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SEMINAR #4 SO YOU’RE GOING TO JORDAN? YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELF THERE

As you have already learned, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is of rather recent creation and is an almost 100% Sunni Muslim country. It butts up against Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the East and South and Syria to the North. It is landlocked and has no outlet to the seas of the world. To the West is the so called West Bank and the now PLO controlled areas, and the relatively newly reconstituted nation of Israel. Jordan is now ruled by a King, Abdullah.

 

He is British educated. He and his late father King Hussein (he even had an American wife) are friends of the US in the region and live more or less at peace with Israel.

They also have an uneasy relationship with the PLO that goes back to 1970 and so called “Black September” when the then Jordanian based PLO led by the late Yasser Arafat, tried to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy. Thousands died on both sides. The monarchy survived. The PLO was expelled from Jordan and retreated to Lebanon.

The current coexisting relationship of Jordan with Israel was not always so, as Jordan, though reluctantly, did participate along with Egypt and Syria, in the catastrophic, simultaneous attack on Israel in 1967, just 19 years after the establishment of the new State, and just 6 weeks after my first visit there. This became known as the “6 Day War”. The result? The militarily and numerically superior Arab coalition of forces was roundly crushed by the tiny Israeli military in 7 short days, and the border between Israel and Jordan was pushed back radically to the East as Jordan lost the Old City of Jerusalem and all of the land to the East of Jerusalem between Jerusalem and the Jordan River. The Jordan River then became and remains the official border of Jordan. The border with Egypt was pushed back to the Suez canal. Later much of the Sinai was ceded back to Egypt.

As a result Israel greatly extended its borders which, prior to this victory, were almost impossible to defend. The borders, pre and post 1967 war are shown on the following 2 maps.

Pre the 1967 war, Israel was only about 15 miles wide at one point, with the Mediterranean Sea to the West and the Kingdom of Jordan to the East. An impossible situation from a military point of view.

And that is when the ongoing conflict began over the West Bank and the Israeli “settlements”, that is as current as last night’s evening news. All of that tension developed over the disposition of the conquered land taken from Jordan by Israel in that fateful week in 1967. Actually the tension began even earlier with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Arabs have never come to acceptance of that event.

And a basic question persists. When you start a war and you lose territory as a result, do you have the right to complain and expect to get that territory given back? Do you?

So much for this basic primer on the politics of the country of Israel and its neighbors. A big question is: Why should Jordan figure in so prominently in a Bible Lands Journey? Let me tell you the interesting answer to that question.

The area we now call Jordan is rich in Bible history. Of course it was not called Jordan in the time of the Old Testament. It was better known then as Edom, and Moab and Gilead and the land of the Ammonites (the name Amman reflects that history).

Ancient Israel after 40 years of wilderness wandering following the exodus from Egypt, fought all of these pagan tribes from time to time, during the conquest of the “promised land’, that had been promised to Abraham by God around 2100 BC. When it finally came time to divvy up the land to be conquered amongst the 12 invading tribes of Israel during the conquest under Joshua, 3 of the tribes of Israel, Gad, Manasseh and Reuben were actually assigned land in what is now Jordan, the East bank of the Jordan River.

So one could argue from that fact that the modern Kingdom of Jordan is actually encroaching on part of the land given by God to the Old Testament nation of Israel. Now no sane person is using that as an argument to set off a war between the neighboring nations of Jordan and Israel. But that is an interesting fact of Biblical history.

I will speak more about the fabulous ruins of Petra that are found in Jordan and their Biblical significance at a later time.

As for Jordan itself: Here is an early Bible mention of Jordan. Around 800 BC, during the reign of Judah’s 25 year old king Amaziah, the Bible records that he killed “10,000 Edomites (Jordanians) in the Valley of Salt (the Dead Sea area). He also conquered Sela (Petra) and also changed its name to Joktheel as it is called to this day”. 2 Kings 14:1-7

In this single Bible passage we see the mention of several sites that visitors who go to Jordan with the “Holy Land Guru”, as we will do on the upcoming February 10, 2014 journey, will experience.

When in Jordan looking down to the Jordan valley from up above, I will probably remind you there of several memorable Bible events of importance that took place near there.

