Just say the name, “Beersheba,” and images come to mind of an old, crusty patriarch leaning on his staff in the dry winds of the wilderness.
I imagine Abraham squinting through the head covering that shelters his wrinkled face and thirsty lips. He scans the barren Negev for thieves.
Photo: Tel Beersheba, Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Not for thieves who would take his flocks or possessions, but for those who would steal water—the Negev’s most precious and indispensable commodity.
Beersheba epitomizes the faith God required to live in the Holy Land. Standing in the arid winds of Tel Beersheba, the truth seems both overwhelming and irresistible.
God used this unassuming, barren place to shape some of the most significant lives in the Bible.
With little rainfall, the area relied on wells for water. In fact, it was because of a well that Beersheba first appeared on the pages of biblical history.
Abraham paid the price of seven ewe lambs to secure ownership of a well at Beersheba.
· The site takes its name from the phrase “the well of the seven” (Genesis 21:25-34).
· Isaac also quarreled over a well in Beersheba and named the place “the well of the oath” (Genesis 26:26-33).
Beersheba served as the last stop on the road called “The Way of the Patriarchs.” This ancient highway stretched along the watershed of the Hill Country and received its name from the patriarchs who traveled north and south along it.
The road dead-ended at Beersheba.
Because the ancient site was the last stop, it remained the proverbial southern border throughout the history of biblical Israel.
· After the kingdom split, and still throughout the returns from the Exile, Beersheba remained the southern boundary of the Kingdom of Judah and of Judea (2 Kings 23:8; 2 Chronicles 19:4; Nehemiah 11:27, 30).
· Even the bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, writing his Onomasticon around AD 313, still defined Beersheba (“Bersabee”) as Judea’s southern boundary.
· Following the Exile to Babylon, some of the returning Jews resettled in Beersheba (Nehemiah 11:27-30).
· Similarly, after modern Israel became a nation in 1948, many immigrating Jews settled in modern Beersheba (not far from the ancient site), making it the fourth-largest city in the nation.
Photo: Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Visitors to Tel Beersheba today can regain a sense of the patriarchs’ resolve by standing atop the tower that allows a birds-eye view of the ruins. Hot, dry, dusty—the area is a perfect picture of the word, “desolate.”
· Before entering the outer gate of the tell, I passed a tamarisk tree and a well. Both of these items again bring to mind Abraham, who planted a tamarisk and dug a well at Beersheba (Genesis 21:30-33).
· Inside the gate and to the left is a spot with several steps. Here a large altar may have stood during the time of Josiah. Archaeologists unearthed at Beersheba a large, horned altar that someone dismantled. It is possible this destroyed sandstone altar represents the results of King Josiah’s religious reforms (2 Kings 23:8). You can see this altar in the Israel Museum today.
· Meandering through the ruins, I observed remains from a typical Israelite four-room house, a pillared building used as stables, and a set of large, circular stairs leading underground to a major water system. A painted black line runs horizontally across many of the ruins, separating the original walls below the line from the reconstructions built on top of it.
Read Genesis 46:1-7.
As the last stop before the ancient wilderness, Beersheba became also—ironically—a point of departure for many spiritual journeys. Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, and Elijah all experienced life-changing encounters with God in association with Beersheba (Genesis 16:8; 21:17; 46:3-4; 1 Kings 19:3).
As Jacob and the Hebrew children were leaving Canaan to enter Egypt at Joseph’s invitation, they came to Beersheba. God spoke to Jacob in a dream, telling him four truths:
In our own lives, we need to hear these principles as well. Consider where God is leading you right now. Now read God’s promises to Jacob at Beersheba.
By principle, they are also God’s promises to you as well.
In a land where water is life, it’s no wonder one of the major sources of water would become a primary place of worship.
Regrettably, the god worshipped at Banias was not the God of Israel.
Photo: Caesarea Philippi forms the headwaters of the Jordan River. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (BiblePlaces.com).
What an absolutely beautiful area! The flowing streams and the nearby waterfalls offer some of the most pleasant and inviting surroundings for tours, holidays, and family outings.
But that’s not why Jesus came here.
The melting snows at the peak of Mount Hermon seep into the ground and appear at its base. From the mouth of a large cave bubbles a cold, clear stream that helps to form the headwaters of the Jordan River. Josephus referred to the streams that flow here as the fountain of the Jordan.
Archaeology has uncovered an open-air shrine above the cave from which the water flows. Niches still visible in the side of the cliff held statues of the Greek god Pan—the mythical half man, half goat who played the panpipe.
Photo: Sacred niches held statues of the Greek god Pan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (BiblePlaces.com).
We get the word “panic” from this frightful god, and it’s no wonder why! Pan had a thirst for carnal pleasure and once chased a nymph named Syrinx who turned herself into a stand of marsh reeds (so goes the myth). So Pan made a flute from the reeds, and that’s how the panpipe got its name. It’s also why the Walt Disney character Peter Pan plays the flute.
The site has been identified in Scripture with the names Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5), Baal-hermon (Judges 3:3), and Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13).
Today, the place is known by two names for two reasons:
· Banias. Because Arabic has no equivalent for the letter P, the name Panias (for “Pan”) has morphed into “Banias”—the name that exists today.
· Caesarea Philippi. In 197 BC, Antiochus III overthrew the Egyptians at Banias and made way for Antiochus IV to persecute the Jews. The Maccabean Revolt followed. Having received the area from Caesar Augustus in 20 BC, Herod the Great constructed there a temple of white marble in honor of Caesar. Eighteen years later, Herod’s son Philip inherited the site and named it Caesarea. But to distinguish it from Herod’s harbor along the seacoast by the same name, Philip appended his own name to the place—Caesarea Philippi. The Crusaders used the site—along with the high vantage of nearby Nimrod’s Fortress—as an outpost to face the Sultan of Damascus. Later, the Crusaders compromised with the Muslims and divided the use of the nearby fertile plains.
The beautifully shaded, rocky area gives shelter to rock badgers, or hyraxes, that scamper in and out of the crags. Hebrew poetry refers to these animals as wise because they seek sanctuary in a safe place (Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26). But the Law of Moses calls them unclean (Leviticus 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:7)—a label more appropriate to their idolatrous surroundings.
Jesus brought His twelve disciples all the way up to the pagan region of Banias/Caesarea Philippi and asked them the question:
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” —Matthew 16:13
The crowds, of course, saw Jesus as nothing more than a good man, a moral teacher, whom some would even call a prophet. Jesus narrowed the question:
“But who do you say that I am?”—Matthew 16:15
His disciples responded they believed He was the Messiah of God (Matthew 16:16).
A short drive to the nearby Banias Falls allows one to hike down to the river and the marvelous waterfalls. It’s likely the sons of Korah wrote Psalm 42 of these falls as they claimed faith in God in spite of the opposition all around them:
“Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. . . . As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” —Psalm 42:7, 10-11
Read Matthew 16:13-17:2 and Psalm 42:7-11.
The Apostle Peter spoke for the disciples and answered Jesus’ question correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). So Jesus went on to share beyond who He was to what He would do. He would be killed and resurrected! Peter outright rejected the message of the cross, and instead opted for the promised kingdom. In the Transfiguration that followed, Jesus revealed that He is indeed the glorious Messiah—but first would come the cross.
When the heavy weight of the cross bears down on our shoulders, the words of the sons of Korah can refresh us:
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” —Psalm 42:7, 10-11
Whenever I visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, I’m eager to walk to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.
I’ve never been to this corner on Rosh Hashanah or during the Feast of Trumpets, but I’d love to go there then. Archaeologists have uncovered a large portion of the first-century street that stretched north along the original Western Wall.
Photo: The southwest corner of the Temple Mount at left. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
One hundred meters north of the corner is the part of the Western Wall where locals and tourists pray. But beneath the ground, Jerusalem’s Central Valley has been filled in with the rubble of the Second Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. As a result, the beautiful modern plaza stands about 30 feet above the first-century street uncovered at the southwestern corner.
There at the corner lies a reminder of something Jesus predicted 37 years before the temple’s destruction.
And of a promise He made that could be fulfilled at any moment.
The excavations near the corner of the Temple Mount came about through the generosity of a distinguished member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (who also owns the Detroit Pistons). The 33-foot-wide first-century street was laid with stone slabs, some a foot thick.
Standing on the street today, it isn’t hard to imagine the Romans hurling the massive temple stones from above, literally crushing and pressing the pavement blocks into the ground.
Jesus predicted this destruction on His last visit to the temple in AD 33:
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” —Matthew 24:1-2
Archaeologists have removed most of the rubble, but they left one pile of stones just as they found them—the street still depressed from the force of the impact.
