Biblical Israel Tour Experiences of our 13 Day Israel Tour
June 9-21, 2014
Individual Tour Members:
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY/TUESDAY, JUNE 9-10
The day had finally arrived for our Christian Israel Tour! About half of this group of 52 met at the Philadelphia Airport for our 9:15 p.m. “night flight” to the Israel, the land of the Bible! Others in the group met us in Tel Aviv. We were greeted at the airport by Shlomo, our Israeli guide. Following loading the bus, we drove into the Tel Aviv to our hotel for the night, the beautiful Leonardo City Towers. Meeting others in the group who flew in on their own, we gathered for a wonderful dinner at 7 p.m. Following dinner we bussed to the beach of Tel Aviv. A number of people enjoyed getting their feet wet, while a few dove in to enjoy the warm waters of the Med Sea. We had a brief “orientation” meeting right there on the beach too, helping us prepare for the tour.
After driving back to the hotel, we retired for the night. We are all looking forward to our first full day tomorrow.
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11
This first full day began with an early breakfast and departure. Checking out of this very nice hotel, we headed to Jaffa (Joppa). We walked some of the alley-ways of the coastal city, while stopping to read Jonah 1 and Acts 9 &10 about God’s plan to include Gentiles in His redemptive plan. After enjoying a nice panoramic picture of Tel Aviv, we continued to the Shephelah (“Lowlands”) of Judah.
Our first stop was Gezer, located along the Ayalon (Aijalon) Valley. Solomon rebuilt this city after the Egyptian Pharoah gave it to his daughter, Solomon’s wife (1 Kings 9). We saw the Canaanite and Solomonic gate here, as well as the mesabot (standing stones) and a replica of the Gezer Calendar.
The next valley to the south in this Shephelah region was Beth Shemesh. This OT site is located along the Sorek Valley. Here we read from 1 Samuel 6 about the Ark of the Covenant being returned from the Philistine cities on a cart pulled by cows. We “mooed” to add sound effects to the story. We also talked about Samson growing up in his area.
Continuing southward, the next visit was to Azekah, located along the Sorek Valley. Here we read from 1 Samuel 17 about the story of David vs. Goliath. We rejoiced in God’s promises of strength confidence, and victory exemplified by young David. It was neat to see the possible battle field for this epic fight.
Following lunch (our first experience of falafel and shwarma), we visited Maresha (also called Beit Guvrin). We visited the columbarium (pigeon niches cave) and the “bell cave.” We read from Micah 1, listened to Shlomo’s song on the recorder, and sang a few songs.
Our last stop was Lachish, located in the valley named after the site itself. We read from Jeremiah 34:7 about how Lachish and Azekah were the two last Judean cities standing at the time of the Babylonians. We also talked about the famous “Lachish letters” discovered here. We climbed part of the site, high enough to see the city walls close up, and the gate area.
Driving now to the third region of the day, the Negev, we arrived at Beersheba. We enjoyed dinner together as well as a gathering to reflect upon the day’s experiences and for worship. A great first full day here in Israel!
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, JUNE 12
Departing our hotel around 7:45 a.m. this morning, our first stop was Tel Beersheba. We ascended the tel and read from Genesis 21 about Abraham and the “covenant” he made here over the water well. Psalm 23 was also referred pertaining to the “cup” that overflows. We also saw the replica of the stone altar found here, four-room Israelite houses, and an impressive water cistern system. Leaving Beersheba we headed south to Sde Boker, the burial place of David and Paula Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. His tomb overlooks the beautiful Wilderness of Zin. The main canyon of the Zin is what we hiked. We all walked to the water falls, while many continued the hike to the rim on the other side of the canyon.
Following lunch near by (at a rest-area located on the slopes of a Nabataean city called Avdat), we headed back north to Arad, the second primary ancient city in the Negev. Here we not only saw the Early Canaanite city below, but the Israelite/citadel part of the city. We read from Number 21 (about how the King of Arad confronted Moses and the Israelites) and 2 Chronicles 34 (about Josiah’s reforms. The temple established here, complete with an altar and a “holy of holies” chamber, was destroyed as a result of these reforms to the land.
From Arad, we drove due east to Masada, located in the Judean Desert. Uniquely, we all walked up the Roman ramp to the top (including two 82 year old folks!!). Shlomo shared passionately about the history of this Jews being surrounded here by Romans from 70-73 AD. After seeing the palace area, the synagogue, and the bathhouse (among other things), most took a cable car to the bottom while 14 in the group hiked down the Snake Path.
Driving south to En Boqek, we checked into our hotel, enjoyed a “float” on the Dead Sea, and dinner. What another great day in this dry and desolate region of Israel.
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, JUNE 13
This morning we left our Dead Sea hotel to begin our drive to the north. After another great breakfast, we loaded up the bus for Ein Gedi located about 30 minutes to the north. Reading from 2 Chronicles 20, Song of Songs 1, and 1 Samuel 24, we recalled all the events that took place in this “desert oasis” in the heart located at the edge of the Judean Desert. We walked back to the 2ndwater falls, seeing “ibex and coneys” (Psalm 104) along the way. We saw a number of caves as well, making us wonder what cave it was where the David/Saul encounter took place. We all enjoyed the refreshing water.
About 45 north is Qumran, the ancient site of the Essenes community. The site is located on the NW corner of the Dead Sea. Here, over 900 scrolls or fragments of scrolls have been found. Seeing the “mikvot” (ritual baths), the “scriptorium,” and a few of the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found caused us to celebrate God’s special way His Word has been preserved over all these centuries. We read from “Psalm 151” (an “extra” psalm written by David) and 2 Timothy 3:16.
Next was Jericho. We climbed the “tel” and could see come alive many of the biblical stories that took place in this region and/or city (e.g. Mt. Nebo and the crossing of the Jordan River, Elijah’s “chariot of fire” ascension, Elisha’s purifying of the city’s spring, Jesus’ baptism at “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” the stories of Zacheaus and Bartemeus). The primary story involving Jericho is the story of Joshua’s conquest of the city. We saw the very “revetment/retaining” wall that Joshua’s army saw as they circled the city 7 times, on top of which was the mud-brick wall, the one that “came tumblin’ down.” We celebrated the accuracy and historicity of the Bible as well as God’s intervention in this first of many battles of the 15thcentury Conquest of the land of Canaan.
Our last site of the day was Beth Shean, a huge Roman city located about 30 minutes south of the Sea of Galilee. Here we saw a Roman bathhouse, colonnaded streets, massive pillars, and the theater, to mention a few of the highlights. Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT tel where Saul’s body was hung after his death (1 Samuel 31).
Arriving at our hotel / kibbutz (Maagan) at 5, we had plenty of time to enjoy swimming in the Sea of Galilee and the pool. At 7:15 we enjoyed dinner together, followed by a gathering on the shores of the lake. We spent 30 minutes worshiping, reflecting, and preparing for the next two full days here in the Galilee.
DAY 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 14
It was another sunny day here in Israel. Following an early breakfast, we left the hotel for 7:20 for the Golan Heights. Taking about an hour to drive (and even seeing 3 gazelles!), the nature preserve and archaeological park at Dan was our first stop. The site is extremely beautiful, with the one of the three head-waters of the Jordan River beginning here. The amount of water flowing was amazing. We stopped briefly on our hike to listen to Shlomo playing his recorder as well as reading Psalm 42 and singing “As the Deer.” Continuing further led us right into the archaeological park. Here we read from Judges 17 & 18, and I Kings 12 about the pattern of idolatry practiced here. Looking into Lebanon from here, Shlomo talked about the current geo-politico situation with Israel’s northern neighbor.
Close by is Caesarea Philippi. Here we read from Matthew 16 & 17. Perhaps the Transfiguration event took place in this area too. This was a very pagan city, named Banias (Panias) as well. We visited the grotto and other cultic structures.
Ascending now to the “heights” of the Golan we stopped at Nimrod, a Crusader fortress from the 12th century AD. We had fun exploring the stairways, cisterns, and secret passageways of this huge complex. Driving eastward to the base of Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133:1-3), we had lunch at a place owned by a Druze family.
Following lunch we visited Mt. Bental, an old military lookout of the Israelis. From here we looked into southern Syria and its primary city in this area, Kuneitra. Shlomo talked about the strategic importance of the Golan Heights for the sake of Israel’s security.
Our last stop was Katztrin, a Talmudic village dating from the 3rd century AD. We read from Mark 2 as we crowded into a reconstructed stone house, similar no doubt to the type of house Jesus would have been known. We talked about Jesus’ s’mekah (authority) he had to forgive sins. A 6th century AD synagogue also is here.
We arrived back at the hotel for some relaxation. Again, some enjoyed the water of the lake and the pool. After dinner, we once again gathered on the shoreline for a 30 minute time of worship debriefing, and sharing. It was another great day!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY, JUNE 15
The bright sun greeted us once again today, with the same summer warmth as the days before. The day started with Mt. Arbel, a towering cliff that overlooks the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. About half the group hiked up the trail that leads to the top, while the other half of the group ascended from the other side. The view was great from here. A number of couples also renewed their vow on top. Leaving Arbel, we drove back down to Magdala. This city in Jesus’ day as one of 18 ancient harbors on the lake. We saw the 1st century synagogue here (one of only seven that date to the time of Christ) among other ruins.
