Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from March, 2015 Israel Tour (with Jordan extension)
March 14-24, 2015 (Jordan extension from March 24-26)
DAYS 1 & 2 – SATURDAY/SUNDAY, MARCH 14-15
Our departure day finally came for our Christian Israel tour. With the majority of the group meeting at JFK Airport in NY, our flight took a little over 10 hours to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. We arrived around 5:30 p.m. After going through passport control and getting our luggage, we met our guide ((Shlomo Ben Asher) and driver (Avraham) and boarded the bus. We made a quick stop in Joppa where we had a great view of the Tel Aviv coastline. We read from Jonah 1 and Acts 9 & 10 about the encounters Jonah and Peter had here.
We drove just a few miles south to Bat Yam and our first night’s hotel. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by a brief orientation meeting in preparation for the days ahead. Even though we are tired form the flight and time change, we are excited to be here in Israel.
DAY 3 – MONDAY, MARCH 16
Today was our first full day here in Israel and what a great start it was. Following breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, loaded up the bus, and departed around 7:45. Our first site was Gezer. Located in the Shephelah (low-lands of Judah) and specifically the Ajalon Valley, this city played an important strategic role for both the Canaanites and Israelites. Along with Megiddo and Hazor (further north), Gezer was a city fortified by Solomon (I Kings 9). At the sites we saw a huge Middle Bronze/Canaanite tower and gate, the Solomonic gate, and messebot of the famous “standing stones.”
Traveling south the next valley (the Sorek), we stopped at Beth Shemesh. Here we read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant given back by the Philistines. Continuing south was Azekah and the Elah Valley. We read from 1 Samuel 17 (the David vs. Goliath story) and Jeremiah 34:7 which records that Azekah and Lachish (further south) were the two last Judean cities (in addition to Jerusalem) during the Babylonian invasion in 588-6 BC. From Azekah we could see the probable “battlefield” / narrow valley where David defeated the Philistine giant. We also could see Gath (Tel es-Safi) in a distance to the west (where Goliath as from).
After eating lunch at Beit Guvrin, we traveled through the southern Shephelah to Beersheba, a city located in the region of the Negev. Here we read from Genesis 21 about Abraham and the “well treaty” made with Abimilech. We also talked about the “cup” of the well, celebrating God’s endless goodness and blessing poured out for us. We also saw the gate structure, a 4-room Israelite house, and storerooms before descending through the impressive cistern system on our way out of the site.
Our last stop was Arad. Here we saw the Early Canaanite city eventually destroyed by Joshua, as well as the temple that was built here. It was Josiah who reformed Judah by destroying temples and high places like this. We even saw a few or the black iris plants. They only bloom for a few weeks here in the Negev
To end the day, we drove to Hanokdim located in the Judean Desert. Here we rode camels before dinner. After eating together, we ventured out into the desert (away from the lights) to gaze at the beauty of the stars. We also sang a few songs and enjoyed a time of reflection. Tonight we are all sleeping under one tent, just as they did in the days of Abraham. It is a unique experience!
DAY 4 – TUESDAY, MARCH 17
Most of us woke up early prior to the sunrise. Sleeping all together in the tent was a unique and fun experience! Following a wonderful sunrise and breakfast, we drove just 5 miles east to Masada (metzada in Hebrew – “fortress.” Most of the group walked up the Roman ramp, while others bussed around to the east side and ascended to the top in a cable car. We saw cisterns, palaces, the synagogue, and a roman bath. About a third of the group hiked down the Snake Path.
Driving north on another beautiful day (sunny and 75-80) along the Dead Sea, our next stop was Engedi. Here we read from 1 Samuel (as well as from Songs of Songs 1 and 2 Chr 20) about David and Saul’s encounter in the cave. We hiked back past the first falls, enjoying the beauty of this amazing spring-oasis in this “dry and weary land“ (Psalm 61).
Qumran was next. After eating lunch, we visited the site. It was here where the Essenses wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. We saw a scriptorium, many ritual baths (miqvot) and from a distance a few of the caves. We celebrated the remarkable preservation of God’s Word.
Nearby was the Dead Sea. We drove to the beach where most in the group enjoyed “floating” in this 30-33% salt/mineral water. It was a fun experience.
