We met in a bomb shelter to say our goodbyes. Only minutes separated us from a knife wielding terrorist who was gunned down a short distance from us. Security checkpoints are too numerous to count. Armed security is required even for school field trips and hotels. Why would anyone come to Israel? As we fly home from two weeks of hiking and touring, we know we will be asked how our trip was. How do you condense down a visit to Israel to just a few words in passing? Do you say “Trip was good?” We wanted to provide a better answer and leave everyone with an encouragement to go see it for themselves.
Jerusalem is the Center:
Let’s start with a geography lesson. Despite what you may think, unless you live in the nation of Israel, you live in a place called “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our first post started off with the words ‘instead of traveling to the ends of the earth, we are going to the center of it.’ The words were carefully chosen despite a lack of explanation at the time. The Bible teaches very clearly that Israel, and specifically the city of Jerusalem, is the place God views as the geographic center of planet earth, both in the past, present, and future. It uses various imagery to do this, in one place describing her as the naval (i.e. belly button)! Here is a verse that states this quite clearly:
“”Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” – Ezekiel 5:5 ESV
The world does not revolve around Beijing, Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Rome or Babylon. And the world most certainly does not revolve around you. God sets rulers in those places to accomplish his will, but everything revolves around Jerusalem. We actually understand this almost instinctively. Seldom does a day go by without news stories everywhere in the world mentioning the land of the Bible, the people of the Bible, and the city of the Bible. So if you want to view the world the way God does, you have to fix your compass the way God does. And as a disciple, we want our worldview to match Gods as closely as possible!
Now if Jerusalem is God’s center, and we want to see things the way God does, a logical next step would be to try to go see it. What is it about the place that God esteems it so highly? You can read about love, but experiencing it gives fresh meaning that cannot be gained through study. In the same way, studying Israel cannot replace experiencing it.
How will a visit change you?
- You have been reading the Bible in black and white (maybe with some red letters) all of your life. Many of the stories probably feel like something out of Lord of the Rings. But they are real places. You can see the hills today where David slew Goliath. Jericho is a real city, walls and all. You can step foot in Synagogues that we know Jesus taught in. Want to step foot in the Pool of Siloam near where Jesus healed a man? You can even go to the place where Elijah called down fire from heaven if that’s your thing. Millstones, first century tombs, its all there. And we know where most of it happened! In fact much of it is inside of National Parks begging you to take a look. A trip to Israel will forever change your understanding of the Bible, adding color to all of those black and white stories you have painted incorrectly with your imagination.Go to the “Sea” of Galilee. Climb one of the “mountains” in Israel. How wide is the Jordan River in your mind? How big was the city that David captured from the Jebusites we know today as Jerusalem? One of the things that will impress you when you visit is how small everything is. The Bible is filled with huge words to describe tiny things. A visit will give you the proper imagery for the stories you are reading.
- A second thing a trip to Israel can do is validate the veracity of scripture, which is a fancy way of saying it will encourage you to trust that the Bible is true. Archeology cannot prove the Bible, but it can help validate that the historical events mentioned in it were recorded accurately. We know David existed, not only because the Bible mentions him, but because we have found his name carved into stone from that period. We can carbon date burn layers to confirm Biblical timelines. We know Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect because of an inscription found. Everywhere archeologists look, they find that scripture accurately recorded events. Other world religions cannot rely on archeology to validate them because there is no archeological support for some of their claims. Judaism and Christianity stand apart in that regard.
- A third thing that a trip to Israel will do is really help you put all the pieces together and learn your Bible. God wants you to know His word so you can obey His word. Most Christians are confused about Israel, Judah, the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian captivity, the various temples and tabernacles that came and went, the prophets, and how it all fits together. It can be daunting to read the Bible when it is so unfamiliar. That is dangerous! Consider that in the law of Moses there are numerous provisions for unintentional sins. The idea was that people are still accountable for their actions even if they do not realize they are sinning. If they realized they had sinned inadvertently, they were to go and obtain forgiveness and make restitution. We see this principal played out in scripture over and over again. A trip to Israel is like going on a school field trip for a week straight. God wants us to know His word. By the end of a trip, you will have a much better framework for understanding both the Old and New Testaments and it will be easier for you to fill in the gaps in your own study having the backbone etched into your mind. This is one of the reasons we came to Israel a second time. We really wanted to cement in our minds all of the places things took place to have a better mental framework to understand scripture when we study it.
