Biblical Israel Tours Experiences for the 14 Day Combined Israel & Jordan Tour
March 11-24, 2018, with one day service project with Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY-MONDAY, MARCH 11-12: DEPART U.S.A. – ARRIVE IN ISRAEL
Departure & Arrival
Our day of departure finally arrived, With great excitement and anticipation, we embarked on our flight to Israel, the land of the Bible! With thanksgiving to God, we all made our connection flights. Enduring the long night-flight, the coast of Israel came into view. Landing at the Ben Gurion Airport (named after Israel’s first Prime Minister in 1948), with patience we passed through the long lines of Passport Control. Grabbing our luggage (it all arrived!), we met Shlomo (our guide) and David (our driver).
After loading the bus, we departed the airport for a brief stop in Jaffa (Joppa). Located on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, this is where Jonah ran from God (Jonah) and where Peter leaded Dorcas and had his vision (Acts 9, 10). We walked through the quiet alley ways and gained a great view of the coastline of Tel Aviv.
From here we drove north to Netanya. After checking in, we enjoyed a late dinner together followed by a brief orientation meeting.
It is great to be here in Israel!!
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, MARCH 13: CAESAREA, CARMEL, MEGIDDO, SEPPORIS, PRECIPICE OF NAZARETH, TIBERIAS
Today was our first full day of the tour. We enjoyed the sun all day long, with highs in the mid 70s. Perfect!
Leaving the hotel at 7:30 after a great breakfast and checkout, we drove north to Caesarea. This was a city located right on the Mediterranean coastline by Herod the Great in 22 BC. We started in the Roman theater. We read about Peter (Acts 10), Herod Agrippa (Acts 12), Philip (Acts 21), and Paul (Acts 26). Walking through the rest of the site we saw the palace, the hippodrome, many mosaics, a few statutes, and the harbor area. We exited the site by walking through an impressive Crusader gate. We also saw the stone water aqueduct before leaving.
Leaving the Sharon Plain, we headed to the Mt. Carmel Range. Driving to the top (called Muhraqa), we read the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18) and celebrated God’s amazing and awesome display of power and might! We also enjoyed singing a few songs in the small chapel! The roof of the chapel provided the first of three views of the Jezreel Valley below. It was a bit hazy, limiting the view. Close by we ate lunch at the Druze restaurant. We had our first opportunity to eat a falafel sandwich! 🙂
Descending down off the Carmel Range, we drove along the edge of the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo. This is a large archaeological site with over two dozen levels of occupation that span about 2,500 years (from Early Bronze-Canaanite to Iron Age II-Israelite). We talked about the strategic importance of the city and saw a nice model of the tel (“ancient mound:) before climbing the site itself. On our way to the top we saw three gate structures as well other structures (e.g. Solomon’s stables). From the top we recalled the promising words of Revelation 16 (a reference to Armageddon). We celebrated that in the end, God has the final Word when Christ returns! After seeing the grain silo, we exited the site by descending down 180 steps through the ancient water system.
Leaving Megiddo, we drove across the Jezreel Valley to a Jewish-Hellenistic city called Sepporis. This city served as an administrative capital of the Lower Galilee during the days of Jesus (Josephus called it the ornament of the Galilee). Walking on the Cardo (the main stone pavement through the city, we saw amazing mosaics from the Roman and Late Roman period. The highlight was seeing the incredibly detailed mosaic called the Mona Lisa of the Galilee.
Precipice of Nazareth
Our last stop of the day was to the precipice of Nazareth. This provided us yet another perspective of the valley below. We also could see Mt. Tabor (Deborah and Barak – Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Gideon -Judges 7), and Mt. Gilboa (Saul & his three sons, 1 Samuel 31). Sitting on rocks we read for Luke 4 and John 1. We were invited to heed the word shared my Philip to “come and see” Jesus anew! We enjoyed a quiet time of reflection before walking back to the bus.
Driving through the edge of Nazareth and Cana (John 2), we arrived at our “kibbutz-hotel” called Nof Ginnosar. We enjoyed dinner together followed by a free night. It was a great first day here in Israel!
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14: GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. It was another sunny day, with perfect temps around 75. It would be a day of blessing.
Plain of Bethsaida
Following a great breakfast (with freshly-squeezed orange juice), we left the hotel around 7:30. Driving to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, we then headed east towards Bethsaida (the hometown of Peter, Andrew, and Philip, John 1). While the muddy and rutted dirt road to El Araj (a new possible site for the Bethsaida) prevented us from seeing this new excavation, we drove to a wonderful overlook further east of the region below. Here we could see the eastern shoreline of the lake (Mark 5), Tiberias to the west, and with the good visibility even the top of Mt. Tabor far in the distance in the Jezreel Valley. To the north we could see Mt. Hermon (Israel’s highest peak – 7,300 feet, see Psalm 133). But looking down to the lake we read form Mark 8 (healing of the blind man from Bethsaida) and John 6 (the Feeding of the 5,000).
Continuing to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our next stop. This was a Jewish city from the 1st century BC. The city was one of the first major cities taken by the Romans during the First Revolt (66 AD). We walked to the 1st century synagogue here. Although not mentioned specifically, perhaps Jesus taught here as He did in many of the Galilean synagogues (Mt. 4). We even saw a few griffon vultures.
The Talmudic village of Katzrin (dating from 3rd-7th century AD) was our next stop. We were introduced to the Hebraic background of the culture, and specifically of the life and ministry of Jesus here. Entering the reconstructed house of Rabbi Abun, we read from Mark 2 about Jesus healing the crippled man lowered down to Him through the roof. We could see it happening in a stone house like this! Here, Jesus also displayed authority (s’mekah) in forgiving the man’s sins too. We paused to celebrate God’s forgiveness for us! Leaving the site we walked through the synagogue.
Eating bananas, apples, and snacks for lunch today, we made out way to Bental. We saw a few gazelles along the way! This old Israeli military outpost overlooks the border with Syria. Shlomo shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars that took place in this region. Looking across the border, we could see Kuneitra as well as numerous other Syrian towns. We felt perfectly safe here despite what has happened in Syria so close to the border. The up-close view of Mt. Hermon was amazing!
Descending down off the Golan Heights, we visited Caesarea Philippi. This was a pagan city during the day so of Jesus. Yet it was in this region where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We saw the grotto/cultic center of the city, which included a Temple of Augustus, and shrines dedicated to Pan, Nemesis, Zeus, and the sacred goats.
Our last stop of the day was to the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. Walking along the largest tributary of the Jordan River (Banias and Hatsbani are the others), we enjoyed the beauty of this area. We stopped along the path to listen to Shlomo share a song on his recorder and to read (and sing) Psalm 42. Walking further, we entered the archaeological site. At the altar and high place built by Jeroboam, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. Overlooking the Lebanon border to the north, we also heard Shlomo share about the present situation with this country. Leaving the site, we saw a mud-brick gate that possibly dates to the time of Abraham.
Back to the Hotel
From here we drove back home through the Huleh Valley. Passing Abel Beit Macaah (where Pastor John dug in 2014), we read from 2 Samuel 20 about the “wise woman.” On our way back to the hotel we also passed by Hazor, a major Canaanite city destroyed by Joshua (Josh. 11). We returned to the hotel for dinner and a nice gathering down by the water’s edge.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, MARCH 15: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE, YARDENIT, MT. OF BEATITUDES
Today was a day of focusing upon the life and ministry of Jesus here in the region of the Sea of Galilee. It weather provided mostly sunny skies, with highs in the low 70s.
Following another plentiful breakfast, we drove about five minutes to the trailhead leading up a 800 foot cliff called Arbel. 11 in the group climbed, while the rest of the group bussed around to the other side and ascended the top with a shorter walk. The view from the top was stunning. We could see the entire NW corner of the lake (Sea of Galilee) below. Before leaving the top, a number of couples renewed their wedding vows! It was special!
Driving to the southern end of the lake, six in the group renewed their baptism in the waters of the Jordan River. We had the entire placed (called Yardenit) to ourselves. While the water was a bit chilly still this time of year, the experience was rewarding!
