Yesterday, Saturday (also Shabbat) was another field study with JUC. This time we traveled around Jerusalem and a few other sights to see how they are/were connected by routes, geography, and the Bible. It was another good but tiring day. This time at least we were able to get bused to different sights which was nice.
I would love to try to explain all of what I learned yesterday, but I am not even sure yet, so instead, I will give you some highlights of the day.
One of the places that we went to is situated in the Judean Wilderness. Now, those of us from greener areas have a very definite mindset when we hear the word “wilderness.” Especially if you’ve been to Sunday school and saw flannel graphs… Anyway, you’ll have to forget those pictures. Take a good hard look at the top picture again, that is wilderness to the writers of the Bible. It’s basically Senonian chalk that you’re seeing. It reacts like flour when it gets wet- the water pours right off of it. It’s poor soil, poor water storage, poor building material- basically poor for life. This, my friends, is the land of the shepherd. Few plants, trees, water resources…. It’s hot, dry, and hard, and just standing in the sun is cause for sweating. Guess who wandered through this wilderness as a young man while taking care of his father’s sheep? David, the shepherd king. It must have made him tough and taught him some important life lessons, including his need for God. Read Psalm 23 with this picture in your mind and it has a different ring to it. The valley of the shadow of death- David dealt with it daily here. Streams of still waters- not here, only flash floods. Yet through this wilderness David believed and relied on God’s goodness and His covenantal faithfulness (mercy or kindness in the translations but that doesn’t get the real idea of the Hebrew across). Because of God, even here David had everything he needed.
The second picture was taken in the Kidron valley. It stands right outside the old city walls. Based on the building and decoration they believe these tombs in the picture came from 200BC-60BC. Now, near these tombs archaeologists have found other tombs that are much older, 500 years and beyond. I do not have a picture of them, sorry. One of the tombs had an inscription on it that identified it as belonging to Shebna, who according to Scripture was a steward for King Hezekiah. Isaiah prophesied against Shebna because of the grand tomb he built (Is 22:15-19). Not much of it is left today so this picture gives a better idea of what it could have been like. How sad to be remembered only for the tomb that was built for your death instead of for the life you lived.
(It is also interesting to note that you can see these huge tombs from the Temple steps in light of what Jesus says in Matthew 23:27-32. Perhaps Jesus too liked to have picture examples for His teachings…)
The third picture was taken in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This is the oldest church in the country. It was built by Roman Emperor Justinian (480’s-560’s AD). It remembers Jesus’ birth.