Biblical Israel Tour Experiences for our 14 Day Extensive Biblical Israel Tour (including a day in Sinai, Egypt)
May 4-17, 2019
GROUP PHOTOS (Days 1-8):
GROUP PHOTOS (Days 9-13):
GROUP DRONE VIDEO:
TOUR MEMBERS PHOTOS:
DAYS 1 & 2 – SATURDAY-SUNDAY, MAY 4-5: DEPARTURE FOR & ARRIVAL IN ISRAEL, JAFFA
Ben Gurion Airport
Our trip began today! Using various connection flights from the U.S., the group all arrived safely in Tel Aviv, Israel. We proceeded through Passport / Customs upon landing here at the Ben Gurion Airport. The airport is named after Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion.
After seeing greeted by our agents, guide (Shlomo) and driver (David), we bored the bus and drove to Jaffa (Joppa). We walked around this Tel Aviv southern suburb, using the 100 year old alleyways. It was here in Jaffa where Jonah rain from God’s direction (Jonah 1), and where Peter healed Dorcas (Tabitha, Acts 9). Peter also had a vision here on the rooftop of a house (Acts 10).
Driving 15 minutes north through rush-hour traffic, we arrived at our hotel. It is located right on the Mediterranean Sea. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together (the sunset out the window was beautiful) as well as a brief orientation meeting following this great first meal! After the meeting many in the group walked on the beach. We are looking forward to a great trip together.
DAY 3 – MONDAY, MAY 6: GEZER, BEIT SHEMESH, ELAH VALLEY, BEIT GURVIN, LACHISH, BE’ER SHEVA
Today was our first full day here in Israel. After a great buffet breakfast, we loaded and boarded the bus. We started our day with Psalm 100, prayer, and a few songs (“Oh, the sun’s coming up…”). The weather was warm and sunny in the morning, with overcast skies setting in for the afternoon. High temps were in the low 80s. And with the “Gaza situation” ending, we proceeded with our original itinerary for the day.
Driving to the Shephelah from the Tel Aviv/Coastal Plains, we arrived at our first site, Gezer. This was a large 35 acre Canaanite and Israelite city. At the site we saw Canaanite ruins (a large fortification tower, water system, and gate) as we as a gate built by Solomon among the Israelite ruins. We read from Joshua 10 (moon standing still over the Aijalon Valley) and 1 Kings 9 (Solomon re-fortifying the city). With the discovery of the Gezer Calendar (about the ancient agriculturally seasons of the year), we also read from Ecclesiastes 3 about the seasons of life. Leaving the site, we walked past the standing stones of the Canaanites.
Beth Shemesh/Sorek Valley
Driving south to the Sorek Valley, Beth Shemesh was our next site to visit. At this OT site we recalled the life of Samson (born in Zorah across the valley) from Judges 13-16. Further west in the valley was where Timnah was located. We also read 1 Samuel 6 about the Ark of the Covenant being returned from Philistines hands to Beth Shemesh. We could see it happening right before our eyes! Some entered down into a cistern here, one of 100s in the area of this biblical city. After visiting the ancient site, we enjoyed lunch at a local new shopping mall.
Kh. Qeiyafa/Elah Valley
The newer archaeological site of Kh. Qeiyafa was our next stop. Located along the Elah Valley, this ancient “one-occupation” site may have been Shaaryim mentioned in the Bible. While David drove us almost to the top of this site (over a very poor dirt road), we walked the rest of the way ourselves to one of the two gates of the city. With a great view of “battlefield,” we read from 1 Samuel 17. It was in the narrow part of the valley where David defeated (and killed) Goliath, the Philistine giant. Praise God that He still brings us victories in our lives when, like David, we place our faith and trust confidently in Him!
Mareshah/Beit Guvrin Valley
Driving further south to the Beit Guvrin Valley, Mareshah was our next visit. This served as the home of Micah the prophet. We entered two caves. First, the columbarium cave (that held 2,000 pigeons) and the bell cave. Shlomo played his recorded here. We also sang a few songs. We read from Micah 1 and 5.
Our last site of the day was Lachish. This was another Canaanite and then later Israelite city. Joshua took the city in two days (Joshua 10). Later, Rehoboam re-fortified the city (2 Chr. 11). Still later, the city was destroyed twice more. First, by the Sennacherib and the Assyrians (in 701 BC, the siege ramp can still be seen), and second by the Babylonians in the early 6th century BC. We saw the double walls and gates of the city as well as the palace of Rehoboam. We read from Jeremiah 34:7 and learned about the Lachish Letter #4.
From here we drove about 50 minutes to Beersheba where we checked in, enjoyed dinner, followed by a brief gathering of worship and preparation for the trip down into the Sinai tomorrow!
DAY 4 – TUESDAY, MAY 7: BE’ER SHEVA, SDE BOKER, MACHTESH RAMON, TIMNAH, ELAT, TABA CROSSING INTO SINAI, TABA HEIGHTS
Today was a sunny and mild day, with highs around 75. Being here in the Negev of Israel this time of year, this is actually on the cool side. After breakfast we checked out, loaded the bus, and started our second full day. We read Psalm 126.
Our drive to Tel Beersheba was only about 10 minutes. This is primarily an archaeological site that dates to the Israelite period (10th – 6th century BC). The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” is used a lot to describe the northern and southern boundaries of the land. Climbing the tel, we saw a replica of the four-horned altar, a water well, a Solomonic gate and storehouses, the city’s casemate wall, and a number of 4-room Israelite houses. By the water well, we read from Genesis 21 (about Abraham making a treaty here). Isaac was also here (Gen. 26). So was Jacob (Gen. 49) and Elijah (1 Kings 19). We also remembered Psalm 23. It is His cup (e.g. well trough) that overflows continually with His goodness towards us. We left the site by descending down through the impressive water cistern.
Driving south to the Desert of Zin, we visited David Ben Gurion’s grave. This first Prime Minister of Israel in 1948 and his wife (Paula) are buried here. He loved the Negev and actually lived here in a modest house during his last years. The view of the Zin was spectacular. The 12 spies (Numbers 13) came up through here. Also, Moses struck the rock for water here as well (Numbers 20).
Continuing southward, we drove to the rim of Israel’s grand canyon. It is called the Machtesh Ramon. The unique geological formations make for a great panoramic picture. We then drove down through this “crater” and through the Desert of Paran. We stopped at the Yovata kibbutz for lunch and for their famous ice cream!
Our last site of the day was Timnah. This was an ancient Egyptian coper mine used in the 14-13th century BC. Geologically, the rock formations are unique here as well. But we came to see the full-size model of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting. Zach, a local guide, walked us around the court yard and into the Holy Chamber. Inside this chamber was the Table of God’s Presence (Shewbread), the Menorah, and the incense altar. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. We read form Hebrews 9 how Jesus came and fulfilled the role of the High Priest through his once and for all sacrifice!
Red Sea/Elat/Taba Border
With the Red Sea now in view as we drove to the southern border of Israel, we drove through Elat (an Israeli city of about 60,000) to the Taba Border Crossing. We unloaded our “night bags,” said goodbye to David (our driver) for one day), and proceeded through passport and customs into the Sinai! This portion of the Sinai was given back to Egypt in June, 1982. The crossing went as anticipated, with a lot of bags and passport checked along the way. Finally on the Egyptian side, we met our Egyptian agent and bus. We drove a short distance to the beautiful Movenpick Hotel right on the Red Sea! Some enjoyed swimming before we ate dinner together. At 10:30 p.m., 21 of us drove three hours to the southern tip of the Sinai Desert for our night hike under the stars up the traditional Mt. Sinai. The rest in the group who choose not to hike enjoyed a good nights sleep.
DAY 5 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 8: LEISURELY MORNING OR DRIVE TO ST. CATHERINE’S, HIKE UP MT. SINAI FOR SUNRISE, RETURN TO TABA, CROSS INTO ISRAEL, DEAD SEA
This was a day of a combination of adventure and rest! For those who traveled down to the southern end of the Sinai Desert, we hiked most of the night up and down the mountain. Others who stayed behind enjoyed a leisurely morning at the hotel. We all had a great experience! On top of Sinai, it was cool, with temps in the 40s, warming though with the rise of the sun.
Mt. Sinai / St. Catherine’s
We arrived early this morning at about 1:30 a.m. The climb started shortly after following security. Some rode camels 2/3rds up this 7,200 foot mountain called Jebel Musa, while others hiked up with flashlights in hand. The stars were brilliantly bright, with the Milky Way in full view! Many falling stars were seen. After a few rest stops in huts on the way, we made it to the camel station. From here, we ascended about 750 steps carved in the granite rock to the top. Beating the sunrise, we waited until the sun crested the horizon of the Saudi Arabian skyline! It was spectacular! Once the sun came up, we enjoyed the panoramic view in all directions!
The hike down was tough on the knees and we had to watch every step we took. We descended safely, enjoying the vistas along the way. Once to the bottom, we entered St. Catherine’s Monastery. It dates to the 4th century AD and is one of the three oldest churches in the world (along with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem). Today, this Greek Orthodox monastery is famous for the many ancient texts (codex) of Scripture, including the Codex Sinaiticus.
Sinai Drive/Taba Border Crossing
At 8 a.m., we began our 3 hour drive back to the Taba hotel. Now being able to see the interior of this desert, it was quite stunning! Many poor roads and check-points to go through as well! But we made it back about 11 a.m. She enjoyed swimming in the Red Sea and pool. At 12:30 drove to the border and crossed back into Israel without any issues.
Upon crossing, we loaded David’s bus and drove north about 2.5 hours to the Dead Sea. We stopped at Yovata once again for more ice cream before arriving at our hotel along the Dead Sea. Before dinner, many enjoyed floating in this unique body of water (33% salt and mineral). What a unique day in many ways!
DAY 6 – THURSDAY, MAY 9: MASADA, EIN GEDI, QUMRAN, JERICHO
This morning here in Israel was Independence Day (year 71)! We were greeted to another full sun day, with perfect temps around 85 (not bad for the Dead Sea area this time of year)! While some went “floating” in the Dead Sea at sunrise, we all enjoyed breakfast before checking out.
On the way to Masada we read Psalm 18. Here David used the Hebrew word metzada is used for “fortress.” This was precisely what Masada was used for. Early in his reign, Herod the Great built a Masada as a palace-fortress (one of several). We took the cable car up to the top. We saw the casemate wall, Roman ramp, the western and northern palace, cisterns, and the bathhouse. Shlomo passionately shared the history of the fall of Masada, with 962 Jews taking their own lives, while 5 women and children were spared. 11 in the group walked down the Snake Path while most in the group took the cable car back down to the bottom.
Driving northward along the western edge of the Dead Sea, we read from Ezekiel 47 (about fresh water running from Jerusalem, making this salty sea fresh). Upon arriving at Engedi, we walked back into the Wadi David where we read from Song of Songs 1 (henna blossoms of Engedi), 2 Chronicles 20 (the Ascent of Ziz), and 1 Samuel 24. It was here where David hid from Saul. We then hiked back into the canyon to enjoy the water falls. It is incredible there is so much water here in the middle of the desert!
Continuing northward, we arrived to the northern tip of the Dead Sea and to the site of Qumran. The Dead Sea scrolls were first discovered here in 1947, making this site the most significant one in all of Israel! Most enjoyed lunch while others explored the cliffs above the site during this hour. We then visited the site. In front of Cave 4, we read from “Psalm 151” (one of the extra psalms written by David), Psalm 19, and 2 Timothy 3:16. Praise God for the preservation and purpose of His Word.
