Jun 19 2012
Two weeks ago I stood on a hill in northern Israel that grew through the destructive power of human hands over the course of 4,000 years. The hill is actually a “tell”—an Arabic word for an archeological mound created by repeated human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries.
This particular tell is named Abel Beth Ma’acah, a biblical site that stands at the northern tip of Israel, about a mile from the security fences dividing Israel from Lebanon. I was invited to visit the tell with friends from Azusa Pacific University, which has recently been given the honor of partnering with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in developing this unique archeological site.
Pottery fragments indicate that the site was occupied by Canaanites in the Early Bronze Age (~2600 B.C.). Abraham may have walked past the city walls around 2090 B.C. (Gen. 12:5). Joab besieged the city around 1000 B.C. to quash a rebellion against King David (2 Sam. 20). And the Lord Jesus walked nearby when he traveled to Caesarea Philippi a thousand years later (Matt. 16:13).
Each of them saw a different city as they passed by. Situated at the foot of a mountain pass, Abel Beth Ma’acah controlled the most important highway in the region and thus served as the gateway into northern Israel. Because of its strategic position, the city was successively conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt by armies from Aram, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Israel, and Egypt (see, for example, 1 Kings 15:20 and 2 Kings 15:29).
After one city was destroyed, the next one was built on its ruins, with the rubble adding a few feet of elevation to each successive level of occupation. Today the 35-acre tell stands 80 feet above the surrounding fields. The only remaining structures on the mound are concrete bunkers built by the Israeli Defense Forces after they evicted the last occupants of the hill, people in a small Palestinian village, during the 1948 War.
As I stood on top of Abel Beth Ma’acah and imagined how twenty cities were built, demolished, and rebuilt on the same site, I realized how often I’ve seen the same dynamic play itself out within many of the families, churches, and businesses I’ve served over the years.
We all build relationships, enjoy their comfort and safety, and imagine them to be secure … and then suddenly conflict strikes. Our desires clash with those of others, our dreams and agendas diverge, or trust is overthrown by betrayal. Our lives are demolished by broken relationships, divorces, church splits, and lawsuits.
After the pain subsides and our loneliness overrides our fear of being hurt again, we usually seek new relationships. We look for a new friend, spouse, church, or business partner.
But all too often, we attempt to build on the ruins of the past. We fail to clear away the rubble of our relational failures by confessing our wrongs, learning from our mistakes, and truly forgiving others. Instead, we stuff these unpleasant dynamics underground and set out to construct new relationships, naively hoping they will be more secure than those of the past. A second marriage, a third business partner, a fourth church … the cycle goes on and on.
The gospel shows us that there is a better way. When this world lay in complete relational ruins, with every person rebelling against God and constantly warring with his neighbor, Jesus came to bring peace and rebuild everything on a new, clean, and unshakable foundation. He didn’t stand on the rubble of the past; he swept it away by the cleansing power of his blood. He paid for our sins, granted us forgiveness, and gave us the building blocks for more durable relationships: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
So the next time a relationship seems to be lying in ruins at your feet, claim the promise that in Christ you are a new creation; that the old has gone and the new has come; that you are called and empowered to be a reconciler and rebuilder (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Embrace repentance, confession, and forgiveness and turn what seems to be unsalvageable rubble into a testimony to God’s redeeming and restoring grace. (To enhance your ability to practice these skills, please join us at our annual Peacemaker Conference in September—the central theme is Life Together.)
And as you think of it, please pray for my friends from Azusa Pacific as they seek to fulfill God’s agenda for unfolding the story of Abel Beth Ma’acah. That story is not only of the past, of archeology, superseding civilizations, toppled stone walls, and shattered pottery, but also of living people, their future, and eternal life.
It is the story of an old man in a nearby village, the only living person who can share memories of life in the last village on the hill. It is the story of Israeli and Palestinian children living nearby, who could be recruited to partner in the excavations and learn to work and live together. It is the story of Israeli soldiers who may join in the project and deepen their commitment to preserve peace and stability in their country.
It is the story of the archeologists, students, and visitors from Azusa Pacific and Hebrew University who will work side by side in the years ahead, unearthing ancient artifacts and discussing eternal truths … especially those that revolve around the cornerstone of all history and life, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Warmly in Christ,