Today was a day book-ended by very intense experiences.
We started out by walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Hezekiah (which means “God is my Strength”) build a tunnel underneath the old city of Jerusalem to divert water from the natural spring there (hence why it’s such a desirable place for a city) in order to keep Jerusalem and all the Jews living in it alive during the conquering’s of Assyria.
While the king of Assyria bragged in great detail about all the other kings and cities he conquered (and there were many), the only thing he could say about Hezekiah was that he “kept him like a bird in a cage.” The reason Jerusalem avoided destruction was because of the tunnel Hezekiah built.
The tunnel he built was nothing short of unbelievable. We hiked down under the modern city of Jerusalem and eventually entered a tiny entrance, about the size of a car door, with cold water up to our ankles flowing past.
The rest of the tunnel, which took a solid 20 minutes of brisk walking to get through, was a claustrophobic’s nightmare. We’re under hundreds of feet of rock (so it’s pitch black…save for our flashlights) and the tunnel size averages about the size of a small house doorway, getting narrower and shorter frequently, so there were times when I had to walk with my knees bent until it opened up again. At one point, the water was almost up to my waste and there are times when it would have been up to my chin.
Needless to say, those afraid of tight spaces were very, very challenged with their biggest fear and through prayer (at one point Rod having us yell Psalm 23 loudly and hearing the powerful thump of our echo through the caves), encouragement, and me rapping from the Space Jam soundtrack for some comedic distraction, we all made it through.
At the end of the tunnel is the Pool of Siloam where Jesus sent the blind man from the Temple Courtyard to go receive healing (John 9); a long descending journey for anyone, let alone someone who is blind.
Next we got to walk through the Israel Museum where, among other things, we got to walk through the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls (there were no pictures allowed). Having already been to Quamran (where the scrolls were discovered), it was a wonderful experience to see the actual scrolls themselves in person. They were truly an amazing discovery that advanced the proof of the Bible from 1000 AD to 200 BC and solidified the roots of the Christian faith in truth to God’s chosen people and the Law.
The monument outside the Israel Museum, which is very specifically designed with “living water”, white stone, and in a similar shape to the jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls
After that we took the bus to Bethlehem for some shopping! I can’t get in too much detail about the borderlines and politics (mostly because it’s very confusing and I’m not that smart) but Bethlehem is located in modern day Palestine, which is literally right next to and within the Israel near Jerusalem. Bethlehem used to be home to about 80% Christian Arabs and 20% Muslim Arabs but now those percentages have switched and life is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians in that region.
Because of this, there is a man named Johnny who runs a Christian souvenir shop and is looked at as the Patriarch of Christianity within Bethlehem. Our guide informed us of this and said he doesn’t usually like to do touristy things but wants to try and support this man, his family, and the other Christians he supports in an area that can be very difficult at times. There was no pressure to spend, but it was going towards a wonderful cause.
Not only that, there were some amazing things to buy! The main products in Bethlehem are hand carvings made from Olive Wood. Depending on how long it is aged and dried, it can become as strong as stone and there were some carvings in the store that had been aged up to 800 years!
After some fun shopping and lunch, we headed off for a hike in the mid-day heat at Herodium. That was an enormous palace Herod built (38 acres compared to Caesar’s 9 acre palace) that featured a man-made lake with shaded island and man-made mountain for a lookout/bath, and where Herod is now buried.
A look at where the land of milk (land of the shepherd/desert) and honey (land of the farmer – they would make honey out of dates) meet
We’ve done a lot of study of Herod over our trip in part because He’s a significant influence on the Biblical story and God uses His building of Rome to advance His Kingdom with the early church, but also to illustrate a point. Herod was a self-absorbed dictator but he was also a genius who built some of the most technology-advanced structures of ancient history that today’s archeologists are struggling to figure out the means behind. And yet…his kingdom lies in ruins. His cities are toppled and even though he wanted to be thought of and was worshipped as a God while he was alive, today he’s simply a name is our history books.
While the other King, the true King of The Jews, is worshipped by millions worldwide.
Herod’s message was: “Your life for me!”
Jesus’ message was: “My life for all of you!”
Jesus won. The King born in a dinky town in a cave, died a criminal’s death, is the true King of Kings (Revelation 19)
Next, we went to the Holocaust Museum.
There’s not much to write and we weren’t allowed to take pictures.
But it was a powerful experience. The atrocities of the Nazi’s during the Holocaust made me angry, convicted, and nearly brought to tears. And yet, it was a great experience to be a part of an establishment that was mostly about not letting anyone forget. Through reading the names, hearing the stories, and reading the history of what the Jewish people went though, our group honored the memory of God’s chosen people who were killed during this horrific time.
We ended our day with some wonderful food with some of our new friends at a restaurant in the old city of Jerusalem. Lamb, rice, veggies, and red wine. Just about a perfect meal in Jerusalem.
For our last day tomorrow, we get to walk (literally) through Jesus’ last week before dying for the sins of mankind. Can’t wait!