You will recall that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egyptian captivity and guided them through 40 years in the desert as the older generation that had proven faithless died off. Unfortunately for him, Moses was numbered among those who, because of their rebellion, were not permitted to enter the promised land.

Moses had to settle for a look see. The Bible record tells us that God took him up into a high mountain, Mount Nebo, where he was able to see(but not enter) the vast panorama of the Western side of the Jordan River that was destined, by God’s promise to Abraham, to be the possession of the children of Abraham.

When you travel to Jordan with the “Holy land Guru” you will see what Moses saw from Mount Nebo, provided that the weather is good and it is not fogged in as on our last journey there. Spread out way down below your feet is a magnificent view that shows the waters of the Dead Sea way down to the left and the Jordan River meandering toward the Sea of Galilee to the right/North and the location of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and the ruins of ancient Jericho and the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by Satan and the wilderness of Judea and and and. Stunning view.

Also when we are standing in this area of Jordan I will probably remind you of a couple of other famous Bible stories that unfolded there where we are standing. For example: the sordid story of King David and Bathsheba.

Seems David, who was king of Israel in Jerusalem at the time, about 1000 BC, spotted an attractive young woman sunbathing on the top of her nearby house. He checked her out and liked what he saw. In today’s verbiage, she was a “hot chick”. Lust took over, and David determined to have her. She, however, was inconveniently married. That did not deter King David so he arranged for her husband, a soldier in David’s army, to be killed. He eliminated the competition. And Uriah, the husband, consequently, died in battle somewhere down there below our gaze on the slope leading up from the Jordan River in what is now the Kingdom of Jordan.

I will probably remind you also of the story from the Old Testament book of Ruth. Naomi and her husband and 2 sons and their wives, all lived in Bethlehem probably about 1100 BC. (This is the same Bethlehem that Jesus knew). There was a terrible famine. They learned that there was food to be found across the Jordan River in Moab ( what is now Jordan) and so they set out down the slope we can see in the distance leading to the Jordan River and then up the slope on the Jordanian side of the River below us. Apparently they found food, but all 3 of the men died leaving 3 grieving widows destitute and alone in a strange land.

What to do? Naomi sent one of the girls home to live with her family. She was from that area. The other daughter in law refused to leave Naomi and so the 2 of them decided to return home to Bethlehem where at least they knew people. Arriving back in Bethlehem there was no social safety net to catch them, just the Biblical injunction that landowners were to allow widows and the poor to gather food from the outer edges and corners of their fields. To glean was the phrase.

Enter a wealthy, local, unmarried landowner named Boaz. Naomi targeted him as their economic salvation. She plotted his seduction. I kid you not.

She instructed the young widow Ruth to take a bath, (not an easy thing to do where water was scarce but a necessary thing to do after a hot day in the fields gathering grain if you expect to be attractive to a possible mate) and put on some perfume (yes the Bible actually says that) and, when Boaz was asleep in the field, creep up and curl up at his feet so that the first thing he will see when he awakens is this beautiful and needy young widow, smiling winsomely at him.

Poor Boaz did not have a chance. He and Ruth married and Naomi was now provided for and Ruth ended up finding herself recorded for all time, as one of those in the family of Jesus, who would come about 1100 years later.

Bet you didn’t know the Bible had such interesting stories to tell?! And Jordan played a big role in both of these stories.

But what about Jesus and Jordan? Not many mentionings of him going there. He was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist on the Jordan side of the River by the way.

Matthew 19;1-12 speaks of Jesus going down the East side of the Jordan River which of course would have placed him in the modern Kingdom of Jordan, probably about where our February 2013 group crossed on the Sheik Hussein bridge just South of the Sea of Galilee, over the Jordan River, going from Jordan to Israel.

Two other important sites of interest are to be found when you visit Jordan with the “Holy Land Guru”: Petra and Jerash.

Petra is first mentioned in the Bible in 1 Kings 14:7 and 2 Chronicles 25:12-16 where it is called Selah. Its name means rock which is a very appropriate name for a city that is literally carved out of rock.

Like most ancient cities, Petra was established for strategic reasons. It had an all important source of stored water. It was located in an easy to defend hidden valley surrounded by towering cliffs. It was situated on a major trade route that carried spices from Damascus in the North to the Red Sea and Egypt to the South.

