Biblical Israel Tour Experiences for the 10 Day Orchard Hill Church Biblical Israel Tour
October 12-21, 2018
DAYS 1 & 2 – FRIDAY-SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12-13: DEPART U.S.A., ARRIVE IN Tel Aviv, ISRAEL, JAFFA
Today our journey of a lifetime finally arrived. With excitement, we met at the Pittsburgh airport for our departure. With one group flying through London and the other through Vienna, we arrived precisely at the same time at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. All our connections went as schedule. Praise God! The weather was very pleasant, with full sun and temps around 80.
After going through Passport control and picking up our luggage, we were greeted by Shlomo (our Israeli guide) and David (our Israeli driver). We boarded the bus and drove to Jaffa (also called Joppa). Located on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, this was the place where the stories of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Peter (Acts 9 & 10) took place. The view of the Tel Aviv from here was amazing from here.
From here we drove through Tel Aviv to Netanya to our hotel. After checking in, we enjoyed dinner together followed by an orientation meeting. Some enjoyed a walk on the beach afterwards and taking in some of the modern Israeli life in the square downtown.
It is a blessing to be here in Israel, the land of the Bible!
DAY 3 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14: CAESAREA, CARMEL, MEGIDDO, PRECIPICE OF NAZARETH, TIBERIAS
Today was our first full day here in Israel, and it was a good one! The weather was sunny, with perfect temps in the low 80s. The breeze made it feel comfortable. We traveled through a number of regions today (Sharon Plain, Carmel Range, Jezreel Valley, the the Lower Galilee).
Following a great buffet breakfast, we loaded the bus and drove north to Caesarea. This was a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. Sitting in the reconstructed Roman theater we read from the many stories from the Book of Acts: Acts 10 (Peter), Acts 12 (Herod Agrippa I), Acts 21 (Philip), and Acts 26 (Paul). Following the theater, we saw the palace area (most likely where Paul gave his bold testimony), the hippodrome, many mosaics, the Crusader walls of the city, the foundation of the Temple of Augustus, and the outing in the water of the famous harbor. We left Caesarea but not before seeing the aqueduct that brought fresh water into the city from the Carmel Range.
Driving north in the Sharon Plain we soon ascended the Carmel Range. In the small Carmelite chapel we read from Amos 1, Isaiah 35, Song of Songs 7, and other passages that reference the Carmel. We also heard the story of 1 Kings 18 about God's intervention in the life and ministry of Elijah. We could see the story unfold before our eyes
Following lunch at a Druze restaurant close by, we drove down to the edge of the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo. This is a site that has about 25 levels of occupation spanning about 2,500 years! We first saw a map of the region, followed by a helpful model of this ancient city. Climbing the tel ("ancient mound"), we saw remnants of three ancient gates, the stables of Solomon, the Early Bronze/Canaanite sacrificial altar, and a granary dating to the time of Jeroboam II (8th century). From the top of the tel we saw Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Mt Tabor (Judges 4-5). We also remembered the words of Revelation 16 ("Armegeddon") and celebrated that God has the future in His control and when Jesus returns, every knee will bow and tongue will confess Christ as Lord! We left the site by descending 180 steps through the water system. What engineers these Israelites must have been!
Precipice of Nazareth
As we drove across the Jezreel Valley, our last site of the day was the precipice of Nazareth. The view of the valley from here offered yet another perspective of the many stories of the Bible that took place here. We read from Luke 4 (Jesus in the synagogue) and John 1 as we celebrated who Jesus is and His redemptive purpose for coming. We also enjoyed a time of reflection as we remembered Philip's words, "Come and see!"
From here we drove north through Cana (John 2) and the Lower Galilee to our "kibbutz-hotel" on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. Following checking in and dinner, we enjoyed a time of sharing down on the water's edge.
What a great first full day! Praise God for His blessings!
DAY 4 – MONDAY, OCTOBER 15: BETHSAIDA, GAMLA, QATZRIN, SYRIAN BORDER, CAESAREA PHILIPPI, DAN
Today was another great day here in Israel as we traveled north to the Golan Heights. We enjoyed a hazy sun with mild temps once again, with highs in the 80s. Our buffet breakfast was also enjoyable. This included lots of salads and dairy products.
