Biblical Israel Tour experiences of the “Land of the Bible” 13 Day Combined Israel & Jordan Tour
September 19 – October 1, 2016
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY-TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19-20
Our departure day for our Israel trips finally arrived today! Meeting at the JFK Airport in NY, 22 of us boarded our non-stop flight to Tel Aviv, with 6 others arranging their own travel. Arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport, we proceeded through Passport Control to the luggage area where we picked up our bags. We were greeted by Shlomo Ben Asher, our Israeli guide, and David, our bus driver. After loading the bus we drove to Joppa (Jaffa) for a brief walk through the alley ways of this Mediterranean Sea coastal town. We read from Acts 9 &10 (about Peter) as well as recalled the story of Jonah that happened here 800 years prior to the Acts event. Reading these stories in the place where they literally happened gave us a taste of what we will encounter every day.
Driving north through the Tel Aviv rush hour traffic, we arrived at the Herod’s Hotel in Hertzliya a town just north of Tel Aviv. Here we enjoyed a wonderful dinner, followed by an orientation meeting. Following the meeting, most retired to their rooms, while a few enjoyed a walk along the coastline/beach.
We are looking forward to our first full day tomorrow here in the land of the Bible!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
Today was our first full day in Israel. The weather would be warm and sunny, with temps in the 90s. Following a great breakfast, we loaded the bus and drove north along the Med coastline to Caesarea. This was a city established by Herod the Great in 22 BC. Sitting in the theater, we heard the stories about Peter & Cornelius (Acts 10), Herod Antipas (Acts 12), and Paul (Acts 21 & 26). Paul would also sail in and out of the city’s harbor. We also saw Herod’s palace, a replica of the “Pilate Inscription,” the hippodrome, mosaics, the Crusader part of the city, and the aqueduct.
Driving north and east, we ascended the Carmel Range to a place called Muhraha. Within the small Carmelite chapel we read the story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18. We also enjoyed singing together. From the rooftop of the chapel we enjoyed our first view of the Jezreel Valley. We could see Nazareth (Luke 1 & 4), Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7) and Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
Following a visit to a nearby Druze restaurant, we descended to the Jezreel Valley and to the massive archaeological site of Megiddo. Here we talked about Israel being “the land between” the south (Egypt), and the north (Assyria, Babylon, etc…). Understanding the strategic importance of this city, the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III (15th century BC) said that “capturing Megiddo was like taking 1,000 cities.” Joshua would later conquer the city (Joshua 12), with Solomon re-fortifying the city (1 Kings 9). On the site we saw 3 gate structures, Solomon’s horse stables, a Canaanite high place, and a grain bin. We talked about this being the place of “Armageddon” (Rev. 16) and rejoiced in the fact that God has the final word in the end times! We left the site by walking down and through the impressive water system.
Sepporis was the next site. This was a huge Hellenized Jewish city during Jesus’ day and located only 4-5 miles from tiny Nazareth. We walked on Roman streets and saw amazing mosaics (including the famous “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”). Although not mentioned in Scripture, for sure it as a prominent city visited by Jesus.
Driving to the precipice of Nazareth was our final stop for the day. We read from Luke 4 and John 1, as well as quietly listening to The Lord’s Prayer as we sat and overviewed the Jezreel Valley from the north. We were invited to “come and see” (John 1) Jesus with new eyes and a fresh heart. It was a wonderful time of “connecting the dots” between Scripture, the land, and the life and ministry of Jesus.
From here we drove to Nof Ginnosar, our “kibbutz-hotel” for the next three nights. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional gathering at the water’s edge of the Sea of Galilee under the stars. A great way to finish our first great day!
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22
Greeted by a beautiful sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, we began this new day by driving to the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. The day would be another sunny and mild day, with cooler temperatures. As we started out, we saw a herd of gazelles. Climbing into the Golan Heights, we first stopped to overview Bethsaida, the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. We read the stories about the blind man being healed here as well as the Feeding of the 5,000 miracle (Mark 8, John 6). These stories both took place in this area.
