Israel – Contrasts And Consonance
Flag Of Israel
Israel is a land of exciting contrasts, a young nation built on an ancient inheritance. This inheritance includes simple truths revealed to simple prophets which have evolved into many rather enigmatic interpretations. In the land of Israel leaders of religious traditions compete fiercely for attention, creating for some a wilderness of confusion. But, if you look, listen and feel, you can find a `Spiritual Oasis in the Holy Land’. Therein exists a harmony of cultures and people bound together by events that the entire world can learn from.
One of the most important tasks in learning, whether by seeing, hearing or feeling, is to be able to recognize the truth. It is often joked among tour guides that the more often a statement is repeated, the truer it becomes! But for something as important as the Holy Land with its history and religion may we suggest four reasonable considerations to be your guidelines:
-a systematic research through levels of civilizations. (It is fortunate that almost every one of the conquerors had such a desire for personal ownership that they destroyed, covered and rebuilt the cities they vanquished — some ancient cities had up to 28 levels of civilization).
Written historical accounts
-a recording of events that affected the populace in the Middle East. In addition to the Holy Scriptures, many periods of civilization produced written records, dispatches and other letters on stone, clay and metal tablets that reveal important historical, governmental and religious details and messages.
-often used, but least reliable when limited to the buildings and “Holy Sites” proliferating Israel. The most credible traditions are of names and places — most of the names of cities and towns are still the same or of close linguistic connection, (Salem – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, etc,).
Feelings, a reflection on the spirit of places and events, the spirit that touches your heart — such consideration is very important, especially when religion is pondered. In addition to the spirit or feelings people bring with them based on their own religious expectations are the feelings of places — a sense of hallowedness and awe that time has not been able to erase.
Using these criteria, let’s proceed to see, hear and feel this wonderful old/new country. The heartfelt joy of the Holy Land is in the feeling that comes from remembering the events that took place here. On one hand, great events were caused by humble prophets, and on the other, men wanting to be great were caused to be humble. For reasons God determined, this land was chosen by Him to be a key place for the revelation of truth. Abraham, who was living in the East and North, in the land of the Chaldees, was saved by God from being a human sacrifice. He left the lands of idol-worshipping and was sent to the Crossroads of the East to establish the true worship of God. A religion and culture soon developed that would be spread to the surrounding lands and peoples, and thus Israel became the spiritual and temporal crossroads of the East. It is remarkable that such a little land had such a great effect on history.
The land of Israel is really quite small. The biblical borders of the “Jordan River to the Mediterranean” and “Dan to Beersheba” are about 65-miles wide and about 200-miles long, with virtually no natural resources, (there is no gold or silver or metal deposits). Even Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, humorously chided Moses when she said, “He travelled the wilderness for forty years and then settled the one spot that had no oil”! From a perspective of treasure or riches there may not seem to be an apparent reason for the almost 30 different conquests this land has experienced. The foreign conquerors included, (chronologically), Canaanites, Egyptians, Hysksos, Midianites, Hittites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Byzantines, Moslems, Mongols, Crusaders, Turks and British. Yet none of them remained. Throughout its colorful history the land of Israel has been overrun and conquered by 18 different peoples, close to 30 times.
Ah, but the very Jews and Arabs who have experienced the various conquerings are still here. They have survived, submitted to or eventually overthrown the foreign occupations. Foreign powers have not always been adverse, in fact several of them brought added prosperity and world influence to the local inhabitants. However, for the Jews and the Arabs — it is their land, not mutually exclusive, but none-the-less a land where they have continued to survive and for the most part successfully coexist for centuries. The recent historical local struggles were more between Arabs and Arabs than the incorrectly perceived Arab/Jewish conflicts.
The reasons for the foreign conquests was not economic in the sense of resources that could be plundered, but they were geographic because the land of Israel was situated between two great population centers. To the north and east was the Fertile Crescent with its millions of population; to the south and west was the fertile Nile Delta with its millions of peoples. These major Middle-East population centers wanted to communicate and trade with each other, they travelled through the land of Israel and it became the Crossroads of the East.