Traveling to the NW corner of the lake, we next visited Chorazim. We read form Matthew 23. Here we saw a 3rd century synagogue as well as a replica of the “seat of authority/Moses’ seat” found here. This entire city, one of three condemned by Jesus, was built with the local black basalt stone. Closer to the water but located on a hill is the traditional location for the Mt. of Beatitudes. We listened to the Matthew 5 narrative in both Hebrew and English, reflected upon the kingdom message of Jesus, and then walked down the path that leads close to the water’s edge. Also nearby is the site of Capernaum, Jesus’ home “ministry base.” We read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7 and John 6 about the events that happened here. Jesus demonstrated his authority here (s’mekah) in various ways.
After lunch at Nof Ginnosar and seeing the ancient 1st century boat here (found in 1986), we enjoyed over an hour boat ride on the lake. We paused for worship, reading the storm narratives (Mark 4 and Matthew 14), and reflection. We even danced to a few Israeli songs! It was both a meaningful and fun time. We ended the day at Yardenit. We were the only group here. 30 were baptized in the Jordan River. It was special for all.
We returned to Maagan, our hotel for dinner and a free evening. Some enjoyed the water of the lake during sunset and beyond! Chalk up another great day here in the Galilee!
DAY 8 – MONDAY, JUNE 16
We left the Sea of Galilee area this morning. Checking out of the Maagan hotel around 7:30, our first stop o this beautiful morning was the Kinneret cemetery. We listened to the story of a Jewish immigrant named “Rachel.” She is someone who is admired today by all Israelis, with many of her poems still read and even put to songs. Traveling from her to Lower Galilee, Sepporis was the next stop. This city was the primary city in Jesus’ day, and located only 4 miles from Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. Here we saw paved Roman streets (the “Cardo” and “Decumanus”), villas, and mosaics. One is called the “Mona Lisa of the Galilee” and was made with amazing detail.
Close by was the precipice of Nazareth. Reading from John 1 (and Luke 1 & 4), we were invited to “come and see” Jesus, for he grew up in this small town. From the precipice we also looked across a large portion of the Jezreel Valley. We remembered the stories of Deborah and Barak at Mt. Tabor (Judges 4), Gideon and the Midiantes at the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6 & 7), King Saul’s death on Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and Elijah vs. the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).
Crossing the Jezreel Valley we next came to Megiddo, a very strategic city of the Canaanites and later the Israelites. We read from Revelation 16 and rejoiced together that in the future, God wins the final battle! Here was saw 3 sets of gates, storehouses, stables, a grain silo, and the impressive water system.
After eating lunch on Mt. Carmel, we drove to an overview of the Jezreel Valley at the edge of the Carmel Range called Muhraha. We read from 1 Kings 18 about the story of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal. It was so clear that Caesarea on the coast could easily be seen. We enjoyed singing in the Carmelite chapel. Caesarea would be our last visit of the day. This port/harbor city was built by Herod the Great from 22 -10 BC. Peter (Act 10), and Paul (Acts 14, 21, 26) were here, boldly proclaiming the message of the kingdom to Gentiles. Here we saw the theater, hippodrome, the harbor, a number of marble statues, and the aqueduct.
We left Caesarea and drove about 1.5 hours to Jerusalem. We checked into our hotel, the Prima Kings, and enjoyed a late dinner together. A few of us walked down to the old railroad station for ice cream (our walk to the Western Wall will be tomorrow night).
It’s good to be in Jerusalem!
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JUNE 17
Our first day here in Jerusalem was a great one! Once again perfectly weather day greeted us, our first stop was the top of the Mt. of Olives. This is the grand view of the Old City / Temple Mount from here! From here we can see the City of David excavations to the south, the southern steps, the Temple Mount, the Holy Sepulcher Church, and much more. As we began walking down the “Palm Sunday” path, we stopped at a church called Dominus Flavet where we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14, among other passages mentioned here pertaining to Jerusalem. We continued to the bottom of the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane area. Here we paused to reflect upon the passion of Christ.
Entering the Old city through the St. Stephen’s / Lion’s Gate, we made a brief stop at the Pools of Bethesda. Here we read from John 5. We also sang a few songs in St. Anne’s Church, a Crusader church with a 10 second echo. We sounded like a heavenly choir! From here we walked the length of the Via Dolorosa. This traditional “way of the cross” leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Leaving the Old City out of the Jaffa Gate, we met our bus and drove south and east to Herodium. After a lunch provided for us, we toured the site built as a fortress by Herod the Great. It was here where he as buried. Driving towards Bethlehem, we stopped at the Shepherds’ Fields where we descended into a cave and reflected on the birth of Christ. We read from Luke 2, sang a few carols, and celebrated that God sent His Son “just at the right time (Gal. 4:4).” Next, we stopped at an olive wood store and shopped. From here we continued to the Church of Nativity where we visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to the Western Wall. It is “festival of lights” week here in Jerusalem! The whole area was crowded with people! The walk was lots of fun! It was another meaningful day!