Photo: First-century street showing the Temple’s destruction. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
One of the main reasons I continually return to this corner of the Temple Mount is because of one particular stone that lies on the street far below where it originally stood. Shaped as a corner, the stone bears the Hebrew inscription: “To the place of trumpeting.” The original inscription is in the Jerusalem Museum, but a replica lays where the original did.
This stone represented the pinnacle of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, the place where priests would stand and overlook Jerusalem as they blew trumpets to announce the Sabbath and the start of festival days. The Feast of Trumpets especially relates to this act:
“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.’” —Leviticus 23:24-25; cf Numbers 29:1-6
Photo: Stone with Hebrew inscription: “To the Place of Trumpeting.” Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Today, the Feast of Trumpets prepares the way for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The Lord originally intended the trumpets to call God’s people together in preparation for the fall festival of Yom Kippur—where the Lord would forgive sins on the basis of shed blood. “Blow the trumpet at the new moon,” Asaph wrote, “At the full moon, on our feast day” (Psalm 81:3).
Alfred Edersheim offers some helpful background on the blowing of trumpets:
“Originally the Shophar was probably a ram’s horn (Josephus, Ant. v. 5, 6), but afterwards it was also made of metal. The Shophar was chiefly used for its loud and far-sounding tones (Exodus 19:16, 19; 20:18; Isaiah 58:1). At the Feast of the New Year, one priest with a Shophar was placed between those who blew the trumpets; while on fast-days a priest with a Shophar stood on each side of them—the tones of the Shophar being prolonged beyond those of the trumpets. In the synagogues out of Jerusalem the Shophar alone was blown at the New Year [Heb. “Rosh Hashanah”], and on fast-days only trumpets.” (The Temple: Its Ministry and Services)
Read Leviticus 23:24-25; Numbers 29:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Hearing the shophar echo across Jerusalem takes my mind in several directions:
· I think of the “Place of Trumpeting” at the Temple Mount and the opening line from the song, “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav,” which says, “A shophar calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City.”
· I try to imagine the priests of old standing at the pinnacle of the temple, calling God’s people to worship at the High Holidays. I also think about the renewal and rededication that Rosh Hashanah necessitates.
But I especially consider the grace that the shophar’s call represents—urging worshippers to come before the Lord who forgives sins on the basis of the sacrifice God required (Leviticus 16:30). We know that ultimate sacrifice was His son, Jesus.
Towering like a fortress over the shoddy buildings that surround it, the ancient structure in Hebron covers a site sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Photo: The building that covers the “Cave of the Patriarchs” at Machpelah in Hebron, courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
In elevation, Hebron stands taller than even Jerusalem.
And other than the Temple Mount itself, no other place remains as revered to peoples whose hopes and faiths could not be more diverse.
Few other places offer such a powerful lesson in faith for those of us still drawing a breath.
The building covers the Cave of Machpelah, the place the Bible refers to as the burial ground for the Hebrew patriarchs and their wives (Genesis 23:19; 25:9; 49:30; 50:13). In the first century BC, Herod the Great constructed a massive wall around the cave—a beautiful edifice with construction techniques similar to those of the Temple Mount.
As with Jerusalem’s Western Wall Tunnel, the massive size of the foundation stones surrounding Machpelah inspires awe to all who see them. With Herod’s signature relief framing the edges, each stone sits slightly offset from the one beneath it, providing the optical illusion of both loftiness and grandeur. Inside the wall, the pavement also dates to Herod’s day.
Photo: Huge foundation stones at Machpelah, courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
As centuries passed, the four sides of the structure would include porticoes, and a partition divided the different faiths that came to visit. The Augustinian Canons rediscovered the Cave of Machpelah below Herod’s structure in AD 1119. For a time, anyone could visit the underground area. But by the end of the 13th century, no one from the general public was allowed in the cave.
The monochrome exterior blends with its drab surroundings. But inside the colors and architecture vary wildly—betraying the hodgepodge of intentions imposed on it throughout the centuries. The Crusader ceiling looks beautiful, as does the ornate wooden pulpit Saladin donated in 1191 after burning Ashkelon. Today, the magnificent pulpit sits beside Isaac’s cenotaph (a tomb marker or monument).
Photo: Isaac’s cenotaph and the 11th century pulpit, courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
Because the cave remains inaccessible, cenotaphs stand to commemorate the patriarchs buried below. Visitors can see the cenotaphs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Leah, and Sarah. A padlocked trap door covers a shaft that descends to the Cave of Machpelah below where the patriarchs lay.
It’s ironic that the only part of the land Abraham actually owned—though God promised him all of it—was this burial plot in Hebron. In fact, Abraham lived for sixty-two years in the Promised Land before owning any of it. Abraham haggled for the purchase and ultimately paid 400 silver shekels for the cave. Like many pilgrims in Israel today, the result of haggling is still paying way too much!
When God called Abraham to leave his homeland and his idols in order to follow the true God, the old man walked away from everything familiar (Genesis 12:1-4; Joshua 24:2-3). This much is true:
· Abraham and his many descendants would die before ever receiving all God promised. “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises,” the book of Hebrews reminds us, “having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
· Either God reneged on His promise to Abraham, or the promise proves—and even demands—a resurrection.
Photo: Isaac and Ishmael lay Abraham to rest. By Gerard Hoet (1648-1733), 1728 Figures de la Bible, Public domain.
Both Isaac and Ishmael laid their father Abraham to rest at this site (Genesis 25:9). Their diverging lines of descendants share a common lineage to Abraham—but today they struggle to share even the same site that commemorates him. As a result of the unpredictable—and even volatile—tensions between the Muslims and Jews who share the modern building, visitors would do well to predetermine whether or not a visit to Hebron is safe.
When I think of Hebron, I reflect on Abraham’s willingness to walk away from everything comfortable and familiar and to trust God for an unknown future. When Abraham acquired the small piece of land in which to bury Sarah, he demonstrated his faith in the Lord’s covenant to give him all the land one day.
Abraham’s purchase at Machpelah showed that we lose nothing of God’s promises in death, because those promises extend beyond the grave.
On the monochrome landscape north of the Dead Sea, a conspicuous green splotch appears at the western edge of the Jordan Rift Valley.
“The city of palm trees” exemplifies what we imagine when we picture an oasis.
Photo: Palm trees at Jericho. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Jericho’s date palm trees have roots that stretch toward a source of fresh water that has turned a desert into a garden. Visitors to Jericho, or Tell es-Sultan, can see the perennial spring that supported the city for centuries and provided a splendid irrigation system, distributing water to the plain as well as to all travelers in antiquity. Likely, Prophet Elisha purified this spring (2 Kings 2:21).
The “oldest city on earth” also sits as the lowest one—at more than 800 feet below sea level. Jericho owes its existence to the spring, to be sure. But the city also sits at the base of the primary roads that ascended from the Jordan Rift valley up to the Hill Country of Judea. Anyone crossing the Jordan River from the Plains of Moab had Jericho to face.
The walled city stood as a strategic roadblock that no one passing could ignore.
The favorite Bible story of many children remains Jericho’s most renowned event—the day its walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6). When Joshua and the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River from the east, only Jericho stood between them and the Promised Land.
The archaeologist’s spade has excavated Jericho more than any other site in Israel—except Jerusalem. The tell sits as a 10-acre mound, about as big as two city blocks, with more than 26 separate layers of occupation beneath its topsoil.
· In 1868 Charles Warren excavated Tell es-Sultan but concluded the tell offered little to consider.
· Other archaeologists continued to dig, including Sellin and Watzinger from 1907-1913, Garstang from 1930-1936, and Kenyon from 1952-1958—to name a few examples.
· During her excavation, Kathleen Kenyon discovered a Neolithic tower 26-feet in diameter and 26 feet high, which she dated to 8000-7000 BC. The purpose for this tower still bewilders most archaeologists. This discovery and its alleged date offer the basis for Jericho’s fantastic boast as being “the oldest city on earth.”
· Most recently, Italian archaeologists have done significant work at the tell, finding remains from the Early and Middle Bronze periods.
Photo: Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Archaeologists have identified a large revetment wall, dating to the Middle Bronze period, composed of massive stones which supported the slope of the tell below a mudbrick wall.
Although archaeologists agree the wall fell down, they disagree on when it occurred. Most scholars hold to Kenyon’s conclusions that Jericho fell in the mid-16th century BC, and no city even existed when Joshua showed up.
