Friday, November 14, 2008


Day 2: The Interior of the North
Sites visited: Rabbah, Jerash, Jabbok River, Tyre

Today’s sites were full of impressive archaeological ruins that were fun to explore. Rabbah, the capital of Ammon in the Bible, has a beautiful royal palace; Jerash, the “city of a thousand columns” is a magnificent site, and Tyre is home to a palace with giant carved lions. Each was impressive and I enjoyed them very much; however, what stands out to me most today does not have much to do with rocks. It has to do with people and their stories.
The first highlight of my day came at Jerash, where a young Muslim woman approached me and struck up a conversation. Her name was Amal, which means “hope” in Arabic. She lives in a small town nearby but is a junior at the university in Amman where she is studying physics. She was visiting Jerash with her adorable younger cousins, and all of them had beautiful green eyes and brightly-colored head scarves fastened securely by trendy jewel pins. Even though we only talked for a few minutes, I loved hearing her story.

As we drove through the dome of Gilead, I thought more about the story of humanity as bits and pieces of the past came alive outside my window: cave dwellings in the sides of cliffs; tiny, well-kept gardens; hens pecking the dirt with their chicks nearby; women harvesting crops in the fields, a group of young boys amusing themselves by throwing rocks into a hole; a man settling down with his sheep under a tree for the night. “Every man under his vine and under his fig tree…” (1 Kgs. 4:25). Here in rural Jordan, the Bible seems so relevant. Parables about shepherds and harvesting make sense, and it’s easy to recognize the reality of Bible stories in this land. But do we realize how relevant they are to us Americans as well?

These were my thoughts as we sat by the side of the Jabbok River, where Jacob wrestled with God and came away limping. This story is a familiar one, but here’s a quick recap: Jacob had always been a wrestler—the Bible tells us that he even wrestled in his mother’s womb with his twin, Esau. As he grew up, this “mama’s boy” lived up to his name, which comes from the Hebrew noun “heel.” Where do you hit someone if you want to trip them up without anyone else noticing? You snag their heel. (In the Middle East, they call this “clever,” but really it means doing whatever it takes to make sure you come out on top). Therefore, Jacob’s name really takes on the meaning, “deceiver,” and it was a name he certainly lived up to. Remember how he “cleverly” traded a bowl of lentil stew for Esau’s birthright? Or how he tricked his father to receive Esau’s rightful blessing? Eventually, Jacob ended up fleeing to a different land to escape his brother’s wrath, where he got married and became quite wealthy.
However, as an old man, Jacob was forced to move once again. As he made the risky journey with his riches spread out in a caravan behind him, he heard that his estranged brother, Esau, was nearby! This could have been the end of Jacob and his family.
The story comes to a climax as Jacob is standing next to the Jabbok River one night, perhaps wondering what will happen next. Will he make it out of this land alive? Suddenly, someone attacks Jacob in the dark and wrestles him until daybreak. Could this be Esau? Or maybe his hit man? Finally, the mysterious being touches Jacob’s hip and he is instantly defeated. Clearly, this was no man, but God Himself. After this experience, God gives Jacob a new name: Israel, which means “one who strives with God.” God chose to save Jacob that night, but didn’t change his personality—only his direction. Now, instead of striving against God, he would strive with God. In time, Jacob fathered the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.
Jeremiah tells us that “the heart is desperately sick and deceitful above all things.” That word deceitful comes from the Hebrew word for “heel.” Essentially, Jeremiah is saying that all humanity—you and me—are just like Jacob. We are deceitful, selfish, naturally inclined to do anything to come out on top.
For this reason, the story of the Bible is our story. If we say the Bible is not relevant anymore, it is only because we are uncomfortable when we gaze into it and find a shockingly accurate reflection of ourselves. We are just like Jacob, terribly deceitful and deserving punishment. God, by His grace, chooses to redeem us.

This story of redemption in the Bible is the ultimate story of all humanity, past and present, East and West. It is your story and my story. Yet millions today live around the world without ever hearing it. Someday I want to live with women like Amal, be part of their story, and introduce them to the ultimate story of redemption told in the Bible.

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