Our last site of the day was OT Jericho (Tel es-Sultan). Climbing the site, we first looked east towards Mt. Nebo (Dt. 31-34) and the Jordan River. This was where Jesus was baptized (John 1). To the south is NT Jericho where Zacheaus and Bartimeaus lived. King Herod also died here. Looking west, also remembered that it was in the Judean Desert where Jesus was tempted for 40 days. Following seeing the oldest stone structure in the region, we walked to the southern end and discussed the story of how Joshua took the city of Jericho (Joshua 6). We saw the two stone retaining walls of the city, upon which was a mud-brick wall. It was this mud-brick wall that came tumblin’ down after encircling the city seven times and blowing the shofars (ram’s horns). The archaeology and the biblical story match perfectly!
Al Mog Kibbutz
On our way to the hotel, we made brief stop at a Hebron glass shop in Jericho. At the hotel, we ate dinner and then checked into our rooms. We continue northward tomorrow to the Sea of Galilee area.
DAY 7 – FRIDAY, MAY 10: JUDEAN DESERT (WADI QELT), HILL COUNTRY OF SAMARIA, SHILOH, BETH SHEAN, GALILEE
Today was another beautiful day. As we drove northward throughout the day, the sun was bright, with high temps in the low 80s.
Wadi Qelt/Judean Desert
After loading the bus and eating breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and drove to a panoramic view of the Wadi Qelt. With an incredible view of this part of the Judean Desert, we listened to “Isaiah, the prophet” share with us words of encouragement and hope from chapter 40 of his book. The desert was the context for his proclamation, “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord…” Over 700 years later, John the Baptist would echo the same exact words (Mt. 3), preparing the way for Jesus and God’s redemptive plan! Shlomo also sang Psalm 23.
Desert of Parath / Michmash / Bethel / Ai
Driving north through another section of the Judean desert, the Desert of Parath. We read from Jeremiah 13. The prophet Jeremiah was instructed to hide a linen belt in the crevice of there rock somewhere within the desert. Here was also saw a few gazelles in the fields. We then past by Michmash (where Jonathan defeated the outpost of Philistines, 1 Samuel 13-14), Bethel (Gen. 12 & 26), and Ai (Joshua 7-8).
The ancient city of Shiloh was our next stop. This was first a Canaanite city. Following the days of Joshua, it became an Israelite city. The Tabernacle found a more permanent location here (for 305 years). In 1094 BC, the Philistines destroyed it (1 Samuel 4) Climbing the site, we read from 1 Samuel 3 about the call of Samuel. He was one who listened to the voice of God, in contrast to the Judeans later during the days of Jeremiah who didn’t (Jeremiah 7). At the site was saw both Canaanite and Israelite ruins as well as the probable location of the Tabernacle itself. We also watched a movie about these events.
It took about 1.5 hours to drive through the Samaritan Hill Country to Beth Shean. This region is still filled today with open landscape and shepherds, sheep, and goats. Located along the Jordan, Beth Shean was both an OT site and a massive Roman city (one of the Decapolis cities). We saw colonnaded streets, a Roman bathouse, the agora/forum, public latrenes, and the massive intact and quite impressive theater. Some in the group climbed to the top of the OT site where Saul and his three sons’ bodies were hung on the walls of the city (1 Samuel 31).
Arriving at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, we enjoyed a brief stop at the Kinneret Cemetery. Here, Shlomo shared with us about kibbutz life in Israel. He also shared about the life of an Ukrainian Jewish lady named Rachel Bluwstein. She was an early pioneer here in Israel. She died in 1931. She is still known and celebrated today for her poems. Her picture appears on the new 20 shekel bill today!
We arrived at the Nof Ginnosar Kibbutz about 5:30. Located on the NW corner of the lake, this is our hotel for the next three nights. We enjoyed dinner together followed by a quiet gathering down by the lakefront. We are looking forward to two full days here in the north!
DAY 8 – SATURDAY, MAY 11: ARBEL, JORDAN RIVER BAPTISM, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, MT. OF BEATITUDES, ANCIENT BOAT, BOAT RIDE
Our focus all day long was Jesus. We spent the day around (and on) the Sea of Galilee. The sun was bright again, with high temps in the 80s. It is supposed to warm up though over the next few days!
Leaving the hotel at 7:30 and reading from Matthew 4 (the calling of the disciples), we drove to the trailhead of Mt. Arbel. This is a 800 foot high mountain on the NW corner of the lake (the Kinneret or the Sea of Galilee). 14 in the group hiked the trail to the top while others drove through Tiberias and approached the top from the other side. Both groups converged on top. We enjoyed one of the best views of the lake below. While we can’t be certain, could it be that this was the mountain where Jesus met His disciples following His resurrection (Mt. 28:16)? No doubt Jesus climbed this mountain at other times as well.
Jordan River / Yardenit
Driving to the southern end of the lake is where the lower Jordan River begins. Here at Yardenit where the water exits the lake, 19 renewed their commitment to be followers of Jesus through this optional baptism experience. It was a special time for all!
Returning to the NW side of the lake, we visited Magdala. Mary Magdalene was here. This was a “one-level” Jewish city that was destroyed during the First Revolt against the Romans, with the ruins being found under only about a foot of dirt. The highlight was seeing the 1st century synagogue here (one of about seven in the country). Jesus most likely taught here! He sailed into this city after the Feeding of the 4,000 (Mt. 15).
After a fish lunch in Magdala, we drove up the shoreline to Capernaum. Jesus used this prominent city as home-base during His Galilean ministry. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue (the foundations of the 1st century one being below), we read from Mark 1,2, and 9; Luke 7,8; and John 6. Many events, teachings, miracles took place here. Jesus also called at least five of His disciples here (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew). Before leaving the site, we spent some reflection time down on the water’s edge.
Located up off the NW shoreline of the lake is Chorazin. This was one of three cities condemned by Jesus (Mt. 11). The ruins primarily date to the 3rd century AD here. In this city’s synagogue we read from Matthew 23. We also saw a replica of the Moses’ Seat found here over 50 years ago. We also saw a newly-excavated wine press.
Mt. of Beatitudes
Nearby is the Mt. of Beatitudes. This is a traditional location where Jesus may have taught the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also shared about the kingdom “in the plain” (Luke 6). The kingdom was Jesus’ “go-to” message! Sitting on rocks in the natural amphitheater, we listened to Shlomo read Matthew 5 in Hebrew. We were encouraged to live out these kingdom our lives as salt and light. Following our gathering, many in the group walked down the slope to the bottom of the hill.
Ancient Boat / Boat Ride
We ended the day by driving back to Nof Ginnosar, our hotel. Displayed here is an ancient wood boat found in 1986. The boat dates to the 1st century, and is probably a boat typically used in the days of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee! We also enjoyed a boat ride on the lake for about 50 minutes. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14, the two storm narratives.
We returned back to our hotel for dinner. An optional stone-painting activity was enjoyed by some following another great meal! Today was a great day of focusing on Jesus!
DAY 9 – SUNDAY, MAY 12: BETHSAIDA PLAIN, GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, MT. HERMON, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today was another perfect weather day. The sun was shining, with temps in the 80s. We traveled north to the Golan Heights.
Leaving the hotel again at 7:30, this morning we read from Matthew 13 as we departed for the north. Our first stop was to a place overlooking the plain of Bethsaida. Visibility was outstanding today, allowing us to see even the top of Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley. Mt. Hermon to the north was quite visible! We read from Mark 8 (blind man from Bethsaida) and John 6 (Feeding of the 5,000). Looking down to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, we could see the two possible locations where archaeologist suggest the town of Bethsaida was.
Driving up to the plateau of the Golan Heights, our next site to visit was Gamla. This was a large Jewish city perched on a high hill about 6 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. This was a city that revolted against the Romans in 66 AD. While we can’t be sure, Jesus may have taught in the 1st century synagogue that we could see below. The only indirect reference to Gamla in the Bible comes from Acts 5 that mentions a certain “Judas the Galilean” who may have been from this city. We also saw a few griffon vultures circling high above us. Gamla is a refuge for them!
Further north is the ancient Talmudic village of Qatzrin/Katzrin. This was a Jewish city from the 3rd-8th centuries AD. Sitting in a restored ancient stone house, we read from Mark 2. We could picture it taking place in a house like this! Jesus displayed authority in not only healing the paralyzed man, but in forgiving his sins as well. We also saw the synagogue here.
Driving northeast, we arrived about 1.5 miles from the Syrian border! The Syrian town of Quneitra could be seen from here. Shlomo shared some modern history about the past wars with Syria (1967 and 1973) and the current status with them. Indeed, Israel has offered medical and humanity aid to those caught in the middle of this civil war!
Passing through a few Druze villages, we arrived to the ski resort at Mt. Hermon. The base of this mountain is 5,200 feet high. Taking the chairlift, the elevation at the top was 6,700. With the good visibility, we could see the outline of the Sea of Galilee 35 miles to the south. The hills, vilages, and mountains of Lebanon could also be seen. We returned back to the bottom by taking the ski lift back down.
Located off the slopes of the Golan Heights is Caesarea Philippi. This was a very pagan city during the days of Jesus. A temple of Augustus, Zeus, Pan, and Nemesis were all located here. We read from Matthew 16. It was in the region of this city where Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” It was also here where Jesus shared for the first time that He would go to Jerusalem, be killed, and on the third day rise again! We visited the grotto area. The amount of water here from the Banias Spring was impressive for this time of year!
Nature Preserve/Tel Dan
Our last stop of the day was to the Dan Nature Preserve and site. We walked along the largest of the three tributaries of the Jordan River. It was a beautiful walk through the preserve along the river that led us to the archaeological site. Shlomo played us a song on the recorded. We also read from Psalm 42 here. While sitting on the steps of the high place, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. A false worship center was established here by Jeroboam. Looking into Lebanon, Shlomo again shared with us the past and current situation with Hezbollah in Lebanon. As we left the site, we past a Middle Bronze/Canaanite mud-brick gate that Abraham may have used when he past through this site.
We drove home along the Huleh Valley. Passing Hazor (Joshua 11), we arrived back to our hotel for dinner and a free evening.
DAY 10 – MONDAY MAY 13: PRECIPICE OF NAZARETH, MEGIDDO, MT. CARMEL, CAESAREA, JERUSALEM
While the prediction was for hotter temps this week, the day was once again very nice, with blue skies and temps in the 80s. The breeze in the afternoon was very pleasant along the Med Sea. We ended the day in Jerusalem!
Precipice of Nazareth
What a gorgeous sunrise it was over the Sea of Galilee this morning! After breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and drove to the Lower Galilee. We read from Matthew 6 as we traveled to the Precipice of Nazareth. The precipice is located away form the ancient and modern city of Nazareth today. Here, we viewed the Jezreel Valley for the first time! This is Israel’s largest agricultural valley. In and around the valley we could see Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Sam. 31), and Mt. Carmel to the west (1 Kings 18). We read from Luke 4 and John 1 as we considered Philip’s invitation to us to “come and see” Jesus. It was a great start to the day!
Driving across the Jezreel Valley, we arrived at Megiddo. This was the most important and strategically-located ancient city in this region. First, we saw a map of the area and a model of the tel. Then we walked to the top of the site, seeing three different ancient gates, Solomon’s stables, the palace area, and the grain silo. We also gained another view of all the sites we saw from the Precipice. We also remembered Rev 16 and the reference to Armageddon. When Christ comes again, God will will have the final word and every knee will bow to the King! We left the site by descending down through an impressive water system chiseled through the bedrock.
The Carmel Range
After a great lunch at a Druze restaurant, we drove to Muhraqa, the top of Mt. Carmel. Here we read from 1 Kings 18 about Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal here. We also remembered other connections to the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 35, Songs of Songs 7, Amos 1, etc…). The view of the Jezreel Valley from the roof of the chapel was incredible! WIth the good visibility, we could see almost the entire valley below, and even the Hills of Gilead across the Jordan River.
Our last stop of the day was Caesarea. The city was built by Herod the Great from 22-10 BC). Sitting in the theater, we read from Acts 9 (Paul sails to Tarsus from here), Acts 10 (Peter & Cornelius), Acts 12 (Herod Agrippa), Acts 21 (Paul staying with Philip), and Acts 26 (Paul’s testimony). We also saw the palace, the fresh-water swimming pool, the hippodrome, mosaics, statues, and the area of the harbor and Temple of Augustus. Before leaving the site, we saw the aqueduct.
