Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from November, 2013
November 10-22, 2013
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DAY 1 & 2, SUNDAY & MONDAY, NOV 10 / 11
The day of departure finally arrived for our Christian Israel – Holyland Tour! With most of the group meeting in Philadelphia for our international flight direct to Tel Aviv (with others meeting us in Israel), we boarded the plane for our 10.5 hour flight. Arriving at about 3 in the afternoon (Israeli time, 7 hour difference), we proceeded through passport control to the baggage area. Finding all our checked luggage we were greeted by our agent and bus driver. Loading the bus, we left the airport and began seeing the land, recalling the story of Joshua 10 and the Ayalon Valley, a story that took place right here! We are excited in the fact that everywhere we look, we see biblical history come alive!
Driving westward to Joppa, we took about 25 minutes of walking around this town located just south of Tel Aviv. Here, we remember the stories of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Peter (Acts 9 & 10), stories that include reaching the Gentile community with the message of God.
We boarded the bus and drove to our hotel in Bat Yam. The Leonardo Hotel is located right on the shoreline of the Med Sea. After a great dinner, we had an orientation meeting in preparation for the days to come. A few even walked on the beach following the meeting.
We are excited to be here in Israel and await what God has in store for us. We pray that our minds and hearts may be open to His presence!
DAY 3, TUESDAY, NOV 12
This will be our first full day here in Israel. After waking up at 6 a.m. (some earlier because of jetlag), we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast on the 7th floor of the hotel. What a great view from here. Departing at 7:45, the day would be spent in the Shephelah or “Lowlands” of Judah. Our first stop was a site “off the beaten track” called Gezer. Located along the Ayalon Valley (the first of five valleys of the Shephelah), Gezer is a site rich with archaeology. Here we saw two gate structures, one from the Canaanite period, with the other being built later by Solomon (1 Kings 9). “Standing stones” or Messebot are also here, a possible high place for Canaanites. Next was Bethshemesh located in the Sorek Valley. We read the story from 1Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from Ekron, a Philistine city, to this city. This was also the area where Samson grew up.
Continuing south, we visited Azekah, a high “tel” (e.g. ancient mound) overlooking the Elah Valley. Here we read the story of David v. Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Further south is the site of Beit Guvrin or Mareshah, the hometown of Micah the prophet. After eating lunch near the site, we visited the columbarium (the pigeon cave) with 2,000 niches for these birds, and the bell cave. Here we read from Micah 1 & 5. We also sang a few songs together and enjoyed Shlomo’s song shared on his recorder. Before leaving Beit Guvrin, we visited the Roman amphitheater, one of only two in all of Israel.
Our last stop of the day was Lachish. We read form Jeremiah 34:7 in reference to the ostraca (e.g. pottery with inscription/writing) found here, particularly “letter #4” that mentions Lachish and Azekah. The archaeological site is impressive, with a double wall and gate structure protecting the city. We actually stood on top of the massive 12-foot wide inner fortification wall that surrounded the city.
We ended the day by driving to our hotel in Beersheva in the heart of the Biblical Negev. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional walk around this modern city of about 200,000. A great first full day of seeing Old Testament history and geography come alive!
DAY 4, WEDNESDAY, NOV 13
After another great breakfast, we left our hotel in Beersheba and drove a mere 10 minutes to Tel Beersheva, the archaeological site. On this sunny morning, we enjoyed visiting the site mentioned in Genesis 21 & 26, 1 Kings 19, and other passages. It was here Abraham dug a well, and where Elijah came to after his success against the prophets of Baal. The term “from Dan to Beersheba” also is used often in the Bible as geographical markers, defining the northern and southern boundaries. Here at Beersheva we saw examples of a 4-room Israelite house, storehouses, and an impressive cistern system.
