After breakfast, we departed the hotel in Tiberias and headed north along the Sea of Galilee, then through the Hula valley between the Ridge of Napthali on the Lebanese border and the mountains ridge of the Golan Heights, to Tel Dan. Tel Dan is located in the extreme north end of Israel. It’s one of the northernmost areas in the country, nestled on a “land peninsula” between Lebanon to the north and west and Syria to the east. I don’t think Dan is a modern city, but Tel Dan is the site of both a beautiful nature reserve and some very interesting ruins.
Our guide explained to us that 60% of the southern half of Israel (called the Negev) is desert. On the way to the Tel we encountered a fairly massive artificial hill on the northwest shore of the Galilee sea. This hill houses three underground (evidently fairly massive) pumps which extract fresh water from the Sea of Galilee and pump it south to the Negev for irrigation. This is one of the many ways that Israel has restored life to the region since being re-established as a nation in 1948. What’s most amazing about this is that pumping this water south from Galilee (below sea level) is entirely an uphill process, so it takes a lot of power and pressure.
Another thing we saw along the way was very rocky soil, the result of volcanic activity in the area millennia ago. I was reminded of the parable of the four soils in Matthew 13. It was very obvious that the people listening to Jesus would have known exactly what he was talking about. I have pictures, but like many things they don’t really do it justice.
Despite some very rocky areas, we saw fruits and vegetables growing everywhere. Pretty much anything you can imagine: avocados, bananas, oranges, apples, grapefruit, dates, and so on. Every field had something different growing in it. It’s not hard to understand why Israel is the bread basket of the Middle East, why God called it a land flowing with milk and honey, or why everyone and their brother in that area (who are living in squalor in the dessert) wants to take it away from them (or destroy it if they can’t have it).
It was also pointed out that there are generally very few workers harvesting crops in the fields or working on roads, etc. When Faith and I visited the Philippines, we noticed how little equipment there was, and that most construction was accomplished by large numbers of men with very rudimentary tools. In Israel, much like in the United States, there is a lot of technology applied to construction and agriculture. One example I found amusing is that they have automated cow milkers. These are unmanned robotic stalls stuck out in a field of dairy cows. The cows eat all they want in the field, but there are treats dispensed by the robots. The cow comes into the stall to get the treat, the doors closed, and the robot milks the cow. It is then released back into the field. If the same cow tries to come back too soon, it is rejected by the milker robot and has to come back later. How cool!
But I digress. On to Tel Dan…
Dan was originally called Lyeish in the days of Moses and Abraham. The first thing we saw at the nature reserve that stands there now was the River Dan, one of the three tributaries which converge in northern Israel to form the Jordan river. Two of the three fountainheads of the Jordan originate in this area of the country. As the Jordan supplies much of the fresh water to Israel, it’s easy to understand why Israel wouldn’t want to give up control of it by giving up the territory in the Golan Heights.
We saw the ruins of an ancient site of one of the two pagan ritual centers that King Jeroboam built in about 1700 BC. The other was in Beth’El, Even so closely following the reigns of David and Solomon, the kingdom was divided and the people began intermarrying with pagan nations and following their gods. Jeroboam set up these two ritual centers to make it more convenient for people to get them rather than going all the way to Jerusalem (which I sortof understand having seen how far they’d have had to walk to get there). As our guide talked about how the Hebrews forgot God once they began to intermingle with their pagan neighbors, I thought about how much easier and more convenient it is to “follow” a god of your own making or choosing. It’s so much harder to build a real relationship with the One True God of the Universe.
At both of ritual centers, the rebellious Hebrews erected golden calves to be worshipped and to whom to sacrifice. The temple was set on a hill overlooking the Lebanon border, and I found it quite intimidating to be able to look down into a valley and see one town on the Israeli side and another on the Lebanese side. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable being so close to a spot where real war and conflict had been and could be again so easily. This was especially true after we spent a great deal of time while the bus was en route discussing conflict experienced with Lebanon and Syria over the years, including recent times when Syria thought it would be a good idea to lob thousands of rockets over the border into villages on the northern end of Israel. We saw those villages. Can you imagine living *there*? You’d think frequent rocket attacks would be hard on property values.
Coming over a hill, we were faced with a large downward slope. Ahead of us were the high ridges of the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon. Our guide explained that there were only a limited number of routes through mountain passes in this range, so again another extreme value of this territory. The main roads connecting places like Damascus with Jerusalem or Egypt pretty much have to come through the Golans, so Israel is pretty motivated not to give them up.
Next we came to a very well preserved gate section of a wall that once protected a Canaanite city there. These ruins were about 3700 years old. In fact, Abram is thought to have passed through these very gates in pursuit of the kings who kidnapped his nephew Lot in Genesis 14. Pretty cool to have walked in a place where Abram walked.
We also saw another entrance into the city where the king would sit to judge or listen to news as people approached. See 2 Samuel 19 as an example.
An interesting fact about Tel Dan. The excavation of archeological sites in this area revealed the only place where the term “House of David” has ever been found.