Our last stop was Jericho. Here we looked across the Jordan River where we could see Mt Nebo (where Moses viewed the Promise Land). It was also in the area of “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (John 1) where Jesus was baptized. We also talked about the Joshua 6 story and saw the “retaining walls” that supported the mud brick wall. It was this mud brick wall that came tumbling down!
From here we drove 2 hours to Nof Ginnosar, a kibbutz-hotel for the next three nights. Following dinner we enjoyed an optional gathering out on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.
DAY 5– WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18
It was another great day, with sun and temps around 65-70. Today we headed to the Golan Heights. Driving from the NW corner of the Sea ofg Galilee to the NE corner, here we began our ascent to the Heights. Overlooking Bethsaida, we read from John 6 about the feeding of the 5,000. It most likely took place in the valley below us. From here we continued to the plateau of the Heights to Gamla (the “Masada of the north”). It was here where the First Revolt (in 66AD) was met by a strong Roman challenge. The city fell to the Romans, with thousands killed. From a distance we saw the synagogue (only one of seven 1st century AD synagogues found in Israel to date)
Nearby was Katzrin. Here we visited the Talmudic village. We entered the reconstructed house of Rabbi Abun where we read the story from Mark 2 about the healing of the paralytic man who was lowered to Jesus through the roof. We celebrated the s’mekah (authority) of Jesus in forgiving our sins.
Driving further north, our next stop was Ben Tal, an volcanic hill top on which was an old Israeli military base. With wonderful visibility, we looked across the Huleh Valley all the way to the Hills of Naphali to the west. Looking north and east, we also could look many miles into the country of Syria. Kuneitra, a military city, was only a few miles away.
Driving west, we stopped for lunch on the foothills of Mt. Hermon (a snow-capped mountain of 7,300 feet above sea level). The restaurant is owned by a Druze family. Following lunch, we continued to Caesarea Philippi (also called Banias). One of the three tributaries of the Jordan river is here. This is also a city mentioned in Matthew 16. We heard the words of Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” The Mt. of Transfiguration story of Matthew 17 probably also took place in this area.
Coming down of the Heights, we visited Dan. We walked through the nature preserve along another of the three tributary’s of the Jordan River. We stopped by the water’s edge and enjoyed listening to Shlomo’s recorder playing and for a time of reflection. We read from Psalm 42 and sang “As the Deer” together. We continued walking to the archaeological area of the site. While sitting on the steps of the pagan high place, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the “pattern of disobedience” displayed here by King Jeroboam.
We ended the day by climbing the OT tel of Abel Beit Maacah. This is where Pastor John excavated last July. We read from 2 Samuel 20 about the rebellion of Sheba (the city is also mentioned in 1 & 2 Kings 15). The city is located to day on the Lebanon border.
We returned to our hotel for dinner, followed by gathering on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee for a nice time of worship and sharing.
It was another great day here in Israel!
DAY 6– THURSDAY, MARCH 19
It was a nice day again (a few clouds, with temps between 65-70). We spent the entire day around the Sea of Galilee area. Starting off from the hotel with Matthew 13 and a brief word about the 30 recorded parables (mashal in Hebrew) that Jesus used in His teaching, 12 ‘hikers’ were dropped off for the hike up Mt. Arbel, a 800 foot mountain that overlooks the entire NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. With the rest bussing around the other side and then hiking to the top from there, we gathered together for a spectacular view.
Next, we drove through Tiberias to Magdala. Here, we saw the impressive yet modest synagogue. It is one of only seven that have been found so far that date to the time of Jesus (1st century AD). It was covered with only about a foot of debris for 2,000 years since it was destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD.
The other two sites we visited before lunch were cities both condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11). Chorazim is a city with 3-4th century ruins and is located on a hill above the NW corner of the lake. We stepped into the synagogue and talked about the Pharisees and the Moses’ seat (Matthew 23). The city was primarily made with black basaltic stones. Capernaum (“Khefar-Nahum”), located close by but on the shoreline, was the ministry home-town of Jesus. Here we saw another synagogue, but this one being 4-5th century. We read from Mark 1, Luke 7, and John 6 about all the ministries of Jesus that took place here. Leaving this site we drove to lunch. Instead of the usual Israeli “sandwich” (the falafel), we enjoyed a “St. Peter’s Fish” lunch in Magdala.
