This is Jerusalem Part 1

It was a time after Abram had been called by God to come out of Ur of the Chaldeans in the scroll of Genesis (Chapter 11ff).  He had made a covenant relationship with God and journeyed to Egypt, where he let his wife Sarai be taken by a Pharaoh.  God delivers her back into the arms of Abram and their house increases greatly.  They are forced to deliver his nephew Lot from the hands of an alliance of rogue kings who had captured him in the land near Sodom.  Then, Abram meets a man in Sheveh, which is (“the King’s Valley”).  His name is Melchizedek and he is a priest of El Elyon (“God Most High”), the king of the city of Salem (“Peace”).  They break bread and drink wine in communion to the name of El Elyon.  This is about 1980 BC, around 600 years before the Exodus, almost 900 years before the time of King David (1 Samuel 16ff).

David comes into the full reign of his kingship at 30 years of age (2 Samuel 5).  7 years later, he leads his men in a charge against the Jebusites who inhabited the city called, “Jerusalem,”  which is the very same city that had been previously called “Sheveh,” of Melchizedek.  The Jebusites were Canaanite people who were essentially mountaineers that had been living in the hill country.  The city had formerly been called “Salem,” which literally means “peace.”  “Jeru” means “city.”  Therefore, Jerusalem is “City of Peace.”  This is ironic, in the sense of the history of the city, because of the strife that it has been most associated with.  This makes the 122nd Psalm applicable across centuries of time; “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Note the raw number of biblical references to the proper noun “Jerusalem” in the biblical text.  This alone should alert one to the importance placed on the city by the Word of God in relation to His people.  However, one should not be enamored beyond the point of intent.  What made Jerusalem special was that it held the temple and in the temple was the Holy of Holies.  Within the Holy of Holies was held the Ark of the Covenant and on the propitiation (mercy seat), which was the center of the lid between the cherubim figures, was where God said He would meet man once a year for Yom (“day”) Kippur (“Atonement”).  Thus, what makes Jerusalem distinct is that God met man here for an extended period of time.  Now He lives immediately within each Christian who is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

For the sake of brevity, only highlights will be covered in this article.  To give an idea of how extensive writings are pertaining to the city, it is considered to be the most renowned city in the ancient East.  It has in excess of 6,000 bibliographical references in literature.  It is considered the “most holy city,” hosting 3 monotheistic religions.  Wars, both subtle and direct, continue to be waged over who will control the city and particularly, the Temple Mount.  Antiquities are difficult to excavate from the city site because the land has been occupied for over 6,000 years.  To compound the archaeological issues, the city has been ravaged and rebuilt multiple times over the millennia.  Each time, masonry would be looted from the city while other materials would be brought in from neighboring ruins to replace them. 

The city has been called “Jebus,” “Shalem” and “Zion.”  However, it was first mentioned in the Egyptian Execration Texts (18th – 19thc BC) as the name “Rušalimum.”  It has also been called by the Akkadian name of “Urišalim” in the Armana letters (14thc BC).  Abdi-Hiba, an Egyptian vassal who was ruling in Jerusalem during the reign of Pharaoh Amenophis IV (Akhenaten – 1340 BC) wrote declaring his loyalty to Egypt.  Sennacherib (Assyrian – 701 BC) referred to the city as “Ursalimmu” when he surrounded King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18, 19; 2 Chronicles 32; Isaiah 36, 37).  Many scholars attribute the name of “Shalem” to the Semitic patron god, Shalem, which was mentioned in a mythological text from Ugarit.  While this may unsettle Jews and Christians alike, it sets as a consideration to be an example of something that evil has attempted to adopt and mimic as an idol, only to be regained to its original meaning as God has deemed. 

In historical comparisons to population and size of the city, the Jebusites constituted approximately 1,000 people on 12 acres.  The city of David expanded to 2,000 persons on 15 acres.  However, the building of the Temple Mount during the reign of Solomon expanded the region to 32 acres and an approximate population of 5,000 residents.  One of the largest expansions was under King Hezekiah, when the Upper City was pushing the boundaries to 125 acres with 25,000 people.  After the Babylonian captivity, during the time of Nehemiah, the city subsided to 30 acres with a population of 4,500.  In the Hasmonean era, Jerusalem initially grew to 165 acres and 35,000 people and during Herod’s reign, an estimated 40,000 people lived in a 230-acre territory.  But her growth did not stop there.  Continuing through the Roman period, Jerusalem doubled in size to 450 acres with an estimated population of 80,000 or more.  After the Muslim invasion, the numbers shrank to 55-60,000 residents.  As of 2017, the city population sits at 901,302, with the metropolitan district at 1,253,900 and the land area is 252 square miles (48 miles – city alone).

Under the Davidic reign (1011-971 BC), the establishment of Jerusalem as the central capitol was geographically strategic for the united kingdom of Israel.  Furthermore, when David brings the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Jerusalem, the city now becomes more than a political location.  It became the merger of the Mosaic era to the Davidic, forming a unity of the religious and the legal rule of Israel. 

When David’s son takes the throne (971-931 BC), the kingdom will ride on the wave that David drew them together upon.  Though limited by God to build the Temple in Jerusalem, David prepared everything his son Solomon would need to construct the finest building ever seen.  King Solomon also built some of the most comprehensive structural additions to the city in the palace complex, which was composed of residences, a justice hall, a throne room and arsenal storage.  The Temple took 7 years to finish and the palace complex, an additional 13 years.  However, Solomon used forced labor among the people of Israel to accomplish this, among several other architectural endeavors.  Seeds of rebellion were sown and upon the passing of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel divided into a lingering civil war.  Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was the rightful heir to the throne, while Jeroboam, son of Nebat contested from the north.  Thus became the divided kingdom of Judah and North Israel. 

With the kingdom split, Jerusalem lost a portion of its significance in the nation as a whole.  Nevertheless, it still drew considerable attention from enemy kingdoms and required continuous reinforcements to its fortifications.  The city withstood invasions (some, temporarily) from numerous enemies, including Assyrian, Babylonian, and Greek armies (to name a few).  Bear in mind though, the vast majority of these enemies were sent by God as judgment on Israel for her rebellion against Him. 

One the kingdoms that subsequently took over Israel was Persia, who had defeated their previous captors, Babylon in 538 BC.  Cyrus, king of Persia decreed for the walls and Temple to be rebuilt back in Jerusalem.  However, it took the Jews over 20 years to complete the reconstruction of the temple proper.  It was rededicated under King Darius I (of Persia – Ezra 6) in 515 BC. 

