Biblical Israel Tour Experiences for the 13 Day Israel Tour
June 12-24, 2017
INDIVIDUAL GROUP MEMBERS
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY-TUESDAY, JUNE 12-13:
Our departure day finally arrived! God brought together a total of 34 people for this trip. Most of us met at the JFK Airport in NY for our non-stop flight to Tel Aviv. Unfortunately however, four in the group missed the departure because their domestic flight had mechanical issues (they will arrive on Wednesday).
Following our 10 hour night flight, we landed at the Ben Gurion Airport (named after Israel’s first Prime Minister in 1948). After getting through the long passport lines, we grabbed our luggage and boarded the bus. We were greeted by both Shlomo (our guide) and David (our driver). Before arriving at the hotel, we made a brief stop in Jaffa. Here we enjoyed walking through the alleyways of the town. We also recalled the stories of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Peter (Acts 9-10).
We arrived at our hotel in Tel Aviv and checked in. Following dinner, we gathered for a brief orientation meeting. Following the meeting, some walked on the beach of the Med Sea before retiring for the evening. We are all excited for the life-changing experiences that await us!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14:
Today was our first full day in Israel. The weather was sunny with highs around the low 90s. With the breeze and low humidity, it was actually quite pleasant.
We left our hotel in Tel Aviv after breakfast. We would spend the entire day in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Located along the Ajalon Valley, Gezer was our first stop. This was a Canaanite city conquered by Joshua (Joshua 12). Later, Solomon re-fortified it (1 Kings 9). We saw many things ruins here on the tel (ancient mound), including a Canaanite & Israelite gate, the water system, city walls and towers, and the “standing stones” of the high place. We also saw a replica of the Gezer Calendar. We read from Ecclesiastes 3 about the “seasons of life.” Most of us took a few pieces of pottery from the site.
Driving south to the Sorek Valley, we visited Beth Shemesh. Along the way, we saw about 5-6 gazelles in the cut wheat fields! At the site we read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines to the Israelites. We could see the story unfold before our very eyes! This also was the area near where Samson grew up (at Zorah across the valley, Judges 13-14). Among the ruins currently being excavated here, some in the group walked down to an ancient cistern.
Continuing south to the Elah Valley, we climbed to the top of Khirbet Qeiyafa. This was a site excavated between 2007-2013. Entering this small fortified city through one of the two chambered gates found here, we read from 1 Samuel 17. It was in the valley below where David defeated Goliath. Again, the story came to life right in front of us!
Passing by Azekah (also mentioned in 1 Samuel 17), we drove to Gath. This was where Goliath was from. We also recalled the story of Hazael, the Aramean King conquering this city (2 Kings 12).
Driving further south to Beit Guvrin (where we ate lunch), we visited the columbarium cave. This was an underground cave carved out of the south limestone and used for raising pigeons in biblical times. Nearby this cave is Tel Maresha where the prophet Micah was from. We also entered the bell cave, an impressive hollowed-out cave Wirth great acoustics. Shlomo played his recorder for us. We also read from Micah 1 and sang together.
Our last site was Lachish. This site, about the size of Gezer, is mentioned in the Bible as well. It was a city that Joshua conquered in two days (Joshua 10). Later it was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11). However, this double-walled fortified city was attacked and destroyed by both the Assyrians (Isaiah 36-37) and the Babylonians. We read from Jeremiah 34:7, a passage that corresponds to Lachish Letter #4 (one of 20 inscriptions found on pieces of pottery here). Once again, archaeology confirms the historicity of there Bible.
We drove about 45 minutes to Beersheba. It is located in the Negev. We checked into the hotel here in this city of about 200,000 people. Following dinner we enjoy a brief time of worship and fellowship. Praise God that out four delayed passengers arrived safely!! It was a great first day of connecting the dots with the Bible.
