Biblical Israel Tour Experiences of the January 2018 14 Day Israel Trip
January 14-27, 2018
Group Member Photos:
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY-MONDAY, JANUARY 14: GEZER, INDEPENDENCE HALL, JOPPA
Fight and arrival in Israel
Today our departure date finally arrived! With enthusiasm, we met at the Newark Airport in NJ for our flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. Praise God that everyone’s flight was on time getting into Newark. Our international flight took off at 4:50 p.m. After dinner, a few movies, a few hours of sleep (for most of us), and breakfast, we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport shortly after 9 a.m. Flying over the coastline of the land of Israel was exciting! Following going through the Passport Control and luggage, we were greeted by our guide (Shlomo Ben Asher) and our driver (David Elimelech).
Leaving the airport at about 10:30, we drove to our first site of the day, an Old Testament site called Gezer. Located in the Shephelah (“Lowlands”) of Judah along the Aijalon Valley, Gezer was strategically located city during the Canaanite and Israelite Periods. We read from Joshua 10 (the “sun standing still over Aijalon…), I Kings 9 (Solomon re-fortifying the city) and Ecclesiastes 3 (the “seasons of life”). We also read from the Gezer Calendar (found here about 100 years ago). Archaeologically, we saw the Canaanite tower, wall, gate, and water tunnel, and the Israelite wall and gate. Leaving the site we passed by the standing stones (messabot) of Gezer.
Driving into Tel Aviv, we enjoyed lunch along the Rothchild Boulevard before visiting Independence Hall. It was here where Israel became a State! It was on May 15, 1948 and in a very modest building where David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister) declared Israel’s statehood!
Our last stop of the day was to Joppa (Jaffa). We enjoyed walking through the quiet alleyways of this city located just south of Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean Sea. We read from Acts 9 and 10 (about Peter) and celebrated God’s redemptive plan now widening to include Gentiles.
Arriving at the Tal Hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv, we checked in and enjoyed some rest time before dinner. Following dinner some in the group enjoyed walking along the beautiful sandy beach!
Although tired from the long flight and jet lag, we are thrilled to be here in the land of the Bible!!
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 16: BETH SHEMESH, AZEKAH, BEIT GUVRIN, LACHISH, BEERSHEBA
Today was our first full day here in Israel! The weather was perfect, with lots of sun and highs around 65. It would be a day (the first of many) where the stories of the Bible came alive in “3-D color.”
Beth Shemesh/Sorek Valley
After a great breakfast, checkout and loading the bus, we left our Tel Aviv hotel around 7:40. Our first site was Beth Shemesh. Located along the Sorek Valley in the Shephelah (“Lowlands”) of Judah, this city dates back to the time of the Old Testament. Looking north we could see Zorah, the hometown of Samson (Judges 13-14). Timnah, the Philistine city where Delilah was from, was only a few miles to the west. Additionally, the story of 1 Samuel 6 unfolded here. Placed on a cart drawn by cows, the Philistines returned the Ark of the Lord to the Israelites here at Beth Shemesh.
Our next site was supposed to be Qeiyafa, a relatively new archaeological site located along the Elah Valley. However, due to a very muddy dirt road, we could not get to the site. So instead, we drove to Azekah near by. Looking west from the top, we could see Gath (Tel es-Safi). Looking east, we could see the area in the Elah Valley where David fought Goliath. We read from 1 Samuel 17 about David going into battle in the strength of the Lord! What joy it is to be able to face our own battles with the same perspective!
Gath & Goliath
Driving west, we stopped at Gath (Tel es-Safi). Once again the dirt approach road to the site was too muddy for us to try. So we drove as far as we could and walked the rest of the way. The site is large (125 acres). Gath served as the home town of Goliath. We also read from 2 Kings 12 about Hazael, the King of Aram, taking siege of the city at the end of the 9th century BC.
After lunch at a gas station/road stop, we visited the Late Roman ruins of Beit Guvrin/Maresha. This was where the prophet Micah was from. Here we saw the amphitheater, only now of two four in Israel. Driving into this national park we also visited the Columbarium Cave (raising pigeons) and the Bell Cave. On the way to the Bell Cave, we saw our first gazelle. In this second cave, Shlomo shared an Israeli song on his recorder. We also read from Micah 1 and 5 and sang a few songs. The acoustics were amazing in this cave.
Driving to the southern end of the Shephelah, the last stop of the day was Lachish. This was a prominent city in both the Late Canaanite and Israelite Periods. Both the Assyrians (Isaiah 36) and later the Babylonians attached this double-walled city. We read also from Jeremiah 34:7, matching perfectly with the Lachish Letter #4. Climbing the tel, we saw remnants of the fortification walls, the chambered gates, and the palace (built by Rehoboam? See 2 Chr. 11).
Driving about an hour to Beersheba (the largest city in the Negev), we checked into our hotel. Following dinner we enjoyed a brief gathering of worship and sharing.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17: BEERSHEBA, SDE BOKER, WILDERNESS OF ZIN, ARAD, JUDEAN DESERT
Today we left the hotel shortly about 7:40 after another hearty breakfast. We would spend the entire day in the Biblical Negev. We read from Psalm 126 (about the “water courses of the Negev”) as we left the hotel. Temperatures today were in the 60s, with clouds in the morning and more sun in the afternoon.
Our first stop of the day was Tel Beersheba. Located only a few miles form our hotel, this ancient site was visited by Abraham (Gen 21), Isaac (Gen. 26) and Jacob (Gen. 46) and even Elijah (1 Kings 19). At the site we saw a replica of the horned altar, a water well, Solomonic gate, and many typical four-room Israelite houses. We left the site by walking down through the impressive water cisterns system. It was quite impressive how this city collected precious water.
Sde Boker / Zin Desert
Driving south we arrived at Sde Boker. Here we walked through a few herds of ibex (Psalm 104) to the graves of David (and Paula his wife) Ben Gurion. He was Israel’s first Prime Minister of Israel in 1948. These graves overlook the beautiful Zin Desert. We even had the opportunity to do some hiking in the canyon of the Zin. The walls of the canyon are 100s of feet high. All of us walked to the water falls. Most in the group even hiked to the top of the far canyon rim, scaling the cliff with the help of a few ladders. The hike was strenuous but well worth it!
After lunch at Avdat (a gas station with an Israel sandwich shop, a convenient store, and even a McDonalds!), we returned to the north Negev and to the site of Arad. Located on the northeastern side of the Negev and some 70 miles south of Jerusalem, we visited the site together. On the citadel we saw a Judean Temple. This was a false worship center that kings like Hezekiah and Josiah destroyed. We read from 2 Chronicles 34. Seeing the stone altar here, we remembered what the Apostle Paul said about being a “living sacrifice to God…” (Romans 12:1-2). Walking down to the Canaanite part of the city, we saw the city well, the Broad House, and the city walls and towers. In the days of Moses, the king of this city did not allow Moses and the Israelites to pass through this region (Numbers 21). This part of the city was later destroyed by Joshua (Joshua 12).
We ended the day by driving to Hanokdim, our “Bedouin Tent” hotel for the night. We first enjoyed about a 30 minute camel ride out in the desert. Next, we had a neat time of listening to a real Arab Bedouin talk about his customs. After “checking in” to our big “tent” and dinner, we enjoyed a time of worship and sharing out under the stars by the campfire. We then retired for the evening, with a few sleeping outside under the stars!
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 18: MASADA, ENGEDI, QUMRAN, DEAD SEA, JERICHO
This morning we checked out of our “Bedouin tent” quarters. It was an interesting night with all of us sleeping under one big “tent” (although a few slept out under the stars). Following a nice sunrise, we drove to our first site of the day, we read from Psalm 18:1-2 – “God is our fortress/metzada!” The weather was sunny and mild, with temps around 65-70.
We arrived at Masada around 7:50 a.m. This site is one of the most significant sites for Jews because of what took place here in 70-73 AD. Most in the group hiked to the top by ascending the Roman ramp. A few drove around to the eastern side and took the cable car to the top. The view of the Dead Sea to the east is spectacular from on top! We saw a few of the ruins excavated here – the southern and northern palace, storerooms, the casemate wall, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. Shlomo shared with us the story of 967 Jews who found refuge here against the Romans for nearly 3 years. It is a story of courage and determination. Fifteen in the group hiked down the Snake Path (1.2 miles with a descent of 1,000 feet), while others took the cable car down.
Just 20 minutes north along the Dead Sea coastline is Engedi. Upon arriving, we walked back into the canyon and to the water falls of this natural oasis and source of water in the Judean Desert. A bunch got wet here under the water falls! It was here where David hid from Saul. We read this story from 1 Samuel 24. We also read from Song of Songs 1 (the “henna blossoms of Engedi…”) as well as 2 Chronicles 20 (about the “ascent of Ziz”).
Continuing north along the Dead Sea (see Ezekiel 47 and Zechariah 14) about 35 minutes we arrived at Qumran. During the lunch hour, about twenty in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 (this included the famous Isaiah Scroll). Following this hike/lunch, we visited the small archaeological ruins of Qumran. It was here where the Essenes wrote the scrolls. We saw ritual baths (Miqveh), the scriptorium, and a close-up view of Cave 4 where the majority of the scrolls were found in 1952. Slightly the south of Cave 4 we saw the new excavations of “Cave 12.” We read from Psalm 19 and “Psalm 151” (an extra psalm discovered here in Cave 11). We celebrated the remarkable preservation and specialness of God’s Word!
Next, we drove to the northern edge of the Dead Sea close by. What an amazing experience it was to float in this salty body of water (33% salt and minerals). While it was rather windy (causing waves) and a bit difficult to even stand up, it was lots of fun! We felt like corks out there!
Our last stop of the day was Jericho. We climbed the site and first looked eastward across the Jordan Valley. We saw Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34) where Moses died. Elijah and Elisha also had part of their ministry on that side (2 Kings 2). Jesus was baptized at a place called Bethany Beyond the Jordan (John 1). We also recalled the story of Joshua’s conquest of this city (Joshua 6). We saw the double retaining walls of this well fortified city, walls that supported a mud-brick wall on top. It was that wall that came tumblin’ down. The city was conquered in the 15th century BC (1,410 BC).
Driving to a “kibbutz hotel” (Al Mog) near by, we made a brief stop at a “Hebron glass” store. Arricing at the hotel, we checked in, enjoyed dinner together, followed by a free evening. What a great day this was in the Judean Desert!
DAY 6 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: WADI QELT, SHILOH, BETH SHEAN, GALILEE
Once again, we left the hotel shortly after 7:30 following breakfast and check-out. We woke up to no power in the hotel due to the unique storm in this Jericho area last night at 4 am. It would be a day of driving through the Judean Desert, the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria, the Jordan River Valley, and finally to the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. The weather was rainy at times throughout the day, especially the further north we went, with temps very cool/cold in the 40s – 50s.
Judean Desert- Wadi Qelt & Desert of Pareth
Our first stop was Wadi Qelt and the heart of the Judean Desert. The view of this “wilderness” was spectacular even though we were there with wind and rain. We heard the words of Isaiah 40. It was here where this OT prophet “prepared the way” for the coming of God’s promise and redemption! About 700 years later, John the Baptist proclaimed the same words as he prepared the way for the Lord’s coming! From here we uniquely drove through another area of the Judean Desert referred by Jeremiah as the Desert of Pareth (Jeremiah 13). This wadi (dry river bed) was gushing with water! As we drove we stopped for very nice panaramic views of this unique region as well as for the dozen or so gazelles we saw along the way. We also drove through the area of Michmash, the location where Jonathan defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 13).
Driving north of Jerusalem we past by Bethel where Abraham built an altar (Genesis 12, 28). It was around here where it started sleeting! Arriving at Shiloh, we walked through the rain climbed the tel and enjoyed a vey good presentation of the stories that took place here. Samuel was called by God here (1 Samuel 3). The Tabernacle, which stood here for 369 years, was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). We saw a few of the ruins from ancient Shiloh as well as the area where the Tabernacle most likely stood! During a wonderful break of sun, we paused to pray in celebration of the holiness of this area and God’s call upon our lives!
Our last stop of the day was a massive archaeological city located on the edge of the Jordan Valley called Beth Shean. On the way, we stopped to see huge flocks of sheep and goats along the road. The rain and flooded wadis in this generally dry area of the Samaritan Desert was exciting to see. We explored much of the Roman city here. We saw the bathouse, Roman street, many stone pillars, the theater and even the public latrines. A number in the group climbed the OT tel where Saul’s body was hung (on the walls, 1 Samuel 31).
Sea of Galilee
Driving north to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and then around the western side of this fresh-water lake, we arrived at Nof Ginnosar, our kibbutz-hotel for the next four nights. Along the way we enjoyed a rainbow over the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Following check-in, some relaxing time, and dinner, we enjoyed a time of gathering down on the water’s edge.