Following lunch we saw the “Jesus Boat” (discovered in 1986 in the mud of the lake). We also enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was a time of worship, Scripture (Mark 4, Matthew 14) and reflection.
Yardenit was the next experience. Located on the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, 16 in the group re-affirmed their faith commitment by being baptized in the Jordan River. It was a special and meaningful time for all. A number of Nigerians came forth to also be baptized. Nearby is the Kinneret Cemetery. Here we heard the story and poems of a certain “Rachel” from the Ukraine. She was an early pioneer to the land in the early part of the 20th century AD. Her poems are touching. Her picture will be placed on the new Israeli 20 shekel bill this year.
The last encounter of the day was the Mt. of Beatitudes. We listened to Matthew 5 in both Hebrew and English. About half the group then walked down the hillside to almost the water’s edge. It was a great way to end the day.
We drove back to our hotel for dinner and a free night. What a great of day of focusing on Jesus in this region of the Galilee.
DAY 7– FRIDAY, MARCH 20
Today was a little cooler, but still very pleasant (sunny with temps in the 60s). We loaded the bus following breakfast and left the Sea of Galilee area. We drove through Cana and the Lower Galilee to the precipice of Nazareth. Here we saw our first view of the Jezreel Valley. In view was Gilead (across the Jordan Valley in Jordan), Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Sam 31), and Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We paused to consider what Nathaniel said in John 1 when questioned if he found the Messiah. He simply said, “Come and see!” We reflected as we enjoyed the view of Jesus’ “backyard” here while listening to “Jesus, Only Jesus.”
From here we descended off the precipice into the Jezreel Valley. Driving across the valley to the southwest, our next stop was Megiddo. This is a huge archaeological site with about two dozen destruction levels. We saw various gate structures (from Canaanite to Israelite), stables (usually attributed to Solomon), a round Canaanite altar, and a grain silo. We exited the site by walking down 180 steps to the city’s ancient water system. It was a tunnel system cut into bedrock in order to safely bring water into the city.
Climbing the Mt. Carmel range, we arrived next to Muhraqa (“burnt offering”). Here the story was told of Elijah “defying the odds” against the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Here, God sent fire from heaven to the water-drenched altar. We also read Song of Songs 7 and John 7. Following this visit we enjoyed lunch as another Druze restaurant right on Mt. Carmel.
Our last site of the day was Caesarea. This was a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. We sat in the theater while hearing the stories of Peter (Acts 10), Agrippa II (Acts 12) and Paul (Acts 26). While walking along the Med Sea coastline, we saw the palace, hippodrome, and many mosaics. Within the Crusader part of the city we could see where the famous harbor was. Paul would have used this port himself. Lastly, we saw the aqueduct which brought water from Mt Carmel into the city.
In the mid afternoon, we began our drive to Jerusalem. It was about a two hour drive. Once arriving at the Dan Botique hotel, we checked in and freshened up. We got our first few peaks at the Old City walls of this amazing city! Following dinner, an optional walk to the Western Wall was enjoyed. Although “activity” at The Wall was light this late into Shabbat, it was magnificent to see all lit up at night.
We are thrilled to be in Jerusalem and are looking forward to the next 3 days here.
DAY 8– SATURDAY, MARCH 21
We were greeted to another sunny day, a bit cooler though, with temps in the high 50s). Leaving the hotel once again at 7:30, our first stop the Mt. of Olives. Driving to the top offered a spectacular view of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. From here we could see the City of David (to the south and now outside the Old City walls), the Dome of the Rock, the Eastern Gate, and the Holy Sepulcher. We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14 about Jesus’ Palm Sunday approach into the city and the prophecy about His return. We walked down the narrow path to Dominus Flavet church (traditionally where Jesus wept over Jerusalem) and to the Garden of Gethsemane (where He prayed and eventually betrayed by Judas).