Dr. Bryant Wood has effectively demonstrated that the massive stores of jars still filled with grain, found by Garstang and Kenyon, represent a city not destroyed by siege, but by battle after the spring harvest.
“The pottery, stratigraphic considerations, scarab data and a Carbon-14 date all point to a destruction of the city around the end of Late Bronze I, about 1400 B.C.E.” —Dr. Bryant Wood
Most scholars disagree with the biblical chronology that the conquest began in 1400 BC, preferring instead a date of 1250-1200. The debate continues to this day.
The evidence does give credence to the biblical record as being more than mere myth or fable—but history.
In the 1st-century BC, Herod the Great leased the area near ancient Jericho from the Egyptian Cleopatra. After her suicide in 30 BC, Octavian gave Jericho to Herod.
The master builder constructed a posh winter palace, complete with aqueducts to irrigate the area.
· The massive complex boasted large bathhouses and an immense reception hall with mosaics, frescos, and gold and marble columns.
· The opulent palace straddled the ancient road that led from Jericho to the Wadi Qilt and up to Jerusalem.
In the first century AD, Jesus and His disciples would have walked this road on their way up to the Holy City where Jesus would die for our sins (see Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35). Modern guides parade tourists by an old sycamore tree that stands as a reminder of the one Zacchaeus climbed the day Jesus passed through the city (Luke 19:1-4).
For years, Jericho fell off the tourists’ itinerary because the area’s political climate was as hot as the valley in which it sits.
· Recently however, level heads have cooled, and the area now offers more access to visitors willing to change buses and guides.
· The site offers an air-conditioned introductory video as well as a number of on-site interpretive signs and diagrams.
· It’s still a good idea for a visitor to know what he or she is looking for before visiting the tell.
Thousands of years ago, Joshua and the nation of Israel came to Jericho. Because they did, thousands of pilgrims, tourists, and visitors come today where the ancient spring still flows. “The City of Palms” has become the city of pilgrims.
Read Mark 10:35-52.
When Jesus and His disciples came to Jericho, blind Bartimaeus heard of Jesus coming. He shouted again and again, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47-48).
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. Bartimaeus had just told Jesus what he wanted: he wanted Jesus’ mercy so that he could see again.
Perhaps Jesus asked the question because He had just asked the same question to the disciples (Mark 10:36). Their answer was nothing like Bartimaeus’ reply. Instead the disciples had requested Jesus give them glory.
When you ask Jesus for something, which prayer do you resemble?
1. “Lord, give me what I want to make my life what I want it to be. Give me glory.”
2. “Lord, have mercy on me. I am blind, and without You I cannot see.”
These two responses, side by side in Mark 10, are intended to teach us the proper response.
It’s a place between important places. Few individuals, if any, journey there directly. Most would miss it, in fact, if they didn’t know to look.
Modern commuters along Israel’s Route 1 motor by the site every day, their minds on their routines. Even tour buses rarely point to the place, much less stop there.
Photo: Kiriath Jearim, Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
The tourists who do pull over often do so only to snap pictures at the Elvis American Diner (also known as the “Elvis Inn”). A 16-foot-tall bronze likeness of Elvis Presley greets every visitor. Inside the diner, Elvis music is all they hear as they eat their Elvis Burgers. But Elvis isn’t what makes this hill noteworthy.
Around the corner from the offbeat diner, near the modern Israeli Arab village of Abu Gosh, sits the site so few see and even fewer visit—the biblical site of Kiriath Jearim.
You’d never know by looking, but the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel rested for about a century on this overlooked hill. (Tweet that.)
During the time of Israel’s judges, the tribe of Dan camped west of Kiriath Jearim at Mahaneh-dan (Judges 18:12). They had abandoned their inheritance along the coast for the greener pastures below Mount Hermon.
Kiriath Jearim’s primary significance in biblical history stems from the Ark of the Covenant staying there in “the house of Abinadab on the hill” (1 Samuel 7:1). The modern name of the site in Arabic is Deir el-Azar, perhaps indicative of Abinadab’s son’s name, Eleazar, who watched over the ark.
Photo: Kiriath Jearim from the north. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
As it turns out, Elvis isn’t the only “king” to grace Kiriath Jearim. King David descended from Jerusalem in order to bring the ark up into the tent he had pitched for it (1 Chronicles 13 and 15; 2 Chronicles 1:4).
Most people who drive by the hill today may recall the more recent history of the area. The highway bears the scars of Israel’s War of Independence and has the name in Hebrew, Shaar HaGai, and in Arabic, Bab El Wad (“The Gate of the Valley”).
· During the war, Arab snipers’ control of the highway gave them a strong advantage in cutting off the Jewish supply line to Jerusalem and procuring a bona fide siege much like the city endured in ancient times. The skeletons of convoy vehicles still strewn along the highway give silent testimony to the arduous—if not, almost impenetrable—ascent this road represented.
· The movie, Cast a Giant Shadow, starring Kirk Douglas and John Wayne, highlights the importance of this road. (You can watch the movie here.)
Today, a beautiful church dominates the hill of Kiriath Jearim and provides a convenient landmark from the passing highway. The name of the church is fairly easy: Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church.
· The church sits over the ruins of a fifth-century Byzantine church, the remains of which a farmer discovered by accident a little more than a century ago as he cultivated the summit of “the hill”—the place where the house of Abinadab probably resided (1 Samuel 7:1).
· Atop the modern church, a statue features Mary standing on the Ark of the Covenant. The name of the church makes sense after seeing the statue.
I enjoyed my overnight stopover at the Moshav Yad HaShmona, located on an adjacent hill. The moshav allows visitors the opportunity to stay in beautiful guesthouses not far from Jerusalem.
· The community offers an educational experience for guests, including features of biblical culture and horticulture, like a wheat field, a threshing floor, grapevines, a watchtower, olive trees, an olive press, and winepresses.
· Visitors can experience biblical customs of ancient Israel and can see reproductions of Bedouin tents, a Galilean synagogue, and even a burial cave. A marvelous experience—not to be missed.
No one can tell just by driving by today, but believe me, there’s much more to experience at Kiriath Jearim than Elvis burgers.
Read 1 Chronicles 13:1-14; 15:11-15.
King David had correct motives in wanting to move the Ark to Jerusalem, but God had given specific instructions as to how the Ark should be transported (Exodus 25:14-15; Numbers 3:30-31; 4:15; 7:9). Because no one paid attention to these essential instructions, a man named Uzzah died.
One of King David’s admirable qualities was his heart to repent. He didn’t throw up his arms and toss God aside after Uzzah’s death. David understood that Uzzah’s death occurred because they had failed to obey—even though what they wanted to do stemmed from godly motives.
Just as running a red light unaware is still illegal—and still punishable—so also we are held to God’s standard whether or not we know it. Ignorance is no excuse.
Grace shows us the way to meet God’s standard. (Tweet that.)
Certainly, the Lord evaluates whether or not we have disobeyed willfully or out of ignorance—and He disciplines accordingly. However, this story reminds us that God’s Word was given that we would learn His commands that reflect His character.
The responsibility remains ours to learn God’s Word—and to follow it. Uzzah didn’t have to die. The instructions were right there in the Bible.
One visit to Masada is not enough.
Neither are a dozen. As many times as people go there, they always want to go back.
Photo: The magnificent fortress of Masada. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
Towering 1300 feet above the Dead Sea, Masada looks as intimidating today as it did to those who stood at its base thousands of years ago. This natural mesa looms tall across from the Lisan at the southern half of the Dead Sea.
Steep cliffs on all sides make the mountain look virtually impregnable. And it was.
Getting to the top has always come at a price. For modern visitors, that price amounts to a cable car ticket. But in antiquity, the price was a hard hike up the steep path Josephus labeled the “snake.”
In 1867, explorers rediscovered this pathway that lies along the eastern edge of Masada. For most folks, climbing the “Snake Path’’—the serpentine trail that snakes back and forth up the mountain—takes almost an hour. Going down is another story. I can testify that a person with a good set of shoes can run down the snake path in 12 minutes (especially if your group is about to leave you).
Photo: Modern visitors get to the top with a cable car. Brave souls scale the “snake path,” seen at right.
After Rome made Herod the Great king, he came to the mesa in AD 37 to fortify it, erecting an eighteen-foot high wall around its perimeter.
· His made winter palace there, and as was true with all of Herod’s fortresses, had every comfort and convenience he could manage.
· The palace clung to the northern cliffs of Masada like a barnacle.
· Covered staircases gave access to three levels of terraces and portions of his beautiful mosaics are still visible.
After Rome destroyed Jerusalem’s temple in AD 70, a number of Jewish patriots took refuge in Masada.
· Led by Eliezar Ben Yair, they stood firm against Rome for several years.
· According to Josephus, on April 15, AD 73, the Romans crested the summit to discover that almost 1000 patriots had chosen to take their own lives rather than surrender their lives and families to the cruelty of Rome (Wars 7:394-397).
· The western side of the mesa still shows the spine of Rome’s siege ramp—an earthen incline constructed to breach the defenses of the Jewish fortress.
Some historians give serious doubt to Josephus’ fantastic account, even though it offers our only history of the patriots’ demise. His story represents what we would want to believe occurred, whether it did or not.
Masada remains a symbol of Israel’s resolve even today. Many Israeli soldiers have stood atop the mountain and uttered the oath: “Masada shall not fall again.”
Photo: Remnants of the Roman siege ramp. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
The celebrated archaeologist Yigal Yadin excavated Masada between December 1963 and April 1965. (He wrote a book about it.)
· Two expeditions identified a number of Herodian buildings, as well as bits of clothing, children’s games, writing implements, and household utensils from the time of the Jewish revolt.
· The patriots left behind a ritual bath, or mikveh, a synagogue, food stores of corn in sealed jars, and coins dating from year five of the Jewish revolt.
Remodeled in 2007, Masada’s visitors center includes a museum that displays a number of archaeological discoveries.
· Along with hundreds of artifacts, the museum displays a dozen potshards inscribed with Jewish names. Some consider these the means by which Masada’s Jews drew lots before the mass suicide.
· The center tells the story of the siege, including a wall-sized painting of hand-to-hand combat.
The renovation has paid off. Masada remains the top tourist site in Israel, grossing $10 million annually.
Read Psalm 31:1–5.
Unless we take Josephus’ account literally, especially the part where Eliezer claims that God’s judgment is the cause for the Jewish defeat under Rome (Wars 7:327, 359), there isn’t a lot of biblical significance to Masada. But the one-inch painted black line across the walls of the ruins illustrates a truth we can apply. The line reveals the separation between the original ruins below the line and the reconstruction on top of it. In most cases, it’s hard to make a distinction between the original and the reconstruction. We have no visible line running down our lives to reveal the partition between the authentic and the fake. We think we can see the line in the lives of others, but it’s tough even to discern it in ourselves. How important to grant the same grace to others that we give ourselves.
During his fugitive years on the run from King Saul, David sought sanctuary for his parents across the Dead Sea in Moab. Upon returning to Israel, David took refuge in “the stronghold.” Some scholars identify this with Masada, the Hebrew term that means “stronghold” in 1 Samuel 22:4. If so, then David’s prayer for deliverance and confidence in God becomes more special—read from the top of the mesa:
“In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; Be to me a rock of strength, A stronghold [metzuda] to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” —Psalm 31:1–3
Masada! Just hearing the word brings to mind the sounds of battle, the courage of a few, the passion of a nation, and the reminder that no place on earth is ultimately secure apart from the hand of God in our lives.
Everybody uses a calendar.
Some hang it on the wall with pictures of puppies, landscapes, or old cars. Others use Google Calendar or carry their schedules on their smartphones. Some do all of these. But everybody uses a calendar. We have to.
Photo: Man blowing shofar during Elul at Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Without this simple tool, our lives would be chaotic. A calendar organizes our days for religious, business, or personal reasons. In fact, most of us operate with several calendar systems at the same time. My calendar year begins in January, but I also march to a fiscal year, a school year, and occasionally, a leap year.
But as God’s people—just like the Hebrews of old—a calendar does much more than keep us on schedule.
It reminds us of things we’d better not forget.
Originally, the Hebrews celebrated their New Year in the month of Abib (March-April), according to the time of the Exodus and Passover (Exodus 12:1-2; 23:15).
· The purpose of making Abib the first month had a historical, spiritual, and agricultural reason. For it was then, God told them, “you came out of Egypt” (Exodus 23:15).
· Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread gave a consistent, tangible reminder that the God who redeemed them from Egypt also provided their sustenance each year.
Today, however, the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in the fall—in the month of Tishri—and is connected to the Feast of Trumpets. The feasts in the spring as well as in the fall have always pointed the Jews to the inseparable connection between the land, its produce, and the God who gave it to them.
The agricultural calendar of Israel shows itself clearly in an epigraph discovered in 1908 at Tel Gezer.
· Called the “Gezer Calendar,” this limestone tablet represents our earliest example of Hebrew script, dating to the time of King Solomon in the 10th-century BC.
· Some have suggested the inscription represents a schoolchild’s exercise or mnemonic device designed to assist in remembering the months of the year.
Photo: Large replica of the Gezer Calendar. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
W. F. Albright translated the Gezer Calendar as follows:
“His two months are olive harvest, His two months are planting grain, His two months are late planting; His month is hoeing up flax, His month is harvest of barley, His month is harvest and feasting; His two months are vine-tending, His month is summer fruit.”
The Gezer Calendar clearly delineates twelve months and matches the agricultural progression that occurs in the land of Israel beginning in Tishri, or September.
September’s Feast of Trumpets was originally intended to call God’s people together in preparation for Yom Kippur—the annual day when the Lord would forgive sins on the basis of the shed blood of a sacrifice God required (Leviticus 16:30). “Blow the trumpet at the new moon,” Asaph wrote, “At the full moon, on our feast day” (Psalm 81:3).
Priests would blow trumpets to announce the Sabbath and the start of festival days. The Feast of Trumpets especially relates to this act:
“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.’” — Leviticus 23:24-25; cf. Numbers 29:1-6
Today, the blowing of the shofar during Elul—the month prior to Rosh Hashana—traditionally calls the people to self-examination in preparation for the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
On Rosh Hashana, participants add a prayer service to the regular services, read poems, eat symbolic foods, and exchange traditional greetings. On the first day of Rosh Hashana, many Jews engage in a ritual called tashlikh (“casting off”). Participants pray near natural flowing water and symbolically “cast off” their sins in the water.
Photo: Participating in tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah. By ד"ר אבישי ט"כר: צילומ CC-BY-2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.
The ritual often includes reading the words from Micah 7:18-19:
“Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” —Micah 7:18-19
All of the feasts find their fulfillment in the Messiah. The Feast of Trumpets points to the time when the trumpet of God will sound and call His people together into His presence at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
The calendars on our walls and on our smart phones do more than keep us at the right places at the right times. They also help to keep us in the right frame of mind.
Holidays remind us of essential priorities in life–like God.
As holidays and holy days come around each year, they remind us of the essential themes of life we would otherwise neglect in our busy schedules—themes like family, faith, and the forgiveness God offers.
One of the greatest reminders from Rosh Hashanah each year is that it is never too late to start over with God.
Shady walkways. Cool breezes. Abundant streams. Luxuriant foliage.
The Tel Dan Nature Preserve draws the locals as well as the travelers. It always has.
Photo: The high place and altar at Tel Dan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
In natural beauty, Tel Dan has few rivals in Israel. For the ancients, it had everything necessary for abundant living.
While the Hebrews in the south worshipped in Jerusalem, the natural beauty of Tel Dan in northern Israel offered an irresistible alternative. It was picturesque. It was convenient. It was invigorating.
And it was a complete compromise of God’s will.
In a land where water is life, it’s no wonder the ancients venerated this area as sacred. Tel Dan offers the largest of four tributaries that form the headwaters of the Jordan River. The nearby Banias Spring ranks second.
· When Joshua parceled out the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan received a wide strip that extended west from the Tribe of Benjamin to the coastal plain at Jaffa (Joshua 19:40-46).
· But the combination of the locals who pushed the tribe into the hill country, as well as the presence of the International Highway that remained the envy of all local and foreign powers, the location proved to be more than Danites could endure (Judges 1:34).
· Leaving the land the Lord had allotted them, they migrated north and conquered Leshem, or Laish, and renamed it Dan (Joshua 19:47).
· In addition to abandoning their territory, they also abandoned the God of Israel and erected a graven image to worship (Judges 18:27-31).
Photo: Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
From days of the Judges, through the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, the phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba,” represented the practical north-south borders of the united kingdom of Israel (Judges 20:1; 2 Samuel 24:2; 1 Kings 4:25).
After the reign of King Solomon, the nation divided—and there arose a practical problem.
· Two nations—Judah and Israel.
· Two kings—Rehoboam and Jeroboam.
· Two capitals—Jerusalem and Shechem.
