Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Back
Among the many souvenirs we have seen in the last week, perhaps the most humorous and apropos is a wall plaque with the phrase “Shalom, Y’all.” I smiled and eagerly pointed it out to those around me the first time I saw one. It seems to appeal to many tourists from the U.S. and perhaps to anyone from around the world who recognizes the U.S. as a good friend of Israel.
In fact, one of our local Arab tour guides today, after learning that many of us are from the U.S., asked us, “Y’all ready for the tour?” It gave us a nice chuckle, which was a pleasant contrast to the challenges facing all those in Jerusalem and the surrounding area today. I’ve written this entry sporadically throughout the day to try to capture each moment a bit better.
Good Morning, I Think…
There’s a strange feeling this morning as we pass by long lines of pedestrian barricades, and it’s not even 8 a.m. We’ve seen at least a dozen armed guards carrying riot gear, closing off main roads, and setting up checkpoints throughout the city, as the Muslim month-long holiday of Ramadan has begun here in Jerusalem. Muslims will fast every day (eating only at night) for an entire month, and it is expected that tomorrow over 100,000 will be in Jerusalem (or as close as they can get) to worship in their temple.
We left the hotel early to beat traffic and crowds on our way to The Garden Tomb. This serene preserve just outside the Old City walls contains a possible location of Golgotha (the skull-shaped hill is remarkably eerie) and perhaps the tomb of Joseph of Arimithea in which Christ was buried. There are a few well-respected challenges to these ideas, but as one tour guide said, “The story here is far more important than the geography.” And how true that is.
Just ten minutes ago, we were crossing the streets of Jerusalem on foot, noting the scale of security stations that were not present yesterday. Now, we sit in a cool green refuge among rosemary bushes, almond trees, playful birds, a 1st-century olive press, and, of course, an empty tomb. Hymns broke out among us and around us. “He Arose,” “Sometimes I Tremble,” and “In The Garden” blessed our souls.
Soon, Jim Showers and Chris Katulka reminded us of the importance of communion; its connection to the Passover meal; and the three main ideas: (1) God judges, (2) God delivers, and (3) God is the only way to escape. He provided the perfect Passover lamb in His Son. The parts of Jerusalem just beyond these walls prepare for potential flare-ups or worse, while we are having our hearts prepared in worship and in the Word. Amen, and thank you, Lord!
Two of our travel companions sang “Kadosh” in Hebrew and in English as we prepared to take communion. It was humbling, quieting, and peacefully reassuring, surely a highlight for many of us on this trip. Amen.
The Cities Within The City
Old Jerusalem is a walled city within the modern city of Jerusalem. And there’s one more city here as well: the City of David, which, according to 2 Samuel 5 and 1 Chronicles 11, was built on the same ground as the ancient Canaanite city of Jebus. We toured ruins that point strongly to (but do not yet prove) this as the palace of David and the homes of his wealthy neighbors. Excavation has increased slowly in the last few years, and archaeologists continue to patiently preserve this important discovery.
The City of David also offers passage to Hezekiah’s Tunnel and other underground passages. Some of us took the walk through the cool darkness, and others opted for the sunny streetside walkaround. We met up at the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed a blind man using his own saliva and the instruction to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. No water is in the pool today, but change is happening. Within the last year, a very small plot of land, adjacent to the main steps of the pool and covered with soil and trees, was purchased; and digging began. We have arrived during that very narrow time period when that land has been mostly cleared, and more of the stone pool bottom and steps has been discovered. It should look very different in the next 6–12 months as the excavation continues.
Driving Anybody Crazy?
We faced quite a harrowing adventure next as our bus slowly and safely climbed car-filled streets jammed up with illegal parking and questionable driving practices. The Muslim pilgrimage is picking up in speed and in number. At one point, no vehicles were going anywhere—just too many on the road in every direction.
After watching our tour guides, drivers, and passersby shouting in the street in a large verbal altercation (known locally as a polite conversation), we were relieved to see all laughing, smiling, and waving cheerfully once the traffic began moving again. Whew! As the bus snaked through one turn after another, so many of my fellow passengers asked with each turn of the bus, “Is he going to make it?” Oh, ye of little faith!
Not So Little Town of Bethlehem
Onward now to the West Bank. We passed by large red signs warning against Israeli citizens entering (it is illegal in such areas by agreement of Israel and the Palestinian Authority) as we head into Bethlehem. In what is starting to feel like a small city, we’ve passed dozens of modern stores and dwellings for lunch and a short walk to Shepherd’s Field, also known as the Field of Boaz.
From here, a marvelous hillside view of Bethlehem proper sits on our left; and we can look up to Jerusalem on the very far hillside across from us. In the middle, acres of gently sloping land are perfect for grazing; and a few caves for shepherds sit beneath to use as refuge. Luke 8 provided the perfect reminder of what happened here so many years ago and why so many come to visit today. Of course, we had to sing “Silent Night” to capture the moment in our hearts.
A House of Redemption
Dinner at the hotel was great, and we finished the evening with a special presentation by Meno Kalisher of Jerusalem Assembly House of Redemption. Meno’s father, Zvi Kalisher, was a Holocaust survivor who would become a Jewish believer and part of The Friends of Israel family prior to his passing in 2014.
Meno shared marvelous stories of God’s faithfulness as he simply sought to follow God by loving His Word and loving others richly and intentionally. What began with Meno’s one-year study at the Institute of Biblical Studies at FOI headquarters several decades ago became a small home group Bible study seeking to honor God. This has been a blessing to many, and God has blessed it well. The congregation now hosts over 250 members and is growing. Please be in prayer for provision of grounds on which the church can expand its programs for youth camp, church retreats, and care for pastors and their families. Please praise God for all He has provided in a worship home and in the ongoing planting of new churches and raising up the next generation of elders. For more information, check out www.jerusalemassembly.com.
The window is open, it is 10 p.m. here in Jerusalem, and all is quiet. Although we anticipate a quiet night and good rest, please join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem. We have only a few days left to tour. Please also pray that our faith will continue to be quickened, our eyes will continue to be opened, and we will fully receive all that He has prepared to share with us in His holy city, Jerusalem.
Blog author: David Lightfoot
Photos: Roxanne Lightfoot
Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry