Sunday, October 18, 2015

Israel - Capernaum

Location of Capernaum (map from
After crossing the Sea of Galilee and visiting the Mount of Beatitudes, we traveled a short distance to Capernaum.  Capernaum, meaning "village of Nahum"1  lies on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee north of the shore where we docked.  Early in Jesus' public ministry, He left his home town of Nazareth and "headquartered" in Capernaum (Mt. 4:12-13; Mk. 1:14-28).

According to Beck, Jesus' move from Nazareth, a secluded valley town, to Capernaum, a town near trade routes, expanded the reach of Jesus' gospel message.2 More people would hear Jesus and carry knowledge of His message to more of the land.  Jesus' ministry in this region of Galilee was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Isaiah predicts that this region will see a great light, though they live in darkness (Isa. 9:1-2).  Matthew, in his gospel (Mt. 4:12-17), states that Jesus' move to Capernaum and His ministry in the surrounding area is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah's aforementioned prophecy.  This area was influenced by spiritual darkness, but Jesus brought to it the light of His truth.

Peter's House below the Octagon Church
It was in this town that Jesus called Andrew, Peter, James, and John (Mt. 4:18-22, Mk. 1:16-20).  He also called Matthew the tax collector to follow Him while in Capernaum (Mt. 9:1-13; Mk. 2:1,14-17; Lk. 5:27-32).  Jesus had performed miracles in Capernaum.  It was here that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law (Mk. 1:29-31; Lk. 4:38-39).  In fact, Peter's house is reputed to have been found in the ruins of Capernaum.  To the left is a picture of what is believed to be Peter's house (in the center), over which a 5th century church was built.  Suspended over the both of them is the current "Octagon Church".  One can see the bottom of the Octagon Church at the top of the picture.

The primary structure found at Capernaum are the ruins of the 4th century synagogue built of white
The Synagogue at Capernaum
limestone.  This was the first time I had seen any structure built before the 18th century.  It was incredible to see the 1,600 year old white columns, walls, and floor.  This was the first of many amazing sights I would see on this trip.  These were the types of archaeological ruins that I had only seen in pictures prior to this!  I could not believe that I was here seeing this for myself with my own eyes!

When we first entered the synagogue, our tour guide, Boaz Shalgi from EDI Travel, requested the group sit down while he explained something of which I had never thought.  Most rabbis during the first century did not accumulate a following until they were older and well respected.  Jesus was only 30 years old and He had disciples learning under Him.  Even the crowds were following Him.  Not only was this little known teacher from Nazareth gaining a following, He was comparatively young and just starting ministry.  The religious leaders of the time were frustrated and jealous.  You can watch Boaz teaching on this subject here.

The First Century Foundation
Underneath the foundation of the Byzantine synagogue is the black basalt foundation of what is believed to be the synagogue from Jesus' time.  To the left is a picture of a cutaway of the 4th century synagogue so that we can see that it's foundation is built on the foundation of black basalt rock indigenous to that area.  This picture shows the foundation of the synagogue that Jesus would have taught in when He taught in Capernaum!  There are a number of different sights to see in Capernaum, but in my opinion none of those compare to seeing the synagogue.

Next Stop: Magdala

1 George W. Knight, The Holy Land: An Illustrated Guide to Its History, Geography, Culture and Holy Sites (Ulrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2011), 250.

2 John A. Beck, Discovery House Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2015), 246-247.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Israel - Mt. of Beatitudes

The next stop on our trip through Israel is the Mount of Beatitudes.  The name of this mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee is Mount Eremos.  In the fourth century, the Byzantines built a church on the mountain.  Later, the Franciscans built a chapel on the site, which stands today.

