Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from June, 2013
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY, TUESDAY, JUNE 17 & 18
This Israel tour comprised of a total of eight people. Three of us traveled together, while the other five arranged the flight to Tel Aviv on there own (with a few coming early). By Tuesday late afternoon, everyone arrived safely. Some of us even enjoyed a stroll among the beautiful beach as well as swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It is sunny and about 90 here today. This should be our weather all the way through (with the exception of it being a bit warmer in the Negev & Wilderness of Judah over the next few days). We are spending the night in an up-graded hotel, Herod’s Hotel, right in Tel Aviv. We enjoyed our first wonderful dinner together, taking time to get to know each other. It was both fun and interesting to learn of each other’s backgrounds, and what led them to join the tour. Following dinner, some enjoyed a walk along the beach, while others got some much-needed sleep. We all are excited about our first full day tomorrow, learning the Bible “in context” as well as the spiritual experiences that await us!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19
The warm Israel sun greeted us this morning as we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast before heading out to the region of the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Our first stop of the day was to Gezer, located overlooking the Ayalon Valley as well as one of those “off-the-beaten-path” type of sites. While we enjoyed being the only group here to see the Middle Bronze gate as well as dating to the time of Solomon, we were greeted by a team of archaeologists and volunteers from the States. They were primarily excavating through Iron Age strata (as well the some Late Bronze ruins below) near the Solomonic gate structure. We read from I Kings 9 about how Solomon fortified the city (along with Megiddo and Hazor). It as neat to see a “live dig” before our eyes. Just south was the Sorek Valley and the city of Beth Shemesh. I read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant to this area. We visited one of the many cisterns dating to the OT period. From here, we continued south to the Elah Valley and the site of Azekah. Reading from 1 Samuel 17, we were able to see where the battle between David and Goliath may have taken place (in the narrow part of the valley near Socoh, as the Bible suggests). We also referred to Jeremiah 34:7 that mentions Azekah and Lachish (further south) being the only two last Judean cities still standing at the time of the Babylonian invasion at the beginning of the 6th century BC.
After stopping for a quick bite for lunch, we visited Maresha also called Beit Guvrin. We saw one of the the columbaria caves (with pigeon niche), as well as the Bell caves, noted for its high ceilings. We enjoyed a brief time of singing together here. Continuing to the last of the Shephelah valleys, we visited Lachish. This was a Judean city devastated by the Assyrians, and almost a century and a half later completely destroyed the invading Babylonians. We talked about the famous Lachish Letters (ostraca), one of which confirmed what Jeremiah said (34:7) about this city. Heading briefly westward, our last ancient site of the day as Ashkelon, one of the five Philistine cities mentioned in the Bible. Here, an impressive Canaanite gate can be seen, dating to 1,850 BC (Middle Bronze). The view of the Med Sea from here was beautiful as well.
We ended the day by driving to the primary Israeli city in the Negev, Beersheba. We arrived at our hotel (the Leonardo) in time for a swim in the pool and time to relax before dinner. After dinner some of us enjoyed a time of walking around the city.
A great first day of seeing the OT “come alive” before our very eyes.
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, JUNE 20
This second full day of the trip included some unique experiences. Before the summer sun and heat of the day, our first stop was to drive south from Beersheba to Sde Boker. Here, we saw a few ibex on our brief walk to the tomb of Israeli’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. What an instrumental role this humble man played in the establishment of the State of Israel. Wanting to be buried where he was grew up, he and his wife (Paula) were buried here in this beautiful area overlooking the Wilderness of Zin. From here we descended into the canyon of Zin for an hour hike. At every turn, the beauty of the desert radiated God’s magnificence! We hiked to the water falls, and then ascended on the upper trail that led to the canyon rim on the other side. The climb was steep at the end, and required the use of climbing the ladders provided for hikers, but it a worth it. Everyone made it to the top and enjoyed the experience.
From here we drove back to Beersheba to visit the ancient tel. Reading form Genesis 21, this is where Abraham and Abimilech made a treaty by the well. Although the well probably does not date to the time of this father of the Israelite nation, the walls, the 4-room “Israelite houses” and the cistern system were impressive to see. Leaving Beersheba, we headed to the ancient site of Arad stopping for a quick bite to eat on the way. Tel Arad is an equally-impressive site. Here we read from 2 Chronicles 34 about King Josiah’s reforms. An 8th century temple built with the close dimension of the Temple that stood in Jerusalem 75 miles away can be seen here, complete with a Holy of holies inner court and the “Jochin & Boaz” standing stones. Josiah’s reforms were aimed to centralize worship again in Jerusalem, and to bring to an end impure worship taking place elsewhere.