Next, we climbed further to the plateau of the Golan Heights to Gamla. This was a Jewish city that revolted against the Romans several times. There is a 1st century synagogue here, only one of seven found in Israel that dates to the time of Jesus. We read from Acts 5, the only indirect reference to the city (Judas, the Galilean may have the been from here). We even saw a few griffon vultures here!
Driving north now, Katzrin was our next stop. At this Talmudic Village (4th – 7th century AD), we sat in a reconstructed stone house very similar no doubt to the houses of Jesus’ day. We read from Mark 2, and envisioned the story unfolding before our very eyes! We celebrated God’s grace in forgiving us. Here we also saw a synagogue.
Driving to the border with Syria, we stopped briefly to look into this war-torn country, specifically to the town of Quneitra. Shlomo shared with us some of the history of the 1967 and 1973 wars that took place here. We learned that Israel provides medical care for inflicted Syrians (both civilians, soldiers, and rebels alike) on a regular basis. We also paused to pray for the Syrian refugees.
This afternoon, we drove to the base of Mt. Hermon. Here we enjoy the unique experience of riding up the chair lift at Israel’s ski resort. The ride was actually quite cool. The view from on top was very good. Some in the group hiked down the steep boulder path back down to the bottom. Mt. Hermon is mentioned a few places in the Bible (Ps. 42, 133).
Caesarea Philippi was our next stop. This city was built on one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River, the Banias Spring. Here we read from Matthew 16 and heard Jesus ask the question, “Who do you say I am?” We walked up to the grotto area where there was one a Temple of Augustus as well as sacred places dedicated to Jupiter, Pan, and Nemesis.
Coming back down off the Golan Heights, the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan was our next stop of the day. We walked along this tributary of the Jordan as well. We enjoyed a time of quiet reflection (Psalm 42). Shlomo also shared a song on his recorder. We also saw the high place of Dan, and read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. On our way out of the site, we also saw a well-preserved Middle Bronze mud-brick gate as well as part of the Israelite walls and gate system.
On the way home, we climbed the Hills of Naphtali for a spectacular view of Lebanon, Mt. Hermon, and the Huleh Valley. We read the story of Abel Beit Macaah (2 Samuel 20) as we looked down upon this OT site. Shlomo also shared some modern history about Lebanon. E literally looked into this northern country of Israel only ½ mile away!
Driving south back to the Sea of Galilee and our hotel, we enjoyed a free evening. It was a great day up north.
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23
Today was a day spent around the Sea of Galilee. The weather was sunny and a little cooler, with highs in the 80s. We even got a brief rain shower, the first “rain” since April. But it only lasted about 3 minutes.
Our first site was Mt. Arbel. This is a high mountain on the NW corner of the lake that stands about 800 feet above the Plain of Genesseret. A few hiked to the top, while others approached the mountain with a bus from the other side. The view from the top was spectacular, with good visibility. We remembered the kingdom parables (Matthew 13-14), and wondered how many times Jesus spent time up here with His disciples.
Driving back down through Tiberias, we visited Magdala. Here we saw another 1st century synagogue, as well as other ruins from Jesus’ day. Even though not mentioned specifically by name, Jesus must have taught in this synagogue. We also enjoyed the new chapel built on the grounds as well as the singing in the rotunda.
Chorazim was our next stop. Located off the water about a mile, this city was one of three condemned by Jesus (along with Bethsaida and Capernaum). We read from Matthew 23 from within the 3rd century AD synagogue here.
Capernaum was our last stop before lunch. This was the “home base” of ministry for Jesus in the Galilee. We read from Mark 1,2, and 9, Luke 7, and John 6 about all the ministry Jesus did here. We saw the 5th century AD synagogue (built on the foundations of the 1st century one), the 4-5 century AD church, and the traditional house of Peter. We also spent some reflective time sitting on the water’s edge, for it was here where Jesus called His first disciples.
Following a great lunch, we drove to the southern end of the lake to the baptismal place called Yardenit. 16 rededicated themselves in the Jordan River, while 2 were baptized for the first time. It was a special time for all. We even met Gov. and once Presidential candidate Pastor Mike Huckabee here.
Driving back to Nof Ginnosar, we saw the ancient 1st century boat discovered here in 1986. Here we also walked to our own boat for sailing in the lake. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection. We considered the storm narratives of Mark 4 and Matthew 14, and rejoiced together that Jesus cares for us, offering us His peace and rest.
Our last experience of the day was on top of the Mt. of Beatitudes. We listened to the reading of Matthew 5 in both Hebrew and English. We considered these kingdom principles for our own lives as we enjoyed the scenery. Some walked down the path that led down towards the water’s edge.
Driving back to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional gathering on the shoreline. It was a great day of focusing on the life and ministry of our Savior!
DAY 6 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24:
Today we left the Sea of Galilee area and drove south to the Jordan border. It would be another very nice sunny day, with mild temps. On the way to the border we made a brief stop to the Kinneret Cemetery located at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. This is where a famous “Rachel” is buried. She was an early Jewish pioneer to the land.
We then proceeded to the northern border crossing called the Sheik Border. After a delayed border crossing, we finally entered into Jordan where we met our guide, Sam. He is a Jordanian Christian. Boarding our bus after taking care of the last passport check, we began our drive through the northern Jordan country-side. After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at Jerash, the largest Roman city in the area. We spent about an hour and a half exploring this amazing ancient site. Among the things we saw included the Arch of Hadrian, the hippodrome, the Temples of Zeus and Artemis, the theater, and the Cardo.
Boarding back on the bus, we drove south by the Jabbok River (where Jacob wrestled with God, Genesis 32) and through Jordan’s capital, Amman. It is a city with such diversity, the very poor the refugee, and the affluent. In the mid-afternoon we arrived at Mt. Nebo. Visibility was fair, but at least we could see down to Jericho, the Dead Sea, and the hills of Gilead to the north. The Hill Country of Judah & Jerusalem were barely visible on the horizon. We read from Deuteronomy 31, 34, and Joshua 1. It was on Mt. Nebo where Moses died. Joshua would succeed him, leading the Israelites to cross the Jordan River and enter into the Promised Land.
Because of time, we could not see the 6th century AD Medeba Map. However, we did stop at a mosaic school where we saw how mosaics today are made. Here we saw a full-scale replica of the map. As a bonus, we also enjoyed watching the owner of the shop glue together the soles of Tim’s shoes that fell apart.
From here, we left Medeba and drove 3 hours to Petra, stopping once on the way for a rest-stop. We finally arrived at Wadi Musa, the town of Petra. We ate a late dinner before retiring for the evening.
We are all excited to see Petra tomorrow, one of the seven wonders of the world!!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25: PETRA, WADI RUM
Today was a fabulous day of seeing the best of the beauty Jordan can offer. The weather today was blue sky with pleasant temps around 80. After a full breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the entrance of Petra, the red-rose city and one of the seven wonders of the world! Today we would spend about 6 hours here in the heart of the Seir Mountains, Land of Edomites, mentioned in the Bible in Genesis. These mountains house the Aaron Peak, the highest in Petra and the burial place (Mt. Hor) of Moses’ brother Aaron.
Walking through the Siq ˆ(canyon), we first came to the most famous tomb/memorial of all … the Treasury or “Al-Khazneh” (can anyone say “Indiana Jones?”). This Nabataean city where at least 3,000 facades of tombs have been discovered, this Treasury tomb was probably the final resting place of King Aretas III (or IV). Paul actually mentions one certain Aretas (2 Cor. 11:29). From here we walked further into this huge city. We saw the Roman theater cut into the sandstone mountains as well as the royal tombs and numerous burial chambers all over.
Following Sam’s explanation of this amazing place, a number in the group hiked 2.5 miles out to the western edge of the city to the Monastery Tomb. This tomb rivals the Treasury and probably is the second most famous tomb in Petra. This hike included 800 steps up.
Walking down from this Monastery, we all enjoyed a leisurely stroll back along the Roman street, and past the theater and Treasury. The final leg of the walk included going through the Siq again.
After we all arrived back to the hotel to refresh up, we drove south on the King’s Highway and then on to the Desert Highway to Wadi Rum. We were greeted by our jeep drivers who took us on about a 1.5 hour ride through the unique landscape. Sir Lawrence of Arabia made this place famous back in the 1910s. We climbed a sand dune, drank tea in a Bedouin tent, and saw some stunning views along the way.
We arrived by jeep to our “tent hotel” for the evening (“Captains”). We each got our own private tent and bathroom. We then enjoyed a barbeque dinner to the sound of live Bedouin music. Before retiring, we enjoyed a time of fellowship, worship, and reflection out under the desert stars.
DAY 8 – MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
Following what was an “interesting” night (believe it or not, we had a wolf howling right outside our tent complex a few times, with dogs barking, etc…) we enjoyed breakfast together before loading the bus, leaving the camels and bedouins behind, and driving to the Aqaba/Elat border. It would be another sunny day, with expected warmer temps in the 90s.
It took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the Rabin Border into Israel. We said goodbye to our Sam, our Jordanian guide. Procedures were pretty straight forward, with only a slight delay on the Israeli side. Meeting David and our bus on the other side, we drove into Elat to a natural park beach where we enjoyed swimming and snorkeling in the beautiful Red Sea. The underwater colors of the fish and coral were amazing. We spent about an hour and a half here. Once again, David supplied us with snacks.
With Shlomo now with us (he drove down from Jerusalem this morning), we drove north to Timnah. This was an ancient copper mine used by the Egyptians in the 13-12th centuries BC. It also has been suggest that biblical figures such as Moses, Solomon, and others were also were familiar with the mining that took place here (Dt. 8:9, Job 28:2, and Ez. 22:20). Here we saw a brief movie about the Egyptians mining of copper here. But the highlight here was walking through a full-size replica of the Tabernacle. We were led by Allison, a local Messianic believer. She shared the many Christocentric connections between the Tabernacle and how Christ came to fulfill it. We read from Hebrews 9.
After a nice lunch stop at Yovatah, a dairy-kibbutz located just north of Timnah (we enjoyed some good ice cream!), we drove about 2 hours to the Dead Sea. Checking in to our hotel in Ein Bokek, most of us enjoyed the wild sensation of floating in this mineral & salt-rich water (33% salt!). It was a great way to end the day as the sun set on the Jordanian mountains across the sea.
We then enjoyed a free evening, with a leisurely dinner at the hotel.
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
Today would the warmest day yet, with highs close to 100. This is quite normal for this region along the Dead Sea. Following a later breakfast, we drove about 15 minutes to Masada. Along the way, we read from Psalm 18:1-2 which mentioned God as our fortress (e.g. “metzada”). Masada was one of Herod’s palaces, and the earliest one built of all six of them. We ascended to the top in the cable car. Shlomo then shared with us the history of Masada. It was a place of Jewish refuge against the Romans in 70 AD after the Temple was destroyed. On top we saw the southern cistern, one of the palaces, the Roman ramp, a synagogue, and the bathhouse. Most took the cable car down, while six in the group hiked down the Snake Path.
Continuing north along the western coastline of the Dead Sea, our next stop was Engedi. Here we read from 1 Samuel 24 (and Song of Songs 1:14, and 2 Chronicles 20) within the canyon. It was here that David hid in a cave to escape Saul’s pursuit. Many walked back to the water falls here. It’s amazing to see so much water in such a “dry and weary land where there is no water…” (Psalm 63).
