Today was amazing! We started out learning about the land itself: "A Land Between". It lies between the former Mesopotamian & Phoenician empires. All traffic north - south had to pass through here. It was literally the crossroads of the known world of that time. The major International Coastal Highway passed through here, as did the Jezreel Valley, which connected this Highway to the rest of the country inland.
It was from this place that God wanted to make His Name and His mercy & grace known. And it was this very place that God sent Abraham... it was like a podium from which to proclaim His nature and goodness.
The land itself is as much a character in Bible stories as the people themselves. The Bible takes place in time and space and to get the greater story you must understand both the culture and the land.
God told Abraham's descendants, "I'll allow you to live at the crossroads as long as you represent Me correctly. If you will obey Me, you'll live here forever. If you disobey, I'll take you out of this land until you're ready to represent Me correctly."
We then went to Caesarea. It was a city that Herod built in honor of the Romans who made him king of Judea. He even dedicated a temple here to Tiberius Caesar (while Tiberius was still alive). The only temple dedicated to a living Caesar. He built the 2nd largest port and the only all-weather port) in the Roman empire. And he built himself an amazing palace, along with a Hippodrome (horse racing), an amphitheater and a theater. Next to that stood the Crusader Fort, with a minaret from a former mosque inside. This place has so much history from so many periods!
Historically speaking it could have been the last stop on our tour. It was here that the angel appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10). Because of this the Gospel was first preached to the Gentiles... they received both the gift of salvation and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It was also from here that Paul sailed to Europe, never to return.
Next we went to Mt. Carmel, which overlooks the Jezreel Valley. What an awesome view! From there we were able to see the Nazarite Ridge (where Jesus grew up). Jesus wasn't some hick from the backwoods. The Jezreel Valley was only a few miles from one side to the other... and the world passed through here! Whoever controlled it controlled the world.
We could also see Mt. Tabor - the scene of Deborah's victory over Sisera (Judges 4), Mt. Moreh - where Elijah raised the Shunnamite's son from the dead (Judges 4), and Jesus raised the widow of Nain's son from the dead (Luke 7), and Mt. Gilboa - where King Saul & his sons died in battle, where Gideon separated his men at the Brook (), and where Jezebel was killed(2 Kings 9).
Here on Mt. Carmel Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal - the god of storms, high places and fire - to a duel for the hearts of the people. (1 Kings 18) Whichever god answered by fire was God. Of course they accepted. This was at the end of a 3 1/2 yr. famine.
Baal worship originated just north of here, and had been brought to Israel by Jezebel, the Phoenician princess that King Ahab married. He basically takes the fight to Baal's home court.
This mountain was easily seen for miles from 360 degrees. Basically, Elijah backs God into a corner. If God fails to come through, everyone will know it. If He does answer by fire, EVERYONE - even the surrounding nations - will see it!
You can read the story, but the high points are:
* The prophets of Baal built their altar, and started dancing around and "prophesying". Nothing happened.
* Elijah begins to talk some smack: "Maybe your God is going to the bathroom."
* Finally, he builds an altar and has them pour buckets of water on the sacrifice. Then he prays that God would answer by fire, and in doing so would turn the hearts of the people back to Him.
* Of course God comes through! And when the people turn back to Him, the rain returns. God always listens to repentant people!
Finally, we checked out Megiddo. It controlled one of the major passes into the Jezreel Valley. You could see layer after layer of archaeology. Both King Ahab & King Solomon built huge stables here for their horses, in direct disobedience to God's command that the kings not accumulate horses and chariots (the technological cutting edge weapon of that day).
In both of these kingdoms, everything looked great on the outside. Financially and politically they were well-off. But moral decay from compromise and disobedience was eroding the foundations. both of these kingdoms crashed with the king's successor.
I guess my biggest takeaway from the day was this: Obedience will enable you to stay in the crossroads. If you don't keep your heart right, your actions will follow. Then it's just a matter of time until you crash and burn!
The call to be in the crossroads comes with a cost: obedience!