by Patricia Stirnkorb, guest author, as published in the spring 2017 issue of Live magazine
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Above: the Garden of Gethsemane
Stepping off the plane in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel, was like stepping off any plane ride to any other city in the world. But the realization that we had now entered the "Holy Land" brought goosebumps.
This is the land that God selected for His people - and I was walking on it. Ezekiel tells us, "On that day, I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, 'flowing with milk and honey,' the glory of all lands." Ezekiel 20:6. God didn't just allow the Israelites to wander for 40 years and then grab a piece of barren land. He searched it out for them - a special land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands! Israel! Sacred to Him in 1400 BC and sacred to Him today.
In my mind, Israel was a desert - dry, parched, brown. Yet I knew from studies that God allowed His people to farm it and that water sprang forth to produce crops. I had no idea how amazing this land was that He gave them. Geographically, Israel is close to the size of New Hampshire: 8,019 square miles, a mere 263 miles top to bottom, 114 miles at its widest, 9 miles at the narrowest. Of that, the Negev desert consumes 6,178 square miles, more than half of the country.
Yet in this land, there are five growing seasons which produce 95% of all food consumed in Israel. When the Israelites began returning to the region in the late 19th century, they purchased mostly semi-arid land. Much of it was untillable. They set about cleaning, clearing, terracing, irrigating and desalinizing the land to make it farmable. The diversity of the climate in this country allows them to produce almost every type of fruit and vegetable. in 1948 when Israel was proclaimed an independent country, 408,000 acres was tillable; today they farm more than a million acres!
Israel's coastal zone produces citrus, bananas, coconuts, avocados, kiwi, mangoes, guavas and grapes from orchards near the Mediterranean. Basic garden vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini are grown pretty much everywhere. Melons are grown in the winter months in the valleys. Subtropical areas produce bananas, dates, and coconuts, and in the northern hills, apples, pears, and cherries are plentiful. Grape vineyards are found across the country which has allowed the wine industry to flourish.
Even field crops like wheat, sorghum, and corn are grown. They also grow cotton on drip-irrigated land which produces some of the highest yields per acre of anywhere in the world. And this is not a complete list. Open-air markets in the cities bring home-grown fruits and vegetables like strawberries and greens. Imagine one small state, more than half of it a desert, producing crops that are unique to only parts of our large country! We passed miles of green houses on our trip across Israel. In fact, about 25% of their crops are grown in greenhouses or covered structures.
Most people travel to Israel with the intent of learning, seeing and experiencing the connection between God and His people, seeing the places where Jesus walked, lived, taught, and was crucified. Of course, the magnitude of that cannot be diminished as Judaism influences all other religions in the world. But, we need to realize that "behind the scenes" God provided exactly what His chosen people needed to survive. The land of milk and honey produces honey dates which are the sweetest in the world - honey from the date flowers, which is exceptional - and milk from their livestock produces more gallons per cow than any other livestock in the world (without antibiotics or growth hormones!). They export much of what they grow. They import very little: coffee, oilseeds, meat, cocoa and sugar. In fact, 95% of all they need comes from their own country.
It is not an accident that His people have come home to the land that God selected for them.
We traveled the country from Tel Aviv along the coast to Caesarea. The scenes are spectacular: clear sky and beautiful blue ocean. The ancient port of Akko was most memorable. We ate dinner at a local fish restaurant called Uri Buri. The owner, a very likable Jewish businessman, took us on a midnight tour of his hotel, Efendi Hotel. Uncovered from layers of rubble, this gem of a palace sits squarely in the middle of a Muslim community in Akko. The hotel has been restored to its original opulence: marble floors, hand-painted ceilings in every room with intricately carved wood trim, gold-inlay furnishings, and a common area on the second floor with a balcony that overlooks the city. Akko has been called the Gem of the Galilee, the north region of Israel where it is located, close to the border of Lebanon, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Directly east of Akko is the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights, home of the award-winning wineries. One of our stops was at the Tishbi Winery for lunch and a tour. Michael and Malka Chameletzki were contracted to plant vineyards in 1882. Immigrating from Lithuania, the family settled in nearby Shefeya and began their vineyards. By 1925 the area was surrounded by lush grapevines. Today this fourth-generation winery is famous for their great food, remarkable vine-covered courtyard cafe, and creators of fine wines. Tishbi has vineyards all around Israel, providing different types and flavors of grapes, allowing them to harvest and produce many wines of varying body, aroma and flavors.
