Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from October-November, 2016 – 12 Day Israel Tour
October 31 – November 11, 2016
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY/TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31-NOVEMBER 1
Our day of departure for our Israel trip finally came! Most in the group met at the JKF and Newark, NJ airports for our night flight to Europe first, and then to Israel. The flights went well, with most getting at least a little sleep.
Arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport, we met our travel agent, collected our luggage, and then met our guide (Shlomo Ben Asher) and driver (David Elimelech). Others in the group who flew on their own also met us at the airport. After loading the bus, we drove to Tel Aviv for our first night’s hotel along the Mediterranean Sea. We enjoyed dinner together, followed by an optional walk to along the beach before retiring for the night. It was very pleasant (temps around 75) to walk along the Med Sea!
We are all so very excited for the life-changing experiences that await us tomorrow!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2
Today was our first full day here in Israel. We woke up to sunny/partly cloudy skies, with wonderful temps around 65. The high today reached only about 75.
After a wonderful breakfast, we loaded the bus and drove east the south to the Shephelah of Judah. These are the “lowlands” of Judah that served as a “buffer zone” between the Coastal Plain to the west and the Hill Country of Judah to the east. Our first site was the tel (“ancient mound”) of Gezer located in the Aijalon Valley. Here we saw both Middle Bronze/Canaanite and Iron Age/Israelite ruins. We read from passages like Joshua 12, Judges 1, and I Kings 9, with this later reference to King Solomon fortifying this city. We also read from the Gezer Calendar (found about 100 years ago) and Ecclesiates 3 about the “seasons” of life. Archaeologically, we saw the Canaanite water system, fortification tower, wall, and 6-chamber gate, as well as the 6-chamber Solomonic gate and wall. Leaving the site, we saw the Canaanite high place.
Driving a little south to the next valley in the Shephelah, the Sorek Valley, we climbed to top of the tel of Beth Shemesh. In this area nearby are the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, the home area of Samson (Judges 13-14). We also read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines. Here we also saw Israelite and Roman ruins. Some descended down to one of the cisterns.
Kh. Qeiyafa located in the Elah Valley was our next site. We climbed this tel as well and entered the city through one of the two city 6-chamber gates. Looking over the valley to Socoh, we read from 1 Samuel 17 about the story of David vs. Goliath. We could see the battle taking place right in front of us! We celebrated the victory God brought young David as well as the victories God brings us in our own “battles” of life. We left this ancient site through the other gate. The city was most likely called Shaaryim (which means “2 gates”).
Following lunch, we visited Beit Guvrin. After seeing the amphitheater (one of only two found in Israel), we drove to two of the many caves found here. The first one was a columbarium and was used for pigeons. In the second one, the Bell Cave, we enjoyed a time of singing. Shlomo also played his recorder here. The acoustic were wonderful! We also read from Micah 1 & 5.
Our last site of the day was Lachish. This was a city conquered by Joshua in 2 days (Joshua 10:32). After it was established as a primary Judean city, we learned that the city was first destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 BC (1 Kings 19 & 20) and later again by the Babylonians. We read from Jeremiah 34:7 about “Lachish and Azekah” being the two last-standing Judean cities, matching up perfectly with “Lachish Letter #4.” We climbed the tel where we saw the two gates of the city (they just found an ancient toilet in one of the inner gate chambers!) and the palace probably built by Rehoboam. The sunset to the west was spectacular too!
Driving to the Negev and the city of Beersheba, we checked into our hotel, enjoyed dinner, and a brief meeting. Some enjoyed a walk around the town before retiring for the evening. It was a great first full day!
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3
Today was another great day, with beautiful sunny skies and temps around 80. Leaving our hotel in Beersheba shortly after 7:30 this morning, our first stop was nearby Tel Beersheba. At the ancient gate of the city, we read from Genesis 21 about Abraham making a “treaty/covenant” here at the “water well.” We considered Psalm 23 and how Jesus our “Shepherd” grants us His “cup that overflows” with grace and goodness. Isaac, Jacob, and Elijah, among others, are also connected with Beersheba. Here we also saw a typical “4-room Israelite house,” ancient storehouses, and a very impressive cistern system. A replica of the 4-horned altar was also on display here.
Driving south in the Negev, our next stop was Sde Boker. It was where David & Paula Ben Gurion were buried. David Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister in 1948! These two graves overlook the beautiful Wilderness of Zin. We remembered the stories of Numbers 13 (the 12 spies came up through this region) and Numbers 20 (where Moses struck the rock). Driving down into the canyon, we all enjoyed the hike back to the waterfalls. About 2/3rds in the group continued the hike by climbing to the top of the rim on the other side of the canyon. While this hike provided spectacular views of this region, those who walked back to the bus were delighted to see two male ibex (wild goats) clashing.
Following lunch at Avdat, we drove back north to Tel Arad. In biblical times, the city of Arad was a prominent Canaanite city on the northeast side of the Negev. Here we saw the ruins of the Early Bronze city (it would be destroyed by Joshua – Josh. 12) as well as the Israelite citadel built on the highest elevation of the city. We read from Numbers 21 and 2 Chronicles 34. Both Hezekiah and Josiah brought religious reform to the country here. In the “false temple” built here by Judeans (this temple was complete with an altar and a Holy of Holies area), we remembered that God wants us to be a living sacrifice to Him (Romans 12).
From here we literally descended about 3,000 feet to Ein Bokek. After checking in to our hotel, we enjoyed an unique “float” on the Dead Sea (33% salt & minerals). It was a wild experience! After cleaning up, we also enjoyed a great dinner and a free night.
It was a great day here in the Negev!
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Today was another bright and sunny day, with highs in the low 80s. Driving north along the western coastline of the Dead Sea, we started the day with Masada. This was a one of several “palace-fortresses” built by Herod the Great. Although not mentioned directly in the Bible, the Hebrew word metzada is mentioned in Psalm 18. The word means “fortress.” Long before this “stand-alone” mountain was developed by Herod, perhaps David used is as his “stronghold” (1 Samuel 24). Ascending to the top in a cable car, here at Masada we heard the valiant story passionately shared by Shlomo of the 967 Jews who held out in from the Romans for about 3 years. We saw a few cisterns and palaces, the synagogue, and the bathhouse. A number in the group enjoyed the hike down the Snake Path, while others road the cable care down.
Driving north once more, Engedi was our next site. Here we read from 2 Chronicles 20, Song of Songs 1, and 1 Samuel 24. It was here where David hid in a cave from Saul. We walked to some of the water falls here. It’s remarkable to see so much water here in the Judean Desert.
Continuing to the northwest corner of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47), we came to Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found here in 1947. After eating lunch here, we saw the archaeological site where the Essene community scribed these scrolls (around 900 of them in a total of 11 caves). We read from “Psalm 151” (found in Cave 11) as well as from Psalm 19 and 2 Timothy 3:16 while standing right across from Cave 4 (where the majority of the scrolls were found). During lunch, a good number in the group hiked to the famous Cave 1 where the scrolls were first discovered.
Jericho was our last stop of the day. We climbed the tel (ancient mound) and first looked across to Jordan and Mt. Nebo (where Moses died). We talked about a few of the stories that took place here, including stories from the New Testament (Zaccheaus, Bartimeaus, the Good Samaritan parable, etc…). At the site we saw the oldest standing tower in Israel as well as what is exposed of the double retaining walls of Jericho as seen and destroyed by Joshua (Joshua 6). Jericho was the first of 31 cities taken by Joshua (Joshua 12). We celebrated the historicity and accuracy of the Bible!
From here we drove north through the Jordan River Valley to Tiberias. We checked into Nof Ginnosar (north of Tiberias), while the pastors in our group are staying in Nazareth for the night.
We are looking forward to two days and three nights here in the region of the Galilee!
DAY 6 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5
Today was another perfect weather day, with full sun once again and with highs around 80. Because of the annual bike race around the Sea of Galilee (1,000s of bikes!), we had to leave our hotel at 5:45 a.m. Because they closed the roads all morning, we also had to adjust our program. So following an earlier breakfast, we departed the hotel and drove to Nazareth. Here we drove to the top of the precipice of Nazareth for our first great view of the Jezreel Valley below! The view was wonderful, as we could see many of the stories of the Bible come to life from here (e.g. Deborah & Barak vs. Sisera at Mt. Tabor, Judges 4-5; Gideon & his 300 men vs. the Midianites on the Hill of Moreh,Judges 6-7; Elijah vs. prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, 1 Kings 18). But this was our first chance to consider the life and ministry of Jesus. Rejected in Nazareth (Luke 4), we were invited to “come and see” Jesus within the context of his hometown. Despite Nathaniel asking, “What good can come from Nazareth?”, Jesus came to be the Savior of the world! Here on the precipice we also enjoyed a time of worship and reflection.
