Monday, September 29, 2008

Language & Culture

The other day in Arabic class, I was struck by how much I can learn about a culture simply by learning its language. For example, in Arabic, there are two words for shame; one for “soft shame” and one for “hard shame.” Salwa, our teacher, gave us examples to help us understand: the word for “soft shame” would be used for something mild yet still shameful, like a girl wearing shorts or a tank top (considered very immodest here). On the other hand, the word for “hard shame” refers to something extremely shameful, like a Christian girl running away with a Muslim man.

Also, adults here are never referred to as Mr. ____ or Mrs. ____. Rather, they are called “the father of ____” or “the mother of ____” (the name of their eldest son would go in the blank). For instance, my dad would always be called “The father of Daniel.” Our teacher goes by “The mother of Sami.” If you knew your father and mother would always be known by your name, would you act differently?

Both of these little nuances in the Arabic language speak volumes about the honor/shame culture here in the Middle East. People act the way they do to bring honor to their families and avoid shame at all costs. This idea of honor, shame, and the importance of family and community are much different from our Western emphasis on individuality, personal success, and guilt.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Samaria and Grace

“He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.”
(Psalm 78:67-68).

Today we explored the “tent of Joseph,” that is, the land that was allotted to Ephraim and Manasseh (often referred to as Samaria). As we traipsed through cities, up mountains, and through wadis, I thought about why God chose Judah over Ephraim and Manasseh. No answers were quick in coming…but after our Samaritan adventure, I am more in awe of God’s grace than ever. Let me start at the beginning.

Our first stop was a quick overlook over the Rift Valley. Alexandrium, one of Herod’s desert palaces, once stood on the highest mountain peak in our view. He often used the basements of these palaces to imprison and torture his political opponents—or his own family. John the Baptist was beheaded at a palace just like this one.

For our second stop, we had to stop at a security checkpoint before entering the West Bank, and were only allowed through because one of Dr. Wright’s Jewish acquaintances met us there and agreed to be our escort. He was a spry old man with a long white beard; a passionate Zionist who was not afraid to voice his political opinions. We went through the Jewish settlement Elon Morae, and ascended a hill overlooking Shechem (the modern city of Nablus in Arabic) as well as Tirzah and Sycar. Surprisingly, Elon Morae does not have a wall around it, because its inhabitants believe that a wall says, “This land is mine and the land on the other side is yours,” a concession they are not willing to make. They believe all the land is rightfully theirs.

Politics aside, it was a great spot and it really helped me see the different routes coming out of the area, as well as understanding the cities better. Shechem is on the dividing line between Ephraim and Manasseh, and is in a secure position with the potential for expansion, looking to the Mediterranean Sea. Tirzah enjoys good access to the mountains, and relatively good access to Galilee; however, it doesn’t have access to the coast and remains an eastern-oriented city, looking over the Rift Valley. This whole northern area is different from Jerusalem because is more open and easily accessible—perfect location for a central city, has better soil and water resources, and also enjoys being the hub of many routes, allowing connections for trade and expansion. In short, I quickly realized that the northern kingdom has many advantages over the southern kingdom.

Next, we headed over to Mount Gerizim, where long ago Joshua gathered the people, recited the Law of Moses, and pronounced the blessings and curses (Josh. 8:30-35). Brad shouted out the blessings from Deuteronomy 28:1-14 for us.

From there we descended to Samaria, and learned more about the Samaritans. Basically, the Assyrian invasion caused the Samaritans to disperse: some went to Jerusalem, some stayed in Samaria, some fled to other places, and some were sent into exile. The Assyrians brought foreigners in to live with the ones who stayed; as a result, the Samaritans became a breed of “half-Jews” who were later also susceptible to Hellenistic influences. They were never on friendly terms with the southern kingdom, who thought their actions reflected unfaithfulness to the God of Jerusalem.

The Samaritans are still a people today (about 700 total) who reside in communities in Shechem and Tel Aviv. The high priest met us at their place of sacrifice and taught us about their religion. He made it clear that they are not Jewish. They hold to the Pentateuch and also hold the doctrines of one God, the prophet Moses, the importance of Mount Gerizim, and the coming Last Days. They still keep Jewish holidays like Rosh Hoshanah (starting tonight), Passover (where they still sacrifice sheep), and Shabbat every week. They intermarry within their community, and because of this many Samaritans have physical deformities. As the priest spoke, I was distracted by the children playing in the background. They were very entertained by several large sheets of plastic. The priest said that all the children attend Arab schools. It was very interesting.

Our last stop was in Shiloh, where we stood on three different sites that could be where the tabernacle once stood. The first option now has the ruins of a Byzantine basilica on it. The second one is an old orchard that has been excavated that church tradition holds as the site. The last option is now a lookout point near an old wine press.

Sitting on the bedrock of the last archaeological site, we took a moment to discuss Psalm 78. This psalm is a history psalm from Jerusalem’s perspective. It shows how Shiloh—the “better” city in terms of location and resources--compares with Jerusalem.

The psalm starts with exhorting the people to “teach their children…that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God.” Dr. Wright pointed out that we are always just one generation away from falling away from the Lord. The family is the basic unit of society and must teach their children—the next generation—about the Lord.

Then the psalm goes through a short history of Israel, reviewing how God has always been faithful, even when the Israelites reject him over and over. He even “dwelt in a tent among mankind” at Shiloh, living just as the people lived. However, when the Israelites persisted in worshipping idols, “he utterly rejected Israel…He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh.” Verses 62-64 detail the awful destruction of Shiloh. Then we read:

“He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.”

How completely unexpected! Ephraim and Manasseh have all the advantages…yet God chose Judah. Joseph was the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel—he had everything going for him! (Just check out the blessing he gets in Genesis 49:22-26). Judah, on the other hand, was the youngest son of the hated wife, Leah—he had nothing going for him. Yet God chose to love and bless Judah, though he did nothing to deserve it. Judah was chosen simply because of grace.

Furthermore, “He chose David his servant and brought him from the sheepfolds,” another unexpected choice (v. 70)…the youngest son of a hillbilly family, with no military or political experience. Yet God called him to “shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance,” just as God himself had done: “He led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock” (v. 52). He chose David, an undeserving shepherd, to be a man after his own heart.

The northern arena would have been the ideal place to build a kingdom, but instead, God chose Judah. If God chose Judah solely because of grace, how much more is our own salvation a gift of grace! God chose me “before the foundation of the world” not because of anything I’ve done, but because of his grace. I still don’t understand this mystery, and probably never will. All I can do is stand in awe of God’s grace displayed to me through Jesus Christ, and respond with with a life of love and sacrifice to Him.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lessons from the Wilderness

Fort Wilderness—that’s the name of the camp I’ve worked at for several summers past. Deep in the great woods of northern Wisconsin, nestled by the side of a brilliant blue lake, this camp is at least fifteen miles from the nearest small town. Until a few weeks ago, when I heard the word “wilderness,” this is what I pictured—lush green trees, wild blueberries, soft pine needle paths, a cool breeze coming off the lake, hidden away from the modern world of cell phones, afternoon traffic, and shopping malls.

While the “wilderness” of the Bible is also hidden away from the modern world, it is nothing like my peaceful camp on the lake. As we hiked into the Wadi Qilt east of the Benjamin Plateau this morning and surveyed miles and miles of desolation, I was awestruck. This is the wilderness of the Bible. High, tight hills of Senonian chalk plunge into deep valleys, one right after the other, stretching for miles into the distance. Their pallid, corpse-like color is only sparsely dotted with dry, prickly bushes. Sweat dripped down my face, even though it was early in the morning. The sun seemed to radiate mercilessly off the hills, burning my eyes. But perhaps the most striking thing about the wilderness was the total lack of sound. No birds chirping, no leaves rustling, not even a wind whistling. Just utter silence.

Sitting on a rocky ledge, David’s words in Psalm 139 took on a new significance:

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up…You search out my path and my lying down…” (2-3). Getting lost would be so easy in these monotonous, chalky hills; David trusts that God will guide him.

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me…” (5). The wilderness is an extremely dangerous place; David trusts that God will protect him.

“If I ascend to the heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (8) From where I was sitting, I could see high peaks as well as the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

“If I take the wings of the morning…” (9) --this common biblical phrase refers to the birds that take flight over the wilderness at dawn--“…and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (9b-10). At either extreme and everywhere in between, David trusts that God is with him.

“Even the darkness is not dark to you…” (12). Nighttime in the wilderness is pitch black; you can see absolutely nothing. David spent many nights alone in the darkness, but trusted that God still saw him.

Starting in verse 13, David shifts from using physical, outward imagery to describing how God intimately knows us from the inside. “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you…intricately woven in the depths of the earth…” (see 12-16).