The problem? There was only one place God allowed for worship—the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jeroboam’s fear that his subjects would worship in Jerusalem gave rise to the greater fear that they might also return their allegiance to the southern kingdom. So Jeroboam made two golden calves and told his people,
“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”—1 Kings 12:28
He set up one of the calves at Bethel on the way to Jerusalem. The other one he set up at Dan.
In addition to the alternative place of worship, Jeroboam also introduced an alternative priesthood as well as an alternative month. While the Scriptures indicated that the High Holidays should be celebrated in the seventh month, Jeroboam instituted worship in the eighth month (1 Kings 12:31-32).
Archaeologists have uncovered Jeroboam’s High Place at Tel Dan.
· A large, excavated podium sits at the highest point on the tell.
· Cultic implements were discovered there, including a small horned altar, an incense holder, and the only 8th-century incense shovels yet discovered in Israel.
· Archaeologists also unearthed one horn of the main altar, the proportions of which betray an altar that once stood ten feet tall. A massive metal frame represents these dimensions for visitors today. Remnants of two sets of stairs at the corners show how the priests accessed the altar.
Today, only the locals and the travelers come to the Tel Dan—just as they always have. Worshippers come no longer. Instead, what remains are the springs that feed the Jordan River, stories that enrich our understanding of ancient history, remains that contribute to Israel’s archaeology, and lessons of the futility of substituting anything for the worship of God.
Read 1 Kings 12:26-30.
By providing alternative places of worship, Jeroboam appealed to the laziness of the human spirit. Worshipping at Tel Dan was far more luxurious than Jerusalem. And worshipping at Bethel was more convenient. Substituting the priests, the feast, the places—all were outside of God’s will.
The world, the flesh, and the devil will always tempt us with Jeroboams words: “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem!” Sin always provides a substitute more convenient and more attractive to our flesh.
Three simple examples:
1. A closer church—but it doesn’t teach the Bible accurately.
2. An attractive or clever spouse—who isn’t a Christian.
3. A lucrative vocation—that requires moral compromise.
Our relationship with God must remain a matter of obedience before convenience. In the end, we find it far more satisfying.
Piles of driftwood, bleached white like old bones, surround the shoreline.
If bodies of water could be ghost towns, the Dead Sea would top the list. It’s the lowest place on earth, it’s the hottest spot in Israel, and nothing visible can live in its waters.
Photo: Sunrise over the Dead Sea. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (BiblePlaces.com.)
With a name like the “Dead Sea,” one might expect a disappointing visit. And yet, anyone who experiences the place never forgets its wonder.
Nothing on earth compares.
While tourists may purchase some facial creams and hand lotions, most come to the Dead Sea to experience its reputation for a remarkable buoyancy.
· The Dead Sea’s salinity is so dense that I literally could stand still without touching bottom and float with the surface of the water at my chest—a really strange sensation!
· Many who float on their backs can easily read a book. Throw a stick on the surface, and it appears to be lying on a mirror.
· The historian Josephus records that when Vespasian came to the Dead Sea during the Jewish Revolt in AD 68, he decided to test the reputation that it is impossible for someone to sink. Vespasian tied up some people who couldn’t swim and tossed them in the water! (Why tie them if they couldn’t swim?)
· That story offers a good reminder for swimmers (and non-swimmers) to avoid water in the eyes and mouth—unless one enjoys weeping and vomiting. I’m told that water in the lungs likely will prove fatal. (You think?)
Those commonsense warnings observed, the Dead Sea rewards each visitor with an unforgettable experience—including really oily skin. Wading into the brackish water, many swimmers scoop handfuls of black mud and slather it on their bodies for a photograph.
Photo: Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
A mosaic on the floor of a church in Medeba, Jordan, represents an early tourist map for Byzantine pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.
· The map shows fish swimming down the Jordan River and then turning around once they hit the Dead Sea!
· As the Jordan River snakes its descent from the base of Mount Hermon, it ultimately empties its flow just south of Jericho into brackish waters.
Today, most of the Jordan River is diverted for domestic and agricultural interests. But what does still flow delivers the Dead Sea its only continuous intake to replenish what water evaporates.
· With dimensions measuring forty-five miles long by eleven miles wide, the sea evaporates millions of tons of water each day. Its dimensions have changed significantly in history.
· The unstable water level of the Dead Sea keeps both Israel and Jordan working to solve numerous problems—suggested solutions ranging from relocating hotels to pumping water north from the Red Sea.
· The evaporation leaves behind concentrated calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium chlorides, giving the Dead Sea the highest salinity of any body of water on earth.
· The Nabataens in the fourth-century BC exemplify some of the many in history who have harvested the minerals for commercial purposes. Even today, the Dead Sea’s minerals remain big business. The worldwide demand for products keeps the more than 1500 employees of the Dead Sea Works Ltd. working around the clock.
The Dead Sea has had many names throughout history. The Scriptures refer to it as the “Salt Sea” (Numbers 34:3), the “Sea” (Ezekiel 47:8), and the “Eastern Sea” (Joel 2:20). Other designations in history include the “Sea of Asphalt,” the “Stinking Sea, and the “Devil’s Sea.”
It may seem hard to believe, but the region used to be a well-watered area—as lush and attractive as the Garden of Eden. But God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah changed the area’s fertility to a desolate expanse that represented judgment on sin (Genesis 13:10; Deuteronomy 29:23; Jeremiah 17:6). The evaporation hovering over the Dead Sea gives a constant haze over its surface. It reminds me of the furnace-like smoke that rose from the valley after the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:28).
Today, the Dead Sea represents the remnants of God’s judgment on sin. But one day, Scripture promises, the Dead Sea will live again. When Jesus rules the earth in the Millennial Kingdom, water will flow from Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and fishermen will line the banks of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:8-11; Zechariah 14:8).
What the Lord will do for the Dead Sea in that day, He can do for you today. What a picture of the power of God to bring life from death.
I wonder what we’ll call the Dead Sea in that day?
Beside a busy street and noisy bus station in Jerusalem, a tall rock wall encircles a garden. An oasis of sanctity and cessation in a city that feeds on frenzied tourists.
Photo: The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem
After entering, I felt the tension of my hurried pace leave me. I traded the noisy city and dirty streets for flowers, butterflies, gravel pathways, and stone steps. Everything lovely about a garden filled my view.
It’s no wonder many believe the Garden Tomb to be the tomb of Jesus. Like the tomb described in the gospel accounts, the Garden Tomb lay outside the city walls and along a road. It is hewn out of the stone and has a rolling stone entrance. A garden surrounds it.
Based on its tranquil setting, it has a lot going for it. But then there are the rest of the facts.
In 1883, General Charles Gordon pointed to a rocky outcropping near an ancient tomb and noted how the recesses in the cliff resembled the eye sockets of a skull.
He took it to be “the place of the skull”—the location of Jesus’ crucifixion that all four gospels mention (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:17). The names “Golgotha” and “Calvary” derive from the Latin and Aramaic words for “skull.”
Photo: Some believe Gordon’s Calvary resembles the eye sockets of a skull.
The New Testament doesn’t indicate whether the site looked like a skull or simply adopted on the name as a place of execution. But that didn’t matter. After Gordon’s discovery, many assumed the site authentic. Nearby in the Church of St. Stephen, ruins of a Byzantine church revealed a tombstone with the inscription: “Tomb of the deacon Nonnus Onesimus of the Holy Resurrection of Christ and of this monastery.”
The Anglican Church thereafter adopted “Gordon’s Calvary” and the Garden Tomb as the authentic site of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they raised money to purchase the plot. However, the levelheadedness of history and archaeology begged to differ—and ultimately prevailed. To their credit, the Anglican Church no longer officially holds that the Garden Tomb represents the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.
The Garden Tomb’s two hewn chambers lie adjacent to each other inside the tomb. Upon entering, the small vestibule allows room for half a dozen visitors to look right at the gated burial chamber.
· In spite of one prominent archaeologist’s assessment that the Garden Tomb dates to the first century, the tomb actually represents a typical 7th-century BC tomb.
· Because of this, it couldn’t be the “new tomb” the gospels record in connection with Jesus (Matthew 27:60; John 19:41).
· Moreover, the Crusaders used the site as a stable (Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 161).
Photo: Interior of the Garden Tomb, courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
History and archaeology credibly point to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the authentic site of Jesus’ death and burial. But that doesn’t make worshiping there easy.
· The uninspiring atmosphere makes meditation and prayer problematic.
· The crowded rooms, dark spaces, spooky icons, and malodorous incense offend most westerners.
What’s more, the fistfights among those who vie for power over the church offer an embarrassing witness to a watching world. Right where Jesus died for sins, Christendom transgresses and shows its need for it. How ironic—and how tragic.
The Garden Tomb offers a much better alternative for meditation on the resurrection of Jesus.
· The serene surroundings include a peaceful garden with fragrant flowers, benches for relaxation and reading, pathways for strolling and prayer, and high walls to block out the cacophony of the unsightly surrounding streets.
· Visiting the garden costs nothing—nor does taking communion or keeping the souvenir wooden cup. Donations alone keep the place going.
· Individuals may take a self-guided tour with a brochure or join a group tour every half hour. The Garden Tomb Association guides all English-speaking visitors, but guests speaking other languages may use their own guides. Visiting groups require advance reservations.
Photo: The beautiful rock pathways around the Garden Tomb
In my many visits to the Garden Tomb, I have only had one guide tell me the tomb was the tomb of Jesus—and that visit was in 2000. Since then, each guide has expressed that the Association makes no official claim that the tomb represents that of the resurrection of Jesus.
“The important thing is,” they always point out, “the tomb is empty.”
There is no better oasis in Jerusalem than the Garden Tomb to contemplate the central truth of Christianity’s faith—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Do you know where you’ll be buried?
The place where someone chooses to get buried is always significant.
· A hometown family plot is common.
· The place where one’s ashes are scattered or stored often holds a special association.
· Even unknown soldiers who die in battle occasionally receive a prominent interment.
Photo: The Kidron Valley with olives trees and graves. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
But in Israel, a burial place often exposed one’s faith. The tombs beside the Kidron Valley bear witness to this truth.
Each one offers a connection to resurrection.
The closest that most Jerusalem visitors get to the Kidron Valley comes by driving over its bridge near the Garden of Gethsemane. A quick glance north and south—and it’s over.
The valley is best seen, however, with the feet.
After crossing the street in front of the Church of All Nations, the path descends below street level to the valley floor. Suddenly the eastern wall of the Old City looms large and Jerusalem’s military advantage comes into view.
Photo: Photo: The Kidron Valley and the Old City Walls. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
In antiquity, the Kidron Valley—referred to in the Scriptures as a “brook”—would have been even deeper than today, channeling water most of the year (2 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 23:6; John 18:1). Even today, the valley still drains all of Jerusalem’s valleys to the Dead Sea.
Walking south along the valley’s pathway with olive trees, strange stone monuments and tombs come into view.
· The first is topped with what looks like an upside-down funnel. Arabs refer to it as “Pharaoh’s Hat,” but the more popular name is “Absalom’s Pillar,” or “Absalom’s Tomb.” We have the tenth-century Benjamin of Tudela to thank for this misnomer, based on 2 Samuel 18:18 where Absalom “set up for himself a pillar which is in the King’s Valley.” The edifice has nothing to do with Absalom, but it represents a first-century funerary monument contemporary with the Second Temple and the time of Jesus. It’s amazing it survived the destruction of the city in AD 70.
· Further south, near southeast corner of the Temple Mount, the pathway winds and another funerary monument comes into view. Older than Absalom’s Pillar, this monument has a pyramid-shaped top and carries with it the name, “Zachariah’s Tomb.” The tomb has also been attributed to Saint James, but a Hebrew inscription links it to the priestly family of Hezir (1 Chronicles 24:15).
Photo: Pillar of Absalom and Tomb of Zechariah in Kidron Valley. Courtesy of BiblePlaces.com
No visitor to the Kidron Valley can miss the innumerable tombs that surround it.
· Beside the valley, the Mount of Olives holds the largest Jewish graveyard in the world.
· The valley’s western slope has Muslim graves, purportedly to defile the Jewish Messiah when He tries to enter the bricked-up eastern gate.
· Further south alongside the valley, the village of Silwan has tombs with gabled ceilings, as well as the alleged “Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter,” and the Tomb of Shebnah, King Hezekiah’s scribe (2 Kings 18:18).
· The Hinnom Valley, which drains into the Kidron at the southern end of the City of David, has its own myriad of tombs—not the least which may include the monument of Annas, the high priest and father of Caiaphas mentioned in association with the trial of Jesus (see Josephus, War 5:506 and John 18:13).
Walking through the Kidron Valley is more than a stroll beside the Old City walls and beautiful olive trees. It’s even more than a lesson in archaeology. The tombs that dot the slopes give each visitor a connection with the temporary lives and the eternal hopes and faith of the thousands of individuals whose remains await the future.
Photo: Thousands of Jewish grave slope down into the Kidron Valley, the “Valley of Jehoshaphat”
Read Daniel 12:2-3, 13; Revelation 20:11-15.
The question as to why so many graves line the slopes of the Kidron Valley points to a conviction as old as the Hebrew people.
At the top of the hill that slopes into the valley, a sign points to a set of tombs as belonging to Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Although archaeology doesn’t connect the first-century kokhim (shaft) tombs with the sixth- and fifth-century B.C. prophets, it is interesting that Zechariah would allegedly rest on the top (and at the bottom) of the Mount of Olives. For here he foresaw Israel’s Messiah coming to judge the world (Zechariah 14:3-12). The New Testament gives further insight to this event at the same location (Acts 1:11-12; Revelation 19:11-21). The Kidron Valley is likely the place the Prophet Joel referred to as the “Valley of Jehoshaphat”—where “the Lord judges”—and “the valley of decision” (Joel 3:2, 12, 14).
The thousands of white Jewish tombs that slope into the Kidron Valley give testimony to the hope that when the Messiah comes, “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4), and those buried there presume they’ll stand first in line for blessing. Jesus ascended to heaven on the Mount of Olives and will one day return to earth there. Of course, faith in the Messiah is the key to salvation—not where you’re buried.
Nevertheless, how you choose to be buried can be a testimony to your faith in Jesus Christ. Here are 3 ideas:
While enjoying the delightful movie, Ushpizin, I laughed out loud when the family’s uninvited guest sliced the expensive etrog—a citron reserved for Sukkot—and casually ate it. Clearly, he had no clue to its significance!
Although the movie’s English subtitles translate the Hebrew, the movie leaves the traditions of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, for the viewer to decode.
Photo: Pool of Siloam excavations. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
How puzzling the holiday must seem to those unacquainted with its modern customs—much less its biblical foundations.
Of all places, an ancient pool in Jerusalem helps us connect Sukkot with its ultimate fulfillment.
A statement made by Jesus—really, an invitation—makes it clear.
Sukkot marked the most joyful of the biblical feasts, because the harvest’s labor finally ceased. In gratitude to the Lord for His provision, the people would begin their hope for the latter rains.
In addition to the name Sukkot (translated “Booths” or “Tabernacles” in Deuteronomy 16:13 and Leviticus 23:34), the Bible also refers to the holiday as “the Feast of the Harvest” (Exodus 23:16), the “Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 34:22), “the feast” (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chronicles 7:8-9; John 7:37), and “the feast of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39). At Sukkot, every seven years on the sabbatical year, the Law was read in the hearing of all Israel (Deuteronomy 31:10-11).
The original purpose of feast centered on an essential reminder:
“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. . . . You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’”—Leviticus 23:34, 42-43)
Sukkot provided a time to remember how God had delivered His people from bondage and how He had provided for them in the wilderness.
Photo courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
During the Second Temple period, the Sadducees understood the Bible’s command to take branches of “leafy trees and willows” (Leviticus 23:40) as the building materials for their booths. The Pharisees, on the other hand, interpreted the foliage as what the worshippers would carry in their hands. Jews observe both customs today, and the Mishna describes in exacting detail how they should construct their booths.
· The rabbis identified the “fruit” of Leviticus 23:40 as the etrog—a citron which the worshipper would carry in the left hand.
· The right hand would hold three species of branches—the palm, the willow, and the myrtle.
Photo: Western Wall at Sukkot. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (BiblePlaces.com.)
Every year in modern Jerusalem, Sukkot draws hundreds of thousands of worshippers to the Western Wall—all holding the Four Species in their hands.
In addition, the Feast of Tabernacles required sacrifices of sin offerings and burnt offerings. At the time of preparation for the morning sacrifice, a priest would descend to the Pool of Siloam—amidst great music, celebration, and singing of Isaiah 12:3—and fill a golden pitcher with water.
After dipping his pitcher in Siloam’s water, the priest would return to the Temple Mount and pour the water into one of the silver basins by the altar. “Raise your hand!” the people would shout to the priest so that they could see he indeed poured the water into the basin.
“He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchat Bet Hasheavah [the water drawing ceremony], has never seen rejoicing in his life” (The Mishna, Sukkah 5:1).