- One last thing that a trip for Israel can do is give you insight into the current geopolitical situation in the region. There is no honor in ignorance. Yet too many offer opinions without any knowledge when it comes to Israel. Someone recently posted on Twitter that people infected with the Coronavirus should go to Israel, a blatantly anti Semitic statement. In the end it would probably hurt the Arabs more than the Jews. It’s an ignorant comment. There are many mindless things going on today with respect to Israel. Take the “boycott goods from the westbank” movement popular in some places. The campaign forced sodastream to relocate their factory into Israel proper, putting hundreds of Arabs in the West Bank out of work. Higher unemployment among Arabs benefits no one. The fact is Palestinian Arabs can have a state whenever they want. It was authorized by the UN the same time Israel was formed and has been offered to them over and over by Israel. Visiting will help shape your understanding and give you an informed voice in the conversation.
- Along the same lines, you may never think about Bible prophecy, but after going to the place called Armegeddon, reading about future wars that mention current enemies of Israel, seeing the temple institute where Jews have prepared everything needed to build a new Jewish temple, etc. you can start to see how things could fall into place. How does a nation come into existence that has been dead since Roman times? The Bible seems to have predicted this in Ezekiel 36 and 37. How does a language that has been dead for 2000 years come back to life? A man named Ben Yehuda. A visit will help you interpret what the heck is going on in the world through a Biblical lense. And regardless of where you live, Israel is the center of it.
What about safety?
You might be objecting right now that it is not safe. It will never be. Nor will it ever be safe to fly. Hopefully you haven’t visited Chicago lately, it’s far more dangerous there… Despite what the media would have you believe, Israel is quite safe to visit, at least right now. Israel has installed walls, fences, and security checkpoints in places known for violence which has eliminated 95 percent of the attacks over the last decade. Most of the remaining terrorists are usually young men seeking a quick martyr’s death. Tourists just aren’t viewed as the enemy. One of the reasons is that tourists don’t carry weapons, and the terrorists aren’t trying to get a warm meal in prison, so they usually just attack Israeli police who quickly neutralize them. Interestingly, when a terrorist is killed, the family receives $4000/month for life paid for in part by the US government. We felt very safe in every part of the country visited, both in the Arab and Jewish places. On separate occasions, both an Arab man and a Jewish man gave Cheerio a candy bar just to be nice. Both groups are very nice to interact with. In general, at least currently, there is a mostly peaceful coexistence in the shared spaces. Just one last thought- ultimately, our safety comes from God, not from our location, and fear is only Christian when directed towards the Lord.
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” -2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
Some closing warnings:
- You are no closer to God during a visit to Israel today than you are in your living room. The temple veil was torn when Jesus died. The Holy Spirit indwells believers. Don’t go because you want to have an emotional experience. That is not what Christianity is about. Go because it will help you understand Gods word by giving you a backdrop for every story in the Bible.
- Please don’t confuse archeology with faith. It is true that learning about archeology can remove intellectual roadblocks or doubts you may have, thus encouraging your faith. Our call though is to walk by faith, not by sight. Head knowledge can never replace a heart of faith. Israelites saw God deliver them from Egypt but still didn’t trust Him. Pharisees saw miracles but didn’t follow Jesus. You can see things and still have an unbelieving heart. Convictions must stand apart from, not upon archeology.
If you want to know what a trip is like, we suggest doing a tour, either through a church or on a study trip for your first visit. You can read our blog to get a sense of the types of sites you will see and things you will learn. We suspect you will fall in love with the country after that visit. If you have already been, why not go back a second time and plan to do something you love in the place that God loves? We are hikers and started our trip by walking from Nazareth to Capernaum, a trek we know Jesus did. You can read our blog posts on it and if that sounds like something you are interested in, then arrange a trip (we used http://www.WalkInnIsrael.com) . The company we used transferred our bags, arranged meals, booked hotels, provided the route, and made the experience very simple. If hiking is not for you, the country has skiing on Mt Hermon, scuba diving in Eilat and Caesarea Maratima, relaxation in the Dead Sea, hot springs in Tiberias, and so much else to offer.
Hike the good hike! (and visit Israel)
Sherpa and Porter (and Cheerio)