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Bethsaida—With God Your Past is Never Pointless

The Hometown Of 3 Disciples Reveals God Never Wastes Our Past.

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It’s hard feeling embarrassed about where you grew up. Maybe your family had problems. Perhaps your hometown or church seemed nothing special. You’re not alone. Three of Jesus’ disciples felt that way too.

Bethsaida—God Can Use Your Lousy Hometown

(Photo: Plain of Bethsaida. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The slopes near the site of Bethsaida offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the Galilee. In the spring, wildflowers burst open to drink in the sun, and the surrounding meadows paint the whole area a bright green. From certain vantage points, I have looked at the Sea of Galilee from Bethsaida and observed no modern distractions.

Most modern maps, signs, and tourists point to the site of et-Tell as biblical Bethsaida. If so, then this was the place in which Jesus performed miracles.

Peter, Andrew, and Philip had this as their hometown. A hometown that rejected Jesus. But God would still use the boyhood home in the lives these men.

God can use your lousy hometown too.

Bethsaida in History

Perhaps it was in this area that the historian Josephus led his Jewish army in combat against the Roman forces of Sulla during the first Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70). Because the marshy plain around Bethsaida made quick maneuvering difficult, Josephus’ horse fell and wounded him.

Herod the Great bequeathed Bethsaida to his son, Philip. Although the village became an official city with a new name, Julias, the Scriptures never refer to Bethsaida by that designation.

Bethsaida in Archaeology

On my first visit to et-Tell, I saw a number of basalt ruins with houses honeycombed together. The archaeologists working that day had suspended from trees makeshift sifters by which they separated the dirt from any archaeological finds.

Bethsaida houses of fisherman and vinegrower

(Photo: Bethsaida houses of fisherman and vine grower. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The archaeological remains in Bethsaida are sketchy and remain a source of conflicting views on the validity of the site. Even though most road signs point to et-Tell as biblical Bethsaida, there just isn’t enough evidence to make it conclusive.

  • The site sits some distance from the Sea of Galilee and about seven meters above the level of the water in the first century.
  • After decades of work, the archeologist’s spade has discovered little evidence that would support the existence of a substantial first-century city.
  • One house dates from the second century BC to the first century AD. A typical home of the period, it has a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and a kitchen.
  • Found here were items such as lead weights, a fishhook, and a curved bronze needle—all items from a fisherman’s trade. It has therefore received the name, “House of the Fisherman.” Bethsaida’s name itself means, “House of Fish.”
Bethsaida (et-Tell) aerial

(Photo: Bethsaida /et-Tell aerial. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Bethsaida in the Bible

Bethsaida finds its place in the Scriptures as one of the three primary locations—in addition to Capernaum and Chorazin—where Jesus performed miracles (Luke 10:13).

  • The plain next to Bethsaida, with its green grass, served as the area where thousands of people ate a meal from a few fish and loaves that Jesus had multiplied (Mark 6:35-44)—similar to Elisha’s miraculous multiplication of bread centuries earlier (2 Kings 4:42-44).
  • Jesus sent His disciples in a boat toward Bethsaida after which He stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:45-52).
  • The Lord healed a blind man there (Mark 8:22-26).

Even though the city of Bethsaida didn’t respond to Jesus’ miracles, God still used the town in the lives and ministries of the apostles.

Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee

(Photo: Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Benefits from a Past You’d Rather Forget

The names of Jesus’ disciples Andrew and Philip are Greek in origin, and these Jews, along with Simon Peter, grew up in Bethsaida (John 1:44).

The Greek influence imposed by Herod Philip no doubt affected the disciples who grew up there.

  • These men learned to speak and write Greek there during their formative years—a skill that would prove helpful in years to come as Peter wrote Scripture (2 Peter 3:1-2).
  • Philip’s background in the Greek Bethsaida gave him a connection to the Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus (John 12:20-22).
  • If Bethsaida really did exist in this location, it would have required the fishermen a daily commute to the lake. The fishermen likely would have incurred extra taxes to bring their catches home across the border of the Jordan River. Perhaps, in order to avoid these problems, these men eventually relocated their families to Capernaum—where they met Jesus.

Writing Scripture. Bringing people to Jesus. Meeting Jesus. Not bad for a lousy hometown.

It’s easy to feel embarrassed when the place you came from dropped the ball. But God never wastes anything in your life. He can turn a hard past into an opportunity for ministry.

He can make you more effective and equipped for those in the same boat.

Tell me what you think: How has the Lord used your embarrassing past for good? To leave a comment, just click here.

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