Biblical Israel Tour Experiences of the 10 Day Pastor-Spouses Israel Trip
January 23 – Feb 1, 2017
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY-TUESDAY, JANUARY 23-24:
Our arrival day finally came for this pastor’s “FAM” trip to Israel. Unfortunately the flights we used were delayed for weather and/or mechanical issues. However, the flights eventually took off. Arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport about 10 hours later on Tuesday afternoon, we met Pastor John and Shlomo (our Israeli guide) once we went through Israeli customs and baggage.
Loading our luggage onto the bus (driven by David), we drove through Tel Aviv traffic to Netanya. After checking in, we enjoyed dinner together followed by an orientation meeting and a walk down to the Mediterranean Sea. The weather was still very pleasant, around 65.
We are looking forward to our first full day tomorrow!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25:
Today was our first full day here in Israel. The weather would be overcast most of the day, with highs in the 60s. Leaving the hotel around 7:40, we drove north to Caesarea. Located along the Med Sea coastline, this was a city built by King Herod in 22 BC. Sitting in the theater, we read from Acts 10 (Peter & Cornelius), Acts 12 (Herod Agrippa), and Acts 26 (Paul’s bold testimony). Walking from the theater to the rest of the excavations we also saw the palace, the “Pilate Inscription” (found in 1961 in the theater), the hippodrome, the Crusader city, and the harbor area. The Apostle Paul used this port several times.
Next, we ascended up to the top of Mt. Carmel, a mountain range that overlooks the Jexreel Valley. We read from 1 Kings 18 about Elijah defeating he prophets of Baal here. We also remembered the stories of Elisha (2 Kings 4), and the romantic words of Song of Songs 7. The view from the top of the chapel of the Jezreel Valley below was limited, but we could at least see the Nazareth Ridge (Luke 1,4), Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
After lunch at a nearby Druze restaurant, we drove down to the Jezreel Valley and visited Megiddo. After view a map of the region highlighting the importance of this ancient city as well as an archaeological model of the tel of Megiddo, we climbed the site together. We saw three gates (Canaanite and Israelite), Solomon’s “stables”, an Early Bronze altar, and an Israelite granary. We read from Revelation 16 and celebrated the victory we have in Christ when He returns! We left the site by descending down through the amazing water system.
Crossing the valley, Sepporis was our next visit. This was the primary Hellenistic-Jewish city in Jesus’ day. Here we saw beautiful mosaics, including the famous “Mona Lisa of the Galilee.” We also saw the Nilometer mosaic.
Our last stop was the Precipice of Nazareth. The view from here provided our last perspective of the Jezreel Valley. Once again we saw Mt. Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, and Mt. Gilboa. We read from Luke 4 about Jesus’ synagogue encounter. We also were invited to “come and see” Jesus anew (John 1). We enjoyed a time of quiet reflection.
Driving through Cana (John 2), we arrived at our hotel called Nof Ginnosar located on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. After checking in, we enjoyed dinner and a brief gathering down at the water’s edge.
It was a great first day!
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, JANUARY 26:
We spent the entire day around the Sea of Galilee. Once again greeted by sun and mild temps as we started the day, we began with Mt. Arbel. With another imagine Tours & Travel group (the TBA Church group from Lakeland, FL) joining us, many of us climbed this 800 foot mountain while others bussed to the top from the other side. The view from the top provided as an almost panoramic perspective of the Sea of Galilee below. We remembered a number of passages from the Gospels pertaining to the Sea of Galilee and the sharing of parables (e.g. Matthew 4 & 13).
Driving down through Tiberias, we arrived next at Magdala. This was where Mary Magdalene was from. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue from the time of Jesus (only one of seven found in Israel). No doubt Jesus taught here! We also enjoyed singing in the beautiful chapel. The acoustics were wonderful!
Next, Capernaum was our next site. This was the “ministry home base” for Jesus here in the Galilee. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue, we read from Mark 1,2, and 9; Luke 7; and John 6. Many events took place here. Here we also saw 1st century remains of stone houses as well as a 5th century Byzantine church. We enjoyed a quiet time on the shoreline as well.
