Our final day of travel led us into Israel’s northernmost region, the Golan Heights. All of this was completely new ground to me. As well, it was beautiful ground—lush and green—to end the trip exploring.
Tel Dan is a national park containing a gorgeous hiking trail through forest with streams and small waterfalls spread throughout. The water flowing here feeds into the upper Jordan River before flowing into the Sea of Galilee. As well, our hike took us right through the ruins of the ancient city here, dating back to 1800 BC! If you read Judges 18, THAT is where we were (see verse 28-31), in this place where God’s people turned away from Him. Right in front of our eyes was the site of an altar used in their sacrifices!
Caesarea Philippi was our next stop. In contrast to Dan, this was where Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Sitting there, we read the text from Matthew 16 and considered Peter’s reply of faith, words which Jesus attributed to God’s revelation in Peter’s life. This area, home to a major temple to Pan (and another to Zeus) in the first century, also provided us with a decent hike through its paths and ruins.
A lunch break in the Druze village of Mas’ada led us into our final stretch—two sites, separated by a handful of miles and 1900 years, both connected to past battles for the survival of Israel.
1) Mount Bental played key roles in Israel’s wars in both 1967 and 1973. The Golan Heights, still today, are a hotly contested stretch of land and a source of tension between Israel and Lebanon. Syria, another hostile neighbour, is also mere miles from the site. This peak is still topped by trenches and tunnels that were part of this site’s look-out role in those past battles. The War of Yom Kippur (1973) was a particularly tense battle, with Israel’s leaders confessing afterwards the extent of their fears at how close to defeat they came.
2) Gamla is nicknamed “the Masada of the North”. Here in the mid-60’s, Jewish citizens rebelled against the Roman Empire, even inflicting a sound beating on the first Roman troops to come against the village. That victory was short-lived, with the Romans returning with a brutal vengeance. The village was taken in a slaughter. What makes this site unusual is two-fold: For starters, its location is pretty spectacular. On a narrow peak beneath other surrounding peaks, it presents itself as a very-tough-to-take piece of land. Secondly, the site is relatively pristine due largely to the fact that the village was never rebuilt. Even today, nearly 2000 years after the Romans punched their way through the outer walls, one can see the break where they entered as clearly as if it had been last week. Actually entering the Gamla requires more of a hike than we had time for today, so our observations and conversations were had from a nearby look-out point.
As we exited the park, our group shared a brief few moments of “closing ceremony” to what has been a fantastic journey. Honestly, I have no idea how to process these five weeks. Surely, it will take a decade or more! For today, I can say without a doubt that the experience has been profound. I am deeply grateful to those who helped it happen, starting with my super-supportive wife, and flowing through to my congregation, and all those family members and friends who have lent their hands to help my family in my five-week absence. This has been a rich stretch of time.
But tonight… it’s time to head home! Thanks for the memories, Middle East. But my girls are waiting for me, and I’m off to meet them again!
One final good night from Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.