Then David makes a shocking statement: if he were to count God’s thoughts about us, they would be “more than the sand.” Remember, all that David can see stretching out into the distance is miles and miles of sand (or chalky senonian limestone). That’s a lot of thoughts! God knows us better than anyone else ever could.

David ends his Psalm inviting God to search him, know his heart, try him, and know his thoughts. “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Recognizing God’s guidance, protection, faithfulness, and care, David responded by desiring a closer relationship with God based on repentance and obedience.

May we all learn to do the same, in whatever “wilderness” we find ourselves.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Life of a Shepherd

(Today we finished our “Approaches to Jerusalem” field study, taking a new route into the West Bank and keeping our eyes open for flying rocks. Thankfully, this trip was much less harrowing than the last.)

What do you think of when you picture a shepherd? A turbaned man reclining in the shade, playing a harp as his sheep quietly graze in the lush grass around him? That image was shattered as we surveyed the landscape. The Wilderness is chalky, rocky limestone unable to support any substantial plant life, save for a few prickly salt bushes. It stretches for miles, and the rugged paths cut through it often lead off steep cliffs. In the summer, the there is no refuge from the scorching heat. In the winter, flash floods are common in the deep wadis, or ravines. Drowning is the number one cause of death in the wilderness.

Shepherds live Bedouin-like lives. In the dry summer season, their sheep can graze in uncultivated farmers’ fields near the village. However, in the wet winter season (when farmers plant their crops), the shepherds take their flocks out into the wilderness for months at a time. Usually, the youngest son was given this dangerous, lonely job. They quickly had to learn survival skills, responsibility, and leadership. David grew up as a shepherd in the wilderness, experiencing all of this. He probably ate prickly salt bushes and lizards, killed lions and bears, escaped the raging waters of flash floods, wandered to the edge of steep cliffs, felt extreme thirst, and went months without seeing another human.

In light of these circumstances, Psalm 23 takes on a whole new meaning. David uses imagery from his every-day life. The Lord is the Shepherd; we are the sheep. David shows his longing for green pastures, still waters, paths of righteousness, and a time when he “will not want,” perhaps in anticipation of what He knows the Lord can provide someday—if not in his lifetime, then in heaven. In the middle of his psalm he accurately and quit literally describes his surroundings as “the valley of the shadow of death,” but then affirms that he “will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Again, he anticipates the Lord preparing him a table, anointing his head, and overflowing his cup. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The Hebrew word translated “mercy” here is hassed, and speaks of God’s covenantal, unchanging love for us. David trusted in God’s unconditional loving-kindness even in the face loneliness, hunger, thirst, and danger. We, also, can find comfort in God’s faithfulness as we face the difficulties of life.

Although I will never face the same hardships David did, I want to have his same attitude of hope and trust in the Lord.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Everyday Life in Jerusalem

I have many adventures and stories to share with you from the past few weeks, but some of you may be wondering what my normal, everyday life is like here.  Here is a quick run-down...

My school is located on top of Mount Zion near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, and my room is on the fourth floor.  Usually I get up early and spend some wonderful time with the Lord, praying, reading, and journaling on the roof as I look out over the city.  These are treasured moments everyday.  Here is the view from my window (the grassy part is the Hinnom Valley):

After greeting our cook, George--"Sabah kheer!"-- and having breakfast, I usually do some homework or go to class.  My classes are all great: Physical Settings of the Bible, Intro to the Modern Middle East, The Gospel of Matthew in its Jewish Setting, and Arabic.  For my Arabic class, I walk to the Damascus gate and then take a bus to Bethlehem in the West Bank.  We must go through a pretty intense security checkpoint with our passports at the wall.  Our Palestinian teacher is not allowed to pass the checkpoint to come into Jerusalem.  Going to class was never so exciting.  

Waiting at the bus stop with all the kids who just got out of school:

Walking along the wall in Bethlehem on my way to Arabic class:

Twice a week, I work at the Domari Center for Gypsies in East Jerusalem.  The gypsies are Arabic-speaking Muslims who are not socially accepted by either Jews or Arabs, and suffer from poverty, unemployment, and lack of education.  On Tuesdays I teach/tutor English and on Fridays (once Ramadan ends) I will be teaching art and music to elementary-age kids.  These are highlights of my week! 