Qumran was a 35 minute drive northward. It was here in 1947 that the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found. About 900 texts (most fragmented) were found here in a total of 11 caves. This included every OT book except Esther. 8 in the group hiked up to the famous Cave 1 where the Isaiah Scrolls (actually two) were found. Next to the Temple Scroll (26 feet long), the one Isaiah Scroll is the second longest. We also saw the ruins of Qumran, inhabited by the Essense community, as well as Cave 4 where the majority of the caves were discovered.
Jericho was our next stop. We climbed the tel (Tel es Sultan) and first looked east towards the Jordan River. We remembered the death of Moses on Mt. Nebo which we could see (Dt. 34) and the crossing of the river by Joshua (Joshua 3). It was also here where Jesus was baptized (John 1, at a place called Bethany Beyond the Jordan). We also saw where NT Jericho was located, about two miles south (Mark 10, Luke 10, 19). We saw the oldest tower in Israel (pre-Canaanite even) as well as the very retaining walls seen by Joshua when he conquered the city (Joshua 6). It was the mud-brick wall on top of this double retaining wall that “came tumblin’ down.” We celebrated the historicity of the Bible.
On our way to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the Judean Desert. Here at Wadi Qelt we heard the words of Isaiah (Is. 40) in the context of this vast chalk-limestone desert. Shlomo also sang Psalm 23 in Hebrew.
Arriving at our hotel in Jerusalem (our home for the next three nights), we checked in and enjoyed dinner. Following dinner, some walked to the Western Wall.
We are thrilled to be here in the Holy City and eternal capital of Israel!
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28
Today was the first of three full days in Jerusalem. The weather was perfect, with blue sky and fluffy clouds, and temps in the low 80s. Leaving the hotel after breakfast, we drove around the Old City and up to the Mt. of Olives east of the city. Here we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Old City and Temple Mount. We connected what we saw with many Bible texts. These included the City of David (2 Samuel 5), the Palm Sunday event (Luke 19), the Eastern Gate (Ezekiel 44), and other references related to Christ in the Temple. We stopped briefly at Dominus Flavet where traditionally Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19). We also read the prophetic words of Zechariah 14 about Christ’s return and the splitting of the Mt. of Olives.
Walking further down the “Palm Sunday” road, we entered into a private garden at Gethsemane. It was a wonderful place to read about Jesus’ betrayal (Luke 22) and ensuing passion and crucifixion. We spent some quiet time reflecting upon Jesus words, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Leaving Gethsemane, we walked across the Kidron Valley and into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s Gate / Jericho Gate). We enjoyed singing in the St. Anne’s Church. There is an eight second echo in this Crusader church. Nearby is the Pool of Bethesda. We read from John 5 about the healing of the lame man here.
From here we walked the “way of the cross” (Via Dolorosa) to the Holy Sepulcher Church. This is one of the two traditional locations for the crucifixion and burial site of Christ. Following visiting the church on our own, we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we drove to Herodium located about 8 miles south and east of Jerusalem. Located on the edge of the Judean Desert, this was one of Herod’s palace/fortress. It was also where the tomb of Herod was found. We climbed this “artificial” mountain, and saw many of the ruins. We left the site be walking through the cistern system.
Driving towards Bethlehem, next we enjoyed a stop in the Shepherds’ Fields located in Beit Sahor. We enjoyed singing a few Christmas carols in a cave as we read from Luke 2. God sent His Son “just at the right time” (Gal. 4:4). We also enjoyed singing in the small chapel. An African group beautifully sang before us.
We ended the day by driving to an olive wood shop and store in Bethlehem. We enjoyed some shopping here of the local olive wood products carved here.
Driving back to the hotel, we enjoyed dinner together again as well as an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street in western Jerusalem. We also got a peak of the famous signature floor inside the King David Hotel.
