Biblical Israel Tour Experiences of March, 2014
March 9-19, 2014 (with option from March 19-22)
Sunday, Monday – March 9-10 (Day 1 & 2)
We meet at the Philadelphia Airport on March 9 for our Israel Tour. With the six who arranged their own flight to Israel, 40 of us boarded the US Air flight to Tel Aviv. 10 and a half hours later, we landed in Israel. After passport control and baggage, we exited the Ben Gurion Airport. Meeting our guide (Shlomo) and our driver (Gili), we stopped briefly in Joppa. This was a city mentioned in Jonah 1 and Acts 9 & 10. Everyone enjoyed the warm breezes, the picture-taking of brides (this is a common place for photos of wedding parties), and the view of the coastline of Tel Aviv. We re-boarded the bus and drove to Netanya just north of Tel Aviv.
We arrived at the Seasons hotel about 6:30. We enjoyed our first dinner together, followed by an “orientation meeting” and an optional walk. We walked to the Netanya’s town square as well as down to the beach. It was a long travel day, but we are glad to be here in the land of the Bible.
Tuesday, March 11 (Day 3)
The day started with a 6 a.m. wake-up. A number of people enjoyed the beauty of the Mediterranean beach. The sun and 60 degree morning temperatures were wonderful too (it would remain sunny and mild the entire day). After loading the bus, we departed for our first site on this first full day of touring – Caesarea. This city built by Herod the Great was quite impressive. We saw the theater (where we read from Acts 10, 12, and 26, as well as sang “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” together), palace, hippodrome, numerous mosaics, the harbor area, and the Crusader walls and gate, and marble statutes. Next was Mt. Carmel. We ate “falafel” for lunch at a restaurant owned for many years by a “Druze” family. Ascending the mountain range and the top peak called Muhraqa, we read the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18) and sang together in the Carmelite chapel. The view of the Jezreel Valley below was wonderfully clear! From here we could see the Nazareth Ridge (Luke 4), Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Mt Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
Driving about 30 minutes, we arrived at our next stop – Megiddo. We climbed the “tel” (ancient mound) where we saw various gate structures (Early Bronze – Iron Age/Israelite), a storehouse, and a stable built by King Solomon. We read from Revelation 16 and rejoiced in God’s ultimate redemptive victory over His enemies. We ended the tour by descending down to the water system and tunnel complex. Crossing the Jezreel Valley, our final stop was the precipice of Nazareth. The visibility, especially to the east) was spectacular, with the mountains and even towns of Jordan glimmering in the sunlight. We read from John 1 and Luke 4.
We arrived at our hotel in Tiberias about 6:15. We enjoyed dinner and then an optional walk along the water’s edge. Our first view of the Sea (Lake) of Galilee (Kinneret) was special. We look forward to spending the next two days in this area of Lower and Upper Galilee, and in the Golan.
Wednesday, March 12 (Day 4)
The morning began by driving north. We spent the entire day in The Golan Heights. Our first stop was Dan, a nature preserve and archaeological site. We spent about 2 hours here, walking on the nature trail that winds along one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River. We saw the high place at Dan as well as the Middle Bronze mud-brick gate (that dates to the time of Abraham). We read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the pattern of idolatry here. We also looked into Lebanon from here. The morning sun made it delightful. Close by was Caesarea Philippi, also called Banias. Reading from Matthew 16, we heard again the question Jesus asked of His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We saw the “grotto” excavations here in this pagan city. Ascending eastward into the Golan Heights, we stopped briefly at Nimrod, a Crusader caslte built in the 12th century. While it rained hard here, we still have fun exploring part of the ruins.
Following lunch (at another Druze place by Lake Ram), we drove south along the Syrian border. We were able to look across the border and see a few Syrian cities. From here we drove southward back towards the Sea of Galilee. We stopped at Katzrin, a Talmudic village from the 3-4th century AD. We gathered in a reconstructed house where we read from Mark 2, the story of the lame man being lowered down to Jesus through an opening in the roof. We could really see this wonderful story take place right before our eyes. Our last stop was at a olive oil factory right in the modern city of Katztrin. We enjoyed learning about olive oil production, even buying a few things from the store. We even saw a rainbow!