El Araj (Bethsaida?)
Leaving the hotel at 7:40, we drove to the northern end of the Sea of Galilee (about 13 miles long, 6.5 miles wide at its widest point, and 140 fee deep). After crossing the Jordan River as it flows into the lake from the north), we took a dirt road to a new archaeological site called El Araj. This is a new alternative site for Bethsaida (the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip, see John 1). We read from Mark 8 (helaing of the blind man from Bethsaida) and John 6 (the Feeding of the 5,000 that took place in this area). We also saw some of there new ruins exposed by this year’s excavation.
Ascending to the plateau of the Golan Heights, Gamla was our next visit. This was a Jewish city in the days of Jesus. Known as the Masada of the North today, the city fell to the Romans in 66 AD. Sitting in the 1st century synagogue, we read from Matthew 9 about how Jesus taught in many Galilean synagogues. He probably taught here too!
Continuing northward, our next stop was Katzrin, a Talmudic village (3rd - 7-8th century AD). Here we saw a reconstructed stone house, a type of dwelling no doubt very similar to the houses of the 1st century. We read from Mark 2 (paralyzed man being lowered through the roof). We also saw the synagogue here. Today, Katzrin is the largest Jewish city in the Golan Heights.
From here we drove to the northeastern edge of the Golan Heights to an old Israeli military lookout base called Bental. From the top of this site we had a clear view across to Syria. We could see the Syrian city of Kuneitra. Shlomo also shared about the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Caesarea Philippi (Banias)
Driving west and descending off the Golan Heights our next stop was Caesarea Philippi. One of the three tributaries of the Jordan River begins here (the “Banias” spring). Before ascending to the grotto area, we read for Matthew 16. It was in the region of this pagan city where Jesus asked His disciples (Talmidim) the most important question (Mt. 16), “Who do you say I am?” Jesus also shared here for the first time with His disciples that He would be put to death and rise on the third day. It was probably somewhere nearby on the slopes of Mt. Hermon where Jesus was transfigured (Mt. 17).
Our last stop of the day was to the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan. We first walked on a beautifully shaded trail along the largest of the tributaries of the Jordan. In the backdrop of the gently flowing waters of the spring we also enjoyed hearing Shlomo play a song on his recorder. We read from Psalm 42 and sang As the Deer together to complete this quiet time. We then entered the archaeological part of the site. While sitting on the steps of the High Place, we read from Judges 18 (Danites taking the city of Laish) and 1 Kings 12 (Jeroboam building a High Place here). Shlomo also shared some history and perspective about the border Israel has with Lebanon. We could see the border about a mile or so north.
Before leaving the site, we saw a mud-brick gate from the Middle Bronze period (perhaps a gate used by Abraham when he was here, see Genesis 14:14) as well as the Iron Age/Israelite wall and gate structures. It was near here where the famous Dan Inscription was found!
We returned back to our hotel for dinner and a free night. We are looking forward to spending time around the Sea of Galilee tomorrow.
(Drone video of the group in the synagogue at Gamla)
DAY 5 – TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16: ARBEL, MAGDALA, CHORAZIM, CAPERNAUM, MT. OF BEATITUDES, SEA OF GALILEE BOAT RIDE
Today was another sunny day, with warmer temps near 90. We spent the entire day in the region of the Sea of Galilee. Our focus was on the life and ministry of Jesus.
Following another hearty breakfast, we drove a short distance to the trailhead of Mt. Arbel. We read Matthew 13 on the way. About 25 in the group climbed the trail to the top, while others drove around and approached the top from the west. The panoramic view of the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee below was amazing! We could picture seeing Jesus move from one village to another in this area.
Leaving Arbel we drove around the upper side of Tiberias to the southern end of the lake. Here we entered the Kinneret Cemetery. Shlomo shared with us the life story of “Rachel" (Rachel Bluwstein, 1890-1931). She was an Ukrainian Jewish pioneer to the land of Israel. Today, she is famous for her poems. She even appears on the new Israeli 20 shekel bill!