To end the day, we drove about 10 miles further east to the western side of Masada, the famous Wilderness of Judah fortress built by Herod. Although very hot, we walked up the Roman ramp, seeing a few of the ruins on top. While hearing the story of the zealots enduring the Roman siege of the fortress, we saw the northern palace, the bath-house and the 1st century synagogue to name a few. We walked back down the ramp to our van below. Driving to our hotel on the shores of Ein Bokek, we enjoyed a “float” in the warm and salty waters of the Dead Sea. We ate dinner at 8, and then retired for the night. What a great second full day! God is good!
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, JUNE 21
This is a day that we drove north, with our final destination the Sea of Galilee. Our first top of the day was Engedi. Here, we enjoyed hiking back to the water falls. It was a time also to get wet in the morning heat, with some enjoying wading into the waterfalls. We read from 1 Samuel 24 about how David hid in a cave to escape the pursuit of Saul. We saw some ibex and coney or “rock-badgers” here as well (Psalm 104:18). Continuing north along the Dead Sea we arrived at Qumran and the settlement of the first century sect known as the Essenes, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We talked about the importance of these scrolls and appreciated the miraculous preservation of God’s Word here in the context of what Scripture does for us (Psalm 19, 2 Timothy 3:16). Some of us hiked up to the cliff area and crawled through part of the aqueduct carved into the rock. Leaving the Dead Sea area but located along the Jordan Valley was our next site, Jericho. We ascend the oldest site in all of Israel to see where “the walls came tumblin’ down.” We read from Joshua 6, but also could see from here other biblical stories come alive (e.g. Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan, the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’ baptism and temptation). We ate lunch in Jericho.
From here we drove north through the Jordan Valley to Bethshean where King Saul’s body was hung on its walls (1 Samuel 31). This is a most-impressive Roman city, one of the Decapolis as mentioned in the Gospels. We walked along the Cardo of this massive city and saw numerous ruins of significance: mosaics, bath-house, theater, to name a few. A few of us hiked to the top of the OT tel as well. What a great view from here! About 30 minutes north of Bethshean we arrived at our home for the next three nights, Maagan, a wonderful “retreat-center” type of place situated right along the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret). We enjoyed some relaxing time prior to dinner. Some of us went swimming in the Sea of Galilee and/or pool. We also enjoyed dinner as well as a gathering on the shoreline for reflection and worship. We look forward to spending the next two full days in the Galilee.
DAY 6 – SATURDAY – JUNE 22
The day began early with a 7:30 am departure. Our first destination was to the base of the cliffs of Arbel. Some in the group hiked to the top of this mountain, while others drove with Itai our guide and approached the top from the other side. The view from the top was spectacular. From here we can see most of the Sea of Galilee below, with the exception of the southern end. From here we drove down to the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee to Magdala. While the site was closed, we were able to see the dimensions of the 1st century synagogue, only one of seven found to date in all of Israel. Jesus must have been here and perhaps even taught from here, even though the Gospels don’t mention it.
Further up on the NW corner of the lake, we visit the Mt. of Beatitudes. We walked down the path that descends to the lake below, taking not of the natural theater created by the topography. Most suggest it was here where Jesus spoke to the crowds his first teaching (the “Sermon on the Mount”). We walked to the shoreline where tradition suggests that this is where Jesus greeted his disciples following His resurrection (John 21). We drove to Nof Ginnosar to see the ancient boat found here in 1986, and then enjoyed an hour-long boat ride on the lake. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives involving Jesus calming the lake.It was fun to have others small groups join us (from Singapore, New Zealand, Britain, Mexico, and Argentina.
Following lunch we visited Capernaum where Jesus called his disciples. Here, we’ll read about Jesus’ authority while sitting in an ancient synagogue (Mark 1 & 2; Luke 7). Situated on the very NW corner of the lake is Chorazim. An impressive basaltic synagogue made from basaltic rock stands here. Although not dating to the time of Christ, this is the only one found with a “seat of authority” or sometimes called Moses’ seat. We read from Mathew 23 and talked about why this city was one of the three condemned by Jesus. We ended the day by driving back through Tiberias to Yardenit, where two renewed their baptismal vows in the Jordan River.
We returned to Maagan with plenty of time to relax by/in the lake and pool. The water felt good on this 95+ degree day. We ate dinner together, followed by watching the sunset on the lake as well as the full moon. Lovely! The life and ministry of Christ came alive today!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY- JUNE 23
We began the day by leaving once again at 7:30 and driving to Dan, one of the sources of the River Jordan. Even during this dry season we were amazed at the amount of water that flows. We walked through this quiet National Park and impressive Old Testament city. We read from I Kings 12 about Jeroboam and the false worship that took place here. From here we can look into Lebanon. Nearby is Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Mt. 16). We walked up to the grotto and temple of Augustus. Further east in the Golan Heights is the unique site of Nimrod Fortress one of the largest and most impressive that have survived since the Middle Ages. This castle was built in the 13th century AD by the Mamulukes, although it exchanged hands with the Crusaders. We enjoyed exploring a few of the towers, cistern and the “escape route.”
