Israel 2022: Sea of Galilee

What can I say? It was definitely another “pinch yourself” kind of day.  We had arrived late in the afternoon tired and worn out from that day’s tour but I could feel the excitement in the tour group. We had arrived at the Sea of Galilee!

Sea of Galilee

Sure, Caesarea Maritima, Mount Carmel, Megiddo…. yes, all were great places we had visited already but THIS was the Sea of Galilee. Almost everything we know about Jesus and his three- year ministry happened right there around the Sea of Galilee.  We had seen places – mainly archaeological ruins – where Jesus might’ve, could’ve, maybe did, walk or sleep or perform miracles but you could never know if he really was there in those exact places. Was he? Really?

But, not this place. Here, you could know for sure. The Sea of Galilee is right there just like it was two thousand years ago. The sun rises and sets there day after day just like it has throughout the millennia. It is right there where it has been since time began. The landscaping might have changed, the towns he knew and traveled through may be gone, but the sea itself pretty much remains the same. Timeless. We saw it as he saw it.

Our tour day – pretty much like all the tour days – started early. We were on a 6-7-8 schedule – wake up call at 6:00 AM, breakfast at 7:00 AM and be on the bus by 8:00 AM. I called it the “up, eat, go” timeline and most of the time I was still trying to get enough coffee in me at breakfast so I could at least see to get on the bus before it left the hotel. But, this morning was special.  I was ready.

Old boat along the shore

We headed out early to a dock where a boat waited to take us on a cruise on the Sea. So, I’m thinking it will be a little touristy and maybe a little kitschy to go for a ride in a boat that was sort of built in the style of ancient fishing boats…. but not really…just another tourist thing. Right?  But it was a beautiful morning as we headed out, so I put all tourist thoughts aside and planned to just enjoy myself.  The sea was calm, and the sun was up on a cloudless day, we’re in the Holy Land…and, as they say, “God’s in His heaven” …. what’s not to enjoy?

What’s not to like about a sunny day on the lake?

I say the “sea”, but Galilee is actually a fresh-water lake about 64.4 square miles (166.7 km) in area, about 32 miles (53 km) in circumference, 13 miles (21 km) long, and 8.1 miles (13 km) wide. The lake has had many names through the centuries…Lake Kinneret or Kinnereth, Lake Tiberias, and the Sea of Minya, to name a few.

The name Kinneret comes from the name of a Bronze/Iron Age city of Kinneret, the remains of which lie on the northwest shore at Tell el’Oreineh. There is also a school of thought that the name is derived from the Hebrew word “Kinnor” which means a harp or lyre because the sea/lake has the shape of a lute. I think maybe the ancient city from the Bronze Age might trump the harp/lute theory although a lute-shaped sea is very appealing and easier to remember.  Oh, here’s something to think about – the “Kinnor” or lute is the first musical instrument to be mentioned in the Bible. (Do not ask me where.) One last theory. According to the Talmud, the lake is named for Kinnar trees which grow there1….which may refer to reeds or the jujube, neither of which sound much like a tree at all to me.

Heading down to the boat.

Christians generally refer to it as the Sea of Galilee which is derived from the Hebrew “Haggalil” which means “the district”. Gelil Haggoyim means “the district of nations”1.  Since the lake and the Jordon River have been denoted as the borders for Israel, Syria, and Jordan over the years, then Galilee being a district of nations makes sense.  But, enough on the names and enough history for now…..back to the tour.

The buses took us to the park and museum area where we would catch the boat. As we walked down to the pier, I wondered if a fishing boat could be large enough to hold our entire tour group….or would we have to split up into groups. I needn’t have worried about that at all. There was plenty of room. As we gathered on the boat and found a seat, the praise team, having set up at the front, began to sing. Others in the group soon joined in and the day that was already beautiful, became even more so.

I wish I could tell you what songs they were singing and that I sang along but I can’t. I was raised in the south right there in the Bible belt and I remember the old hymns which I dearly love…..so I tend to go to churches where they still sing the old songs….the ones that stir my heart.  I do know a few of the more contemporary songs but not too many….so that morning on the Sea of Galilee, I was listening to the music and not doing too much singing. 

And, of course, I was busy trying to get photos of everything…and I mean everything.  Branch sticking up out of the water, I got it.  Reeds growing on the shore, got that too.  And I won’t mention how many blurry pictures of boats and birds that I took.  I know that many of my memories will hinge on what I can capture with my camera. I’m getting to that age when, sadly, my memories are fading. If I see the photo, it helps me to remember (for now, at least) the place and the experience.