Driving across the Jezreel Valley, we came to Megiddo. This is a large archaeological site with over 24 laters of ruins spanning about 2,000 years. Megiddo was a strategically important city that guarded the major route into the valley. Thutmose III, the Egyptian Pharaoh, even said, “to capture Megiddo was like capturing 1,000 cities…” Here we saw 3 sets of city gates, Solomon’s stables, a Canaanite high place, and an Israelite granary. We read from Revelation 16 about “Armageddon.” We left the site by descending down through the impressive water system.
From here we drove back towards the Sea of Galilee, specifically to the northwest corner of the lake. The site we visited before lunch was Magdala. Here we saw a 1st century synagogue, one of only seven found in Israel. Mary “Magdalene” was from here. It is highly likely that Jesus taught from this synagogue during His Galilean ministry. We also enjoyed blending our voices in singing in the meditation chapel built on the grounds.
Following lunch we visited the ancient boat (found in 1986). The boat dates to the 1st century, and was no doubt the size of a fishing boat back in Jesus’ day. We also enjoyed our own boat ride out on the lake. We enjoyed a time of worship. We also paused to reflect upon the storm narratives from Mark 4 and Matthew 16.
Chorazim was the next site. We saw a 3rd century AD synagogue here built with basaltic stone. This city sits high above the Sea of Galilee on this NW corner. It was one of the three cities condemned by Jesus (Matthew 11, along with Capernaum and Bethsaida). We read from Matthew 23 that mentions the Moses’ Seat that was found here.
Close by down at the water’s edge is Capernaum. This city served as the “ministry base” for Jesus. Sitting in the 5th century synagogue, we read from Mark 1 & 2, Luke 7, and John 6, all references to Jesus teaching and ministry here. We also saw the “traditional” house of Peter as well as the 5th century octagonal church built around it.
Our last stop was on the top of the Mt. of Beatitudes. As the sun set, we listened to the words of Matthew 5 in both Hebrew and English. It was a beautiful time of quietness sitting together on rocks with a marvelous view of the lake below.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and a free night. It was another great day!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Today we headed north to the Golan Heights. It was another sunny and beautiful day, with temps around 80. Departing after breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee and up the Golan to where we made our first panoramic stop. With Bethsaida below us, we read from Mark 8 (blind man healed) and Matthew 14 (also John 6). The Feeding of the 5,000 took place right below us! From this corner, Jesus also walked on the water in the middle of the night to His disciples’ boat (Mark 6).
Our first site we visited was Gamla. This was the predominate Jewish city on this NE corner of the lake. Here, the 1st Jewish Revolt took place against the Romans. Here is also a 1st century synagogue. Even though not mentioned, there is a high probability that Jesus taught here (Mt. 9). For this reason, it was special to actually sit in this synagogue! The indirect reference to Gamla is Acts 5 (e.g. about a certain “Judas the Galilean” who may have been from here). Josephus (who was in this battle) records the details in his Jewish Wars.
Continuing to drive on the plateau of the Golan, Katzrin (also Qatzrin) was our next stop. We visited this Talmudic village where we sat in a reconstructed stone house similar, no doubt, to the houses in Jesus’ day. While crowded in this stone house, we read from Mark 2 about the paralyzed man being lowered down through the flat roof to Jesus below. Jesus not only healed him physically, but also spiritually. Praise God for the “authority” (S’mekah in Hebrew) of Jesus to forgive sins! There is also a synagogue here as well.
Driving now north and east, we stopped at the border with Syria. Shlomo shared some modern history about the 1967 and 1973 wars against these northern neighbors. We actually were able to look over the border into Quneitra, Syria! We prayed for those innocent victims of the civil war in this war-torn country.
Grabbing lunch “on the go” (e.g. bananas, pretzels, and snacks), we spent the afternoon at two more national parks. The first one was Caesarea Philippi. This was a pagan city during Jesus’ day. But it was in the “region” of this city where Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” It was Peter who replied, “You are the Christ!” (Matthew 16) Here we saw the cultic grotto used in pagan worship, including the niches used for Pan. The Banias spring here serves as one of three tributaries of the Jordan River. The transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17) also may have taken place here too!
Coming down off the Golan now our last stop of the day was Dan. We first walked through the nature preserve. Here is the largest of the tributaries of the Jordan. The walk along the river was beautiful! We enjoyed Shlomo’s recorder playing. We also considered Psalm 42 and sang together. The path leads into the archaeological part of Dan. We sat on the steps of the high place as we read from Judges 18 (the Danites conquered this city, called Laish, and relocated here) and 1 Kings 12. Jeroboam set up a false worship center here, including an altar and golden calf. We also saw the mud-brick gate of Dan, dating to around the time of Abraham.