Driving North through Tiberias, Magdala was our next stop. This was the home of Mary Magdalene. Here we saw 1st century ruins including a synagogue. Jesus must have taught from here! Most likely, after the Feeding of the 4,000, Jesus and His disciples sailed back to this area (Mt. 15).
Following lunch, we visited Chorazin, one of the cities condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11). Entering the 3rd century synagogue, we read from Matthew 23. We saw a replica of the “Moses Seat.” We considered the importance of humility and servanthood in our walk of faith.
Mt. of Beatitudes
Overlooking the NW corner of the lake is the Mt. of Beatitudes. This is one possible location where Jesus shared His “Sermon on the Mount.” We heard the first part of Matthew 5 read in both Hebrew and English. We considered the timeless truths of the kingdom principles here and the importance to "seek first the kingdom of God (Mt. 6:33)." Afterwards, many in the group walked down the path to the shoreline.
Next, our visit to Capernaum was special as well. This city located on the natural route served as the “ministry base” for Jesus here in the Galilee. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue (the 1st century one is most likely below this one) we read from Mark 1,2, and 9; Luke 7 and 8; and John 6. We also took a few moments of reflection in the shoreline of the lake. This was where Jesus called a few of His disciples (Mt. 4).
Boat Ride/Sea of Galilee
Our last experience was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. First, we saw a restored 1st century wooden boat found here in 1986. We then “sailed” on the lake, enjoying some worship and reflection. We read the storm narratives from Mark 4 and Matthew 14. Upon returning to the shoreline, we celebrated the baptism of John, Angelo, and Dave. Following this we enjoyed dinner together and another optional gathering down at the lakefront.
What a great day of walking in the footsteps of Jesus!
DAY 6 – WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17: BETH SHEAN, SHILOH, JERICHO, JUDEAN DESERT, JERUSALEM
Today we left for Jerusalem. This meant saying goodbye to the region of the Sea of Galilee. It’s been special retracing the footsteps of Jesus here, but this will continue in Jerusalem. The day was another sunny one, with high temps around 90 again in Jericho.
After breakfast and loading the bus, we drove south through the Jordan Valley to the largest Roman city in Israel, Beth Shean. Located about 20 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, the site actually was also an Old Testament tel. It was here where King Saul’s body was hung on the walls (1 Samuel 31). In the Roman part of the city we saw the bath-house, the colonnaded street, the agora (market place), many mosaics, public latrenes, and a most-impressive intact theater. Many in the group climbed the 190 steps to the top of the OT tel for a great view of the city below as well as the Jordan Valley.
From here we uniquely drove south through the Samaritan Hill Country (also called Ephraim) to Shiloh. The drive was scenic, with this region preserving much of the look from biblical times. We saw lots of shepherds and sheep/goats. As we arrived at Shiloh, we climbed the tel here. After seeing a movie, we read from portions of 1 Samuel 3 and Jeremiah 7. For about 305 years, the Tabernacle was located here. It was here where Hannah dedicated Samuel. We also walked down through the excavations where most believe the Tabernacle once stood. It was pretty special to think this was where God spoke to Samuel.
Continuing south, we past by Bethel (Genesis 12, 28) and Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14). Turning east, we took a windy road through the Desert of Pareth (Jeremiah 13). We even saw a bunch of gazelles in the fields. We arrived at Jericho for a late lunch.
Following our late lunch, we climbed the OT tel of Jericho (called es-Sultan). We first looked eastward towards Jordan. We recalled the stories of Moses on Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34), the crossing of the Jordan River by Joshua (Joshua 3), and the ministry of Elijah and Elisha in this area (2 Kings 2). Jesus was also baptized in the Jordan River here (John 1). As for the ancient site of Jericho, we considered the history of excavations here since the early 1900s. After seeing the oldest tower in Israel (?), we walked to the southern end of the site. Here we saw the stone reventment (retaining) walls of the city. These walls date to the time of Joshua. It was a mud-brick wall that was placed on top of this stone wall, and it was this wall that came tumblin’ down (Joshua 6). Together we celebrated the historicity and accuracy of the Bible.