Driving back through Tiberias, our next stop was Magdala. This was where a certain “Mary” was from. Unique to this archeological site is the 1st century synagogue uncovered here. It took a simple rectangular shape but no bigger than to hold about 60 people. We could picture Jesus teaching here!
Following lunch (the traditional St. Peter’s fish), we visited Chorazin. This was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus. In the 3rd century synagogue we read from Matthew 23 about the Moses’ seat. We also learned a life-lesson about humility. The entire city was built with black basaltic stone.
Down on the shoreline, Capernaum is located. As we entered the site, we made our way to the 5th century synagogue (the 1st century one is below). Here we sat together and heard the many stories that took here involving Jesus (Mark 1, 2, 5, and 9; Luke 7; and John 6). Besides seeing other 1st century ruins of houses, and a 5th century octagonal church, we enjoyed a few moments of quiet reflection on the shoreline. This was most likely where Jesus called the fishermen disciples! He also called Matthew (Levi) here too to follow Him.
Boat Ride/Ancient Boat
Returning to Nof Ginnosar, we boarded our own boat for a 50 minute “sail” on the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the storm storm narratives about Jesus calming the stormy waters. Following this, we saw the ancient boat that dates to the 1st century! It was found in 1986 by two brothers.
Mt. of Beatitudes
The last stop of the day was the Mt. of Beatitudes. While sitting on the rocks overlooking a natural amphitheater, we listened to the first part of Matthew 5 in both Hebrew and English. It is possible that more than 5,000 would have listened to Jesus share these kingdom principles. Following a quiet time, many in the group walked down the pathway that leads to the water’s edge below. This sunset encounter was special and a great way to end the day.
We returned to our hotel for dinner. Many in the group enjoyed painting their stones collected from Capernaum.
It was a day where the life and ministry of Jesus came alive!
DAY 6 – FRIDAY, MARCH 16: KINNERET CEMETERY, JORDAN NORTHERN BORDER CROSSING, JERASH, MT. NEBO, PETRA
This morning we left the Sea of Galilee area. We were once again greeted with sun, with eventual high temps in the 70s. Perfect once again!
Leaving at 7:15 following breakfast, we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the Kinneret Cemetery. This was a cemetery used by early Jewish pioneers to the land. We stood around the grave of a certain Rachel (Bluwstein). She immigrated from Ukraine to Israel in 1909 and died in 1931. She is known for her poetry. She even appears on the new 20 shekel bill.
Jordan Border Crossing/Jerash
Driving south about 20 miles through the Jordan Valley, we made our crossing into Jordan at the Sheik Border Crossing. With a little patience, we crossed without any issues. We we met on the Jordan side by our Jordanian guide, Sammy, and our driver.
After loading the bus, we drove about an hour and half to Jeresh. This was a huge Decopolis city of the Romans. Here we saw many things, including the hippodrome, the massive theater, and Temple of Athena, the many other ancient ruins.
Driving south through the edge of Amman we arrived at Mt. Nebo. Here we looked westward into back into Israel (the Promised Land) as Moses did before he died on this mountain. We read from Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1. We were encouraged to be “strong and courageous” in our walk of faith. Before leaving, we also saw the newly renovated chapel built over the ruins of a Byzantine church (4-5th century AD). The mosaics were beautiful! We also stopped briefly at a mosaic shop. Here we saw a replica of the Medeba Map, a 6th century AD map of the Holyland.
Drive to Petra
From here we continued through the city of Medeba and drove south on the Desert Highway to Petra. The drive took about 3.5 hours, with a short break on the way. Arriving at our hotel we enjoyed a late dinner together before retiring for the night. We are looking forward to visiting Petra early tomorrow!
DAY 7 – SATURDAY, MARCH 17: PETRA, WADI RUM
Today was an amazing day here in Jordan! Between the beauty of God’s creation and the unique experiences at both Petra and Wadi Rum, we are grateful to God. The weather was perfect again, with full sun, cloudless deep blue skies, and temps in the 70s.
Following an earlier breakfast we departed at 7 am for the entrance of Petra. We would spend about 6.5 hours within this red-rose ancient city. We are here in the Seir Mountains, the land of the Edomites as mentioned in the Bible. We began our experience here with walking into the site of Petra through the canyon called the Siq. At the end of the Siq we came to the most prominent and well-known monument called “The Treasury” (Al-Khazneh). This well-preserved monumental tomb appears in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It served as the tomb of Aretas III or IV (who Paul actually mentions in 2 Cor. 11).
