Introduction Lesson One:
The ancient land of Israel is a testimony, an evidence if you will, of the greatness of what God did in that country. A testimony of the truth that we find in the pages of the Bible. The people who lived here, have left behind a record, an indelible record, if you will, of their lives. An important part of that record is the cities where they lived. Ancient piles of debris that contain their culture, architecture, art, their diet, the weapons they used, and even on occasion, their writings.
These piles of ancient cities, often build one on top of the other, are called tells. People in ancient times tended to build and live in the same places. Maybe because there were occupations there, or because a main road when near by. Or maybe, most likely of all, a source of fresh water.
As archeologists begin to peal away the layers of this ancient civilization, the culture, and even the people of the Bible come to light.
I’d like to ask you to join us to this adventure. We’re going to try to understand the people, the context of the Bible. It will mean some extra hiking, some climbing, some travel to out of the way places, but the end result, I think, will be well worth the effort. As we discover again, that God’s word, God’s message, is as relevant for us, as it was for them.
One of the greatest of the tells, is tell Gezer. This huge mound of ancient remains stands along the great road of the world, the world of the Bible, that connected the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It stands, if you will, as a standing stone along the ancient cross roads of civilization.
Ok, welcome to tell Gezer. You just had a chance to walk up the side of this tell, so you get an idea of how huge this tell is. It’s one of the largest of the three tells in the country of Israel, and you can tell by the size of the hill that we’re on, apart from the artificial debris under our feet, that this is a defensible location, a place where you can keep the enemies out. So people settled here. Maybe as long as 3,000 years before this era, 3,000 years before Jesus, they began living here, already in the early bronze age. You’re sitting on that. If you just stop and think about that for a moment, that means that you’re sitting on 40, 50, 60 feet of the life of people for the past 5,000 years. Somewhere down under your feet, you have the conditions of when Solomon was king, when Abraham walked through this area, when Jesus was here, and 500 years ago, lets say, during a Turkish or an Arab period. All of that is here, right under your feet.
The second background thing I’d like to go into is more geography. I’d like to talk a little bit about where we are and why tell Gezer is here, and why it’s so big. Look back to the west here, behind where we are, in that direction over there, and you’ll see the costal plain. The coastal plain is that band of area along the Mediterranean Sea coast, 10, 12, 15 miles wide, fairly flat, very fertile.
Just over in this direction, out here to the east, you’ll see the very beginning of the foot hills. The Shephalah; out in the distance, you can just see that line of hills, behind it, only about 8 miles, start the hills or the mountains of Judea. And we’re only here 15 miles from Jerusalem. And Jerusalem being highest point, at the top, at the plateau or whatever, of the hills of Judea, then you start down the back side, to the rift valley, to the dead sea, to the Jordan River. So we’re standing right where those hills begin.
But what makes this location so significant has to do with the countries around here. If we were to go off in that direction, or the south west, we would come before very long to the country of Egypt, and it was a major civilization in Biblical times. It was the world power, it was technologically advanced, it was culturally advanced, maybe something similar to what the western world is today. Maybe something along the lines of the United States even.
To our east were the oriental civilizations, in what we call Mesopotamia. It had different names, called Persia, called Babylon, called Assyria. Now those two empires needed each other for economic and cultural reasons. And you have to imagine down there below you on the coastal plain, was the life artery, the blood artery of two civilizations who were connected right here.
And if you could control this little location where the road went between the swamps and the mountains, you could in effect control world trade, and if you controlled world trade, you could control the world. So a city like this represented much more than just a big city or and economic base, or a place where people lived. A city like this represented a place where the world could be controlled, because you could control the trade that went on internationally. And that’s what makes this location so significant.
So what that meant is that right here at your feet, there was a spot where not only did we have that huge international road, the road that connected the two world empires, but right here you had another road, really the only road running east and west across the country, until you get way up in the north, that road goes across the country, down to the Jordon River and connects with another road that’s on the other side of the Jordan River, over in the country that’s today Jordon.
So you have two main roads, joining together in a junction. The coastal road, which we call the Via Maris “The way of the sea,” and the Jericho road, if you will, or the road that goes up here, into the mountains and comes out at Jericho, and makes this city, very, very significant.
