May 13, 2008

Saying Goodbye

In the early spring of 34 AD, Saul of Tarsus slipped through the cracks of Damascus one night and hurried away... going south. Saul did not go north towards Tarsus. He did not go southwest on the road to Jersualem. Saul went south. Due south.

He was heading for Northern Arabia.

Saul (later Paul) knew Jesus Christ had called him to go to the Gentiles. But Saul was a Jew. Saul still felt loyal, still felt LOVE for his people! There had never been anything in Saul's human self that had wanted to see, touch, speak with or live anywhere close to the gentiles... let alone preach salvation to them. Let alone share his GOD with them!

But now Saul had changed. Totally. And somewhat. Completely. A little.

God rarely changes a man all through all at once. So while we can only guess how much Saul (Paul) had changed in a very short time... some parts of him... at the very least, Saul's MEMORY... was still longing and wishing his call was to Israel. Perhaps even desperately, at least one part of Saul the human being just wanted to go home and save his own people.

We do know Saul never lost touch with this strong personal desire to see all of Israel enter God's NEW Kingdom. At least 23 years after he met Jesus Christ, Paul (Saul) was still talking about how much he wished he could go to his OWN people. Saul was a Jew to the core. Loyal to the death. Longing for Hebrew redemption.

And yet the Lord had asked this man to go in another direction. South, apparently.

And yet... in the spring of 34 AD, Saul was a very new christian.

What would he do? Would he obey?

Three days south, on the road from Damascus (however fast he actually got there), Saul must have spent at least one night in Bostra. A truly Arabian city, Bostra was the northernmost tip of what the Romans called "Northern Arabia". At that point, Saul found himself in the Kingdom of Nabatea.

For all we know, Saul spent the next 30 months there in Bostra. (See Redating Post.) We can only guess at this point, but Saul probably went further south. So...

Whenever Saul left Bostra, (IF he left Bostra), the main road cut through the Decapolis. Two days later, Saul would have come to a crossroads. A MAJOR crossroads. Yes, in more ways than one.

Behind this young Hebrew, the road back to Bostra. To his left, more Gentile Arabians. This road thru heart of the Nabatean Kingdom went to its capital, Petra, and ended at the tip of the Red Sea. Saul (Paul) was barely a christian, and yet, Jesus Christ had called him to the Gentiles. Surely, Saul would obey. Surely, he would go deeper into Arabia.

But then again, on Saul's right stood the road back to Israel! Five days south of Damascus, this homesick Pharisee could almost see the Holy City itself. It couldn't hurt anything to walk just a bit down that road. Just to look.

Perhaps to say a last goodbye?

A mile down that road (IF Paul took that road), Saul (Paul) could practically see Jericho. The land fell below him. The road stretching into the Jordan valley. He could not see the river, but he could see the curve of its line by the tops of the trees on its banks.

Two miles down that road (IF Paul took that road), Saul (Paul) could see more than before. But not quite enough. If Paul had walked a full day from the last city back (Philadelphia), then the sun was getting ready to set. In the west.

Saul would have - could have - watched the sun set over the Jordan. As a farewell.

Five miles down that road (or less), Saul (Paul) probably saw a footpath leading up the small mountain to his left. With enough daylight, Saul might have climbed up that hill. Up the mountain. Up to its top. Then around to the west side overlook.

From the top of that Mountain, (IF Paul climbed it) Saul could see everything! Below to his right, the Jordan River running down from Galilee on the horizon. Directly ahead, the Dead Sea, stretching out to the left, towards Petra. From the south overlook, Saul (Paul) could have seen where he was about to go, down thru the rest of Nabatea.

But from this side, looking west, Saul could see home.

In the waning rays of late afternoon, just a bit to the left, was the mountain of Olives. Behind it's peak, Saul knew, was the shadow of Jerusalem. Staring at that mountain, Saul could imagine Herod's Temple, on the city's east side. He knew where the Temple sat. It sat facing him. In fact, it sat...

Not far from the spot where he'd watched them stone Stephen. Stephen the gentile. Stephen who spoke of Saul's forefathers, Abraham & Moses. Men who wandered...

Homeless men. Like Saul. Suddenly.

Let's not try too hard to imagine how much emotion Saul might have felt. How much devotion he had to his people. And yet, Saul's devotion for his God was far greater. Saul's devotion to his LORD would trump anything.

Let's not try too hard to picture what an intimate, sorrowful, tender, crushing, bittersweet struggle Saul must have had there, that night, with His Lord. But IF that evening happened, wow. That must have been something!!

And yet, even more. Because at some point, if he hadn't already, Saul would have realized one more tiny detail.

This was Mount Nebo.

This was where God spoke to Moses, just before Israel crossed over Jordan. Just before Joshua followed the Ark of God's Testimony into the Promised Land. Just before Moses went down to tell them all it was time. Just before God fulfilled what he'd promised to do for his Name's sake... For his Testimony... For his people...

For Israel.

This spot - where Saul (Paul) now stood, looking at Israel. Leaving for the Gentiles.

This was the spot where God brought Moses, just to look at the promised land, one time before he died. Because God had told Moses,

"Moses, you will not be going in."

And (if or) when God reminded Saul that they were sharing this moment in that very spot...

Just imagine how Saul must have wept.


Christo Swanepoel said...

Thank you for your hard work brother, just a question. Any suggestions for looking at the 400 years before Christ. I think they call it the inter testamental years. Just looking for some background.

Bill Heroman said...

Sure, Christo. How deep do you want to go? The posts on the bottom of Year-by-Year can give you a starting point. Way Before was designed to be a 3-4 page summary of just what you're looking for. Hope it helps! ;)

But if you really want to DIG, here's some jargon to help set the boundaries a bit. "Helenistic Age" refers to the three centuries when history was dominated by the legacy (and followers) of Alexander the Great. Then for Roman stuff, you'll want "Late Republic" or "Early Principate" (Early Empire). Also, any good survey of the Hellenistic age should cover the Jewish events, too.

That should get you started. You might also scan through my booklist on LibraryThing. I mean, if you want some extra-effective bed-time reading! ;)

Thanks for stopping by again, Christo. It always helps to know you're keeping up with me! ;)

Sarah said...



Bill Heroman said...

Note: Herod's Temple may not have been visible from Mount Nebo after all. I'd forgotten that the Mountain of Olives stood in-between... and Olive Mt. is just a bit taller than Zion.

I won't correct this in the post until I can confirm this for sure. The angle of sight is one thing I can hardly consider based on Atlases alone, but after hunting for this a week or two now, I found some data.

The Mount of Olives stands at least 130 feet higher than Mount Zion.

Now, add the height of the Temple itself, the angle of Paul's viewpoint, the slope of Bethany's peak, and I don't know what else...

And I'm just not certain.

BUT if someone who reads this has been there AND if you got a clear view on a low-smog, high visibility day, then PLEASE tell me:

Could you see Jerusalem, from Mount Nebo?

Bill Heroman said...

Professor Todd Bolen of Bible Places Blog has informed me that the mount of olives does indeed block the view from mount nebo of Jerusalem.

Actually, he informed me a couple of weeks ago. But I finally had time to correct the text in the story. It now reads that Paul saw the Mountain and knew that Jerusalem was behind it.

If the whole scene did happen at all, I guess it's kind of fitting that Paul could see Israel but not Jerusalem. Either way, God had not called him there.

Many thanks to Professor Todd! :)

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