A few years ago, I was asked to audition (among many others) for the Tabernacle Choir’s Spoken Word program. Afterwards, I quipped to the producer, if the choir ever came to Jerusalem, I could always be your Israel announcer. However, I continued, the program would have to begin a little differently. My recommendation was to begin the program with the words, “From the crossroads of the East….” A word play, but words can create pictures that give greater understanding.
CROSSROADS, A CHIASM OF HISTORY
Let’s try a word play, numbering key words that create a definite pattern. On one hand, in ancient days, in the Crossroads of the East (1), the land of Israel, there was a religious freedom with living inspired leaders teaching the religious word (2) to the people who came in (3) from every direction for trade or education. On the other hand, in these later-days, in the Crossroads of the West (3), the land of America, there is a religious freedom with living inspired leaders teaching the religious word (2) by sending it out (1) in all directions. This word play based on historical fact is an inverted repetition, a chiasm. It is typical of many scriptural dialogues, reports of biblical events and even the way many historical events unfolded. It may be a way of considering the past as a guideline to the future! A chiasm is like a sandwich, bread on both sides with a delectable morsel in the middle.
Let’s explain: A chiasm can be words or thoughts listed first in one direction,
…and then repeating the words or thoughts in reverse order,
But a chiasm is only valuable when the center point, or apex is recognized. It is in the middle of the “crossroads chiasm” that we find the source of truth, the Word, the Messiah, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New Testament, the Anointed One. He chose the land of Israel to reveal the word of truth in the Ancient and Meridian times. (JOHN 1:1)
Scenery Of Israel
MOUNTAINS, WATER AND PEACE
The land of Israel also contains majestic landscapes as varied as her people, with ocean and seas, plains and mountains. It is green, and there is water! It is a good land, where Jews, Moslems and Christians raise their families. Most of them agree that a feeling of peace and youthful growth exists even though its history is almost as old as civilization – a country 45 years-old, going on 5000!
Ah! – but as already discussed, Israel is also a land of travelers. Even today, close to two-million visitors come from all over the world to reach for the history and religion as it might have been in the past. Anciently, from the fertile crescent at the north to the fertile Egyptian Nile delta at the south, it was truly the Crossroads of the East. (ISAIAH 11:16)
Come! Journey with us through the land that has touched the hearts of hundreds of millions of people and is reaching out to you.. Meet the people, their customs, traditions and their religion — and hopefully you will also enjoy a `Spiritual Oasis in the Holy Land’.
Ocean Sunrise In Israel
THE WAY OF THE SEA
Jaffa (Joppa) is an ancient Old Testament caravan stop. In archaeological terms it is a Tel, a mound of different civilizations layered one on each other after each subsequent destruction and rebuilding. This particular “way station” became a seaport where the ancient prophet Jonah left for the west instead of going north and east to Ninevah as the Lord
commanded him to do. A terrible storm arose, endangering the ship and crew. Jonah, being identified as the cause, was thrown overboard, but, the Lord did not let him perish. Jonah spent three days and three nights inside the belly of a great fish. (JONAH 1,2) At the time, little did he know we would be referring to his experience as a sign of the Messiah almost twenty-nine centuries later.
Some people say caustically, “What a whale of a story”! One would have to look a long time to find whales in the mediterranean. But in that body of water, today, there exist a `Grouper’ fish which, according to experts can continue to grow large enough to swallow even a man. There are modern tales that reveal such occurrences as well.
MESSIANIC SIGN OF JONAH
About nine hundred centuries after Jonah, the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign that he was the Messiah, he informed them that a wicked and adulterous nation sought for signs and that they, the Pharisees, would receive only one sign. Jesus then referred to Jonah’s experience as a sign of the Messiah being three days and three nights in the earth and then overcoming death in resurrection. (MATTHEW 12:40)
The contrasts and consonance are beautiful, Jonah was told to go up to Ninevah, instead he went down to Joppa, down in the boat, down in the water. He came up out of the water, came up to Ninevah and saved from death himself watched that great city be saved. Jesus went down to a prison, was crucified, went down to the grave. He came out of the grave and saved the entire humanity.