Led by Alexander the Great, the Persians were conquered by the Greeks and Jerusalem was taken in 332 BC.  Over the years, Jerusalem was thus changed into a Greek city-state by Antiochus IV and named “Antiochia.”  After desecrating the Temple, the Jews led a rebellion under the Maccabeans and cleansed the Temple on December 25, 165 BC.  This date is commemorated in the Jewish holiday known as “Hanukkah.”  For almost a century (142-63 BC), the Jews would be politically, religiously and economically independent during this period known as the Hasmonean reign.  These were a dynasty of high priests and kings that had descended from the line of Mattathias, who had led the revolt that liberated Jerusalem.  The Hasmoneans built a bridge over the Tyropoeon Valley that joined the Upper City (center of government) to the Temple Mount.  At the apex of this period, John Hyrcanus and his son, Alexander Jannaeus, served as successive high priest and king of Judea.  However, in 63 BC Pompey (the Great) ended the Hasmonean reign, though he kept Hyrcanus in place.  While the Jews were celebrating the Sabbath, Pompey employed his battering rams and attacked the Temple Mount, entered the Holy of Holies, destroyed the city walls and took residence in the Upper City.  As a side note, though Pompey did not immediately die upon entering the Holy of Holies, he was later defeated in another battle and fled for his life into Egypt, where he was assassinated.  From the time of Pompey’s invasion to the appointment of Herod the Great (37 BC), the Hasmoneans ruled under the jurisprudence of Rome. 

During the Herodian period (37-4 BC), Jerusalem reached its apex of development and enjoyed abundant prosperity.  Historically, the city was noted for its splendor, but it still had its socioeconomic disparities.  The poorer classes were located in the Lower City, where most of the markets were conducted.  The more affluent lived on the Upper City, which included chief religious and political figures.  Regional taxes and Herod’s construction projects were the primary sources of government income.  Due to the intensity of the sheer number of Herod’s construction projects verses the intent of brevity for this particular article, most items will not be covered here.  It is safe to say that all of Herod’s building and sites are still considered to be architectural wonders of beauty and artifice.  The city walls were fortified with 164 towers of defense.  It is disputed as to whether or not there were 2 or 3 city walls during this period.  Nevertheless, any wall would have to be substantial to support the weight of the towers.  Several other Romans contributed positive construction updates to Jerusalem.  For example, Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD), prefect of Judea, installed a rather large upgrade to the water supply with the city’s first aqueduct from Solomon’s Pool. 

The final tipping point that incited the First Jewish War (revolt) against Rome occurred because Roman prefect, Gessius Florus, stole money from the Temple treasury in 66 AD.  By 70 AD, Titus leads an attack and destroys Jerusalem and the Temple within (see “This is Masada”).  Despite the destruction, Jerusalem manages to hang on and remain the central city to the nation of Israel.  Emperor Hadrian visited the city in 129 AD, rebuilt it and renamed it Aelia Capitolina, after his middle name.  Through the Byzantine period (324-638 AD), much of the city was improved with sites dedicated to events in the life of Jesus.  The invasion of the Islamic armies in 638 AD conquered Jerusalem and held the city until the Crusader period of 1099AD.  To the Muslim, Jerusalem is considered the third most holy city, behind Mecca and Medina.  The city was recaptured from the Crusaders by Islamic invaders in 1187 AD.  Christian and Jewish tolerance fluctuated through this period until 1517, when the Ottoman Turks took control of Jerusalem and ruled it from Istanbul (formerly Constantinople, until Islamic conquest). 

Presently, both Israeli and Palestinian governments claim Jerusalem as their capitol.  While peace is largely kept by the presence of Israeli military, the tension remains clearly present for the control of the area.  The city was liberated to Israel in the war of 1948.  However, revisionist history has been and is presently being taught that Israel is a recent invader and that the region belongs to the Palestinians.  Most recently, the United States, under the leadership and campaign promise of President Donald J. Trump, declared acknowledgement of Jerusalem being the capitol of Israel and thus, relocating the US embassy back to the city.  Prior, on August 20, 1980, the United Nations passed Resolution 478, which had moved 22 of the 24 embassies in Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (see “This is Tel Aviv”).  Anti-Israel countries have denounced the move by the United States.