We drove back to TIberias to our hotel. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by another optional walk and gathering by the water’s edge. Despite the occasional rain, we felt blessed to experience the Bible again on this second full day of the trip.
Thursday, March 13 (Day 5)
Although most of the day was rainy and wet, it was a great day around the Sea of Galilee! Our first experience was Arbel, a 800 foot mountain cliff overlooking the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. A few of the group hiked up (despite the muddy and slippery conditions), while the rest of the group approached the top in a bus from the west. The view from the top was fairly good despite the fog and mist. Thankfully, this first 2 hours of the day was rain free. Leaving Arbel (the rain started then), we drove to Capernaum, the “home base” of Jesus’ ministry. Inside the ruins of the late 4th century synagogue (built most likely over the foundations of the 1st century one), we read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6, all pertaining to the synagogue and the authoritative ministry of Jesus.
At 11:30 we enjoyed a boat ride on the lake. It was rain-free for this hour of worship, reflection, and fellowship. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives. We celebrate the peace that Jesus continues to offer us in our own “storms” of life. We then saw the 1st century boat found at Nof Ginnoar in 1986, followed by a quick lunch at the same place.
Following lunch we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, to a place where that water exits the lake. Here in the Jordan River (“Yardenit”), about half the group renewed their commitment to be followers (“Talmidim”) of Jesus. Despite the chilly waters and heaven rain when we began, it was a meaningful experience that warmed our hearts! Our last stop was the Mt. of Beatitudes. Driving along the eastern then northern side of the lake and we arrived there being greeted with clearing skies. Shlomo read in Hebrew the text from Matthew 5:1-12. After reading the English version of the first section of the “Sermon on the Mount,” We enjoyed an extended time of quiet, worship, and reflection about how God wants to “reign and rule” in our lives. Our prayer is that we will “seek first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).”
We drove back to the hotel for dinner. We enjoyed a relaxing free night, our last night here in Tiberias. What a great day! We all are looking forward to the drive to Jerusalem tomorrow night.
Friday, March 14 (Day 6)
We left Tiberias at 7:45 this morning. We headed south towards the end of the Sea of Galilee. The morning sky was better than the last two days. We made our first stop briefly at the Kenneret Cemetery. A Jewish woman named “Rachel” was buried here. She was a famous poet. Leaving the lake, we continued south to Beth Shean (Bethshan). We read from 1 Samuel 31 about how Saul’s body was placed on the walls of this city by the Philistines. We also read from 2 Corinthians 1 about Paul’s admonition to “stand firm” in our faith that much like a sturdy Roman pillar. We site is massive, complete with an OT “tel” (which over half climbed for the view) and very impressive Roman ruins.
Jericho was our next stop. After lunch in this “City of Palm, we ascended the tel. Looking east we could see where Moses died (Mt. Nebo) and see where Joshua crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 2). Jesus was also baptized in this area (John 1). The archaeological dating of the wall structures was discussed, with the historicity of the Bible being upheld. All the ruins perfectly fit the Joshua 6 text of how Joshua conquered the city.
Driving nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, our last stop of the day was Bethlehem. Our visit of the “City of David” included reading Luke 2 and singing Christmas carols in a cave, the Church of Nativity, and the olive-wood shop.
We returned for dinner at our hotel, the Dan Boutique. This was a free evening, with a few exploring around Jerusalem. We stay here in Jerusalem for the rest of the tour.
Saturday, March 15 (Day 7)
The sun greeted us this morning as we departed the hotel at 7:30. Our destination: The Judean Wilderness and the Dead Sea area. Driving eastward first and descending 4,000 feet in elevation within about 20 miles, and then driving southward along the coastline of the Dead Sea, our first stop was Masada. Upon arriving, we took the cable car up to the top. We heard the story of the 967 Jews were spent nearly 3 years defining the Roman siege of this once Herodian fortress. We saw storehouses, the western and northern palace, and the bathhouse. 14 of the group walked down the Snake Path to the bottom.