From here we drove about 45 minutes south to Sde Boker and the Wilderness of Zin. We saw Ben Gurion’s tomb. He was the first Prime Minister of Israel in 1948, and was responsible for the early development of the Negev as a place of residence for Israeli families in the late 1940s and 50s. His tomb overlooks the beautiful Zin canyon. Driving down into the canyon, we left the bus for a unique walk. On either sides of this deep canyon are unique rock formations. We also saw a few ibex (Psalm 104). All of us walked to the water falls, with some going on further, ascending to the canyon rim on the other side. It was a great hike for all.
After eating lunch at Avedat, the location of a Nabatean city, we drove back north and east to Arad, a city mentioned in Numbers 21 and Joshua 12 (it made Joshua’s list of 31 cities destroyed in the Conquest of Canaan). Here we saw not only the early Canaanite city below, but the Israelite citadel/fortress built here in the 10th century BC. Josiah’s reforms (2 Chronicles 34:1-7) were read in the context of a temple built here in disobedience to God. This temple even had a designated Holy of holies area, complete with two standing stones (Messabot) named Jochin and Boaz (1 Kings 7). Those restoring the area allowed us to see cistern down below.
Driving from Arad to our hotel for the evening, on the shores of the Dead Sea, took about 50 minutes. Descending about 3,100 feet, we arrived at the Daniel Hotel on the shores of this body of water rich with minerals and salt. We enjoyed floating together in the mild water as the moon arose to the east.
After cleaning up we enjoyed dinner together and a relaxing evening.
DAY 5, THURSDAY, NOV 14
Another sunny day awaited us as we viewed a spectacular sunrise over the mountains of Moab (in Jordan) and enjoyed a fabulous breakfast once again. We left our hotel here on the shoreline of the Dead Sea at 8 a.m. Our first stop, Masada, was a short 15 minute drive north. This “fortress” (see Psalm 18:1-2) was amazing. We ascended the site by means of the cable car. Once on top of this “stand-alone” mountain, we heard the story that took place here about the 967 Jewish zealots’ fight against the Romans. We saw cisterns, storehouses, bathhouses, the Roman ramp, casemate walls, and mosaics. The majority of the group hiked down the Snake Path to the bottom.
Boarding our bus, we drove another 20 minutes to Engedi. Here we read from 1 Samuel 24 (the “cave” story about Saul and David), as well as from Songs of Solomon 1 (the story from 2 Chronicles 20 also took place here). We hiked back to the second water falls, with some enjoying the refreshing water. We even saw a few coneys (Psalm 104).
Continuing northward along the western coastline of the Dead Dead, we arrived at Qumran. After eating lunch, some hiked up to the cliff area and enjoyed climbing through an remnants of the aqueduct cut out of the rock.
We also saw the site of Qumran where the Essences scrolled the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here we appreciate the preservation of God’s Word. We read from Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3:16.
Our last stop of the day was Jericho. We climbed the tel (ancient mound) and talked about the many stories from the Bible that took place here (Crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites, Elisha’s purification of the Jericho spring, Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the Judean Wilderness, Zacheus, and Bartimaeus). The primary story is Joshua’s conquest of the city (Joshua 6). We saw the “revetment” or retaining walls of the city, on top of which was a mud-brick wall that came “tumblin’ down with the blowing of the trumpets/shofars.
Driving about 2 hours north, we finally came to the Sea of Galilee area and to our “kibbutz/hotel” called Nof Ginnosar. After eating a later dinner, we enjoyed our first gathering out on the rock jetty on the shoreline of this lake called “Kinneret.” We are looking forward to 2 full days here in the Galilee/Golan regions.
DAY 6, FRIDAY, NOV 15
What another sunny, mild, spectacular day here in Israel. Day 6 of our tour began with a beautiful sunrise over the eastern Golan. Following breakfast, we departed at 7:40 for Arbel. About 17 hiked this about 1,000 foot mountain on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. The hike took about 1:15 hours or so to get to the top. Meeting the others who approached the mountain from the other side with the bus before hiking to the top themselves, together we enjoyed a great view of the lake below. We could picture Jesus hanging out here with his disciples!