Judean Desert/Wadi Qelt
We ended the day by ascending to Jerusalem. About half way we stopped at the Wadi Qelt (part of the Judean Desert). Here we heard the words of Isaiah (Is. 40) about preparing the way for the Lord. John the Baptist would echo the same words in his ministry (Mt. 3). Shlomo also sang Psalm 23 in Hebrew as well, a perfect setting for this shepherding psalm.
We arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem around 6:40 p.m. After checking in and dinner, most in the group walked to the Western Wall. Seeing it at night was spectacular! We are looking forward to our first day in Jerusalem tomorrow!
DAY 7 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18: MT. OF OLIVES, POOL OF BETHESDA, WESTERN WALL, ISRAEL MUSEUM, YAD VASHEM
Today was our first day in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. It was an incredible day of engaging in history, culture, and the biblical stories related to the life and ministry of Jesus. The weather was again partly sunny, with highs in the upper 70s.
Mt. of Olives
We started out today from our hotel at 7:30. We drove around the northern part of the Old City, crossed the Kidron Valley, and then we dropped off at the peak of the Mt. of Olives. Here we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Old City and Temple Mount. We walked down the Palm Sunday road to another viewpoint where we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. We rejoiced in the promise of Christ’s return to this place when He will be recognized as the King of kings!
Walking further down the slope, we enter a private part of the Garden of Gethsemane. Brother Diego, a Franciscan priest, offered a warm and tender greeting and an invitation for us to connect with God through silence. Here we read about Jesus’ passion and betrayal by Judas (Luke 22). It was here where Jesus said, “Not my will but yours be done…” We took time to reflect in silence for about 30 minutes.
Following this special time, we walked into the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s & Jericho Gates) to the St. Anne’s Church and Pools of Bethesda. The singing in this Crusader church was amazing (8 second echo). We also saw the ruins of the Pools of Bethesda here (John 5).
We then walked from here to the Holy Sepulcher Church, a leading location for both the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. While the archaeology supports this site as the area where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again, we were reminded that we worship the Person and not the place! Nearby here in the Christian Quarter, we ate lunch.
Leaving the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we boarded our bus and drove to the Israel Museum. We saw three things here: a fascinating 1:50 scaled-model (giving us a good sense of what Jerusalem looked like in the time of Jesus), the Shrine of the Book (where we saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and the archaeological museum (where we saw the highlights relating to the Bible).
Our last experience was an emotionally difficult one, the Yad Vashem / Holocaust Museum & Memorial. We first heard Shlomo’s family story from Vilna, Poland (he lost 12 family members here). We then walked through the Children’s Memorial and the museum.
We return to our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner and a free evening.
DAY 8 – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19: CITY OF DAVID, HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL, SOUTHERN WALL EXCAVATIONS, A FEW FREE HOURS, GARDEN TOMB
Today was yet another sunny day here in Jerusalem, with perfect high temps in the 70s once again. We started with an Old Testament focus, we ended with a New Testament celebration of Christ’s resurrection!
City of David / Hezekiah’s Tunnel / Pool of Siloam
Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30 again, our drive took us down the Hinnom Valley before we climbed the Tyropean Valley to the City of David. Our focus was upon Old Testament Jerusalem. After watching a movie, we walked down through the excavations. This included Area G and Warren’s Shaft. Upon reaching the Gihon Spring (where Solomon was made king, see I Kings 1), many in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot water tunnel cut out of bedrock prior to the siege of Jerusalem by Sennecherib, the Assyrian King (2 Kings 20, 2 Chr. 32). Dressed in shorts and water shoes, and with a flashlight in hand, most in the group walked through water to the end. Others took the “dry” yet fascinating Canaanite tunnel. Both group converged at the Pool of Siloam where we read about the blind man headed by Jesus from John 9 in dramatic fashion.
