Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from October-November, 2015 14 Day Study Tour of Israel
October 26 – November 8, 2015
DAYS 1 & 2 – MONDAY/TUESDAY, OCTOBER 26-27
Our day of departure finally came for this in-depth Christian Israel Tour to the Holyland! With most of the group meeting in Philadelphia, PA for our direct flight to Israel, it was fun to meet everyone God brought together for this trip. The group includes students, staff, and friends from the Solid Rock School of Discipleship from Lake Beauty Bible Camp in Long Prairie, MN. The group also includes folks from Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Virginia, and Colorado. We are 24 in total.
Landing at the Ben Gurion Airport (named after Israel’s first Prime Minister) at 1:30, we proceeded through passport control to the baggage area. Securing our checked luggage, we met Shlomo our guide and David our bus driver. After loading the bus, we left the airport and drove 30 minutes to Jaffa (Joppa). While it had rained in the morning, the skies were just overcast, but with no rain this afternoon.
On the way, we already were “touching the Bible” as we could see the Judean hills and Shephelah (lowlands) to our east. Even the Ayalon Valley/River came into view, helping us recall the story of the “sun standing still” for Joshua (Joshua 10). Arriving in Jaffa, we walked through the alley-ways of the city. We read from Jonah 1 and Acts 9 & 10, narratives about taking the kingdom message to Gentiles.
We drove only a short distance to our hotel here in Jaffa. After checking in, we had some free time before our “orientation meeting” at 6, followed by dinner at 6:30.
It’s so good to be in Israel and we all are looking forward to seeing the Bible “come alive” in real and transforming ways!
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28
What a great new day here in Israel. We were greeted by some sun and clouds over the Med Sea, with temps in the 60s. Highs would be in the 70s today.
Following a great breakfast, we loaded the bus and headed to our first site, Gezer. It is the first of five Old Testament cities we would see today here in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Located in the Ajalon Valley, Gezer is mentioned 14 times in Scripture. We learned of the city’s geographical importance, guarding the natural route from the south to the north. Solomon fortified the city here (1 Kings 9). We also read from Ecclesiastes 3 about the “seasons” (matching quite closely the Gezer Calendar that was found here. On the site, we saw the Canaanite wall and tower complex the water system, and an Israelite/Iron Age gate build by Solomon, and messabot (“standing stones”) probably used for cultic purposes.
Next in the Sorek Valley, we made a brief stop to Beth Shemesh. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was returned from the Philistines. We read from 1 Samuel 6, complete with “sound effects” (e.g. “mooing” like cows). Besides some archaeological structures dating to this time period, we also descended into a cistern used in ancient days to contain water.
Continuing south in these “lowlands” of Judah is the Elah Valley. We visited a fairly new archaeological site, Kh. Qeiyafa, another site not visited by any groups. We stood in the Israelite/Iron Age “chambered gate” (the city had to of them actually) while we read from 1 Samuel 17. It was in the Elah Valley below where David fought Goliath, the Philistine giant from Gath. From here we cold also see Tel Azekah. Gath was located only a few miles west of Azekah.
Continuing south, we enjoyed lunch at Beit Guvrin. Following our introduction to the “Israeli sandwich” (called a falafel), we visited the Roman ruins and the amphitheater here (one of only two in Israel). From here we visited the Maresha Caves (in the Beit Guvrin Valley). Of the hundreds of caves carved here by ancient Roman quarrying, we entered two of them, the columbarium (for raising pigeons), and the bell cave. We read from Micah 1 & 5 (Micah as from Maresha), listened to Shlomo play a song for us on his recorder, and sang a few songs together. The acoustics were amazing. We also saw a young Jewish couple taking their wedding pictures here.
Our last site of the day is Lachish (in the Valley of Lachish), a city that was attacked by the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36) and later conquered by the Babylonians. We heard about the famous “Lachish Letters” and ”letter #4,” specifically telling us that Lachish and Azekah were the two lasting-standing Judean cities (Jeremiah 34:7). We also climbed the tel to see the place probably built by King Rehoboam (2 Chr. 11), and the city wall & gate structure.
We end the day by driving south to Beersheba located in the Negev. We enjoyed dinner and a meeting afterwards. Before retiring for the night, some enjoyed a walk around this city of 200,00 people.
