Today was a different day from our others in Israel, and it was all unexpected. First, it was a more leisurely day; second, I learned many things I did not know; third, we traveled many more miles to get to where we needed to go.
We started out at Caesarea Philippi/Banias in the far north of Israel, close to the borders of Syria and Lebanon. Now deserted, it had been the center for the worship of Pan, ancient god of the forest. An evil concept of god, our English words panic and pandemonium are derived from it. A very large cave in the face of the steep hill at the foot of Mt. Hermon was used for the sacrifice of animals and humans. If the water from the spring in the cave did not wash away the blood, they believed that their sacrifice was unacceptable and they had to get another sacrifice. All along the face of the cliff were carved-out niches in which idols of other gods were placed. It was here that Jesus brought His disciples and asked them basically to tell Him who they and others thought He was. Peace entered the Place of Panic. Power was overcoming Pandemonium. Peter gave the great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus told Peter he was a rock and the church would be built on that confession. In that setting, the disciples learned that they were not to fear or panic in the face of unbelief and evil.
The Bible recounts how wicked King Saul of ancient Israel and his sons were killed in a battle with the Philistines who cut off their heads and hung their bodies on the walls of Bet She’an. South of the Sea of Galilee, this now deserted city has a 7,000 year history. It is an impressive ruin. The theatre and bath house are amazing, and tall stone columns line the main avenues with still visible mosaic walkways. Frankly, I had no idea it even existed and there it was, huge and spread out in majestic array.
Further south, near the Jordan border we came to Gideon’s Spring. It marks the place where the military leader Gideon selected 300 men (from 10,000) who scooped water from the spring with one hand instead of two and lapped the water like a dog—one hand meant they were wise warriors who kept one hand free for the sword they carried—as his gorilla army who would surprise and overpower the superior invading Midianite army at night. This was a tranquil and beautiful place. The spring bubbled loudly, and pure water flowed into a stream surrounded by huge trees and rank upon rank of blooming bourganvilla.
Driving further south we crossed over into the Palestinian Authority Controlled region of Jericho. What a difference from Israel! Mounds of trash and barely paved and unpaved roads greeted us. There were no flowers anywhere to be seen. The terrain was desolate. Jericho’s main site is the Mount of Temptation where Jesus entered the wilderness and overcame temptation from Satan. A 1,700 year old Christian Orthodox monastery sits on the spot but cannot now be reached on the slopes of the low mountain. We were in for a treat, however, at the nearby souvenir shop. We were greeted royally with sweet fresh dates and sycamore nuts (peanuts baked in sweet sesame). A man pressed pomegranate juice in front of us; a camel was kneeling ready for rides; pita to be dipped in olive oil and then hyssop was presented as well as pita and date honey. All of this, of course, enticed us to buy products in the store.
Now late afternoon, we turned west toward Jerusalem and to our hotel which will be our home for the next five nights. Amazing adventures await!