Our first stop was the ancient city of Dan. This was the land given to the tribe of Dan (obviously) and the city has Canaanite origins. In fact, Abraham and Sarah probably entered the city through this gate. It predates 1200 BC:
But more significantly, this was where Jeroboam set up the rival Temple after the kingdom split. Rather than going to Jerusalem, he established sacrifices for convenience and consolidation (I Kings 12). He placed a golden calf in the middle of it all and established a house of ‘high places.’ Here is the exact spot:
The altar is where the metal structure is in the middle. The high places is where the people are seated in the far background.
One of the things that people do not realize is how small a country Israel is. After the Six Days and Yom Kippur Wars, their borders were expanded and more firmly fixed, but as you and I know, that’s up for debate. But you can travel by car and to traverse the country east to west would take less than two hours and north to south maybe five. To the north is Lebanon and Syria. From Dan, Lebanon is literally down the hill. Here’s the view from there:
I am standing in Israel and the tree in the foreground is in Lebanon.
We left Dan and made our way to Caesarea Philippi, a ‘Blackberry Farm meets Vegas’ destination during the Roman period. It was developed by Philipp, son of Herod the Great. It was here that Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ (Matthew 16, Mark 8):
The conversation may not have taken place in this exact location, but as you will see, it stands to reason that it did.
This cave is at the headwaters of the Jordan River and the cave you see was considered to be the portal by which Pan (half goat, half man) made his way to and from the land of the dead, Hades.
Roman priests would make sacrifices and throw the victim into the cave where it would fall into the water. If no blood ran out the other side where it fed into the Jordan, then Pan had received the sacrifice. If blood was seen, he had rejected it.
But it wasn’t just Pan that was worshipped, other temples existed in the area and niches were cared into the face of the rock for idols to be placed in them:
So you can see how live the question is that Jesus is asking: In the midst of the idols of the world, who am I?
When Peter proclaims, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ Jesus praises the declaration and says, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God himself.’ Do you see it? All these idols are the product of man. They are intuitive, not an outside revelation of the objective truth of Jesus. These idols are humanity’s attempt to make sense of the world, Jesus is God’s definitive answer; in him is life.
Jesus goes on further to say that ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against you.’ In your mind’s eye, you can see Jesus pointing to the cave, the gateway of Pan to reach Hades, and saying, this is nothing; I am everything. Seeing these things give a whole new meaning to Jesus’ conversation at Caesarea Philippi.
We then headed to a United Nations manned border monitoring post. Since the Yom Kippur ceasefire in 1973, this mountaintop has been monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. It was this position that repelled the Syrians and allowed Israel to secure exclusive water rights to the headwaters of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. Before the war, Syria’s border extended all the way to the Sea of Galilee: