I fell in love with Israel and the Jewish people when it dawned on me, “Jesus is a Jew!” I grew up in the era when Hollywood most often presented the Lord with blonde, blue eyed actors, but He was and is Jewish, and no doubt had the physical attributes of His people.
My wife Yvonne and I were invited to tour Israel, Egypt and Jordan in 1996. At the time I was pastor at Noosa Baptist Church on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.
Our son-in-law, evangelist Steve Grace, and our daughter Kerrie were hosting a tour and we went along as the pastoral couple. I still remember life-changing events at Mt Sinai, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Capernaum and Jerusalem.
In this chapter we will consider the first three.
Mt Sinai is featured in the Book of Exodus. In the bible it is also called Mt Horeb or the Mount of God. The Jewish people revere Mt Sinai as a most sacred place because Moses received the Ten Commandments on this mount but its true location is in dispute. Jewish sages have no argument with the mystery of where it actually might be. They believe its true location is terra incognita because of its deep significance.
We visited the site in Egypt. At the foot of Moses Mountain (Jubal Musa), is St Catherine’s Monastery, constructed by Emperor Justinian between 527 and 565. Built around what is said to be Moses’ Burning Bush the monastery contains one of the largest and most important collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world. The website www.touregypt.net says the collection consists of some “4,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syrian, Georgian and other languages.” (http://www.touregypt.net/Catherines.htm) The only larger collection is held in the Vatican.
According to touregypt.com, “The Chapel of the Burning Bush was originally ordered built by Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, but the monastery itself was actually built by Emperor Justinian to protect the monks in the region and to honor the site of the Burning Bush.”
The claim to fame of the Egypt location was the designation made by Helena in the early 300s AD. (Many locations in Israel designated to be holy sites by Helena are contested today, an indication that historic truth eventually exposes prideful pronouncements even by royalty!)
Nevertheless here we were, innocents abroad. To reach the top before dawn, we left the hotel soon after midnight. It takes about 3 hours to reach the 7,498-foot peak hiking the Path of Moses, which boasts nearly 4,000 steps.
I think my guide took me along the less steep track known as Siket El Bashait. Even then I opted to make part of the climb riding a camel. Half way up the trek the Bedouin who was leading stopped and demanded, “More money?” I asked, “Why?” “You too fat!” he said with an actor’s frown. I love the Bedouins!
We eventually arrived at the peak, just in time to experience the most breath-taking sunrise. It was very appropriate that Steve led us in worship. This was a very personal moment for each of us. It was also a great feeling to be in that moment with our family and our fellow pilgrims.
It was also time to reflect on the biblical Sinai and the amazing events it hosted. The Hasidic tradition says the name Sinai is from ‘sin-ah’ which means hatred. Commonly it refers to other nations hating the Jews out of jealousy, ‘due to the Jews being the ones to receive the divine laws’. (Wikepedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Mount_Sinai)
I may not have experienced the full impact or significance of that phrase until years later when I covered news in the Middle East and followed events day by day. The inexplicable hatred of the Jews particularly in Christian circles caused me great concern. I can only believe it is that jealousy and envy which provokes such madness towards the Jewish people.
The Wikepedia reference goes on: “according to biblical scholars, Sinai is most likely derived from the name of Sin, the Akkadian lunar deity. Horeb is thought to mean Glowing/Heat; this could be a reference to the sun, and thus Sinai and Horeb would be the mountain of the moon and sun, respectively. (Wikepedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Mount_Sinai)
Rather than a strange deity, I experienced the wonders of God the creator, in what can be genuinely called ‘a mountain top experience.’
I have doubts we were on the biblical Mt Sinai, but it served the purpose of providing a platform for the powerful and awesome presence of God. That sunrise was spectacular.
Wikepedia confirmed my doubts about the location.
“The Biblical Mount Sinai is an ambiguously located mountain at which the Hebrew Bible states that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God. In certain biblical passages these events are described as having transpired at Horeb. Sinai and Horeb are generally considered to refer to the same place although there is a small body of opinion that they refer to different locations.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Mount_Sinai)
Regardless of the doubts, we felt the profound Presence of the Lord in our visit, and so commenced an awakening, at least for me.