We boarded the bus and drove northward now from Masada. The next site was Engedi We read from Songs of Solomon 1:14, 2 Chronicles 20, and 1 Samuel 24. It was somewhere here where David hid from King Saul in a cave We hiked back to the 2nd water falls in this unique oasis area in the heart of the Judean Desert.
Continuing north, our next stop was Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved. We visited the site and saw many mikvot (Jewish ritual baths), scriptoriums, cisterns. In front of Cave 4 we read “Psalm 151” (written by David), Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3:16. We paused to consider not only the miracle of the scrolls’ discovery, but how God has preserved the Truth of His Word for our benefit.
On the way back to the hotel, we made one last “surprise” visit to an overlook of the Wadi Qelt and the heart of the Judean Desert. We read from Isaiah 40 and heard in Hebrew the song of Psalm 23. Arriving back to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional walk to the Western Wall.
It was another great and day in this unique region of the land of Israel!
Sunday, March 16 (Day 8)
It was another sunny day here in Jerusalem. Leaving again at 7:30, our first destination was the Mt. of Olives. Circling the Old City to the north and then east, we arrived for the spectacular view of the Temple Mount. From here we could see many things. We read the Palm Sunday story from Luke 19 as well as Zechariah 14 that speaks of Christ’s return to the Mt. of Olives. From here we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane we where spent a few moments of reflection and quietness pondering the passion of Christ. We read from Luke 22.
Next, we entered the Old City through the “Lion’s Gate” (also called St. Stephens or Jericho Gate). Our first stop inside the Old City was the Pools of Bethesda. Here, we sang in St. Anne’s Church (with an 8-10 second echo) and saw the ruins of this ancient pool mentioned in John 5. From here we walked along part of the traditional “Via Dolorosa.” This “way of the cross” is quite busy and crowded with vendors and tourists.
Exiting the Old City through the Zion’s Gate, we were picked up by our bus and drove to Herodium. Located just east of Bethlehem at the edge of the Wilderness of Judah (and by the village of Tekoa, where the prophet Amos was from), this was the burial place for King Herod. We hiked up to the top of this “artificial” hill and were impressed by this palace built by King Herod. We walked through the water/cistern system to leave the site.
The afternoon was spent in west Jerusalem. First, we visited the Israel Museum where we saw the 1:50 scale model of 1st century Jerusalem. We also saw the highlights of the archaeological wing of the museum. Most of what we saw connected to the Bible in one way or another. Nearby was Yad Veshem, the Holocaust Museum & Memorial. It was moving to hear Shlomo’s family story in Poland during WWII. We walked through the Children’s Memorial (1.5 million children were killed), and the museum itself. It was a humbling experience.
We returned to our hotel for dinner. An optional walk followed to Ben Yehuda Street. With today and tomorrow being “Purim,” (a Jewish holiday commemorating the life of Esther), it was a lot of fun to see some modern Israeli life.
Monday, March 17 (Day 9)
It was a perfect weather day in Jerusalem … sunny and mild. We started from the hotel at 7:45 this morning. We drove just a few minutes to our first site, the “South Wall excavations.” This entire area, excavated in the 1970s up through today, pertains to the 2nd Temple Period, or the time of the New Testament. We walked up the very Temple southern steps, the primary entry into the Temple courts from the common population. While sitting on the steps, we referred to the stories mentioned in Luke 2 (Simeon), Luke 17 (Pharisee and tax collector), Mark 12 (question of which is the greatest command), Mark 13 (a passing comment made by the disciples about how impressed they were with the building of the Temple), and Acts 2 (Peter’s Pentecost/Shavuot sermon when 3,000 became believers).