From the Treasury, the site opens up. Walking further we past 100s of other tombs/burial chambers as well as one of the largest theaters in Jordan. Carved into the sand stone, this theater could hold 3000 people!
Just past the theater are the Royal Tombs. Some in the group explored these while others hiked to the western edge of Petra to the famous Monastery Tomb. The hike ascended about 750 feet in elevation over the course of about 900 steps, but it was well worth it. The view from above the Monastery provided the opportunity to look westward into Israel and the Aravah Valley & southern Negev. A couple in the group also hiked to the top of the High Place.
We all walked back to the entrance on our own, enjoying the unique beauty of this site. What an incredible place Petra is. It is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Driving south and a little east about two hours, we arrive at Wadi Rum. This Jordanian desert is known for the story of Sir Lawrence of Arabia during WWI. Here we enjoyed a jeep ride through the desert. We stopped for a few panoramic views as well as for the sunset as we listened to a few worship songs.
Captains Bedouin Tent “Hotel”
The jeeps took us to our dwelling for the night, a Bedouin Tent facility called Captains. We enjoyed a unique dinner (with the meat prepared in an underground pit covered in sand), with a camp-fire under the brilliant stars to follow. Truly, the heavens declare the glory of God! We retired to our own individual camel-wool tents for the evening!
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, MARCH 18: SOUTHERN BORDER CROSSING INTO ISRAEL, RED SEA, TIMNAH, EIN BOKEK/DEAD SEA
Today was a “cross-over” day once again. We awoke to Sammy’s (our guide) unique “wakie wakie” wake-up call. So we rolled out of our tents here in Wadi Rum around 6 am. The warm sun greeted us, with high temps at the end of the day about 90.
Jordan-Israel Crossing / Read Sea – Coral Beach
Driving from Wadi Rum to the southern border crossing at Aqaba/Elat took about an hour. With no groups ahead of us, this Rabin crossing only took about an hour. David and Shlomo greeted us on the other side. After loading up the bus, we drove to Coral Beach where a number of people enjoyed a swim in the Red Sea. The water was clear and the coral and fish were amazing!
Timnah – Tabernacle Model
Driving north about 20 miles we arrived at Timnah. In the 13th century BC, this was the site of an Egyptian copper mine. After seeing a brief movie about the copper found here, we drove to the display of a full-size Tabernacle was described in the Old Testament. 150 x 75 feet was the size. 50 chapters in the OT are dedicated to the design, building, and use of this Tent of Meeting. We were guided around the model, seeing in the courtyard the sacrificial altar and the bronze laven. In the Holy Chamber we saw the Table of Showbread, the Menorah, and the Incense Altar. The priest and High Priest were also adorned in their garments. In the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. We read from Hebrews 9 about how Jesus came to fulfill the sacrificial system once and for all.
For lunch we drove just a few miles north to a dairy-kibbutz called Yotvata. Here we met Shlomo’s sister. We also enjoyed incredible ice cream here!
We drove just shy of two hours to our hotel located on the southern end of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47). Upon checking in, many quickly changed and walked down to the shoreline of the Dead Sea. This unique body of water is about 33% salt and mineral, making it impossible to sink. As the sun set to the west, the appearance of the Jordanian mountains on the other side took almost a pink color. To float here was a fun experience! After getting showers, we enjoyed dinner and a free night.
DAY 9 – MONDAY, MARCH 19: MASADA, EIN GEDI, QUMRAN, JERICHO, WILDERNESS OF JUDAH, JERUSALEM
We spent the entire day in the Judean Desert along the west side of the Dead Sea. The sun would be bright with warm but bearable temps in the high 80s.
