Today was our first full day in Israel. We actually arrived yesterday afternoon, but it was almost 5:00 by the time we made it to the hotel in Tel Aviv, so all we had time for was a sunset dip in the Mediterranean and some dinner.
First impressions: Israel is modern, pretty, and expensive. The restarurants are about twice the cost of similar fare back in Indaina. I had to get two hotel rooms, since I could find no places that would allow more than four to a room. But everyone speaks some English, and most speak it very well.
This morning we met our guide, Jacob Firsel. Jacob was born in the U. S, and moved to Israel when he married. He has been a guide for over 20 years now, and seems to know most everything. We loved tooling around in his black Mercedes mini-van.
Her first took us to Joppa, where Jonah’s troubles started. This was also the city where Peter would receive his vision to welcome Gentiles into the church. Here is Rachel at an interesting fountain in Joppa.
We then headed to Caesarea, where Herod the Great built an artificial harbor a few years before Christ was born. He also built an amphitheater a palace right on the water, and a hippodrome. A hippodrome was used for chariot races, as well as gladiator contests. Here are some pics:
This is the ruins of the hippodrome:
And here is some odd young man practicing his chariot pose.
Here are the ruins of Herod’s palace:
And here are two beautiful girls near an aqueduct the Romans built to carry water to Caesarea from some mountain springs ten miles away:
After this we had a quick bite to eat, then headed towards Mount Carmel, where Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal. There is a small monastery there now, of the Carmelite order, and peace and tranquility seem to exude from the place.
From the top, you can view most of the northern part of Israel. We then made our way to a bed and breakfast near Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. After a nice dinner, we made our way back to our cottage (where I am now composing this).
Looking back on the day brought both thankfulness and perspective. Thankfulness that we can be here at all; perspective when I see the ruins of Herod the Great.
Herod, you will recall, was the despot who ordered the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. Though almost comically paranoid, and ruthlessly violent, he also left a bigger mark on Israel than any other man. At least physically speaking. That qualifier is important.
Herod was perhaps something of an architectural genius (at least for a monarch). Constructing an entire city from scratch (Caesarea) including an artificial harbor (!) was no mean feet; nor was building the great temple in Jerusalem (among many other projects). He was powerful and wealthy (only Caesar was richer in his time) and lived as a King his entire adult life (appointed by Rome at age 17). He was, by all appearances, the most successful man in all Israel for centuries before or after his life.
But his successes have all now blown away like the middle eastern sand in the sky. His great temple was destroyed and razed to the ground by the very Romans he allied himself with. His great harbor is under the water. A few broken columns and some scattered ruins are all that is left of his palace. War, earthquakes and time have destroyed all that he built with his life. Visit the ruins of Caeserea and feel the anew the truth of Shelly’s poem, Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
I can’t help to compare that to another man who walked the land of Israel in the first century. He died penniless and despised, crucified like a common criminal. Surely, from outward appearances, this man was counted a great failure.
But the despised criminal alone now has a kingdom. Over two billion people call him, “Lord”. And the scriptures tell us that one day that King will return to take his rightful reign, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Compare the poem above with this one from Philippians 2:
He, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
One king sought to build his kingdom by treachery, violence and great projects. All that is left of his kingdom is ruins on the sand. The other King sought to build his Kingdom by sacrificial love. His Kingdom will know no end. Standing in the ruins of a the first king reminds me of the haunting words of that second kind: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?