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, JUNE 15: BE’ER SHEVA, SDE BOKER, WILDERNESS OF ZIN, MACHTESH RAMON, ARAD, KFAR HANOKDIM
Today was spent in the region of the Negev. The day was predictably sunny once again, with highs around 95. Following breakfast, we once again checked out of the hotel. Tel Beersheba was our fist stop, only 5 minutes from the hotel.
Beersheba was a city visited by the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, and others. We read from Genesis 21 about how Abraham made a treaty here and dug a well. Sitting by the well we also remembered the words of Psalm 23 about how the shepherd’s “cup” (trough) overflows with water. At the sites we saw the Solomonic gate (10th century BC) and many “4-room Israelite houses” before leaving the site through the amazing cistern system. We also saw a replica of the 4-horned altar found here.
Driving south we visited Sde Boker where David and Paula Ben Gurion are buried. David Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister in 1948. Their graves rest along the edge of the Desert of Zin. It was here where the spies came exploring (Numbers 13). It was also in this area where Moses struck the rock for water (Numbers 20). Driving down into the Zin, we hiked through the canyon. Some in the group ascended all the way to the far rim of the canyon.
After lunch at Avdat, we drove 20 minutes further south the Machtesh Ramon, Israel’s “Grand Canyon.” This area displays a unique geological formation.
We returned to the NE corner of the Negev and to the ancient site of Arad. Here we saw the Early Canaanite city below (where the King of Arad lived, Numbers 21) and the Israelite city built on the citadel. We read also from 2 Chronicles 34 about the religious reforms of Josiah. He (and Hezekiah before him) brought an end to the false worship practices of the Judeans. In the temple constructed here, we remembered the words of Paul (Romans 12:1) to be a living sacrifice to God. We also had the joy and delight to meet Chinese Christians here. We enjoyed singing a few songs with them and sharing precious fellowship with them!
After picking up snacks in a grocery store in modern Arad, we drove to Hanokdim, our “Bedouin” camp/hotel for the night. Located in the Judea Desert, we first enjoyed camel rides before listening to a Bedouin share a bit about his culture. After dinner, we enjoyed a time of praise and devotion around a camp fire. It was another great day!
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, JUNE 16:
Today was a day in the Judea Desert and in the region of the Dead Sea. It was hot today, with temps in the low 100s.
We left our “Bedouin” hotel in the desert at 7:30. Driving just about 15 minutes and reading from Psalm 18:12 (that mentions metzada – “fortress”), we arrived at Masada, one of six of Herod the Great’s “palace-fortresses.” This one is a stand-alone mountain about 1,000 foot high. Our group had the unique experience of hiking up the Roman ramp on the western side. Others in the group bussed around and ascended to the top in the cable car. Once on top, we saw cisterns, the case-mate wall, the western and northern palaces, the bathhouse, and storerooms. The story of Masada is a gripping one, with 967 Jews withstanding Roman siege of the fortress for three years (70-73 AD) until all but five of them taking their own lives and dying in freedom. Because it was too hot, they closed the Snake Path, preventing us from hiking down.
Just 10-15 minutes north is Engedi. Here we read the story about David hiding in a cave from Saul (1 Samuel 24). The story of 2 Chronicles 20 also took place in this area. Song of Songs 1 also mentions the henna blossoms of Engedi. We also hiked into the canyon to see the many waterfalls. A number in the group enjoyed getting wet in the hour we spent here.
Continuing north along the Dead Sea, Qumran was our next site. During the lunch hour, 15 in the group joined Pastor John for a trek to Cave 1 where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. At the archaeological site of Qumran, we saw a few of the ruins here that date back to the time of the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. The Essenes who lived here were the ones who scribed the Dead Sea Scrolls. In front of Cave 4 (where the majority of the texts were found), we read from “Psalm 151” (an “extra” psalm found here) and rejoiced in God’s amazing preservation of God’s Word!
Driving to the Dead Sea close by, we ended the day with floating in this amazing body of water. It is 33% salt and minerals. It was a wild experience!
