I’ve been writing reflections on the pilgrimage to Israel I took in June of this year. To read all of them, click here.
June 19, AM
On our first day in Israel, we drove to a gravel parking lot and walked down a dusty white gravel trail toward Gezer. We didn’t know it was Gezer. As would be the case throughout the trip, our group leader, Tim, didn’t tell us where we were until we got there. Instead of looking ahead to the site, I could only think about what I was experiencing in the moment: “Gosh, it’s hot. The sun sure is bright on this path. I should’ve brought contacts so I could wear sunglasses right now. I did not quite get the chemical taste out of my water pack,” etc.
We climbed up a hill and got to Gezer, which was on the border between the coastal plain and the Judean foothills (Shephelah). It was on a trade route between Jerusalem and the Via Maris along the Aijalon Valley, which runs east-west. You can look out from the site and get a broad view of the coastal plain to the west. There is a gate that dates to the time of Solomon. It is similar to those found at Hazor and Megiddo, which Solomon also fortified (1 Kgs 9:15–17). Solomon almost certainly went there, either to sit as judge or to check on the progress of the fortifications. There is a destruction layer that dates to around 950 BC, which is what one would expect from the biblical account, in which the Egyptian pharaoh conquered it and gave it to Solomon. Another destruction shortly thereafter may date to the raid of Pharaoh Shishak around 924 BC (1 Kgs 14:25). There is another destruction layer dating to around 732 BC, which would come from the conquest of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III. The Gezer Calendar was found there; it may be the earliest-known specimen of Hebrew writing, and would also be a cool name for a band.
Also in this area is a series of massebot (sg. massebah), memorial stones. These were set up by Canaanites and predate the Israelite period, and so may be a predecessor to the famous “high places” that are mentioned throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes setting up massebot is depicted as a good thing (Gen 28:18–22; 35:14; Exod 24:4; Isa 19:19), and sometimes bad (Exod 23:24; Lev 26:1; Deut 7:5; 1 Kgs 14:23), depending on whether their purpose was associated with true worship or idolatry. On the positive side, they can serve as a reminder of a place and time where people have experienced God.
This trip was itself a massebah. It will serve as a reminder of what God has done. But memorial stones and other reminders of God’s actions can be misused. In 2 Kgs 18:4, King Hezekiah smashed the massebot in his kingdom, and also broke apart the bronze snake that Moses had lifted up in the wilderness. Its original purpose had been good, but the people began to burn incense to it, looking to it as a means to control their environment. This was idolatry, and the snake was no longer a reminder of what God had done. It had to be destroyed.
I’m reminded also of Peter’s response to seeing Jesus transfigured on the mountain and being joined by Moses and Elijah. He says to Jesus, “Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33). Instead of taking it for what it was—a singular experience of seeing the glory of God—he wanted to prolong the moment. On this trip I met God, but I knew it had to end. I can treasure the experience, but must not seek to prolong or relive it. I met several people I may not see again; and with those I will see, even on a weekly basis, it will not be the same as it was on the trip. But the good news is that though this particular experience of God has come to an end, God has not left.
So I will set up a memorial stone in my heart (and maybe in my yard). I will always remember it is there, always be grateful for the experience, and continue to tell others about what it means. And I will move on to the place I will meet God next.