DAY 4 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29
Today was another great day. The weather was perfect, with sun and temps around the low 70s. After breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and drove a short distance to Tel Beersheba. We visited the archaeological ruins, most of them dating to the 10th century BC. We read from Genesis 21 about Abraham and the “well treaty” he made. We also celebrated that God is our “Good Shepherd” who continues to “overflow” us with His goodness (Psalm 23). At the site, we saw another chambered gate, “4-room Israelite houses,” and an impressive cistern system.
Driving south in the Negev, we visited Ben Gurion’s tomb. He was the first Prime Minister of Israel. The tomb overlooks the Wilderness of Zin. We also saw ibex (wild goats) here (Psalm 104). Driving down into the canyon, we then hiked into the canyon to the water falls. It is such a beautiful and unique place. Some even hiked up to the opposite rim of the canyon. Lunch followed at Avdat, a rest area near by.
From here we continued driving south another 25 kilometers to the Machtesh Ramon, Israel’s “grand canyon.” This place is really a geological wonder.
Driving back north to the northeastern area of the Negev, our last site of the day was Arad. Here was saw the “Early Bronze/Canaanite” city below as well as the Israelite “citadel” ruins on the highest part of the tel. We read from Numbers 21 (about the King of Arad opposing the advancement of Moses and the Isaelites) and 2 Chronicles 34 (about Josiah’s reforms). We saw the “false temple” built here. We also considered how God wants us to be a “living sacrifice” unto Him (Romans 12:1-2).
Driving into the Judean Desert, we arrived at Hanokdim, a “Bedouin village.” Here we rode camels, listened to a Bedouin man speak about his lifestyle, and enjoyed dinner together. After eating, we enjoyed a time of reflection and worship under the stars and full moon. We then settled into our one big tent, hoping for a good night’s sleep. 🙂
DAY 5 – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30
Today was a sunny day, with highs in around 80. Waking up early to a wonderful sunrise over Jordan, we left our Bedouin camp and drove to Masada located only about 8 miles east. Masada was a palace-fortress built by King Herod. It as later occupied by 967 Jews after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It was surrounded by Silva, the Roman general and his legions of soldiers. He built a ramp upon which many of the group ascended to the top of this “stand-alone” city. Others in the group bussed around to the eastern side of Masada and ascended via cable car. On top we saw cisterns, palaces, mosaics, storehouses, a synagogue, and a bathhouse. 13 in the group hiked down the Snake Path. We read from Psalm 18:1-2 about how God is our “fortress” (metzada/Masada).
Leaving Masada, we drove north along the western coastline of the Dead Sea to En Gedi. Here we read from Songs of Solomon 1, 2 Chr. 20, and 1 Samuel 24 (David’s “cave” experience with Saul). We hiked back to the second water falls. Many enjoyed getting a little wet.
Further north was Qumran. While some ate lunch, others uniquely hiked to “Cave 1” where the famous Isaiah scrolls were discovered in 1947. After lunch we visited the archeological ruins of Qumran where the Essene community wrote these ancient scrolls/texts. We read from “Psalm 151” (the extra psalm found here) and 2 Timothy 3:16, celebrating the preservation and authority of God’s Word. Before leaving the site, we also hiked to Cave 11, where the “Temple Scroll” was found.
Next, we drove to the Dead Sea where we enjoyed “floating” in this unique body of water (1,400 feet below sea level, 33% salt/minerals). Everyone enjoyed this “unique” experience!
Our last site of the day was Jericho. We talked about the historicity of the Bible in the context of the Joshua 6 story. Here we see a perfect “match” between archaeology and the Bible. We saw the very “revetment/retaining” walls that Joshua saw. A mud-brick wall on top of this stone wall is the one that came tumbin’ down!
We drove up to, and through the northern edge of Jerusalem en route to our hotel located in Tel Aviv. We enjoyed a late dinner and a free night. It was another great day here in Israel!
DAY 6 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31
Today was another ideal weather day, with lots of sun and temps in the 70s. We left our hotel in Tel Aviv (located on the Med Sea) at 7:40 once again, We drove north about 40 minutes to Caesarea. This was a city built by Herod the Great, a projected that began in 22 BC. In the theater we read form Acts 10, 12 and 26 about the boldness of Peter and Paul (both who were here). Seeing the palace and crossing the hippodrome, we entered into the Crusader part of the city. From here we could see part of Herod’s impressive harbor (into which Paul sailed a few times).
Driving through the Sharon Plain, we ascended the Carmel Range to Muhraqa. We entered the Carmelite chapel where we read from 1 Kings 18 about Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. The view from the roof of the Jezreel Valley was very good, allowing us to see Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), and Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31).