Driving north in the Jordan Valley and then heading west in and through the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria, we arrived our our hotel in Netanya for late dinner and a free evening. The sunset over the Med Sea was spectacular!
DAY 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 17:
Today was another sunny day, with temps around 90. The breeze all day long made it comfortable. Checking out of the hotel, we drove north to Caesarea. Located in the Sharon Plain on the shoreline of the Med Sea, this city was developed by Herod the Great in 22 BC. The city served as the major harbor in the area. Sitting in the theater, we considered the bold witness of both Peter (Acts 10) and Paul here (Acts 26). Other people from the Bible (e.g. Phillip who lived here 20 years, see Acts 22; and Barnabas and Titus (who must have also passed through this city, see Galatians 2) were connected to this city as well. Herod’s grandson also died here (Acts 12). In addition to the theater, we saw the palace (where Paul was most likely tried), the hippodrome (for horse races), the Crusader part of the city, a few marble statutes, and the area of the harbor.
Driving inland, we ascended to the peak of Mt. Carmel. This is actually a 13 mile mountain range. In a small chapel called Muhraqa, we read from 1 Kings 18 about the story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal. In an awesome way, God revealed Himself that day! We also considered other passages that mention this area (Song of Songs 7, 2 Kings 4, Isaiah 33 & 35, and Jeremiah 50). From the rooftop, the view was wonderful. We looked down into the Jezreel Valley. We could see the Nazareth Ridge, Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
Following lunch (at a place owned by Druze), we drove down into the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo. Archaeologically, this ancient city has more than two dozen levels of occupation spanning about 3,000 years. Megiddo was a strategically-located city guarding the main entrance into the valley. Climbing the site we saw three different ancient gates, a stable, an altar, and a grain silo. From here we also could see Nazareth, Mt. Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, and Mt. Gilboa. We remembered Revelation 16 (“Armageddon”) and rejoiced that in the final day when Christ returns, God will have the final word!
Driving across the Jezreel Valley, we arrived at Sepporis. This was the main Jewish city in the days of Jesus in the Lower Galilee. We saw many mosaics, including the famous Mona Lisa of the Galilee.
We ended the day at the Precipice of Nazareth. Located overlooking the Jezreel Valley, this was the “backyard” of Jesus when growing up. We read from Luke 4 and John 1 about Jesus’ ministry and were invited to “come and see” Jesus anew!
From here we drove through Cana (John 2) to our hotel located on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed dinner together. Some walked down the water’s edge before retiring for the evening. We will spend three nights here at Nom Ginnosar!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY, JUNE 18:
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. We would once again have sunny skies, with temps a bit cooler (highs around 90). Driving around the the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee, we first stopped to overview Bethsaida. This was the home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1). We read from Mark 8 (blind man healed) and John 6 (Feed of the 5,000) the took place in this area.
Driving to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our second stop. It is located 6 miles east of the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee. This was a Jewish city in the time of Jesus, and the first city to revolt against the Romans in 66 AD. Although the road down to the 1st century synagogue was closed, the view of this “camel-shaped” city was great from above. Even though not mentioned in the Bible, we read from Acts 5 that mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who some think may have been from here.
Continuing north, The Talmudic village of Katzrin was our next stop. Here we were introduced to the Hebraic background of Jesus. Sitting in a reconstructed stone house similar to one during the time of Jesus, we read from Mark 2 (that actually took place in Capernaum) about the lame man being lowered through the roof. We could see the story taking place in front of us! We also saw a synagogue dating to the same time period (4th-7th century AD).
Close by we drove to the border with Syria and looked into this war-torn country. Quneitra is the city we could see directly across the border. Shlomo shared with us some history of the 1967 and 1973 wars with these northern enemies of Israel. Today, Israel medically treats many wounded Syrians.
