It’s telling what we look at with the most intent.
Now, 6 days in to my full immersion into the Holy Land, seeing things as they are—they no longer have to be imagined by how my mind backfills in the ideas of Scripture. When we haven’t seen the real thing, our mind tries to fill in the blanks so we have something to hang on to and make real. Until this visit to the actual experience of the many places the great stories of the Bible happened, I—like many of you–had to just imagine.
Now, seeing it with my own two eyes, I won’t be able to see them any other way than they actually are.
And three images are now indelible realities in my mind as they no longer have to be imagined or guessed at. The essential view from King David’s Palace. The alluring view from Tel Aviv. And the meaningful view from the closest point to the Temple’s Holy of Holies that any Faithful One has had in two millennia.
DAVID. THE PALACE. AND THE VIEW. The places we read about in our favorite books can be magical in our minds. They’re big and grand. The grainy film of our mind’s eye—when we ponder the images only words have painted for us—is more often romanticized than realistic. When I read the about City of David as a young boy and even as a 40-something pastor, I saw grand gates and palaces and parapets. And while the original footprint of the Eternal City, Jerusalem, had walls and a palace, they weren’t as big as the sky and as wide as the ocean. The original city sat on about 12 acres inside walls narrowly stretched down a tight and harrowingly steep hillside. Now, Jerusalem’s royal palace did sit above the whole citadel like any castle in a fairy tell might, so it meant King David could see almost everything he’d need to see and even see some things he didn’t need to see. 2 Samuel 11 says when David should’ve been at work, he stayed home instead. And when all the servants and guards cleared out of his way, he went up to the top of the palace and could look down on not only his entire city below, but also the entire ascending hill opposite the citadel to his left. It’s never been clear whether Uriah and his wife Bathsheba lived inside the city walls or outside, but we know that the house’s top was within David’s eye’s view. And that could have been very possible anywhere in the city. But, we know he did see her because he liked what he saw. Her. Unclothed. Washing. And he kept looking. Looking so long that he couldn’t not have her. So, he slept with who he was looking at. And the inevitable pain that is sure to follow whatever dumb things we look at too hard at . . . did, in fact, follow David. His eyes got him what he wanted but also what he didn’t want. We have to be careful what we look at.
TEL AVIV’S VIEW. For a few days of this trip, I’ve not only been in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv as a jumping off point for my day trips into the country. Now, if you’re not very familiar with modern-day Israel, Tel Aviv isn’t the capital, but it is the pulsing hub for Israel’s business life and entertainment culture. Tel Aviv is as modern as a city comes. Frankly, it appears to me that has quite a bit on our American cities. It sits on the Mediterranean Sea, so it has beaches and fun and surfers and nightlife. It’s got big buildings and all the modern buzz you’d want. It’s very young. And (and here’s the kicker), for how it really matters, it feels nothing like Jerusalem where all the religious expectations would cause some of Tel Aviv to reconsider its actions. I haven’t seen an Orthodox Jewish faithful person once in Tel Aviv. Nowhere to be seen. Here, they’re wearing American clothes, thumping base-y EDM at the beach, and acting like they’re all on an MTV show from the early 90s. Now, Tel Aviv isn’t ever found in the Bible because it wasn’t around then. But, the city that Tel Aviv was built around—Jaffa (pronounced sometimes Yafo or Joppa)—is in the Bible. Jaffa is most known for being the pushing off point into the sea for one infamous dude in the Old Testament: Jonah. It’s where Jonah began to take off for another fun beach opposite from the direction God had nodded him in. So, Jonah left from “Tel Aviv” to go to a silly town called Tarshish to get away from God’s religion. You probably remember how that story turned out.
“The difficulty of God’s calling and mission and lifestyle is easily avoided,” he thought. Avoid the religious stuff, go to Tel Aviv. Make a buck. Buy a tank top. Play some EDM. Find a girl on the beach. If that doesn’t work out, just travel! Just jump on a boat for the farthest place from Tel Aviv. “I can probably have fun there, too. Maybe there’ll be a job! But, I’m sure there’ll be a new beach with a new girl.” So, Jonah went where his eyes led him. But Tel Aviv never works for a heart that God wants to be whole more than the person who needs to be made whole. Tel Aviv’s never work for happiness. Just for doing something stupid and getting turned into fish food. Now that doesn’t mean we have to leave the big city to love and follow God. But, the big city’s gotta leave our heart so we can be looking clear-eyed for the right stuff.
One final place I’ve seen in the Holy Land: the place in the tunneling along the Western Wall of the ancient Temple Mount that is the nearest point on the Temple Mount (and the precise spot on Mount Moriah) upon which the original Holy of Holies was built around. Even though no Jew or Christian is able to access that physical point anymore where the Holy of Holies once sat (because Islam’s Dome of the Rock sits upon that place today), it doesn’t mean that that place doesn’t matter to the Faithful any more. As point of fact, the place you see in the picture is the closest spot to where the Faithful Jews say God’s Presence once resided in the Most Holy Place. Here, at this precise place, the Faithful now come to see it on this holy wall, to touch it, and pray to God above. They are looking for God even if the place He once lived is no longer there.
The good news is that God doesn’t live in buildings. He lives in hearts. He makes His home in those who look to Him for mercy, for hope, for direction, for conviction, for His calling and mission, and for invitation into His community and heritage.
Who or what are you looking at right now? Bathsheba? The boat out of town? Or the Beginning and the End . . . the Bright Morning Star?
It’s telling what we look at with the most intent.