One of the best parts of going to Tel Aviv is strolling down the beautiful seaside boardwalk to ancient Joppa. Amazingly, very little remains visible to speak of Joppa’s significance. But history tells a different story.
Only a few fishing boats float in Joppa’s modest harbor today, hardly representative of its significant past. Beyond goods and trade, Joppa greatest export was something else.
It may actually surprise you.
Why Joppa Mattered
Joppa’s name first appeared on the pages of history when the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III captured it in the fifteenth-century BC. In fact, the Egyptian rubble I saw in Joppa reminded me why all foreign powers wanted to control Israel.
- The land of Israel sat in a strategic position as the only intercontinental land bridge between the superpowers of the ancient world. The strategic International Highway—sometimes called the Great Trunk Road or the Via Maris (“Way of the Sea”)—ran the full length of the land.
- Prior to the construction of Caesarea in 22 BC, Joppa served as Israel’s primary port for centuries.
- When King Solomon constructed his marvelous temple, he floated cedars of Lebanon south along the coast to Joppa. From there the timbers made their way up to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:16).
- When the returning exiles rebuilt the temple, they too brought cedars up from Joppa to Jerusalem in the same manner (Ezra 3:7).
(All pics courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)
Jonah’s Port at Joppa—and God’s Compassion to Gentiles
The prophet Jonah began his famous, fateful journey in Joppa (Jonah 1:3). Boarding a ship bound for Tarshish, Jonah fled from God’s presence only to find himself swallowed by a great fish which the Lord appointed to save him.
Some skeptics see the book of Jonah as a parabolic, non-historical fish story that’s hard to swallow.
- However, a number of modern, historical accounts reveal incidents of people swallowed by big fish and whales—and yet surviving. (Check out National Geographic’s December 1992 article on the whale shark.)
- Moreover, Scripture mentions Jonah as a historical person in 2 Kings 14:25 and Luke 11:32. He is no fairy tale.
God’s compassion on Gentiles urged Jonah to go preach to them. Instead, Jonah headed to Joppa to do just the opposite. Jonah knew about God’s grace and that the Lord would relent of his intent to destroy Nineveh if the Gentiles repented.
That’s exactly what happened.
Peter’s Vision at Joppa—and God’s Compassion to Gentiles
In the first century, God’s concern for Gentiles again appeared at Joppa.
- The Apostle Peter, while staying in Joppa at the home of Simon the Tanner, received a message from God to go to Caesarea.
- In spite of Peter’s confusion about the vision, he went to Caesarea and spoke of God’s grace to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11).
The site of Simon the Tanner’s house in Joppa owes its tradition to an ancient well that exists there. Tanners would need the fresh water to clean the hides.
Why Joppa Still Matters
After Caesarea’s destruction as a port city, Joppa once again rose to prominence as the principal port for what was then called Palestine.
- In 1909 the modern city of Tel Aviv began on the outskirts of ancient Joppa.
- Today, Tel Aviv has grown to become the largest metropolitan area of Israel, surrounding and embracing ancient Joppa. In fact, until Israel built up Ashdod and Haifa, Joppa served as Israel’s primary port.
When I walk around ancient Joppa, I see only a few fishing boats and pleasure vessels floating in the modest harbor. But every time I go there I ponder what seems an ironic thought. The message of God’s concern for Gentiles went out from Joppa, among many other places, through the lips of a reluctant Jonah and a confused Peter.
Joppa’s greatest export was God’s compassion.
Every year, literally thousands of Gentiles go to Joppa as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The message left from Joppa, and the Gentiles come to Joppa.
I am one of them.
Tell me what you think: How does God’s compassion make a difference to you? To leave a comment, just click here.