Port Of Jaffa In Tel Aviv
PETER COMMANDED TO TEACH GENTILES
In New Testament times, the city of Jaffa was some 20 feet below today’s city level. Simon Peter was staying here at the home of Simon the Tanner when he received a remarkable vision. It was the sixth hour of the day, (the sixth hour is what in modern times we would call noon). Simon Peter was apparently praying, (religious Jews pray three times a day using a special prayer cloth). He saw a sheet with knitted or knotted corners – maybe like the typical Jewish prayer shawl, a Talith with its knotted corners – which was filled with all sorts of common or unclean foods. An angel commanded Peter to eat of those foods, contrary to Jewish dietary law. The vision was a conflict in symbolism: the Talith used in the Temple as a holy garment filled with foods forbidden by the Law of Moses.
On the previous day, some 35 miles to the north at Caesarea, a Roman centurion named Cornelius received a vision at the “ninth hour” of the day, (again, in modern times, three o’clock in the afternoon) to send for Peter so that Peter could teach Cornelius the truth. Incidentally, the time to travel the distance of 35 miles would take the better part of two days, or at least an overnight journey. Cornelius’ invitation to Peter arrived just as Peter was contemplating the meaning of the unusual vision of “unkosher” foods he had just been commanded to eat. Peter was soon to learn of the correlation of these two heavenly manifestations. When Peter arrived to visit in the house of Romans, again contrary to Jewish law and custom, he related that God had updated or changed the food laws of Israel, (showing Israel’s singularity), and said, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Not just Israelites, but all peoples were able to become children of the covenant. (ACTS 10)
The scriptural report of these events is also a chiasm, first we read of Cornelius’ vision, next we learn of Peter’s vision, but when Peter arrives in Caesarea, the vision of Cornelius is repeated again. The center point is “salvation for all people”, The Savior’s name in Hebrew, “Jehoshua” means “Jehovah saves”. (ISAIAH 12:2)
1900 years later, a new city sprang up on sand dunes near Jaffa. Tel Aviv became Israel’s largest population center, an international city of peoples from all over the world. The sand dunes, which incidentally have blown and washed up from Egypt, have been subdued, and this coastal range, the ancient plains of Sharon, was transformed from wind swept dust and pockets of rotting swamps to fertile green fields once again.
The City Of Caesarea
CAESAREA: ROME AWAY FROM ROME
About two millennia ago, starting about year 22 B.C.E., (a scholastic adjustment referring to before common era – that is, before the time of Jesus), an egomaniac king, Herod, built a city on the wind swept sand dunes that line the Way of the Sea and named it after his ruler, Caesar. About thirteen miles south of Mount Carmel, Caesarea became the Roman capital of what Romans called Palestine. (The name in Hebrew and Arabic is “Phillistia” and the Romans may have renamed it so to “spite” the Jews). Caesarea was a remarkable city with a break-water harbor that could be used year around. The breakwater was constructed by creating wooden forms that were lowered into the water with stone weights and then filled with a concrete that was poured into the forms – under water!
A splendid theater, amphitheater, sports hippodrome, and worship areas added to the modern opulent Roman city in the province of Judea. To have sufficient fresh water for a city that may have grown to 60,000 in population, fresh running water was channeled from Mount Carmel about thirteen miles away. Remainders of the Roman aqueduct and other buildings are still visible today
AGRIPPA: ALMOST A BELIEVER
It was at Caesarea that a later Herod, Agrippa the second, questioned the Apostle Paul about his Roman arrest that interrupted a planned Jewish execution in Jerusalem. Under Roman law, Jewish priests were not allowed to execute anyone, except for temple violations. Paul had apparently preached in the temple after his remarkable conversion, but escaped stoning at the hands of Jewish priests because he was also a Roman citizen. The restored theater at Caesarea is a fitting place to review Paul’s speech to the king. In telling his unusual conversion story, which included Paul’s direct vision of the resurrected Jesus, he challenged the king himself to believe. King Agrippa retorted, “…Almost, thou persuadest me…”. “And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” (ACTS 26)
Paul’s message continues to be valid today, a commitment to true belief must be wholehearted, “almost” isn’t enough!