Since we still had ample daylight, we ascended the hills of Naphtali to Misgav Am. Here we had a tremendous view of Mt. Hermon to the east and Lebanon to the north. We literally were about 1/2 mile from the border. Shlomo shared some modern history about Lebanon. We also heard the story from the Bible (2 Samuel 20) that took place at the tel of Abel Beit Maacah below.
Driving back south through the Huleh Valley, we arrived at our hotel for dinner. We enjoyed an optional gathering down at the water’s edge to conclude the night.
DAY 8 – MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7
Today we packed up and checked out of our hotel. Greeted by sun and nice temps again, we started the day at Mt. Arbel. Many in the group enjoyed the little over an hour hike to the top of this 800 foot cliff that provides one of the best panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee below. Others bussed around the other side and walked to the top from the visitor center. The entire NW corner of the lake can ben seen from here! This was the main ministry area of Jesus! We remembered some of the parables of Jesus, especially the ones about the kingdom (Matthew 13-14).
Driving to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, we arrived at Yardenit for our baptism service in the Jordan River. About half in the group reaffirmed their baptismal vows. It was special for everyone!
Close by is the Kinneret Cemetery. It was here where may early Jewish pioneers are buried. This includes Rachel Bluwstein (1890-1931). She was a single Jewish woman from Russia. She is famous all over Israel for her poetry! She is simply known as “Rachel” and her picture will soon appear on the 20 shekel bill!
From here we drove back towards Nazareth. Crossing the Jezreel Valley, we climbed the Mt. Carmel Range on the southwest side of the valley. On the highest peak of this mountain range is a Carmelite chapel called Muhraqa (“burnt offering”). We read from 1 Kings 18 about the “showdown” on this mountain between Elijah and the prophets of Baal & Asherah. God sent fire from heaven upon the sacrifice on the altar made with 12 stones. We enjoyed some more singing in the chapel as well.
Following lunch at a place owned by a Druze family, we visited our last site of the day, Caesarea. Located on the Med Sea coastline, this was a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. The project took 12 years to complete. We read from Acts 10,12 and 26 from within the theater. Nearby was Herod’s palace, complete even with a fresh-water swimming pool! We then walked across the hippodrome to the Crusader part of the city. Herod built a vast harbor here. We also saw the aquaduct that brought water into the city from the Mt. Carmel area.
Boarding the bus, we drove to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. After checking to our hotel, we enjoyed an optional walk to the Western Wall. We are looking forward to the next three days in this amazing city!
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8
Today was our first day in Jerusalem! With full sun and perfect temps once again, we drove to the Mt. of Olives for our first full view of the Old City and Temple Mount. The view from here is amazing! We could see the City of David (OT Jerusalem) to the south, the Dome of the Rock (where the Temple once stood), the Eastern Gate (Ez. 44), among many other things. Walking down the path, we stopped at a chapel called Dominus Flavet. Here we read from Luke 19 (the “Palm Sunday” event), Acts 1 (Jesus’ ascension), and Zechariah 14 (Jesus’ return).
Continuing our walk down the path, we enjoyed a time of quiet reflection in the Garden of Gethsemane. We listened to “At the Cross.” It as a special time of considering Christ’s passion and ultimate sacrifice.
Walking across the Kidron Valley, we entered the Old City through the St. Stephen’s Gate (also called Lion’s & Jericho Gate). We enjoyed singing in a Crusader church (St. Anne’s). On the same grounds are the Pools of Bethesda. We read from John 5.
We walked through the heart of the Old City on the traditional Via Dolorosa (“way of the cross”) to the Holy Sepulcher Church, one of two possible locations for the crucifixion and burial place of Jesus. We also ate lunch here in the Christian Quarter.
Walking out of the Jaffa Gate, we boarded the bus and drove to Herodium. This was another of King Herod’s fortress/palaces. It was located just east of Bethlehem on the edge of the Judean Desert. We walked to the top of this “artificial” mountain before descending down through the cistern system. This was where Herod the Great as buried!
Driving towards Bethlehem, we enjoyed a time of reflecting upon the Christmas story. In a cave and later a chapel, we sang a few Christmas songs together. We celebrated that “just at the right time” God sent His Son (Gal. 4:4)!
We ended the day by visiting an olive factory and shop. Bethlehem is known for its olive wood products. Following a time of shopping, we drove back to our hotel in Jerusalem. We enjoyed dinner and a free night on our own.
