In July 1997, a variety of conditions came together all at once that led me to go to Israel on business for a week. I had only a few days' notice; the trip was rather unexpected. However, on this trip, I was filled with awesome feelings of God's Spirit as I had never felt before.
My business goal, essentially to gather information from a manufacturer in the Mediterranean coastal town of Herzliya, was achieved smoothly.
As you may know from the topics of my web page, I am keenly interested in language. I really don't know Hebrew except a few words and expressions (shalom, shabbat, mazel tov, &c.). I could recognise a few Hebrew letters, but the only word whose meaning and pronunciation I could actually figure out was שושו (Friday) because I saw it in the appropriate spot on a calendar. The first word I figured out orally was "ken" (meaning "yes"). English was very prevalent there, tough. The only people I encountered there who did not speak English were some French-speaking tourists.
I received many new spiritual, political, commercial, and personal insights into why this world is the way it is. I gained a more intimate feel for the religious struggles of the middle east. More importantly, I gained a more intimate understanding of God himself.
I arrived in Israel on a Sabbath afternoon. I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in Herzliya; the cab driver had a little bit of trouble finding the hotel, but we got there without too much trouble. I got out and paid the fare (including the Sabbath surcharge) of 83 sheqelim, and then off the driver sped. I went up to the hotel door, and it was locked. I tried all the other doors I could see, and they were all locked, too. I sat down on the steps with my suitcase and my bags. I felt so naïf to be in a foreign, hot country with a hotel reservation at an apparently closed hotel.
My first guess was that the hotel was closed for the Sabbath. Maybe I could get in after sunset. It was about 4 p.m.; it was probably four or five hours till sunset. What am I supposed to do until then, especially with all my luggage? I just sat on the steps of the hotel for about fifteen minutes; afterall, I was tired after my long flight. I did not want to have to deal with people quite yet--I just wanted to plop into a bed and take a nap.
I thought about the whole concept of the Sabbath. First of all, am I, as a Gentile Christian, subject to observance of the Sabbath? Well, the Mosaic law was given to the descendants of Israel. As far as I know, I am not a descendent of Israel, but, who knows, perhaps Issachar or someone may actually have been my great great ... great grandfather? Through the atonement of our wrongdoings through the death of Jesus Christ, we have a new covenant, which gives us direct access to God. Anyway, the fourth commandment tells Israel the "alien within your gates" is also to refrain from labour, so I figured they could nab me for desecrating the Sabbath since I was on their turf. [Although there was no real gate around me, I have heard that almost all of modern Israel is contained within eruvim (i.e., areas where they've strung up barely noticeable strings high in the air as virtual walls to circumvent various provisions of the Mosaic law related to the returning of land in the year of the Jubliee and carrying objects on the Sabbath).] But wait, I'm not labouring at all. I'm trying to get into my hotel so I can fulfill my sabattical obligation to rest anyway!
I started thinking some more. I thought,
a hotel wouldn't be closed for
the Sabbath. I saw people going in and coming out of the hotel acrost the
street; likewise with a hotel down the road. My next hypothesis was that the
hotel had gone out of business. O boy! How am I supposed to deal with this?
Around the corner, by the hotel, I saw a folks eating on a terrace. It looked
like a restaurant. I decided that I might as well break down and ask someone
at the restaurant whether the hotel had just closed for the day or for good.
As I approached the entrance to the restaurant, I found that its entry was
shared with a side door to the hotel. As a matter of fact, the restaurant was
part of the hotel. The side door was open, and it led right to the
reception area with the desk clerk just waiting for me to check in. I got to my
room and took a nap.
My job-related tasks were over by Wednesday, a little earlier than anticipated. Wednesday evening, I booked a one-day bus tour for Thursday to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. However, I was told that the tour would only go to Jerusalem due to turmoil on the route to Bethlehem.
As I was on the bus on the way up through the countless desert hills up to Jerusalem, we heard a loud thud and noticed that the front windshield of the bus had been cracked. The driver told us that boys hid out on the side of the road with rocks in hand just so that they could peg passing tour busses with their slingshots. Anyway, it added little excitement to the trip.
Our first stop was at the Mount of Olives. We visited a churchhouse which, we were told, was on the site of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent in prayer the evening before being crucified. Across the valley we could see the wall around the ancient city of Jerusalem. We could see where Muslim masons had closed off the eastern Golden Gate into Jerusalem many centuries ago in a feeble attempt to vex the Jews who anticipated the entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem. [Jesus, the true Messiah, had actually already been through that very gate centuries before the blockage.] They also established a Muslim cemetery blocking the entrance to the literally blocked-up gate. We could also see the gold-plated Dome of the Rock mosque which is supposed to be on the site of the temple of the Lord, originally built by Solomon.
Before actually entering the old city of Jerusalem, our bus took us to some diamond showroom. Yeah, like we all really wanted to go there[:(].
We finally entered the inner city of Jerusalem by the Jaffa Gate (see photo). Through the inner city, we traveled on foot. This led us into the city's Christian quarter where we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the puported site where Jesus was buried. It was ornate.
Through the many ways and alleys we went. We saw several markets. Our Jewish guide brought us momentarily into the Arabian quarter, apparently, just so she could say that we had been there.
In the Jewish quarter, where we spent quite a bit of time, I regret not having purchased one of the many intricately designed yarmulka as a souveneir.
We went on down to the area in front of the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the wall which originally surrounded the temple of the Lord, where folks pray for the restoration of the temple. I prayed here that those would come to an understanding of the new covenant through Jesus Christ who rebuilt a new temple through his Resurrection which overcame death. My body itself is a temple housing God's Holy Spirit, and I am thankful!
I began to understand the violence-inspiring rage so prevalent in the Middle East as I gazed upon the Dome of the Rock mosque so prominently standing upon the site of the temple.
It was rather funny, however, as you see in my photograph that a simple, yet gloriously intricate leaf, obscured that particular mosque. Nothing built by man can compare to God's creations. I thank God for the peace living in me, his Temple.
I thought much about the Temple in Jerusalem. I read all about its building and many of the activities which happened in that Temple as I was in Jerusalem. I also know that, as Christians, we too are builders expected to build with high-quality materials and great care (see I Corinthians 3:10-17).
Getting out of Israel was no piece of cake. Boy! I surely was asked lots of questions about what I did and where I went. I arrived safely home.