Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from July, 2013
July 8-18, with Jordan Extension from July 18-21
DAY 1 & 2: MONDAY and TUESDAY, JULY 8 & 9
The day finally arrived for our Christian Israel Tour. With all but three of us meeting at the Philadelphia Airport, we boarded the plane that took us to Tel Aviv, Israel. This night flight took us directly to Israel. Arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport, we passed through passport customs before being being met by our agency representatives as well as Shlomo our guide and Musbah, our driver.
With all our luggage loaded on the bus, we made a brief stop first in Jaffa (Joppa) where we made reference to the stories of Jonah and Peter. Reading from Acts 9 & 10, we stood on the rooftop and viewed the ancient harbor line below. We also had our first full view of the Tel Aviv coastline.
We arrived at our hotel, the Herod’s, located right on the beach. Some enjoyed swimming in the warm waters of the Med Sea and the gorgeous sunset before a wonderful first dinner together. An “orientation” meeting took place following dinner, with some taking a walk to absorb a little taste of modern-Israeli culture.
We are all looking forward to our first full day tomorrow.
DAY 3: WEDNESDAY, JULY 10
We started this first full day anxious to begin seeing biblical sites. Some woke up early (because of jetlag), with others getting out to the beach for a pre-breakfast stroll along the Med shoreline. Following breakfast, we packed up the bus and headed south west to the first site of Beth Shemesh. Reading 1 Samuel 6 on top of the “tel” (ancient mound) about how the Ark of the Covenant was returned by the Philistines here, we collected some pottery samples and took a peak into one of the cisterns used during OT times. From here we headed south to the Elah Valley and the site of Azekah. Viewing the valley below, we shared the story of David vs. Goliath. It was here where God provided victory for the Israelites through the bravery of “shepherd-boy” David.
The next site was Mareshah, Beit Guvrin. We entered the Columbarium (pigeon cave) as well as the Bell Cave. Micah 1 and 5 was read here. We also sang, with Shlomo, our Israeli guide, providing a song on his recorder.
Following lunch, we continued south to Lachish, a city attacked by the Assyrians and later destroyed by the Babylonians. The walls and gate structure was impressive to see. From here, we drove into the heart of the Negev and to the site of Beersheba. We read from Genesis 21 and Psalm 23 about God’s “cup” of goodness overflowing still to us today. Driving eastward across this northern region of the Negev we arrived at Arad, an impressive Canaanite and later Israelite city. We read from 2 Chronicles 34 about Josiah’s reforms.
We ended the day by driving to our “Bedouin tent” dwelling located at the edge of the Judean Desert. We enjoyed the camel rides, “family style” dinner, and a time of praise and fellowship around the campfire. Before retiring for the night, most of us enjoyed gazing up to the abundance of stars, recalling the promises made to Abraham.
What a great first full day!
DAY 4: THURSDAY, JULY 11
We began this second full day early, with a 6 a.m. wake-up and 6:30 breakfast. Leaving around 7:30, we headed eastward to Masada, the “fortress” of the Judean Desert. Uniquely, we climbed the Roman ramp on the western side of this fortress built by King Herod. We saw few of the primary structures on top, before descending the eastern side by cable car. A few of us walked down the Snake Path to the bottom.
Driving northward along the Dead Sea, We arrived at Ein Gedi. Here, we hiked back to one of the water falls, with a few of us enjoying the refreshing water. It was here that David hid from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). Further north was the site of Qumran. It as here where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written.
After lunch we enjoyed some time floating in the Dead Sea and its highly salty waters. Even though it was very hot here, what a great experience. From here we drove to the northern edge of the Dead Sea to the site Jericho where the “walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6).” We end the day by driving north in the Jordan Valley to the Sea of Galilee which we make our home for the next three nights at a kibbutz called Nof Ginnosar. Some enjoyed a quick swim in the Sea of Galilee before dinner. We also shared in an optional gathering along the quiet shores of this lake called in Hebrew, Kinneret. It was a beautiful time of fellowship. While covering a lot of distance today, it was another wonderful day of interacting with God’s Word and the stories of the Bible.
