I am on an immersive learning trip in the Holy Land! As we tour Israel with a group of 32 pastors, spouses, and church professionals, I am going to do my best to check in here as often as I can with reflections on our time together.
Today was a great first full day in Israel! We spent our morning framing a lot of the learning we’ll be doing for the next 2 weeks.
Our instructor for the trip is a man named Jack Beck, who calls his academic project “biblical geography.” A story he told to illustrate part of what biblical geography means for reading was really interesting to me, and reminded me of a story about my own life that I think can help to describe the sort of learning we’ll be doing here.
Many of my friends and church members and other folks know that I am an avid deer hunter. It’s my favorite hobby, and I spend a lot of time and energy on it.
In order to get around on a piece of hunting property, or to mark distances from blinds to make sure you’re making good and ethical shots, lots of hunters will use red sticks as a marker. They look like this:
(image from HomeDepot.com)
If I saw one of these things, I always knew I was looking at a marking stick, but didn’t know much more about it.
So a few years ago I was in the Boston area in the late winter time, after most of the snow had melted but before people had “de-winterized.” If you’re from somewhere cold, you already know where this is going; I saw a bunch of deer lease road marking sticks! Only…they were doing what they’re actually designed to do, and marking the curbs and edges of roads to keep snow plows out of peoples’ yards. Because you see, these sticks are, to most people in most places, snow plow sticks.
At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.” Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work.
–Luke 13:31-32 (CEB)
If you read many of the commentaries on this text, they’ll talk about the layers to this statement by Jesus in which he compares Herod Antipas to a fox. They’ll dive into the understanding of foxes as tricksters widely held throughout Europe and in classical thought. Could Jesus have meant to inspire that comparison? Certainly. But wouldn’t it be more likely that, as a guy living in first-century Palestine, Jesus was talking about the local foxes that he and his audience were familiar with? The kind that, while still a predator, doesn’t inspire the sort of fear that wolves or tigers or hyenas or lions or the other bigger and stronger indigenous predators did?
Dr. Beck’s passion, and what he is trying to help all of us to see, is that place matters profoundly to the biblical stories. The other things that happened on a mountain, or the reason for a city to be here and not there, or connotations and reputations of towns or places tell us something about the text, and they tell us something about God, too.
I’m so excited to learn more about this new way of reading the Bible, and sharing it with you!