Living Stones Among Ancient Stones: 4 Reasons You Need to Visit the Land of Israel
Late Friday afternoon I arrived once again at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Lord willing, I will be here for a week, teaching an intensive course on Philippians at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya. My taxi driver, Hannan, who often has been the one carting me around in The Land, took me to my hotel, a high-rise overlooking the Mediterranean, where I settled in for the evening. On the way to the hotel, Hannan (and almost everyone I have even said hello to on this trip) wanted to talk about "Trump" and the political situation in the U.S. We did and also caught up on how our families have been doing. It was very good to see a familiar face as I re-entered Israel.
I love visiting this country for many reasons, but I would like to mention 4 and encourage you to take the trip if you get the opportunity. Let me tell you 4 reasons why you should consider doing so.
1. The People and their Cultures
With Shabbat having begun at sundown, both dining rooms were packed. I was surrounded by Jewish families, some of them very large and a few wonderfully celebrative. Here and there whole families broke out in songs, beating time with hands smacking tables, while children played within reach of the adults. Sacred prayer books were opened and read, even as food was eaten, challah bread was passed, and wine was drunk. This land beats with very ancient rhythms of home, family, and traditions. I talked to a grandfather Saturday afternoon, who had traveled to Netanya so his extended family could have a meal together on Shabbat.
Yet, the Land is wonderfully diverse as well. In my course this week the majority of students are Russian speakers (the result of a new initiative at the school to reach out to this block of messianic believers in Israel). Some 4.5 million immigrants to Israel moved to the country from the former USSR/Russia.
I have had the privilege of being in the homes of both Jewish and Arab friends, and I can tell you that the people of the Middle East embody vibrant, fascinating cultures and exude hospitality.
You should visit Israel to discover the delights of her people and their various cultures. And with those cultures come . . .
2. The Food in Israel
The food in Israel is amazing and so much healthier than you get in most parts of the world. Lots of different kinds of salads lined both sides of a whole buffet bar. What we would call guacamole, mushroom salads, carrot salads, fruit salads, vege salads, hummus, etc., etc., etc. Various meats and cooked vegetables were on offer—chicken, fish, lamb, and others. And this doesn't even scratch the surface. At breakfast Saturday morning I had smoked fish, a boiled egg, scalloped potatoes, a stuffed mushroom, 4 kinds of cheeses, a roasted sweet potato, a tomato relish, halvah (if you don't know what that is, you need to discover it; this is the one thing Pat asked me to bring her from Israel), granola (with nuts, real dried fruits, and seeds) in yogurt, and a pastry. This was supplemented by several cups of Nescafe "Red Mug" coffee and a glass of juice.
I am confident that before I leave next weekend I will have eaten some form of shawarma (roasted meat sliced from a revolving spit) and several plates of Arab barbecue. One of the best places I have ever eaten in the world was not too far from where I am now, a family-run place with all kinds of shish kabobs accented with mini-dishes of salads and warm pita bread.
You need to experience this food!
3. The Biblical "Stones"
Of course, many believers travel to Israel to visit the ancient sites, and visiting those sites can enhance your reading of the Bible. To walk the ruins us Caesarea, imagining Paul leaving from that impressive harbor by ship, or to go to Capernaum and see the basalt layer of the synagogue—that black layer is what is left from the actual synagogue where Jesus worshiped and taught—is a life-changing experience! You get clarity on what the land of the Bible is like in terms of climate, understand the spatial terrain as you move around the land, and touch ancient stones, thinking to yourself, "This is real-world stuff. God has done things in this place."
You should take the opportunity to see the ancient stones of Israel, walk the shores of Galilee, climb the heights of Masada, or visit the wonders of Jerusalem. But even more exciting are . . .
4. The "Living Stones" -
It always makes me sad that so many of my friends who visit Israel do so without ever meeting any messianic Jews or Christ-following Arabs. The church is thriving in parts of Israel, and believers, often marginalized communities within the broader culture, have a living, dynamic faith. See, for instance the website of One for Israel (be sure to scroll down to see the videos at the bottom). Their videos at times get a gazillion hits, and they are so well done and are such a powerful witness in this place. They get calls constantly from those who want to talk about Yeshua, and people are coming to faith. The college where I teach ministers to both Jews and Arabs and is one of the places in Israel where the two groups really love each other, driven by a common love for Yeshua. ICB offers online courses you can take, or you could come for a study stay. You need to visit Israel to see what God is doing in the church here. It might surprise you!
So come to Israel. There are many reasons to do so. If you get the opportunity, come. You will be glad you did.