There are still fishermen on the sea.

And, the experience was wonderful. When our DTS guide, Dr. Yarbrough2, started to read from Mark chapter 4, I was hooked knowing that the events in the story he was reading took place right here in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a boat not too different from the one we were in.  And it is a story I love (doesn’t everyone?) I know that you know the story – everyone who’s ever been to Sunday School knows it. 

The Primacy of St. Peter (Franciscan)

Jesus and the apostles were all in the boat crossing over the sea when a terrible storm arose. The twelve apostles were fighting to steer the boat and stay afloat. Meanwhile, Jesus slept peacefully in the stern on a cushion. (For some reason, I have always liked that Jesus had a cushion. I’m thinking most fishing boats at that time did not come equipped with cushions for sleeping. It reminds me that “the son of man” had no place to rest his head.)

When things got pretty rough, Peter woke Jesus up letting him know how perilous things were and asking how he (Jesus) could just sleep peacefully while the storm was raging and they were all in danger.  Jesus chided Peter a bit for not having faith and then He rebuked the storm commanding “Silence! – be still!” (Mark 4:35-41).  

And, it did. The storm just stopped…… just like that.

Now, when we set out in our boat that day, the sea was by no means stormy, but it was a bit choppy…nothing out of the ordinary for a lake…. pretty calm, in fact.  But when Dr. Yarbrough got to the point in the passage when Jesus rebuked the storm, I swear the water went dead calm…. not a ripple. The water was still.  I felt it right down to my toes. Everyone on the boat got quiet and I was sure that they felt it too. We were all having a “pinch yourself” moment.

Now, maybe it was just my heart that slowed for a minute or two; maybe it was just me hearing that old story and feeling it down deep knowing where I was at that moment and maybe it was not really the sea that calmed. I don’t know…. but one minute, I could feel the boat was rocking gently on the water, and the next minute it wasn’t. I felt it… I was not just hearing the words being read from scripture, I was feeling them…. and maybe I was really hearing those words for the first time.

No matter, in that moment, I was there. There. On the sea where Jesus walked.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

Scriptural Cites Related to the Sea of Galilee:

  1. Numbers 34:11 – Shows Galilee as the boundary for the promised land/referred to as the Sea of Kinneret or Chinnereth (depending on the translation being used).
  2. Joshua 12:3 and Joshua 13:27 – Territories and cities listed in the kingdom of Sihon of Heshbon with the boundary running along the Jordan River as far north as the Sea of Galilee.
  3. Joshua 19:35 – The allotment for Naphtali included the fortified town of Kinnereth.
  4. Deuteronomy 3:17 – Land given to the Gadites & Reubenites from Kinnereth to the Dead Sea.
  5. Deuteronomy 33:23 – Naphtali reaches to the south from Lake Galilee.
  6. Isaiah 9:1 – God will honor Galilee of the nations by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan.
  7. Matthew 4:13 – Jesus left Nazareth and went to live at Capernaum.
  8. Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20,  Peter, Andrew, James, & John become followers of Jesus
  9. Matthew 5 and Luke 6:20-23 – Sermon on the Mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
  10. Luke 5:1-11 – Jesus tells Peter to put out into deep water and the fishermen catch enough fish to fill their boat and another boat to the point of beginning to sink. Luke refers to the sea as Lake Gennesaret
  11. John 1:43 – Jesus decides to go to Galilee and finds Philip who is called to follow Jesus.
  12. Mark 3:7-12, Matthew 4:23-25, & Luke 6:17-19  – A large crowd from Galilee, Judea, Idumea, Tyre & Sidon follows Jesus to the sea area. Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching, preaching, and healing.
  13. Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-42, and Luke 8:22 – Jesus calms the storm.
  14. Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, and Luke 8:26-39  – On the sea in the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus removes the demons from a possessed man and allows them to go into a herd of pigs which threw themselves into the sea.
  15. Matthew 13:1 – Jesus went out and sat beside Lake Galilee.
  16. Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:16-21 – Jesus walked on the waters of the sea.
  17. John 6:1-16Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17 and Mark 6:30-42  – Jesus went to mountain and feeds 5000 with five loaves and two small fish. Sea of Galilee is referred to as the Sea of Tiberias. Luke refers to the town of Bethsaida.
  18. Matthew 15:29-38 and Mark 8:1-10 – Jesus feeds 4000 on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee
  19. Mark 7:31-36 and Matthew 9:27-34 – Jesus left Tyre and went to the Sea of Galilee to Decapolis where he healed a deaf and mute man.
  20. John 21:1-24 – Jesus meets with the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias after his death & resurrection  It is at this appearance that Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”.

Sources for Additional Information About the Sea of Galilee:

(Other than the Biblical cites listed above, my research comes from Wikipedia as shown below.)

  1. Sea of Galilee – Wikipedia
  2. Dr. Mark Yarbrough – Dallas Theological Seminary
  3. Kinneret (archaeological site) – Wikipedia – Bronze Age/Iron Age city on northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
  4. Ginosar – Wikipedia
  5. Nahal Ein Gev II | The Institute of Archaeology (huji.ac.il) – Prehistoric Natufian site (hunter gatherer – pre-agricultural)
  6. Sea of Galilee Boat – Wikipedia
  7. Jesus Trail – Wikipedia – 40 Mile hiking trail “where Jesus walked”.
  8. Miracles of Jesus – Wikipedia
  9. Book of Signs – Wikipedia

ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:

Israel 2022: Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022

Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – Birding Boomers – April 11, 2022

Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel – Birding Boomers – April 20, 2022

Israel 2022: In This Valley – Birding Boomers – April 30, 2022

Israel 2022: In This Valley

Battles had been fought here. The site is a strategic one. As we stood at Megiddo and looked out over the Jezreel Valley4, war was just about the furthest thing from my mind. The view was incredibly beautiful. The sky was incredibly blue with soft white clouds scattered to the horizon. In the distance across the valley, we could see farms divided into neat squares either planted with winter crops or being prepared for the summer in ombre layers of green and brown and tan. 

View of the Jezreel Valley from Tel Megiddo

Just to my right I saw a couple of cows grazing with the requisite Cattle Egret which I had to take a picture of, of course. It was a bird, after all, and everyone knows how much I love birds. At that moment, there was only peace; nothing in that place, in that valley, spoke to me of war or battles or the end of time.

How could I not include the photo of the cows & Cattle Egrets?

I was standing on the top of Tel Megiddo1. A “tell” is an archaeological mound built over hundreds of years as cities rise and fall in the location and new cities are built in the same location using the previous ruins as foundations for the new cities. Archaeologists believe that there are about 20 levels or strata of ruins at Megiddo with an overlap of Egyptian, Hittite, Mitanni, Assyrian, and Israeli peoples occupying the site at differing times over the centuries with the primary inhabitants being those of Israel, Philistia, and Phoenicia.

Circular altar in Tel Megiddo’s “High Place” (temple) from the Bronze Era

Megiddo is strategically located near the mountain pass through the Carmel Ridge. This is the ancient trade route called Via Maris2 (“by way of the sea”) taken by traders traveling between Egypt and Assyria and Babylon – from north Africa to Asia. This area has been inhabited since about 7000 BCE (before the common era) or BC (before Christ) to me. The pass was always guarded so Megiddo was always fortified…. it is listed as one of Solomon’s chariot cities where many of his horses were stabled and war chariots were kept. Invariably, as long as this city controlled the pass through the mountains to the east, there would always those who would fight to control it.1   

King Solomon’s (or possibly King Ahab’s) stables at this “chariot city”. This could hold about 30 horses; the northern stables could hold about 300.

Three major battles have been fought in the area that were named the “Battle of Megiddo” (see references 5, 6, & 7 below) and a whole plethora of no-named skirmishes. I got totally caught up in the online reading about these battles and the history of this place. It is such fascinating history. But I will spare you with all the details.

Megiddo City Gate possibly built by “forced” labor (slaves?) during the time of King Solomon

But I am not thinking about all this war stuff when we visited the site. From the top of Tel Megiddo, the peaceful Jezreel Valley was laid out before me. This valley is one of the most fertile spots in all of Israel. When we embarked on this tour, I had a vision of Israel as a dry hot desert – you know the kind of geography – with Jesus walking around in dusty leather sandals in the wilderness hungry & thirsty in the sweltering heat while being tempted by the devil. I suppose I thought that all of Israel would be that way – hot, rocky, dry, and dusty.  

In this valley, you just cannot imagine the devil tempting Jesus – maybe I could see him tempting Adam & Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree up here at Jezreel…. but certainly not tempting the son of God to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:1). For how could anyone go hungry or thirst up here in the land of plenty? Surely, this is the promised land that Joshua scouted out way back there in the book of Numbers (chapter 14).  This is definitely not the wilderness where Jesus was tempted…not even close.