Following lunch in a Druze village, we travel to the eastern edge of the Golan to an old military base called Bental. Here we looked Quneitra , a town in southern Syria. We return back toward the Sea of Galilee to see a few more unique sites. The first site is Qatzrin, a partially reconstructed Talmudic village. We walked through a reconstructed house, no doubt similar to the type of house Jesus would have been familiar with in the 1st century. Lastly, we visit Gamla, the Masada of the north. Gamla was a Jewish city that was taken by the Romans during the Revolt in the 60’s AD. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue, one of only seven found in all of Israel. We also saw a few vultures. They live and nest only in this area of Israel.
We drove to our hotel on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Even here we could see Syria as well as Jordan further to the southern end of the Golan. Before arriving at our kibbutz-hotel for our last swim in the Sea of Galilee and pool, we stopped at the Peace Vista for a panoramic view of the entire Sea of Galilee (13 miles long and 7 miles wide at it’s widest point). Dinner as well as a gathering on the shores of Galilee followed. It’s been a great two full days here in the Galilee. We are excited to be driving to Jerusalem tomorrow.
DAY 8 – MONDAY, JUNE 24
This morning we said “goodbye” to this beautiful “retreat center” called Maagan and the Sea of Galilee. Leaving at 7:30, our first stop was the precipice of Nazareth. From here we got our first view of the Jezreel Valley. We saw Mt. Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, the Carmel Ridge (in the haze to the southwest) and of course the Nazareth Ridge. We recalled all the stories that took place here (e.g. Deborah & Barak, Gideon, Elijah) and how God brought victory to those who entrusted the results into His hands. We also read from Luke 4 and the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. Close by is Sepporis, the cultural center and primary city in the days of the 1st century. Small-town Nazareth lived in the shadows of this influential city just 4 miles away. This archaeological site is rich with mosaics, including the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee.” What an impressive Roman & Jewish city this was.
From here, we drove across the Jezreel Valley to the impressive Old Testament site of Megiddo. Here, this ancient city has everything, from fortifications to gates, and storehouses & stables. We also descend 186 steps down to and through the water system. The purpose of the water system was to safely bring water into the city.
We continued to drive south and west towards our last stop of the day, the coastal city built by King Herod called Caesarea. Nestled along the sand-skirted Mediterranean Sea, we first saw the impressive aqueduct that was used to bring fresh water into the city from the Mt. Carmel range. Then we entered at the entrance of the theater. We saw the hippodrome as well as the palace area. Pontius Pilate was stationed here at the time of Jesus’ trial. We saw a replica of the inscription that bears his name.
We end the day by driving to Jerusalem. We arrived at our hotel, the Leonardo, and we look forward to spending four overnights here. We enjoyed dinner at 6:30, followed by an “orientation walk” to the Old City and the Western Wall. We are eager to spend our first full day in Jerusalem tomorrow.
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JUNE 25
We start the day with an orientation of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives. Driving to the top, we enjoyed the spectacular view of the Old City and Temple Mount below. From here we can relate to hat the psalmist said, “As the mountains surrounded Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people” (Psalm 125). From here on the top, we began our descent down the traditional Palm Sunday route to the church known as the Dominus Flevit (“the Lord weeps”). From here the Eastern Gate really comes into focus (Ezekiel 44). We read not only the Palm Sunday passage (Luke 19), but also from Zechariah 14 about the prophecy of Christ’s return. Further down the slope Gethsemane where we take time to meditate on the Gospel text of Christ’s passion. We spent some quiet moments considering the will of Christ to do the will of His Father. We also visited the Church of All Nations, the traditional location where Christ prayed.
From here we enter the Old City where we first visited the Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church. The church itself is perfectly preserved from the Crusader period, and with remarkable acoustics. We then followed the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) to the Holy Sepulcher, stopping along the way to consider all what Christ endured on his way to His crucifixion (Holy Seplechure Church). Before leaving the Old City, we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter.