Biblical References

  • Genesis 14:18
  • Joshua 10:1, 3, 5, 23; 12:10; 15:8, 63; 18:28
  • Judges 1:1, 7-8, 21; 19:10
  • 1 Samuel 17:54
  • 2 Samuel 5:5-6, 13-14, 6:12, 8:7; 9:13; 10:14; 11:1, 12; 12:31; 14:23, 28; 15:8, 11, 13-14, 29, 37; 16:3, 15; 17:20; 19:19, 25, 33-34; 20:2-3, 7, 22; 24:8, 16
  • 1 Kings 2:11, 36, 38, 41; 3:1, 15; 8:1; 9:15, 19; 10:2, 26-27; 11:7, 13, 29, 32, 36, 42; 12:18, 21, 27-28; 14:21, 25; 15:2, 4, 10; 22:42
  • 2 Kings 8:17, 26; 9:28; 12:1, 17-18; 14:2, 13, 19-20; 15:2, 33; 16:2, 5; 18:2, 17, 22, 35; 19:10, 21, 31: 21:1, 4, 7, 12-13, 16, 19; 22:1, 14; 23:1-2, 4-6, 9, 13, 20, 23-24, 27, 30-31, 33, 36; 24:4, 8, 10, 14-15, 18, 20; 25:1, 8-10
  • 1 Chronicles 3:4-5; 6:10, 15, 32; 8:28, 32; 9:1, 3, 34, 38; 11:4; 13:3-4; 15:1, 3; 18:7; 19:15; 20:1, 3-4; 21:4, 15-16; 23:25; 28:1; 29:27
  • 2 Chronicles 1:4, 13-15; 2:7, 1; 3:1; 5:2; 6:6; 8:6; 9:1, 25, 27, 30; 10:18; 11:1, 5, 14, 16; 12:2, 4-5, 7, 9, 13; 13:2; 14:15; 15:10; 17:13; 19:1, 4, 8; 20:5, 15, 17-8, 20, 26-28, 31; 21:5, 11, 13, 20; 22:1-2; 23:2; 24:1, 6, 9, 18, 23; 25:1, 23, 27; 26:3, 9, 15; 27:1, 8; 28:1, 10, 24, 27; 29:1, 8; 30:1-3, 5, 11, 13-14, 21, 26; 31:4; 32:2, 9-10, 12, 18-19, 22-23, 25-26, 33; 33:1, 4, 7, 9, 13, 15, 21; 34:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 22, 29-30, 32; 35:1, 18, 24; 36:1-5, 9-11, 14, 19, 23
  • Ezra 1:2-5, 7, 11; 2:1, 68; 3:1, 8; 4:6, 8, 12, 20, 23-24; 5:1-2, 14-17; 6:3, 5, 9, 12, 18; 7:1, 7-9, 13-17, 19, 27; 8:29-32; 9:9; 10:7, 9
  • Nehemiah 1:2-3; 2:11-13, 17, 20; 3:8-9, 12; 4:7-8; 6:7; 7:2-3, 6; 8:15; 11:1-4, 6, 20, 22; 12:1, 27-29, 43; 13:6-7, 15-16, 19-20
  • Esther 2:6
  • Psalm 51:18; 68:29; 79:1, 3; Psalm 102:21; Psalm 116:19; 122:1-3, 6; 125:2, 5; 135:21; 137:5-7; 147:1-2, 12
  • Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12, 16; 2:7, 9
  • Song of Solomon 1:1, 5; 2:7; 3:5, 10; 5:8, 16; 6:4, 8:4
  • Isaiah 1:1; 2:1, 3; 3:1, 8; 4:3-4; 5:3, 14; 7:1; 8:14; 10:10-12; 10:32; 22:10, 21; 24:23; 27:13, 14; 29:1; 20:19; 31:5, 9; 33:20; 36:2, 7, 20; 37:10, 22, 32; 40:2, 9; 41:27; 44:26, 28; 51:17; 52:1-2, 9; 62:1, 6; 64:10, 18-19; 66:10, 13, 20
  • Jeremiah 1:3, 15; 2:2; 3:17; 4:3-5, 10-11, 14, 16; 5:1; 6:1, 6, 8; 7:17, 34; 8:1, 5; 9:11; 11:2, 6, 9, 12-13; 13:9, 13, 27; 14:2, 16; 15:4-5; 17:19-21, 25-27; 18:11; 19:3, 7, 13; 22:1, 19, 14-15; 24:1, 8; 25:2, 18; 26:18; 27:3, 18, 20-21; 29:1-2, 4, 20, 25; 32:2; 32:32, 44; 33:10, 13, 16; 34:1, 6-8; 34:19; 35:11, 13, 17; 36:9, 31; 37:5, 11-12; 38:28; 39:1, 8; 40:1; 42:18; 44:2, 6, 9, 13, 17, 21; 51:35, 50; 52:1, 3-4, 12-14, 29
  • Lamentations 1:7-8, 17; 2:10, 13, 15; 4:12
  • Ezekiel 4:1, 7, 16; 5:1, 5; 8:1, 3; 9:4, 8; 11:15; 12:10, 19; 13:16; 14:21-22; 15:1, 6; 16:1-3; 17:12; 21:2, 20, 22, 19; 23:4; 24:2; 26:2; 33:21; 36:38
  • Daniel 1:1; 5:2-3; 6:10; 9:2, 7, 12, 16, 25
  • Joel 2:32; 3:1, 6, 16-17, 20
  • Amos 1:2; 2:5
  • Obadiah 1:11
  • Micah 1:1, 5; 3:10, 12; 4:2, 8
  • Zephaniah 1:4, 12; 3:1, 14, 16
  • Zechariah 1:12, 14, 16-17, 19; 2:2, 4, 12; 3:2, 7:7; 8:3-4, 8, 15, 22; 9:9-10; 12:1-3, 5-11; 13:1; 14:1-2, 4, 8, 10-12, 14, 16-17, 21
  • Malachi 2:11; 3:4
  • Matthew 2:1, 3; 3:5; 4:25; 5:35; 15:1; 16:21; 20:17-18; 21:1, 10; 23:37
  • Mark 1:5; 3:8, 22; 7:1; 10:32-33; Mark 11:1, 11, 15, 27; 15:41
  • Luke 2:22, 25, 38, 41, 43, 45; 4:9; 5:17; 6:17; 9:31, 51, 53; 10:30; 13:4, 22, 33-34; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28, 41; 21:20, 24; 23:7, 28; 24:13, 18, 33, 47, 52
  • John 1:19; 2:13, 23; 4:20-21; 4:45; 5:1-2; 7:25; 10:22; 11:18, 55; 12:12
  • Acts 1:4, 8, 12, 19; 2:5, 14; 4:5, 16; 5:16, 28; 6:7; 8:1, 14, 25-27; 9:2, 13, 21, 26, 28; 10:39; 11:1-2; 11:22, 27; 12:25; 13:13, 27, 31; 15:1-2, 4; 16:4; 19:21; 20:16, 22; 21:4, 11-13, 15, 17, 31; 22:5, 17-18; 23:11; 24:11; 25:1, 3, 7, 9, 15, 20, 24; 26:4, 10, 20; 28:17
  • Romans 15:19, 25-26, 31
  • 1 Corinthians 16:3
  • Galatians 1:17-18; 2:1; 4:25-26
  • Hebrews 12:22
  • Revelation 3:12; 21:2, 10

This is Qumran

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are one of the greatest biblically related finds in the history of archaeology and the study of antiquities.  981 fragments were discovered in 11 caves and constituted the oldest copies of Scripture we have to date.  Literally thousands of scroll fragments have been found in the Dead Sea area.  The DSS are famous for some being largely intact, as opposed to fragmented pieces of Scripture and other articles. 

The stories of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls are somewhat different.  All of them tell of a 15-year-old boy named Muhammad adh-Dhib of the Bedouin tribe Taamirah, who found them around February or March of 1947.  All differ on what the boy was actually doing when he stumbled across them.  One story says he was looking for a lost sheep in the caves.  Another story states that he was moving smuggled supplies from Jordan to Bethlehem.  Yet another says he was seeking shelter from an approaching storm.   Possibly the most popular one tells of the boy and his friend throwing rocks into the nearby caves.  They noticed a peculiar sound when one of the stones hit something that sounded like pottery being shattered, similar to how one might know what breaking glass sounds like. 

When the first cave was entered, the boys discovered several jars (most of which where broken) with scrolls of leather wrapped in linen cloth.  The scrolls were extremely brittle and decomposed, but had writing that the boys did not recognize.  Adh-Dhib and his friends took the scrolls to a Muslim sheik in the Bethlehem market area.  Seeing they were not in Arabic, he passed them over to another merchant.  Somewhere along the line, the largest and oldest of the scrolls from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, was offered for £20 in Bethlehem, which was rejected because it was not believed to be very old.  Ultimately, through a chain of events, many of the scrolls ended up in the hands of the Archbishop Athanasius Yeshue-Samuel (Syrian).  Professor Sukenik of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem acquired others from the Muslim sheik at Bethlehem.  More scrolls were purchased from the Bedouins.  Finally, George Isaiah (a merchant in Jerusalem) convinced one of the Bedouins to take him to the cave were the scrolls were found.  Among other artifacts, one large jar remained that had been considered too large for removal. 