Old millstone on Tel Megiddo

The land here is good and there is plenty of water from the springs at Carmel.  Even the name “Jezreel” is derived from a Hebrew word, “Yizre’el” meaning “God sows”4. They grow all sorts of things here like oranges and watermelons and wheat and beans and cotton and sunflowers and chickpeas – of course, chickpeas, you just can’t make hummus without chickpeas. I cannot imagine what the restaurants in Israel would do without hummus and pita bread!

And I cannot imagine war here in this peaceful beautiful place.

Flowers in bloom on Tel Megiddo

But this is Armageddon.  The place where it is prophesied that the war to end all wars will be fought. From the Greek “Har” (mount) and “Megiddo”, we get Armageddon9. It is the place noted in Revelation 16:16 where nations will gather in the final confrontation between the forces of good (God) and the forces of evil (Satan) “for the great day of the Lord” from Revelation 16:14. Over the past two thousand years, the word has come to mean any world ending catastrophe, any great conflict that would end life as we know it here on earth. Prophecies about the end times abound throughout the Bible. Yet the only cite in the Bible predicting that last great battle to be fought at the Valley of Jezreel or Armageddon is Revelation 16:16. Some theologians and historians say that the battle to be fought in this valley is all symbolic and not necessarily ever going to happen at all…. that the reference is all about conflict in the middle east in general. 

At Tel Megiddo

But I’m a literalist when it comes to scripture – if the Bible says there will be a final confrontation in this valley at this place, then you had best believe that it’s gonna happen in the Jezreel Valley – right there in that same valley I could see spread out in front of me as I stood on Tel Megiddo.

View of the Jezreel Valley – Armageddon – from Tel Megiddo

Scriptural Cites:

  1. Joshua 12:21 – In the list of kings defeated by Joshua, the king of Megiddo.
  2. Joshua 17:11 & 12 – Megiddo was given to the tribe of Manasseh although Manasseh never conquered the city/land.
  3. Judges 1:27-28 – Manasseh fails to drive the Canaanites out of Megiddo.
  4. Judges 5:19-20 – The victory song of Deborah & Barak speaks of the waters of Megiddo.
  5. Judges 6:33 – Gideon defeats the Midianites, the Amalekites, & the “children of the east” 3 in the Valley of Jezreel.
  6. Joel 3:2 – All nations will be brought to the Valley of Jehoshaphat which is believed to be the Valley of Jezreel.
  7. Zechariah 12:2-11 – On that day, the day of wailing in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in Megiddo.
  8. 1 Samuel 28:4 – Philistines gather against Israel & King Saul at Gilboa in the Jezreel Valley.
  9. 1 Samuel 29:1-6 – King Saul defeated by the Philistines in the Jezreel Valley
  10. 1 Kings 4:12 – King Solomon’s governors include Baana in Taanach & Megiddo.
  11. 1 Kings 9:15 – King Solomon uses forced labor to build cities including Megiddo
  12. 1 Kings 10:26 – King Solomon’s chariots and horses kept at the “chariot cities” one of which was Megiddo
  13. 2 Kings 23:29–30 & 2 Chronicles 35:22 – King Josiah is killed at Megiddo by Necho II of Egypt
  14. 2 Kings 9, King Jehu (10th king of Israel) killed all the family members of the House of Omri (King Ahab & Queen Jezebel) in the Jezreel Valley.
  15. 2 Kings 9:27 – King Ahaziah of Judah in the battle with Jehu escapes to Megiddo, is wounded & dies there.
  16. 1 Chronicles 7:29 – Holdings of the descendants of Ephraim are shown to include Megiddo.
  17. Matthew 4:1 – Jesus tempted in the wilderness.
  18. Revelation 16:12-16 – Place of end times gathering of nations/kings identified as Armageddon
  19. Numbers 14:36-38 – Joshua & Caleb sent to the promised land.

Sources for Additional Information About Megiddo & The Jezreel Valley:

(Other than the Biblical cites listed above, my research comes from Wikipedia as shown below.)

  1. Tel Megiddo – Wikipedia
  2. Via Maris – Wikipedia
  3. Canaan – Wikipedia
  4. Jezreel Valley – Wikipedia
  5. Battle of Megiddo (15th century BC) – Wikipedia
  6. Battle of Megiddo (609 BC) – Wikipedia
  7. Battle of Megiddo (1918) – Wikipedia
  8. Revelation 16 New American Standard Bible (biblehub.com)
  9. Armageddon – Wikipedia
  10. Book of Kings – Wikipedia
  11. Book of Chronicles – Wikipedia

ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:

Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022

Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – Birding Boomers – April 11, 2022

Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel – Birding Boomers – April 20, 2022