After lunch, we saw the “Jesus Boat,” a 1st century boat found in 1986 in the mud of the shoreline of the lake. It was amazing to be able to picture Jesus and the disciples in this boat. From here we took our own boat ride on the lake. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives about Jesus calming the storm. It was a special time of reflection and worship.
Next, we drove to the southern end of the lake. Here, the southern end of the Jordan River begins. We saw a few people being baptized here. Close by is the Kinneret Cemetery where the famous “Rachel” (a Ukrainian Jew) was buried. She was an early pioneer who lived in Israel’s first kibbutz located here at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. She was born in 1890. She died in 1931.
We ended the day by driving back north to the Mt. of Beatitudes. We heard Matthew 5 read in both Hebrew and English. We spent a few moments of quiet reflecting upon this kingdom message of Jesus. With the sun setting, we walked down the path that leads down to the water’s edge.
Driving back to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner together and a free evening. It was a great day here in the Galilee!
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, JANUARY 27:
Today we left the Sea of Galilee area. On this day with a mix of sun, clouds, and rain, it was an amazing day of rainbows! We saw at least 4 or 5 different rainbows throughout the day.
Driving south down the Jordan River Valley about 20 miles from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, our first stop was the massive city of Beth Shean. We approached this OT & NT city from the north. The path took us from the farthest city gate to the top of the OT tel. The view of the Roman city below was breath-taking! Before seeing this incredible Roman city, we first read 1 Samuel 31. It was on the walls of Beth Shean that Saul’s body as hung (he died close on Mt. Gilboa). As we descended down to the Roman city, we saw may things, including Roman streets, pillars a bathhouse, a theater, and even a public latrine. It was probably a pagan Gentile city like this one where the Prodical Son went too before running back to his compassionate father.
Leaving Beth Shean, we continued south in the valley before taking a road to the west. We ascended into the Hill Country of Samaria/Ephraim. While driving we saw many shepherds on the hillsides with their goat and sheep (Mt. 25). We also recalled the stories of Abraham and Jacob at Shechem (Genesis 12, 34), Joshua at Mt. Gerazim and Mt Ebal (Josh. 8), and Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Sychar (John 4). The landscape was scenic, especially with the spectacular rainbows that appeared!
We arrived at Shiloh just before noon. We walked to the top of the tel and saw a movie presentation. It was here where the Tabernacle stood for 369 years. It was also here where Samuel heard the voice of God (1 Samuel 3). We walked down to the place where some suggest the Tabernacle once stood! We also remembered the words of warning by Jeremiah who mentions this place (Jer. 7).
Driving south, we past by Bethel (Genesis 12, 28), and Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14) before descending down into the Desert of Pareth (Jeremiah 13). We saw many gazelles here on the hillsides.
We finally arrived at Jericho. After lunch here, we walked to the top of the tel. Looking east, we could see Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34), and the crossing of the Jordan (Josh. 2). Jesus was also baptized in the Jordan here (John 1). We also saw where NT Jericho was located (Mk. 10, Luke 19). We also saw the double Canaanite retaining walls that Joshua saw. The mud-brick wall on top of this wall was the one that “came tumbling down!” We also experienced a very unique but brief driving rain and wind storm here as well another rainbow!
We ended the day by driving down to the southern end of the Dead Sea. Remarkably, it was even raining here. Some enjoyed floating in the Dead Sea pool at the hotel prior to dinner together.
DAY 6- SATURDAY, JANUARY 28:
The morning started with a later check-out time. This allowed the group to enjoy floating on the Dead Sea before breakfast. Today would be a very unique weather day here in this area We had sun, rain, cool temps (50s) and a number of unbelievable full (and double) rainbows.
Prior to breakfast a few floated in the Dead Sea. After breakfast we left the hotel at 9:15 and drove north to Masada. As we drove, we read from Psalm 18:1-2 which refers to God as our metzada (“fortress”). At Masada, we road the cable car to the top. We saw many things, including the southern cistern, the palace, the Roman ramp, and the bathhouse. To the north appeared our first rainbow of the day. Five in the group walked down the Snake Path to the bottom (1.2 miles, descending 1,000 feet).
