Joppa’s Greatest Export May Actually Surprise You

God's compassion to Gentiles launched here in both Testaments.

One of the best parts of going to Tel Aviv is strolling down the beautiful seaside boardwalk to ancient Joppa. Amazingly, very little remains visible to speak of Joppa’s significance. But history tells a different story.

Joppa’s Greatest Export—God’s Compassion

(Photo: Joppa’s modern port, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Only a few fishing boats float in Joppa’s modest harbor today, hardly representative of its significant past. Beyond goods and trade, Joppa greatest export was something else.

It may actually surprise you.

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Jesus Has Many More Eye-Opening Truths to Teach You

A lesson from Bethsaida shows us how far we have to go.

Many people have never lived a day without knowing the name of Jesus. They grew up with the hymns and knowing the gospels. Others have taken their knowledge of the Savior further through intensive study, Bible school, or even seminary.

A Bethsaida Lesson—Jesus Wants to Teach You Much More

(Photo: The Plain of Bethsaida. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Although many years of knowing Christ often carry with them the danger of familiarity—i.e. complacency—not everyone falls prey to the threat. There is, in fact, another danger.

All of Jesus’ disciples grew up knowing their Bibles. They lived in anticipation of the Messiah. And finally, they had found Him.

  • By the time Jesus brought His disciples to Bethsaida that day, they had followed Him for more than two years.
  • They carried with them the admiration of the crowds.
  • They were leaders, promised by Christ to reign with Him.

What else was there to gain? They had gone as high as they could. Many of us might slip into the same error of thinking.

For the faithful follower of Jesus, there is another danger beyond complacency.

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Lachish—Blending the Bible, History, & Archaeology

How biblical history weaves a unified story, supporting what the Bible says.

Screams of war had had occurred where I stood. Hebrew and Assyrian arrows spraying at each other. Sling stones crushing armor and skulls. Assyrian battering rams methodically picking apart the city’s outer wall. Finally, Lachish fell.

Tel Lachish—Mixing the Biblical, Historical, & Archeological

(Photo: Relief from Sennacherib’s Victory Over Lachish, in British Museum)

Of all ancient tells in the Holy Land, the Israel Antiquities Authority owns only one—Tel Lachish. It remained the most important city in the southern kingdom of Judah, except for Jerusalem.

Archaeology abundantly points to the biblical events here as historical.

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Chasing the Surprising Geography of the Presence of God

How can God be somewhere and everywhere at the same time?

It’s hard to imagine an omnipresent God dwelling in one place. And yet, every December we celebrate the fact. God dwells in the confines of a human body. And He is also everywhere.

But the incarnation isn’t the first time God has localized His presence among His people.

Presence of God

(Photo: Olive groves near Bethlehem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God is both omnipresent and present. King Solomon summed up the seeming contradiction when he prayed:

Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built. —2 Chronicles 6:18

From creation to Christmas—and from today to eternity.

Let’s take a quick geographical journey and follow movements of God’s dwelling place among us.

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Mount Tabor–A Panorama of Beauty and Praise

Only one thing could make it more beautiful.

Unmistakable. Majestic. Distinctive. Graceful. Descriptions all appropriate for an isolated hill wedged in the northeast corner of the Jezreel Valley—Mount Tabor.

Mount Tabor

(Photo: Mount Tabor. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Rising from the valley floor 1,843 feet, Mount Tabor’s smooth contours honor it with a distinguishing outline recognizable from any vantage point.

  • From the Plain of Bethsaida north of the Sea of Galilee, I have seen the top of Tabor peeking over the hills of Mount Arbel.
  • From the other side of the Jezreel Valley on Mount Carmel, I have studied Mount Tabor’s exceptional form in its geographical context.
  • Many times as I traveled in the Galilee, Mount Tabor would surprise me with its presence. “I had no idea you could see Tabor from here,” I would find myself saying.

From any direction, the mountain stands alone in both beauty and topography. The Prophet Jeremiah recorded,

As I live [declares the Lord] surely one shall come who looms up like Tabor among the mountains. —Jeremiah 46:18

No wonder Mount Tabor played a noteworthy role in history.  It offered a geographical landmark for travelers, a military advantage as the high ground, and it provided an illusory spiritual benefit as a high place.

It even served as a metaphor of praise to God.

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The Jordan River—Your Place of Transition

What served as a border also represents a bridge to your new life.

Other rivers have more beauty. Many are much longer. Most are far cleaner. But no river has garnered as much affection as the Jordan River. There’s a good reason.

The Jordan River—A Place of Transition

(Photo: The Jordan River, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

It wasn’t the beauty of the Jordan River that inspired centuries of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to include it in their verses.

Its significance began as a simple geographic barrier, which—practically speaking—represented a border (Joshua 22:18-25). In fact, the serpentine river still represents a border between Israel and the nation of Jordan.

But in Scripture, the Jordan River’s presence on Israel’s eastern edge stood as an enduring metaphor of transitions.

These transitions point directly to your life as well.

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Compare Jerusalem’s Mountains to God’s Presence in Your Life

How Jerusalem's Geography Can Relieve Your Doubts

Life is full of moments that expose our doubts. In spite of all the Scripture we’ve learned and all the past victories the Lord has given us, occasionally something will happen that causes serious doubt.

How Jerusalem's Geography Can Relieve Your Doubts

(Photo: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount near sunset. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Maybe it’s a financial situation that undercuts future security. Or it might be a miserable marriage. Perhaps it’s a pastor or a leader who has failed. Maybe it’s our own failure.

Whatever the reason, seasons of doubts and confusion can come even to the most committed followers of Jesus:

  • John the Baptist struggled with doubts about his own beliefs about Jesus (Matt. 11:2-3).
  • The apostle Thomas found the resurrection of Christ something he had to see before he’d believe (John 20:25).
  • Some of the disciples had doubts about Jesus’ appearing to them, even at the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17).

I confess, I’ve had my doubts as well. Sometimes circumstances literally demanded I doubt God. A simple walk in Jerusalem one evening gave me an essential reminder.

I’m convinced it can help you.

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Tel Dan—Worshipping at the Altar of Convenience

In the end, we'll find God far more satisfying.

Shady walkways. Cool breezes. Abundant streams. Luxuriant foliage. The Tel Dan Nature Preserve draws the locals as well as the travelers. It always has.

Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan

(Photo: Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

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.

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Tel Arad—Israel’s Point of Impatience with God

How traveling along the path of the unknown gives us the chance to give God greater glory.

At Tel Arad, the whole land of Canaan lay before the Hebrews. They had waited and wandered forty years in the wilderness. The Promised Land was theirs for the taking. Right there before them!

Tel Arad—Israel’s Point of Impatience with God

(Photo: Arad Israelite fort, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Instead, God led the Hebrews on a major detour.

Tel Arad in Israel’s Negev offers many benefits to its visitors. It’s an oasis of ancient archaeology. It gives a rare glimpse of Judah’s idolatry.

And it speaks to us today of the need to tap the brakes on our impatience with God’s leading.

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The Wilderness of Judea—The Ultimate Getaway

How this place of escape and seclusion still speaks to us today.

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.

Judean Wilderness at sunset.

Photo: The Wilderness of Judea at sunset. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

The places pilgrims come to see today show centuries of scars from the ruins and reconstructions of many faiths and peoples.

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.

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