We are looking forward to spending three full days here in the north!
DAY 7 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 20: YARDENIT/JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, MAGDALA, CHORIZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE
Today was our first day here in the north. We were greeted by sun and comfortable temperatures. The high would be about 65. Some in the group enjoyed getting up early for the sunrise on the Sea of Galilee!
Following breakfast and a later departure this morning (8 a.m.), we drove through Tiberias towards the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. On the way we read from Matthew 4 about Jesus calling His first disciples. We stopped at the Kinneret Cemetery. Some of the first Jewish immigrants to Israel in the early 20th century are buried here. It was established in 1911. This included a Ukrainian poetess known simply as Rachel. She was born in 1890. Many Israelis visit her grave our of respect for the poetry she wrote. She died in 1931. Just recently, her picture was put on the new 20 shekel Israeli currency bill.
Just south of the cemetery is where the water leaves the Sea of Galilee and forms the lower Jordan River. Here there is a place called Yardenit. Nine re-dedicated themselves through baptism. One also was baptized for the first time. Yes, the water was cold but hearts were warmed by this special time
Driving back north towards Tiberias, we made an extra stop at Hamat Tiberias. Here we saw a 4th century synagogue. The mosaic floor of the synagogue was quite impressive to see. Like at many other synagogues, these Jewish synagogues used various Jewish symbols (e.g. menorah). But even pagan symbols (e.g. zodiac) were also used, serving as decorations.
Magdala was our next stop. Located north of Tiberias, Magdala is a “one-level” archaeological site. It was the home of the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels. Here we visited the 1st century synagogue, one of only seven others that date to this 2nd Temple period. Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible, this city must have been where Jesus visited and taught. The synagogue is small and modest, holding only 50-60 people. We also enjoyed a time of singing in the new retreat chapel built here a few years ago. The acoustics were amazing! The wall reliefs were special too, especially the one of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mark 5).
Following a traditional “fish lunch” we drove to Chorazin. Located on a hill off the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, we saw the basaltic ruins of the 3rd century AD city. It was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11). We read from Matthew 23 from inside the synagogue. A Moses’ Seat was found here. Among the other ruins we saw a miqveh (ritual bath) and other house structures.
Located nearby but down on the water’s edge is Capernaum (Kfar Nahum – the village of Nahum). Visiting this place mentioned so many times in the Bible was very special given that Jesus made Capernaum the “home-base” of his Galilean ministry. This was where Jesus also called His first disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew/Levi the port tax collector). Inside the 4-5th century synagogue we read the stories that took place here (Mark 1,2, 5, 9; Luke 7; and John 6). Among the other ruins we saw included the 1st century house structures and a 5th AD century octagonal church. We also spent some reflection time down on the water’s edge.
We ended the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection out towards the middle of the lake. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives. It is precious to know that Jesus cares for us too when we encounter the unexpected storms of life. The sunset was spectacular!
We walked back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening. What a great day retracing the footsteps of Jesus!
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 21: BETHSAIDA, GAMLA, KATZRIN, BENTAL, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. Once again like yesterday, the weather was very nice, with sun and temps in the 60s. We read from Matthew 13 as we left the hotel shortly after 7:30 a.m.
Driving around to the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee, our first stop was was to be El Araj. However, the muddy road through the field to get there didn’t’ allow us to visit. El Araj is a new archaeological site that is possibly suggested as the Bethsaida of the Bible and home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). The question about locating Bethsaida is not only archaeological but also one of topography (e.g. how close to the water was Bethsaida located). It will be exciting to keep an eye on what they find this new season!
So we continued past this site and began our ascent up the Golan Heights. We made a brief stop for an overview of the entire NE corner of the Sea of Galilee. The visibility was absolutely stunning! From here we could see Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley, Tiberias across the lake, the snow-capped Mt. Hermon to the north, and even the Shuff Mountains in Lebanon 50 miles north! We read from Mark 8 (healing of the blind man) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000). It all took place right below us!
Making our final ascent up the Golan Heights, we leveled off and finally came to the plateau. This is where Gamla is located. This was a 1st century city taken by the Romans in 66 AD. From high above the site we saw the synagogue and the city wall and tower. Josephus is the one who tells of the story about Gamla. We read from Acts 5 that mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who may have been from here.
