Revisiting Israel - Day Five
The trip to Bethlehem was most interesting. Today, as in David’s day, Bethlehem is not in the hands of the Jewish people. Then it was under Philistine control, whereas now it is under Palestinian control. 2 Samuel 23:13-17 says “During harvest time, three of the thirty chief men came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” So the three mighty men broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD. “Far be it from me, O LORD, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.”
I was reminded of this when we had to drop our Jewish guide off along the road before leaving the State of Israel and crossing over into Bethlehem. The difference between the two states is immediately obvious. While Israel has its rougher sections, it appears to be relatively modern and clean. Bethlehem, on the other hand, appeared poorer and dirtier.
Our first stop was a large shop filled with all kinds of things tourist would find fascinating, the primary choices being olive wood and jewelry. The shop was owned by a Palestinian Christian. At the time we visited, Bethlehem was half Muslim and half Palestinian Christian. We need to remember to pray for the peace of both nations, for there are fellow believers in both.
From there we went to the Church of the Nativity where they claim Jesus was born. They base their claim on some guy who marked the spot based on what he learned from people living in the area, who recalled the events that happened during Jesus’ birth and later during the slaughter of the innocents. (Referring to the time when Herod killed the babies two years and younger in his determination to destroy Jesus.) I’m not sure how many years later this spot was supposedly marked. I tend to be a bit skeptical when they say this is the exact place as no one living today can know that for sure.
The church has a very low door that you have to duck down to enter. This was built in place of a much larger original door to prevent men on horseback from entering the sanctuary and sacking the church.
The inside of the church is huge in comparison to the door! It is home to three different denominations: Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic. The guide pointed out the different sections. I think the Orthodox and Armenian were close together but the Catholic had a different sanctuary.
The Star of Bethlehem is the place where they say Jesus was born. Our Palestinian guide (we got a new guide just for Bethlehem) was so soft-spoken it was hard to hear everything but unlike our Jewish guide, he seemed to think all these places were authentic, whereas our Jewish guide told us the difference between traditional sites (those that were believed to be the place) and authentic sites (those where the evidence indicates it likely is the exact place).
The picture with the linen-covered table is the other spot, where they say Jesus was placed in the manger, whereas this stone feeding trough is a more authentic manger, not like the wood and hay type we think of today. We barely had time to get through this area, which is below the church because monks were conducting a service and tried to rush us through. Randy talked to the guy to distract him, hoping all our people would have time to see it all. He managed to delay things a bit.
The church was very crowded. We had to wait 20 minutes to go down the steps to visit Jerome’s Caves. Jerome was a monk from Italy who came to Israel to live and translate the Scriptures into Latin. It is where we get the Vulgate translation of the Bible.
On the way back to Israel, we had to stop at the border. (They had warned us to bring our passports to get back into the country.) Two Israeli military – a man and a woman – boarded our bus carrying machine guns. The woman was clearly in charge and carried an attitude along with her gun. She had apparently seen one of our men snap a picture from inside the bus, which supposedly a sign prohibited (we didn’t see the sign). She made him delete his pictures, then proceeded to walk through the bus asking random people to see their cameras or their passports.
It was weird to be sitting within a foot of a woman with an attitude and a machine gun, but amazingly, I wasn’t worried. On this trip I honestly have never had more peace in my life. God heard the prayers of so many that prayed for us and answered beyond what I could have asked or imagined. I cast all my cares on Him and He did not disappoint me.
However, every person on the bus breathed a sigh of relief when the military personnel got off. Next stop was the Holocaust Museum. We didn’t get any pictures inside as they weren’t allowed. I don’t think we could have taken pictures even if they were allowed. It’s one of those places that are best left to each person’s own thoughts. As I walked through the place Amy Grant’s song Lead Me On continually played through my head. I searched my mind trying to remember the whole thing – I remembered some of these words – couldn’t shake most of the final paragraph:
Waiting for the train Labeled with a golden star Heavy-hearted boarding Whispers in the dark Where are we going–is it very far?
Bitter cold terrain Echoes of a slamming door In chambers made for sleeping, forever Voices like thunder in a mighty roar Cry to the Lord.
So very poignant...and true...
Next time – Gethsemane, Palm Sunday walk, and the Western Wall. Shalom~