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Galilee And The Lake - Plain Of Esdraelon

( Originally Published 1908 )



GOING from Samaria into Galilee is like passing from the Old Testament into the New.

There is indeed little difference in the outward landscape: the same bare lines of rolling mountains, green and gray near by, blue or purple far away; the same fertile valleys and emerald plains embosomed among the hills; the same orchards of olive-trees, not quite so large, nor so many, but always softening and shading the outlook with their touches of silvery verdure.

It is the spirit of the landscape that changes; the inward view; the atmosphere of memories and associations through which we travel. We have been riding with fierce warriors and proud kings and fiery prophets of Israel, passing the sites of royal splendour and fields of ancient havoc, retracing the warpaths of the Twelve Tribes. But when we enter Galilee the keynote of our thoughts is modulated into peace. Issachar and Zebulon and Asher and Naphtali have left no trace or message for us on the plains and hills where they once lived and fought. We journey with Jesus of Nazareth, the friend of publicans and sinners, the shepherd of the lost sheep, the human embodiment of the Divine Love.

This transition in our journey is marked outwardly by the crossing of the great Plain of Esdraelon, which we enter by the gateway of Jenin. There are a few palm-trees lending a little grace to the disconsolate village, and the Turkish captain of the military post, a grizzled veteran of Plevna, invites us into the guard-room to drink coffee with him, while we wait for a dilatory telegraph operator to send a message. Then we push out upon the green sea to a brown island: the village of Zer`in, the ancient Jezreel.

The wretched hamlet of adobe huts, with mud beehives plastered against the walls, stands on the lowest bench of the foothills of Mount Gilboa, opposite the equally wretched hamlet of Sűlem in a corresponding position at the base of a mountain called Little Hermon. The widespread, opulent view is haunted with old stories of battle, murder and sudden death.

Down to the east we see the line of brighter green creeping out from the flanks of Mount Gilboa, marking the spring where Gideon sifted his band of warriors for the night-attack on the camp of Midian. (Judges vii : 4-23.) Under the brow of the hill are the ancient wine-presses, cut in the rock, which be-longed to the vineyard of Naboth, whom Jezebel assassinated. (I Kings xxi: 1-16.) From some window of her favourite palace on this eminence, that hard, old, painted queen looked down the broad valley of Jezreel, and saw Jehu in his chariot driving furiously from Gilead to bring vengeance upon her. On those dark ridges to the south the brave Jonathan was slain by the Philistines and the desperate Saul fell upon his own sword. (I Samuel xxxi: 1-B.) Through that open valley, which slopes so gently down to the Jordan at Bethshan, the hordes of Midian and the hosts of Damascus marched against Israel. By the pass of Jenin, Holofernes led his army in triumph until he met Judith of Bethulia and lost his head. Yonder in the corner to the northward, at the base of Mount Tabor, Deborah and Barak gathered the tribes against the Canaanites under Sisera. (Judges iv: 4-22.) Away to the westward, in the notch of Megiddo, Pharaoh-Necho's archers pierced King Josiah, and there was great mourning for him in Hadad-rimmon. (II Chronicles xxxv: 24-25; Zechariah xii: 11.) Farther still, where the mountain spurs of Galilee approach the long ridge of Carmel, Elijah put the priests of Baal to death by the Brook Kishon. (I Kings xviii: 20-40.)

All over that great prairie, which makes a broad break between the highlands of Galilee and the highlands of Samaria and Judea, and opens an easy pathway rising no more than three hundred feet between the Jordan and the Mediterranean—all over that fertile, blooming area and around the edges of it are sown the legends

"Of old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago."

But on this bright April day when we enter the plain of Armageddon, everything is tranquil and joyous.

The fields are full of rustling wheat, and bearded barley, and blue-green stalks of beans, and feathery kirsenneh, camel-provender. The peasants in their gay-coloured clothing are ploughing the rich, red-brown soil for the late crop of dourer. The newly built railway from Haifa to Damascus lies like a yellow string across the prairie from west to east; and from north to south a single file of two hundred camels, with merchandise for Egypt, undulate along the ancient road of the caravans, turning their ungainly heads to look at the puffing engine which creeps toward them from the distance.

Larks singing in the air, storks parading beside the watercourses, falcons poising overhead, poppies and pink gladioluses and blue corn-cockles blooming through the grain,—a little village on a swell of rising ground, built for their farm hands by the rich Greeks who have bought the land and brought it under cultivation,—an air so pure and soft that it is like a caress,—all seems to speak a language of peace and promise, as if one of the old prophets were telling of the day when Jehovah shall have compassion on His people Israel and restore them. "They that dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall revive as the grain, and blossom as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon."

It is, indeed, not impossible that wise methods of colonization, better agriculture and gardening, the development of fruit-orchards and vineyards, and above all, more rational government and equitable taxation may one day give back to Palestine some-thing of her old prosperity and population. If the Jews really want it no doubt they can have it. Their rich men have the money and the influence; and there are enough of their poorer folk scattered through Europe to make any land blossom like the rose, if they have the will and the patience for the slow toil of the husbandman and the vine-dresser and the shepherd and the herdsman.

But the proud kingdom of David and Solomon will never be restored; not even the tributary kingdom of Herod. For the land will never again stand at the crossroads, the four-corners of the civilized world. The Suez Canal to the south, and the railways through the Lebanon and Asia Minor to the north, have settled that. They have left Palestine in a corner, off the main-travelled roads. The best that she can hope for is a restoration to quiet fruitfulness, to placid and humble industry, to olive-crowned and vine-girdled felicity, never again to power.

And if that lowly re-coronation comes to her, it will not be on the stony heights around Jerusalem: it will be in the Plain of Sharon, in the outgoings of Mount Ephraim, in the green pastures of Gilead, in the lovely region of "Galilee of the Gentiles." It will not be by the sword of Gideon nor by the sceptre of Solomon, but by the sign of peace on earth and good-will among men.

With thoughts like these we make our way across the verdurous inland sea of Esdraelon, out of the Old Testament into the New. Landmarks of the country of the Gospel begin to appear: the wooded dome of Mount Tabor, the little village of Nain where Jesus restored the widow's only son. (Luke vii: 11-16.) But these lie far to our right. The beacon which guides us is a glimpse of white walls and red roofs, high on a shoulder of the Galilean hills: the outlying houses of Nazareth, where the boy Jesus dwelt with His parents after their return from the flight into Egypt, and was obedient to them, and grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.



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