In the afternoon, we drove southeast about 10 miles to visit Herodium, the fortress built by King Herod located on the edge of the Judean Desert. It was here that Herod, who reigned from 37 – 4 BC, was buried. His tomb was found only 2 years ago by the late Ehud Netzer. We ended the day by driving into Bethlehem. We first reflected on the perfect timing of God sending His Son (Galatians 4:4) and sang carols in one of the caves of the Shepherds’ Field. We then visited an olive wood shop, followed by a brief visit to the Church of the Nativity. Because it wasn’t crowded while visiting, we were able to see the grotto in the cave below the front of the church here traditionally Christ was born.
We returned to Jerusalem for dinner, and another optional walk, this time to Ben Yehuda Street. We enjoyed seeing the modern Israeli culture in this part of west Jerusalem.
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26
With another 7:30 a.m. departure from the hotel, we began the day by entering the Jaffa Gate and walking down through the Jewish Quarter to the entrance to the Temple Mount. After ascending to this place where the both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temple once stood, we talked about the centuries of history that took place here. Today, the Dome of the Rock stands in the same area of where the Temple once was built. Leaving this area, we re-entered the Jewish Quarter for a visit to the Burnt House, a Jewish house that was destroyed in 70 AD along with the rest of Jerusalem. Close by is the shop called Shoreshim, run by two Jewish brothers who are Orthodox. We listened to Moshe who shared with us about his Jewish faith in comparison to our Christian faith.
From here, we went to the Western Wall for an hour-long walk along this retaining wall of the Herodian Temple. We saw stone blocks that weighted anywhere from 1.5 tons to an amazing 570 tons (called the Master Course). It’s no wonder why the disciples commented on the engineering feats of Herod (Mark 13:1-2). It is still impressive today!
After eating lunch along the Via Dolorosa, we exited the Old City once again and drove into western Jerusalem to the Israel Museum. Here we saw a 40:1 scale model of the Jerusalem during the 2nd Temple period. We also walked through the Shrine of the Book (that houses some of the Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as the archaeological museum. Here, we walked through the relatively new King Herod exhibition, as well as saw some of the significant archeological artifacts found at sites all over Israel. We ended the day by visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial & Museum. What a moving experience this was.
We drove back to the hotel and dinner. Following dinner, we got taxis up to the top of the Mt. of Olives for a “night view” of the Temple Mount. We then walked back to our hotel from there through the Old City. Another great day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, JUNE 27
Another sunny day here in Jerusalem! Leaving at 7:30, our first destination was the City of David and the new excavations of David’s palace. After seeing a 3-D video on the history of this city and meeting Eli Shoukron (the one who found the golden bell from the High Priest’s garment from the days of Jesus), one of the lead-archaeologist here, we descended to the excavations below. Having dug here back in the 80s, Pastor John shared a little about the dig and showed us the specific house he excavated. From here we continued down to Warren’s Shaft, a 52 foot vertical tunnel. We read from 2 Samuel 5 about how David’s men captured the city. At the bottom of this eastern slope of the excavation are the newly excavated towers that guarded the water system of the city. Also here is the Gihon Spring where Solomon was inaugurated as Israel’s king following the days of David.
The highlight of the City of David excavation was walking through the water-filled Hezekiah’s Tunnel (1,720 feet long). With flashlights in hand and water-shoes/sandals on our feet, we walked through this amazing find! Exiting the tunnel, sat on the very steps of the Siloam Pool and listen to the story of John 9. From here we walked back up to the southern Temple excavations through a 1,300 foot recently-discovered drainage tunnel that ran underneath We exit at the SW corner of the Temple, and visited the southern steps of the Temple. Here, we read from Luke 1, Mark 12, and Acts 2.
After eating lunch in the Jewish Quarter, we drove to Mt. Scopus (northern end of the Mt. of Olives) for an hour and a half of sifting through dirt and debris taken from the Temple Mount. It was fun participating in this “salvage” dig. We all found things of interest! We ended the day at the Garden Tomb for a Communion Service. We returned back to our hotel for dinner and a free night. This was the last day with our guide, Itai Levee, as well. We appreciated his guidance over these last 9 days with him.
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, JUNE 28
This was our last day here in Jerusalem. This “free day” as ours to sleep in a little, roam around on our own, visit a few new sites, and re-visit others. Among some of the things we saw today included the Upper Room, Oscar Shindler’s To the Jewish Quarter, Moshe’s store, the “Rampart Walk” on top of the Turkish walls of the Old City, the Western Wall, Christ’s Church, The Redeemer’s Church, Jaffa Road & Ben Yehuda, and shopping here and there. It’s fun to “people watch” as well. We also said goodbye to Helen, our friend from Scotland who joined our touring family these last 12 days.
We came back at various times to the hotel to refresh up for dinner. We enjoyed dinner in Abu Gosh on the way to the airport.
What a great trip it was. God blessed us with a great group and a transforming experience. God is good!