From here we drove down to Capernaum (the “village of Nahum”), the ‘home-base” of Jesus’ ministry. From the 4th century synagogue, we read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6 about all the stories that took place in this lakeside town. We also enjoyed a quiet time on the shore, picturing Jesus calling His disciples from here.
Next, we drove to Nof Ginnosar for our hour-long boat ride. While the waters were calm and peaceful, we enjoyed a time of worship as well as reading the storm narratives from Mark 4 and Mathew 14. What a inspirational time of contemplating the wonder of Jesus being with us during our own “storms” of life. After the boat ride, we saw the 1st century boat found in 1986 right here at this kibbutz. We also enjoyed lunch here.
Following lunch we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to Yardenit, the place for our baptismal service. 15 were baptized. It was a special time for all. Nearby we stopped at the Kinneret cemetery where we heard the story of Rachel. This simple Jewish woman is now honored today for all her poetry.
Our final stop was the Mt. of Beatitudes. We heard the Matthew 5 passage read first in Hebrew and then in English. As the sun was setting, we sat in silence while overlooking this place where perhaps so many others listened to Jesus share about the kingdom of heaven. From here we walked down the dirt pathway, descending almost to the water’s edge. What a special way to end a great day!
We returned back to Nof Ginnosar to our hotel. A few enjoyed a wonderful (and a bit cool) swim in the Sea of Galilee under the glimmering brightness of a full moon. It was spectacular! Following another great dinner, we enjoyed an optional time of sharing on the water’s edge.
DAY 7, SATURDAY, NOV 16
To start the day, we met on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee for a sunrise gathering. It was a very nice time of quiet contemplation as we listened to worship songs together. Following breakfast we made our way up to the Golan. Taking about 50 minutes, we reached our first site of yet another beautiful day, Dan. This is both a nature preserve as well as an archaeological site. Here we saw one of the three tributaries of the Jordan as well as archaeological ruins from the days of Jeroboam. We read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12 about the false worship that was practiced here. We looked into Lebanon from the high place area. We also saw a Middle Bronze gate that perhaps date to the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:14).
Close by is the site of Caesarea Philippi (or Banias). Reading from Matthew 16, we are challenged with Christ’s question he posed to His disciples in this region, “Who do you say I am?” We saw the ruins of this pagan city, including the worship niches dedicated to Pan. Continuing east, we enjoyed the Crusader castle called Nimrod. We explored the many towers, staircases and a secret passage way. Although not a “biblical” site, the adventure was fun.
After lunch at Birkat Ram, owned by a Druze family on the foothills of Mt. Hermon, we continued to Bental, an old Israeli bunker/lookout post taken from the Syrians in 1967. From here we looked into Syria from this vantage point. Leaving Bental (one of about 20 volcano tops), we drove to Qatzrin, a Talmudic village from the 2nd – 3rd centuries AD. We walked through a reconstructed house, no doubt very similar to the type of house Jesus would have known. We could see how the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof to Jesus would have unfolded (see Mark 2). Our last stop of the day was Bethsaida. We read from Mark 8 and Luke 9 of the two miracles that took place here. As the sun set to the west, it was another terrific end to a great day.
We returned to our hotel for some free time before dinner. Another optional gathering took place on the beach after dinner. We all are looking forward to driving to Jerusalem tomorrow!
DAY 8, SUNDAY, NOV 17
We left the Galilee today. Following breakfast as well as packing the bus, we started the day by driving to the precipice of Nazareth. Although this would turn out to be another sunny and pleasant day, the haze made it difficult for good visibility. Nonetheless, from this overlook, we could see Mt. Tabor (Judges 4 & 5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6 & 7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We enjoyed a brief time of “Sunday worship.” We also read from Luke 4 about Jesus’ reading of the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth.
From here we crossed the Jezreel Valley and visited Megiddo on the western side of the valley. This is a huge archaeological site, complete with gates (from Canaanite and Israelite periods), storehouses, stables, a grain bin, and an impressive water system. We descended 180 steps down into the water shaft, walked through the water tunnel, and then ascended 60 steps to the outside of the city.