Our drive to Jerusalem took about two hours. Ascending into the Hill Country of Judah, we arrived out our hotel for a late dinner. Following our meal, many in the group enjoyed an optional walk to and through the Old City and to the Western Wall. We are excited to be here in Israel’s capital for 3 full days!
DAY 11 – TUESDAY, MAY 14: JERUSALEM, MT. OF OLIVES, OLD CITY, VIA DOLOROSA, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM
Today was the warmest day yet, with sunny skies and highs in the low 90s. The visibility was still clear though. It was a great first day here in Jerusalem.
Mt. of Olives
Leaving the hotel again at 7:30, we drove around the Old City of Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley, and ascended to the Mt. of Olives. The view from the top was spectacular! Looking westward, we could see the Temple Mount (where the 1st and 2nd Temples once stood) and the City of David (OT Jerusalem). The Eastern Gate is mentioned in Ezekiel 44. Further down the slope (at Dominus Flevit), we read from Luke 19 about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into the city. He also wept over Jerusalem. We also read from Zechariah 14 about Christ’s return as King!
Garden of Gethsemane
Walking down the slope further, we entered a private garden and were greeted by Brother Diego. Here we gathered for quiet reflection as we considered what Jesus said (Luke 22) in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but yours be done…” Jesus was betrayed by Judas here and also bound by Caiaphas the High Priest.
Entering the Old City through St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s and Jericho gate), we enjoyed singing in St. Anne’s Church and see the Pools of Bethesda. From here we walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of two possible sites for the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus. We ate lunch near by in the Christian Quarter.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we met our bus and drove southeast to Herodium. On the way, we made a brief stop at the new US Embassy in Jerusalem. Arriving at Herodium, we climb to the top of this partially artificial mountain used as a palace-fortress for Herod the Great. The views of Jerusalem (to the north), the Dead Sea & Judean Desert (to the east), Tekoa (to the south), and Bethlehem (to the west) were excellent! We walked down through the water cistern system to leave the site.
Shepherds’ Fields & Bethlehem
In Beit Sahour we made a brief stop at the Shepherds’ Fields. We descended down into a cave where we read from Luke 2. We also talked about the role of the shepherd in the brith story of Jesus. We sang a few carols here in the cave as well as in the Chapel of the Shepherds. In Bethlehem, we visited an olive wood shop and store before driving back to our hotel.
Upon returning to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner and a free evening. Many in the group enjoyed walking to the old train station for some shopping, coffee, and ice cream.
DAY 12 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 15: OLD CITY, SCHINDLER’S GRAVE, WESTERN WALL/ TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM
Today was another hotter day, even here in Jerusalem when temps aren’t as hot as the rest of the country. The highs today on this sunny day were in the low 90s.
Oscar Schindler’s Grave
Starting at shortly after 7:30 again, our first visit was to the Catholic cemetery where Oscar Schindler is buried. We walked to his grave together, placing a stone on his grave. He help save 1,200 Jewish lives during the Holocaust. He died in 1972.
Walking into Zion’s Gate, we visited the famous Western Wall of Jerusalem. This wall served as a retaining wall for Herod’s Temple as it was expanded from its former size. Today, the Western Wall is revered as the most holy place for Jews because of its close proximity to where the Holy of Holies was in the days of the 1st and 2nd Temple. After going down to the Wall and observing the many Jews praying here, we walked through part of the Rabbinical Tunnel. Here we saw massive stones remarkably and carefully place. A few stones weigh over several hundred tons!
Climbing back into the heart of the Jewish Quarter, we entered a store called Shoreshim owned by two Orthodox Jewish brothers. Here, Moshe (Moses) shared with us about his Jewish faith. It was an interesting encounter, learning a bit more about Jewish theology and practice. Their store is filled with all kinds of great items too, all with a biblical connection!