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18
Departing again at 7:30 today, we drove to the Zion’s Gate where we entered the Old City through Zion’s Gate. We spent most of the morning here in the Jewish Quarter. Our first stop was the Temple Institute where we heard a very interesting word about the preparations of the building of the Third Temple. Also in the Jewish Quarter is a store called Shoreshim. It is owned by two Orthodox Jews, Moshe and Dov. Moshe shared about his Jewish faith in light of our Christian faith. It was very interesting!
Walking back out of the Zion’s Gate, we once again met our bus and drove to Mt. Scopus on the Mt. of Olives. Here we participated in the “Temple Mount Sifting Project.” We enjoyed about an hour of sifting through dirt and debris from the Temple Mount itself. Our group found a few interesting things, including pottery, mosaics, bones, and even a nail.
From here we drove to west Jerusalem for the afternoon. We first visited the Israel Museum. We saw the 2ndTemple Model (1:50 scale) giving us a good idea of what Jerusalem looked like during the days of Jesus. We also saw the “highlights” in the archaeological museum, including a few things at sites we visited (e.g. David inscription from Dan, Pilate inscription from Caesarea, Herod the Great’s sarcophagus from Herodium, Holy of Holies at Arad, horned altar from Beersheba, etc…). Close by was Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. We heard Shlomo share about his family in Poland (he lost a total of 12 family members), and walked through the Children’s Memorial and the museum itself.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner. An extra excursion to the Western Wall Tunnels (“Rabbinical Tunnels”) followed after dinner. It was quite amazing to see how huge the Temple stones were!
It was yet another full day of great sites and experiences!
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, JUNE 19
This as our last full touring day with Shlomo, and it was a good one! The predictable June sun continued to give us a rain-free day with highs in around 90. We left the hotel 15 minutes early in order to drive to the Old City and visit the Temple Mount. Once we ascended to the top, we saw the Al Asca Mosque and Dome of the Rock (and no, we did not go in :)). Although Muslim, the Dome of the Rock (691 AD) is quite a beautiful building (the Temple stood twice as high in 2nd Temple times). We also were able to see the inside of the Eastern or “Golden” Gate.
Leaving this area, we exited the Lion’s Gate and caught a ride on our bus to the Garden Tomb. Here we visited an alternative site for the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection place of Jesus. We enjoyed a quiet time of worship and Communion.
We boarded the bus once again and drove to the southern side of the Old City. Here we visited the City of David excavations located south of the Old City today. We saw a 3-D movie and saw a portion of what is believed to be the very palace of David and other excavations. Here we considered the stories of 2 Samuel 5 and 2 Kings 20/2 Chronicles 32 (and Isaiah 36-37) on this eastern slope of the excavations. Next, we descended down through Warren’s Shaft and the water system, and walked through the 1,720 foot-long “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.” While some walked through the newly-excavated Canaanite tunnel, both groups met at the Siloam Pool (John 9), a recent archaeological find on the southern end of the City of David. From here we descended up through the “drainage channel” that runs underneath the Roman street from the Temple Mount area. Taking about 25 minutes, we ascended at “Robinson’s Arch.” Here we saw the SW pinnacle of the Temple, the stones that fell as a result of the 70 AD attack on the city by the Romans, and the Roman street Jesus and others would have used. To the east we walked up the very Temple steps used by most. We sat on the steps while considering Luke 2, Mark 13, John 10, and Acts 2 (Pentecost) among other passages.
From here we walked up to the Jewish Quarter for a late lunch and a relaxing time in the Hurva Square area. We walked out of Zion’s Gate and caught our bus back to the hotel. What an interesting day!
We enjoyed dinner together, with a good number of the group walking to Ben Yehuda street (with a quick stop to see the “rolling stone” at Herod’s family tomb located down the alley from the famous King David’s hotel) for another taste of Israeli culture!
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, JUNE 20
This was our free day. Most of the group ventured out at 8:30 or so and explored the Old City. Others enjoyed a leisurely morning and rest. Some of the extra sites and experiences some in the group encountered were the following: Holy Sepulcher Church, Mt. Zion, Upper Room, Oscar Schindler’s grave, Eastern Gate, and Western Wall. We all enjoyed some shopping throughout the Old City, look for the final “bargains.”
We returned to the hotel in the late afternoon, loaded our bags on the bus, and drove to our farewell dinner located within the Armenian Quarter in the Old City. We then drove to the Ben Gurion Airport for our night flight home.
DAY 13 – SATURDAY, JUNE 21
We arrived back in Philadelphia around early in the morning. We then proceeded through US Customs and boarded our domestic flights home. The end of a marvelous trip! Praise be to God for the life-transforming experiences!