Near the Gaza Strip, that section of difficult land on the coast near Israel that seems to be in the news because much of the anxiety of the Palestinian question emanates from that area, is a small hill or Tel. On the top of the hill is an archaeological excavation. The place is called Beersheba. It is a place closely associated with Abraham. The Bible describes it as the land of the Philistines (Gen 21:34). It seems that it has always been a place of trouble. It is a place where Abraham dug a well (Gen 21:30). Wells don't move over time. This excavation discovered a very deep well. This is probably the spot where he lived for much of the end of his life.
I wanted to see the borders of the Holy Land, so we traveled from Dan (in the North) to Beersheba (the South) Judges 20:1. The south is isolated, near the desert and near a hostile enemy. The North is beautiful and lush. Water roared around us and the Tel Dan excavations. We drove just a little further North and missed going up Mt. Hermon to the operating ski area by just 30 minutes. It was also near invading powers and was destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly.
On the other days, we traveled to the gulf of Aqaba made famous by Lawrence of Arabia, so that we could go into Jordan and tour the area where the Children of Israel came out of the desert to make the final journey back to the land of Israel. We visited Petra, likely one of the places Paul preached when he was first called into the ministry. We visited the high place of sacrifice where the Edomites came for years to try to reconcile with God. We spent a day and a night with Bedouins in the desert. It was a huge landscape, hard to believe anything could survive, but they showed us hidden water sources that sustain them.
On the way to the airport we visited Arad, one of the competing centers for worship that Hezekiah destroyed. This city was on the southeastern edge of the Promised Land. It was a beautiful city on a hill, but when the south fell it disappeared under the sand. Of all the places we visited it felt the most ancient. No city has emerged there, so it is easy to see how it functioned in the region, protecting the roads and growing crops.
Our last stop was in Turkey. We had planned to visit with our missionary friends, Jerry Shannon, but Visa troubles kept them away and nearly derailed our trip. We got to see the Archaeological museum which has stunning finds from Israel (the Ottoman Empire was long in control of the area). We saw one of the oldest and most impressive churches, the Hagia Sophia which was built in the 500's and is beyond words. We saw the location of the second church council which established the Nicene Creed and helped clarify the way we talk about the Trinity. We loved the city and the people we met and it will help us to pray effectively for our missionary friends who will be arriving in the summer if the visa situation clears.
I'm writing this overlooking a street in Istanbul. The man across the street has just closed up his purse making shop. The lights in the streets below are still bright. The chanting from the minarets has quieted. We are packing our bags getting ready for our flight home. I’ve been running fast trying to see and learn all I can and am spending some time reflecting on what I am bringing back. Sometimes we feel like the world of the Bible is far away, but in these days I have sensed how contemporary it really is. The people are like us and we are like them and the same needs still exist and God is still is trying to find a way to lead us home to himself.