Continuing north on the plateau of the Golan, Katzrin was our next visit. This was a Talmudic Jewish city (4th – 7th century AD). In the reconstructed stone house, we read from Mark 2 about the paralyzed man being healed by Jesus. Sitting in this house made the story come alive! It was probably in a house like this where the healing took place. We celebrated God’s healing grace freely offered to us! Leaving the site we also saw the synagogue.
Located on the border with Syria, the view from Bental, an old military outpost, offers a commanding view of this northern region. Shlomo took the time to share some modern Israeli history related to the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria. With the very clear skies could clearly see in all directions! We could see the Hills of Naphtali to the west, villages in Lebanon, and the Syrian city of Kuneitra from here. To gain such a close view of Mt. Hermon was incredible! It was special to hear how much medical care and aid the Israelis offer to Syrians refugees too!
Driving down off the heights of the Golan we made a brief stop at the Saar water falls before arriving at Caesarea Philippi. This was a very pagan city during the time of Jesus. It was in this region that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16). Climbing up to the grotto of the city we saw where the Temple of Augustus once stood as well as some of the shrines dedicated to Pan, Nemesis, and Jupiter. One of the tributaries of the Jordan River, the Banias spring, is located here. We also read about Jesus’ Transfiguration from Matthew 17.
Our last site of the day was Dan. Walking through the beautiful nature preserve led us to the archaeological site. We stopped by the quiet waters to hear Shlomo play as well as read (and sing) from Psalm 42. On the steps of the high place of Dan we read from Judges 18 (about the Danites capturing the city and renaming the city from Laish to Dan), and 1 Kings 12 (about Jeroboam building a false worship center here). Leaving the site, we saw a Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate as well as the Iron Age/Israelite city with its high walls and double gate.
Driving back through the Huleh Valley (and past Hazor, a large OT site taken by Joshua… see Joshua 11), we arrived back at the hotel for dinner and another gathering down by the water’s edge.
DAY 9 – MONDAY, JANUARY 22: REFLECTION DAY – MT. ARBEL & MT. OF BEATITUDES
Today was our reflection day! The sun was bright and the temps were perfect (with highs in low 70s) on this day set aside to focus on Jesus and His kingdom teaching.
Located on the NW corner and only 5 minutes away from our hotel is Mt. Arbel. This was our destination for the morning. Arbel is the highest peak on this side of the Sea of Galilee, rising about 800 feet about the lake below. Leaving the hotel around 8 a.m., 21 in the group got dropped off at the trail head that traverses to the top of the mountain. The hike took about 75 minutes. We passed by a number of cliffs used as hiding places by Jews in the 1st century. With hand-holds to use the last 20 minutes, we crested the top. The others in the group enjoyed bussing around through Tiberias and hiking about 300 yards up the back side. With both groups meeting at the top, we read from Luke 4 about how Jesus Himself went to a solitary place on occasion. Spreading out on the top and with a spectacular view in front of us, each of us enjoyed a time of solitude and reflection. We then gathered together to paint a stone we collected. This stone will serve as a reminder of our time on Arbel and our encounter with God.
Before we left the site, we made a brief stop to see the 4th century AD Jewish synagogue here. It was not as impressive as other ones we’ve seen, but still quite interesting. Driving to Tiberias from here, we enjoyed lunch in the new Tiberias Mall (some had shawarma, while others had either pizza, frozen yogurt, gelato, or McDonalds).
Mt. of Beatitudes
Following lunch, we drove to the Mt. of Beatitudes. We walked to the rocky hillside just outside the Catholic chapel built here. We first heard the Beatitudes read in Hebrew by Shlomo. Then in English we contemplated these kingdom principles in English. Spreading out and finding our location on the hillside, we then read the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on our own. To consider these words of Jesus right here was special! We were challenged to live out these kingdom principles by allowing the reign and rule of God to lead and guide our spiritual walk!
We ended this day of reflection by walking down the hill. The path lead to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.
From here we returned to our hotel for some free time, dinner, and a free evening. Some even braved the cooler waters (this time of year) of the Sea of Galilee and took a swim.
It was another impactful day here in northern Israel!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 23: NAZARETH, MEGIDDO, MT. CARMEL, CAESAREA, JERUSALEM
This morning we left the Sea of Galilee area. Following breakfast, checkout, and loading, we left shortly after 7:30 this morning. The weather changed from our last three sunny days. Today we had off and on rain and sun the entire day, with high temps in the low 60s. Thankfully at most sites, we avoided the heavier rains. Rain is predicted the rest of the week for Jerusalem.
