Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from the 10 Day February 1-10, 2015 Israel Tour
Individual Photos of Tour Members (2 sets)
Days 1 & 2 – Sunday-Monday, February 1 & 2
The departure day finally came for our Israel tour! We met at two different airports (Phila & Dulles) for our international flight. Both flights were on schedule, even with the potential delays due to snow in some part of the States. But everyone made their connecting flight. It is about a 10.5 hour flight.
This afternoon we arrived in Israel. We flew in to the Ben Gurion Airport. Sun and 70 degree temperatures awaited us. After processing through Passport Control, we gathered our luggage before walking to our bus. We were greeted by our guide and driver. Loading up the bus, we drove to Jaffa along the Med Sea coastline. We walked through the alley-ways of Jaffa. We read Jonah 1 (Jonah) as well as Acts 9 & 10 (Peter, Simon the Tanner). The view of the Tel Aviv skyline was is picturesque from here.
Boarding the bus, we drove north through the Tel Aviv traffic to our first night’s hotel in Netanya. We checked in and enjoyed dinner together. Following an orientation meeting, a number in the group walked to the downtown area of Netanya as well as to the beach. The temperature was perfect.
We are all looking forward to our first full day here in Israel tomorrow.
February, 2015 Tour – Day 3 – February 3
Today was our first full day, and it was a great one! With a great sunrise over the Samaritan hills and sunny skies and perfect temperatures (low 70s), we departed by 7:45 for the first site of the day … Caesarea. As a city built by Herod the Great, Caesarea served as the premier harbor into Israel. We saw the theater, hippodrome, many mosaics, the Crusader part of the city, the ancient harbor, and the aqueduct. We read from Acts 10, 12, and 26 about the stories of both Peter and Paul. We celebrated the boldness of their faith in proclaiming Christ in this pagan city.
Driving out of the Sharon Plain, we ascended to the top of the Carmel Range. At a place called Muhraqa, we read from 1 Kings 18 about the story of Elijah vs. the 450 prophets of Baal. From the rooftop of this Carmelite chapel we had our first great view of the Jezreel Valley below. On our way down from Carmel, we enjoyed lunch at a place owned by a Druze family.
Next was Megiddo, located strategically guarding the main “pass” into the valley. This is a huge archaeological site that boasts of two dozen levels of ruins (from Early Canaanite days). We climbed the “tel” (ancient mound) and saw various gate structures, a storehouse, altar, and a grain silo. We left the site by climbing 180 steps down through the city’s water system.
Our final stop was the precipice of Nazareth. Here we viewed the Jezreel Valley from a different angle, seeing Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). Jesus grew up in the city of Nazareth. We read from John 1 and Luke 4 and were invited to “come and see” Jesus in a new way!
From here we drove to Nof Ginnosar, our “kibbutz-hotel” for the next two nights. We enjoyed dinner together and a wonderful night sitting and sharing on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee under a perfectly full moon! It was very special!
February, 2015 Tour – Day 4 – February 4
Today was a marvelous day around the Sea of Galilee area. Departing at 7:40, our first stop was Mt. Arbel. This is a 800 foot cliff that overlooks the entire NE corner of the lake. 25 of the group hiked up the path to the top, while the others bussed around the other side before walking the last part to the top. What a view it was here! Driving down Arbel we stopped next at Magdala, the home of “Mary Magdelene.” Here is also a well-preserved 1st century modest synagogue, one that Jesus no doubt taught in.
Driving to the NW shoreline of the lake, Capernaum was our next visit. This was the hometown of Jesus. While sitting in the 4-5th century synagogue, we read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6, focusing on Jesus “smekah” (authority) in his teaching, healing, and forgiving of sins. The traditional “house of Peter” is also located here.
Nearby we had lunch back at Nof Ginnosar, the home of the “Jesus Boat” found in 1986. This 1st century boat was intriguing to see, given that it was no doubt the type of boat the disciples used. Following lunch we enjoyed an hour-long boat ride on the lake. We paused for worship, reflection, and quietness as we considered the “peace” God gives us in our “storms” of life.
Located on the southern end of the lake is Yardenit, our next stop. Here, about half of the group were baptized in the Jordan River, reaffirming their faith and commitment. Although the water was “cool,” the experience warmed our hearts.
The last stop of the day was the Mt. of Beatitudes. We drove around the church and sat on some rocks while listening to the first part of the Sermon on the Mount both in Hebrew and English. While the sun was setting, we are to be considered “eshrey” (blessed) to follow the principles of God’s kingdom.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and another optional gathering on the beach. What a great day of focusing on Jesus!
February, 2015 Tour – Day 5 – February 5
We were blessed with another bright, sunny, and warm day (70s). We left the Nof Ginnosar kibbutz at 7:45 after checking out and loading the luggage. We drove southward along the Sea of Galilee. The view looking 25 miles north to the snow-capped Mt. Hermon was spectacular! Passing through Tiberias and to the southern end of the lake, we drove to Beth Shean, a huge archaeological site located in the Jordan River Valley. In the Old Testament (1 Samuel 31), this was where the headless body of King Saul was hung in the city walls, only to be taken down by the men of Jabesh Gilead on the other side of the Jordan. This site was also a massive Roman city in the days of Jesus, one of the Decapolis cities (the only one on the west side of the Jordan). We saw the Roman bathhouse, the pillared “Cardo” (main street), the public latrine, and the theater to name a few.
Leaving Beth Shean, we uniquely traveled through the heart of the Samaritan mountains to Shiloh. The landscape was gorgeous. Jesus traveled through this area (John 4) to a place called Sychar nearby. Shiloh was where the Tabernacle stood for 369 years. We heard the stories of Hannah, Samuel, and Eli (1 Samuel 1-2). We also heard the story of the Ark of the Covenant being stolen by the Philistines at Aphek (1 Samuel 4). On the tel, we saw a very nice movie of these events of the Bible as well as the suggested place where the Tabernacle would have been located.
From here we drove further south to the road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho. Turning east, we descended below sea level to this city where “the walls cam tumblin’ down.” After eating lunch here, we visited the tel of Jericho. We heard the stories of the Jordan crossing by Joshua, Elisha purifying the spring, Jesus’ baptism, Zacheaus, and Bartimeus. We saw the oldest tower in the world as well as the retaining walls of the city that Joshua destroyed. On top of these stone walls was the mud brick wall that collapsed during Joshua’s siege. We celebrated the historicity of the Bible! We also saw a very nice (and new) replica of the Medeba Map here.
Driving south along the western edge of the Dead Sea and Judean Wilderness, we arrived at our hotel in Ein Boqeq. We enjoyed dinner together and a free evening.
We drove a long way today, but again enjoyed the rich uniqueness of this land.
February, 2015 Tour – Day 6 – February 6
It was a warm and sunny day today (80s) here in the Dead Sea area. The morning began leisurely with a late checkout, allowing us to encounter the sensation of floating in the Dead Sea. It was a “sunrise” experience. Leaving the hotel at 9:30, we began our drive northward along the western edge of the Dead Sea. Our first stop was Masada, a fortress/palace built by Herod the Great. We rode the cable car up. We saw the Roman ramp, the western palace, the synagogue and storerooms. A number of the group hiked down the Snake Path to the bottom. Psalm 18:1-2 comes to mind as we realize that God is our rock and our “fortress” (metzada).
About 15 minutes north is Engedi. Here we read from Songs of Solomon 1, 2 Chronicles 20, and 1 Samuel 24. This is where David hid from Saul in the cave. We walked back to a few of the water falls and enjoyed the uniqueness of this area.
Our third stop was Qumran. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essense community 2000 years ago, thus preserving the texts of Scripture. We visited the archaeological site, seeing various miqvot (ritual baths), the scriptorium, as well as a few of the caves in which the scrolls were found. Following the visit, we ate a late lunch here.
From here we drove back to the Jericho area before ascending 4,000 feet in elevation towards Jerusalem. We made a quick stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt, a beautiful area of the Judean Wilderness. We read from Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23, depicting vivid and colorful images of this unique region of “desert.”
We arrived in Jerusalem to our hotel. We enjoyed dinner as well as an “orientation walk” into the Old City and down to the Western Wall. It was great to see the Wall at night. We all are looking forward to spending our first full day here in The Golden City tomorrow!
February, 2015 Tour – Day 7 – February 7
Our first full day here in Jerusalem was a great one! Leaving the hotel at 8 on yet another perfectly sunny day (highs in upper 60s), we first drove south to Herodium, a fortress/palace built by Herod the Great. We climbed this “artificial” tel to the top and saw the impressive ruins. The view from here was quite good, allowing us to see Jerusalem to the north, the Judean Desert & Dead Sea to the east, Tekoa (home of Amos) to the south, and Bethlehem to the west. We exited Herodium by going down through the cistern system. We saw where this evil king was buried (uncovered by the late Ehud Netzer).
Driving towards Bethlehem, we next stopped in the Shepherds’ Fields. Here we sang Christmas carols and read from Luke 2. We celebrated that Jesus came “just at the right time” (Galatians 4:4) for the world! We also sang in the chapel. The acoustics were wonderful!
Next we visited the Church of Nativity, built in the 4th century and later re-built/added on. Even though remodeling of the sanctuary is taking place, it’s an impressive structure. Under the front of the church is where the traditional birthplace of Jesus is. Leaving here, we ended the morning at an olive wood shop. We also ate lunch here.
This afternoon we drove to the top of the Mt. of Olives. From here we could see the entire Old City, including the Temple Mount. We walked down the “Palm Sunday road” to Dominus Flavet, a church that recalls the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We recalled the stories from Luke 19 and Zachariah 14 and talked about Christ’s first and second coming. We also Walking down to the Garden of Gethsemane, we recalled his “passion.” It was here Jesus was betrayed by Judas and taken into custody by the High Priest Caiaphas.
Next, we walked into St. Stephen’s (Lion’s) Gate and visited St. Anne’s church and the Pools of Bethesda. We sang in the church, one that boasts of a nearly 10 second echo. Beautiful!
The afternoon ended as we bussed back to our hotel. After dinner, some enjoyed a free night while others walked the Promenade for a quiet encounter and view of the city from the south.
February, 2015 Tour – Day 8 – February 8
Today was a cooler and partly cloudy day, but with no rain. Leaving the hotel at 7:40, we walked into the Old City through the Dung Gate and into the Western Wall Plaza (the “Kotel”). This is the most holy place for Jews today with the Western Wall being the original retaining wall of the Temple during the days of Jesus. Nearby we entered what has been called the Rabbinical tunnel (Western Wall Tunnel). We walked through a series of archways and corridors before walking parallel to this western wall itself. The Herodian stones are massive, one weighing a projected 500+ tons.
At the northern end of this walk we started the Via Dolorosa, or “the way of the cross.” We walked to the Holy Sepulcher Church, one of the two possible locations of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Next we visited the Temple Institute, a Jewish religious organization preparing for the building of the Third Temple. It was interesting to see all the items already made in anticipation of this coming Temple.
After eating lunch in the Christian Quarter, we walked out of the Jaffa Gate, loaded into the bus, and drove to the western part of the city. Our first stop was the Israel Museum. The highlight here is a 50:1 model of the city of Jerusalem during the 1st century. The model was helpful in helping us visualize what the city of Jerusalem looked like during the days of Jesus.
We ended the day at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial & Museum. We walked through both the Children’s Memorial and the museum. Hearing the stories of death and destruction was heart-wrenching, yet it is a very much part of Israel culture as we know it. There is not a single Israeli living today who does not have a family member or does not know of someone who perished as a result of the Nazi evil. Our guide (Shlomo) had 12 family members killed in Vilna, Poland.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner. Another optional walk was enjoyed, this time to Ben Yehuda Street.
February, 2015 Tour – Day 9 – February 9
Today was our last day here in Jerusalem. The skies would once again be sunny, with perfect temps in the low 60s. Our first stop was to the Garden Tomb. This is the alternative crucifixion and burial site called “Gordon’s Calvary.” We enjoyed a short tour of the location, including the suggested tomb of Christ. We also shared in a brief worship & communion service. It was a joy to pause and reflect upon Christ’s accomplished work on the cross and the victory we have in and through His resurrection. We read from John 19 and 20. We worship the person of Christ, not the place.
We boarded our bus and drove to the City of David (which is outside the Old City walls today). We saw the archaeological ruins from the Jebusite and Israelite periods. It was David who conquered this city (2 Samuel 5). Later, it was Hezekiah who strengthened the walls and towers and built a water tunnel for the purpose of bringing the Gihon Spring water safely into the city. We walked down through Warren’s Shaft before either walking through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (still flowing with water) or the earlier (and dry) Canaanite tunnel. Both routes ended at the Pool of Siloam where we read from John 9 about the blind man being healed. We can see some of the exposed steps of this pool. We also remembered the story of John 7 and the Water Libation celebration that involved securing water from this pool on the last day of Succot (Tabernacles).
From here, some walked through the “drainage channel” (below the actual Roman pavement) up to the SW corner of the Temple and the southern excavations there, while others bussed there. Here we saw the massive stones of the Temple that were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD lying on the actual Roman street Jesus would have used. We saw the pinnacle of the Temple where Jesus was once tempted. We ended the tour of this area by climbing up the Temple steps. We considered the stories from Luke 2 & 19, Mark 12 & 13, and Acts 2 (among others), al taking place somewhere in or around the Temple.
This afternoon was free time. Some went back to the hotel while others enjoyed a little snacking, shopping, people-watching, and exploring.
We all arrived back to the hotel by 5:15. We then loaded the bus and head to the Olives & Fish restaurant for a great “farewell dinner.” Part of the group flying home tonight then left for the airport, while the other part of the group returned to the hotel in anticipation of the flight tomorrow morning.
February, 2015 Tour – Day 10 – February 10
Each of the two flights arrived home. It was a great trip with a great group of followers of Jesus. Praise God for a life-changing experience!