Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from our 9 Day Israel Trip
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DAYS 1 & 2 – FRIDAY-SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9-10: DEPARTURE FROM U.S.A /LAND IN ISRAEL
Our trip began today! Our group of 25 flew drove from MN to Winnepeg where we caught a flight to Toronto. While the international flight was delayed a little because of snow, we were able to take off despite deteriorating winter conditions. Once on board, we we served dinner and breakfast.
We landed at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv around 11 a.m. where we proceeded through Passport Control. After securing our luggage, we met our guide (Shlomo) and driver (David). We loaded the bus and left the airport to spend a half a day in the Shephelah (Lowlands) of Judah. The weather was mild, with afternoon highs in the mid 70s.
Our first stop was Tel Gezer. Located along get Aijalon Valley, this was an ancient Canaanite and Israelite city located strategically on the Coastal Plains. The city was conquered by Joshua (Josh 12) but not fully controlled until the days of Solomon (1 Kings 9). We also read from the Gezer Calenda(10th century BC agricultural seasons) and Ecclesiastes 3 about the seasons of life. Several times the Egyptians conquered this city from the Canaanites as well. At the site we saw the Middle Bronze tower, wall, gate and water system as well as the Iron Age (or Israelite) ruins including a 6 chamber stone gate built by Solomon. We also saw the standing stones of Gezer, probably used by Canaanite).
Driving south to the Sorek Valley, we stopped briefly at Beth Shemesh. Close by (on the other side of the valley) is Zoar and Eshtoal, the home area of Samson (Judges 13-14). He was attracted to Delilah, just a few miles west down the Sorek Valley. We also remembered the story from I Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant here from the Philistines.
Our last stop of the day was to Azekah. Located along the Elah Valley, this ancient city is mentioned a few places in the Bible. With a great view of this valley below, we read from 1 Samuel 17. It was in the narrow end of the valley where the battle between David and Goliath took place. Looking west from the top of the site we could see Gath (Tel es Safi), the home of Goliath.
From here we hopped on Israel’s toll road straight to Netanya. We checked into our hotel and enjoyed dinner together. Over half in the group then enjoyed a great walk to the beach of the Medeterraian Sea.
We are feeling very blessed to be here in the land of the Bible!
DAY 3 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11: CAESAREA, CARMEL, MEGIDDO, PRECIPICE OF NAZARETH, TIBERIAS
Today was our first full day here in Israel. While the visualities due to hazy skies was very limited today, the temperatures were mild, with highs in the low-mid 70s.
Leaving the hotel around 7:45, we drove north in the Coastal Plains to Caesarea. This was a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. Located on the Med Sea shoreline, we saw some of ruins left from Herod’s day. This included the theater (most reconstructed), the palace, the hippodrome, the Temple of Augustus, and the harbor. We also saw many mosaics from the Late Roman Period. In the theater made these biblical connections: Acts 9-10 (Peter and Cornelius), Acts 12 (Herod Agrippa), Acts 21 (Philip) and Acts 26 (Paul). Paul would sail into (after his mission journeys) and out of the harbor here (to Rome). We also the Crusader part of the city, and the aqueduct (built by Herod) that brought fresh water into the city.
Driving northeast, we ascended to the top of the Carmel Range. At a place established by the Carmelite sect of the Catholic Church called Muhraqa (“burnt offering”), we read from 1 Kings 18. Here, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and Asherah. We also read from Isaiah 35 and Song of Songs 7 that refer to this mountain range. While the view from the roof of the chapel was very limited by the hazy sky, we recalled the many stories that took place in the Jezreel Valley below (Deborah & Barak defeating Sisera on Mt. Tabor – Judges 4-5; Gideon defeating the Midianites on the Hill or More – Judges 6-7; Saul and his 3 sons dying on Mt. Gilboa – 1 Samuel 31; and the Nazareth Ridge where Jesus grew up). We enjoyed lunch at a near by Druze restaurant.
Driving down to the Jezreel Valley, our next stop after lunch was Megiddo. This is a 35 acre archaeological site that spans about 2,500 years with over two dozen levels of occupation. Megiddo was a strategically-located city that guarded the entrance into the Jezreel Valley from the south. It was a city taken by Thutmose III (Egyptian pharaoh in the 15th century BC) and later on also by Joshua (Joshua 12). Still later, Solomon re-fortified the city (1 Kings 9). Climbing the site we saw three gate structures, stables, and the Canaanite altar area. Overlooking the valley (e.g. Armageddon),we also read from Rev. 16. We celebrated that in the end times, God as the final word!
Precipice of Nazareth
Driving across the Jezreel Valley, our last stop was the precipice of Nazareth. From here we could at least see the Hill or Moreh and Mt. Tabor. We read from Luke 4 (Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue) and John 1. We were invited to come and see Jesus anew! We also enjoyed a time of journalling and reflection in this quiet place.
From here we drove through the outskirts of Nazareth and through Cana to get to our hotel on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. After checking in, we enjoyed dinner followed by a gathering down by the water’s age.
DAY 4 – MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12: ARBEL, CAPERNAUM, CHORAZIM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, MAGDALA
Today was all about Jesus, with a focus on the “where and what” He taught and “how” He shared His kingdom message. The weather was actually very comfortable. While we had some showers in the early morning, we actually had breaks of sun and clouds the rest of the day, with highs in the 60s.
Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, we drove to the trailhead (in the Valley of the Doves) for the path that leads to the top of Mt. Arbel. Seven in the group decided to climb this peak (about an 800 foot ascent taking about 80 minutes) while the majority in the group drove to the visitor center on the back side, and walking about 300 yards to the top. The view from the top was breath-taking, enabling us to see the entire NW corner of the Sea of Galilee below. This was primarily where Jesus served!
Driving back down through Tiberias, we arrived at Magdala. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue. While not specifically mentioned in the Gospels, it is highly probable that Jesus taught here! Among the other ruins we saw the marketplace, miqveh (ritual baths), and the harbor area. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the newly-built chapel on the grounds. The acoustics were very good.
Following a “fish lunch” in the area, we drove to Chorazim. This was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus because of their unbelief and lack of repentence (the other two were Bethsaida and Capernaum). Located on a hillside on this NW corner of the lake and about a few miles away from the water’s edge, we saw the 3rd century synagogue. We read from Matthew 23 about the Moses’ Seat (one was found here in earlier excavations) and about Jesus condemnation of the Pharisee’s hypocrisy.
Driving back down to the shoreline of the lake, we visited Capernaum. This city served as the home-base for Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue (built overtop the 1st century one), we read from Mark 1,2, and 9; Luke 7 and 8; and John 6. Jesus taught here and performed many miracles of healing here. Besides seeing some of the 1st century ruins, we spent some reflective time down on the shoreline. It was most likely here where Jesus called at least five of His disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew – see Mt. 4) Each of us also picked up a smooth stone (for painting after dinner).
We ended the day with a boat ride on the lake. After seeing the small 1st century boat found here in 1986, we “sailed” to the northern end of the lake. On the way we read from Matthew 14; Mark 4, 5, and 8; and John 6. The two storm narratives were particularly meaningful as we sailing on the water ourselves. We also enjoyed a time of worship, reflection, and journaling.
We returned to your hotel for dinner and a gathering. We painted the rocks we collected from Capernaum. It was a great day of focusing on the life and ministry of “Rabbi Jesus!”
DAY 5 – TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: MT. OF BEATITUDES, BEIT SHEAN, JERICHO, DEAD SEA
Today we left the Sea of Galilee area and drove south. Our final destination today on a day that started with steady rain through the first part of the morning was the Dead Sea. The weather improved as by late morning, with sun and clouds and highs in the 70s.
Mt. of Beatitudes
Leaving our hotel shortly after 7:30 again, we first drove to the Mt. Of Beatitudes. This was one location where Jesus delivered His sermon on the kingdom principles (this sermon would be His “go-to” message, and He shared it in other places too, see Luke 6:17-49). Overlooking a natural amphitheater and huddling together under umbrellas, we heard part of Matthew 5 in Hebrew and then in English. We enjoyed a time of reflection, song, and prayer. The words of Jesus came alive here in this place!
Driving south to the end of the Sea of Galilee, we made a brief “extra” stop at the Kinneret Cemetery. Here Shlomo shared with us about kibbutz life in Israel. We also heard of the story of a Russian/Ukrainian Jew named Rachel Bluwstein. She was an early Jewish pioneer in the land. She is famous for her poems. She died in 1931. Her face is now on the new Israeli 20 shekel bill!
Continuing south through the Jordan Valley, we arrived at Beth Shean. By the time we started our tour of this site, the rain stopped and the sun came out! Beth Shean was one of Israel’s most extensive archaeological site. It was on the ancient walls of the Old Testament city where King Saul’ body was hung after his death on Mt Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). Beth Shean was also a very large Roman city as well, peaking from the 2nd-5th century AD. We walked on the colonnaded stone pavements/streets, saw Roman bathhouses and many mosaics as well as the agora (market place), public latrenes, and the massive theater. Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT tel for a great view of the Roman city below. Following seeing the site, we had lunch near by.
From here we drove a little over an hour south down the Jordan Valley. At the northern end of the Dead Sea is the city of Jericho. This was our last stop of the day. Jericho was the first city taken in Joshua’s Conquest (Joshua 6). We saw the retaining/revetment walls of the city on top of which was a mud-brick wall. It was the later that came tumblin’ down when the shofars (trumpets) were blown (David actually blew a small shofar when we read the story! Just a couple of miles to the south was New Testament Jericho. It served as Herod’s winter palace. It was here where Zacheaus (Luke 19) and Bartemaeus lived (Mark 10). It was also here where Herod the Great died in 4 BC.
Driving south along the Dead Sea, we enjoyed spectacular visibility. The mountains of Moab (in Jordan) and clouds in the sky were so colorful as the sun began to set. After we arrived at our hotel in Zin Bokek, we changed into our swim suits for a unique float in the Dead Sea. Again the backdrop of the Jordanian mountains was amazing! Following a good hot shower, we enjoyed dinner together and a free evening.
DAY 6 – WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14: MASADA, EIN GEDI, QUMRAN, JUDEAN DESERT
Today was spent along the west coast of the Dead Sea and in the Judean Desert. It would be a perfectly sunny and warmer day, with highs in the 70s. We read from Psalm 18 as we left the hotel, claiming God as our metzada (“fortress”) and strength.
Leaving shortly after 8 this morning, we drove north along the Dead Sea to Masada. This was one of Herod the Great’s palace-fortress (actually the first one built). Taking the cable car to the top of this 1,000 foot-high stand-alone mountain, we saw ruins from the 1st century. This included the palaces (western and northern) of Herod, the case-mate wall, the Roman ramp, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. Shlomo shared passionately about the remarkable story of this place, with 967 Jews using this site as a place of refuge for almost three years against the Romans after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some in the group took the cable car back down while 15 hiked down the Snake Path to the bottom.
Driving about 15 minutes north, our next stop was at the oasis of Engedi. This was where David hid from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). We also remembered the story of 2 Chronicles 20 (the “Ascent of Ziz”) that happened here as well as the romantic language of Song of Songs 1 (“henna blossoms of Engedi…”). Hiking back to some of the water falls, we took some time for reflecting and journaling. It was a special time!
Continuing north, we visited Qumran. This was where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. During the lunch hour, many in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first scrolls were found (this included the famous Isaiah Scroll).We also then visited the small ruins of Qumran where we saw many ritual baths (miqvot), the scriptorium, cisterns, and Cave 4. We read from “Psalm 151,” an extra psalm found here humbly written by David. We also read from Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3. Before we left, we could also see the new cave (Cave 12) that is currently being excavated further. Praise God for the preservation of His Word!
Judean Desert/Wadi Qelt
Driving now west and ascending almost 4,000 feet in elevation to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the beautiful Wadi Qelt. It is actually part of the Judean Desert. Here we heard the powerful words of Isaiah 40 proclaimed by this 7th century BC prophet of God set in the context of this desert! John the Baptist would echo the same words as he “prepared the way for the Lord” (preparing the world for Jesus) as well! The beauty of the desert was breath-taking!
Continuing our drive to Israel’s capital, we checked into our hotel and enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner, most in the group walked to the Western Wall, the most holy place for Jews today! This wall served as a retaining wall for Herod’s Temple, a project he began in 20 BC. It is good to be in Jerusalem!
DAY 7 – THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, OLD CITY, ISRAEL MUSEUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was our first day in Jerusalem. We were greeted with sun and cooler temps. But we would later enjoy a perfect day with highs in the low 60s.
Mt. of Olives
Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, we drove around the western and northern side of the Old City to the Mt. of Olives. This is the mountain range east of the Old City and Temple Mount. The Kidron Valley separates the mountain with the Temple Mount. The view from here was fantastic!
Dominus Flavet & Garden of Gethsemane
From the top we walked down the steep pathway down the western slope of the Mt. of Olives. We made a brief stop at the Dominus Flavet chapel. Here were read from Luke 19 about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem as well as how we wept over this city. Seeing the Eastern/Mercy Gate, we also read from Ezekiel 44 about how one day this gate will be opened. We also recalled the words from Zechariah 14 about the Mt. of Olives splitting into two when Christ returns, with water flowing to the Dead Sea.
