As a Christian, I’d always had a longing to travel to Israel and see the land where the Biblical accounts I’d read about actually happened. I’d heard so many people say that after visiting the Holy Land they never read the Bible the same way again. I can say, along with those who went before me, that it’s absolutely true!
After travelling through the land of Israel and seeing where things happened, the Bible took on a whole new life. Not that it suddenly said something different — but rather that my own understanding and comprehension had had a complete paradigm shift.
Do you remember hearing about the story of Jonah fleeing from God’s mission to travel to the wicked city of Nineveh? Nineveh was the capital of ancient Assyria, which was situated in a very fertile plain east of the Tigris River. Today the ancient ruins are located just opposite the present city of Mosul in Iraq.
Instead of obeying God, Jonah promptly made his way to the port of Joppa. There he hopped aboard a ship bound for Tarshish, thinking he could escape God’s notice as well as His mission. However, God caused a horrendous storm to rise. After doing everything else they could think of, the sailors cast lots to see which person on board had angered the gods and brought this calamity on them. The lot fell to Jonah.
When Jonah confessed that he was running from God, the men were terrified. Even though they didn’t want to throw him overboard, Jonah insisted they toss him into the sea so they would be saved from certain death. The instant Jonah hit the water, the storm ceased and all those on board became believers in the one true God. That was an excellent outcome from the prophet’s disobedience at this point in the story!
Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and stayed there in its belly for three days. Then God caused the fish to vomit him onto the beach. The experience was enough to convince Jonah to obey God the second time around. He went to Nineveh, preached repentance to the city — and they all repented and were saved.
This much we all know. What I can remember about hearing this story first taught to me was how much of a shock it would have been for the Ninevite fishermen to see Jonah walking along the beach and into the city. He would have been bleached white from the stomach juices in the fish’s belly. His clothing would have been partially digested. He would have stunk and been a frightful sight. Makes for a good story, doesn’t it?
However, a quick look on the map shows very clearly that Nineveh was situated near the Tigris River while Jonah entered the fish’s belly in the Mediterranean Sea on his way to Tarshish… the very opposite direction of Nineveh! Jonah was vomited up onto the very beach where he started his escape from God — — at Joppa!
He probably cleaned himself up before heading out on his journey to Nineveh which was really over 2500 km away. Walking along the beach of Jaffa, the modern name for the Port of Joppa (that stretches down along the city of Tel Aviv) gives a completely different perspective to this story. Especially now that I’ve been there and seen the place for myself.
I can remember travelling around the Galilee area and seeing — in my mind’s eye — Jesus preaching to the masses His famous Sermon on the Mount. I recall the huge ravine through which He and His disciples walked when they travelled all the way from Nazareth to minister in the Galilee region. It was wonderful to sail in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and imagine what it must have been like to be caught in a violent storm at night, terrified that death was imminent — only to see Jesus walking on the water and speaking words of calm.
When we arrived in Jerusalem and stood on the Mount of Olives, looking down at the city and at the Temple Mount, we were amazed at how tiny this city is. In fact we were stunned at just how tiny the entire nation of Israel is. From the Mount of Olives we walked down the hill to the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where Jesus prayed alone as His disciples slept, and where He sweated blood due to the extreme stress He was feeling. He would have been looking across the Kidron Valley towards the Temple knowing what was going to happen to Him in a few short hours. The Temple is merely a stone’s throw away from the olive garden He was praying in!
Truly, a visit to the land of Israel opens the Bible to you in ways I just can’t describe. There are so many more things I could share — but really, the best way to experience what I have is to travel to Israel for yourself.
You too will say, with me, that you will never read the Bible the same way again.