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!