I must admit, I wasn't quite sure what to think about the region I visited today...an area hotly contested on the global stage, front and center in national politics: the Golan Heights. In my own mind, this was a chunk of barren plateau, without much vegetation besides brown grass, good-for-nothing, that served no real purpose. And it was, until...
In 1973, on Yom Kippur, when all the nation observed this holy day, Israel was attacked, and war with Syria broke out. I knew little of the fight, or what it was really about. We visited a kibbutz and learned through film and from an Israeli veteran about the odds they faced - tanks outnumbering them 10 to 1. He believed their success was a miracle from God - to reclaim the land God promised to the half-tribe of Manassah in the Bible.
We toured military bunkers overlooking the Syrian border, about a mile away, and saw the conflict raging in Syria firsthand. Three (at least) groups are waging civil war there: the government forces of Assad, the local rebel fighters connected to Al-Qaeda, and the strongholds of ISIS. I was blessed to meet 4 UN peacekeepers from 4 separate European nations (I won't reveal their nationalities or pictures for their protection) - and asked them about the perspective. What I heard made me pause and reconsider my opinions of this region. What would it look like if someone asked you to give up your own land that you sweated to make prosperous and hand it over to another person who wanted nothing more than to kill you? Hmm...
Yesterday, I left you with the word "until." Yes, this actually was a barren land 50 years ago, but now things are drastically different. This area has been developed with settlements, schools, hospitals (that treat all patients, frankly, without regard to nationality), and stores. The more amazing thing: the land has been cleared down to usable soil and now is the "fruit basket" for all of Israel! Figs, pomegranates, bananas, dates, apples, olives, and cherries, to name a few, besides wheat and cotton, are grown there. We toured an olive oil farm that not only produces some fantastic oil (that has sadly been boycotted here) but revolutionary cosmetics that don't harm the environment (oh, but those you can get in the states!)
I talked with real people - those who gave up a comfortable lifestyle in Tel Aviv, for example, to scrape a living from the earth - why? Because they believed their efforts would honor God and their people who have come home. I saw evidence of rockets fired over the border into these areas and the determination of a people who want the best for the region.
I did a lot of thinking yesterday. But it also wasn't for the political implications, but the geographical and biblical ones that made me see the validity of this area remaining in control of Israel. The terrain is unique. A plateau that holds the headwaters of three major springs that flow into the Jordan River, and provide all the water for the entire nation, by the way, from Mt. Hermon, the place many believe Jesus was transfigured.
We toured the old remains of Caesarea Philippi - a place built by Herod to honor Caesar (like he did with the other Caesarea from Day 1 with his palace.) Here, he honored his son, Philip, as well, by building a temple to the fertility god, Pan (half man, half horse, with dancing, flute-playing goats, if you remember your Greek & Roman mythology) and a separate one honoring Zeus. Here it was believed, where the spring flowed from the mountain, was the opening "Gates of Hades" - the literal entrance to hell itself.
It was here that Jesus took his disciples (a 30+mile journey, by the way) to teach them an object lesson in Matthew 16:13-23. No good rabbi would EVER go there, to defile himself at such a pagan and unclean place! Jesus asked them who people thought He was. Remember the answer Peter gave? "You are the Christ, the son of the Living God!" And that foundational statement, and that of the Church itself, the gates of hell will never prevail against!
I was left with two questions that challenged me... will they challenge you? 1) What about this region of the earth? Our country is involved in a persuasion to have Israel hand over this territory, to a severely unstable nation. Is that the right course of action, to go back to 1967 border lines as if this area is a chunk of rock with no usable purpose? 2) What about Jesus? Is He who He really says He is? What do you believe about Him?
That provoked in me a familiar quote by C.S. Lewis that Mat Staver shared last night:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him, “I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up as a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
What about you? Will you consider these with me?