Most likely, second only to Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee has more stories centered around it in the New Testament than anywhere else. As the only fresh-water lake in all of Israel, it was once the solitary source of drinking water. Many communities and towns were located on its banks and Jesus did some of the his most memorable preaching from there. He recruited many of his disciples from along the shore, and gave one of his often-recited sermons, the Sermon on the Mount of Beatitudes, from nearby.
The Sea of Galilee, called by many other names (Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias) is a miraculous thing. The lake is 13 miles long and eight miles wide and is the second lowest spot in Israel, only following the Dead Sea. The lake is fed by salt water springs that cover the bottom of this (maximum) 43'-deep lake. Fresh rain water and run off from the hills as well as melting snow from the mountains keep the lake supplied with fresh water. However, Israel's government is constantly monitoring the fresh water level. There is a sign at the edge of the water and web site with daily updates. The danger is, if the freshwater gets too low, the whole sea will be salinized and the results would be irreversible.
What was once Israel's only source of fresh water has been replaced by many other water reclamation stations around the country. Because of the shallow water and wide open spaces around it, the sea is prone to storms, as Jesus and the disciples experienced when Jesus walked on the water. Matthew 14:24-33: "But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, 'It is a ghost!' and they cried in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, 'Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.'" He went on to invite Peter out on the water to join him and when Peter took his eyes off of the Lord, he began to sink. "...Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
The wonders of Israel are amazing: from the land to the agriculture to the markets, the people and the places. Historical sites, like Masada, the Dead Sea, the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I do not have enough words to share all the marvels of this Holy Land.
And then we went to Jerusalem! This is the Sacred City: the city on the hill where the fortifications surrounding it at one time seemed impenetrable, yet it was destroyed repeatedly, only to rise out of the rubble and recreate itself. It is the home of the One God: the capital of two peoples, the sacred site of three religions.
But what makes it remarkable is that Jerusalem is the eternal city. Built on earth, this is the city that will be both terrestrial and celestial. "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, God himself will be with them and be their God." Revelation 21:1-3. Imagine a city that will literally be fully an earthly dwelling place and created new as a celestial city where God and man will dwell forever. Jerusalem is that city.
Jerusalem today is filled with museums, historical places and dig sites. Nearly 900,000 people live in this city, a blending of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of them call it their holy city. Walking the streets, following the path that Christ took on his way to the cross, was a humbling experience. We visited the Garden of Gethsemane, where 2,000-year-old trees still grow today, any of which could be where Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion.
The Garden Tomb is a revered place to visit, dispelling many myths about the when, where and how Christ was crucified and buried, and of course, about his resurrection, the basis of Christianity. While the Garden Tomb is certainly representative of the look, the atmosphere, the surroundings and the type of tomb where Christ was buried and resurrected, no one knows for certain if it was that place. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher believes the tomb was below their present location. The fact remains that if God had wanted us to know the exact spot, we would know it.
The Western Wall is all that remains of thee last temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It was the last great fall of the city and when the Ark of the Covenant was taken, never to resurface even to this day. The tunnels under the temple remain, but the Western Wall is as close as people can get to where the Holy of Holies was located, the room where the Ark was located. There is no temple there today and none will be rebuilt until the Jewish Messiah comes; when Christians believe, Christ returns for the second time.
People come daily to pray at the wall. Jews celebrate and pray on Shabbat (the Sabbath) each week in the square around the Western Wall. Prayers and notes are placed in the cracks of the wall: special, silent, heartfelt prayers of God's people.
I wish I could write about all the miracles of Jerusalem. I can only say that every Christian, every Jew, everyone who is searching for God will find a peace, tranquility, a reverence and awe in Israel. It is not the homecoming of just the Jewish people, it is the homecoming of all believers.
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