Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of God”. My question when we got there was, why would Jesus come all the way up here, days worth of walking through the desert and wilderness, to ask that question. Nothing else happens here or anywhere near here in the gospels (accept the Transfiguration)… why this one question?
Well, first of all, you have to come here, or at least understand what was here, to understand why Jesus might have come so far to ask this question. At Caesarea Philippi there was an amazing cliff with a massive whole in it where a river flowed right out of. During the middle ages an earthquake apparently caused the river to flow out from beneath the cliff instead of out the cavern, it’s still an amazing sight. Next to this were what’s called niches, carved arches in the rock, where idols were placed. Many different gods were worshiped here, judging by the detailed carvings and artifacts still here it was an breath taking place. These Gods were not boring statues, they included the God Pan, the god of fun, parties and orgies. He was believed to be half goat and half man and he played a flute. This is where Jesus brought his disciples and asked, “who do you say that I am?” I imagine that he might have taken them all the way up to the cliffs where all the other gods sat in their stately places, being worshiped by travelers and city-folk alike. Jesus may have been making it clear that he was Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, incarnate, by asking this question in front of all the idols at Caesarea Philippi. “Here are the physical manifestations of the gods, Pan, Nemesis, Zeus, who do you say I am?”
Wow, this was amazing, and it adds so much to the biblical texts! Not only do most people not come to Israel, most people who do come don’t have tours guides with enough biblical knowledge to know the theological importance to these more remote and out of the way archeological sites.
Next, it may have been up on Mount Hermon that Jesus took Peter, James and John to witness the confirmation of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Lord. If it was not Mount Hermon, then it would have been one of the other smaller mountains around Caesarea-Philippi.
I like to think of these places as the region where Jesus took his disciples on a week long intense backcountry experience. They hiked miles and miles, probably did mission work in Caesarea Philippi, and then the bravest friends climbed a mountain and met Moses and Elijah. Most importantly they all came to know Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
Pray for me, tomorrow I teach on a boat while in the sea of Galilee, it’s my only time to do the teaching and I’m among some VERY good bible teachers.