Ascending Mt. Eremos
Rather than going to the normal “touristy” location on the mount (the chapel location), our guide took us up the sea-facing side of Mount Eremos.  We made a short ascension to a small location on the mountainside under a tree.  From this location, we had a wonderful view of the lake.  As a pastor in our group read from the Scriptures, I was impressed by the serenity of the location.  I thought about how Jesus’ voice could have carried down the mountainside while he preached the Sermon on the Mount.  Boaz Shalgi, our tour guide from EDI Travel, provided some insights from the mountainside.  He mentioned that from this mountain, one could see a city that was high on the other side of the lake.  Jesus’ hearers would have been able to see the city when He said “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matt. 5:14)  The people could literally see the practical point that Jesus was making.  As the prominent city could be seen plainly and could not be hidden, so followers of Christ should shine and have a testimony that is plain for all to see.  
Mount Arbel
While Mount Eremos is the traditional site of the sermon on the mount, there is another site nearby that has been argued to be the likely spot for this occasion.  Mount Arbel is southwest of Mount Ermos.  It provides a large cliff in addition to a flat place.  According to Beck, this meets both the narrative in Matthew and in Luke.1 A friend of mine, Dr. Richard Liverance, took a group of people there as the site for the Sermon on the Mount. (Incidentally, he is planning a trip to Israel next year (2016). If you are interested, message me at my Google+ account.) From this site, the region of the Sea of Galilee can be seen including the cities that surround the lake. I cannot discuss the location of the Sermon on the Mount without discussing the contents of this important discourse. Jesus shockingly calls out that one's righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of that day. (Matt. 5:20)  The people considered them the religious elite.  Jesus identifies in this sermon that one cannot just practice outward religious ceremony in order to please God.  One must have a heart that obeys Him fully, which we cannot humanly accomplish. So, how can we have a perfect heart before God? Paul states in his letter to the Romans (3:28), "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Faith in the perfect Christ's death as our substitute fulfills this on our behalf. Those who have been justified by Jesus' blood are reconciled to God. (Rom. 5:9-11).

The next stop on our tour of Israel is going to be Capernaum, the city where Jesus centered His Galilean ministry.

1 John A. Beck, Discovery House Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2015), 248-49.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

First Series - Israel

While this blog is primarily about biblical topics and issues, I’m going to start this blog off with a series on the land of Israel.  My wife and I were blessed with participating in a trip to Israel this past February.  The experience was so incredible that I must write about it.  We are going to visit the places where the kings and prophets of Israel walked, where Jesus changed the world, and where the disciples proclaimed the gospel.  Some of the places we’ll visit are: the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Migdol (Magdala), Beit Sh’ean, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, En Gedi, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and more.  I am extremely excited to share this experience with you.

A quick note about the pictures on the posts. All of these were taken by my wife and myself. At one point early in the trip, she decided that I lagged behind too often getting pictures. Therefore, she took over the camera so that I could observe as much as I could. She is so good to me! (I still took some with my phone because I could not help myself.)

A note about the touring company with whom we journeyed.  They were fantastic!  The company is EDI (Experience Destination Israel) Travel, founded by tour guide Boaz Shalgi, a seventh generation Israeli.  His knowledge of the history and geography of Israel (modern and biblical) is phenomenal.  EDI took care of the details of our travel, wonderful accommodations, and entry fees.  We just showed up and drank in all of the wonder of being in the Holy Land!

The Sea of Galilee

We arrived early in the morning at the west side of the Sea of Galilee. After a short sleep, we woke up to a sunny yet hazy morning. After a filling breakfast, we piled into the tour bus and headed for our first "tour" of the trip - a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We boarded a modern vessel with a ancient flare to its design. Out on the lake, we listened to worship music while we took in the sights from the sea. We could see the cities of Tiberias and Migdol on the east shore of the sea. To the north, barely visible through the haze, was Mount Hermon.  

Early in boat ride, I just stood there drinking in all of the sights, impressed with the thought that we were on the sea where the disciples fished, where Jesus slept in the boat when the storm came upon the disciples, and where Jesus walked on the water. It was just so much to take in!

The Sea of Tiberias, an alias for the Sea of Galilee, is approximately 12km (7.5 miles) wide and 20km (12.4 miles) long. It is the only natural fresh water lake in the nation of Israel. The Dead Sea is larger, however it is not fresh water. According to the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Sea of Galilee provides more than 25% of the fresh water to the nation of Israel.1

During another point in the trip across the lake, the owners of the boat demonstrated the process of fishing with a net on the Sea of Galilee.  He gave it a shot, but no fish.  Being with a group of pastors, they shouted "throw on the right side of the boat" as the resurrected Jesus said to the disciples when they were fishing without catching any fish (John 21).  When the disciples cast on the right side of the boat, the nets were straining at the number of fish caught.

Following a couple of other stops around the sea, we stopped to a restaurant where one of the menu items was the "Saint Peter's Fish." The fish is served with head and tail on. The fish is a species of tilapia, is very mild, and tastes quite good. I do not know if the fish we ate was actually taken from the Sea of Galilee (I am told that the species is the same), but the experience and food were great nonetheless.

After crossing the lake from east to west, we disembarked at Tiberias. As we walked off the dock, we immediately experienced the Jesus Boat Museum. The Jesus Boat (aka The Galilee Boat) was discovered in 1986 by two fisherman near Capernaum.2 The boat was raised from the sediment and was restored over a period of years. It now rests in the Yigal Allon Center. No one knows who rode in the boat, but it is known to be from the time of Jesus and represents the boat design from that period. What a sight to see a boat from the 1st century and have a glimpse at the type of vessel Jesus may have ridden.

