Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from the January, 2016 – 10 Day Israel Tour
January 17-26, 2016
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY / MONDAY, JANUARY 17-18:
Our day of departure finally came! Most in the group met at the Newark, NJ airport for our non-stop flight to Tel Aviv. Unlike most flights, our flight took off at around 4 p.m. We landed in mid-late morning at the Ben Gurion Airport, named after Israel’s first Prime Minister. Weather was quite normal, with temps in the low 60s and sun.
After finding our luggage and meeting up with others in the group, we spent the afternoon in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. We saw three of the five major valleys in this region (Ajalon, Sorek, Elah). We visited Gezer (We read from 1 Kings 9 and Ecclesiastes 3), Beth Shemesh (1 Kings 6), and Kh. Qeiyafa (1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath!). These were all Old Testament sites that played an important role in the days of the Bible. So the afternoon of touring was a great first exposure to the world of archaeology and historical geography. At these sites we saw ruins dating back to both the Canaanite and Israelite Periods.
In the late afternoon, we drove to Jaffa. Here we visited the alley-ways and small streets of the city. We reviewed the stories of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Peter (Acts 9 & 10) before getting a great view of the Tel Aviv shoreline.
From here we fought “rush-hour” traffic to Netanya where we checked into our first night’s hotel. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by a brief orientation meeting. Some then walked around the town and down to the beach before retiring for the night.
We’re all excited to be here in the land of the Bible!
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 19
Today as our first full day here in Israel, and although it would be a rainy day for the most part, it was a good one! We at least had breaks of sun once in a while. Temperatures were in the high 50s. After a great breakfast and leaving the hotel at about 7:45, we drove about 10 miles north to Caesarea. Built by Herod over the course of 12 years (22-10 BC), the city was impressive. Here we saw the theater, the palace area, the hippodrome (filled with water!), the aqueduct (that brought water into the city from Mt. Carmel), and Crusader city built about 1,100 later. We read from Acts 10, 12, and 26, and celebrated the bold and transforming message of both Peter and Paul. Both of them proclaimed their faith here in this pagan city.
From here we drove to Mt. Carmel, to a Carmelite chapel called Muhraqa. We met in a small chapel and considered the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18). He defied the odds against the 450 prophets of Baal who opposed him. We enjoyed singing Awesome God and Amazing Grace together. Unfortunately, there was no view whatsoever from the roof of the chapel of the Jezreel Valley below. We enjoyed lunch nearby at a restaurant owned by a Druze family.
Driving down through this Carmel Range we descended into the Jezreel Valley. Here we visited Megiddo, a ancient strategic city that guarded the natural route into this valley from the south. Here was saw a number of ancient gates (including the one built by King Solomon (1 Kings 9), Solomon’s stables and storehouses, the Early Bronze altar, and an Israelite grain silo. From the top of the site we could see the Nazareth (the town here Jesus grew up), Mt. Tabor (where Deborah and Barak defeated Sisera, Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (where Gideon defeated the Midianites, Judges 6-7), and Mt. Gilboa (where Saul and his three sons were killed, 1 Samuel 31). We also considered Revelation 16 (Armageddon) and celebrated Christ’s eventual return and victory. We left the site by descending through the impressive ancient water system.
Our last stop was the Precipice of Nazareth. Here we could see the Jezreel Valley from yet a different perspective. We read from Luke 4 and John 1 as we were invited to “come and see” Jesus. This area was Jesus’ “backyard” while growing up.
Driving through Cana (John 2), we stopped for our first view of the Sea of Galilee before checking into to our hotel in Tiberias. We enjoyed dinner and a meeting together, with some exploring the town located right on the water’s edge.
So while the skies were foggy and rainy most of the day, it was a great first day.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20:
Today was a day spent in the Sea of Galilee area. We woke up to partly sunny skies, with high temps in the low 60s. Although we had overcast skies with a few sprinkles in the afternoon, it as quite pleasant.