Caesarea became the place of Jewish revolt under Rabbi Akiva as early as year 63 C.E. (Common Era – a scholastic adjustment that means the same as A.D.) and later a seat of Jewish learning as well as Christian schools including institutions founded by Origen and Eusebius. Eventually it was totally destroyed by Moslems in the seventh century. Later, Crusaders rebuilt Caesarea as a much smaller place, surrounded it with a moat, and used the ruins of Herod’s breakwater as a seaport.
The City Of Haifa
HAIFA: ISRAEL’S THIRD LARGEST CITY
Continuing further north on the coastal ‘Way of the Sea’, we find the city of Haifa rising splendidly upon Mount Carmel. The harbor was built by the British in the 1930’s. They put in a breakwater to accommodate the larger ships and tankers of modern times. The area, which anciently was the inheritance of the tribe of Zebulon is now the industrial center of Israel. (JOSHUA 19:10-16) Oil refineries, steel mills and manufacturing industries thrive in this city where one of the finest technical universities of the Western world is located. Haifa’s Technion” or Institute of Technology is the center for “high tech”. Haifa is known for it’s advances and accomplishments in technical and computer sciences.
In this city the Bahai religion has its world center. The Bahais have close to three and a half million members throughout the world. Sorely persecuted in the mid 1800’s, they established headquarters on Mount Carmel. Among the beliefs of this religion is the doctrine that all men are brothers and that they should speak the same language. The Bahais teach their special language in their worship centers. They also believe that their religion will rule and judge all people at the last days, before the “end of the world”. Recently they have built a new justice center near their gold domed headquarters building.
ELIJAH ON MOUNT CARMEL
Mount Carmel is most famous for the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal precipitated by the three-and-a-half years of drought. During the 42-months of drought, Elijah was not able to convince the Israelites that they should humble themselves and believe in Jehovah, the God of Israel. Elijah (his name means “My God is Jehovah”) had an experience that would referred to by Jesus nine centuries later; even though there were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s time, he choose only to bless a widow in Sarepta, a city by Sidon. She agreed to feed Elijah, even though her scant supply of flour and oil would be depleted. A miracle occurred after feeding the prophet, the widow’s flour and oil supply continued through the remainder of the drought! “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. “And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.” (1 KINGS 17:15-16)
Eventually, suffering from the lack of rain, King Ahab called for a contest in which he commanded that Elijah and the 450 priests of Baal should prove which of their Gods was real. The priests tried to call down fire from their gods of wind, fire and rain to burn their offering, but nothing happened. Taunting them somewhat, Elijah then built another altar and digged a trench around it. Then Elijah poured water on his offering, filling the trench, and commanded fire from heaven to consume the offering. Not only was the offering consumed, but the water as well. The priests of Baal not only suffered a humiliating defeat but were later put to death by order of Elijah. (1 KINGS 18:17-46)
It is interesting to note that such contests or “theatrics” were often used by the priests of other religions. They would “fight” against evil invoking one of their Gods for assistance. Often, appearing to fail and just before succumbing to the evil, the priest would be “rescued” or “comforted” by a very beautiful virgin woman. With renewed strength and confidence, the priest would then rally and defeat the evil. The theatrics would conclude with the priest and the beautiful woman going off “into the sunset” to consummate their victory. Many times, the people would return home with a souvenir from the theatrics, a small replica of the woman — a goddess of fertility. This type of religious prostitution was abhorrent to the God of Israel. The people thought they could be religious and still visit the titillating dramas.
All of these historical patterns hold a lesson for us today. They were written in prose and poetry, patterns to provide a path leading into the future. Patterns that teach by contrasts and consonance.