Following breakfast and check-out, we left the hotel a little after 7:45. Driving just 15 minutes north along the Dead Sea and reading Psalm 18:1-2 as we started the day (God is my rock, my fortress – “metzada” in Hebrew), our first stop was Masada. Taking the cable-car to the top of this 1,000 foot high “stand alone” fortress originally built by Herod the Great, we saw the ruins (southern palace, Roman ramp, casemate wall, synagogue, northern palace, and bathhouse). We also heard the story of Masada shared passionately by Shlomo. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Masada was used as a place of refuge for 967 Jews. Leaving the site, we took the cable car back down. Nine in the group hiked down the Snake Path.
Continuing to drive north, we arrived at Engedi, the oasis in the Judean Desert. Walking back into the canyon, we read from Song of Songs 1 (about the henna blossoms of Engedi), 2 Chronicles 20 (the “Ascent of Ziz”) and 1 Samuel 24. This is where David encountered King Saul in a cave. We walked back to the water falls further up in the canyon. Some enjoyed getting very wet!
Only about 30 minutes further north is Qumran. This was the most important archaeological site in all of Israel, for this is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. During the lunch hour, 15 in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first scrolls were found (including the famous Isaiah Scrolls). Following lunch we visited the site itself, seeing the ruins of the scribes of the texts, the Essene community. Standing in front of Cave 4 (and where #5 was), we read from “Psalm 151” (an extra psalm found in Cave 11) as well as Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3:16. Praise God for the amazing preservation of God’s Word!
From here we visit Old Testament Jericho. This city is located just north of the Dead Sea. Climbing the “tel,” we first looked east across the Jordan Valley to see Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34). It was in the Jordan River across from where Jesus was baptized (John 1). We also talked about how the archaeology here matches well (“confirms”) the biblical story of Joshua 6. Standing on the southern end, we saw the double retaining stone walls of the city. It was on top of these stone walls that the mud brick wall was placed. It was this mud brick wall that came tumblin’ down when the shofars sounded! Praise God for the reliability of Scripture!
Wadi Qelt & on to Jerusalem
On our drive west to Jerusalem (18 miles), we made a brief stop overlooking the Wadi Qelt. This is part of the Judean Desert. As the sun was setting, we heard the words of Isaiah 40 shared with us as well as Psalm 23. The desert here serves as the context for these passages!
Arriving in Jerusalem, we checked into our hotel. Upon finishing dinner, we enjoyed an orientation walk to the Western Wall! We walked through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to there and back. It is exciting to be in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, MARCH 20: MT. OF OLIVES, GETHSEMANE, OLD CITY, POOL OF BETHESDA, CHURCH OF HOLY SEPULCHER, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was our first day in Jerusalem, and it was a great one! The weather was perfect, with full sun and temps in the low 70s.
Mt. of Olives
Leaving the hotel about 7:30 after breakfast, we drove around the Old City of Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Here we enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire Old City, the Temple Mount, the the City of David to the south. Walking down to the chapel called Dominus Flavet, we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. From here we continued our walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Brother Diego greeted us here. We also enjoyed a quite reflective time here, considering the passion of Jesus (Luke 22).
We walked to the Old City from here through St. Stephen’s Gate (also called the Lion’s and Jericho gate). At the Pools of Bethesda we read from John 5 about the healing that took place here. We also sounded angelic as we sang a few songs in St. Anne’s Church (Crusader, with an eight-second echo!). We continued our walk to the Holy Sepulcher Church in the heart of the Christian Quarter. This is one of two possible places for the crucifixion and burial tomb of Jesus. We explored the church on our own. It dates to 325 AD. We also ate lunch nearby.
We walked out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and boarded our bus. We drove southeast to Herodium. This was where Herod the Great was buried in 4 BC. We climbed this partially artificial hill to the top, offering us a good view of Jerusalem to the north, the Judean Desert to the east, Bethlehem to the west, and Tekoa to the south. We even saw some migrating storks fly overhead. We descended down through the cistern system of the site.
Nearby in Beit Sahour, we made a brief stop at the Shepherds’ Fields. Descending into a cave at the Shepherds’ Fields, we read from Micah 5 and Luke 2, in celebration of Christ’s birth that came “just at the right time (Galatians 4:4).” We also sang a few carols in the cave as well as in the chapel. To end the day, we visited an olive wood shop and store owned by Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. The olive wood pieces are amazing!
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street for some shopping and a taste of more modern Israeli life.