After 29 years I returned to the Holy Land in Israel for a tour with some friends. On the first day we heard, “You’ve traveled to Israel to see rocks and water.” Those were some of the opening words of our tour guide, Ronnie, as he introduced us to the Holy Land experience. This was no ordinary guide; he served in the Israeli army, a famous docent, and a Messianic Jew to boot. Try to imagine for a moment…rocks and water. After spending several thousand to get there, two grueling flights, and a little jetlag, I reluctantly admitted he was right. I looked around for a moment…and all I really saw were rocks and water. Rocks and water.
Who goes to such measures to hike around a country, exhausting yourself, in constant close quarters with a large group, eating cafeteria food…on a 50-seat bus…to see rocks and water? Disappointment wasn’t Ronnie’s intention, but frustration went through my mind for a moment. His point was valid, getting us to think about Biblical truth expressed through archaeology, geology, and hydrology. After all, we are talking about excavations starting at two thousand years old. So, it made me begin to look at the rocks and start thinking about the water.
The rocks we saw were significant rocks. Chiseled and piled correctly they form synagogues, in Hebrew it’s בית כנסת pronounced bet kenesset. Jews refer to them as community centers. I wasn’t just looking at rocks, I was looking at the center of life and livelihood. I looked at rocks that the “old fox” Herod put on top of each other to pay homage to himself. I ventured to the Valley of Elah to see David’s battle with the giant, and what was I reminded of? David picked up some rocks in the dry river bed for the fight. I waded through Hezekiah’s tunnel made by means of chiseled rock. Other rocks were stacked up to represent sanctified altars that showed a sacrificial system demanded by our Holy God. Zion and the Temple is built upon a rock. The southern steps of the Temple are constructed…not out of pre-made stones amassed on top of each other, but hewn out of Mount Moriah (a rock). Still other rocks were piled up to build arenas hosting huge crowds where our early brother and sisters were singled out and made sport of as they were tortured to the laughing mocking crowds. Ronnie said, “They paraded the Christians out to the jeering assembly and the leader would stand up and shout, “For those about to die, we salute you!” And they rolled around laughing, like it was a rock concert or something. I just stared at the rocks. There were rocks everywhere…but not just any rocks.
Water is water…isn’t it? Yes, but not in the Holy Land. Distinct masses of water outline and define God’s country of Israel. The Mediterranean is the beautiful blue water that you encounter on the eastern side with modern hotels and resorts, but it was the sea that carried the Gospel to the “other parts”, ancient Greece, and eventually Rome. Is it just water? I don’t think so…it should be much more to us. I encountered the Sea of Galilee, the body of water where several of the disciples fished for a living and spent their lives up until they followed Jesus. There is more water…the Jordan. Understand, the Bible never calls it the Jordan River, maybe the river Jordan…usually, just the Jordan. What water can be more important than the Jordan? Joshua led the people into the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan. David led Israel’s army to cross the Jordan to fight and defeat the Syrians. Elijah and Elisha hung out at the Jordan. Then there is the Salt Sea, the place near Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot had to flee, and God told him not to look back, but Lot’s wife unfortunately didn’t get the message or was too stubborn. Upon her glancing swivel she became a pillar of salt. The human body is made up of salt and water…if you don’t have enough water to balance it out…you turn to salt.
Still, are rocks and water the reason I made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land? No. Yes. Wait a minute…it seems so. I thought I learned all I needed to know about rocks as a kid playing outside and slinging them around our yard. Water can be dangerous, but you can’t live without it for more than three days. In 1969, Bishop Pike of the Anglican church visited the Holy Land with his wife doing research on the rocks of the Judean wilderness. They wanted to try to get an understanding of what Jesus went through during His 40 days of temptation in the desert. Unfortunately, they did! Unprepared for their little excursion, they rented a car, but didn’t take any water, just two Cokes. It was the summer of ’69 and the dry heat in the desert usurps the water out of your body without any notice. Their car broke down, so they set out hiking to find help. Pike was a heavy smoker and alcoholic, and not in good shape, so his wife left him to rest while she walked farther. Four days later they found Pike’s dehydrated body lying on top of some rocks in a gorge. Rocks and water.
Jesus sat upon many rocks to teach. At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says if you want to be wise then build your house on the rock. He tells Peter, “You are a rock, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not come against it!” As He was making His triumphal entry, riding on the back of the foal while the people rejoiced and sang hallelujah, the religious people said, “Teacher, tell your people to shut up!” And His response was, “I can’t. If I do the rocks will worship Me!” And all throughout the Scriptures there are rocks and more rocks, and if that were not enough rocks, when the women scurried to get to the tomb on the third day, the rock was rolled away. So, I stared at the rocks, the big ones and the little ones.
Is water important to Jesus? It had to be. And as I contemplated the bodies of water He encountered, it just caused me to gaze at them more. The places of water is where we find huge amounts of life and movement from our Lord. He sailed on water, He preached the Sermon on the Mount beside the water (maybe sitting on a rock), He fished from the water, and He walked on water. Think about it some more, His first miracle was turning water into wine, He calmed that water, He preached from a boat on that water, and He called the disciples while walking beside that water. His teaching, stories and parables center around water. He says He is the living water. He makes the massive statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” My goodness, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan water, and He commands us to be baptized in water. It’s only water, but you can’t conclude that it’s just any water.
I’ve been privileged enough to hike the Great Wall of China several times, I’ve seen the Panama Canal, I’ve gazed over Niagara Falls, London Bridge, and sailed Shanghai’s Bund. I’ve been to the top of the Empire State building and to lower Alabama. I’ve stared at Mt. Fuji, walked the streets of Macau and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, and flown over the Swiss Alps. I’ve run on beach after beach after beach, and climbed mountain after mountain after mountain in different parts of the world. None of these things impress me like a bunch of rocks and some water…in the Holy Land…the land of our Lord. Somehow putting them all together in that small causeway strip of land called Israel seems to do something to me. I will do it again…what? I will spend money again to come back and stare at the rocks and the water. So should you. Those rocks and that water will change your life!