Indeed, the stones did ‘cry out’ unto us, like witnesses, when we visited the Holy Land from 1st to 10th Dec 2014. weere were stones galore at the southern part of the Holy Land. No wonder stones featured prominently throughout the Bible. In Bethel, Jacob used them as his pillows to sleep (Gen 28:11), whereupon he dreamt of the ladder reaching to heaven and heard God promising to give him the land. throughout the O.T., stones were heaped together to bear witness to commemorate important events (Gen 31:46, Jos 4:7, 1 Sam 7:12). Furthermore, those who are “biblically instructed” were also grimly reminded that stoning to death was a way of punishment. The land was dry and thirsty, full of stones and difficult to tread upon. In that kind of environment, we armed ourselves with hats/caps/umbrellas, shoes with good grip and kept drinking to hydrate ourselves. If we had been travelling with Moses then, wearing robes and sandals, having no food or drink in that dry, stony terrain, we would for sure have murmured and complained like the Israelites over food and creature comforts. Really, the stones literally cried out against us as we pondered over what the Israelites had to go through and how we could have easily sinned like them!
The Bible says there is “a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together” (Ecc 3:5). The building of the great temple and the destruction of it, the building of strong cities and the destruction and ruins of them, cry out to us too. While we admired the magnificent remains of Jerash and Capernaum, and the intricate carvings on each piece of the remains, fear and awe of God struck us because these are reminders and evidence that He alone has the power to set up and put down “whom he would” (Dan 5:19, Matt 11:23). e stones are warning us - which side are we on? Better be safe – choose the LORD’s side!
Thank God for making us “as lively stones, … built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5). This is an apt description of our group when we worshipped and prayed together, edified and took care of one another. Love, unity and patience were displayed abundantly throughout the trip. We, like little children, curiously explored the sights, sounds and smells of the Land of the Bible, and learnt geography together. Every difficulty was conquered by faith and love the Christian way, no less. We have enjoyed the trip very much, and this sentiment was shared by many others, including those who have travelled to the Holy Land several times before.
This trip has created new meanings for us when we now read the Bible. We pray that we shall be steadfast and unmoveable in our faith, lest we should be a “castaway” (1 Cor 9:27b). We pray that we can be “lively stones”, to be a good testimony for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wai Mun and Jolyne Cho
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Ps 121:1, 2, 8).
Truly, the LORD our God has been our help, and has blessed us with a safe travel and good health in our Holy Land Bible Study Tour. From soaring into the sky in modern aircraft to the ancient mode of commute on horses and camels along the sandy paths in Petra, from floating on the Dead Sea to gliding in the cable cars in the ancient fortress of Masada, from tracing the footsteps on the land which our Lord Jesus Christ literally walked on to sitting in the comfort of the airconditioned coach, the modes of travel on this Holy Land Study Tour has for sure been like no other. Barren, sandy plains and fruitful green terrain are often just minutes apart in our journey. Though some skirmishes could sometimes be heard, we echoed with praise and thanks to God the words of the psalmist: the Lord has preserved our going out and coming in. From commute to food, from culture to politics, from history to geography, the Lord has blessed our group of 48 in many ways. Our thanks go to Pastor Koshy, Dn Lok and the team for organizing this study tour.
More importantly, our LORD has blessed us with a deeper yearning to learn and consider meditatively His working and dealings with His prophets and people of old in the Bible, and also His patient dealings with us individually today. Ps 121, commonly called the “traveller’s or pilgrim’s song”, was the passage of our devotion and meditation on 10 Dec, Day 10 of our 11-day tour. Several times during our travel, the Lord impressed upon our hearts that we are not just tourists, but pilgrims on a journey. A journey, though covering just 11 days on our itinerary, is a journey that has transcended thousands of years of the rich and significant Christian heritage. Each of the sights and experiences which we took in was overwhelmingly educational and enriching to our Christian faith – from visiting the shore of the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth’s surface) to standing on top of Mount Nebo (where God showed Moses the horizon of the promised land of Canaan); from walking the town of Jerusalem to silently reflecting Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; from admiring the calm and peace as we sailed the Sea of Galilee to standing on Megiddo with the sudden solemn reminder of the reality of the Armageddon battle to be fought in the future; from the meditation of the Cross on Golgotha (where our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was crucified) to the empty tomb (reassuring us of His triumph over sin and death); etc. We were further blessed with the delightful sighting of a beautiful rainbow on Day 9!
Even observing the orthodox Jews’ prayer practices at the Wailing Wall and how they observed their Sabbath Day brought about a humble gratitude to God for His mercy, stirring us to see how we too were once lost and blind, but now by His amazing grace, we see the light of His salvation. The devout steadfastness and the intensity of the people in the Holy Land in holding on to their respective beliefs and convictions, whether they are religious or political in nature, were evident in their tones, conversations and practices.
The irony of it all is that though the sights and visits have been tremendously helpful and enriching, how is it that people who are now living in the Holy Land could not see the His light? I am reminded that we are to walk by faith and not by sight. Regardless of the ongoing land disputes and anticipated future archaeological discoveries, we are to walk by faith in the promises of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the faithful, unchanging God – resting assuredly and walking daily in obedience to the veracity of the Word which He has preserved for us.
Though we reached the end of our study tour itinerary and returned safely on 11 December, the blessed learning from this study tour will be an abiding education each time we read the Bible and listen to His Word being expounded. Israel today (with a population not much more than Singapore and a land area proportionally smaller than the share of the world news / attention it receives) will continue to be a place that is closely watched for its greatness and blessings, only because this is the sovereign selection and promise of God in His eternal covenant with His chosen people (Gen 12:2).
There remain many more lessons and meditations to understand and absorb. At the end of the day, we are to trust and obey – trusting in the faithful, unchanging God, seeing how Scriptural prophecies have been fulfilled in the places we visited, and obeying His Word and trusting in His promises. Like the psalmist, may we say “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” May we continue to cast our eyes on God, who is “our help in ages past, and hope for years to come”!
Ricky and Stella Yang