From here, over half in the group walked north through the newly-discovered drainage channel. This channel was built below the Herodian stone street that provided a link between the Pool of Siloam and the Temple Mount (see John 7 and the Water Libation Festival during Succot or Tabernacles). At the SW corner of the Temple, we saw the stone pavement up where Jesus must have walked and the huge boulders toppled by the Romans in 70 AD. At the southern steps, we considered many of the stories from the Gospels and Acts that record the people who would have used these exact same steps to enter the Temple from the south.
Western Wall / Jewish Quarter / Free Time
From here some walked to the Western Wall while others ascended the steps to the Jewish Quarter. Here we enjoyed a few hours of free time (lunch, shopping). Some climbed the 190 rounded steps up the tower of the Redeemer Lutheran Church for an amazing view of the Old City below. It was fun to explore on our own.
We ended the day by visiting the Garden Tomb. We walked here through the Old City and out of the Damascus Gate. While this location for Christ’s crucifixion and burial is not probable, it is still a wonderful place to consider the victory and hope we have in our Risen Lord! We enjoyed a time of worship and Communion here as well!
We returned to our hotel for dinner and another optional walk, this time to the Promenade.
DAY 9 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20: MASADA, EIN GEDI, QUMRAN, DEAD SEA, JERUSALEM
Today was our last full day as a group, and it was filled with fun, adventure, and a few last biblical connections. It was the hottest day of the trip too, with temps in the low 90s. We spent the entire day in the area of the Dead Sea.
Leaving the hotel at 7:30, we started the day with Psalm 18:1-2 which mentions the Hebrew word metzada. This is the Hebrew for “fortress.” This is precisely what Masada was. Driving east to the Jericho area and then due south along the western shoreline of the Dead Sea, we arrived at this “palace-fortress” built by Herod at about 8:45. We ascended the site via a cable car. Once on top, Shlomo passionately shared the history of the site. Between 70-73, Masada was used by 967 Jews. All by five committed suicide prior to the Romans breaking through the walls. We saw the palace area, the Roman ramp (you can still see the acacia wood used in this ramp), the casemate walls, the synagogue, and the roman bathhouse. About half the group walked down the Snake Path (about 1,000 descent) while the other half took the cable car. On the way down we actually witness a rescue team helping a man who dehydrated.
Driving north about 15 minutes, we arrived at the main oasis of this part of the Judean Desert. Engedi is a beautiful place that still flows with abundant spring water! Hiking up the trail that leads into the canyon (Wadi David), we stopped briefly to read Song of Songs 1, 2 Chronicles 20 (the Ascent of Ziz), and 1 Samuel 24. David was here hiding in a cave from Saul. Hiking further, we enjoyed getting wet in the water!
Continuing 30 minutes north, we visited Qumran, no doubt the most significant archaeological discovery in Israel. In 1947, the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found here! About 11 in the group hiked to Cave 1 where the first scrolls were discovered. After lunch, we visited the ruins. Here we saw the aqueduct, cisterns, and many miqvot (plural for ritual baths. We even saw one that shows evidence of the earthquake in 31 BC). In front of Cave 4, we read from “Psalm 151” and Psalm 19.
We ended the day with floating in the Dead Sea. With water 33% minerals/salt, it is impossible to sink. We had a blast in the water together. We also remembered that one day this salt water will be made fresh (Ezekiel 47).
We returned to our hotel for our farewell dinner. We enjoyed this time of sharing about the trip. We we so blessed to have Shlomo guide us and David drive for us. They truly became new friends!
As a note, the majority in the group leave the hotel at 3:20 a.m. for the Ben Gurion Airport, while others fly out tomorrow morning. The rest in the group remain in Jerusalem until the tomorrow night’s flight (due to a delay).
DAY 10 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 21: ARRIVE HOME
Today was our flight home. 26 in the group left the hotel at 3:30 a.m. early this morning for their flight hack to the U.S. Six in the group left the hotel at two different times - 6:00 and 7:45 a.m. And due to a flight delay, nine in the group got to enjoy an extra day exploring the Old City in Jerusalem.
Although both groups had unexpected travel delays/issues on the way back, we all made it home safely. Praise be to God for a marvelous group and a wonderful life-transforming tour experience!