Driving into the Carmel Range, a mountain range extending about 8 miles from the NW to SE, we climbed to one of the tops called Muhraha (“burnt offering” in Arabic). Here we read from 1 Kings 18 about the story of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal. We also got a great view of the Jezreel Valley from this vantage point.
Our last stop was Caesarea, located in the Sharon Plain on the coastline of the Med Sea. We visited the Herodian theater, palace, hippodrome, and the Crusader part of the city. We also saw mosaics as well as the area of the great harbor that Herod built. Before leaving Caesarea, we visited the aqueduct that brought water into the city from the Mt. Carmel area.
The drive to Jerusalem as slow, with Tel Aviv traffic slowing us down a bit. But finally arriving at the hotel that we’ll be using for the next 4 nights, we enjoyed dinner together. This was followed by our first optional walk to the Western Wall. We are looking forward to our first full day in the capital of Israel!
DAY 9, MONDAY, NOV 18
What another great day in Israel. This was our first full day in Jerusalem, and we certainly saw a lot. We began with a 7:30 am departure straight for the top of the Mt. of Olives. Arriving before the crowds, we were introduced to Jerusalem and all its rich Biblical history. From here we looked across the Kidron Valley and saw the Old City, including the Temple Mount, the City of David (OT Jerusalem) among many other things. We processed down the Mt. of Olives, similar to how Jesus would have gone on Palm Sunday. Stopping at Dominus Flavet, we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. We continued down to the Garden of Gethsemane area. We spent some quiet moments reflecting on Jesus’ passion in this place where He would be betrayed by Judas.
From here we walked into the Old City through the Lion’s or St. Stephen’s Gate (we were delayed about 10 minutes on the walk as we had to wait for security reasons with the President of France passing by). Once inside the Old City, we began walking the Via Dolorosa. While only stopping at the Sisters of Zion (location of the Lithostrotos mentioned in John 19), we walked all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of two suggested places for the crucifixion and burial site of Jesus.
After lunch in the Christian Quarter, we walked out Jaffa Gate and boarded the bus. Our next destination was Herodium, one of the fortress/palaces of Herod the Great. We walked up to the site (an artificial mound), taking notice of the surrounding Judean Wilderness to the east. We read from Isaiah 40. The archaeology of Herodium is quite impressive. Here we saw the towers of the fortress, a bathhouse, synagogue, and cistern system. We also saw the tomb area where Herod was buried.
Close by are the Shepherds’ Fields. Here we descended into a cave and enjoyed singing a few carols as we considered that “just at the right time God sent His Son” (Galatians 4:4). It was a meaningful time as we also sang carols in the chapel. Here we joined Asian and Polish groups in singing with them. The blend of our voices was magnificent!
While our next stop was an olive-wood store, we enjoyed some shopping here before our visit to the Church of Nativity. We were the last group to enter the grotto below before they turned out all the lights (an unique experience). We drove back to our hotel, enjoyed dinner together, and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street in west Jerusalem.
DAY 10, TUESDAY, NOV 19
It was another sunny day in Jerusalem, with comfortable highs in the 60s. The morning started with a 7:20 departure so that we could make it to the Western (Wailing) Wall and our walk along this western retaining wall of Herod’s temple. Following spending some time at the Wall itself watching this morning prayer time of the ultra-orthodox, the tour of the “Western Wall Tunnel” complex was fascinating! We saw Herodian stone built upon another, with the estimated weight of one stone (the “Master Course”) being 550 tons. How they placed this one stone 40 feet above the pavement below is remarkable.
Walking up to the Jewish Quarter, we visited the Burnt House. About six of seven houses from the 2nd Temple period that were destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans have been found. In this particular house, a iron spear was found as well as the skeleton of the outstretched arm of a woman. Close by is a store owned by Moshe and Dov, two Orthodox Jews. We listened to Moshe share about his Jewish faith. It was an interesting time of learning about the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith. After this time with Moshe, we enjoyed lunch in the main plaza of the Jewish Quarter.