On the weekends, we often have field studies for Physical Settings that last all day.  We travel to many different parts of Israel, marking our maps, reading our Bibles, and marveling at how experiencing the land helps us understand the meaning of the text.  Here is our "classroom" (for this moment, the Pool of Bethesda).  Dr. Wright is lecturing as he sits on the railing and we frantically take notes.

During our free time, we do a lot of exploring!  Even normal activities, like buying food at the market, are an adventure.  Other highlights in the past couple of weeks for me have included: playing volleyball on the Mount of Olives, attending a local church with believers from around the world, having impromptu worship sessions on our roof under the moon, wading through Hezekiah's tunnel deep beneath the city, going running in the mornings with fellow students, going out for coffee in the New City, enjoying Shabbat dinners on Friday nights, and hiking/swimming/rock-climbing/cliff-jumping in the Nahal Yehudiya (north of the Sea of Galilee, south of the Golan Heights).  I will try to write about more of these in detail sometime.

So there you have life in Jerusalem.  :-)  Soon I hope to share more about what I've been learning here. Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, and encouragement. Ma salaame! (Peace!)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rocks: A Reminder of Reality

Today started out like any normal field study day. We went to Mount Scopus and looked out over Jerusalem, and read Psalm 48, which commands us:
“Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation
that this is God, our God forever and ever.
 He will guide us forever.”

How amazing that I have the opportunity to fulfill this psalm. I am so thankful for that.

As soon as we crested the top of Mount Scopus, we were confronted by a much different view: the desolate Judean wilderness. From here we could see Anatoth, where Jeremiah grew up. Living on the edge of the wilderness, he must always have felt aware of the threats to Jerusalem, and the danger must have felt very real. Those inside the city on the other side of the mountain, however, would not have thought about the danger so much (“out of sight, out of mind”). Concerned by their complacency, Jeremiah, from his experience on the “front line,” used striking imagery from the wilderness to alert them to the dangerous reality of their vulnerability from the wilderness. As we stood there, I wrote in the margin of my notebook, “When we feel comfortable and we can’t see what’s coming, it’s easy to become complacent and let down our guard.”

From there we headed to the busy side of the Mount of Olives. We read 2 Samuel 15-16 and discussed Absalom’s coup d’etat. Then we read Luke 19:37 and the verses following, and meditated on Jesus’ last week of Passover--a festival rich with the symbolism of freedom and redemption. As I pictured Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives, late at night under a full moon, while everyone else was sleeping, I thought about how easy it would have been for him to quietly slip away. He could have gone back to Galilee and kept doing miracles…that was a good thing, right? And certainly much easier than bearing the cross. But Jesus chose to follow God’s will, even though it was the hard way. I remember thinking, “I also want to follow God’s will for my life, even though it will probably be the hard way.” We also read Acts 1:8-9, where the disciples are commanded to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Again, how easy it would have been for them to return to their lives as fishermen on a peaceful lake! Much easier than dying for their faith in the big city. Yet, as followers of Jesus, they also chose the hard way—the best way.

On the way down the Mount of Olives, we stopped at a first century tomb. Dr. Wright talked a bit about crucifixion. I never knew that those who were crucified were hung from the cross at eye-level with people on the ground. That way, people could interact with them—spit on them, look them in the eyes, curse them, kick them—the ultimate shame. Jesus endured that for me.

As we continued, we passed the Russian orthodox church and headed to the garden of Gethsemane. I enjoyed seeing the old trees and the church’s beautiful dark glass windows, but my favorite part was reading a plaque in the garden that read:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39).

O Jesus, in deepest night and agony You spoke these words of trust and surrender to God the Father in Gethsemane. In love and gratitude I want to say in times of fear and distress, ‘My Father, I do not understand You, but I trust You.’ MB”

After I read that, I prayed the same. Even if it’s hard, I want to follow Jesus, and trust God’s will for my life.
Just twenty minutes later, as we drove through the West Bank, two young Arabs threw rocks at our bus. One shattered through the window and hit two of my fellow students, wounding their heads. T-shirts were quickly given up to help stop the bleeding. Glass was everywhere. Israeli soldiers came and surrounded our bus, and others searched for the boys. An ambulance came. There was not much we could do, so I prayed in the back of the bus with some of the girls. The words from the plaque replayed over and over in my mind, “Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you…I trust you…I trust you…”

Looking back on the day, I feel like I learned a lot. First of all, like the people of Jerusalem who can’t see over the hill, I often become too comfortable with my life. I don’t like to think about the very real danger that is present…not only physical danger in this part of the world, but spiritual danger. Lately, I’ve forgotten that we are part of a very real battle. I need to live with this awareness, being constant in prayer, on guard against temptation, and watchful for opportunities to advance God’s kingdom. Those boys who threw the rocks desperately need Jesus…and someone needs to tell them.