The first expert that was consulted for the scrolls was Stephan Hannah Stephan, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church.  He was a well-known Orientalist who worked with the Department of Antiquities of Palestine.  Upon his inspection, he confidently pronounced the scrolls to be worthless.  However, his field of expertise was in Arabic history as opposed to Hebrew paleography.  Thus, his skepticism betrayed his observation.

The discovery happened at what most would view as an importune time in Israel’s history.  It would be on November 25, 1947 that the United Nations passed a resolution to partition the Palestinian area.  The relationship between Israel and the Arabic people became more hostile than before and cooperation with the scrolls diminished.  Through a series of events, the scrolls were largely acquired by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, as well as others that were subsequently discovered in additional caves.  It would not be until 1991 that the scrolls would be released and published on digital medium for global observation.  However, it was not without a great deal of stress and trial to open them to the public.

While there are some disputes over the authorship of the scrolls, the majority opinion is that they were written and stored by the Qumran sect of the Essenes.  The Essenes were composed of an ascetic group of Jews that felt the necessity to separate themselves from the “unholy” in Jerusalem.  Pliny the Elder (post 70 AD) recorded and described a group of Essenes that were living in a desert community on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, near Ein-gedi.  The reason for the scrolls being in the caves is believed to have been to hide them from the Romans during the First Jewish War (66-68 AD).  The community at Qumran was ultimately sacked and thus, the hidden scrolls remained.    

Qumran is an archaeological site consisting of 270 caves located in the West Bank.  The area is composed of a plateau with sheer cliffs and extremely difficult navigation.  Structures dating back to the 7th and 8thc BC have been excavated, extending into the Second Jewish War (132-35 AD).  There is a major cemetery 50 miles east of the community with over 1,100 tombs.  Interestingly, one major section of the graveyard contains only male bodies.  In another section, both male and female are present, as well as infant bodies.  It is observed that very few of those buried there had exceeded the age of 40.

This is Ein-Gedi

Day 8 will also include one of the top attractions for natural wonders, Ein-Gedi (meaning “spring of the kid [goat]”).  It has also been known as “En-Gedi,” “Engedi,” “Engaddi,” “Áin Jidi (Arabic),” “Hazazon-tamar,” “Hazezon Tamar,” “Hatzatzon Tamar,” and “Tell el-Jurn.”  An oasis on the edge of the Dead Sea, about 35 miles southeast of Jerusalem, Ein-Gedi is fed by a natural spring that emerges from the lower section of the cliffs there.  Its antiquity has been attested to the discovery of a temple that dates to the 4th millennium BC.  During the Herodian period (50-60 AD), it served as a military stronghold.  The Romans built a bathhouse there and the Jews built a synagogue (6thc AD).  What makes this particular place so outstanding, is the incredible amount of water produced in an otherwise terribly desolate region, which was allotted as a part of the wilderness district of Judea.

In biblical history, Hazazon-Tamar was an Amorite stronghold when Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from an alliance of 4 kings.  David took refuge in Ein-Gedi when hiding from Saul and his search parties.  At a later date, the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites crossed the Dead Sea and encamped in En-gedi to invade Judah.  King Jehoshaphat declared a fast and prayed for the Lord’s deliverance.  God answers his prayer and gives word that the King and Judah need not worry about the encroaching enemies.  Thus, the invading armies began fighting against one another and killed each other before organizing a plan against Judah.  

The Song of Solomon mentions Engedi pertaining to the beauty of its henna blossoms.  Henna is presumed to have been the plant that the fragrant flower was used in the production of perfume.  Ovens and pottery that have been excavated at Tell el-Jurn were used for the perfume.  In terms of prophecy, many look to En-gedi as the place where fulfillment will come to the turning of the Dead Sea into a viable freshwater lake.  The water is to stream from the temple at the completion of the restoration of Israel.  Historical records speak of the palm trees, dates, groves, vineyards, balsam, resin and medicine in the area.  

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, it is believed that En-gedi had been occupied by Edomites (Idumeans) that had converted to Judaism after being conquered by John Hyrcanus (2ndc BC).  It is also considered plausible that a Ptolemaic town was taken over and made the capitol of the toparchy under King Herod.  During the First Jewish War against Rome, Josephus recorded that the Sicarii (cf. “This is Masada”) Zealots had seized Masada and made a raid on En-gedi during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  They slaughtered the people and plundered the city.  Pliny said that after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, En-gedi was left in ruins.  
During the Second Jewish War, a Jewish leader of the population in En-gedi named Simon Bar-Cochba tried to rally the people to come to the aid of those battling against Rome.  This drew Roman attention to the town and the residents there fled to the mountain caves nearby.  The Roman troops encamped above them and held them to their deaths.  

Through the Byzantine period, little was recorded about the area except the confirmation of a large village located there.  After the Muslim invasions of the 7thc AD, it was primarily used as a bedouin occupancy.  A kibbutz was built after Israel reclaimed its statehood.  

Biblical References

  • Genesis 14:7
  • Joshua 15:62
  • 1 Samuel 23:29
  • 1 Samuel 24:1
  • 2 Chronicles 20:2
  • Song of Solomon 1:14
  • Ezekiel 47:10

This is Capernaum

After leaving Caesarea Philippi, we are to pass by the proposed site in Bethsaida where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the multitude.  We will also go by the Mount of Beatitudes on our way to Tiberias for a St. Peter’s fish lunch.  Afterwards, we will take a cruise on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and from there we will journey on to the north towards Capernaum.  

After departing from the wilderness (40 days and nights), Jesus receives word that John the Baptist has been taken into custody.  Jesus leaves Nazareth to set His home in Capernaum.  It will later be referred to as “His own city” (Matthew 9:1).  At least 3 of His disciples were from this city.  Though Peter and Andrew were originally from Bethsaida, Scripture tells us that they moved to Capernaum (Mark 1:29).  Here, Christ cleanses the leper, cures a centurion’s servant, calls Matthew from his tax collection table, heals a royal officer’s son, heals a man let down through a roof by his friends, and cures Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever.

The people that we read of being present in Capernaum give us some indication as to the importance to the city.  A Roman centurion with a detachment of soldiers, a taxing station and a royal official are ample evidence to the governing attention given.  Nevertheless, Jesus chastises them in Matthew 11 :23 for the way they willingly ignored the signs and wonders given to them.  Yet faithful people lived there during the time of Christ.  The Roman centurion with a sick servant had previously built the synagogue there (Luke 7:5).  

From the middle of the 2ndc AD, Capernaum became a central point for rabbinical Judaism.  Christians were roundly rejected and little was done to change their perception.  Debate still exists whether archaeologists have discovered the actual ruins of Simon Peter’s house there.  Regardless, by the 4thc AD, a church was built at the site and new one (the Octagonal Church) replaced it in the 5thc AD.  By the 11thc AD, the city is abandoned due to the Islamic invasion of the land.  

Biblical References

  • Matthew 4:13; 8:5; 11:23; 17:24
  • Mark 1:21; 2:1; 9:33
  • Luke 4:23, 31; 7:1; 10:15
  • John 2:12; 4:46; 6:17, 24, 59

This is Caesarea Philippi

After Dan we will travel about 4 miles to the city of Caesarea Philippi.  It is located at the southwest base of Mount Hermon at approximately 1150 ft above sea level, at the headwaters for the Jordan River.  Being almost 25 miles to the north of the Sea of Galilee, the location in itself was strategic in defending the fertile plains to the west.  Prior to the Hellenistic Period, the name of area is relatively unknown.  However, a shrine built there to the idols Baal-gad or Baal-hermon (Joshua 11:17ff; Judges 3:3; 1 Chronicles 5:23) may have been the actual cave site discussed next.

A cave of individual note is located there where a spring emerges and particularly floods during the spring rains.  Greeks who came to stay there dedicated the existing shrine to their idol “Pan,” and “the Nymphs.”  During the reign of Antiochus the Great (ca. 200 BC), the name of the city was refined to Panion (or Paneion).  The title remained for the region and would etymologically change to “Paneas.” 

As a side note of particular value for cultural understanding, Pan (meaning “all” in Greek) was the idolatrous god of the wild, untamed mountains, shepherds and flocks, simple music, sexuality, and an association to the Nymphs.  He was half goat and half man, whose appearance frightened more than attracted others.  However, his music on a set of handmade pipes constructed of reeds cut down while pursuing a nymph named Syrinx, was seductive.  The sexual focus on Pan’s fiction developed into sordid stories of rape, homosexuality, and bestiality.  Even the word “nymph (+mania)” is used in psychological terms today in reference to those with sexual addictions.  The story continues that Pan loved naps even more than his nymphs and disturbing him was at one’s own peril.  Once angered, Pan could let out a shrieking voice so terrifying, all who heard it would “panic,” hence, the origin of the word.  Legend stated that the overwhelming feeling of fright one had when lost in the mountain wilderness was actually the presence of Pan.  He is the only “god” in Greek mythology to have died. 

However, the cave carried an even extended myth to the locals there.  They believed that the opening of the cave (where the shrine was built) served as a gateway to “Hades.”  In this underworld, the fertility gods (such as Pan) would sleep throughout the winter.  Every year when the spring would come flooding out of the cave, they believed the fertility gods were awakening and coming forth.  Horrible acts of worship occurred around this cave and city.  Prostitution and bestiality were openly practiced as well as ritual human sacrifice.  The cave was literally seen as the entrance and exit to “hell.”

Understanding this gives a more comprehensive context to the understanding of Matthew 16:13ff.  Of all the places for a Jewish Rabbi to bring His students, Caesarea Philippi had to be of some question in the minds of the disciples.  Not only would it be the equivalent of holding a midnight Bible study in Patpong, Bangkok (red light district), regardless of one’s belief in idols or not, it would be next to the notorious opening to the underworld. 

Here Christ stands in Caesarea Philippi with His disciples and asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”  In the midst of a hub of hedonistic idolatry, the question is answered by Peter in almost a purely Jewish fashion (“John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah”).  It would be akin to the typical “church answer” to open questions.  But undoubtedly, the eerie location had to be on their minds.  Then Jesus asks Peter the same question, except in regard to him personally.  “Who do you say that I am?” Then Peter gives his great confession of faith.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  But what Jesus speaks next is phenomenally connected to the geographical context.  Jesus calls him “Peter (masculine – Petros),” which essentially means “rocky.”  Then Christ says it is upon this “rock (feminine – petras),” that He will build His church and the gates of “Hades” will not overpower it.  Thus, while standing in front of stone shrines to idols, Jesus proclaims His church to built on the “rock” of the confession of true faith.  Moreover, before this legendary doorway for the underworld and the gods, He states that even the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.  Not only would this crush imaginary fears, but true fears of evil as well.  Then adding to the wonderful news, Jesus tells them that He will hand them the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.”  So, the false gate of hell is vanquished with no power and the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is at their hand.

Going back in time before the coming of Christ, Herod the Great (20 BC) was given the district of Paneas by Augustus.  In response, Herod built a temple constructed of white marble to honor the Emperor.  Herod dies shortly thereafter (4 BC), and Philip inherits the area as a part of his tetrarchy.  He reconstructs the city and renames it “Caesarea,” in honor of Augustus.  Philip used his own name in conjunction with Caesarea, in order to distinguish it separately from the existing city of Caesarea.  Agrippa II (ca. 53 AD) increased the size of the city and changed the name to Neronias, to honor Nero.  The name did not stick, however.  Josephus records that during the First Jewish War, Vespasian and his legions rested in the city.  After the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, Emperor Titus sends some of the captives to Caesarea Philippi to have them thrown to wild beasts. 

The name of the city fell back to Paneas in later Roman and Byzantine periods.  After the invasion of the Muslims, they adopted the name into the Arabic form, “Banias.”