Precipice of Nazareth
We drove to the region of the Lower Galilee towards Nazareth. Going through Cana (John 2) and the outskirts of Nazareth (Luke 1), we arrived at the Precipice of Nazareth. Here we enjoyed our first full view of the Jezreel Valley below. On our way to the overview, we saw a number of mandrake plants (Genesis 30, Song of Songs 7). Looking out to the Jezreel Valley, we could envision all of these stories unfolding: We read about Deborah and Barak battling on Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), Gideon fighting the Midianites on the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Saul and his sons dying on Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). We also read from Luke 4 about Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue. We were invited to “come and see” (John 1) Jesus in the light of His Messiahship.
From here we continued through the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo (Har Megiddo in Hebrew), which gave its name to Armageddon (Revelation 16). This site has over two dozen archaeological layers spanning a time period of about 2,500 years! After seeing the model of the ancient city, we climbed the site. We saw some of the many ruins here, including three gate structures, storage rooms, a sacrificial altar, and the grain silo. We read from Rev. 16 and celebrated that in the last day, God has the final word! We exited the site by walking down 180+ steps through the water system. The engineering of this system was extraordinary!
Driving southwest, we climbed Mt. Carmel, a mountain range about 13 miles long that separates the Jezreel Valley with the Sharon Plain. After eating lunch at a Druze restaurant, we arrived at a place called Muhraqah (“burnt offering”) near by. In the chapel we read the OT story about Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). We also read from Isaiah 35 and Song of Songs 7. We sang a few songs here as well, celebrating the awesomeness of God! Walking to the rooftop of the chapel provided us our third view of the Jezreel Valley below.
Our last site of the day is located on the shoreline of the Sharon Plain.Caesarea was a city built by King Herod in 22 BC. He was indeed a great builder. Starting in the theater, we read from Acts 10, 12, and 26 (Peter, Herod Antipas, and Paul). Walking north we saw the palace (where Paul was bound?), the hippodrome, many Roman mosaics, and the areas where the Temple of Augustus and Herod’s harbor once stood. We exited the site through a Crusader gate. Before leaving for Jerusalem, we briefly stopped at the aqueduct.
It took about 2.5 hours to drive through the Tel Aviv area and up to the Hill Country of Judah to Jerusalem. Traffic in Jerusalem was backed up because of Vice-President Pence being here today. We arrived at our hotel, checked in, and enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner an optional walk was offered to the Western Wall. 16 went on the walk. To see this most holy site for the Jews today at night was amazing!
We are looking forward to three full days here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel!
DAY 11 –WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 24: JERUSALEM, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was our first full day here in Jerusalem! It would be a colder day, with highs in the upper 40s/low 50s, but we didn’t get the rain that was forecasted. What a blessing!
Mt. of Olives
Leaving the hotel at about 7:30, we read from Psalm 122 and 125. Driving around the northern side of the Old City, we made it to the top of the Mt. of Olives. What a view of the Temple Mount and Old City from here! Walking down the slope of the Mt. of Olives, we stopped briefly at Dominos Flavet, a chapel traditionally connected to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14.
Garden of Gethsemane
Walking all the way down the Mt. of Olives brought us to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. While we can’t specifically pinpoint where this was other than on the western slope of the mountain, this is where Jesus displayed His passion (“Not my will but yours be done“) and was betrayed by Judas. We read from Luke 22 and considered the passion and obedience of Christ even unto death.
Old City – Eastern Gate, Pools of Bethesda, Holy Sepulcher Church
Next, we walked to the base of the Eastern Gate. It is a massive gate that was closed in 810 AD. Ezekiel 44 mentions that when the Messiah comes, it will be opened. From here we entered the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lion’s) Gate. Our first stop inside the Old City was the Pools of Bethesda. We read from John 5 here. Close by is the start of the Via Dolorosa. We walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is one of two locations for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We had lunch here in the Christian Quarter.
Walking out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we drove southeast about 12 miles to Herodium. This was where Herod the Great was buried (he reigned from 37-4 BC). We climbed this “artificial mound” to the top. While the view wasn’t great to the east, we could see back to Jerusalem from here to the north, the Judean Desert to the east, Tekoa to the south, and Bethlehem to the west. We walked down through the elaborate cistern system here.