If we walk from the high place, where the standing stones are, down along the side of the tell, we come to where the archeologists have uncovered a huge gate complex, dating back to the time of Kind Solomon, including city streets, gates, and gate chambers.
We’re sitting in a city gate, which most archeologists believe is from the time of Solomon. I’d like to talk a little bit about city gates, and also talk a little more about the city that’s here. One of the areas of the city, of course, that’s going to be really, really significant is this area of defense. Because, as a city grows and becomes this large, you’re going to need to defend yourself, and one of the primary areas that needs defending is going to be the gate, because that’s where there’s an opening in your walls, that’s going to create a problem.
So a real science developed of building city gates, over a period of time. And you’re actually sitting in one of those gates. And you have to imagine, going off over here, I just see the edge of it, is a city wall. Going in that particular direction, almost towards the east, and a city wall, going in that direction, almost to the west. Later if you go outside the gate, you’ll be able to see some of the stones in the face of that wall. And right here, in this opening is the city gate. And across that opening would probably have been some kind of a wooden or metal clad door, which would have swung shut and closed the gate. But that wasn’t complete enough for them, they needed more than that by way of defense, so what they would do, is they would actually build a room, inside of the city wall, and what you’re in, is a large room, that was actually more or less fashioned to the city wall, and into which the gate opened. They originally would have been as much as 20 or 30 foot high, so that when you came through the city gate, it literally looked like there were compartments to your right and to your left, and if you notice, there’s one, two, three compartments on that side, and one, two three, compartments on that side. Which is one of the reasons that archeologists concluded that this came from the time of Solomon, cause it’s a solomonic, six chambered gate, three on each side. Now the purpose during war time would be, if the enemy broke through this particular opening, and there were soldiers here trying to prevent the enemy from breaking through, and maybe there were even there were opening for the soldiers on the roof, which was then part of the city wall, so if some of the soldiers in here were killed, or wounded, you could then drop new soldiers down into these compartments, and always out number the enemy.
Over time, a city gate like this, became the administrative center of life in this tell. So than rather than having all the common people, or strangers going up to wherever the palace was in this tell, and meeting with the king and his own quarters, what would happen is you would come here, and in these compartments would be the various functionaries of the city. If you wanted an audience with the king would come down at a certain time and would have an audience here in the compartments of the gate. So much so that the phrase in the biblical world “to sit in the gate” is a synonym for “to be a judge”. An example of that would be in Genesis chapter 19 when God comes, or the angels come to Sodom and Gomorra, according to that story, down over here at the Dead Sea, when the angels come, they find Lot, Abraham’s nephew, sitting in the gate; an actual person of influence in that particular city. It also is taught in the Bible, and we will talk about this more extensively when we film in Jerusalem at the eastern gate of the city, that the last judgment, the final judgment is held in the gate of the city gate. Every major city that we’re going to go to, we’re going to see a city gate.
Somebody asked already about the trench running down the middle of the street. That doesn’t seem to be too terribly appropriate, down the middle of the main street of the city. That would have been the main drainage channel, or the sewage channel of the city. And the water would rushed through there, and if it rained, the water would rush through there, and it would wash the sewage out under the gate and down into the valley and there it would lay.
That sewage that lay down there would become the city refuge dump, you would burn debris, if animals died that you couldn’t eat because it wasn’t clean, or if an animal died of a disease or something you would throw that in there. In the case of certain Bible stories they even through people’s bodies in there. In some cities the leper colony would be located along that part of the city. Right outside your main gate. And in the example of that particular case in Jerusalem, that valley was called the “Hinnom” (gi-hennon in Hebrew, from which the Greek word gehenna comes from, which Jesus used to designate hell in Matthew 5:22). And in our language, comes out as “hell”. So that the picture in the Bible of hell is not a volcano, or hot lava, or a roaring fire, as much as it is a sewer valley. There is fire because there flesh is burning, the decaying flesh of animals, the warm that never dies, the book of Revelation says, because of all that rotting sewage.