Secondly, the Lord reminded me that as a follower of Jesus, I will not have an easy life. In fact, it’s going to be hard, just as life was hard for Jesus and the disciples. The incident on the bus awakened me to the reality of danger here in the Middle East. If I’m going to live here more permanently someday, this will not be the last time I see violence. In fact, I will probably see worse, and it may involve my family someday. That scares me. But, at the same time, I can still say that it’s worth it. Jesus is worth any sacrifice I can make for Him and His kingdom. I still choose to follow Him…no matter what the cost.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Impressions from the Old City

On August 31, I had my first 'Physical Settings of the Bible' class.  Here are my thoughts from that day:

Today we walked the Old City and simply tried to get “the lay of the land.” Dr. Wright says we need to “see Jerusalem with our feet,” and that we did! From Mount Zion and the Hinnom Valley to the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…from viewing the Mount of Olives at a distance to sitting in the supposed Upper Room…from climbing high places to overlook the whole city or snaking through a dark, damp meat market in the depths of the Muslim Quarter…we walked, lectured, and sweat our way through all four quarters of the Old City.

One thing that really struck me was the juxtaposition of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Dr. Wright illustrated this concept as three trees that appear separate in plain view, but with interconnected roots deep within the soil. Uprooting one tree disrupts all the others; they are inexplicably intertwined. Surprisingly, these connections became very apparent to me as we walked. Passing a Hebrew sign on my way into the Upper Room, I was confronted with Qur’anic inscriptions on the walls. Walking through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I learned that the building is owned by Muslims and equally shared by the Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, Romans, Armenians, and Ethiopians. Even in the church’s depths we could not escape the haunting sound of the mid-afternoon call to prayer. Standing on a stone rooftop, I saw a Hebrew inscription in front of both a cross and a minaret on the horizon.

These strange combinations do not only occur with religions; I also noticed them with time periods. Dr. Wright said, “The past here is not dead; in fact, the past is not even past,” and this is so true! Within minutes I walked from a primitive meat market with blood running through the cracked stone streets to a high-class shopping mall with an espresso bar. Old Jewish rabbis with their long robes and curls stood near a group of glitzy European girls who do not understand that they are degrading themselves by wearing tank tops and short skirts. Muslim women covered in black bustled through the market with their children in tow while a tour group from Kenya stopped to take pictures. A turbaned Arab pushed a clattering wooden cart as I leaned against a pillar in my jean capris and free college T-shirt, taking notes. New buildings are attached to ancient limestone walls, and Byzantine-era excavation sites lie parallel to busy marketplace streets. The aroma of incense and spices mixed with the smell of taxi exhaust pipes, and ancient Hebrew prayer-chants were drowned out by sirens and car horns.  

Like nowhere else on earth, the layers of culture and time are alive in the Old City. Jew, Muslim, Christian, ancient, and new all meet here in one beautiful yet tumultuous place. I want to explore, observe, peel back, and understand these rich layers of history. These colliding worldviews and living history has much to teach me, and I am eager to learn all I can from the city of Jerusalem.

Shalom from Jerusalem!

I am starting this blog so that I can share my adventures and thoughts as I study and experience life in Israel this semester.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Biblical Jerusalem Field Study

Today was our first full day in the field. In the morning we explored Old Testament Jerusalem, and in the afternoon we discovered New Testament Jerusalem. My body feels sore and tired, but it is so worth the experience!

We started out at the Broad Wall, which is also called “Avigad’s Wall” after the archaeologist who excavated it. This wall dates back to the Iron Age, which is the time of King Hezekiah, and is much wider than the Old City Walls. Several biblical references to this wall and the area surrounding it include Isaiah 22:8-11, Nehemiah 3:8, and 2 Kings 14:13.  

Next we climbed up on a rooftop to overlook the City of David, a low place surrounded by hills. It seems strange that God would place them in a “bowl” like that—if any enemies came over the hill, the Israelites would have a clear disadvantage. However, God intended for them to live there, maybe so that they would realize that He alone is their Protector. David sure seemed to understand this: “I lift my eyes to the hills; from whence does my help come? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). From this view I was also stunned by how “geography is a hermeneutic,” and helps me understand other Bible verses. For instance, after seeing how the “mountains surround Jerusalem” so closely—like they are hugging the city—I am so thankful to know that “so the Lord surrounds his people from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 125:2).