After another great breakfast, we left the hotel at 7:40 and drove to Arbel. This is a mountain that overlooks this NW corner of the lake. 11 in the group hiked up the trail (we could only go 2/3rds of the way up because of Park Service did not permit a full ascent up the cliff area because the slick conditions) while others ascended to the top by driving by bus, approaching the top from the other side. The view of the lake below as great.
After picking up the hikers who had to descend back to the trail head, we visited Magdala. Here, we saw a 1st century synagogue (one of only seven). Even though it is not mentioned in the Gospels, there’s no doubt that Jesus must have taught here. We also visited the new chapel, where we read from Matthew 13 and sang a few songs together.
Driving further up this NW corner of the lake , the Mt. of Beatitudes was our next stop. Here we heard portions of Matthew 5 read in both Hebrew (as Jesus would have spoken) and English. We were invited to “seek the kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33). The view from here was equally splendid! Down below at the water’s edge is the town of Capernaum. Jesus’ “home base” for His ministry was here. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue, we read a number of stories that took place here (Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6). We saw a few 1st century houses from Jesus’ time, as well as a 4-5th century church. It was from these shores where Jesus called his disciples (Matthew 4:18ff).
After lunch (we ate “St. Peter’s fish), we visited Nof Ginnosar. Here we saw an ancient 1st century boat discovered on the shoreline in 1986. From here we also sailed on the lake for a time of worship and reflection. We read the “storm narratives” from Mark 4 and Matthew 14.
We ended the day with an optional baptism service in the Jordan River (at a place called Yardenit). Nine re-affirmed their commitment to follow Christ, while Dr. Richard (96 years old) was baptized for the first time! It was really special for all! While the water was cold, our spirits were warmed by both the fellowship and experience.
We returned back to our hotel in Tiberias for dinner and a brief gathering. It was a great day as we highlighted the life and ministry of Jesus.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 21
Today was a nice bright and sunny day with temps in the 60s. We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and drove south. Before leaving the Sea of Galilee area, we made our first stop at the Kinneret Cemetery. Here we learned about the life story of an early pioneer to the land named Rachel. We enjoyed Shlomo’s singing and playing his recorder.
Driving about 20 miles south through the Jordan Valley, Beth Shean our next stop. This is a huge, huge, archaeological site displaying both Old Testament and Roman ruins. Here was saw a Roman bathhouse, villas, mosaics, a pillared Roman street, and a beautiful theater. Some in the group climbed the steps to the OT tel to get a great view of the Roman city below. We read from 1 Samuel 31, about the bodies of Saul and his sons being hung on the walls following their death on Mt. Gilboa.
From here, we drove west through the Samaritan Hill Country (also referred to the Hill Country of Ephraim). We drove past biblical sites such as Shechem/Sychar, Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim en route to Shiloh. We saw a lot of sheep and goats grazing in the winter fields as well as a number of gazelles. The ancient city of Shiloh was where the Tabernacle was located for 369 years. According to 1 Samuel 4, the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines in battle. We saw a wonderful high-tech show of the story of Samuel and the Tabernacle. We also heard he words of Jeremiah 7 as the prophet looked back to the days of Shiloh.
Traveling now past places like Bethel (Gen. 15, 28) and Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14), we drove east through the Judean Desert to Jericho. The route we took took us on a unique road that went through part of the Wadi Qelt and Pareth (mentioned in Jeremiah 13). After lunch here in Jericho, we climbed the tel, we heard the many stories that took place here. Standing by the 2 retaining/revetment walls of the city dating to the time of Joshua, we read the conquest story from Joshua 6. Praise God for the historicity of the Bible!
We ended the day by driving to the southern end of the Dead Sea (at Ein Bokek). Here we checked into our hotel and enjoyed dinner and a free night. We are looking forward to “floating” in the Dead Sea tomorrow morning!
