Isaiah 9:1-2: But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Matt 28:10: Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Mark 16:7: But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.
On Easter Sunday, I was reading through the parallel accounts of the resurrection and was especially struck by the reference to Galilee as the place where Jesus would appear to his disciples. This never really caught my attention before, but as I’ve gotten interested in references to northern and southern places and people in the Old Testament, this reference to a northern region piqued my curiosity. I did a little reading about Galilee and though I didn’t find a lot of information about Galilee in the OT (mentioned only 7x, only in the books of Joshua, Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah), I did come across this nice quote by O. Palmer Robertson in his book Understanding the Land of the Bible: A Biblical-Theological Guide (P&R 1996):
Then there is Galilee, the land of the Gentiles. Last in the land as the traveler moves from south to north is the territory of the vast hordes of various nationalities representing all the peoples of the world. In this region, the people of God found themselves constantly in contact with the rest of humanity. They could not have escaped this interchange if they had wished. Whether they were in a period of national strength or weakness made no difference. Either traveling warriors or itinerant merchants wound their way through Galilee of the Gentiles. For God had so ordained it by the very way in which he shaped the continents. This narrow strip of land alone connected the three continental masses from which human civilization emerged. Africa hung as though from a thread, with Europe and Asia balanced above. All the land traffic of these three continents eventually made their interchanges by way off Galilee of the Gentiles. It was by the strategic location of this place for his people that the Lord intended eventually to reach the world with the Gospel that was the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.
But more significant than all these goings and comings of rising and falling nations was the strategic role of this same Galilee of the Gentiles in the spread of the Gospel of God to all the nations of the world. When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod Antipas, king of the Jews, he left Nazareth and went to Capernaum, which is located by the sea (Matt. 4:12-15). Both Nazareth and Capernaum are located in Galilee, but Capernaum is more significant as a point of passage for countless peoples traveling between the continents. Seeing how the ruler of the Jewish nation responded to his official forerunner, Jesus opened his public ministry by deliberately situating himself at Capernaum so he could reach out to touch all nations with his Gospel. At this locale he could preach to all the peoples of the world – not simply to the Jews – about the worldwide “kingdom of heaven” that was near (Matt. 4:17).
After his resurrection, [Jesus] delivered his Great Commission to his disciples in the region of Galilee of the Gentiles (Matt. 28:16-20). From that point until today, his Gospel has spread among all the nations of the world. In this sense, Galilee continues to have significance as a symbolic representation of the ongoing purposes of the Lord to minister his saving grace to all the peoples of the world.
Robertson’s book only scratches the surface of a vast and deep subject, but it is a wonderful little introduction and plays a unique role in secondary literature of the Old Testament.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)