Author Archives: jrcantrell
A single event has awakened a giant. The recent video-taped burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot has enraged and enflamed King Hussein. The nation of Jordan is now showing her strength targeting a virulent enemy.
This rogue militant extremist islamic group (IS), operating out of weakened Iraq, had verbally and openly announced to Jordan that the kingdom was next on the list to attack by the new emerging Caliphate (the worldwide Islamic government anxiously awaited by radical muslims).
Carol and I were called to be feet on the ground last fall, to stand with Jordan against the evil spirit attempting to overrun the kingdom of Jordan – and, in fact, the entire region.
Now, Carol and I watch in calm assurance of God’s promises to that nation as she battles the dark forces of Islam.
For years we have observed Jordan, both from afar and on site, to see a land blessed by God for their moderation and peaceful overtures toward Israel. In addition, the Jordanians have the largest refugee camps in the world — caring for many of the Syrian and Assyrian refugees escaping IS. God has truly blessed this nation for their efforts on behalf of these displaced peoples.
Thank you for your heart for the peoples of the Middle East!
The best Christmas ever to our Orthodox friends of the Middle East.
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been granted the building rights to build a grand structure where the small Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at ‘ground zero’ stood before the terrorist attack on 9-11.
The building design is inspired by the beautiful Hagia Sofia Church in Istanbul, Turkey which was taken over by islam and converted into a mosque in 1453 and turned into a museum in 1930.
Terror attacks against churches are continuing to cause the world to doubt any claims of moderation by islam. One of the latest attacks was Christmas 2014 in the Egyptian city of al-Minya south of Cairo wherein two policemen were shot and another was killed dismantling a bomb.
After personally surviving a homicide bombing in Jerusalem in 2003 I understand the horror of terror, and the need to rebuild lives as well as structures as a vital element in healing of lives.
Thanks to Manhattan for the permission to do such a healing work of architecture and art in their great city.
Click here to view the video.
(Note: Digital print by Ron Cantrell and available at — http://fineartamerica.com/featured/starry-starry-bethlehem-night-ron-cantrell.html )
On this first night of Hanukkah, we wish all our Jewish and Israeli friends a season of the Light of Yeshua.
The time between the Old Testament and the New has traditionally been known as the silent years. But a fictional novel could not hold more intrigue or imaginative narrative than this period. Historians who have not fallen under the “spell of silence” have left us enough information to glean valuable lessons from Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is a story of survival, bravery, overcoming faith, and a sovereign God. These lessons are too rich to ascribe to a silent past. They cry out, of themselves, to be paid attention to. If they had been heeded, needless deaths might have been spared during the Holocaust.
Purim follows in the spring on the heels of Hanukkah. Purim is also a story about survival. The thread that binds both stories is God’s protection over the Jewish nation, His chosen people. One story takes place in the diaspora (lands where the Jewish people were dispersed from Israel) and the other takes place in “Greek occupied” Israel. These stories take place hundreds of years apart. Esther is dated approximately 460 B.C., and the saga of the Maccabees—Hanukkah—takes place about 160 B.C.
Both of these stories were dictated to the mind of scribes by God’s Holy Spirit, I am sure, to leave us an indelible message. The message is that in the face of enormous odds, with God, we are victorious.
When we were still living in Jerusalem I attended services at our congregation where our former British guest speaker, Lance Lambert, a Jewish believer who lived in Jerusalem many years, was speaking on “The Hanukkah Connection.” Some of his thoughts are worth adding here as an introduction.
David Ben Gurion, upon being asked to create a seal for the new State of Israel, chose two olive branches surrounding a menorah. It stands as the Israeli State Seal to this day. On each of the seven cups of the menorah (seven-branched candlestick) is one word:
“Lo B-chil, U’Lo B’Koach, Ki Im B’Ruachi,” —Not by might, nor by power, by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
This picture is from Zechariah 4:6, at which time they were rebuilding the Temple after the Babylonian captivity. Remember the word Hanukkah in Hebrew simply means “dedication,” specifically of the Temple of God.
The menorah (candlestick) stands as a symbol in so many passages of Scripture. Revelation tells us that the seven churches of Asia were represented in the heavenlies by a candlestick. Also Israel is represented by the menorah in Zechariah. John in his Gospel records that Jesus is the light of the world and lights every man. Zechariah goes on to record something interesting in relation to this just after the “not by might” section mentioned above.
Zechariah asks about the meaning of the vision of the two branches who are pouring oil from themselves. Of course, this oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit of God, but it is interesting to note that in Hebrew it does not say that they were pouring just any oil from themselves, but it says that they were pouring “gold,” not even golden oil. The word “oil” placed in most translations is in italics, meaning it is inferred by the translator. In the context of the rebuilding of the Temple, and the power coming from the Holy Spirit, the Hebrew word picture is without rival.
In John 10:22, Jesus is recorded as walking in the area of Solomon’s colonnade during the Feast of Dedication, which is Hanukkah. As was usual with Jesus, He tied His message to the events of the people. He took that opportunity to declare that HE was the Light of the world.
It is interesting to note that the candlestick used by the Jewish people during Hanukkah, called a hanukkiah, has eight candles and one extra one called the shamash, or “servant”. The symbolism of the eight candles is discussed below, but the symbolism of the “servant” candle for us as believers is worth mentioning. Jesus, the Servant, is the light of all men. According to the rules of this holiday, all the candles of the hanukkiah must be lighted from the one called the shamash.
Hellenization of the Region
Josephus, the historian of antiquity, left important documentation of that period. The bulk of the story of Hanukkah is found in the book of Maccabees (one of the books of the Apocrypha; this collection of works was preserved by the formal church), and mention is made of the Feast in the New Testament. In the book of John, just after Jesus has declared himself to be the Light of the world, he is found walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. John tells us that it was in winter during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22).
This holiday holds more historical resource in Christian literature than it does in the literature of the Jewish people. Actually the holiday is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament because it happened after the closing of Malachi.
This drama of Hanukkah begins with Alexander the Great. His conquest of the then-known world began in Greece in the fourth century B.C. Alexander was so highly ambitious that he conquered the world by the age of 23. The book of the prophet Daniel portrays him, symbolically, first as a leopard and later as a horned goat who charges so swiftly that he does not even touch the ground (Daniel 7:6, 8:5-7).
Thus, via Alexander the Great, began the hellenization of the world. The Greek philosophers’ ideas, the glorifying of the human body, both in sport and in fine art, and the Greek way of perceiving the universe around us, permeated the world.
Though our story of the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian-Greeks takes place much later, Alexander’s conquest of the world is actually the foundation of those events. At his death, Alexander’s empire was split into four parts. The four major generals of his vast army divided his conquests amongst themselves. Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals, took what later became modern Syria. It was under the iron fist of this sector of the divided empire that Israel came to a time of great trouble.
Several generations from Seleucus, a maniacal ruler came to power known as Antiochus Epiphanes. His Greek name actually means “god in the flesh.” Antiochus ruled from Syria but set up a military garrison in Jerusalem. This garrison was to oversee the hellenization of the population of Israel.
Antiochus had the high priest Onais murdered. He demanded that the circumcision of all Jewish baby boys cease. He had a statue of Jupiter (Zeus) erected on the Temple Mount and the sacrifice of swine on the altar was instituted.
The Syrian-Greek military garrison met their demise upon entering a small village outside Jerusalem called Modi’in. The soldiers built an altar and demanded a “show of allegiance” by having the local elders sacrifice a pig there. An old Jewish priest named Mattathias became so enraged when he saw what was taking place that he killed the Jew who was complying with the orders. He and his sons fled to the nearby mountains to regroup and prepare to wage guerrilla warfare against the oppressive authorities.
Mattathias, being elderly, passed his leadership on to his son Judah, known as the Maccabee (meaning “hammer”) prior to his death. Judah defeated every attempt by Antiochus to end his uprising. His strategy and bravery could not be matched by the other side. In the face of astounding odds, Judah led his followers to Jerusalem where he drove the Syrian force out of the city.
Judah faced the grief of having to fight against his own Jewish brothers who had joined the side of the hellenizers. Some forsook their Jewishness for monetary gain, others for prestige. In order to participate in Greek sporting events which were conducted in the nude, some of his Jewish brothers were so determined to be hellenized that they endured painful surgery to reverse their circumcisions, thereby erasing any sign of their tie to their Jewish heritage. Many died from the dangerous operation.
On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month Kislev, exactly the same day that three years earlier the Temple had been defiled by unholy sacrifices, the Hasmonean brothers and their followers liberated the city and began in earnest to undo what their oppressors had done. They rushed to rededicate the desecrated Temple.
Arriving at the Temple site, they began removing the stones of the defiled altar and toppling the statue of Jupiter. In the holy place inside the Temple stood the huge menorah (the great olive oil lampstand). The rejoicing Jewish conquerors found only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. The joy of the conquest of liberation was diminished due to the laws stating that the menorah must burn continually. The time it took to process enough oil to replenish the menorah was eight days. How could they possibly begin the process and let it die again? Nevertheless, they lit the menorah and began the process of procuring more oil.
The stamp of God’s approval of their deeds of valor was evident when the oil which should have lasted for only one day lasted the entire eight days until the new oil was brought. For this reason the holiday is also known as the “Feast of Lights.”
Modern Hanukkah Traditions
The traditions of the Feast of Hanukkah that have evolved over the years are the lighting of an eight-branched menorah (candleholder) called a hanukkiah. One candle is lit each night by a candle known as the shamash, or servant in English. Thus the hanukkiah candleholder has nine candles. The candles are lit in a right-hand to left-hand order, adding another candle each night.Hanukkah candles come in boxes of 44 since lighting one more each night of the eight nights of Hanukkah adds up to 44.The frying of potato pancakes in oil is traditional to commemorate the oil used the light the Temple Menorah so long ago.Games are played with a four-sided top called a dreidel. Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter on it standing for the slogan:
Nes Gadol Hiyah Po—“A Great Miracle Happened Here.”
In all places outside of Israel the dreidel has the letters slightly different, standing for Nes Gadol Hiyah Sham—“A Great Miracle Happened There.”
Story-telling is Popular During Hanukkah
The book of Maccabees is read, wherein lies the story of the bravery of those zealous of God’s ways. Women played a role as well in this great drama. These stories are related concerning Israel’s women of valor.
One is about a woman named Judith who, upon seeing the desperate plight of her people, left Jerusalem and arrived at the Syrian encampment. She pleased the Syrian general and he, thinking to have her for himself, consented to her preparing him a meal first. Judith knew that serving salted cheese would make the general thirsty whereby she could give him too much to drink. He complied, drinking wine until he passed out. Judith, seizing the opportunity, killed the Syrian General. When the Syrians learned of Judith’s deed, they fled.
Another story of a woman of valor relates that the Syrian governor passed a law that every Jewish bride would be brought to his bed chamber first on the night of her wedding. The daughter of the high priest, upon hearing this, made plans for her own wedding ceremony. After her vows she stood amidst the people disrobing, almost like the prophet Jeremiah at a much earlier time, which, of course, enraged the crowd. Her brothers shouted that they would kill her, to which she replied, “Over my being disrobed you are angry, but about what the Syrian governor will do to me tonight you remain silent?” Being roused to righteous anger, her brothers stormed the palace and killed the Syrian governor, and the revolt began.
What Does This Mean for Us?
This story is a tale repeated time and time again by the Jewish people—a story of overcoming in the face of overwhelming adversity. From the book of Genesis to the Maccabees the Jews have overcome Egyptians, the desert and its dangers, felled the walls of Jericho with rams’ horns, quelled the giants of the promised land, and led three Babylonian kings to the throne of God the Almighty.
From the Maccabees to present day, there have been a string of miracles, but to answer Isaiah’s rhetorical question, “Can a nation be born in a day?” Yes, indeed it can and in the face of such overwhelming odds as to be absurd should anyone simply have penned the story as a novel.
Our lesson from this holiday is that we can overcome with Him. We will face Antiochus again in the visage of the Anti-Christ and God’s people will overcome. His empire will once again be shattered. This time God’s people will watch because it will be done without hands, according to Daniel, but it will come to an end. In all this we can take courage—God is ever present in the annals of men.
The Local Flavor
One of the best places to take an after-dark walk during Hanukkah is the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Quarter sits nestled inside walls rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the once powerful Turkish Moslem Ottoman Empire which ruled here from A.D. 1517 until the British brought this kingdom to an end in A.D. 1917.
Hanukkah candles are meant to be lit in a window facing outward to shed their light into the street. The beautiful architecture of the Jewish Quarter is the perfect environment. Narrow walkways between tall buildings made of creamy limestone seem to wait for candles to illuminate their soft façades. Long narrow passageways are warm and softly glowing. Bright spots punctuate the dark passageways, bringing to mind the lighting of a Rembrandt painting. Each succeeding evening an extra candle graces the Hanukkah menorah, shedding even more light.
I often would take such a walk—a lazy enjoyable Friday night — with daydreaming of what it must have been like when our Messiah walked in the same area. It seems that even Jesus enjoyed such a walk. John chapter 10 records His walking in Solomon’s Colonnade, which is in the same area. His walk is recorded to have been during the Feast of Dedication. Jesus had just finished healing a blind man’s eyes and declaring himself the Light of the world—the Light shining into darkness setting those free who are willing.Again, the Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication”. It comes from the dedication of the Temple, both in Solomon’s time and in the time of the Maccabees, who rededicated the Temple desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 B.C.
The Jewish Quarter sits very high on a hill inside the confines of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. As one approaches the Temple Mount area, the topography drops off sharply into a valley. The view is spectacular both by day and by night.
My walk would bring me to the edge of that valley to the staircase which leads down to the Western Wall plaza where the Jewish people pray today. There my daydream ended and I was brought back to reality. Riding the east wind coming from the Mount of Olives was the voice of the Moslem muezzin declaring that “allah is the great god and that mohammed is his prophet.” The contrast was almost too vivid.
City of light, city where the Light walked and healed and illumined the dark eyes of some and the dark minds of others, sits in spiritual darkness. Jerusalem is Ground Zero for future attempts of God’s enemy to usurp His authority. That enemy works through people and the stage is being set for confrontation. Jerusalem will become more and more the focus of international news’ attention. Things will never become politically acceptable here for the western world. On the contrary, Jerusalem is appointed to become a cup of trembling to the nations.
But yet there is light. The symbolism of the eight-candle menorah being lit by a ninth candle called “the servant” is a reminder of the servanthood of the Messiah. Psalm 36:12 says, “For with You is the fountain of Life, in Your light we see light.”
We are, in a manner of speaking, like the Hanukkah menorah—servants called to illuminate those around us and to ever increase the light. During Hanukkah see the candles being added nightly until the glow almost drives back the chill of winter in the limestone city. Our job is to continue to drive back the chill of winter with light.
Hanukkah is a time when God encourages us to persevere in the face of crushing pressures.
Pray for the Jewish community around the world and Israel during this time. May the Light of the world be revealed in and through us all ever brighter and brighter.
Hanukkah: Eight Nights of Light Video
Watch the video that we produced in Israel with Ron Cantrell teaching from Jerusalem:
The Feasts of the Lord
Learn more about Hanukkah: Eight Nights of Light and other Feasts of the Lord in Ron’s book: The Feasts of the Lord: The Feasts, Fasts, & Festivals of the Bible. Buy the paperback book at Amazon.com.
Adventure on the ancient main trade routes of the Middle East.
A relatively thin slice of land along the Mediterranean Sea has been called, “The Sacred Bridge,” by scholars. In the place where nations have rubbed shoulders with one another for thousands of years, the changes have been only in the surface of the highways: narrow dirt paths gave way to Roman paving stones, later to asphalt, then to super-highways. A region with thousands of years of history make the mind reel for those of us birthed in a nation that is a mere 238-years old.
The vast desert to the east of the bridge kept international trade routes in a narrow corridor near the Mediterranean Sea. The Via Maris, “the Way of the Sea”, (in aqua) runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea near the coast. The Kings Highway (in red) runs along the crest of the mountains of Moab and Ammon on the east of the Jordan River and Dead Sea (known as the “Salt Sea” in biblical times). The Spice Route (purple) ran from the Arabian Peninsula through Petra, intersecting both the King’s Highway and the Via Maris, then on to the sea at the southern-most port at Gaza.
By no accident, the Sacred Bridge was the site of God’s greatest advertising campaign. The choice was dictated by location — the place where the nations continually passed by. In the midst of cultures given to the worship of many gods, God’s people living in Jerusalem stood as a beacon of truth: the worship of One God, the only God. The book of Acts, chapter two, reads like a United Nations gathering on the day in which God’s fire was poured out. The nations mentioned ring the Sacred Bridge like the spokes of a wheel. No one present would return home silent about what they witnessed that day. In the next week over 8,000 locals and visitors came into the Kingdom of God and were publicly baptized.
This bridge plays no less a role in the future than it has in the past in spite of modernization and progress. Isaiah 19 spells out it’s importance explicitly.
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. Assyria will go to Egypt, Egypt to Assyria, and Egypt will worship with Assyria. On that day, I Israel will form a triple alliance with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing within the land. The Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying,
‘Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance are blessed'” (Isaiah 19:23, 24, HCSB).
I am not alone in wanting to visit, see, smell, taste and experience the cradle of history. It is alive with the glory of our God, recorded in the Love Letter He left us. Millions come annually, in spite of danger and turmoil, to breathe in the most historically-famous place in the world.
It’s a place where the “Greats” passed through: from Alexander the Great to Napoleon Bonaparte. However, they were mere visitors on a web of ancient highways taking goods and people from Africa to Europe and Asia. A network of byways connect the major highways and have remained as ancient as they were thousands of years ago. It’s to this place that my wild heart is drawn. I love the adventure and the extreme heat, scorpions and dangers of that famed dusty path known as the “Spice Route”.
CAMEL -TREKKING THE ROUTES
Carol and I have recently traveled the King’s Highway through Jordan: from the Red Sea Port, to Saudi border and all the way up to the Syria border in the north. Many years ago, before fully understanding Isaiah 19, I led a group of adventure-seekers on a three-day camel trek on the Spice Route in the Aravah on the Israeli side. This route runs perpendicular to the King’s Highway and the Via Maris, and crosses both of those famous routes.
The photos above show Seffy, our camel-trek guide, as he gives important instructions about the dangers of the desert before we leave the safety of the encampment base on the crest of the mountains above the great African Rift. Lots of sunscreen, water, hats, and most of all, loads of fun. Never forget the fun! Then, it’s off across the desert we go. Velvety hills, carved into terraces by the tiny feet of hundreds of thousand of sheep and goats over the centuries, create a photographer’s paradise.
A normal hike, or desert journey, is magical in and of itself, but, to know you are on the same route trodden by great men for several thousand years is overwhelming.
Each two people are assigned a camel. One will walk, the other rides, trading off every few hours. There are ups and downs for our ships of the desert. We cross wadis (dry river beds) and climb mountains on the ancient dusty paths. Our guide points out an almost perfectly round flat stone. We learn that this is an ancient directional road sign that has been used for thousands of years. Upon closer inspection we see ancient writing scraped onto the surface of the stone.
Well-acquainted with the desert, our guide, Seffy, knows where to find hidden agricultural tools in cracks and crevices along the way. This winnowing fork and the ancient road sign deepen our sense of awe of where we are.
MEALS IN THE DESERT
The nuts and bolts of the trek were setting up camp late in the afternoon, baking bread like the Bedouins on a large metal wok turned upside down over the fire pit, eating with the hands group style, and of course resting in the heat of the day under a shade anchored by four camels at each corner.
Then instructions for bedding down at night: “Check your sleeping bag area for scorpions!” Very important. The yellow ones are small but very poisonous. Sure enough, one of our ladies slept on top of one. Thankfully, no harm done; the scorpion stayed put all night long.
Our guide tells us of the camel caravans, numbering as many as two thousand manned by only 20 men, bringing salt from Ethiopia. The worth of such a caravan could reach as much as $12-million dollars in today’s currency. A tribe of Nabatean desert dwellers controlled the Spice Route as it wound its way through what is now south-central Jordan. These desert dwellers knew the secrets of the arid wilderness–where to find water and food supplies. The Nabateans made their living by taxing the traveling caravans who had to pass through their territory.
Along our route were ancient Khans (simple Inns for lodging and food for caravaners). Some ancient structures remain partially intact. The antiquities authority has provided information stations along the way to make the journey more meaningful.
Our route towered above the canyons. Staying high on the mountain crest was the only way to keep cool as valley floor temperatures could reach 115-degrees fahrenheit.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
In all this history and beauty, one thing has struck Carol and I repeatedly and that is the history of the spread of Christianity in this Sacred Bridge. Our journey through Jordan was conspicuously punctuated with that fact through the ancient Christian church mosaics unearthed by archaeologists from the north to the south. Though Jordan is an Islamic country each hotel we stayed in proudly displayed large mosaics on their lobby walls. Each of these mosaics was from an ancient church. The heritage of the area is clear: Christ reigns there.
Our mandate is to declare Him Lord of the region and call forth this ancient heritage and inheritance once again until the Light of the world is once again blazing bright.
The Church of Jerusalem
In the Cardo, in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, there is also a mosaic uncovered in Madaba, Jordan, near Mount Nebo. It is a mosaic map of ancient Israel focusing mostly on Jerusalem and the Nea Church there in 540 AD.
Sixth century Jerusalem is depicted in the center of this mosaic map. The red lettering in the white area at top reads, “Hagia Polici Yerusalem” — “The Church of the City of Jerusalem,” The main street of Roman times, the Cardo, is central in the mosaic: the colonaded shopping mall that bisected the city.
A Sacred Bridge of the Future
The story of the Sacred Bridge is not finished. What seems to the thousands of tourists that visit, a historical era of the past, has yet to see its crowning splendor. Israel’s own, Ben Gurion declared that the future of the region would be brought to fullness when technology brought life and agriculture to those deserts. There are those who know, and can appreciate, what God has proclaimed about the region. Not just the bridge itself, but the surrounding neighboring nations and peoples being pulled into the vortex of His glory: Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Assyria (Syria, Lebanon, Nineveh, and Iraq. Though the boundary lines of the region have changed multiple times through the centuries, the dawn of God’s intentions for His people remains firmly intact. He sends us as forerunners to make the path straight and prepare the way.
Pray for the peoples of the region as God draws all men to the light of His glory.
The prophet sat in a daze with that thousand-mile stare of one seeing beyond the shadowlands of the physical world. Isaiah’s scribe knew the look, and immediately took up pen and scroll ready for what was coming. He was a trained scribe—God’s secretary—recorder of the timeless world of a holy throne room.
Isaiah rose, lifted his hands, and began to move about the room almost in a dance, looking first toward the north, then the south, and not neglecting east and west with his intent gaze and squinted eyes as if trying to make something out in a haze. Circling and circling, the prophet moved until he was finally spinning so that his robe responded to the centrifugal force in a great circle. Dust rose from the stone floor and Isaiah’s growling other-worldly voice began repeatedly pronouncing,
“Mitzraim, Mitzraim, Mitzraim…..!”
His countenance turned toward the south in the direction of Mitzraim (Egypt)—Israel’s southern neighbor—who had at times been a friend, at other times a foe.
The words were tumbling forth now, painting the vision for the hand armed with pen and scroll.
The great and mighty nation’s woes spilled out of the prophet’s mouth like a waterfall. Isaiah spoke like a thunderstorm in another voice, a perfect voice filled with authority and majesty colored by Heaven. The scribe shuddered. It seemed that the prophet controlled the atmosphere in the room like a mighty storm so that the everyday objects of the palace faded into a shroud of the dark prophecy.
The very God of Heaven rode down on Isaiah’s words to touch Earth in His fire. “Kings . . .” and “war . . .” spilled out; “brother against brother”; “terrors…” and “devastation…” darkened the room. Depression swirled in the circle with Isaiah’s flowing robe. There was no time for emotional paralysis—the words were coming in a rush. The hand hurried to keep up; the swift scrawling letters imprinted matched the urgency of the prophet’s message.
Then Isaiah stopped; his head tilted as if to hear something more clearly. A light seemed to break through the dark clouds of the prophetic flow reflecting in the prophet’s face. His lips began to slowly, silently, form another word,
“Sun . . . sun . . . the sun . . . Heliopolis will speak Hebrew,” the prophet whispered.
The city, named for the sun god of the Egyptians, would speak Hebrew? The scribe shifted in his seat, sitting more uprightly . . . more was pouring forth from Isaiah’s mouth.
“It will be a sign to the Lord of Hosts . . . “
Isaiah bent at the waist, groaning as if giving birth. Tears spilled as he began slowly spinning again. For awhile, no words came, just the dance: the bent stature, the spinning in silence. Then Isaiah stopped abruptly. “Come, Yuval . . .”
Isaiah hurried out of the palace toward the stables. He didn’t speak a word as if on pause between segments of a download from Heaven. He merely gestured to the stable boy—two horses. Yuval managed to quickly gather up his inkpot and scroll but hoped the prophet’s words would not flow on horseback. He would have to try to remember them.
From the palace they traveled west and moved to the ridge road that connected Jerusalem with Bethlehem. Turning south they rode in silence; Isaiah’s face set like a flint. Determined, yet not harsh, was the prophet’s appearance. In the distance the hill rose where the southern military armory was located at Talpiot. A smaller path led up the hill eastward to the armory. Isaiah guided his horse east and upward. Upon arrival, they skirted the armory to the east and turned the corner to the south side and a long promontory that seemed to end in space, high above the deep valley that separated Jerusalem from Bethlehem.
There, Isaiah stopped, dismounted, and stared southeast. As if in a dream, he spoke to no one in particular,
“The King’s Highway.” He stroked his beard, “Oh God! My God!” the words escaped his lips on a soft breath, not pleading, rather in wonder.
He lifted a hand as if tracing the route of the King’s Highway that traversed the far ridge of mountains on the other side of the River Jordan.
“That’s the highway . . . Right there it is,” turning slowly southward his hand changed history tracing the highway toward the border of Egypt. “There . . . there . . . Yuval, do you see it? There will be a memorial pillar to the LORD, and beyond, in Heliopolis, an altar. He will rescue them from themselves.
“Three nations, Yuval, three nations . . .”
The prophet bent again as if giving birth. He groaned deeply. He sank to his knees both hands extended upward.
“On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. Assyria will go to Egypt, Egypt to Assyria, and Egypt will worship with Assyria.”
Yuval could hardly write . . . What could the prophet be saying? What? Had he lost his mind?
Isaiah now turned northeast, and with hands still extended he uttered,
“On that day Israel will form a triple alliance with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing within the land. The Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”
Isaiah ceased speaking. It was a good thing . . . Yuval sat stunned. In his years with the prophet, he had never known him to be wrong, but this . . . Yuval could not speak. He merely stared with Isaiah at the eastern horizon where the highway lay—that famed ancient trade route connecting so many nations of the world.
This, the prophet had uttered, is where hundreds of thousands of feet had previously tread a world-renowned trail would one day be a highway of holiness unto the Lord of Hosts. Enemies would embrace one another in the fear of the Lord.
A tear fell from Yuval’s cheek.
In stunned silence Isaiah rose, gathered himself together, and mounted his horse, awaiting his scribe to do the same.
The sun was sinking in the west and the color embraced them in golden hues as they made their way back to the city of the Great King—where history was fashioned by the hands of a servant of the Almighty, the Most High and Holy God.
(Based on Isaiah 19.)
Little did Carol and I know we were on the trail of a massively demon-possessed man. He was a real poster-child of what some might call “multiple-personalities” in the modern psychology world. From a reliable documented source of a Roman “legion”, we can conclude that perhaps as many as 6,000 demons inhabited his body.
BORDER OF ISRAEL
Carol and I wound our way around the rolling hills and valleys of northern Jordan searching for the ancient church sites.
Our first stop was the border of Jordan and Israel which is high up the mountain overlooking the south part of the Sea of Galilee. There we prayed over the entire region. It was from here, no doubt, the demoniac would have gone down the mountains to meet Yeshua and His disciples as their boat crossed the Sea of Galilee to the “other side.”
We wound our way down the mountain to locate a very small village called “Pella” with ancient churches. This journey proved to be quite challenging with a limited map and no GPS but we loved the adventure – and the gorgeous terrain.
We finally hired a taxi to lead us to the the area which now is a Palestinian refugee camp/city. Finding the ancient church site on the highest part of the city we prayed and proclaimed over the land that was once Christian – calling back the inheritance of the region.
As we left Pella we returned north and realized that the region we had been in that day was called Gedara. It was then that Carol and I both realized at the same time, “This is the place region where “Legion” was from!”
After the deliverance of Legion, Jesus helped him put on clothes and they sat together quietly. What would they have talked about? Perhaps Jesus renamed him at that time by giving him his true name — the name the Father in Heaven knew him by. No doubt it would have displaced the name he was known by up to that point: “Legion”— one demonized by thousands.
His new name would have included His God-given purpose on Earth: one who bears the testimony of Jesus.
“Let me follow you where you are going, Yeshua!” Legion implored as he walked alongside of Him holding tightly onto His robe.
“No, Legion. I have a much more important task for you to do,” Yeshua responded tenderly. Taking ahold of both of his shoulders and looking him deep into his eyes Yeshua instructed him, “Return home to your people and tell them all the good things God has done for you.” With that, Yeshua threw back His head and laughed a deep belly laugh. Legion laughed too— as did everyone with him. You could feel the joy explode into the atmosphere. Satan’s kingdom had just been plundered inside the Decapolis. Legion had been personally commissioned by Yeshua to return home and establish God’s Kingdom throughout the region.With this commission, Legion was now Spirit-empowered to bring the mandate of Jesus back to his hometown with the Good News of Isaiah 61.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (Isaiah 61:1, NLT).
The Decapolis was completely evangelized by this one man’s testimony, and we were seeing the tangible evidence of it.
RIHAB: OLDEST CHURCHES EVER FOUND
The next day we were searching for a small village called Rihab where an underground cave had just been deemed the “oldest church” found in the world. We ran across the London Telegraph article with its photo as we planned our itinerary of our upcoming visit to Jordan. Our interest was peaked as we had planned to visit and pray at the ancient churches of Jordan, and Rihab was added to our “must see” list. The cave “church” had discovered under the ruins of Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD.
When all the evidence is in, it may mean the earliest known place of worship outside Jerusalem has been discovered. Abdul Qader al-Husan, head of Jordan’s Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies said,
“We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the 70 disciples of Christ.”
A mosaic found in the church describes these believers as “the 70 beloved by God…” The archaeologist believes they fled persecution in Jerusalem. It seems the Jewish believers fled to this region across the Jordan River. We would be visiting one of the oldest places of worship for Jewish believers! We printed off the Google Earth maps of these ancient sites that we hoped would give us clues as we made our way with our rented car through Jordan.
Our little map of Jordan was not adequate to fully navigate to these off the road archeological sites on our itinerary. We got lost several times but it became a fun part of our adventure to inquire of villagers along the way. After several dead ends and traveling in obvious circles this particular morning, many questions for directions of the villagers, and ogling bedouins harvesting olives just as they would have 2,000 years ago in villages, we finally arrived in a little town with a round-about.
I almost shouted, “Carol, this is it! Look!!!” as I handed her the satellite photo/map. “Here’s the roundabout — just like on the map!” Sure enough, we had found the ancient city of Rihab.
We pulled up to a coffee kiosk and parked our car. It appeared that the elders of the village had gathered outside of this kiosk/coffee shop to catch up on village news and socialize. They were sipping cups of steaming Turkish coffee.
“Buy us some Turkish coffee!” Carol suggested.
With that, I walked up to the kiosk window and ordered our coffee “to go.” Seeing the elders and others gathered at the outside “cafe” I asked them in Arabic about the ancient churches of Rihab. With much gesticulation and a few Arabic phrases we were able to communicate what we needed. They communicated that the site was closed–and locked. We were a bit disappointed at this news but this was a God-adventure and He had only good things in store for us. I was determined to find the site, however, and at least look at it. The man making our Turkish could have won the world prize for S-L-O-W. I was chomping at the bit as I waited for the coffee. We had much to accomplish that day but we definitely were not leaving without seeing the most ancient churches of Rihab!