Close by, we walked to the SW corner of the Temple and saw the Romans pavement below, the Temple stones toppled by the Romans in 70 AD, and remnants of “Robinson’s Arch” (a priestly entry into the Temple).
Leaving this area, we entered the “Western Wall Tunnel.” We walked parallel to this western retaining wall (about 1,200 feet), being impressed with how Herod the Great’s builders placed all these stones (especially the “Master Stone” weighing over 500 tons). From the end of this tunnel, we walked about to the Western Wall. Many went up to the Wall to pray. Many Bar Mitzvah celebrations were going on. We ate lunch in the Jewish Quarter, observing all the “Purim” fun (people dress up in costumes).
The afternoon as spent by visiting the City of David. We learned the stories of 2 Samuel 5 (David conquering the Jebusites), and 2 Kings 20 / 2 Chronicles 32 (Hezekiah and the water tunnel). We visited the excavations, “Warren’s Shaft,” and Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Many walked through this 1,720 foot tunnel through the water. It was a blast! The tunnel exits at the Siloam Pool where we read John 9 while sitting on the pool’s very steps!
We ended the day by visiting the Garden Tomb. We shared Worship & Communion together. It was a wonderful time together.
We returned to the hotel for dinner, with some enjoying an optional walk and ice cream at the old Railroad Station.
Tuesday, March 18 (Day 10)
It was a great free day, with perfect weather once again! Most of the group walked towards the Old City together at 8:30 a.m., while others enjoyed a relaxing morning at the hotel. As a group, we saw a few extra sites, including two sites on “Mt. Zion” – the Upper Room and Oscar Schindler’s tomb. We also saw from a distance the traditional “House of Caiaphas” / “Peter Gallicantu Church” (where Jesus was bound by the Jewish High Priest and Peter denied Jesus)
Next, we entered the Old City through the Zion’s Gate and walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church preserves the possible area of both Christ’s crucifixion and burial. While this site most likely is at least the area of Christ’s death and resurrection, it is hard to see through all the “religiosity” of the site itself.
Other experiences included on this free day were: Shoreshim (a conversation with Moshe, an Orthodox Jew), rampart walk (along the tops of the Turkish walls), and shopping. We returned to the hotel in time for those who are returning home tonight to load their luggage on the bus. Together we drove a short distance to the “Olives & Loaves” restaurant. It was a very nice “last supper” for the group. Upon finishing, Shlomo accompanied 19 of the group to the airport for their flight home. Of the rest of us traveling into Jordan tomorrow, some visited the King David Hotel (to see the signatures of famous dignitaries / people on the floor), and Herod’s family tomb (complete with a rolling stone). Some even stopped at the old RR station for ice cream.
It was a great day to explore on our own here in Jerusalem!
Wednesday, March 19 (Day 11)
The Jordan extension began this morning as we left the hotel at around 7:30 a.m. We crossed into Jordan at the Allenby Bridge. Once we made the crossing, we were greeted by “Mo” our Jordanian guide. Leaving the passport center, the first site we visited was Mt. Nebo located on the high mountain in the area of Moab. This is where Moses died. Here we read from Deuteronomy 31, 34, and Joshua 1. Moses’ and Joshua’s words of encouragement (“Be strong and courageous…”) were word that empowered the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan and conquered Jericho and 30 other cities.
Nearby was Medeba. We visited a mosaic school, one of about 30 in the country, where beautiful mosaics are made by disabled Jordanians. We then entered the city of Medeba to visit St. George Church (Greek Orthodox) where we saw the famous “Medeba Map” dating to the 6th century AD. On this map, Jerusalem is featured with great detail.
The next site we visited was Macherus. Located on a high hill on the east side of the Dead Sea, this was one of Herod’s palaces It was also where John the Baptist was beheaded. We read from Mark 6 about this dramatic yet tragic story of the prophet of God losing his life. While it was hazy, we could see the Dead Sea glimmering.