Around the year 95 BC, the Maccabean king and priest Alexander Jannaeus revealed his contempt for the Pharisees by pouring the water on the ground instead of into the basin. For this, the people hurled their etrogs at him!
Photo: The upper Pool of Siloam. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
For many years the Pool of Siloam was thought to be the upper pool beside the exit of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Discovered near the turn of the 20th century, this pool dates only to the fifth century AD. Workers accidentally discovered the true Pool of Siloam from the Second Temple period in 2004 while digging a sewer line. Archaeologists have uncovered only a portion of this lower pool, exposing the entire north side—more than 225 feet long. Tourists can visit there today.
Anybody who has ever gone camping knows that we forgo major conveniences to do so. The Feast of Tabernacles required similar sacrifices, and it remains a timeless reminder of the fact that everything we possess—both physically and spiritually—comes from God.
In addition to looking backward at God’s historical blessings on Israel, Sukkot looked ahead to the time when all nations will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in honor of Israel’s reigning Messiah (Zechariah 14:16-21).
Perhaps for this reason, during the Second Temple period one year, on the last and greatest day of Sukkot, Jesus drew upon this tradition of pouring water to illustrate a point:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”—John 7:37–38
Comparing physical thirst to spiritual thirst, Jesus offered the promised Holy Spirit to anyone who would believe in Him. The people had sung the words of Isaiah 12:3: “Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” Isaiah prophesied of what Israel would sing of the Lord “on that day”—during the Millennial Kingdom. Try reading Isaiah 12 in that context. Its 6 verses are powerful!
Who would have ever thought to use stairs as a memory-trigger?
At the southern edge of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a 200-foot wide flight of stairs represents both original and restored steps from the Second Temple period.
Photo: Reading the Psalms of Ascent on the Southern Steps. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Millions of sandals (including Jesus’) shuffled up these steps in antiquity as Jewish pilgrims came from all Israel and the Diaspora to worship the Lord for the annual feasts.
Some suggest the pilgrims sang the Psalms of Ascent on these steps. If so, the place brought to mind critical themes.
The place echoes of our need to be reminded of what we already know.
Few places in Jerusalem give the sense of the Second Temple period like the Southern Steps excavations at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
In fact, because excavation on the Temple Mount itself is prohibited, this area immediately south of the mount offers important archaeology to help unpack the history of the Temple Mount during the first century.
· Excavation of this area began in 1968 by Benjamin Mazar and continued for ten years. Temple Mount expert Leen Ritmeyer also participated.
· Since the 1990s, archeological excavations have progressed under Ronny Reich.
· The recent discovery of the First-Temple period Ophel (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 27:3; 33:14) has been opened to the public. The Ophel excavations began in 1975 and were recently renewed.
At the top of the Southern Steps, at the far east of the stairway, stands a triple gate—today closed with stones.
· This gate, called the Huldah Gate, served as a primary entrance into a subterranean tunnel that ascended into the Temple Courts.
· At the far west of the broad staircase, a double gate stood—today only a portion of this gate and its lintel can been seen. This gate represented an exit, and the stairway below it—with their alternating wide and narrow steps—offered a place for teaching, for visiting, or for a simple descent.
Photo: Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Three times a year worshippers would enter the Temple from these steps, after a customary cleansing in the nearby ritual baths, or mikvot.
God required these pilgrimages, as written by the hand of Moses:
“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.” —Deuteronomy 16:16
Over the years, a songbook developed that served as the pilgrims’ traveling songs. Psalms 120-134 all bear the superscription, “A Psalm of Ascents.” These are the songs the Jews sang as they ascended to Jerusalem every year for their feasts.
· Some propose that these fifteen psalms were sung on the fifteen wide steps we see today in the Southern Steps excavations.
· A popular activity for tourists often includes reading each psalm—or the first verse of each psalm—on each wide step, moving up two steps to the next wide step for each successive reading.
However, the Mishnah notes that these fifteen psalms were sung by the priests who stood not on the Southern Steps, but on the fifteen steps from the Court of the Women ascending to the Court of Israel:
“On the fifteen steps which led into the women’s court, corresponding with the fifteen songs of degrees, stood the Levites, with their musical instruments, and sang.” — m. Sukkah 5:4-5
Read Numbers 10:10; Philippians 3:1; 2 Peter 1:13; 3:1.
Think about Christmas carols and patriotic songs like, “God Bless America.” Sung on holidays, these tunes are familiar to all and stir up critical reminders of basic life themes.
The first-century Jewish culture recognized the necessity of reminders and repetition—the need of rehearsing truth when the world around them countered God’s Word at every step. The Psalms of Ascent that the pilgrims of old would recite from memory several times a years served as reminders of faith, forgiveness, family, children, peace, hope, brotherhood, sacrifice, and right attitudes toward God and people.
What was true then remains true for us:
Without simple reminders, we would forget essential truths. (Tweet that.)
Very few places in the Holy Land still look original.
Most historic sites in Israel have some church, or a mosque, or a settlement, or thirty feet of civilization piled on top of them. The places pilgrims come to see today show centuries of scars from the ruins and reconstructions of many faiths and peoples.
Photo: The Wilderness of Judea at sunset. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (BiblePlaces.com).
But in the Wilderness of Judea, one can see what the ancients saw. Deep ravines. Rocky terrain. Barren grades with scant vegetation. Horizontal lines cut in the hills betray generations of flocks that have worn trails like terraces in the stony slopes. Miles and miles of desolate land, interrupted only by an occasional camel, a shepherd with his flock, or a group of Bedouin tents with satellite dishes.
Bleak, inhospitable, stark, and harsh—the Wilderness of Judea has sat virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
It was the perfect place to escape.
In the wilderness wanderings under Moses, the Hebrews learned to trust God for water, because the places of their journey offered very, very little of it. Those four decades of thirsty travel provided the training ground for living in the Promised Land—a land that also had no abundant sources of natural water—“a land of hills and valleys [that] drinks water from the rain of heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:11).
The rainfall in Israel—both in antiquity, as well as today—falls mostly west of the hill country’s watershed.
· The further north and west one goes in the land, the more precipitation occurs. The Wilderness of Judea misses on both counts, lying south in the country and east of the watershed.
· A rain shadow dominates the chalky wasteland of the wilderness. This is the “dry and weary land,” as David scribbled three thousand years ago, “where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
David knew this wilderness well, especially in the years before he became king. Just as the wilderness wanderings of his ancestors prepared them for the land, so the Wilderness of Judea served as David’s preparation for his kingdom.
· Here the young shepherd wrote his most famous song—comparing the tracks of his flocks to God’s “paths of righteousness.”
· In such a barren context, lying “down in green pastures” would be a rare blessing (Psalm 23:2-3).
· In later years when David fled from King Saul, the future king of Israel would hide in the wastelands of Ziph, Maon, and En Gedi—all portions of the Wilderness of Judea.
Because the Wilderness of Judea remained so arid and uninviting, most people only passed through it on their way to somewhere else. Because nobody wanted to go there, often only the “nobodies” of society did. The wilderness attracted those on the fringes—outcasts, shepherds, fugitives, hermits, and even fearful rulers.
· The paranoid Herod the Great built fortifications in this general area at Cypros, Dok, Herodium, Hyrcania, Masada, and Macherus.
· Here John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:1).
· Jesus retreated to this wilderness to fast and face temptation for more than forty days (Matthew 4:1).
· After the death of their brother Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan and Simon centered their insurgency near Tekoa in the Wilderness of Judea (1 Maccabees 9:33).
Undoubtedly the most unique inhabitants of this land were the thousands of Christian monks who flooded the area and formed monasteries—the ultimate getaway. In the Byzantine period between the sixth- and fifth-centuries, the Wilderness of Judea hosted more than sixty-five monasteries all connected by a network of trails.
Today, visitors to the wilderness can travel to see Mar Saba east of Bethlehem, the only monastery that boasts a continual occupation since its origin. The easiest monastery to see is Saint George’s. Its blue domes and white arches dot the colorless canvas of the wilderness and cling like a barnacle to the northern face of the Wadi Qelt’s cliffs. Housing one of the oldest monastic communities in Israel, the monastery has been inhabited since the fifth century and gives a vivid illustration of monastic life. The ultimate getaway is today a tourist attraction.
One of the best places to stand and observe the Wilderness of Judea is near Saint George’s Monastery. At the top of a nearby overlook, a covered observation point allows visitors a long view across the vast, unspoiled wilderness. Here, it isn’t hard to go back in time.
Very few places in the Holy Land can one travel and still see the terrain as it appeared for thousands of years—and likely, how it will stay for many more.