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9
Today was our second full day here in Jerusalem. It was very unique waking up finding out the results of the US Presidency from here in Israel (although we didn’t really know who won until mid-morning)!
Leaving our hotel a little earlier today, we arrived at the Western Wall. Many Ultra-Orthodox Jews were still praying, using their tallit (prayer shawl, Numbers 15) and teffilin (phylacteries, Deut. 6). It was very interesting to see and observe this custom. Going in two groups, we were guided through the Western Wall Tunnel. Walking parallel to this western “retaining wall” built by Herod (a project that started in 20 BC), we are amazed to see how large the stones were. One stone (the “Master Course“) is 40 x 10 x 14 deep and weighs around 600 tons and was put in place 40 feet about the ground. How they placed these large stones is quite stunning (see Mark 13:1-2). We returned to the Western Wall for a time of prayer.
Walking up to the heart of the Jewish Quarter, we enjoyed a time of listening to Moshe, an Orthodox Jew. Moshe shared with us about the Jewish perspective of faith and practice. It was quite interesting. There was also some Q & A as well. His shop (Shorashim) has wonderful items (jewelry and art work), with each item having some connection to the Bible. We enjoyed a time of shopping as well as lunch here around the Jewish Quarter.
Walking out the Zion’s Gate, we boarded the bus and drove to the western part of the city. Our first stop was the Israel Museum. Located directly across from the Kinesset, Israel’s parliamentary building, here we saw three things: a 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it appeared in 70 AD prior to its destruction, the Shrine of the Book (where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept), and the archaeological wing of the museum. We saw highlights of the archaeological discoveries, including such things as the Dan & Pilate Inscriptions, the Arad Temple, and Herod’s sarcophagus.
We ended the day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial & Museum. Shlomo shared about how he lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland. We saw the Children’s Memorial and walked through the museum on our own. It is a moving place.
We returned back to the hotel for dinner. Our optional walk tonight was to Ben Yehuda, giving us a taste for modern Israeli life and some shopping.
DAY 11- THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10
Today was our last day here in Jerusalem. With full sun and perfect temps again (70s), we left our hotel around 7:45. Our first stop was the Garden Tomb. This is an relatively new (late 1800s) alternative site for Christ’s crucifixion and burial. It is a beautiful place located just north of the Old City and is operated by British believers. After seeing the proposed place of crucifixion as well as the tomb of Christ, we enjoyed a time of worship and communion together.
Leaving from here, we drove back to the southern end of the Old City where we walked into the Dung Gate. Here we visited the Southwall Excavations of the Herodian Temple. The huge stones from the Temple that were toppled by the Romans in 70 AD were piled high. We also walked on the actual Roman street that Jesus would have walked on as well. Also, this was where the pinnacle of the Temple was (the SW corner). What was left of Robinson’s Arch (named after the early explorer who discovered it in 1838) could be seen. This was the main entry for priests into the Temple during Jesus’ day. We also walked over to the southern steps of the Temple. We remembered the many references and stories that took place in the Temple (Luke 1; John 2, 10; Mark 13; Acts 2,3 & 5).
From here we walked down to the City of David excavations. We first saw a 15 “3-D” movie before seeing some of the ruins. These date from the time of the Jebusites to the Nehemiah. David was the one who conquered the city (2 Samuel 5). It was also Hezekiah who expanded the city to the western hill and carved out a 1,720 foot water tunnel during the time of the Assyrian siege of the city by Sennacherib (2 Kings 19-20, 2 Chr. 32, Isaiah 36-37). We also saw David’s palace!
Continuing further down the eastern slope of the city, we walked through Warren’s Shaft and down to the Gihon Spring. This was where Solomon was made king! Splitting into two groups here, some walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel while others walk through the older Canaanite tunnel. Converging at the Pool of Siloam, we read from John 9 bout the blind man healed by Jesus here!
Accessing the Herodian drainage channel here, some walked back up to the SW corner of the Temple while others bussed to the Zion’s Gate. We all enjoyed a few hours of free time. Most took care of final shopping in the Jewish Quarter while others visited new sites (the Upper Room). We also saw many Bar Mitzvah celebrations!
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed our farewell dinner. Everyone retired early because of the early wake-up call in order to make our morning fight home.
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11 – FLIGHT HOME
We arrived at the airport for our early flight home. Despite a few flight delays, we arrived home safely this evening. Praise God… it was a life-changing trip!