A little further down the slope of the Mt. of Olives is the Garden of Gethsamane. From a private garden arranged by a Franciscan Brother Diego read from Luke 22 about Jesus’ prayer – “not my will but yours be done” – and later betrayal here by Judas. We took some time for reflection and journaling. It was a special time!
Old City – Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulcher Church
Walking into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s & Jericho Gate), we stopped at the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church. We read from John 5 about the healing of the paralytic here. We also enjoyed singing in this Crusader church. We sounded heavenly with the 8 second echo. Walking the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross), we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is one of two locations for the death and burial/resurrection of Jesus. We ate lunch in the Christian Quarter (pizza!)
Walking out of the Jaffa Gate, we drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw three things: 1). 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it looked like in 70 AD prior to its destruction. It was helpful to “connect the dots” between the ministry of Jesus and the different locations around the city where Jesus served. 2). The Shrine of the Book. Here we saw a few samples of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. 3). The highlights in the archaeological wing of the museum. We saw many special artifacts connecting us to the Bible (e.g. the Dan & Pilate Inscriptions, Herod’s coffin, ossuaries, the Moses’ Seat, etc…)
Bethlehem – Shepherds’ Fields & Olive Wood Store
Our last two stops of the day were south of Jerusalem. First, we walked into a cave at the Shepherds’ Fields. Located actually in Beit Sahour, we enjoyed a time of considering the role of the shepherds in the birth narrative of Jesus. We read from Luke 2 and considered that it was “just at the right time that God sent His Son (Gal. 4:4).” We also sang a few carols both in the cave as well as in the Shepherds’ Chapel. We ended the day by stopping briefly at an olive wood store in Bethlehem.
Driving back to the hotel, we enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional walk to Ben Yehuda street for some coffee shops and shopping.
DAY 8 – FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16: SOUTHERN WALL EXCAVATIONS, CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB
Today is our last full day here in Jerusalem. The weather was perfect, with sun and highs in the mid 60s. We would encounter the best of both OT and NT Jerusalem!
Southern wall Excavations
Leaving again shortly after 7:30, our first destination was the southern wall excavations. The Temple of Herod began in 20 BC and according to John 2, 46 years were already invested in this massive building project. Here we saw massive Herodian stones, some weighing hundreds of tons! We also saw the Herodian street. Jesus would have walked on this stone pavement! At the southern end, we ascended the steps that would have led into the Temple. We read from many passages that placed Jesus and others using these steps (e.g. Luke 2, Mark 13, Luke 18, Acts 2, etc…) While sitting on these steps we took some time to reflect about the specialness of this place and the life and ministry of Jesus here!
City of David – David’s Palace, Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Siloam Pool, Drainage Channel
Walking south out of the Dung Gate, we entered the excavations of the City of David. After seeing a 3-D movie, we began to explore the area. This was where David built a palace after he conquered the city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). Walking down through Warren’s Shaft (a series of tunnels and a 52 foot shaft), we made out way down to the Gihon Spring. This spring served as the water source for the city since its beginning. Over half in the group walked through the “wet” Hezekiah’s Tunnel while the others walked through the “dry” earlier Canaanite tunnel. Both were great experiences!!
Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read the story of the blind man healed by Jesus (John 9) in “dramatic fashion.” From here, some walked back up to the southern excavations through the drainage channel discovered just a few years ago. Others bussed to the Zion’s Gate and walked to the Jewish Quarter.
“Moshe” & the Jewish Quarter
About noon we enjoyed a conversation with Moshe in the Jewish Quarter. He talked about his Jewish faith in the context of our Christian faith. He and his brother own a store called Shorashim. Following lunch on our own, we enjoyed a few hours of free time (for shopping, exploring, and people-watching).
Our last visit was to the Garden Tomb. This location serves as an alternative site for Christ’s crucifixion and burial. While we worship the person and not the place, what is important is that “He is Risen!” We enjoyed a time of worship & Communion here. We ended the service with an “A-men” and three Swedish “horah’s!” 🙂
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and free evening. It was a great last day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 9 – SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 17: FLIGHT HOME
Following our “farewell breakfast” at the hotel this morning, we drove to the Ben Gurion Airport for our non-stop flight home. The flight was relatively empty, allowing us to spread out. We arrived back in Toronto at about 5 p.m. Following Customs, we boarded our plane back home. Praise be to God for a great trip together!