Following lunch on our own in the Old City, we walked back out of Zion’s Gate where we met our bus. We drove to the Israel Museum where we saw three things: a 1:50-scale model of Jerusalem as it looked like in 70 AD, the Shrine of the Book where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, and the archaeological wing of the museum. Again, we made connections with the Bible.
Our last stop of the day was Yad Vashem. This is Israel’s Holocaust Memorial & Museum. The name (and “hand and a name”) comes from Isaiah 56:5 – “I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever…” Emotions surfaced as we listened to Shlomo’s family history. With his family living in Vilna, Poland, Shlomo lost 12 family members in the Holocaust. Among this things we saw here was the Avenue of the Righteous (including trees planted in honor of people like Corrie ten Boom, Oscar Schindler, and at least 20,000 others), the Children’s Memorial (1.5 million children died), and the museum itself. It was a moving experience to be here.
We returned back to our hotel for dinner and an option walk to Ben Yehuda Street for some non-traffic shopping, coffee, and ice cream. It was fun to experience one of Jerusalem’s modern hang-out areas!
DAY 13 – THURSDAY, MAY 16: GARDEN TOMB, CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, SOUTHERN WALL EXCAVATIONS, A FEW HOURS FREE TIME
Today was our last day of the tour and here in Jerusalem. Once again, the temps reached the low 90s, with sunny skies. It was a day that included worship, Communion, visiting archaeological sites, and some free time.
Taking off at 8 am this morning, we read from Psalm 137 on the way to the Garden Tomb. This site serves as an alternative location for the crucifixion area and burial tomb of Jesus. We enjoyed a time of worship and Communion here as well. We read from John 19-20.
City of David
Driving around the north and east sides of the Old City, we were dropped off at the City of David excavations. Following viewing the area for the observation deck and watching a 3-D movie about OT Jerusalem, we descended down through the excavations. Here we saw both Jebusite and Israelite ruins, including the palace of David. We read from 2 Samuel 5 (David conquering the city by use of the water shaft) and 2 Chronicles 32 (about Hezekiah carving a water tunnel out of the bedrock). We walked down through Warren’s Shaft on our way to the Gihon Spring (where Solomon was initiated into kingship, 1 Kings 1).
Hezekiah’s Tunnel / Canaanite Tunnel / Siloam Pool
Here, we split into two groups. Some in the group walked through the 1,720 foot Hezekiah’s Tunnel it still flows with water) while others walked through the dry Canaanite tunnel. Both groups converged at the Pool of Siloam. While sitting on the very steps of this pool, we read in dramatic fashion the story from John 9.
South Wall Excavations
From here, some walked through the Herodian drainage channel (that ran under the street) while others bussed to the South Wall excavations. Here we walked on a Herodian street no doubt used by Jesus. We also saw massive stones, remnants of an archway (Robinson’s Arch). On the southern end of the Temple, we walked up and then sat on the very steps that Jesus would have used to enter the Temple. We remembered some of the stories from the NT about the Temple (Luke 2,18; Mark 13; John 10; Acts 2,3, and 5).
Free Time / Farewell Dinner
Over the next 2+ hours, we all enjoyed some free time. We explored the Old City on our own. We returned to our hotel shortly after 5. At 6:30 we shared in our farewell dinner. We all shared words of thanks for Shlomo and David, our new Israeli friends, for taking such good care of us. After dinner, some enjoyed an optional quiet walk on the southern promenade.
DAY 14 – FRIDAY, MAY 17: FLIGHT HOME, ARRIVE IN U.S.
The group arrived home as scheduled on three primary flights early this morning (1, 5 and 7 a.m.). Others spent a few extra days in Israel and/or Jordan. It was a great life-changing trip! Praise be to God.
We worship the “Person” (namely, Jesus) and not the place! The Garden Tomb is one of two leading locations for the burial tomb of Jesus. We praise God for the empty tomb and the sure hope of eternal life through Jesus! The ministry of the Garden Tomb is an amazing one. They share the Gospel in each of their tours.
Whether this is the tomb or not, we worship the Person, not the place.