Here are some of the passages that recount the time that Jesus and the disciples spent around or on this lake:

  • Matt. 4:18-22 - Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John
  • Matt. 8:23-27 - Jesus calms the storm while on the lake
  • Mark 6:45-52 - Jesus walks on the water
  • John 21 - Jesus' post-resurrection appearance on the shore of the lake

1 "Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)", Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, last updated on November 4, 2013, accessed August 23, 2015,
2 Eric H. Kline, Biblical Archaeology : A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 106.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Inauguration

So, what is this blog about?  Why does it exist?  What is the author's intent?

When a reader views a blog for the first time these are the questions that run through his/her mind.  This launching post intends to address these queries and a little more.

What is the impetus behind the blog?

First, one may ask "why another blog?".  There are many blogs authored and posted on the internet.  Do we really need another?  There are many godly men and women that use the internet medium to communicate the Truth.  Why should David maintain one as well?   The more I ruminated on the idea the more I realized that another voice proclaiming the truth in the clamor of error is needed.  Another voice announcing the Gospel is important in this world where sin is celebrated so loudly.  Therefore, I purpose to proclaim the truth of the Scriptures to the best of my ability in this blog.

In addition to being another voice for the truth, this blog is a forum for discussion on theological topics.  People around the world that can examine biblical truth together in the comments section of this blog.  I look forward to discussions with other theologians on the planet.

I look to this venue to refine my communication of and understanding of the Scriptures.  Publicly displaying my understanding of the truth of God's Word forces me to think through biblical topics and the best way to communicate that truth.  I pledge to be prepared on the topics on which I write.  I also plan to receive constructive criticism from others on my thoughts and understanding of the Word.  I welcome feedback that corrects my thinking, if that criticism is founded in a sound understanding and argument from the Scriptures.

What topics are addressed in this blog?

Much of what I covered to answer the question "why another blog?" answer this question, but I'll reiterate.  The primary issues we'll be tackling are related to the Bible, theology, and living the Christian life.  We will primarily focus on biblical theology.  Against popular (and even Christian) opinion, theology is *not* primarily an academic pursuit.  It is a very practical endeavor.  Theology gets a bad rap as an impractical exercise with no connection to devotion and the real Christian life.  I believe that to be erroneous and dangerous thinking.  Therefore, I look forward to discussing theology and its practical implications and application together.

On occasion, I'll also present a book review.  The books will be biblical or theologically focused.  I love to read and discuss good books.  I have a habit of purchasing books that look like a good read.  I have a Kindle application full of books that I have not read yet and a book case in the same situation.  My wife tells me that I do not need to purchase any more books since I have "plenty of reading material" currently. :-)

Lastly, I'll also present some topics related to biblical archaeology at times.  It's an interest and passion of mine as well.  In fact, the first series of posts will be related to my recent trip to Israel.  The trip was so fascinating and such a life changing experience that I cannot help but share the experience.

Why the name "Grafted into the Vine"?

I have been impressed with the thought that Paul calls out in Romans 11:17-36.  Paul uses the metaphor of a cultivated vine and a wild vine to illustrate a spiritual truth.  Israel is God's chosen people.  The Jews received the promises and the covenants with direct communication from Yahweh. However, the Jews who have rejected the Messiah are spiritually cut off from Him, the vine, as long as they remain outside of Christ.

In contrast, I, a Gentile, have been grafted into the vine through faith in Christ.  Paul likens the non-Jewish believer as a wild branch that is grafted into the cultivated vine.  Believing Gentiles are now recipients of God's saving grace through His Son and are objects of his love and mercy.  I am in awe of God's grace and mercy bestowed upon me.  I was reminded of this truth upon return of a recent trip to Israel.

A song that Maranatha Music! produced back in the 1980's puts a fine point on my thoughts:

Baruch Hashem Adonai

Who am I to be part of Your People
The ones that are called by Your Name
Could I be chosen as one of Your own
Could it be that our blood is the same
How can a stranger, a remnant of nations
Belong to the Royal Line
You showed your grace when the branches were broken
And I grafted into the Vine

Baruch Hashem Adonai
Baruch Hashem Adonai
Blessed be the Name of the Lord
Baruch Hashem Adonai

The name "Grafted Into the Vine" bears the name of this truth.  The importance of this fact in my life is why I gave this name to the blog.

I look forward to this adventure -- communicating the truth of God's Word and contemplating it together along with the application of it to our lives.