From there we descended down to David’s City, and stopped in the area of David’s palace (2 Sam. 5:9, 1 Chron. 15:1, 1Kgs. 9:15). From the Bible we know that each king built his own palace, resulting in a “palatial district” that was located in a high place because it was safer in case of attack, and also caught cool breezes on hot summer days. From 1 Kings 7:1-12 we know that David’s palace was both expensive and creative, and it was fun to try to imagine what it must have looked like in that spot.

Remaining in the vicinity of David’s palace, we stopped at an area that has been excavated extensively. We could see ruins of a stepped-stone structure that served as a retaining wall. At this site a seal of “Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe” was found (Jer. 36:10). From this high place it was easy to see the many rooftops of the city, and during Bible times people did much of their every-day living activities on the roof. As we read 2 Samuel 11:1-2, it was easy to imagine David walking along the palace wall and unexpectedly catching a glimpse of Bathsheba bathing on a roof below. Temptation often seems to come when and where we least expect it. From that site we moved to the area of Kenyon’s Jebusite Wall.

After that came one of my favorite parts of our morning. Passing Warren’s shaft, we climbed down near Hezekiah’s tunnels (2 Chron. 32:1-5, 20; 2 Kgs. 20:20), but didn’t go through the water (which comes from the Gihon spring). Instead, we walked through an old Canaanite tunnel. These natural seepage tunnels were widened for the city’s water supply, and date back to the middle Bronze Age, which is the time of the Patriarchs. It was quite narrow, and I imagined Old Testament women trekking through these limestone tunnels to fill large jars of water for their families.

Once outside the tunnels, we hiked to the Pool of Siloam, which is adjacent to the King’s Garden. Although the garden is the setting for Song of Songs, I didn’t find it particularly romantic (maybe it had to do with the fact I was drenched with sweat by this point). In cooler weather, I’m sure it’s quite beautiful. Today the garden is cultivated by a Muslim man. The Siloam pool is mentioned several times in Scripture, but perhaps its most famous reference is when Jesus spits in clay, rubs it in the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:7).

After a short lunch break, we headed back out—this time, to some excavations near the Southern Wall of the temple. Here we walked the same area Jesus most likely walked (Jn. 10:22), and saw the place He drove the moneychangers from the temple (Jn. 2:14). The temple was much bigger than I expected—one of its base rocks weighs 240 tons! Knowing this, I can better understand people’s shock when Jesus said he could raise the temple in just three days (Jn. 2:20). I also could imagine Jesus standing on the pinnacle overlooking the city, being tempted to jump off (Mt. 4:5-7).

From there we moved to the temple steps. Gamaliel often taught here, and it’s probable that Paul sat and learned from him on those same stairs (Acts 22:3). It’s also the probable location of Peter’s sermon and the baptism of three thousand people (Acts 2:5-6, 14, 41, 46). Furthermore, it’s also possible that Jesus stood on these stairs when teaching about the Pharisee’s hypocrisy, and pronouncing the woes upon them (Mt. 23:1-7, 13, 16, 27, 29-30, 33) because many of the images Jesus uses are clearly visible from those steps.

Our final stop was at the church of St. Anne and the Pool of Bethesda. The church is absolutely beautiful, and has wonderful acoustics. We took some time inside to sing several hymns (How Deep the Father’s Love For Us, Be Thou My Vision, I Love You Lord), and it was amazing. This was the best part of the day for me. I also enjoyed the Pool of Bethesda, which is right outside the church. This site has significance for two reasons: first, it is the place where Jesus healed the lame man (Jn. 5:2-9) and second, it’s the place Mary supposedly grew up (according to tradition). We sat by the pool (which is over 100 feet deep!) and reflected on Jesus’ actions in John 3-5. Whether dealing with Nicodemus (“most likely to succeed”), the Samaritan woman (“known for her promiscuity”), or the lame man (“just trying to get by”), Jesus met all of their needs. He is more than enough for all of us.

After that, we made our way back to campus and enjoyed a hot meal and a cool shower. Today was a long day, but I feel like I learned a lot. As I walked the streets of this city and touched old stone ruins of walls and temples, the Bible came alive. And the more I understand the geography of this Land, the more I understand the message of the biblical writers. I am anticipating many more such lessons in the near future.