Continued from A visit to Israel (2) October 2015
On Monday 18 May, we spent a full day in Jerusalem. We left the hotel by 7.15am and toured the tunnels of the Western Wall, where layers of history can still be seen. Herod’s engineering skills and ambitious projects confirmed his title of Herod the Great, but greater than he is King Jesus, whose kingdom lasts for ever!
We stopped by the Western Wall. Men and women have separate sections, but many women, including some from our group, stood on chairs peeking over the wall at the men. Several 13-year-old Jewish boys were celebrating their Bar Mitzvahs.
Joel and several of the men went next to the Western Wall, where hundreds of Orthodox Jews were praying and dozens were studying. He said that was far more fascinating than what tourists normally see.
Our next stop was the City of David, just south of the old city walls. In this Old Testament Jerusalem, we saw excavated sites of walls, buildings and artefacts dating back to King David’s time.
The Gihon Spring supplied fresh water to the residents of Jerusalem. The Assyrians threatened to invade the city during King Hezekiah’s reign, so the king had his men dig through the rock from the north and south, meeting in the middle to divert the water from the city. Visitors today can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is 1750 feet long, or take the shorter, dry route.
Half our group, including me, took the wet route. The water was refreshingly cold and 1-2 feet deep. I was feeling claustrophobic until Simon Green (always valiantly bringing up the rear) started singing ‘The Lord’s my shepherd!’ We sang our way through the water, until we reached the Pool of Siloam where the blind man’s sight was restored. His testimony was, ‘One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see’ (John 9:25).
Joel did a meditation on that story here. This story has special meaning for me since God used my husband’s preaching from this text, a few decades ago, to make me conscious of my spiritual deliverance in Christ.
After trekking back through another long tunnel, we saw the Beautiful Gate, where Peter and John healed the lame man.
In the afternoon we visited a model of the city during the Second Temple period. We also toured the Biblical Archaeology Centre at the Israel Museum, and the Shrine of the Book, which tells the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Joel found the Isaiah scrolls, among these, very moving.
Our original plan was to go to the Dead Sea area, but since it is usually ten degrees hotter there than in Jerusalem, we rescheduled that for Thursday when it was supposed to be cooler. Instead, we headed south to Herodium, which is the fortress and palace that Herod the Great built on a high hill, made higher by transferring soil from the next hill.
This is likely where Herod met with the wise men and dispatched his soldiers to kill the infants of Bethlehem. Herod knew he was not loved by the people, so decreed that important men be killed on the same day he died, so that the people would be sure to grieve on future anniversaries of his death. But those who were ordered to do so refused. Herod is supposedly buried here.
How great is the contrast between King Herod and King Jesus! King Herod, an old man, lived in pomp and power yet was paranoid about his kingdom. He was not of the house of Israel but a foreigner with no rights to the throne. He was a liar and murderer (John 8:44).
On the other hand, King Jesus was the Son of Abraham, born miraculously of a virgin. He was the Son of David, Israel’s rightful and promised King (Matthew 1). His birth fulfilled God’s promises (Matthew 2:6). He was no mere man, but Immanuel, God with us in the flesh (Matthew 1:23).
Wise men worshipped him and brought him costly offerings (Matthew 2:10-11). He was no murderer, but saved his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He was forced to flee for his life at an early age, and one day was nailed to the cross for our sins. What a King!
Today Jesus reigns in a palace far more beautiful than Herodium ever was, and, if we serve him, we shall reign with him there for ever.
In Bethlehem we see how God’s plan of salvation was composed of many links in an unbreakable chain of grace. One link was when, more than 3000 years ago, two women came to Bethlehem. One was a native of this Jewish town; the other, her daughter-in-law, was a foreigner, from Moab.
Though an outsider from a pagan land, Ruth not only was accepted by the Jewish community, but married a Hebrew man named Boaz, for she too had come to trust in the Lord (Ruth 2:12).
Another link in the chain appeared some years later, when the Lord directed the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and speak to Jesse the grandson of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Samuel 16:1).
Boaz had several sons, and God led Samuel to anoint the youngest of them, David. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Ruth’s great-grandson, David, and he became the champion of Israel and the father of a dynasty of kings.
It seemed that God’s chain of promise was shattered when, after centuries of disobedience, the royal line of David fell under God’s judgement. However, long before the people of Israel went into exile in Babylon, the prophet Micah foretold that from Bethlehem would come a ‘ruler in Israel’.
He would not be a mere man, but an eternal Lord, whose activities were ‘from everlasting’, and who would shepherd his people ‘in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Lord his God’, and whose kingdom would extend ‘unto the ends of the earth’ (Micah 5:2, 4).
Seven centuries after Micah said those words, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and an angel announced to shepherds nearby, ‘Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11).
It is amazing that this village of Bethlehem still exists after so many years of war and hardship. It is even more amazing to consider that the reason Mary gave birth to Jesus there is because of a decree from a pagan emperor, Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).
When we are tempted to doubt that God works all things for good, let us remember how precisely he fulfilled his purpose to bring his Son into the world in the little town of Bethlehem.
We can wait for the coming of Christ’s kingdom with absolute confidence, for God’s plan did not fail in the past and cannot fail in the future.
The child of Bethlehem will reign. And we can be sure that even the seemingly random events of our day are exactly what God has planned, to bring Christ’s kingdom to all the nations; and that one day Christ will return to earth with visible glory.
Before we left the cave, we sang ‘To God be the glory’, then went to a church nearby that had even better acoustics and sang ‘Angels we have heard on high’. After lunch we visited the Church of the Nativity, which is the traditional site of the birth of Jesus.
Concluded in A visit to Israel (11-23 May 2015 (4)
Mary Beeke is the wife of Dr Joel Beeke who is minister of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, where he is also professor of systematic theology and homiletics.