DAY 6- FRIDAY, JANUARY 22
Today began unique with a “float” on the Dead Sea prior to breakfast. It is quite the sensation to float like this. After showering up and breakfast, we left the hotel a bit late since our bus got parked in by cars. We ended up piling in two vans to take us to our first stop.
Masada, a “palace-fortress” built by Herod the Great, was our first stop on this partly sunny and pleasant day (around 70). The project that took 6 years (37-31 BC), Masada is a massive “stand-alone” rock fortress. We took the cable car up to the top. We saw cisterns, residential rooms and storage rooms, the Roman ramp, the synagogue, and the northern palace. We all took the cable car back down since time did not allow for hiking down the Snake Path. We read from Psalm 18:1-2 that mentions “metzada” in the context of God being our “fortress.”
Driving north along the western coastline of the Dead Sea, our next stop was Engedi. We read from Song of Songs 1, 2 Chr. 20, and 1 Samuel 24. This is where David hid in a cave to escape the pursuit of King Saul. We had the chance to hike back to some of the water falls and canyon itself. It’s a beautiful place! We also saw lots of coneys, but no ibex/wild goats (Psalm 104).
We continued north to Qumran. It is here where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. We heard the remarkable story of their preservation over the last 2,000 years. We saw some of the ruins as well as explored one of the caves (Cave 11). Some even hiked to the famous Cave 1 where the Isaiah scrolls were found! We also had a late lunch here.
On our way to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop to overlook the Wadi Qelt and the Judean Desert. We listened to the moving words of Isaiah 40, words spoken by the prophet Isaiah in anticipation of God’s coming redemption. John the Baptist would also echo these words in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Himself! The images of Psalm 23 also fit the context. Shlomo sang this psalm for us.
Ascending to Jerusalem, we checked into our hotel and enjoyed dinner together. This was followed by our first optional walk to the Western Wall. It was amazing to see this most revered and holy area for or Jewish friends!
DAY 7- SATURDAY, JANUARY 23: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, VIA DOLOROSA, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was our first day here in Jerusalem! It would be a wet and damp day (temps in mid-high 40s), with occasional rain that developed in mid-morning. Leaving the hotel at around 7:30, we drove to the Mt. of Olives for our first encounter with Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Old City of Jerusalem! It is an amazing view from here! Walking down the hill, we considered the many stories that happened here, both in the OT and NT. At a chapel called Dominus Flavet, we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. Continuing downward, we stopped for a brief time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we listened to the passion narrative of Jesus (Luke 22) and a song as we considered the ultimate price Christ paid.
Walking into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lion’s Gate), we visited the Pools of Bethesda (“house of mercy”) and read from John 5. We also enjoyed the 8-10 second “echo” in St. Anne’s, a Crusader Church here on the grounds.
From here we began walking the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross”). Even though archaeology strongly suggests that the route Jesus took in carrying the cross to Calvary was in the completely opposite direction (i.e. Jesus was tried and condemned by Pilate at Herod’s palace, not the Antonio Fortress), it was interesting to experience this traditional walk. Our destination was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We went inside and looked around at this church originally built in 325 AD. Following this visit, we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, David and our bus picked us up and drove us to Herodium. Located on the edge of the Judean Desert, it was not raining here. We hiked to the top of this “palace-fortresses” built by Herod the Great to see the impressive view from here as well as some of the ruins. From here we could see the Mt. of Olives, Bethlehem and Tekoa (where the prophet Amos was from).
Leaving Herodium we traveled west to Beit Sahor and the Shepherds’ Fields. Located outside of Bethlehem, we enjoyed a time in a cave, reflecting upon God’s redemptive plan, for “just at the right time, God sent His Son…” (Galatians 4:4). We sang a number of Christmas carols, both in the cave and in the Chapel of the Shepherds.
We ended the day by visiting an olive wood shop and store. It was remarkable to see all the beautiful wood carvings. We drove back out of Bethlehem back to Jerusalem five miles north to our hotel. We enjoyed dinner together, with some enjoying a restful (and warm) evening in the hotel, while a few went to Ben Yehuda to shop and take in some modern Israeli life.