With the road now open (it was closed due to flash floods), we drove further north to Engedi. Walking up the canyon, we read from Song of Songs 1 (“henna blossoms from Engedi”), 2 Chronicles 20 (the “ascent of Ziz”), and 1 Samuel 24 (David hiding in a cave from Saul). Because of the fear of flash floods, we were only able to walk to the first water falls. Along the way, we saw 30-40 ibex and a few coneys (Psalm 104).
Located towards the northern end of the Dead Sea, Qumran was the next stop. On the way, we saw another rainbow. Over the lunch hour, six in the group hiked to Cave 1. It was here where the first scrolls were found in 1947 (including the famous Isaiah Scroll). At the site of Qumran, we saw the ruins that date back to 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. We read from “Psalm 151” (an extra psalm of David found here) as well as Psalm 19. We celebrated the preservation and sacredness of God’s Word. Upon leaving, a double rainbow appeared again over the Dead Sea.
On our drive to Jerusalem (ascending 4,000 feet), we enjoyed a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt. We heard the words of Isaiah 40. Shlomo also sang Psalm 23.
Upon arriving to Jerusalem, we checked in and enjoyed dinner together. Following dinner we walked to the Western Wall, the most holy area for Jews today! It was amazing to see!
We are looking forward to the next three days here in Jerusalem!
DAY 7- SUNDAY, JANUARY 29:
We awoke today to a wonderful sunny day. Although the air was cool (high 40s), it provided very clear visibilities. We left the hotel shortly after 7:30. Circling the Old City of Jerusalem (with walls dating to 1537 AD), we drove up the Mt. of Olives. Here we got our first panoramic view of the Old City and Temple Mount. Walking down the western slope of the Mt. of Olives we stopped at the Dominus Flavet chapel. Here we read from Luke 19 about the Palm Sunday event and Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We also recalled His ascension (Luke 24, Acts 1) as well as His return on the Mt. of Olives (Zech. 14).
Continuing our walk further down the slope we stopped at a special place connection with the Garden of Gethsemane. We read from Luke 22 and enjoyed some quiet time of reflection. It was here where Jesus said, “Not my will but Yours be done.” It was also here where Jesus was betrayed by Judas.
From here we walked across the Kidron Valley to the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lions & Jericho Gate). We saw the Eastern Gate (Ezekiel 44) which has been closed shut since 810 AD. Entering the Old City, we enjoyed singing in a Crusader church called St. Anne’s Church. The acoustics produce an echo of about 8 seconds. On the same grounds is the Pool of Bethesda. We read John 5 about the lame man being healed here.
Walking through the Muslim and Christian Quarters, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is one of to suggested places for the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. Inside we saw an example of a 2nd Temple tomb dating to the time of Christ.
After lunch in the Christian Quarter, we walked out of the Jaffa Gate and drove southeast about 8 miles to Herodium. This was where King Herod was buried when he died in 4 BC. Climbing this palace-fortress, we enjoyed a spectacular view of the area. The clear skies enabled us to see Jerusalem to the north, Bethlehem to the east, and the Judean Desert & Dead Sea to the east. We descended down through the cistern system. Through glass, we also were able to see the Herodian frescos.
In Beit Sahour (an eastern suburb of Bethlehem), we enjoyed singing Christmas carols in a cave in the Shepherds’ Fields. We also sang in the Chapel of the Shepherds. We read from Luke 2 and Galatians 4:4 (“for just at the right time God sent His Son…”).
We ended the day in Bethlehem at an olive wood shop and store. This shop and store is owned by Palestinian Christians. We returned to our hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda to get a taste of some Israeli modern life. We even stopped in briefly at the King David Hotel to see the famous “signature floor.”