From here we crossed the Kidron Valley and walked up into the Old City through St. Stephen’s (or “Lion’s”) gate. We stopped at the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic (John 5). Here we also sang in the St. Anne’s Church, a Crusader Church with nearly a 10 second echo. We sounded wonderful! J
Walking out of the Jaffa Gate, we loaded back on the bus and drove to Herodium. It was here where Herod the Great was buried. We climbed this “artificial” mountain that Herod made into a fortress/palace. The view from here was great, allowing us to see the Dead Sea and the hills of Moab to the east, and Jerusalem to the north. We read from Isaiah 40 (“Prepare the way of the Lord…”) about the Judean Desert. We saw the impressive cistern system of the site as well as the place where Herod was buried. We even got a sneak peak of the monumental arches and a few frescos.
We ended the day in Bethlehem. First, we stopped at the Shepherds’ Fields where we entered a cave. We sang Christmas carols as we reflected on the truth about how “just at the right time God sent His Son…” (Gal. 4:4). Next, we visited the Church of Nativity. Although under construction, we entered and saw the traditional birthplace of Jesus. We ended the day in an olive wood shop. Many purchased beautiful olive wood pieces.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and a free evening as some rain showers and a cooler wind kicked up. Some enjoyed a short walk on the Promenade while others enjoyed ice cream and coffee at Jerusalem’s old railroad station (now a nice café and shopping area).
It was a great first day here in Jerusalem!
DAY 9– SUNDAY, MARCH 22
Today was the coolest day yet, with highs in the 50s. We had a few rain showers last night and this early this morning, but this past once we started this morning. Our first stop was the Western Wall. In two groups, we enjoyed a walk in the “Western Wall Tunnels.” Here we saw the massive stones, one weighing over 500 tons. Herod was sure an impressive builder.
After exiting the tunnels, we walked back to the Jewish Quarter. We visited the Cardo before having some free time for exploring the area on our own. We re-gathered at Shoreshim where we listened to an Orthodox Jew, Moshe, talk about his faith and practice. It was very interesting and enlightening.
Following lunch (in the Jewish Quarter), we walked out of Zion’s Gate and boarded the bus. We drove to the Israel Museum. Here we saw a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem during 2nd Temple days. We also saw the “highlights” in the archaeological museum. We saw the horned altar found at Dan, the high place found at Arad, and the Pilate inscription found at Caesarea, among other artifacts.
We ended the day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial & Museum. We listened to Shlomo’s personal story (he lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland), and visited the Children’s Memorial. We also walked through the museum on our own. May this atrocity never happen again to the Jewish people!
We returned to the hotel to freshen up a little before heading out to the Olives & Fish restaurant for our “Farewell Dinner.” Although we don’t leave until tomorrow, we enjoyed great food and fellowship. Following dinner, some walked to Ben Yehuda Street for a taste of some modern Israeli culture. On the way, we stopped in to see the famous “signature floor” of the King David hotel.
DAY 10– MONDAY, MARCH 23
Today was the last day in Jerusalem. It was a sunny and warmer day, with temps in the 60s. We left our hotel and drove to the City of David excavations. We saw a 15 minute video about the history of Jerusalem during the OT period. Following an overview of the area, we descended through the excavations as well as through “Warren’s Shaft.” The old theory suggested that Joab, David’s general, climbed up through this shaft in order to conquer the Jebusites (2 Sam 5). This theory is no longer held.
This brought us to the “water tower” surrounding the Gihon Spring, the primary water source of Jerusalem. Some in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (2 Kings 20 & 2 Chr. 32), a wet tunnel with water above the knee. Others walked through the Canaanite tunnel, a dry tunnel today. Both groups met at the Pool of Siloam. We read portions of John 9 about the blind man healed by Jesus.
From here, the group again split up into two, with one group walking up the Herodian “drainage channel” while others bussed to the south-wall excavations. We met together at the SW corner of the Temple under what is called “Robinson’s Arch.” This arch served to support a 90 degree-angle bridge for priests entering the Temple in Jesus’ day. Here we also saw the huge stones of the Temple that were toppled by the Romans in 70 AD. From here we walked a little east to the southern steps of the Temple. While sitting on the steps, we reflected upon the stories mentioned in the Gospels and the Book of Acts relating to the Temple (Luke 2 & 18; Mark 12 & 13, and Acts 2).
We ended the touring part of the day at the Garden Tomb. After visiting the site and the suggested crucifixion and burial place of Jesus, we enjoyed a time of worship and Communion together.