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 24
Today would be a mostly rainy day, with blustery winds and temps in the low 40s. We began the day by entering the Old City through the Dung Gate. Our first visit was to the Western Wall Tunnel. It was a fascinating walk along this western “retaining wall” of the Temple. According to some archaeologists, it took 10,000 men 10 years just to finish these retaining walls meant to support the expanded Temple Mount of Herod’s Temple.
From here we walked to the heart of the Jewish Quarter. The Temple Institute tour was very interesting. These are small sect of Orthodox Jews who are preparing for the building of the 3rd Temple. We saw some of the temple furnishing, including the High Priestly garments and the Ark of the Covenant (although this one is not built according to proper standards). Nearby we enjoyed listening to Moshe an Orthodox Jew. He shared a little about his Jewish faith.
Following lunch here in the Jewish Quarter, we walked out of Zion’s Gate and boarded our bus for western Jerusalem. Our first stop of the afternoon was the Israel Museum. Here we saw the Jerusalem Model (1:50 scale of Jerusalem in the day of the NT), the Shrine of the Book, and highlights in the archaeological wing of the museum.
Sleeting along the way, we next drove to Yad Vashem, Israeli’s Holocaust Memorial & Museum. Here we heard Shlomo’s story (he lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland during the Holocaust), and saw the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself. It was quite moving to see and understand more about the horrors of the Holocaust.
We returned back to the hotel for dinner and a free evening. Word is from the States that due to the blizzard on the East Coast, all flights are canceled until further notice. This means we will not be flying home tomorrow night. We plan to stay in Jerusalem until further notice. It’s even supposed to snow here tomorrow. We’ll wait and see.
DAY 9 – MONDAY, JANUARY 25
This was our last day here in Jerusalem. With a change of plans (with flights canceled and new hotel arrangements made for Tel Aviv tonight), we checked out of this hotel before loading on the bus. The weather would be rainy and cold, with even occasional snow. Uniquely, there were also even a few glimpses of blue sky and sun on occasion too.
Our first stop was the Garden Tomb. This is the most recent traditional site for the crucifixion and burial site of Christ. Here we saw the suggested tomb of Christ. We also shared in a brief Communion service.
From here we drove to the City of David excavations. We first saw a movie that helped connect the dot between the biblical events that took place here and the archaeology. We saw the primary area of excavation of David’s palace. We remembered the stories of David conquering the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5), and Hezekiah who withstood the Assyrian siege of the city (2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32). It was Hezekiah who chiseled out a 1,720 foot water tunnel. 4 in the group eventually would walk through this, while the others walked through the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. We also walked through “Warren’s Shaft.”
The Siloam Pool is located at the southern end of the City of David. Here we read (in dramatic form) the story of the blind man from John 9). From here, some walked through the Herodian drainage channel (under the Herodian street), while others bussed to the Davidson Center and the southern wall excavations. Here both groups converged at the SW corner of the Temple Mount. We saw the massive Herodian street and “Robinson’s Arch” (named after the explorer who discovered it in 1838). Finally, we ascended the Temple steps and considered the many stories from the New Testament that took place here (Mark 12; Luke 2, 19; John 7, 10; Acts 2 to name a few).
We ended the day by walking up to the Jewish Quarter for a late lunch and some last-minute shopping at Moshe’s. We returned to our Jerusalem hotel, loaded the bags, and drove to Jaffa for our farewell dinner. What a great “last supper” it was!
We then drove to the airport to confirm the flights home before checking in to a Tel Aviv hotel for a few hours sleep. The majority in the group anticipate flying home early tomorrow morning.
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 26: U.S.A.
Most in the group will arrive back in the States in the afternoon. What a great trip this was! Thanks be to God for the rich and life-changing experiences we had together!