DAY 8 – MONDAY, JANUARY 30:
Today was another sunny day, with highs in the low 50s. Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, our first destination was the Western Wall. This is the most holy place for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The wall actually served as a retaining wall used by Herod the Great to expand the Temple Mount. It was a building project that started in 20 BC. After going down to the wall for prayer, we walked through the Western Wall Tunnel (also called the “Rabbinical Tunnel”). We stood amazed at how large some of these stones were (the “Master Course” is nearly 600 tons). We remembered the words of the disciples who were similarly amazed at “such massive and beautiful stones…” (Mark 13, Luke 21).
Walking up to the Jewish Quarter, we visited the Burnt House. This was a house destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. A spear and the skeleton arm of a woman were found here.
Nearby we enjoyed a 40 minute conversation with Moshe, and Orthodox Jew. In his store (Shorashim), Moshe shared about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting to listen to him share.
Walking out of the Zion’s Gate and meeting David and our bus outside the Old City, we drove to the Israel Museum. After lunch here, we saw three things. First, a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem is displayed here. Connecting the dots with the events of Jesus’ life, the model provided a great image of what the city looked like in the days of the New Testament. Displayed in the model included such things like the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), Solomon’s Porch (John 10; Acts 3,5), Pool of Siloam (John 9), the Temple courts and steps, Herod’s palace (Luke 23), and the two suggested places for Christ’s crucifixion and burial. Next, we walked through the Shrine of the Book. This is where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed. Lastly, we walked through the archaeological wing of the museum where we saw some of the artifact highlights (e.g. Dan & Pilate Inscriptions, The Hazor and Arad cultic center, Moses’ seat, ossuaries, and Herod’s sarcophagus.
We ended the day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial. We visited the Valley of the Communities, the Children’s memorial, and the museum. We also heard Shlomo’s family story (he lost 12 family members from Vilna, Poland).
We drove back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner and a free evening together.
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JANUARY 31:
Today was our last day of the tour. The weather was partly sunny in the morning but overcast with rain by the afternoon. Leaving at 8 a.m., we drove to the north side of the Old City to the Garden Tomb. This location serves as the alternative place for the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. After touring the beautiful grounds here, we enjoyed a time of worship and communion together. We read from John 19 and 20. We all enjoyed Pastor Don’s song he wrote!
From here we boarded the bus and drove to the City of David. This was where Old Testament Jerusalem as located. The city was captured by David from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). We saw some of the excavations here, including David’s palace. Walking through Warren’s Shaft (originally thought to be the “water shaft” through which David infiltrated the city), we arrived at the huge water stone tower and the Gihon Spring, the source of water for this city since its beginning. Here we walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is a 1,720 foot tunnel cut out of bedrock. It’s mentioned in 2 Kings 19-20 and 2 Chronicles 32 (also Isaiah 8:6 and 36-37). Some in the group walked the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. It was an amazing experience! With both groups converging at the Pool of Siloam, we read John 9 in “dramatic fashion” at the steps of this ancient pool. Jesus sent the man-born-blind here to wash his eyes.
Our last archaeological area to visit was the south wall excavations of the 2nd Temple. To get there, some in the group walked up through the Herodian drainage channel that lead up to the SW corner of the Temple. Others bussed there. The SW corner of the Temple was most likely where Jesus was tempted. It was also the “place of trumpeting” according to the inscription found here. We also could see huge stones of the Temple that were toppled by the Romans in 70 AD. Walking over to the southern steps of the Temple, this was where Jesus, the disciples, and the apostles entered the Temple. We remembered the passages that recorded the many who used these steps (Luke 2, 19, and 21; Mark 12, 13; John 10; Acts 2,3, and 5).
Walking to the Jewish Quarter for a late lunch on our own, we enjoyed some free time in the mid-afternoon. We then met the bus outside Zion’s Gate again, and returned to the hotel to freshen up.
Following our farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant (Olives & Fish), we bussed to the airport for our night flight home.
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 1: U.S.A.
We arrived safely home. What a life-changing trip this was! For the pastors who were part of the group, their preaching and teaching will never be the same! Praise be to God!