Shepherds’ Fields / Bethlehem
Driving to the Shepherds’ Fields (in Beit Sahour), we enjoyed descending down into a cave. Here we considered Jesus being born perhaps in a cave like this. We read from Micah 2, 5, and Luke 2. We also sang a few Christmas carols. Before leaving the site, we entered the small chapel and enjoyed the acoustics there too! We sounded like heavenly angels! We ended the day by driving into Bethlehem to an olive wood shop and store.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free night.
DAY 12 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 25: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM
Today was a colder day, but with just a little rain (the predicted rain came during the night). We were also glad that those who were not feeling well and stayed back yesterday were able to join us today.
Western Wall Tunnels
Leaving just after 7:15 this morning and reading John 2 (a reference to the Temple being built over 46 years) as we left the hotel, we arrived at the Western Wall. Before our walk in the Western Wall Tunnels, we had time to go to the Wall and pray. Many ultra Orthodox were there as well for morning prayers.
The walk through the tunnels was fascinating! Herod’s Temple project (that he began in 20 BC) was an incredible feat! We saw some stones that weighed several hundred tons! We walked the entire distance of this western retaining wall of the Temple.
Jewish Quarter – Cardo, Herodian House, Shorashim
Exiting the tunnel, we walked to the Jewish Quarter. Here we saw the Cardo (the main north-south street of the city). It dates to the 2nd century AD. We also saw the very impressive 1st century ruins of the Herodian Mansion. This was a massive house destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Close by we met an Orthodox Jew named Moshe. He and his brother (Dov) own a store called Shorashim. Moshe shared about his Jewish faith. We also had the chance to ask him questions. After this interesting conversation, we enjoyed lunch in the Jewish Quarter.
Walking out of the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw three things: A 1:50 model of 2nd Temple Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book (where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were displayed), and the Archaeological Museum. Here we saw some “highlights” of artifacts found here in Israel related to the Bible.
We ended the day at Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial – Yad Vashem. We first walked through the Valley of the Communities where Shlomo shared his family story. He lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland. We then walked through the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself. It was quite sobering.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda to experience some more “modern” Israeli life and shopping.
DAY 13 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 26: CITY OF DAVID, SOUTHERN EXCAVATIONS, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB
Today was our last day in Jerusalem and the last day of this trip. While it was once again cold, at least the predicted rain didn’t come until we finished the day! What a blessing!
City of David
After breakfast, check-out, and loading the bus in preparation for tonight’s flight home, we drove to the City of David. This small 11 acre piece of land was first taken by David (2 Samuel 5).
We would spend over 2 hours here seeing the excavations. We saw David’s palace, Jebusite and Israelite fortification walls and houses. Further down the slope we walked through Warren’s Shaft. This series of tunnels leads to the massive tower that protected the source of water for the city, the Gihon Spring. Solomon was made king here (1 Kings 1). It was also here where a number in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long that still flow with water, see 2 Kings 19-20 and 2 Chronicles 32) while others walked through the dry Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Siloam Pool where we read from John 9 in “dramatic” fashion!
After we all loaded the bus, a number in the group were dropped off at the new Gavati excavations where we walked to the SW corner of the Temple further north through the northern end of the drainage channel just recently discovered a few years ago. Meeting at the SW corner of the Temple (Robinson’s Arch), we saw massive stones lying on the Herodian street. This was a stone street for sure used by Jesus! On the southern steps of the Temple we remembered passages like Luke 2 and 18, Mark 13, and Acts 2 (among others). Jesus would have used these steps many times.
Walking up to the Jewish Quarter for lunch and a few hours of free time, we enjoyed shopping and exploring on our own. Some went to Oscar Schindler’s grave on Mt. Zion. Some also climbed the 178 steps up the tower of the Lutheran Church in the heart of the Christian Quarter. What a view from there!
Our last experience of the tour was to visit the Garden Tomb. This is another possible location for the crucifixion and burial tomb of Jesus. Here we enjoyed a brief time of worship & Communion. It was a special time together!
As we said goodbye to Jerusalem, we drove west through heavy rain (it held off until now) to Abu Gosh for our Farewell Dinner. The meal was excellent (lamb chops!) and we enjoyed a time of reviewing the trip and sharing stories! Continuing driving west, we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport for our night-flight home.
DAY 14 – SATURDAY, JANUARY 27: ARRIVE BACK IN THE U.S.A.
We all arrived back in Newark after a 11.5 hour flight. Praise be to God for a life-changing experience!