DAY 4 The Voice of the Turtle Dove

Dusk falls on Shabbat as we gather to mark the beginning of a new week in the company of a close personal friend of Hans, our evening speaker, Israel Pochtar. Israel, a pastor of a Messianic Jewish congregation in Ashdod, brings good news: the “Iron Dome” (Israeli Anti-Missile System) is successfully intercepting about 90% of missiles launched from Gaza Strip. But there are even better tidings: we hear accounts of hundreds of holocaust survivors who, under the auspices of Messianic Jews & Gentile Christians, are returning & embracing Jeshua, as Messiah. What disarms these emigrants is the loving & winsome way Jewish and Christian brothers & sisters labor together as “one New Man” for the Gospel (Ephesians 2:14-16). Paul’s words concerning Israel’s rejection come to mind: “…For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?!” (Romans11:15). This puts a whole new and exciting interpretive twist on Ezekiel’s prophesy to the Breath/ Spirit (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

Sunday morning & we are off & running at 7am, our direction again north, to the archeological dig of Ancient Dan in the land that borders Lebanon & Syria. Driving through the verdant Hulla Valley (once a malaria infested swamp) we catch sight of the distant snowy peak of Mount Hermon (9000’+). Like many of the mountains of Israel, Hermon stands as a kind of spiritual landmark in the Jewish psyche of God’s great faithfulness and never failing love. The melting snow from its peaks provide the major water supply for the Jordan River which sustains all agricultural enterprise in the Valley, not to mention providing water for the entire city of Jerusalem. The daily radio report of water levels on Galilee, Raffi tells us, is like a trumpet that calls the nation to prayer.

On arriving at Banias Nature Reserve, we set off on an uphill trek along one of Hermon’s cascading streams. The journey is longer than anticipated; we eventually discover why. It seems even the best of guides can sometimes go astray and take others with them. Humbled and apologetic, Raffi quickly gets us back on the “right path” to the top of the Tel where Hans greets us with a querulous look, pointing to his watch. Raffi smiles sheepishly, and allows Hans to use him as a sermon illustration. This dig site marks the place where, 3000 years ago, Jeroboam, King of the 10 northern tribes, decided to build an altar, for reasons he deemed politically expedient, against the Lords expressed command. (You can read all about this nefarious fellow in 1 Kings 11-13, who started a trend that lasted to the end of the kings of Israel.) Hans is not long getting to the point. By setting up a golden calf as interface to God, (in effect, adding to biblical truth) Jeroboam destroys the relationship of intimacy -the distinctive mark of a Chosen People. What are the golden calves we have constructed in our lives? How have we turned our backs on God? It is a solemn moment to examine our idols & place them before the altar of the Cross. After time to our selves we reconvene on the precipice to take in the view before moving into a time of corporate intercessory prayer. Looking north to Lebanon and east to Golan Heights, my thoughts stray back to Ezekiel: the Lord does seem to be gathering the bones of his people together. There are signs of the Spirit’s moving, hints of a coming revival. The sound of discharging rifles echoing through the mountains refocuses my attention. We turn our hearts to pray for Israel and the nations of the troubled Middle East. The Lord’s commanded blessing, “.. like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion”, is what we seek; the key that unlocks the blessing & commands the Lord is “when kindred live together in unity!”(psm 133) Instinctively our attention turns inward to the deep divisions that have marred the Church’s testimony down through the centuries, even to our day in the communities from which we come; our prayer becomes a lament. Under the convicting unction of the Holy Spirit the tenor of prayer is more sincere, more importunate – the prayer of the broken and contrite that the Lord hears.

It is a long intense morning, but there is comic relief as we regroup at Banias Falls below to chat and munch Lebanese bread, amid the sound of rushing water. The name of the place in Jesus’ day was Caesarea Philippi, a beautiful out of the way spot where he would sometimes take his disciples apart for respite to explore with them deep existential questions of identity, personal faith & friendship. Interestingly, the same kind of thread is woven through our easy conversation – but then, that makes sense, He is with us too, quietly listening for his word, drawing its truth and beauty to our awareness. We dilly dally, savoring the sweetness of new found friendships & deepening fellowship. At length, after consulting with our Jewish guides, Hans rules we forego the Golan Heights, and retrace our steps, following the route along the western seashore to the point where the lake flows into the lower Jordan; Yardenit – the probable place where Jesus received confirmation of his call in the waters of baptism. It is for us too, a time of renewal, and change. I recognize for the second time today the song of the Turtle Dove (Song of Songs2:10,11). And almost in the same moment, hear the words of betrothal sound in my heart: “I am to my beloved; my beloved is to me.” (SS 2:16,6:3;7:10) – inviting me to return to my “first love”(Rev 2:4).