We drove back to the hotel. 18 of us departed at 3 p.m. for the Allenby Bridge border crossing into Jordan. After crossing, we drove about 3.5 hours to Petra. We had a late dinner before retiring for the evening. We are looking forward to spending a full day here in Petra.
The other 32 in the group enjoyed a relaxing afternoon before loading up the bus and leaving for the airport. On the way, dinner was enjoyed at Abu Gosh. The night flight (11:45 p.m.) is a direct flight back into JFK, NY.
DAY 11– TUESDAY, MARCH 24
For those who flew home last night, we arrived back in the States. We went through US customs before re-checking our bags and getting our connecting flights home. The end of a life-transforming trip! Praise be to God!
For those who continued to Jordan, we enjoyed the entire day in the “red-rose city” of the ancient Nabataeans. Words cannot adequately describe the beauty and uniqueness of this site. Petra is a huge place, covering a total of 60 square miles. We visited just one of the 5 primary valleys.
As we entered the site (at 8:15 a.m.), the morning was bright and sunny. The weather all day long was actually perfect, with highs around 70. We walked through the Siq, with the canyon walls over 100 feet high. The first main tomb of Petra that we come to at the end of the Siq is the famous Treasury. This was probably the tomb of the Nabataean king, Aretas III (see 2 Cor. 11:32). This is also where the 3rd “Indiana Jones” movie ends, as Indy rides out from the Treasury through the Siq.
From here we continued deeper into the site, seeing the royal tombs, the High Place, and the theater along the way. At the end of the Roman street, some in the group ascended to the Monastery tomb located at the far western side of the site. This is another magnificent tomb, one of over 800 within Petra. From the higher view overlooking this tomb, one can look west into the southern area of Israel (across the Aravah valley).
There is so much to see in Petra. We enjoyed walking back towards the Siq, interacting with the local Bedouins, buying souvenirs, and completely being amazed at the uniqueness of this place. Two hiked to Jebel Aaron (Aaron’s Tomb), 2 hours one way. This is the traditional place where Aaron died (he died on Mt. Hor). The view was spectacular from there.
We all arrived back at the hotel at various times. We enjoyed dinner together before retiring early after a tiring but wonderful day here in Petra.
DAY 12– WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25
Today was our last full day, and we made the most of it. We left Petra at 8:15 a.m. It was another beautifully sunny day, with temps reaching the 70s. We drove on the Kings’ Highway (heading NE out of Petra) before taking the Desert Highway straight north. Our last panoramic view of Petra below was spectacular! After a quick stop in Karak after 1.5 hours (at “Ali’s), our first stop was Medeba. Today this is actually primarily a Christian city and is located another 1.5 hours north of Karak. Here we entered St. George’s Church (Greek Orthodox) to see the famous Medeba Map dating to the 6th century AD. It was a map that highlighted much of the middle east region, including Jordan and Israel.
Following a “snack lunch” in Medeba, we drove west to Macheraus, a site we added to today’s program. It was here where John the Baptist was beheaded (Matthew 14, Mark 6). We made the link between Herod Antipas and Phasaliel, the daughter of Aretas, the Nabataean king from Petra. Herod divorced her and married his brother Phillip’s wife.
Driving back through Medeba, our last stop of the day was Mt. Nebo. We read from Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1 about the death of Moses and the words of encouragement offered by his successor, Joshua. From here we could see Jericho in the haze below. We also could look down to the probable route Joshua and the Israelites would have taken in crossing the Jordan River below. Nearby we visited a mosaic school designed to help disabled Jordanians learn a skill. It was quite amazing to learn about how mosaics are made.
We arrived at the Allenby Bridge border crossing about 5 p.m. Crossing back into Israel went smoothly, only taking about 45 minutes. We met our Israeli bus and driver on the other side. After loading the bus, we drove straight to Tel Aviv. We checked in to the Gilgal Hotel for dinner and a few hours sleep before we have to get up early (1:30 a.m.) in order to drive to the airport for our 5:30 a.m. flight home.
It was a good last full day!
DAY 13– THURSDAY, MARCH 26
We woke up early for our flight home. Flying into Amsterdam together, we then flew back to the States on various flights. We all arrived back home safely. Praise be to God!