Eating lunch on the go today (apples, bananas, and snacks), we next drove through the dew Druze villages to Mt. Hermon. This is the highest mountain in Israel (7,300 feet!). Taking the ski chair-life up to the top, the view of the region from here was spectacular. Five couples renewed their wedding vows here as well. It was special for all. Most took the ski life back down although a few in the group joined Pastor John in waking down the steep trail back to the bus. We read from Psalm 133 that mentions this mountain.
Descending down off the Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi was our next site. It was “in the region” (Matthew 16) of this pagan city where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We walked to the grotto area of this ancient cultic center. Also here was one of the three tributaries (called the Banias) of the Jordan River.
Our last site we visited was Dan. This is actually both a nature preserve as well as an archaeological site. The walk along the Dan (the largest of the tributaries) was beautiful. On the walk we stopped for a brief time of song and devotional (Psalm 42). We also considered the stories of Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 while sitting on the steps of the high place of the archaeological site of Dan. It was Jeroboam who established false worship here. Upon leaving the site, we saw the Middle Canaanite mud-brick gate that perhaps was used by Abraham (Genesis 14) as well as the Israelite gate complex from the 9th century BC.
On our way back to the hotel, we ascended to Misgav Am located on the Hills of Naphtali. The view into Lebanon, Mt. Hermon, and the Huleh Valley below was incredible. We read from 2 Samuel 20 (about Sheba and Joab at Abel Beat Macaah) and heard Shlomo share some modern history about Lebanon.
Driving back to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner and an optional gathering down at the shoreline of the lake together. It was another great day here in Israel!
DAY 8 – MONDAY, JUNE 19:
Today we started out at about 7:30 once again. The sunny temps rose to the high 90s today, but the breeze and shade helped at most sites. Our first site as Mt. Arbel. Ten in the group choose to hike this 800 foot mountain while others bussed around to the other side and ascended to the top on a shorter trail. The view from the top of the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee below was amazing! No doubt Jesus traveled through the Valley of the Doves from the Lower Galilee to Capernaum, going past this mountain many times. While we can’t be sure, Jesus perhaps climbed this mountain from time to time also.
Driving to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, 17 in the group were baptized in the Jordan River at a place called Yardenit. It was a special time of renewing our commitment to follow Jesus. One in the group (Chase, a 15 year old young man) proclaimed his faith and was baptized for the first time!
Returning to the NW corner of the lake, Magdala was our next stop. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue recently excavated. Once again, we could picture Jesus teaching in this modest structure. Mary “Magdalene” was from here. Following the Feeding of the 4,000, Jesus and His disciples sailed into the port here. Before leaving the site, we enjoyed some music and singing in the newly-built chapel. The wall mosaics here are beautiful!
Following lunch, we visited Chorazim and Capernaum, two of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11). At Chorazim we read from Matthew 23 in the 3rd century synagogue and saw a replica of the Moses Seat here. At Capernaum (Jesus’ “home-base” for his Galilean ministry), we read various Gospel stories about what happened here (Mark 1, 2 and 9; Luke 7; John 6). This was also most likely where Jesus called His first disciples (Matthew 4). It was special to spend some time on the shore’s edge thinking of this calling.
At Nof Ginnosar, we saw a 1st century wooden boat excavated from the shoreline in 1986. It is called today the Jesus Boat. It was amazing to see it so well preserved! It was from here where we boarded our own boat for a short ride out on the lake. We enjoyed a time of worship as well as reflection, reading Mark 4 and Matthew 14. These two storm narratives reminded us that Jesus calms even our fears and helps us when the “waves and the wind” blow against us!
We ended the day on the Mt. of Beatitudes. Shlomo read the first part of Matthew 5 in Hebrew for us. Overlooking the lake below, it was inspiring to consider these “kingdom principles.” Following a quiet time of reflection, most in the group walked down the path to the water’s edge.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and free evening. It was a great day here and around the Sea of Galilee!