This afternoon we traveled to the western part of Jerusalem. Here we visited the Israel Museum. Displayed here is a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem just prior to the Roman destruction in 70 AD. The models offers a great picture of what Jerusalem would have looked like in the days of Jesus. Here we also saw the “highlight” artifacts in the archaeological part of the museum.
Lastly, we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial & Museum. We learned of Shlomo’s (our guide) family stories of losing a total of 12 family member in Poland. We walked through both the Children’s Memorial as well as the museum itself. To think that 6 million Jews lost their lives at the hand of the Nazi regime is emotionally numbing.
We returned to our hotel for dinner. This was a free night, with a number relaxing around the hotel, with others taking a walk to the King David hotel and the old railroad station (now a beautiful plaza stores, coffee houses, and ice cream shops.
DAY 11, WEDNESDAY, NOV 20
The morning started once again at 7:20. We wanted to get an early start in order to get to the Temple Mount. Ascending to the Temple Mount right past the Western Wall, we gathered on top and talked about the history of this massive platform built by Herod, a platform where once stood the Temple itself. Today, the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al Asca Mosque stand on top. The Arabs also destroyed the lower chambers of the Temple Mount (and literally dumped-trucked it out and dumped it in the Kidron Valley below) in order to build a larger underground mosque. We referred to the many stories from the Gospels that happened here.
Descending the Temple Mount near St. Stephen’s Gate (Lion’s Gate), we visited the Pools of Bethesda (“house of mercy”). We saw the foundation of the 5 porches as mentioned in John 5. We also enjoyed a time of singing in St Anne’s church, a Crusader church where the acoustics / echo is about 10 seconds long. We sounded like a choir.
After eating lunch at Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz just south of the city overlooking Bethlehem, we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the City of David and southern excavations. We saw portions of David’s palace, “Area G” (where Pastor John excavated 31 years ago), and the huge tower guarding the lone source spring of the city, the Gihon Spring. With water shoes and flashlights in hand, we then walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot water tunnel. It was very fun.
We exited the tunnel at the Pool of Siloam. Here we sat on the very steps of this pool where we read John 9 and the miracle of the blind man being healed. From here, we uniquely ascended back to the SW corner of the Temple through the newly-excavated drainage channel that ran underneath the Roman street above. We exited this “tunnel” at “Robinson’s Arch” where we sat along the very Roman street used by people in the days of Jesus. Finally, we walked up the southern steps of the Temple (the main entrance into the Temple). We ended the day by sitting on the steps and recalling the stories from the Gospels and the Book of Acts that took place here.
We returned to our hotel for dinner. Many enjoyed the optional walk. We taxied up to the Mt. of Olives for the view of the Temple Mount at night. From here we then walked back to the hotel through the Old City.
DAYS 12-13, THURSDAY-FRIDAY, NOV 21-22
Today was our free day. We all enjoyed sleeping in a bit before heading out to the Old City. The majority of the group left at 8:45 am and walked to “Mt. Zion” and the Upper Room (a traditional location of the Last Supper). Nearby is the tomb of Oscar Schindler, a German Christian who was single-handily responsible for saving the lives of 1,200 Jews from Nazi Germany.
From here we walked into the Old City. Some of the sites and experiences included the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the tower of the Lutheran Church (both in the Christian Quarter), and the Western Wall & the Jewish Quarter (many Bar Mitzvah celebrations were taking place). Most of us ate lunch in the Hurva Square (the heart of the Jewish Quarter).
After lunch 20 of us ascended to the Turkish walls for the rampart walk. We walked around most of the Old City, gaining a unique perspective of the average life of Old City residents below. Descending at the St. Stephen’s gate, we walked outside the eastern wall & gate before climbing up to the Jewish Quarter. A few experienced the Temple Institute, a small segment of Orthodox Jews who are preparing for the 3rd Temple.
We all walked back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, and loaded our luggage on the bus. Close-by we enjoyed our farewell dinner together before driving to the airport for our night flight home.