The mother of King Herod the Great was a Nabataen and came from Petra. Herod was king over parts of what is now Israel on 2 separate occasions. He was first appointed king of Galilee. While king of Galilee he was invaded by a foreign power and took flight to Petra where he holed up for a time and then went to Rome where he was reappointed king now of Judea, and that is where he first enters the Bible story.

Petra is so spectacular that Hollywood chose it as the location for the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is now listed as a UNESC World Heritage site. It is truly one of the most spectacular sights in the world, an entire city carved out of red sand stone cliffs with some bold relief buildings towering over 60’ high.

That may be very interesting but what real significance does Petra hold for a journey that is focused on the Bible? And that is a very good question and deserves a very important and, perhaps, unexpected answer from the “Holy Land Guru”. Bet you never heard this explanation before from any other teacher.

Following his conversion, when he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus where he was headed while engaged in a plot to destroy the Christian movement, Saul of Tarsus, later named Paul, found his life turned upside down.

Struck down by a flashing light that rendered him blind, he heard the voice of Jesus and, in a flash, his whole life was changed.

Now blind, he was led by the hand into the city of Damascus where he met a local Christian Jew named Ananias who prayed over him so that his sight returned, although probably with a residual affect of continuing soreness. That may be what he later described as his “thorn in the flesh”.

The Galatians account of what happened next, describes Paul as going off into Arabia for a few years before he returned to Damascus and then on to Jerusalem where he met the Apostles of Jesus.

So the really interesting questions are, where in “Arabia” would he have gone and why would he go there and what did he do while there? Fascinating questions all.

It is speculated that it was probably to Petra that he would have gone. There were not many competing sites in “Arabia” that would have been considered. So it was probably to Petra that he went.

But an even more important question is: why did he feel it necessary to spend up to 3 years in virtual exile in Arabia? Why not just get on with it and return to Jerusalem and face down his old colleagues in the Jewish religious aristocracy? Bottom line suggestion: perhaps he was not quite ready.

Put yourself inside the skull of Saul of Tarsus for a moment. He was a highly trained and educated young rabbi, a graduate of the Harvard of his day at the feet of the famous Rabbi, Gamaliel. He knew the Old Testament well. He lived a disciplined life, according to the strict requirements of the Law. He knew well the prophesies about the coming of the Messiah. He understood the Law. He was versed in the feasts and practices of the temple and the priesthood.

Saul/Paul was an expert in all of this from his childhood and suddenly, all that he had learned and come to believe with all of his heart, was thrown into doubt. His encounter with the living Jesus forced him to reconsider all that he had learned and to try to understand what it now meant in terms of his new relationship with Jesus. He needed time. While in Petra I imagine that he probably returned to his trade in order to support himself. People there needed tents and that was Paul’s trade.

During that perhaps 3 year hiatus, probably in Petra, after much study and prayer and contemplation, Paul must have come to certain firm new convictions about the Old Testament and Jesus and the Messiah and redemption and salvation and forgiveness and grace, and what his new role in life was to be. It was only then, it seems easy to understand, that he was ready to return to Jerusalem and begin his ministry.

A further aside is that when Saul finally went to Jerusalem, the Christian elders there were at first slow to welcome him out of fear. But when they learned that a plot to kill him had been arranged by the Jewish authorities, they sent Saul home to Tarsus, in what is Southern Turkey today, where he was on the shelf for a number of years.

And so Petra probably played a bigger role in the New Testament story than most have ever considered. Bet you never heard this story before!

The other place of interest for those on the journey with the “Holy Land Guru” is the New Testament era Greek-Roman city of Jerash (or Gerash) with its towering ruins and marvelous excavations. Jerash was one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis and may have been visited by Jesus as he traveled from the North to the South on the East side of the Jordan River. Jerash provides us with a marvelous example of what a Roman city at the time of the New Testament would have looked like.

These are some of the fascinating experiences that you will enjoy as you venture into Jordan as part of a journey led by Dr. Bob, the “Holy Land Guru”, such as the one planned for February 10, 2014.

Ya’all come.

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