So, you sit in a city gate that is probably Solomon’s, which means it dates back to 920 BC. So imagine that, that that laid here for that long, still there. And, if you look behind you at that pile, that whole pile if full of stuff that has never been uncovered. And no one knows for sure, exactly what’s there.
I think you’ll discover with me that as you look at these places, and discover how the people of the Bible lived, here in this country, you’ll agree that the Bible comes alive, and carries an impact; an impact even for the 20th century, if you see it in the context in which it was given.
I. Live at the crossroads of the world
One of the things that has come across very strongly in my time in this country and in reading the history of this country, particularly from the period of the Bible, is that God put the children of Israel on the cross-roads of the world. I had always imagined that this country was a little bit like north-west Iowa, a quiet little place where you could live, and didn’t have to interact with the rest of the world. Exactly the opposite. People, what you need to feel as you sit here today, you need to appreciate what a cross roads this was. God said, “I want to affect my world. I want to create morality. I want to create justice, but I want to create salvation. I want to create my system of living. So I’ll put my people where every body is going to know about them.
It seems to me, by leaving the Canaanites here, the Israelites were making a serious mistake. Because God gave them this country, in order that by living here they could influence the rest of the world. And in effect, and I want you to hear this real clearly, in effect whoever lived here exerted a major control on the world. And by the Israelites saying, “We’re satisfied to live up in the mountains for whatever reason, we’ll let the Canaanites live here.” They gave the Canaanites the major influence over the rest of the world and the rest of the culture.
Now, the faith lesson in that to me, is this: it seems to me that as I read my Bible, that’s exactly the calling that God gives to people who follow Him today. He says, “I want you to live on the cross-roads of life.” People need to see you, me, so that they can see God. And we have a tendency in Christianity to be isolationistic. We have a tendency to pull ourselves off into little tiny communities, isolate ourselves from what is going on in the rest of the world, and just sit back and kind of take hot shots at people instead of saying, “Our job is to live so publicly and so front and center that we become a flavoring influence.” As people see us, they see God.
II. Be a standing stone:
Now, let us look out here once, and let me pick up. That ties right into our faith lesson. What you’re looking at down below your feet was at one point a high place. Why isn’t it a high place now? Because the tell grew above it. So at one point that was the highest place. Now it’s down below your feet. There is a tradition, a custom, a practice if you will, in the Middle East, that when something significant, of a religious nature, happened, or a political nature happens, you take a stone like that and stand it up. Those are called standing stones, pillars, “masseboth”, if you will. When God gave the commandments in Exodus 24, on Mount Sinai, He called the 70 elders of Israel up to the mountain, or up the base of the mountain, and then He had Moses stand up 12 of those pillars like that, one for each of the tribes of Israel, so that anyone who walked by and saw them could then say, “Woo, what happened here?” And you could say, “Let me tell you what God did.”
In 1 Peter, Peter uses that image, he mixes his metaphor in a since, to say, “What those were, you are.” He does it like this. He says, “you also are living stones, being built into a spiritual house.” Now there he is saying you are all like a piece of stone that God is shaping and cutting and preparing to build this house with, which is His world, His kingdom, His church. But I think that in the context of the passage he also has in mind that each one of you is a “masseboth”, a “massebah”, a standing stone. So that when people see you they say, “What happened here?” And my reason for saying that is, lesson to what he says latter. He says, “You’re living stones,” and then he says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that they may see your good deeds and glorify your god.” Now that’s exactly what that stone did. You’re supposed to see that stone and say, “What’s the deal?” and you say, “Let me tell you about God.” And then they say, “Wow! Your god is incredible!” We are a stone that represents something significant that God did.
My view is this, my perspective is this, God put the Israelites in this country, so that they would influence the rest of the world. What Israel often failed to do, was to conquer the Gezars of their world, where their cultures were really controlled. And my faith lesson from that is that God puts us in the world, so that the rest of the world sees us, and through us comes to know Him. And our mistake is the same, not to take control of those things that really shape our culture. That I think is a mistake .
So what are we called to be? Standing stones! My suggestion would be, pick on out, have your picture taken next to it, and every time you see it, think, “wouldn’t it been neat if whenever people saw me, just by my godly life that people would say, ‘You’re god must really be something else.’”