Leaving this area, we headed east on the King’s Highway. On the way, we saw a few black irises. These bloom only once a year for a few weeks and in only in a 4-5 places in Jordan (and no where else in the world!). It was very unique to see. Driving on the Desert Highway, we drove south to Petra. We arrived at our hotel (we were surprisingly upgraded to the fancy Movinpick Hotel right at the entrance of the ancient site of Petra!) for a late dinner.
We are excited to spend 5-6 hours within this ancient “red-rose city” tomorrow!
Thursday, March 20 (Day 12)
What a spectacular day! It was a brilliantly sunny day, with perfect temperatures for Petra and Wadi Rum! We started out from the hotel at 7:30 a.m. Walking into the entrance of this ancient Nabataean city was awesome. While some took the horse-drawn buggies, others walked through the “Siq” (canyon) into the city itself. The “Treasury” (the famous monument/tomb in the last Indiana Jones movie) awaited us. The red-rose sandstone of the canyon walls and many of the tombs was incredible. Mo, our guide, shared with us a little Nabataean history and a quick summary of Petra.
Walking further into the city, we saw numerous tombs (there are about 1,100 in total in this 40 square mile city), a Roman theater (the only one cut into the side of the cliff, one that could hold 4,000 people), and the Roman street. Some enjoyed coffee while viewing the famous Urn tomb, while others hiked to the “Monastery” tomb at the far western edge of the city (a walk of about 2.5 miles). This was an uphill climb of about 850 steps.
Walking back from the Monastery (downhill) was followed by 5 of us with a hike up to the “High Place.” The view from up top was wonderful, allowing us to see a large part of the city below.
All of us got back to the hotel by 1:45, allowing us to load the bags and drive 1.5 hours south to Wadi Rum. Upon arriving, we enjoyed about a 2 hour jeep ride, including a time of quietness as well as a time of listening to praise music as the sun set to the west.
We stayed the night at “Captains Desert Camp,” in Bedouin tent accommodations. We enjoyed a unique dinner, followed by a special time of worship out into the desert. Sitting on a sand dune, we gazed into the heavens, with the stars brilliantly shining above, reminding us of the promise made to Abraham (Gen. 12). We slept in tents. While the accommodations were humble (we each had our own tents), it was a great and unique encounter!
Friday/Saturday, March 21-22 (Day 13-14)
We woke up early, with some enjoying the sunrise here in Wadi Rum. It was sure a unique experience staying here last night. After breakfast, we packed the bus and drove to the Aravah “Rabin” Border near the Red Sea. Crossing back into Israel was fairly easy but a little longer than usual. We were greeted by Gili, our Israeli driver, and Eli, our guide for the day.
Our first stop was Timnah, a unique national park in the heart of the southern desert of Israel. Here we saw a full-size Tabernacle model, giving us a great perspective of the OT Tabernacle used in the Sinai wandering and in places like Shechem, Shiloh, and Gibeon prior to the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Timnah was an ancient copper mine throughout the early days of the OT, even perhaps in the days of Solomon. Before leaving Timnah, we also enjoyed a short hike around a natural rock formation called “Solomon’s Pillars.”
From here we drove north through the Wilderness of Paran and the “Machtesh Ramon,” Israel’s “Grand Canyon.” This unique “crater” surrounded by limestone cliffs was beautiful.
Driving north towards Beersheba, we passed through the Wilderness of Zin. This was the route that the 12 spies took when they explored this “land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13). It was Joshua and Caleb who came back to Moses with a favorable report.
Passing Beersheba (and the ancient tel, Genesis 21 & 27), we continued north and west towards Tel Aviv. Passing by Gath (where Goliath was from) and the Elah Valley, we read the story from 1 Samuel 17 about the battle between David and this Philistine Giant. We finally arrived at a restaurant along the Med Sea. We got there just in time for a marvelous sunset over the water. After dinner we drove to the airport, proceeded through ticketing and security, and boarded the plane for our night flight home. We arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday morning for our connecting flights/rides home
It was a great trip! We praise God for His traveling mercies and the life-changing encounters we experienced on this trip!