Neve Ilan, Israel
At 3:30 PM today, I smiled as Continental flight 90 gently bounced onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Although I am privileged to lead short-term volunteers on missions initiatives all over the world, I have never made the time to visit the Holy Land. Today, all of that changed. I actually get to be a participant instead of a leader. I get to follow the rabbi. Brian Haynes, Kingsland’s Associate Pastor, is leading our team of thirty on a study tour of the Holy Land in a rabbinical style. We will follow him, on foot, over the next several days as he leads us to ancient sites in order to teach us relevant truths.
Once we secured our luggage we boarded our bus and made our way toward Gezer, a major Canaanite city located on the edge of the foothills of Judah near the Shephelah. The Shephelah is the area between the coastal plains and the Mountains of Judea. I’ll write more about the Shephelah tomorrow.
The ancient city of Gezer was an important city that was strategically located at the junction of the Via Maris and the road leading to Jerusalem. We hiked a couple of miles across ancient ruins to what is left of the city gates. Brian stood on the ruins of the gates built by Solomon as he told us the story of Gezer. When Solomon disobeyed God and took for himself foreign wives, he married a daughter of pharaoh. His Egyptian father-in-law captured Gezer from the Canaanites and gave it to Solomon as a wedding gift. Gradually, Solomon’s wives turned his heart from God (1 Kings 11:1-6). Gezer, Solomon’s wedding gift, stands as mute testimony to his gradual departure from God.
A short walk from Gezer we stopped at a row of standing stones believed to have been one of the high places, an ancient Canaanite sacrificial site. Nobody really knows for certain the story of these stones that have defiantly survived the centuries. Standing on what was likely a Canaanite sacrificial altar, Brian led us through a study of standing stones in the Scriptures, such as the stones Joshua had placed to commemorate the crossing of the Jordan (see Joshua 4:1-9). We examined several passages and concluded with 1 Peter 2:5, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We stood as living stones looking at the row of dead stones someone had planted in the rocky ground near Gezer centuries ago.
Brian pointed out that all of the standing stones in Scripture have a story. “But, these dead Canaanite stones do not have a story,” he continued. “We are to be living stones,” Brian said, as the last rays of the sun disappeared below the horizon. Living stones have a story. However, we are most like the dead stones near Gezer when people do not know our story. We paused to pray that we would take seriously our responsibility to remain faithful to God, obey His Word, and tell others our story of how He made us into living stones. We hiked out of Gezer in the dark, following the rabbi and watching out for each other, more determined to tell the world our story. The adventure continues at 6:30 AM tomorrow.