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, JUNE 20:
This morning we left the Galilee area and headed south. Leaving about 7:30 on what would be another sunny and hot day (90s), we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the Kinneret Cemetery. Here a famous Jewish pioneer is buried. Her name was Rachel. She was an Ukrainian Jew who immigrated here in the early 1900s. She wrote many poems that are still read and sung today. She was born in 1890 and died in 1931.
Driving south in the Jordan Valley, our next stop was Beth Shean. While this was both an Old Testament site mentioned in 1 Samuel 31 (where Saul’s body was hung on the walls), it was a huge Roman city. Here we saw the Cards, bathhouses, many mosaics, the agora, many pillars, a public latrine, and the theater. It was perhaps a city similar to this where the prodigal son ran to (Luke 15). Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT tel for a panoramic view of the area below.
Leaving Beth Shean, our route took us through the heart of the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria. Abraham came through this region a few times. So did Jacob. Jesus even did at least once as he confronted the Samaritan woman (John 4). We saw many shepherds along the way.
We eventually arrived at Shiloh. It was here where the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant resided for 369 years. Samuel grew up here as well. It was here where Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him in the night. We read from 1 Samuel 3 as well as Jeremiah 7. Among the ruins we saw an olive press as well as the probably located for the Tabernacle.
Driving past Bethel (Genesis 15, 28), and Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14), we drove through the rugged Desert of Parath (Jeremiah 13) and the Judean Desert. Following lunch here, we climbed the tel of Jericho. We first looked east across the Jordan River (Joshua 2, 2 Kings 2, John 1). We then looked south to New Testament Jericho (Luke 10, Mark 10). Among the ruins here, in addition to seeing the oldest tower ever found, we walked to the southern end of the site to see the stone retaining walls that supported the mud-brick walls that “came tumblin’ down” according to the Joshua 6 story. We celebrated the historicity of the Bible.
On our way to Jerusalem, we made a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt (the main part of the Judea Desert). Here we heard the words of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 23 within the context of this unique region of the Bible.
Continuing to Jerusalem, we checked into our hotel. Following dinner we enjoyed an orientation walk to the Western Wall. We are looking forward to three full days here in Jerusalem!
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21:
Today was our first full day in Jerusalem. The weather was sunny but with much cooler temps, with highs around 80. Leaving our hotel around 7:30 again, we drove to the Mt. of Olives. We drove around the western and northern parts of the Old City, and across the Kidron Valley to Gert there. The view from the top was spectacular, providing us a panoramic view of the City of David (to the south), the Old City, and the Temple Mount. Walking down to Palm Sunday path to Dominus Flevit (“the Lord weeps”), we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14 about Jesus’ kingship and 2nd Coming. Further down the slope we enjoyed a reflective time in the Garden of Gethsemane in a private garden. We read from Luke 22 and considered the passion of Jesus. Brother Diego warmly greeted us.
Walking into the Old City through the Lion’s Gate (also called St. Stephen’s and Jericho Gate), we visited the Pool of Bethesda (John 5). On the same grounds is St. Anne’s Church. We enjoyed singing in this Crusader church that has an eight second echo. We sounded like a grand choir!
Walking through the Old City we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the traditional location for both the crucifixion and burial of Christ. Going inside we saw a classic “2nd Temple” (New Testament era) niche tomb.
After lunch in the Christian Quarter, we walked out of the Old City through Jaffa Gate where our bus picked us up. We drove about 8 miles southeast to Herodium. This was another of Herod the Great’s “palace-fortresses.” This was also where Herod was buried. We climbed this “artificial” mound and saw the ruins. The view in all directions was very good as well. We could even see the Dead Sea from here. Descending through the cistern system, we saw some frescos as well as the place of Herod’s grave.
Close by are the Shepherds’ Fields. Descending into a cave, we considered God’s redemptive plan in that “just at the right time God sent His Son (Galatians 4:4).” We sang some Christmas carols both in the cave as well as in the small chapel. The gals who sang sounded angelic!
