Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from July, 2015 – 13 Day Israel Tour
Individual Photos of Tour Members
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY – MONDAY, JULY 12-13
The day for our Christian Israel Tour to begin finally arrived. God brought together a group of 19 for this trip. Uniquely, most everyone for this tour booked their own airfare. Most in the group traveled on an overnight flight to Tel Aviv, while others flew into Israel a day or two ahead. 10 of us were greeted by Shlomo, our Israeli guide, at the airport. After going through passport control and picking up our luggage, we loaded up the bus and drove directly to our hotel, the Leonardo. Located in Bat Yam (“Daughter of the Sea”) right on the Med Sea, we gathered at 7:30 for our “orientation meeting” that we enjoyed on the beach. The sunset was beautiful! We then enjoyed our first dinner together. Following dinner, most in the group enjoyed a walk on the beach while others retired for the evening.
Together we thank God for traveling mercies as well as the opportunity to be in His land! We are looking forward to a good night’s sleep and a great first full day tomorrow!
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, JULY 14
Today was our first full day here in Israel. Sunny and mild temperatures greeted us. Today’s highs were in the mid 90’s. It as actually comfortable, with a great breeze and low humidity.
After a great breakfast, we loaded the bus and left the coastal region for the Shephelah or “Lowlands” of Judah. Our first site was Gezer located in the Ajalon Valley. It was a city taken by Joshua (Joshua 10), but later controlled by Canaanites. The city was eventually taken by the Egyptians, and given to Solomon and his wife (Pharaoh’s daughter, see 1 Kings 9). Here we saw a Middle Bronze (Canaanite) tower and “chambered gate” complex as well as a later chambered gate built by King Solomon. We also saw Gezer’s famous “standing stones” (messebot) that we probably used as a cultic high place. We also read form Ecclesiastes 3 in light of the “Gezer Calendar” found here.
Next we traveled south to the next valley in the Shephelah, the Sorek Valley. Beth Shemesh is located here. We read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from Philistine territory (they had 5 primary cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath).
Continuing south to the Elah Valley, we did something never done with any past groups – we visited the recent excavations of Kh. Qeiyafa. This was a 10th century fortified city. It had two gates (Shaaraim) and was completely walled. After David (our driver) remarkably drove us near to the top of the “tel” (ancient mound) on a very bumpy dirt road near, we saw the ruins of this city (e.g. the two gates, city wall, and cultic room). From this perfect view of the Elah Valley, we read the David vs. Goliath story (1 Samuel 17).
Before lunch we visited the “bell caves” at Maresha/Beit Guvrin. Here we heard Shlomo play his recorder, taking advantage of the great acoustics. We also sang a few worship songs together. After visiting here, we ate lunch (our first “falafel”) at a nearby gas station.
The last site in the Shephelah was Lachish. Here we saw the double walls of this city, the gate area (where the “Lachish Letters” were found), and the Israelite palace (Rehoboam’s?). The city was invaded by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians. We read from Jeremiah 34:7, a Biblical reference that matches perfectly with Lachish Letter #4. Archaeology once again verifies the historicity of the Bible.
Leaving the lowlands, we drove another 40 minutes to the Negev and to the site of Beersheba. At the city well, we read from Genesis 21 about the “treaty” made here by Abraham. From Psalm 23, we rejoiced that God is our good “shepherd.” We also saw another city gate, ruins of a typical “4 room Israelite house,” the “horned altar” (replica) and the cistern sytem.
Driving into modern Beersheba. Arriving at our hotel, we enjoyed some relaxation (at the pool) before dinner and a meeting.
It was a great first full day here in Israel.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, JULY 15:
Today was our second full day here. It was a sunny and hot day today but bearable, with highs around 100 later in the afternoon. After a great breakfast and checking out, we first drove south to Sde Boker, the tomb of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister in 1948. The tomb overlooks the Wilderness of Zin (mentioned in Numbers 13. The 12 spies would have come through this area en route to the Hill Country to the north. This Zin canyon was spectacular to see as we then drove into the majestic canyon and hiked to the water falls. It was amazing to see such much water in such a “dry and weary land” (Psalm 63). Most in the group continued the hike that led us above the water falls. We then ascended the canyon to the rim on the other side.
Leaving the Zin, we then drove back north to the ancient tel of Arad. Arad is located east of Beersheba in the northern Negev. Here we saw the “Early Bronze” or Canaanite city that dates to about 1,500 years before Moses (Numbers 15). Joshua would later conquer it as part of his 31 city Conquest (Joshua 12). The city was later inhabited by Israelites in the 11th century BC. King Hezekiah as well as Josiah both brought reform to Judah by destroying the “high places.” Here at Arad there was a temple that most likely Josiah destroyed at the end of the 7th century BC.
After eating lunch in the modern city of Arad, we drove east on the windy roads of the Judean Desert. Our destination was Masada, on of King Herod’s fortresses and later a place of refuge by zealots after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. We hiked the “Roman ramp” to the top. We then visited the southern cistern, the royal and northern palace, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. Unfortunately the Snake Path was closed (due to the heat index), so all of us took the cable car down.
Driving 15 minutes south, we checked into the Daniel Hotel along the Dead Sea. We enjoyed a “float” in this unique body of water (33% salt/minerals). We ended the night with dinner and a free night.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, JULY 16:
Today was another predictable sunny and warm day, with high temps along the Dead Sea was a dry 105 (cooler this afternoon as we headed north). After checking out of our hotel in Ein Bokek (Dead Sea resort area), our first stop was Engedi. Here we read from Song of Songs 1 (“henna blossoms of Engedi…”), 2 Chronicles 20 (“Ascent of Ziz”) and 1 Samuel 24 (Saul and David’s “cave encounter”). We hiked back to the tall third falls, enjoying the water as we went.
Continuing north along the western shore of the Dead Sea, our next stop was Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written and preserved here in 11 caves. We saw the archaeological site as well as read from Psalm 19 and “Psalm 151” (an extra psalm found here). We also drove along the cliff area and hiked to Cave 11 (where the famous “Temple Scroll” was found). It was neat to literally in one of the caves where the scrolls were found.
Jericho was our next visit. First, we visited the site. We could look east across the Jordan River and see Mt. Nebo. We also saw the oldest stone tower to be found as well as the double wall of the city. It was on top of the stone revetment wall where a mud-brick wall was placed. It is this part of the wall that “came tumblin’ down.” We rejoiced in the historicity of the Bible! Following the visit of the site, we enjoyed lunch here.
Ascending west towards Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt and the Judean Desert. We read from Isaiah 40 and heard Shlomo sing Psalm 23 in Hebrew. The view was spectacular!
Driving north through the Samaritan mountains, we finally came to Shiloh. The Ark of the Covenant was here for 369 years. We visited the site as well as saw a great presentation of the stories related to Shiloh. We read from I Samuel 3 and Jeremiah 7.
We ended the day by driving almost two hours north through the hill country of Ephraim. On the way we saw a many sheep and goats grazing on the hillsides as well as four gazelles.
We finally reach the Sea of Galilee (the “Kinneret”) and Nof Ginnosar, our “home” for the next three nights. We enjoyed dinner together as well as a brief gathering out on the water’s edge, enjoying a beautiful evening! It was another great day!
DAY 6 – FRIDAY, JULY 17
Today was a day spent around the Sea of Galilee. Under a sunny ski and warm temps again (90 or so, very pleasant with an afternoon breeze), we began our day by visiting the cliffs of Arbel. Nine in the group hiked to the top while the rest of the group drove to the top from the other side. This is one of the best views of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus spend most of his ministry time in this area, and from the top, it’s a great view of the region.
Next we drove to Magdala. Here we saw the 1st century AD synagogue. Even though not mentioned in the Gospels, Jesus must have taught here. We visited the new chapel built on the grounds, enjoying the reading of Mathew 13 and singing.
Staying on this NW corner of the lake, we next visited Chorazim, one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Luke 10). We read Matthew 23 from within the 3rd century AD synagogue made from basalt.
Finally before lunch, we visited Capernaum, the “ministry home-town” of Jesus. It was here where He first called His disciples. He also displayed His authority (“s’mekah”) here through His teaching, healing, and forgiving of sin. We read from Mark 1, 2, and nine; Luke 7; and John 6.
After a great “St. Peter’s fish” lunch, we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to Yardenit. Seven chose to re-affirm their faith by getting baptized in the Jordan River. It was a special time! Close by we visited the Kinneret Cemetery where we heard of the life story of a certain “Rachel, the Poet.”
We ended the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and a visit to the Mt. of Beatitudes. It was very windy on the lake, making reading Mark 4 and Matthew 14 (the “storm narratives” very real!). We enjoyed a time of worship on the boat as well. On the Mt. of Beatitudes, we heard Matthew 5 read in Hebrew. We also talked about God’s kingdom. We walked down the path to the shoreline of the lake.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and an optional gathering on the beach of the lake. Some went swimming too. It was a special way to end another great day here in Israel.
DAY 7 – SATURDAY, JULY 18
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights on this sunny and cooler day (highs in upper 80s). Leaving our hotel on the NW corner of the lake, we headed to the NE corner and began to ascend our climb. First, we stopped overlooking the plains of Bethsaida. We read from Mark 8 and John 6 about the man from Bethsaida ho was healed of blindness, and the Feeding of the 5,000. From here we drove to Gamla, a Jewish city that revolted against the Romans in 66 AD. We drove down to the site, seeing the 1st century synagogue here. Even though not mentioned in the Gospels, Jesus most likely would have taught here. We read from Acts 5 about a certain “Judas the Galilean” who was from this city.
Next we drove to Katzrin, a Talmudic city. Here we sat in a re-constructed stone house, no doubt very similar to the type of house used in Jesus’ day. We read from Mark 2, a story we could see unfolding right before us.
Continuing to the east, we overlooked the border with Syria and the city of Kuneitra. Shlomo shared with us the modern history of the 1967 and 1973 wars with Syria.
Driving due north, we passed through a few “Druze” villages to the ski resort on Mt. Hermon (Psalm 42, 133). Believe it or not, Israel does have a mountain for skiing a few months each year. On the Israeli side, the mountain is 7,250 feet above sea level (the Syrian peak is 9,200). We took the ski lift to the top. The view was spectacular! About half the group hiked down the trail while the other half took the ski chair back down. The low 80s temp and nice breeze was refreshing.
After gabbing a quick bite to eat, we drove west while descending off the Golan Heights. We first visited Caesarea Philippi. Here, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt. 16). It was 6 days later where Jesus was transfigured, perhaps somewhere on the slopes of Mt. Hermon.
Dan was our next stop. Here we walked through the nature preserve that led to the archaeological park. We read form Judges 18 and I Kings 18 about a pattern of disobedience seen here. It was here Jeroboam set up a “high place” of worship. We also saw the Middle Canaanite gate of Laish (Gen. 14:14) as well as the Israelite gate structure.
Our last stop was Misgav Am, a kibbutz located high on the Naphtali mountains overlooking the Huleh Valley and Mt. Hermon (in Israel) and the border with Lebanon. We heard the story of “Sheba” (2 Sam. 20) and about the modern conflict with Lebanon.
We drove back south to the Sea of Galilee through the Huleh Valley. Dinner at our hotel awaited us. We enjoyed a free evening. We are excited to be heading to Jerusalem tomorrow.
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, JULY 19
This morning we said goodbye to the Sea of Galilee. After another great sunrise and breakfast, we loaded our luggage and drove southwest to our first site, Sepporis. This was the main city in this lower Galilee region and was located only 4-5 miles from Nazareth. Here we saw the main Roman stone streets of the city (“Cardo” and “Decumanus”), the theater, and many mosaics, including the famous “Mona Lisa” of the Galilee.
Nearby we visited the “precipice” of Nazareth. From here we enjoyed our first full view of the Jezreel Valley. We could see Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), Megiddo (Rev. 16), and Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We also read about Jesus’ ministry here in the synagogue (Luke 4). We reflected on what Phillip said, “Come and see!” from John 1 in response to Nathaniel’s question, “what good can come out of Nazareth?”
Driving across the Jezreel Valley, we visited Megiddo. Located strategically guarding the natural pass that leads into the valley, Megiddo boasts of over two dozen levels of civilization over the span of about 2,500 years. We saw various ancient gates here as well as walking through the water system. We read from Revelation 16 and rejoiced together in God’s control over the world.
Driving through the Mt. Carmel range, we enjoyed lunch at another Druze place before driving to Muhraqa (“burnt offering”), a Carmelite chapel overlooking the Jezreel Valley below. We read from 1 Kings 18 about Elijah’s confrontation vs. the prophets of Baal. The view of the valley from this direction was fairly descent despite the summer haze.
Our last stop of the day was Caesarea. Located on the coast in the Sharon Plain, we visited the theater, hippodrome, Crusader part of the city, the harbor area, and the aqueduct, among other things. This city was built by Herod the Great from 22-10 BC. He was sure an impressive builder!
From here we drove to Jerusalem. We checked in, had dinner, and then walked to the Western Wall. We are looking forward to the next four days in this grand city!
DAY 9 – MONDAY, JULY 20
Today was a beautiful day, sunny with highs in the 80s. With Jerusalem being at 2,700 feet above sea level, the crisp and clear air was refreshing. It was a lot less hazy too.
We left the hotel and drove to the top of the Mt. of Olives. Here we could see the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. We covered both Old and New Testament history, especially related to the life of Jesus. We visited Dominus Flavet (“the Lord weeps”) where we read from Luke 19 (the “Palm Sunday” event) and Zechariah 14. We saw the closed Eastern Gate and remembered the words of Ezekiel 44:1-2.
We walked down this western slope of the Mt. of Olives down to the Garden of Gethsemane. We read about Christ’s agony and betrayal (Luke 22).
We continued by walking into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lions) Gate. We stopped at the Pools of Bethesda (John 5, about the lame man healed by Jesus) and St. Anne’s Church. We enjoyed singing in this Crusader Church that has a 10 second echo.
From here we walked the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross”). We walked past most of the stations to the Holy Sepulcher Church, the most likely place for Christ’s crucifixion site and burial (we plan to visit inside the church on our own on our free day).
After lunch in the heart of the Christian Quarter, we met the bus and drove to Herodium. This was one of Herod the Great’s fortress/palaces located just east of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean Desert. We hiked to the top of this “artificial” mountain, and then through the cistern system. This was where Herod was buried (his tomb was found in 2010).
Driving towards Bethlehem, we stopped in the Shepherds’ Fields where we reflected upon Christ’s birth. We read from Luke 2 and rejoiced with carols in God’s perfect timing in sending Jesus (Gal. 4:4). Driving into Bethlehem, we stopped at an olive wood store for some shopping.
We ended the day with a “surprise” visit to Shlomo’s community. The view of the city of Jerusalem was amazing from here! We also enjoyed cake and the celebration of Elisa and Josh’s 2nd anniversary.
We drove back to hotel for dinner and an optional walk to the promenade of Jerusalem. Some enjoyed ice cream at the Old Railroad station too! A great first day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, JULY 21
It was another perfect weather day, with sun and temps in the 80s. We left the hotel and drove to the Old City. Entering the Dung Gate, we visited the Western Wall Tunnels. It really was amazing and impressive seeing how large some of the stones of Herod’s temple were, one weighing a suggested 500+ tons! We walked parallel along this western “retaining” wall used by Herod to expand the Temple Mount. We referred to John 2 and Mark 13 (“what massive stones and impressive buildings”). From here we went back to the Western Wall itself. Some prayed at the Wall
Ascending into the Jewish Quarter proper, we enjoyed a fascinating discussion with “Moshe,” an Orthodox Jew. We learned a lot about a Jewish religious lifestyle and perspective. Following this time with Moshe, we enjoyed lunch in and around the Hurva square.
Walking out the Zion’s Gate, we met our bus and drove to Yad Vashem. This is Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. We heard Shlomo share his personal story about losing 12 family members in Poland. We visited the Valley of the Communities as well as the Children’s Memorial as well as the museum itself.
Our last stop for the day was the Israel Museum. Here we saw a 1:50 scale model of 1st century Jerusalem. This model provided a good picture of the city of Jerusalem Jesus would have known. Next we saw various Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Shrine of the Book, including portions of the Temple Scroll (from Cave 11, the one we were in at Qumran). Finally, we saw “highlight” artifacts from the archaeological wing, including items such as the Beersheba horned altar, the Arad holy of holies, and Herod’s sarcophagus, among many other items.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and a free night.
DAY 11 – WEDNESDAY, JULY 22
We left the hotel once again just after 7:30 this morning. Predictably, it was another sunny and pleasant day, with highs in the upper 80s. Our first destination was the Temple Mount. We ascended the bridge to the area where both Solomon’s and the 2nd Temple once stood. The Temple Mount is a very large area, holding up to 300,000 people at once. It covers about 20 football fields. For Jews, it is the holiest place. For Muslims, it is the third most holy place. We saw the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the inside of the Eastern Gate.
Walking through the Muslim Quarter and then out the Damascus Gate, we arrived to the Garden Tomb. This is an alternative location for the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. We enjoyed a Communion & Worship service here.
After driving to Ramat Rachel (which overlooks Bethlehem) for lunch, we drove back to the Jerusalem and specifically the City of David excavations. It was David (2 Samuel 5) who took the city from the Jebusites. Later, King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20 & 2 Chr. 32) withstood the Assyrian attack by strengthening the walls of the city and by building a water tunnel in order to bring water into the city. We saw the excavations of David’s palace and the Israelite ruins on the eastern slope of the city before walking down through Warren’s Shaft and eventually to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Everyone in the group walked through this 1,720 foot tunnel still flowing with water from the Gihon Spring (where Solomon was inaugurated as king). Exiting the tunnel, we sat on the steps of the Siloam Pool while hearing the story from John 9 about the blind man healed by Jesus.
From here, most in the group walked back to the SW corner of the Temple through the underground “drainage channel.” This channel ran underneath the Roman street.
Exiting at the SW corner, we saw the massive Temple stones brought down by the Romans in 70 AD. We also literally walked on the Roman street used by Jesus. Finally, we climbed the southern steps of the Temple and humbly considered all the stories that took place in the Temple (Luke 2, 18; Mark 12, 13; Acts 2, etc…).
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street, taking in some of the modern Israeli life here in Jerusalem.
It was a great last day of “official” touring. We are looking forward to our free day tomorrow.
DAY 12 – THURSDAY, JULY 23
Today we enjoyed a free day in Jerusalem. We a leisurely start of 8:30, the entire group left the hotel bound for the Old City. Our first stop was the Holy Sepulcher Church. While the church is architecturally impressive, this is a place where many worship the “place” rather than the “Person.” From here we walked to the Jaffa Gate where we bought passes for the rampart walk. The walk offered a unique perspective of the city. We descended off the wall at Herod’s Gate.
From here, some walked back to the Jewish Quarter for a visit of the Temple Institute, while others walked out of the Old City through the Lion’s Gate. From here we walked south along the Eastern Wall of the Old City. Walking past the Eastern Gate, we then ascended the western hill called Mt. Zion. Here we visited Oscar Schindler’s grave as well as the Upper Room. We returned to the Jewish Quarter for lunch and a visit to Moshe’s store.
The afternoon was great as well. Some walked around and shopped while others went back to the hotel. Still others took a taxi to the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Here we spent two hours sifting through debris from the Temple Mount.
We all returned to the hotel where we boarded the bus for our farewell dinner. It was a great “last supper.” After dinner and a few “goodbyes,” six of us drove to the airport for our night flight home. The rest of the group went back to the hotel. Some plan on flying home tomorrow while others in a day or two.
DAY 13 – FRIDAY, JULY 24: TEL AVIV, ARRIVE BACK IN THE U.S.A.
We arrived back in the States (or New Zealand as two friends are from there). The end of a great trip together. Praise be to God!