Built by French Crusaders with a moat, outer walls, and an inner building, Belvoir looks like a European fortress transplanted onto Israel's soil
Built by a group of French Crusaders, the Belvoir fortress stands in an area of northern Israel called the Heights of Issachar. East of Belvoir, across the Rift Valley, are the mountains of Gilead.
The fort itself was constructed high above the Rift Valley, isolated from the nearby farmlands and roads. Surrounded by a moat, and built with an outer and inner fortress, Belvoir looks like a European fortress transplanted onto Israel's soil.
About 50 knights and 450 soldiers lived in Belvoir, along with their families and staff. These Crusaders eventually faced opposition from Saladin, a Muslim warrior who had wrested control of Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Saladin laid siege to Belvoir in 1180, and the fortress withstood the siege for about four years.
In 1187, the siege began anew. After a few more years, the knights of Belvoir finally surrendered. They left the fortress and were given free passage to the coast, where they sailed back to Europe.
The Crusaders committed horrible acts of hatred and violence, distorting Jesus' methods of self-sacrifice and love.
Today, the Belvoir fortress symbolizes a sad chapter in Christian history. The Crusaders mistakenly used their own violent methods, rather than following Jesus' example.
Jesus chose specific methods for delivering his message to the first-century world. He demonstrated compassion and love for rich and poor alike, and he invited people to embrace salvation. Though he was passionate about his message, Jesus did not use violence to encourage conversions.
In fact, Jesus actually suffered violence himself rather than return the hatred and vengeance of those who arrested him. He willingly sacrificed his life in order to confront evil.
Many people misunderstood Jesus' message and methods. There were Zealots who tried to bring God's kingdom with violence. There were Pharisees who single-mindedly focused on the Torah, but failed to demonstrate Jesus' love. And there were Essenes, extremely devoted to God, but living in isolation.
Years later, the Crusaders also misunderstood Jesus' methods. They used violence rather than following their Messiah's example. And they committed unspeakable horrors that distorted Jesus' message.
The Crusaders brutally killed thousands of people throughout Europe, Turkey, and Israel, targeting groups that did not subscribe to their tradition of Christianity.
Problems within Europe's feudal system fueled the Crusades. As the population grew, there simply was not enough room for everyone, and the prospects of economic expansion became dim.
In the midst of their economic troubles, Europeans heard rumors that a Jerusalem bishop had been killed. Angered by this "news," the Crusaders decided it was time for them to take back the Holy Land from the "infidel" Muslims. Supported by many churches and popes, the Crusades were carried out during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
As they left Europe, the Crusaders brutally destroyed the inhabitants of many communities, targeting groups that did not subscribe to their tradition of Christianity. Thousands of innocent Jews and Muslims were cruelly killed, and the Crusaders plundered their belongings.
As they entered Turkey, the Crusaders continued to slaughter the "infidels." But many of those killed were actually Orthodox Christians—their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—who happened to look and dress differently than the Crusader Christians.
The Crusaders continued their brutality in Israel, eventually seizing Jerusalem. For nearly two hundred years, they used the methods of violence as a means of presenting Jesus' gospel of peace.
The hypocrisy and hatred of the Crusades deeply damaged the witness of real Christians, building a wall that pushed many non-Christians away
The Crusades were a terrible chapter in Christian history. Instead of drawing people to Jesus, they built a wall around him, pushing outsiders away. And instead of following Jesus' example of self-sacrifice, they sacrificed others for their own personal gain.
Sadly, Crusaders justified their cruel behavior with lies. They branded the Jews as killers of Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus died for their own sins. They considered the Muslims to be infidels who had unrightfully inhabited the Holy Land. But then the Crusaders, outsiders themselves, used violence to overtake the land.
The hypocrisy and hatred of the Crusades deeply damaged the witness of real Christians. Non-Christians often equate Jesus with the violence of the Crusades. Not surprisingly, they want nothing to do with him.
Today, Crusader fortresses like Belvoir remind Middle Easterners of the hatred advanced by so-called Christians. The legacy of the Crusades is one that has kept many from entering the kingdom of God.
As Christians today, we know that Jesus' sacrificial love is the right way to advance the kingdom of God.
Motivated by a desire for personal reward, the Crusaders confronted evil with hatred, committing violent acts in the process. Jesus was motivated by love, and he confronted his culture with mercy, sacrificing himself for the very people who made his death necessary.
As Christians, we know that Jesus' way is the right way. But the Crusaders' methods seem so much easier as we go about daily life!
It is easy to justify hatred for our enemies—but it is difficult to love them. It is easy to hurl insults at those who hurt us—but it is difficult to offer them hope. And it is easy to do tasks that benefit ourselves—but it is difficult to benefit someone else.
Satan often tempts us to hate instead of love, especially when we face the darker corners of our culture or the frustrating individuals in our lives. But hatred is the Crusaders' way. And the Crusades showed us that Christians cannot successfully confront evil when they have evil attitudes and actions themselves.
Our challenge is to choose Jesus' way— to become humble servants rather than hateful warriors. When we demonstrate his sacrificial love, even to the most difficult people in our lives, others will notice. And then we can tell them about the amazing mercy of our God.
How do you deal with frustrating people and circumstances in your life? Do you act more like a Crusader or a disciple of Jesus?