Finally, after waiting more than 15 minutes I was handed two Turkish coffees, and simultaneously a young man who spoke English arrived. He held up the key to the ancient archeological site. Success!! We were thrilled. We bid the elders and kiosk owners goodbye with lots of laughter and hand shaking, and off we went with Ahmad, our young tour guide, piled into our rental car.
When we arrived at the ancient church site, we met up with two muslim women who worked for the Ministry of Antiquities. They were very happy to finally have tourists and were excited to show us all around the church and church grounds. They brushed away the protective sand on the floors which revealed the beautiful mosaic floor.
Next we were taken to the newly discovered cave dated from around 40 A.D — shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. They told us that those from Jerusalem had fled to these villages to escape persecution. It was then that we realized the Jewish believers in Jerusalem would have been safe from the Jewish leaders seeking to jail or kill believers in Yeshua. Imagining those believers in Yeshua who lived and worshiped in this place, and the cost of giving up life as they knew it to do so, was overwhelming.
Our Muslim tour guides were glowing at our excitement. Then they shared something more, “In this area alone, there are 70 other churches like this one.” We were stunned. It was then that we realized that the “demonaic of the Gerasenes from the Decapolis” had been here too. This area too was also a part of the Decapolis in ancient times.
The final day we visited the center of eastern part of Jordan.
The famed city of Jerash in the center of northern Jordan is one of Jordan’s key tourist sites as well as the site of a nation-wide Jordanian festival. Jerash, according to Jordan’s tourist bureau, comes from another name “Gerashe” and is also considered another town of the demonaic delivered by Jesus.
Carol and I noted before entering the archaeological site of Jerash that most likely there would be a church there even though the main attractions are the temples of Zeus and Artemis. Why did we think this? Because everywhere we had gone throughout the country of Jordan, scores of churches had been uncovered from ancient times! With its close proximity to Israel across the river, it was clear that present-day Jordan was a thoroughfare of Israeli’s, and many other nations, along the King’s Highway.
Not only did we find one church at Jerash, but eleven churches ringed the temples of Zeus and Artemis right on the archaeological site. The Cathedral, the Church of Theodorus, the Church of Cosmos, Damian, John, George, Marian, Peter and Paul, Bishop Genesuis, Bishop Isaiah, and the Church of Propylaea…just to name of few (these are not just names, but actual churches).
It was a joy to discover on our trip that Jesus was worshiped throughout the land of Jordan. Though it is now veiled in a cloak of Islam, the cloak is not theirs. Our mandate is to call back their heritage in Jesus.
DELIVERED TO DELIVER OTHERS
We marveled that although we do not even know the real name of Legion, it appears his testimony helped to plant more churches than any others who were commissioned by Yeshua. We traveled through northern and central Jordan in awe of a shadowy figure from the pages of the Gospel who was not allowed to follow after his Beloved Deliverer and Savior, but instead, was commissioned to deliver thousands of others into freedom drawing on the power of his own deliverance.
The presence of the testimony of Jesus is alive and well in Jordan even today.
Our first stop was Madaba en route to Mt Nebo. This is an ancient Moabite city mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9. We discovered ancient Byzantine churches there from the 2nd century. In the archeological site they had several wells and we were struck with the fact that believers in Jesus once worshiped here. It was holy ground.
I was also reminded of the biblical account when the Israelites wandered the desert and how many times they were in desperate need of water. As the tribes of Israel moved into the land of Moab, they needed water—again. But interestingly, this time, they did not react violently towards Moses or Aaron or with unbelief towards God. Apparently, they decided that returning to Egypt was not an option anymore.
From there they went to Be’er, the well the LORD told Moses about, “Gather the people so that I may give them water.”
Then Israel sang this song:
Spring up, well—sing to it!…(Numbers 21:16-18, HCSB)
Instead of grumbling and complaining about what they did not have, the Israelites chose to trust God – and their leaders. They chose to sing to their provision—in joy!—with the expectation of an answer to their need.
And God provided so miraculously—enough water to care for all the tribes of people, cattle, etc…in the middle of nowhere, from an unexpected source. That’s our God. His provision is always more than enough.
While visiting Jordan, our prayer declaration was to call forth this region back to its heritage in Jesus the Messiah. So I sang to all the ancient wells: “Spring up O well!! Refresh this land with Living Waters!”
Sometimes you have to do an act in the physical to represent what God is doing in the Spirit.
We can peer into the past and know that God is restoring His people back to their heritage, their inheritance — back to Himself. That is true with the church of the Middle East.
Jesus, the Light of the world, is rekindling the fire of His passion and love to His Bride in the Middle East.
The corridors of the archeological site at Madaba.
We are walking on ancient stones where once His people worshiped. If these stones could talk.
Our prayer as we stood on this ancient site:
God, strengthen the church of Jordan with the passion of Your love, all for the glory of Jesus. Amen.