DAY 5: FRIDAY, JULY 12
What a great first day here in the Galilee. We start the day by driving to the Mt. of Beatitudes. Located on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee, we sat down at the top of a natural theater where Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount probably took place. We read portions of Matthew 5. We walked down to the lake’s edge, recalling his kingdom parables he shared (e.g. from Matthew 13). From here we headed north in the Golan for rafting down the Jordan River. We enjoyed gently floating down the river together. It as a relaxing and peaceful time.
Following lunch and staying in this area for most of the afternoon, we next visited Dan, one of Israel’s most beautiful national parks. We walked the length of this forest preserve. This is where the Jordan River begins. From here it flows southward into the Sea of Galilee. The nature path heads directly into the archaeological site of Dan. We read from Judges 18 and I Kings 12 about the corrupted worship that took place here. Close by is the city of Banias, also called Caesarea Philippi. We read from Matthew 16 that includes the question asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” It was probably also here where the transfiguration of Jesus took place (Mt. 17). We visited the grotto area of the site.
We returned to the Sea of Galilee area to visit Capernaum. We sat in the synagogue and read from Mark 1 & 2 as well as other passages (Luke 7, John 6) relating to this “ministry base” of Jesus.
We ended the day with an hour-long boat ride. We enjoyed singing together as well as reading the storm narratives of how Jesus calmed the lake. The experience on the boat was both fun and inspirational.
We returned to Nof Ginnosar for dinner and another enjoyable time together sitting on the shores of Galilee.
DAY 6: SATURDAY, JULY 13
It was another beautiful day here in the Galilee. We began the day by visiting Arbel, the mountain/cliff that overlooks the NW corner of the lake below. About a third of the group left at 7 a.m. in order to climb to the top. The trail winds around the cliff until it ascends the top cliff part to the top. The rest of the group approached Arbel from the other side, hiking the last part of it to the top. What a great view! Leaving Arbel, we headed to the north once again into the Golan Heights. On the way, we stopped at Magdala. We were able to actually walk out to the current excavation and stand in the 1st century synagogue recently discovered here (only one of seven found in Israel). It was thrilling to consider that perhaps Jesus Himself once stood and taught in this synagogue! Leaving Magdala, our drove to Qatzrin, a Talmudic village from the 3-5th centuries located in the eastern Golan Heights. Here we saw a reconstructed house that must have been similar to the house mentioned in Mark 2, the story of the lame man being lowered through the roof to Jesus. We drove further north for lunch in a Druze village.
Following lunch, we headed to Bental, an old military site located on the top of an extinct volcano. From here we looked into southern Syria, specifically into the town of Kuneitra. Shlomo shared with us the strategic importance of the Golan Heights to Israel’s security on this northern border. We walked through old trenches and bunkers.
We returned to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee for our baptismal service, stopping along the way for a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee from this eastern side. A few actually saw a wild boar from this overview called the Shalom Vista. Arriving at Yardenit, 16 were baptized in the Jordan River. It was a special time for all.
Before we returned to our hotel, we made one last stop at the Kinneret Cemetery. Here we heard the story of Rachel, an early pioneer from the Ukraine. The evening was an enjoyable one, with swimming and a casual dinner together.
We all are looking forward to arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow night!
DAY 7: SUNDAY, JULY 14
This is the day that we leave for Jerusalem. Prior to leaving the hotel, we visited the ancient boat that was found right here on the grounds by two brothers in 1986. Leaving the Sea of Galilee region, we traveled to the Lower Galilee to the site of Sepporis. This was a dominating Jewish city located only 4 miles from Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. Here we saw beautiful mosaics, a Roman villa, and theater. Close by is the precipice of Nazareth. This was our first view of the Jezreel Valley. From here we saw Mt. Tabor (Judges 4 & 5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 7), and Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We also saw the modern city of Nazareth as well, the hometown of Jesus. We read from Luke 4 about Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue here.
Driving across the valley we came to Megiddo, an impressive Canaanite and Israelite city that guarded one of the three entrances/natural passes from the south/southwest. Megiddo’s archaeological ruins include about two dozen levels of occupation. We saw various gate structures, a grain bin dating to the time of Jeroboam, and a water system. We climbed down 180 steps and walked through the water tunnel before climbing 80 steps up on the other side.
