Israel Unveiled Volume 1: The Sea of Galilee
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
By Amir Tsarfati
The Sea of Galilee, that lake that is right behind me, is probably the most famous sea, or lake, in the world as more than two-thirds of the gospel took place, right here. This amazing body of water gets most of its waters from the melting snows of Mount Hermon as they flow into this lake in the shape of the Jordan River. It may be a lake, yet lakes can be dangerous as well.
The Sea of Galilee is located along what we call the Syrian African Rift Valley. It’s a valley that goes all the way from the Syrian plateau down to Victoria Falls in Africa. Along that valley we have several bodies of water: We’ve got the Sea of Galilee; the Dead Sea; and even the Red Sea down south. In ancient times, there was an additional body of water that does not exist anymore and that is Lake Superior which is a smaller lake that was in the Hula Valley up north. The Sea of Galilee in those days received much more water than it receives today and it was much cleaner than it is today. This is simply because much of the dirt sunk in the bottom of the first one on its way down to the Sea of Galilee.
The location of the Sea of Galilee is very unique. It is basically open to clashing of winds from 4 different directions: the traditional eastern winds that are mostly blowing in the afternoon; together with the western breeze coming from the Mediterranean; eastern- western; adding to that you get air coming all the way from the north and from the southern side from the Syrian African Rift Valley; resulting in a clashing point of winds, sometimes from 4 different directions.
It’s interesting because not all those clashing of winds can be predicted. Yes, it is known that the afternoon brings the eastern wind, but you never know when the others will come and create a storm. So, when Jesus said to the disciples, let us cross to the other side, it was a big question. The disciples probably asked themselves, will we make it? Is it possible? It was definitely the time of the day when nobody would dare to do that as it was in the afternoon and towards the evening.
The Bible says in Mark chapter 4 verse 35, “On the same day”, it’s a day that Jesus already taught a long time in different places around Galilee and, “On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’” (Mark 4:35) Isn’t that interesting, how sure Jesus was being. How confident He was that they will make it to the other side. He didn’t say, let’s try to cross to the other side, maybe we will make it to the other side, could be that we will be there today, or not. Jesus promised them, “Let’s cross to the other side.” It is possible. I am with you. We are going to do it.
The Bible says that Jesus taught with great authority. Yes, gracious words proceeded out of His mouth, but He was not a wimp. He was not someone that people looked at and laughed because it was all so soft-spoken words that meant nothing. There was such an authority in the words that Jesus spoke with that people followed after him, like a magnet. It wasn’t the outer beauty of Jesus that attracted people to Him. In fact, Isaiah 53 suggests that He was not beautiful at all. It wasn’t the beauty, it was the authority. It was who He was, not how He looked. It’s interesting because they all got into the boat, no one said a word knowing that most likely if He says so, it’s possible.
But you know what? The Sea of Galilee sometimes can be like our lives, very unexpected. Sometimes storms can occur, sometimes troubles and tragedies may even happen and, I believe, that the disciples were ready for such a thing. They just didn’t know how things were going to turn around. They were shocked when they saw the outcome of the following events.
The Bible says that as they did that “other little boats were also following them. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.” (Mark 4:36b- 37) I was here when a storm took place as I took one of my groups across the Sea of Galilee. I will never forget how high the waves were with some of them being 6 to 8 feet high, in the middle of such a small lake, that is just 12 miles long and 6 1/2 miles wide and only 150 feet deep. It is quite amazing to see such strong winds creating those high waves and really causing water to start entering into any boat that is there.
It’s interesting, because as the water started filling the boat, “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a pillow”. (Mark 4:38A) What an interesting thing: Jesus was not concerned; Jesus was not in panic; Jesus was in full control. When we know that God is with us, when we know that we are in good hands, we can rest assured that everything is going to be okay. Yet the disciples, at that time, still did not know who Jesus really is. For them: He is a teacher; He’s a rabbi; He’s a charismatic kind of guy; He’s a good guy; maybe for some others, He was a guru; He was someone who it was cool to follow after.
But one thing is for sure the word “God” was not part of the vocabulary by which they described Jesus. It’s interesting because, “They awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:38B) You see, they turned to Jesus with the title of teacher. He was only a teacher for them and they woke Him up thinking that they were about to perish, thinking that they will never make it. They did not really think about the fact that He was sure, He was absolutely doubtless that they will make it to the other side. All they thought about is, how in the world, we are almost dead and He is asleep. Jesus was not angry that they woke Him up.
In fact, I believe it was an interesting opportunity for Him to display His deity because what happened next was something that changed their lives. “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” Wow, and the funny thing is, the Bible says that once that happened, “He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And then they feared exceedingly.” (Mark 4:39-41a) They were more afraid once the storm was calm than before. They feared exceedingly once they realized that it’s not the lack of peace in the lake that they have, it’s the lack of peace in their life that they have. It’s the lack of faith in their life that they have and they feared exceedingly.
You know, in those days, people did not own a Bible because Bibles were not printed yet and they were not in shapes of books. There were scrolls upon scrolls, every scroll was a different book. It’s interesting because synagogues would maybe have one copy of the entire Bible in different scrolls. The Temple in Jerusalem might have had more than that, but you couldn’t, as a private person, own your own Bible. So, if people really wanted to meditate on the word of God, as they should, they really needed to memorize the Word of God. So, they would walk to a synagogue on the Shabbat, on the Sabbath day, and as they would hear the Word of God read to them, publicly, they would try to memorize it.
In fact, most of Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament, in his epistles, were from his own memory. You can see that. So, they would go to the synagogue and memorize verses. One of the easiest books to memorize is the Book of Psalms simply because it is sort of like songs and we all know that songs are easier to remember than just chapters of other books. So, if there was one book, there was no doubt that most Jews memorized by heart, it was the Book of Psalms and when the Jewish people memorized the Book of Psalms, Psalm 89 was obviously one of them.
Psalm 89 is a psalm that basically tells us exactly who is the only one that can ever calm the waves and the winds. Let me read to you from verses 8 and 9, “O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds you. You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, you still them.” (Psalms 89:8-9) There is only one who could still the waves and the winds, He is God. So, you can imagine the disciples on the boat, they just called Him rabbi or teacher and suddenly, He stands up; He rebukes the wind; He rebukes the waves, and they calm down; and He told them, Peace, be still, the same exact words that Psalm 89 is using. There is only one conclusion that the disciples could come up with, Emmanu-el, God is with us. It’s not just a teacher; it’s not just a rabbi; God is in the boat, and maybe that’s why they feared exceedingly. You know, you are only afraid of the presence of God if you are not ready to face God.
Jesus asked His disciples, “Where is your faith?” Truly, faith is tested, not in the good days, not in the peaceful days, faith is tested in the bad and troublesome days. That’s when people around you will look at you and see if your faith really is solid. Jesus asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” Everything is fine when I am walking with you and everything is great, but now it’s time to trust. Now is the time to believe, when the storm comes. Where is it? How come you failed now? How come it disappeared? How come I am here, with you, yet you are so afraid? Where is your faith?
Interestingly enough, Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.” So, when the heat comes, or when drought year comes, or when the bad times come, then you are going to flourish, then you are going to yield fruit, then your leaves will be green, and everybody will see that you are doing great – if you trust in the Lord. So, to trust in the Lord is important mostly in bad times and Jesus was asking them, “Where is your faith?”
When Jesus is on the boat with us: we can cross the lake; we can cross any lake in the chapters of our lives. In fact, we need to remember that the presence of Jesus is what Christianity is all about. It’s not the absence of troubles or the absence of trials. Christianity is not the absence of troubles, Christianity is the presence of Christ. We will walk through troubles, we will walk through trials, we will walk through tribulations, if He is with us if we chose to trust Him, and Him alone.
Jesus Himself said, “In this world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”