Biblical References

  • Matthew 16:13
  • Mark 8:27

This is Tiberias

During our Day 5 tour of Caesarea, Megiddo and Nazareth, we will be staying two nights in the area of the Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.  In comparison to the antiquities of most places in the region, Tiberias is fairly young, being established in and around 20 AD.  When Herod Antipas (see genealogical flow chart below) came into power, he built the city to rule (as a capitol) his tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea.  It was strategically located on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee (also referred to later as “Lake Tiberias) between the Sea to the east and the hill country to the west.  Hot springs were nearby (which had been described as hot enough to cause injury) and the region was noted for its excellent produce of figs, wine, wheat and barley, which were sold in the Tiberian market.  
As the construction of the city ensued, tombs were accidentally discovered which caused alarm for the Jews involved.  Declaring the site as “unclean,” most of the Jews refused to participate in the construction.  Therefore, Antipas used a blend of Gentiles, some Jews who were willing to stay, and slaves who had been freed.  Some of these people were landless, so the attraction to work and live in a new city was obvious.  Josephus wrote of the odd mix of the poor and foreigners that were used to populate the city.  Antipas named the city in honor of Emperor Tiberius and minted coins at the city with one side stating, “Of Herod The Tetrarch,” and on the other, “Tiberias.”  The earliest dates on the coins are 24 AD, which correlates to the completion of the construction.  
Within the city, Antipas built markets, a stadium, baths and an elaborate royal palace perched overlooking the city.  He decorated the palace with statues of animals that Jews took particular abhorrence.  During the First Jewish Revolt, it was the first building to be destroyed.  It also housed what would be referred to as the “finest synagogue in Galilee.”
Herod Antipas would eventually be exiled by Emperor Caligula in 39 AD and replaced with Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne (see below).  Agrippa suddenly died and the region and title went under the Roman authority from Caesarea.  By 61 AD, Nero gives the control to Herod Agrippa II, son of Agrippa I.  Though he technically ruled Tiberias and neighboring lands to the end of the century, he was ousted by the Jews heading into the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD), because he sided with Rome.  
When Vespasian takes the throne in 69 AD as Emperor, he leads a charge against Tiberias to which they easily surrendered.  He spared the city and returned the control to Agrippa.  But in the process, the Vespasian orders 12,000 refugees from Taricheae to be executed in the stadium.  An additional 6,000 were sent to build Nero’s canal at Corinth, and 30,400 were sold as slaves.  Agrippa subsequently dishonored the city by moving the capitol to Sepphoris.  In the Second Jewish Revolt, Emperor Hadrian will abolish Jewish municipal government altogether in Judea.  
In spite of the wars, Tiberias retained its position for marketing to the Roman Empire.  Agriculture and fishing, along with many other goods and services flowed through the city.  Tiberias was also known for exceptionally clear glass production.  By the 2ndc AD, Jews began returning and the city became a Jewish center for education and study.  In an ironic twist, the city once declared as “unclean” became one of the 4 pillars of the sacred community.  In 150 AD, the Sanhedrin is moved from Sepphoris to Tiberias.  Institutions of rabbinical learning were established and eventually, the Mishnah is compiled there (220 Ad).  The Tiberian form of vowel pointing was invented and the Palestinian Talmud was written in the 4thc AD.  
The Talmud spoke of 13 synagogues existing in Tiberias.  Within the synagogues was a form of Jewish denominationalism, with Babylonian Jews meeting separately from the “Jews of Tarsus” who met separately from the special synagogue of the city council.  Though Constantine built the first church recorded there and established a bishopric over the city, Christianity never really took hold, even after Emperor Justinian (527 AD) passed a law that banned all Jewish government in Tiberias and handed it over to Christian authorities.  The Persian Invasion of 614 AD, followed by the Muslim Arabs in 636 AD changed the religious landscape to what it largely reflects today.  
However, one interesting fact remained throughout this time of occupation; Tiberias became the center for a group called “The Masoretes.”  These are the scholars who are largely responsible for what is referred to as the “vocalization” of the Hebrew Bible.  What this means, is that they inserted vowels between the consonants of the Hebrew words (which are otherwise assumed in pronunciation).  In doing so, otherwise single scrolls were doubled in length, turning them into 2 scrolls.  This is why we have 1st and 2nd scrolls of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.
Throughout Tiberias history, it has largely been subject to severe earthquakes.  It was almost completely destroyed on January 1, 1837.  

Biblical References

  • John 6:1, 23; 21:1

This is Nazareth

Continuing our journey on Day 5, we will travel north of the Valley of Jezreel to the town of Jesus’ youth, Nazareth.  The town is situated between the Sea of Galilee (15 miles east) and the Mediterranean (20 miles west).  This city is where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus.  After His birth in Bethlehem, they returned to Nazareth as their home.  Scripture refers to Nazareth as the village where Joseph and Mary resided and raised Jesus.  When Jesus first set foot to begin in His ministry in the flesh on earth, He left Nazareth to visit the towns of Galilee.  When He returned there and spoke in the synagogue, He was met with a harsh reaction.  Many people identified Christ as coming from Nazareth, to which some gave a less than favorable reaction (“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”).

Matthew 4:15 quotes Isaiah 9:1 as a prophecy fulfilled, referring to “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  It is important to note here that Jesus spent His childhood in a city within a region that did not have a closed-minded Judaizing command that held foreigners with contempt.  This will be a decisive factor for Christianity to reach the world as opposed to being isolated from those outside of Judaism. 

Scripture states that prophecy was being fulfilled in Jesus being a “Nazarene.”  Most proposals are agreeably problematic though.  Some have related this to a wordplay being used by Matthew in relation to Isaiah 11:1.  This would mean that Matthew is using “Nazarene” as the Hebrew word “nēşer,” which would mean “branch” or “root.”  Another take is that the word is connected with an earlier Hebrew name of “Nazara,” which would refer to the entire district of the land.  In this case, it would mean “Galilean.”  Nevertheless, in Acts 24:5, an attorney by the name of Tertullus levies charges against Paul by saying he is a “ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes.”  While it carries a slightly different spelling, it is clearly a derogatory name used by Jews towards Christians. 

During the Herodian and pre-Herodian periods, Nazareth was approximately the size of a 60 acre plot of land with an estimated population of 480 persons (1stc AD).  The village has been understood to be purely Jewish as late as the 4thc AD. When the failure of the First Jewish Revolt occurred in Jerusalem, 24 divisions of priests fled northward from the temple.  One of the priest’s families named Hapizez settled in Nazareth.  This priestly “character” in Nazareth carried deep into the 3rdc AD according to the Midrash Qoholeth. 

Nazareth classically is referred to as a “tiny village” with no mention of a church from the records of Eusebius and Jerome.  However, during the Constantinian period, at least two main churches were built: The Church of Gabriel and the Church of Annunciation.  Some caves in the area were set apart as shrines to Mary and Jesus.  During 679-704 AD, Muslim conquest held the Church of Annunciation hostage and demanded a very large ransom from the Christians, to which they paid. 

When excavations ensued in the late 19th and early 20thc, several interesting artifacts were recovered from the general region and caves discovered beneath the Church of Annunciation.  A Neanderthal skull was also unearthed near Nazareth in 1934.  Caves were discovered that were adorned with painted plaster, a cross, and inscribed prayers to Jesus in Greek language.  These caves are adjoined to a building that has been identified as a Jewish-Christian synagogue.  Excavations also revealed that under the beautiful mosaic floors therein, from an earlier period, was a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) with seven steps leading down into the water.  

Today, Nazareth is the largest Arabic city in Israel with a 69% Muslim and 30.9% Christian population of 210,000 people.  Nazareth has a thriving high-tech industry, thus earning the title, “Silicon Valley of the Arab Community.”

Biblical References

  • Matthew 2:23; 21:11
  • Mark 1:9
  • Luke 1:26; 2:4, 39, 51; 4:16, 28-30;
  • John 1:45, 46
  • Acts 24:5

This is Megiddo

When Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, one of the places and kings conquered was in the land of Megiddo.  The ancient Canaanite city is located southeast of Mount Carmel, adjacent to the Valley of Jezreel.  Scripture records the tribe of Manasseh being allotted this region (Joshua 17:11).  However, they failed at securing the territory and the Canaanites “persisted in living in the land.”  The Prophetess and Judge Deborah directed Barak, son of Abinoam to lead an army of soldiers against Sison and his troops, who were under the rule of the Canaanite King Jabin (Judges 4).  They were to amass at Mount Tabor and battle at the river Kishon, which is in the valley of Megiddo at the foot of Mount Carmel. 

It would appear that Solomon controlled the area (1 Kings 4:12) and even fortified it as a city of Israel (1 Kings 9:15).  Yet in the following days of the divided kingdom, King Ahaziah (from Judah) went to check on King Joram (from North Israel) who was recovering from wounds of war with the Arameans (2 Kings 9:15, 16).  After agreeing to join forces with one another, they go out to face Jehu, who has just been anointed by God through His prophet Elisha, to be King of Israel.  Jehu kills Joram and pursues the fleeing Ahaziah.  After being seriously wounded, Ahaziah escapes to Megiddo and subsequently dies there.  Good King Josiah also died at Megiddo after Pharaoh Neco (king of Egypt) attacked and killed him there.

The ancient city of Tel Megiddo is also known as Tell el-Mutesellim (Arabic), meaning, “tell of the governor.”  It enjoyed an abundant water supply from two springs and was strategically located along the major highway for the area, Via Maris.  These items, in conjunction with the locality of a fertile valley, made Megiddo a center of business and attention.  The excavation site is a major mound of some 20 levels of identifications that predate the 20thc BC.  The prominence of Egyptian domination in the region is evident in many archaeological discoveries.  Papyrus records during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep discuss grain and beer envoys to various Canaanite cities, including Megiddo.  Eight of the el-Amarna letters were sent from Megiddo, which indicate the level of importance placed on the city.   Maps will also refer to the area as the Plain of Esdraelon (Greek for “Jezreel”) during the Ptolemaic period of occupation.  Farms were established by the Greeks in the premium land for produce, but eventually, the Maccabeans will retake it after the revolution against the Seleucids. 

Some mystery surrounds the name “Megiddo” due to a compound word used in Revelation 16:16, “Har-Magedon” (or “Armageddon”).  Fiction in movies and literature abound with this in reference to “end-time” events, such as world wars and the destruction of the earth.  Those who use a literalist approach to Revelation seek to identify Har-Magedon as a literal location.  However, to do so is to ignore that Revelation is of apocalyptic genre.  This means if Har-Magedon is literal, then so is Babylon and Euphrates in the apocalyptic sense.  In order to be exegetically faithful to the text, Har-Magedon is representative and illustrative instead of being specifically geographical in future reference.  Old Testament prophecies are often quoted about a final battle in history to be fought in the immediate city of Jerusalem, Mount Zion and its surrounding mountains.  However, it is approximately a 2-day walk north from Jerusalem to Megiddo.  Arguments of the contrasting parallels between Revelation 19:17-19; 20:8 and Ezekiel 38-39 abound and what or how Har-Magedon plays into the scene.  But for the sake of brevity, this article will remain focused on the actual etymology of the pronoun. 

Har-Magedon /Armageddon (Hebrew) literally means, “mount of Megiddo.”  This is an anomaly because there is technically no mountain of Megiddo.  However, sometimes things local to a point can borrow from the name.  For example, the river Kishon is called “the waters of Megiddo” in Judges 5:19, 21.  Thus, it is possible (not necessarily probable) that Mount Carmel could have been referred to as Mount Megiddo.  Another remote possibility is in relation to the city being built on a “tel” or hill.  This is why contemporarily some archaeologist refer to “tel-Megiddo” as “har-Megiddo.”  There is also the suggestion that Megiddo could come from a root word meaning “to cut, attack or maraud.”  Some LXX traditions translate the word to mean “in the plain to being cut down.” 

With all of these things in consideration, these are the simple biblical facts.  Megiddo was the place where: kings were defeated who oppress God’s people (Jabin and Ahab); false prophets were condemned to death (Elijah at Carmel and Kishon); and misled kings die (Josiah), which caused deep mourning by the nation.  The dualistic events of Ahab (wicked) and Josiah (good) being killed at the same place became a proverb amongst Jews.  The Apostle John’s record of the vision given to him in Revelation with these typological and prophetic associations of these events is most likely why “mount of Megiddo / Armageddon” is illustratively used. 

Megiddo continues to be one of the largest archaeological discoveries in the Middle East and continues to reveal its historical treasures.

Biblical References

  •  Joshua 12:7-8, 21
  • Joshua 17:11
  • Judges 5:19
  • 1 Kings 4:12
  • 1 Kings 9:15
  • 2 Kings 9:7
  • 2 Kings 23:29
  • 2 Chronicles 35:20-24
  • Zechariah 12:11 (Megiddon)
  • Revelation 16:16

This is Petra

On the first place of visit in our journey, we are scheduled to tour the ancient city of Petra (Greek – meaning “the Rock”).  As much is as asserted about the origin of the city, much is left unproven at this historical juncture.  We know more about it’s existence from the 4thc BC to our time, than prior.

It is clear that the line of the Edomites are intrinsically, connected to Petra.  But more specifically, the Nabateans have a deep-rooted history with the city.  The Nabateans are descendants from the Arab kingdom of Nabatea and have a significant role in conjunction with the Israelites in the 2ndc BC, by supporting the Maccabeans, Judas and Jonathan.  For centuries they were considered nomadic.  Later they will be more specific settlers. 

There are equal evidences for dispute as to the origin of the Nabatean people being from either southern or northern Arabia.  Regardless, we can definitively pick up in 312 BC, when the Nabateans are centered in their capitol city of Petra.  This is an impressive period for them, because they successfully defend themselves from an attack of a commander by the name of, “Antigonous the One-Eyed.”  While you may have never heard of him, you undoubtedly are familiar with his commander – Alexander the Great. 