After lunch (at a Druze falafel resturaunt again), we drove to the top of the Mt. Carmel range called Muhraqa. Here at this Carmelite chapel we sang a few songs, enjoying the acoustics, as well as read from 1 Kings 18 about the story of Elijah. The view from the view was hazy, but still quite impressive.
Our last stop of the day was Caesarea, a large Herodian city on the coastline of the Med Sea. We saw the palace area, hippodrome, the theater, and the aqueduct. We mentioned the stories about Peter and Paul (Acts 10 & 26) and spoke of their boldness.
Our drive to Jerusalem was delayed by a car accident and heavy traffic, but we arrive in time for a late dinner. A few enjoyed an optional walk on the promenade that heads south of the city.
It’s great to be in Jerusalem and we are looking forward to the next 3 days here!
DAY 8: MONDAY, JULY 15
Greeted by another sunny day but with cooler temperatures here in Jerusalem, our day started with a 7:30 a.m. departure for the Mt. of Olives. Driving to the top, we first viewed the Holy City in all its splendor in the context of the millennia of history that took place here. From here we walked down the Palm Sunday route, reading from Luke 19. We also reflected upon the truth of Zechariah 14 and the prophecy of the Messiah’s return.
After stopping at Domius Flavet, the church of the “weeping,” we continued to descend to the Garden of Gethsemane. We spent some quiet moments of reflection of Christ’s agony in this garden on the western slope of the Mt. of Olives.
From here we entered the Old City through the Lion’s/St. Stephen’s Gate. Right inside the Old City on this eastern side is the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). In addition to seeing the remains of the 5 columns of the pool, we enjoyed singing in the church of St. Anne’s. The echo in this virtually intact Crusader church lasts almost 10 seconds long. From here we started the walk on the traditional Via Dolorosa. We stopped at the Sisters of Zion to see the lithostrotos (stone pavement) mentioned in John 19. While this pavement dates to the time of Hadrian (2nd century AD), it was a quiet time of reflecting on Jesus’ trial before Pilate. We then walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the heart of the Christian Quarter, the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
Following eating lunch nearby, we left the Old City through the Jaffa Gate. We traveled southeast to Herodium, one of Herod’s palace/fortresses. We climbed this artificial mountain and were impressed with the massive structures. The view from here is spectacular as well, allowing us to see Bethlehem to the west, Jerusalem to the north, and the Desert of Judea and even the Dead Sea to the east. The highlight of the visit was being able to get a sneak peak of Herod’s burial chamber that as being prepared from display sometime in the future. Wow, what a treat!!
Our next visit was the Shepherds’ Fields. We entered a cave and enjoyed a time of reflection and singing Christmas carols. We then drove to the Church of Nativity, a church built in 325 AD. Being the only group here, we had the whole church to ourselves. We even saw the grotto in the cave below. Before leaving Bethlehem for our hotel, we stopped and shopped at an olive wood store.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to the Western Wall. What a night it was, seeing the wall lit on the evening of Tisha B-av, a day of remembering the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The Kotel (the Western Wall plaza) was filled with people. We returned to the hotel and retired for the night.
DAY 9: TUESDAY, JULY 16
A cool morning breeze greeted us as we boarded the bus this morning. We headed to western Jerusalem, with our first visit of the morning the Israel Museum. We started by viewing a 1:50 model of Jerusalem as it would have looked like just prior to the destruction of the city in 70 AD. It was fascinating to specifically see the Temple courts and other features of the city that Jesus would have known. Also on the grounds is the Shrine of the Book where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.
Nearby is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. It is ranked the in the top 4 museums worldwide. We heard Shlomo’s personal stories about his family in Poland. We walked through the Children’s Memorial, after which we visited the museum itself on our own. The display was excellent!
After lunch we drove back towards the Old City and visited the City of David excavations. We saw the remains of what as most-likely David’s palace, Warren’s Shaft, and the area Pastor John excavated 30+ years ago. Most also walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot tunnel cut out of the bedrock for the purpose of bringing water into the city. It was so much fun! With the tunnel exiting at the Pool of Siloam, we read from John 9 about the story of the blind man healed by Jesus. From this southern point of the ancient city, we then walked back up to the SW corner of the Temple Mount through the drainage channel. Like moles, we exited onto the Herodian street below Robinson’s Arch (and archway used by priests). We also visited the southern excavations and the actual temple steps. We referred to a number of passages pertaining to the life and ministry of Jesus here, as well as the Acts 2 story of Pentecost and Peter’s Pentecost message delivered probably here.
