Today was a day I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Today we went to Caesarea Philippi, the place where Simon became Peter. I’m so excited to tell you it about that I’m tempted to skip the other sites…but I won’t. We actually went to two other places before the big destination (emphasis mine). First, we went to the ancient ruins of Hazor. This city is another very old city. It was built thousands of years before Christ. It’s so old that when Solomon built the gates, there were already ruins of many cities below that he was building on top of. The Bible mentions that fact that Joshua came all the way up here with the Israelites after crossing the Jordan because of the symbolic importance of capturing this city. The most impressive part here was getting to go down into a huge shaft that was dug to get to water. This is similar to what we saw at Megiddo, except this time we got to go down in the tunnel. Basically, the problem was that the spring was located outside the city walls. So, they dug straight down hundreds of feet and then made a horizontal tunnel over to the spring so they could get water without leaving the city. Pretty neat.
As we were touring Hazor, it began to rain. We were expecting this, but it really started coming down. It rained so much that we didn’t get to tour our next site at all. We stopped at the entrance to the city of Dan and talked about it and prayed. It was here in Dan that the northern king Jeroboam set up a golden calf for the people to worship instead of going to the temple in Jerusalem after the kingdom split.
Now it was time to head to the feature attraction. As we arrived in Caesarea Philippi I could immediately see the big rock cliff that was so familiar from the many videos and pictures I’ve seen. I should mention that the places we went today were at the far north of Israel in the area of the Golan Heights. Jesus must have had a really good reason for bringing the apostles all the way up here. Indeed he did. It was here in front of this huge rock that Jesus told Simon, “You are Rock and upon this Rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus really knew how to use the features of the land to aid him in his teaching. There’s also another significance to this rock in regards to Peter. There is a cave in the rock that used to have a spring. Thus there seemed to be no bottom to this cave and the pagans referred to this as the “Gates of Hell.” They even used to throw animals in the hole in sacrifice to the gods they believed lived below. So when Jesus tells Peter he will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the “Gates of Hell” will not prevail against the church he is again using the geography to prove a point.
As a final exclamation point, the cave was part of a temple dedicated to the pagan God Pan who was the god of shepherds. How appropriate that Jesus would make Peter the chief shepherd of his church here at this place. While people came there to worship a pagan shepherd god, the Good Shepherd came and established his new chief shepherd as head of his new Church. Jesus knew what he was doing when he decided to come way up north here. One other neat thing about this place is that the Jordan River starts here. As I said, it used to start right in the cave, but an earthquake changed things slightly. What a powerful place! I could have stayed and prayed here all day, but it was raining and no one else was much interested in staying, so we had to move on.
We continued north from Caesarea Philippi to the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. We hoped to catch a glimpse of Mt. Hermon, the highest peak in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, the rain had left us in a big fog. However, as we ate lunch the rain that we had been experiencing actually turned to snow. As we finished eating the clouds began to give way and there before us we saw Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights beautifully covered in a fresh blanket of snow. As quickly as the mountains had appeared, the clouds again covered them and they were gone. It was also time for us to be gone from this region and so we began our decent back down to the Sea of Galilee. The rain kind of put a damper on things today, but I’m starting to accept the fact that I’m just going to have to file some of this stuff away to meditate on at a later time. We’re seeing so much so quickly that I just don’t have time to process it all. It can be frustrating, but I trust that God has it all under control and maybe some of the best experiences of the Holy Land will come in a chapel somewhere back home at a later time. All in God’s providence.