Petra was important as a part of the trade route (particularly aromatics/spice) from South Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea.  They became the principle carriers of frankincense and myrrh.  They established several settlements in the caravan routes from the Hijaz (also called, “Hejaz”) and Damascus, and between Petra and Gaza.  With Petra not only being located in juxtaposition to the King’s Highway, the Nabateans had also gained control over many of the oases (pl. oasis) along trade routes, giving them more economical advantage in the transportation marketing.  This set Petra as the capitol of the greatest commercial kingdom in its region.

The Nabatean’s involvement with Israel becomes even more entrenched with Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas (also known as “The Tetrarch”), who marries the Nabatean princess, Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas IV.  The reason this may be of interest in your journey, is because Antipas divorces her to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14:1ff).  John the Baptist had an issue with this, and subsequently, Herodias manages to finagle a plan to have John the Baptist beheaded.  As we leave Petra, northward along the King’s Highway to the west there will be hills that border the Dead Sea.  This is where the hilltop fortress of Machaerus is located.  It is the place where John the Baptist was eventually beheaded. 

As is with most ancient cities, Petra has been changed structurally and architecturally through the centuries.  When the Romans take the Nabatean stronghold in 106 AD (under Trajan), many architectural changes will be made.  By the 3rdc AD, they will carve out the magnificent Roman temple structure, ed-Deir.  It towers 175ft high with beautiful colonnades of typical Greco-Roman features. 

After Emperor Trajan’s conquest of Petra, the capitol of Provincia Arabia will be moved to another location.  During the Byzantine Empire (395-1453 AD), Petra reflects some Christian influence in monastical occupation.  The “monks of St. Aaron” remained in the area as late as the dates of the Crusades.  Yet Petra declined.  For a period of time, even its name was lost and it became referred to as “Kerak.” 

During the period of the Crusades, Petra regained relevance for its geographical location as a trade route.  During this period, a fortress called “Wâdî Mûsā” (“Valley of Moses”) was built outside of the Sîq (see last paragraph for description).  Needing financial support, the Latin Kingdom used the center as a taxing port for caravans.  However, after the defeat at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 AD, the Muslims regained control of the entire region and the practice stopped. 

J. L. Burckhardt is often credited with discovering Petra in 1812.  This is a contemporary “discovery” at best, as Petra is obviously far more ancient.  Much more attention to restoration and preservation has been given over the last couple of centuries to the city and its surrounding features.  It has been popularized in recent times by the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”  The location where the incredible scenes of people riding through a giant fissure in the red sandstone, is called the Sîq, which we will get to experience firsthand.

   Biblical references: “Sela / Selah”; “Seir (“sons of”)”

  • 2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25”11ff; (Amaziah’s reign in Judah – 796-767 BC;
  • Isaiah 16:1; (the Prophet Isaiah – 739-681 BC).
  • 2 Corinthians 11:32; King Aretas (Nabatean)

Wells or Cisterns?

I remember one of the greatest highlights each summer as a child on our West Texas farm was when my father would start hooking up the irrigation pipe to water the fields.  Water was a big deal out there. We had no lakes or ponds. There were no crashing sounds of waves from the ocean or consistent experience of rainfall. When the cold, fresh well water gushed out of the pipe, it was an exciting moment.  I would stand there and listen for the water coming through the pipe as Dad would turn on the pump at the well-house. You could hear the air popping and burping out of the line and as the water came closer to the outlet you could feel the cool wind surging out.  Then whoosh! Gushing out of the pipe would be wonderful wetness. The water was so cold you could barely stand to be in it, so I would run in and out, splashing around and enjoying the feeling of being refreshed.

Interconnected with this wonderful experience was yet another much anticipated event.  We had an old livestock watering tank in the center of one field. It was rectangular in shape and made out of concrete.  On the bottom corner was a drain spout which we plugged enabling us to fill it with water. The tank served as our summer swimming pool; however, before we could use it each year, our mother insisted on disinfecting it by scrubbing it down with bleach.  Even though there were no livestock in the area actually using the tank, Mom wanted it sanitized before we filled it with water and set so much as one toe inside. As a child, I never understood why no one stopped me from jumping straight into the water coming out of the pipe, yet I was not allowed to jump straight into some water in a concrete tank.  What I did not comprehend was the difference between fresh and stagnant water.

In the Bible, we read about holes dug down into rocks called cisterns.  Typically water would be drained (during the short rain season) or transported to the cistern to supplement the supply during the dry months.  Wells were also dug but different in the respect that they were extremely deep reservoirs. In the upper section of the well there were openings for natural springs to flow from, thus filling the lower reservoir.  Hence, cisterns had to be manually filled while wells were naturally fed by flowing water.  

It was not uncommon for cistern water to develop a thick layer of scum on the surface, which required the people to literally ‘drop’ their bucket to break through the sludge to get to the water beneath.  Eventually the water would become undrinkable if not replenished with a fresh supply. This is because water that is not flowing becomes stagnant. Moreover, cisterns would eventually run dry either from not being replenished or from cracks that would develop along the walls.  Wells were different. As long as water was continually being removed, the source would replenish the levels, thus refreshing the stock.  

Where do we get our water from – our spiritual water?  Do we dip into the stale pools of sectarian dogma or do we drink from the fresh, flowing, living water of Christ Jesus?  Do we cart our doctrines in and pour them into static, leaky holdings or do we allow the river of God to stream healthy teachings into our presence?  In Jeremiah 2:13, God states, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. 

How do we know when we have traded the river for the dormant hole?  It is when people come to us who are suffering with the pain of a sin-filled world and we attempt to apply our beliefs and teachings.  The person who is being crushed under the weight of a divorce could care less whether of the methodology of worship. The person who is in the final stages of cancer ravaging their body finds no reassurance in whether someone uses systematic theology.  The person whose body is convulsing from the withdrawals of addiction sees no relief in ministerial boundaries. The person immersed in grief and loneliness to the point of suicide sees no relevance in dogma, tradition, or ritual.

Do all the things we concern ourselves with in our doctrines and issue oriented arguments hold a cup of fresh water for the person who is dying in their thirst for relief?  Do the net results of all our debates make any difference to the person who is in anguish? The question must be answered – does it matter?  

When Jesus met a woman who was drowning in her misery, He did not offer her a cup of rules and regulations.  He extended a drink of His “relief.” He said to her, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  

Living water means growth.  Living water means healing. Living water means liberation.  It is constantly moving (a fountain) and being renewed.  One of the greatest features about this refreshment is we do not have to go somewhere and haul it in.  God personally brings it to us. “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay.” (Isaiah 46:13a).

We thank You Lord for supplying what we really thirst for.  We ask for Your forgiveness for the cisterns we have carved and subsequent abandoning of Your will.  Please give us new life Lord. Flood us with precious streams. In Jesus’ name, amen.

-James Sterling