Read Luke 3:3-6.
When a king or dignitary would visit a foreign land, he would often send an envoy ahead to fill the potholes, remove the rocks, and flatten any part of the road that might make the journey uncomfortable. We could compare it today to “rolling out the red carpet.”
All four Gospels point to John the Baptist as the “voice crying in the wilderness,” in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy on one who would prepare the way for the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3). In preparing the way for Israel’s King, John used the rough hills and rocky valleys of the Wilderness of Judea as a metaphor for the hard hearts of the people. Imagine trying to prepare a highway through the Judean Wilderness!
“Every ravine will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be brought low; the crooked will become straight, and the rough roads smooth.” —Luke 3:5
John’s command to “repent” meant to change one’s mind about following God. It forced the people who walked in the Wilderness of Judea to consider the spiritual lives with every ditch they avoided and every rock they stepped over. What would Jesus have to walk around in our lives if He were to come today?
I thought I understood the wilderness wanderings of Israel.
Then I traveled through the wilderness. On my summer visits there, I never had to check the forecast. It only fluctuated from blistering to broiling.
Photo: Machtesh Ramon at sunrise. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
After a searing hike through this wilderness, a traveling companion of mine boarded the bus, his shirt sweat-soaked. He collapsed in his seat, and someone asked him if he now understood why the Hebrews grumbled and failed in obedience to God.
He took a long gulp from his canteen and then blurted, “I’m with them!”
After the exodus from Egypt, the Lord led the new nation of Israel to Sinai to receive the Law. Eventually, they made their way to Kadesh Barnea, a place bordering the Wilderness of Paran in the Sinai Peninsula and the Wilderness of Zin in the Negev Highlands (Numbers 13:21, 26).
Because of their lack of faith and obedience to God, the Hebrews would turn an about-face and wander in the wilderness for a total of forty years—one year for every day the explorers surveyed the land (Numbers 14:34).
The most beautiful parts of the Negev Highlands are the makhteshim—a term Israel contributed to geology. These types of craters exist only in Israel. A makhteshim occurs when erosion from a single waterway creates a valley with sheer cliffs, or anticlines, that enclose the crater on all sides—creating a bowl.
In fact, the term makhtesh means, “mortar,” like a “bowl.” For that reason, some call the Makhtesh Ramon the “Super Bowl” of Israel. I have to agree.
Photo: Machtesh Ramon with Mizpe Ramon observatory. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
The largest of three makhteshim in the Negev, the Makhtesh Ramon sits as one of the biggest craters on earth. Twenty-five miles long, five miles wide, and plunging as deep as 1300 feet. How did the massive crater form? Its elongated shape eliminates the possibility of an asteroid collision. Most scientists believe that the crater reveals the erosion of the central Negev mountains, perhaps also including underground earthquakes.
To me, it looked more like God punctured the surface of the land with his finger. Maybe He did this instead of smashing the Israelites who wandered nearby.
Viewing the Makhtesh Ramon from the Mitzpeh Ramon Observatory on the western rim allows the viewer to see the whole picture. Some call it the “Grand Canyon of Israel.” Every time I’ve stood there, an ibex has meandered into the scene. The Makhtesh effectively offers an open-air museum of volcanic rock, variegated clays, rough hunks of quartzite, and massive blocks, upended and bare—a geologist’s playground.
The area represents the largest national park in Israel. Mere photography fails to do it justice.
The highway that clings to the walls of the great crater transports tourists today. But in antiquity, a road crossed the makhtesh for commercial purposes from the Nabatean city of Petra.
· Spices—especially the fragrant gum resins, myrrh and frankincense—made the highway a lucrative route.
· The historian, Pliny, described the road as having sixty-five camel stops between Timna and the Mediterranean Sea.
Today, the mountains of Makhtesh Ramon surrender gypsum to commercial production—thousands of tons annually. In the middle of the crater, a factory works the gypsum into a component suitable for plaster of Paris and cement. Smaller mining efforts cull clay and quartz from Makhtesh Ramon.
Read Numbers 14:18-35; 20:1-12.
The Wilderness of Zin witnessed the Hebrews’ failure in their obedience to God. Here even the insubordination of Moses occurred. And the result? They didn’t enter the land. The implications of their example linger.
· Faith is more than a creed—it is a way of life in obedience to God. For the Hebrews who spied out the land, and those who failed to believe God could give them what He promised, they never got to enter the land.
· For Moses and Aaron who led the people but failed to honor God before them, they never got to enter the land.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we who love the Lord, but fail in our obedience to God, will not go to heaven. It does mean that—for both those who lead and those who follow—there may be a loss of privilege. Some of the blessings the Lord intends for us to enjoy come only by believing and obeying Him against impossible odds.
Tucked away among the steep sandstone formations in Israel’s Arabah Valley sits a place most visitors never see.
Timna Park’s best-known attraction is called “Solomon’s Pillars”—beautiful Nubian sandstone formations that have nothing to do with King Solomon. But they’re fun to climb. The park also features relics from Egyptian idol worship as well as interpretive signs about ancient copper mining.
But the best part of Timna Park is its least-known exhibit. Or perhaps, it’s the least-mentioned.
Photo: Tabernacle model at Timna Park. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
A full-scale replica of the Tabernacle stands in the very wilderness where Moses and the children of Israel wandered for forty years.
It is like entering a doorway to history—and viewing a picture of your salvation.
Reading the Tabernacle’s dimensions in Exodus 35-40 is so different from seeing them with your own eyes—and in the same wilderness where the Tabernacle stood (Exodus 40:34-38).
The realistic replica echoes of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—when God forgave the sins of His people.
The simple white fabric that flapped in the breeze formed the perimeter of the Tabernacle, and it served as the first of a number of barriers between the Hebrews and the Lord.
Today we place barriers between our leaders and the people in order to protect the leader. But the Tabernacle’s barriers stood to protect the people from God. No one ever would come into the presence of a holy God without a sacrifice for sin—because holiness cannot abide sin in its presence. What stood before me reminded me of that fact.
Photo: Tabernacle model from above. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
· The large, brazen altar was the place where the majority of sacrifices occurred on a daily basis. All sacrifices began with “the burnt offering,” from the Hebrew term olah (Leviticus 1:3). The English word “holocaust” (meaning “burnt whole”) comes from this term.
· Just past the brazen altar stood the bronze laver, the washbowl where the priests would scrub up. Behind it, the tent called “the Holy Place” had dull colors on the outside, but underneath I saw beautiful embroidery of colorful cherubim.
· Entering the Holy Place was something only priests could do, but today, Timna Park visitors can enter to examine the Tabernacle’s interior. After my eyes adjusted to the dark room, I saw on the right the Table of Showbread with its twelve loaves that represented Israel’s twelve tribes.
· The menorah on the left offered meager lighting, and the lack of breeze made the room stifling. The Altar of Incense stood in the back before the small room called “The Holy of Holies.”
On Yom Kippur, Aaron the priest would wear humble clothing and offer on the Brazen Altar a bull for himself and for the priests.
Leviticus 16 lays out the instructions.
Photo courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. (BiblePlaces.com)
Exploring the replica of the biblical Tabernacle in Timna Park, it is hard to take it all in.
Timna Park is a wonderful place to visit. Not many other parks can offer such great lessons in biblical history, in personal holiness, and in the purpose of Yom Kippur.
That’s a bargain for the price of an admission ticket.
Read Romans 3:21-25; Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:19-23.
These rituals on Yom Kippur made the impossible possible. By one man cleansing the sanctuary, a holy God continued to dwell among an unholy people. Today, the Jewish people have no Temple, so they just pray for atonement.
When we come to the New Testament you see what you saw in the Old: there is but one mediator between God and man who offers the blood of a substitute who died for you.
When we purchase something with a credit card, what have we actually spent? Nothing. We’re buying on credit. We don’t actually pay for it until the bill comes in. But we do get to enjoy the benefit of our purchase immediately. In the same way, in the patience of God, He “passed over” previous sins (Romans 3:25). This means that all the elaborate rituals done on Yom Kippur didn’t pay for sin. It only delayed the payment, but they got to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness as if their sin was paid for. The bill for all the sins came due when Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all sins of all time.
When Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The veil that separated God from man was removed by Jesus’ death. The first Good Friday was the last Yom Kippur. Now we don’t need a Day of Atonement each year; any may come to God by faith in Jesus.
The author of Hebrews makes this clear:
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” —Hebrews 10:19-23
We may have hearts sprinkled clean, and while we rejoice in our freedom from sin, we never should forget our debt to Jesus.