We ended the day by driving back to the Israel Museum to visit the archaeological section. Here we were fascinated by the new display of King Herod as well as highlights of artifacts from all over the Israel. Seeing all these artifacts from the sites we visited really helped in connecting the dots between the Bible and the world of archaeology.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free night to rest or explore on our own.
DAY 10: WEDNESDAY, JULY 17
The day started a bit earlier this morning. We left the hotel at 7 a.m. and headed straight to the Western Wall for our reservation to go through the Western Wall Tunnel (also called the Rabbinical Tunnel). While waiting, a number of the group went to the prayer area of the Wall. We actually walked parallel to this western retaining wall of the Herodian Temple, seeing the massive stones still laying on top of the other along the way.
Leaving the Old City, we drove to the Garden Tomb located just north of the Damascus Gate. This is the alternative site for the place of crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We also enjoyed a Communion service together.
After a brief lunch stop at the Ramat Rachel kibbutz overlooking Bethlehem, we left Jerusalem for the afternoon and drove westward to the Ayalon Valley. In the heart of this valley is the city of Gezer. It was a Canaanite city taken by Joshua (but not fully conquered), but later rebuilt and fortified by Solomon. Here we read from 1 Kings 9 and saw a replica of the Gezer Calendar as well as the Middle Bronze and Solomonic gate.
Our next stop was the Ayalon Institute, a kibbutz well known for its secret bullet factory in the 1940’s just prior to Israel’s statehood. Primary used by the Haganah (the pre-state paramilitary organization during the British Mandate and in the War of Independence in 1948-49), this kibbutz established an underground bullet factory, producing an average of 7,000 bullets each day, or a total of over 2 million 9 mm bullets (used in Israel’s version of the sten sub-machine gun) over the course of 3 years. Amazingly, the factory produced these bullets underneath the kibbutz’s laundry and baking rooms. On our way back towards Jerusalem we made a brief stop at Emmaus. We read the Emmaus Road story from Luke 24 and paused to appreciate Christ’s resurrection.
We returned to Jerusalem for dinner. Our optional walk tonight took us by taxi to the top of the Mt. of Olives to see the Temple Mount lit at night. We then walked back to the hotel, passing by the Western Wall once again on our way back. Some of us stopped at the Jerusalem’s old Railroad Station, located near our hotel, for frozen yogart and a cool drink.
We look forward to our free day in Jerusalem tomorrow. For those not doing the Jordan extension, it will be the last day before flying home tomorrow night.
DAY 11: THURSDAY, JULY 18
Today was our free day of leisure. Many of us left at 8:30 while others slept in a bit and adventured out on their own. The day was filled with exploring in and around the Old City. Some of the sites visited were the Upper room, Oscar Shindler’s grave (both on Mt. Zion), the Holy Sepulcher (as well as other churches along the Via Dolorosa), the Rampart Walk (walking on the Turkish walls built by Suliman, the Great in 1537 AD), the Lutheran tower (for a complete 360 view of the Old City) to name a few of our experiences. We also visited Shoreshim, a store owned by two Canadian Orthodox Jewish brothers. We enjoyed listening to Moshe who shared about his Jewish faith in comparison to our Christian faith. “People watching” and shopping in the Jewish and Christian Quarters was a fun experience as well.
We returned to the hotel in the afternoon. We enjoyed our farewell dinner at the Olives & Fish Restaurant in walking distance of our hotel. After dinner, we said goodbye to those who are flying home tonight, while those who are going to into Jordan tomorrow enjoyed another optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street and another stop at the old train station.
Praise be to God for His strength, inspiration, and life-transforming experiences!
