Pictured above: The Old City of Jerusalem at sunset in the winter from the Mount of Olives
By: Netanel R.
I didn’t grow up in Jerusalem. I grew up in a small midwestern farm town in the U.S. There were no hills and certainly no mountains. Just corn and soybean fields broken up by small stretches of woods, rivers and homes.
We didn’t know much about war or terrorism in my family. We didn’t really watch news on TV when I was growing up and the newspaper was mostly for checking the weather, finding coupons for shopping and seeing if anyone we knew was featured there for some reason. For the most part, the tensest things I ever heard my family discuss were corn and soybean prices, the weather, and perhaps the work we’d be doing on or around our home or for some friend or relative.
I never saw an olive tree until I moved to Israel for graduate studies. It never occurred to me to think about what the Mount of Olives might look like, or what you might smell or see from this special place that overlooks the ancient city of Jerusalem. I honestly never had any idea just how close it was to the ancient walls of Jerusalem. Most of the place names in Scripture just seemed to me to be words that meant little or nothing to me, a distraction from the more “spiritual” verses of the Bible that I had thought were the whole point of the Bible. Maybe my lack of interest in place names is why it was kind of hard for me to keep track of what happened and where when reading Scripture.
Once in Israel, I had no idea that as I walked day in and day out along the Mount of Olives on my way to the university, I would grow in a fondness for this place that would forever change how I read the Scriptures. For me today, reading the passages that speak of things that happened on or around the Mount of Olives brings back memories of the experiences I had on this high hill overlooking the place in which God chose to set His name so long ago. Now when reading the Bible, I often get excited rather than bored by coming across place names because I’m always wondering where that place is in reference to somewhere I’ve been.
When I am back in the U.S. and place names are casually passed over when reading the Bible in congregations, the congregants blank faced as places such as the Mount of Olives are mentioned, I am taken in my heart back to these special places. The Mount of Olives, for instance, is filled with sights and smells that I took delight in every time I walked there. A joy wells up inside of me as I am reminded of the fragrances from the trees, bushes and flowers, as I recall the beauty of the scenery.
A beautiful limestone rock path twists and turns its way up from Kidron Valley through the olive trees and evergreens on the Mount of Olives. For me, on this hill upon which our Messiah sweat blood on the night before his crucifixion nearly two thousand years ago, I have often found great peace welling up within me. In perhaps the most hotly fought over city in the world, I feel completely carefree as I walk among the olive trees. My worries escape me every time I look over the holy city to which our Messiah will return to rule and reign one day.
In the winter, I would often return from campus as the sun was setting over Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is east of the city, so I would look west over the city to see the sun disappearing behind its ancient walls, all the glory of the sunset spilling golden hues as far as the eye could see. Lights would come on across the city as day turned to night creating a captivating contrast of darkness and light.
Often on these walks, I would be met by young Arab boys. Some of them were from a Muslim family of tour guides for many generations now. As I got to know their families, the father of some of the boys would tell me of his countless fond memories of sitting at the feet of some of Israel’s most renowned archeologists (Jewish archeologists) working near his home in the City of David (the most ancient part of Jerusalem). So much for the claims that Israel is an apartheid state — this Muslim man had only good things to say about his experiences around Jewish archeologists growing up.
Today, one of those boys who was young when I met him is now grown up. I have enjoyed inviting him on a variety of fun experiences and introducing him to numerous friends of mine who are believers. When I first met him though, all he wanted to do was sell me his fake Roman coins. He was already not going to school when I met him (at about the age of 13). Instead, he was perfecting his family trade — tourism. He even offered to lead me on tours for free a few times. When I refused to buy his fake artifacts, he invited me in for coffee with his family and this is how I began to grow in relationship with them.
There is something special about experiencing the Land and getting to know the people of Israel for yourself. There is beauty in the landscape that words cannot describe. The smells of the trees, flowers, and bushes all work together in a symphony of fragrances that cry out “REST”!
When you experience this for yourself, it is hard to understand why so many people are caught up in political arguments about Israel that the news is all too eager to encourage. Most of the people here long for peace. The Land cries out for an end to the conflict. As believers, we have the joy of knowing that our Jewish Messiah is coming and has not abandoned this land. Israel WILL be restored and the Lord WILL reign from this holy city forever more. In the meantime, we should pray for the leaders of Israel and for the people here who are impacted by their decisions.
If you would like to come see the land for yourself, check out one of Hope for Israel’s special tours. Our Experience Israel Tour is coming up soon and there are still a few spaces open to join! To learn more, check out the tour itinerary by clicking here.
Did you know? — Lone Soldier
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