It was a great first day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
This second full day here in Jerusalem was another perfect weather day, with temps around 80. We started by driving a short distance to the Western Wall. We were able to spend some time here at the most holy place in Judaism. At 8:30 we entered the Rabbinical Tunnels (“Western Wall Tunnels”) where we walked about 350 yards along this western retaining wall of Herod’s expanded Temple Mount. We saw huge blocks of stone, one the size of a bus weighing up to 600 tons. It made us recall what the disciples said about the “massive stones” of the Temple (Mark 13, Luke 21).
At the end of the tour, we walked back to the Jewish Quarter. Here we enjoyed listening to Moshe, an Orthodox Jew who talked about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting.
Leaving the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we boarded the bus again and drove to the Mt. of Olives. Here we participated in the Temple Mount Sifting Project. We carefully sifted through the debris from the Temple Mount in hopes of finding something important. Steve found a piece of pottery from the 1st Temple Period, while Lili found a part of a pipe from the Ottoman Period. Everyone found pieces of pottery from other periods, glass, bones, and mosaic stones. It was really neat to “handle” portions of items from the Temple Mount!
In the afternoon we drove to West Jerusalem to the Israel Museum. After grabbing a quick bite for lunch here, we saw a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem of what it looked like in 70 AD prior to its destruction by the Romans. We connected the dots between what Jerusalem looked like and the Gospel stories (i.e. Temple courts, Pools of Bethesda, Siloam Pool, Herod’s Palace, etc…). We also walked through the Shrine of the Book where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, as well as the archaeological wing of the museum. Here we saw some of the highlights of artifacts found throughout Israel (the “Dan Inscription,” the “Pilate Inscription,” the sarcophagus of Herod, the “place of trumpeting” stone from the SW corner of the Temple, the “Moses’ Seat” from Chorazim, and many more).
We ended the day by visiting by visiting Yad Vashem. This is Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial. Shlomo shared his personal story of his family. He lost 12 family members to the Nazis regime in Poland. We also saw the many trees dedicated to the Righteous Gentiles (Oscar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom, etc…), and the Children’s Memorial. On our own we walked through the museum on our own.
We returned to the hotel for dinner (skirting around the traffic because of the Shimon Peres funeral viewing at the Kinesset – his funeral is tomorrow, with many world leaders attending) and a free evening. It was another great day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30
Today was our last full day in Jerusalem. Following breakfast and loading our bus with luggage, we drove once again to the Old City. Entering the Dung Gate, we visited the Southwall excavations of the Temple. Here we saw massive stones toppled down by the Romans in 70 AD, the Roman street (one that Jesus would have walked on), the remnants of Robinson’s Arch, as well as southern steps of the Temple. We remembered the stories of Luke 2 & 18, Mark 13, John 6, and Acts 2, among other passages. To think that Jesus used these steps to enter the Temple is remarkable!
Leaving this area, we walked to the City of David excavations. Here we first viewed the area from a lookout tower, followed by watching a movie on the history of this area. We then walked down through “Area G” (where Pastor John excavated in 1982), “Warren’s Shaft,” and the newly-excavated water tower. Here at the Gihon Spring, some in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, while others walked through the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read from John 9 in dramatic form.
From here, some walked back to the SW corner of the Temple mount through the newly-excavated drainage channel. This channel ran under the Roman street that extended south from the Temple area (used by priests in John 7).
In the early afternoon, we walked up to the Jewish Quarter where we enjoyed a few hours on our own. Some shopped, while others explored the Old City and other sites (i.e. Upper Room, Oscar Schindler’s grave, rampart walk).
After gathering and walking out the Zion’s Gate, we boarded the bus and drove to the Garden Tomb. Here at this second site for Christ’s crucifixion and burial, we enjoyed a time of worship and Communion. It was a special time of celebrating Christ’s work on the cross and victory from the grave!
Driving west towards the airport, we stopped in Abu Gosh for our farewell dinner. We continued to the Ben Gurion Airport for our night flight home.
DAY 13 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1: ARRIVE HOME
Following our night flight back to the States, we all made out connections back to our home. The end of a journey of a lifetime!