DAY 12: FRIDAY, JULY 19
We depart this morning from our hotel in Jerusalem on our way to the Allenby border crossing into Jordan at 7:30. We proceeded to the border without a problem and without much of a line at all. After passport departure on the Israeli side, we loaded our Jordanian bus and headed to meet “Mo,” our Jordanian guide. After getting our Jordanian visa stamped in our passports, we headed to the site called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Here we walked through the tamarisk trees to the Byzantine archaeological ruins that suggest that this was the area where Jesus was baptized (John 1 mentions this location). We walked down to the Jordan River, with the Israeli side just 25 feet on the other side of the river. In this area, we also read from 2 Kings 2 about Elijah ascent to heaven in a chariot.
Our next stop was Mt. Nebo. Located high above the Jordan Valley below, our small bus climbed to the top for us. Here we recalled the story of Moses and Joshua. We read of Moses’ death here (Dt. 34) and the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua’s leadership (Joshua 1). Although hazy, we could see the northern end of the Dead Sea as well as the Jericho area directly west. We boarded the bus and visited a mosaic shop. It is quite amazing to learn and see how much time and effort goes into making a mosaic.
Nearby is Medeba. We learned about and saw the famous Medeba Map that dates to the 6th century AD. This ancient map served as the floor of the St. George’s church today, offering a map of the region. This mosaic map also depicts Jerusalem, with the Cardo, the Damascus Gate, and the Holy Sepulcher Church among other structures being easily identifiable.
We re-boarded our bus and head south on the Desert Highway, on our way to Petra. We stopped in Karak for a rest stop before arriving in Wadi Musa, the 45,000 community located just outside the entrance into the archaeological site of Petra. We enjoyed dinner together, with some of us briefly walking around the some of the streets around the hotel. We retired early in preparation for a full day in Petra tomorrow. Lots of walking awaits us, but we’re excited to see this seven wonders of the world site here in the heart of the Seir Mountains, the land of the Edomites.
(pictures are limited because of internet speed)
DAY 13: SATURDAY – JULY 20
We start the tour of Petra at 8 a.m. After getting our tickets, we began our walk into the site. We can already see the high mountain peaks around us, with one of them being the traditional location for the burial place of Aaron, Moses’ brother. We entered the Siq, and walked through this canyon that took us to the famous first monument, the Treasury or Al-Khazneh. It is a dramatic amazing site! It’s the Treasury that appears in the last Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade.
From here the site of Petra opens up. We walked further down and began to see some of the many Nabataean tombs and burial chambers. There are over 1,000 of them through the site. We walked past the 3000 seat theater from the early 1st century AD that is carved in the sand stone mountains of Petra at the bottom of the High place of Sacrifice Mountain. The royal tombs, specifically the Urn Tomb, can be seen high above the canyon floor.
We continued walking down the Roman street of Petra, visiting with a Bedouin family. From here, we began the walk to the Monastery Tomb of Petra located on the western edge of the site. What a magnificent tomb! From here we looked westward into the southern Negev of Israel.
After returning to the Roman street, a few of us began the second optional walk, to the High Place of Petra. This walk was equally unique, seeing many tombs along the way. The view from the High Place was spectacular.
We all returned back to the hotel at different times. Some of us took a dip in the swimming pool. After watching the sunset over the Seir mountains, we enjoyed dinner together.
Most of us spent around 8 hours in this ancient red-rose city. What a great day here at Petra!
DAY 14: SUNDAY – JULY 21
This last full day was a good one. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we loaded the bus and headed north. We stopped again in Karak for a short break on the way to the Allenby Bridge border crossing. Once we arrived, the crossing took longer than usual, but with not much difficulty.
We met Shlomo on the Israeli side. We loaded the bus once again and headed to Jericho for a brief lunch stop. From here we made a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qilt, giving us a wonderful perspective of the Judean Wilderness below. Shlomo sang Psalm 23 in Hebrew, with Isaiah 40 also being read.
We headed west to Jaffa, where the tour began, for our farewell dinner. Oh my, was it a great zillion-course dinner! Arriving at the airport at about 8:20, we began the procedure of checking in. It went rather smoothly.
While the flight out of Tel Aviv was delayed for 2+ hours, causing most of us to miss our connecting flights in Phila, we are so grateful for the opportunity God provided for us to explore the land of the Bible together! What a great group God brought together!
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