We ended the day by visiting an olive wood factory and store owned by Arab Christians. Bethlehem is known for the production of olive wood products.
We drove back to our hotel for dinner. An optional walk to Ben Yehuda for a taste of more modern Israeli life followed.
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, JUNE 22: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM
This morning we left at 7:30 again. The weather was about the same as yesterday, with sun and comfortable temps in the low 80s. Leaving the hotel we read from Mark 13:1-2 about the “massive stones” that amazed the disciples. Our first site was the Western Wall, a retaining wall containing these stones form the time of Jesus. This
The Western Wall is the most holy place for Jews today because if its proximity to where both the 1st and 2nd Temples once stood. What we did was walk parallel along this wall in what is called the Rabbinical Tunnels. Like the disciples of Jesus, we too were amazed at seeing these stones. One of these (the “Master Course”) weighs a few hundred tons.
Walking up to the Jewish Quarter, we visited the Temple Institute. This is run by a sect of Jews who are anticipating the building of the 3rd Temple. All the Temple furnishings have been prepared. Nearby we visit Shorashim, a store that is designed to connect people to the Bible. Moshe, one of the brothers who owns the shop, shared with us about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting.
Following lunch we walked out of the Zion’s Gate to meet our bus. We drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem the way it looked in 70 AD. It is based on archaeology, the Mishnah, Talmud, and Josephus. We focused upon the many things that connected us to the Gospels and Acts. Specifically we saw what the Temple looked like in Jesus’ day. Also, we walked through the Shrine of the Book to see some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Additionally, we walked to the archeological wing of the museum. Here we saw some of the highlights of items found in excavations. This included things like the Arad high place, Asherah figurines, the Moses Seat, the Pilate Inscription, and Herod’s sarcophagus.
We ended the day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial. We walked through the Valley of the Communities, the Children’s Memorial, and the museum itself. We also heard Shlomo share about losing 12 family members in Vilna, Poland.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free evening. We have one more day here in Jerusalem.
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, JUNE 23:
Today was our last day here in Israel, and it was a good one. It was also the last day of Ramadan which made the Old City a bit crowded in places. The weather was perfect once again full sun, with highs around 80.
We started the day at the Southern Wall Excavations of the 2nd Temple. We saw many things Jesus would have seen and used, including the Roman street, the pinnacle of the Temple (where He was tempted), and the massive stones. On the southern steps of the Temple we recalled the stories from the Gospels of people who used these steps to enter the Temple (Mark 12, 13; Luke 2, 18; John 10; Acts 3, & 5). It was probably in this area of the Temple that the story involving Peter and Pentecost took place as well (Acts 2).
From here we walked south a short distance to the City of David. We first enjoyed a 15 minutes video about some of stories form the Old Testament that took place here. This included the capturing of Jesus by David (2 Samuel 5), the Assyrian siege of the city during the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19-20, 2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36-37), and the Babylonian destruction of the city in 586 BC (2 Chronicles 36).
Walking through the excavations here (including “Warren’s Shaft”), we came to the water source of the city, the Gihon Spring. This is where Hezekiah’s Tunnel begins. Many in the group walked in water through this 1,720 foot tunnel while others took the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read John 9 in dramatic fashion. From here, some even walked up the Herodian drainage channel back to the SW corner of the Temple.
After a few hours for lunch, shopping, and exploring the city, we walked through the Muslim Quarter and out the Damascus Gate to the Garden Tomb. This site is an alternative site for the crucifixion and burial location of Jesus. Here we enjoyed a time of worship and Communion. It was a great way to end the tour.
From here we drove towards the airport for our night-flight home. We stopped on the way for our farewell dinner. The time was special allowing us to recall all the life-changing experiences we had over the last 11 days here in Israel.
DAY 13 – SATURDAY, JUNE 24: FLIGHT HOME
We arrived back in the U.S.A. today…. the end of a life-changing trip!