By Rev SEIK PITOI
Netanya is a beautiful city that sits on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Waking from our first night in Israel, everyone was confronted with a truly breathtaking view of the sea from our balconies.
Tour guide Semir’s warning to be on time the next morning was unnecessary as most of the folk were up and ready by 6am! He was amazed as he had never seen a more enthusiastic bunch of tourists as this lot from PNG!
Being coastal people, we all felt at home to be near the sea and it was not long before a small group of us wandered down for a walk along the beach, enjoying the pleasant morning breeze. We came across a lady and her dog out for a walk, as well as a young couple jogging along the beach.
We greeted them and walked farther along, taking photos and admiring the beautiful local flowers along the way. Soon it was breakfast time and so we returned to the hotel.
After breakfast, our first port of call for the day was at Caesarea. This city, located between Tel Aviv and Haifa, was built by Herod the Great about 25 to 13 BC. He named it after Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor famous for ordering the census (Luke 2:1).
Caesarea is Rome in almost every way, with its amphitheatre, hippodrome and aqueduct. Walking through these structures was like being transported back in time.
The Bible mentions Caesarea where Peter first took the Gospel message to the gentiles at the house of Cornelius the Roman Centurion (Acts 10:1-48), and where the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years (Acts 24: 1, 27).
There was a lot of walking to do during the week and our oldest couple, Dr and Mrs Maha, were quite impressive in being among the fittest members of the group. They tirelessly shadowed Semir at every turn, keeping up with him on all the walks.
I dropped back to playing rear guard, accompanying at a slower pace those who couldn’t keep up with the rest.
Semir preferred to inspect every nook and cranny in the programme, taking the group up and down every drain and tunnel that the Crusaders built. When I expressed my concern because of the time factor, I was told by group members that as they were enjoying the walks so much, we should leave things as they were.
I did, but the consequence was that we missed visits to other biblical places of interest. One such place was Mukhraka, where Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal on the Carmel range (1 Kings 18:17). Anyway, Semir later made it up to us with additional visits in Judea-Samaria.
Leaving Caesarea, we stopped for another walk through the ancient city of Acre, one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in Israel (see Judges 1:31). Then, we continued on to Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel built on the slopes of the Carmel range. At a certain lookout on the heights in the city, we stopped briefly to meet my friend, Pastor David Silver, a Jewish believer in Yeshua.
David pointed out before us the Jezreel valley (Armageddon) the place where the final battle will be fought (Rev 16:16). He then explained the current situation with Hamas firing rockets into Israel from Gaza, and of the other terror group, Hezbollah based in Lebanon just a few hundred miles away. Military experts say Hezbollah have over 100,000 rockets trained on Israel, especially on Haifa, ready to send over when the next war with Israel breaks out. Naturally, Israeli military is ready to deal with the situation but on the spiritual side, there is a need to raise a prayer shield.
In fact, there is a biblical command to pray for Israel (Psalm 122:6; Isaiah 62: 1-8) and David and his wife Josie lead an ‘Intercessors for Israel’ group to encourage believers from the nations to partner with them in praying for Israel daily. (As I write, the recent firing of over 100 rockets into Israel from Gaza by Hamas and the destruction of homes and synagogues highlights the importance of prayer from believers in the nations).
David’s final comment before sending us on our way was to pray for peace in Israel by interceding for Jews and Arabs. He said true peace will come only when “Jews and Palestinians turn to Yeshua, the Prince of Peace.”
We spent that night in a lovely hotel in Haifa called the Art Gallery Hotel, again with a grand view of the sea. David turned up at the hotel, ready to share in our fellowship which I had scheduled to be held after dinner.
Only five people joined me in a brief time with him. After sharing, he prayed for us and gave some gifts which I later gave to everyone in the group.
I retired that night with a troubled spirit. I was beginning to hear anti-Israel rhetoric from this Palestinian ‘Christian’ guide who knew history and parroted Bible stories, yet didn’t believe the Bible. He considered it a ‘book of fairy tales’.
He claimed Ezekiel 5:5 is not true – it was USA who planted Israel in the Middle East – not God! He also didn’t hide his abhorrence of Jewish Christians saying the only true Christians were Palestinians. He mocked the message Pastor David had shared. That night, I sensed the Lord powerfully echo a warning in my spirit. Which Bible will we stand on? Whose voice will we harken to? Then God’s charge: ‘you curse Israel, I will curse you’ (Gen 12:3)!
We left the next day for the Sea of Galilee and toured around the famous lake where Jesus did most of his earthly ministry. After a splendid boat ride on the lake, including a time of worship led by our Moderator, we had a powerful prayer session for our nation and our churches.
We finished off with singing some peroveta songs, with the evergreen “Lau anebainaabia” being a hit as usual.
We continued with a visit to Capernaum and saw the remains of the synagogue where Jesus preached, then to the site of the miracle of the fish and loaves at Tabgha.
We had lunch at a restaurant that served St Peter’s fish, which of course is a huge “tilapia”! (It reminded me of their distant cousins here at Waigani swamp!)
We continued on to the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where the Sermon on the Mount took place. Then we drove to Caesarea Phillipi at Banias Springs. This place was significant because it was here – a place of demonic worship and pantheism (referred to as ‘The Gates of Hell’) – that Peter declared the deity of the Christ, and where Christ declared the supremacy of His Church (Matt 16:16-20).
After this was a visit to Mt Bental, on the Golan Heights. The Bible refers to it as the “Golan in Bashan”, the land allocated to the tribe of Manasseh (Deut 4:43; Joshua 13: 29-31; 21: 27).
I remember in our last tour there, led by Jewish Aussie guide, Joe, an ex-Israeli paratrooper. We had the chance to tour the area and visit the bunkers used during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. In this war, Israel took control of the strategic mount which had been used by Syria to shell Israeli farms and settlements down in the Galilee area.
We could also see the borders of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon from the heights. Unfortunately, this time it was cancelled by Semir who said it was a military ‘no go zone’ and was too dangerous for us to go.
We drove on and finally arrived in the city of Tiberius, at our hotel called the Prima Galil Hotel. Again, we had that magical view of the Sea of Galilee at our windows.
There was much to contemplate and muse over after a whole day of touring so after dinner, we retired with visions of the Galilee that started to make the Bible accounts take on new meaning!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.