On our tour of Israel awhile back, we moved so fast and saw so many things that it was almost overwhelming. There’s an expression that was used for new people at work who are trying to get assimilated into our company and are trying to learn and absorb too much information at once. They call it “drinking from a fire hose”. That phrase was used on our tour more than once because of all of the information and locations that came flying at us in a short time. Such was our experience for twelve days in the Holy Land.
Many Cultures, Many Encounters
We went from the airport to Joppa to Tel Aviv to Caesarea Maritime to Capernaum to Magdala to the Dead Sea. We were on the Golan Heights, at the Syrian border, went into Palestine, and looked just across the border into Jordan. Our group stood in mountaintop trenches next to UN observers. Our tour took us to Mt. Carmel, where we imagined Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal and looked out over Megiddo and the future site of Armageddon. We encountered diverse cultures and people. I even met a nice Palestinian guard!
Our group saw multiple levels of civilization stacked upon modern times, old times, medieval times, and ancient history. We visited museums and memorials, tells and tombs, boats and borders. Our tour took us from the Sea of Galilee to the City of David, and from Dan to the Dead Sea. We encountered religion and royalty, sometimes in the same place. Prince William happened to be visiting Jerusalem the same time we were, and we ended up in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the same time. (Y’ all, I was like FIFTEEN FEET from Prince William!)
It was a wonderful, bucket list tour. Our guide Shlomo Ben Asher was a teacher, a Rabbi and a fount of wisdom as he led us through the Holy Land (which is fitting, since the name Shlomo is a modern Hebrew derivative of Solomon). He taught us brilliantly about not just Israel’s ancient history, but about who Israel is today. Shlomo shared Hebrew music and poetry, woven into the tapestry of modern Israeli culture and life. The tour made quite an impression on me, so I put it into verse:
Solomon the Wise
I once met a modern Rabbi from the kibbutz Ein-Shemer
Who took me through the Holy Land, and showed me all the treasures there.
Shlomo son of Asher helped me look at Israel through his eyes,
Teaching our group of Baptist pilgrims just like Solomon the wise.
Ancient history came to life in Israel everywhere we went,
As we Moved faster than a nomad bedouin could unfold his tent!
We saw Israel’s treasures from the Syrian border to the South, Learning from the stream of wisdom as it came from Shlomo’s mouth!
From Joppa to the Dead Sea we were starting early, finishing late,
Learning more of history than Herod who was called the great!
Of Israel’s sumptuous banquet we could only get a little taste,
But led by the wisdom of Solomon, we did not let a moment waste.
Somehow, like a miracle, I’ve slept almost where David slept;
I’ve seen fields and hills where sheep by the future shepherd-King were kept. We saw the very stars that glistened, listened as he sang his song,
And I saw his city in Jerusalem, still alive and strong.
I have seen the evidence where men unearthed the temple wall,
Reflecting on the fact that men and walls, like David, also fall…
We observed Mt Carmel, where Elijah called for holy fire,
Where he called for Baal and his unholy prophets to retire!
I have witnessed tells where ancient truth was excavated out,
Centuries of dirt obscuring what the truth might be about,
And churches built on holy sites or old traditions they would tout,
With Truth and legend intertwined so much that it could make you doubt.
Like Elijah, I could look upon the Valley of Jezreel,
Thinking of its storied past and all the things it made me feel:
Will this tranquil place become the Armageddon battlefield?
Mary Magdalena, did you ever know or could you see
That groups would come from Mexico, that someday archaeology
Would find your village’s synagogue near the shores of Galilee? Your hero and your exorcism have been so far-reaching
That they brought us to this place, this week, for Shlomo’s teaching.
I have seen so many things I want forever to recall:
The oasis of En Gedi, where David went when he was chased by Saul;
Herod’s grand and ancient hall, and desperate Masada’s fall…
Going in the Garden Tomb, or praying on the wailing wall;
So many things both big and small, and in this list not nearly all!
Ancient Scriptures, Dead Sea floating, doing Galilean boating!
Marketplaces. Children playing. Rabbis swaying as they’re praying.
The Dome of the Rock, so mean in spirit that they will not let you near it;
Their loud intrusive call to prayer–you can’t ignore it if you hear it–
The Holocaust, so much regret; so much the world should not forget…
Modern life and ancient tells are my mosaic of Israel.
I’ve been near the place where Peter wept because a chicken squawked!
I have heard some politics, where threatening words like trash are talked;
We went to the marketplace where goods were sold and wares were hawked;
But I have seen the Holy Land, and walked where Jesus walked.
Men may turn from ancient truths and follow after new;
Men may scoff at Scripture and debate its point of view,
And men may say there is no God by what they say and do;
But I have been to The Holy Land. And I know it’s true.
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