Day 2: Galilee and the Golan Heights
Where yesterday was marked by the sharp reality of being in Israel and visiting known sites, today was full of uncertainty. The views were beautiful, but a common theme for the day was… “maybe.” We started the day with a short hike to the overlook of Mt. Arbel. (left) The view was stunning. We gazed downward at the town of Migdal (1st century home of Mary Magdalene) and the Sea of Galilee. It is a spectacular spot and invites speculation about whether this could have been one of the lonely places that Jesus withdrew to for his regular prayer retreats. The answer is… “maybe.”
Next, we visited the church of the Beatitudes. The Catholic tradition holds that this is the spot where Jesus preached his famous sermon from Matthew 5-7, called the sermon on the Mount. Like most itinerant preachers Jesus probably preached a similar message in many places. (That is the easiest explanation for the differences between the gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke.) But is this the location that Matthew refers to in his Gospel? There are no historic markers to link this spot to the text, but it is a very nice location and it is certainly representative of the types of places that Jesus preached in regularly during his 3 year ministry in this immediate vicinity. So, again we have a solid "maybe" about this being the exact location. We had the same experience in the afternoon as we visited a church that commemorates the reinstatement of Peter in John 21. Neither John or Matthew seemed interested in giving those particular stories exact locations, so I don’t think it is profitable to press that too far. "Maybe" seems "OK" for this venture.
In between we saw visited an extraordinary excavation in ancient Dan, in the far North of Israel. Unfortunately, this is one of the historic locations of one of the two golden calves used in the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the Kingdom was divided. When it came to following the commands of God, the people of this region wavered for a while with “maybe” then clearly choose the path of disobedience. On the positive side, it is pretty certain that an ancient Gate was uncovered from around 1900 BC, placing it in the time of Abraham. (below) That makes it most likely one of the oldest gates ever recovered in the history of the world.
We also traveled into the Golan Heights. The region did not contain prominent biblical locations but it served to draw us back into the uncertainties of our modern moment. We toured the barracks of a border region where saw the former habitation of the Syrian Army. Recaptured in the 6 days war, the Golan Heights provide a protective barrier for modern Israel, but the region remains disputed. We were so close to Syria that at one point we could hear gunfire in the distance. Unlike central Israel the area is sparsely inhabited in spite of its bountiful farmland. Fewer people are willing to settle down in a region that remains in striking distance from Syria. Will Israel and her neighbors find a way to establish a lasting peace? The answer is a solid… “maybe.”
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Matt Koerber is the senior pastor at City Reformed Presbyterian church. This is his personal blog that he also asks guest writers to participate on.