Following lunch we drove down into the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo, the most strategic city that guarded entrance into the valley. At this massive archaeological tel, we saw a few ancient gates, Solomon’s stables, and a grain bin. We read from Revelation 16 and rejoiced that we are on the winning side! We also descended into the impressive water system.
Driving across the valley, Sephoris (Sippori) was our next site. This was the major city in the region during the days of Jesus. Located only 4-5 miles from Nazareth, Jesus would have been very familiar with it. Here we saw numerous Roman and Late Roman mosaics, as well as a theater.
Our last experience of the day was a visit to the precipice of Nazareth. We watched the sun set to the west as we enjoyed yet another perspective of the Jezreel Valley below (with Tabor, Moreh, Gilboa, and Carmel all in view). We read from Luke 4 and John 1. We were invited to “come and see” Jesus again with new eyes! It was a great way to end the day.
We drove to our hotel located on the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed dinner and a fun gathering before retiring for the night. We are looking forward to spending three days here up north in the Galilee!
DAY 7 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1
It was another perfect weather day here in Israel, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s. Leaving at 7:40 again, we headed to the Golan Heights. Taking the eastern road high above the lake below, our first stop (at the “Peace Vista”) was remarkable! With the sun behind us, the visibility of the region of the Sea of Galilee was excellent.
From here we drove north to Gamla, our first archaeological site of the day. Gamla as a Jewish city that revolted against the Romans in 66 AD. Although not mentioned in the NT, it is probable that Jesus would have been here. We sat in the 1st century synagogue as we read from Luke 4 and Acts 5.
Driving to Katzrin, the Golan’s largest city, we visited the Talmudic village. We began talking about the Hebraic background and context of Jesus’ ministry. We entered a reconstructed stone house (no doubt similar to houses in the day of Jesus) where we read from Mark 2.
Our last stop before lunch was Bental. From this old military outlook, we learned about the modern Israeli-Syrian conflicts as we looked into Qunentra, Syria. The visibility was great, allowing us clearly see Mt. Hermon to the north and even the Sea of Galilee looking back south.
Following lunch (at another Druze place), we visited Caesarea Philippi. We read from Matthew 16 that included the question asked by Jesus of His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We saw the grotto area of this pagan city. The city is also called Banias.
Coming down off of the Golan Heights, the OT city of Dan was next. We walked through a beautiful nature preserve first along this primary tributary of the Jordan River. We listened to another song played by Shlomo as we reflected upon Psalm 42 (“As the deer pants for water…”). Coming to the Israelite temple and high place established by Jeroboam, we read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. We had a good discussion about “patterns of obedience/disobedience” in our lives. Leaving the site, we saw a bud-brick gate dating back close to Abraham’s time (Gen. 14:14).
On the way back to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, we ascended the Naftali mountains for a close-up view of Lebanon. Shlomo shared some of the modern history about Lebanon with us. We also heard the story of 2 Samuel 20 (about Sheba & Joab at Abel Beit Maacah, seen below in the valley where Pastor John excavated last year).
Arriving back at the hotel, we enjoyed dinner and another gathering. It was a great day up north!
DAY 8 – MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2
Today was a day spent around the Sea of Galilee. With sunny skies and temps a little warmer today (around 80), it was a perfect day to spend around the Sea of Galilee. Leaving at 7:30 today, our first destination was Mt. Arbel. 13 in the group hiked to the top (ascending the trail and using hand-holds towards the top), while the others bussed around and walked the final 300 yards to the top. The view was great today of the Sea of Galilee below.
Driving back down through Tiberias, next we stopped at Magdala. Here we saw a 1st century AD synagogue, only one of seven found dating to this time period. “Mary Magdalene” was from here. No doubt Jesus taught in this synagogue as well. We also enjoyed here the new chapel. We enjoyed the mosaic murals and the acoustical singing.
From here we drove to the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee to Chorazim, one of the three cities condemned by Jesus. We entered the 3rd century synagogue here and saw the “Moses seat.” We read from Matthew 23 and heard Jesus’ exhorting words on living humble and honest lives.
Located below on the NW shoreline of the lake is Capernaum. We visited the synagogue here too (5th century AD). We read a number of the Gospel stories that took place here (Mark 1, 2, Mark 9, Luke 7, and John 6). We also enjoyed a brief time of reflection on the shoreline. Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew were all probably called to follow Jesus here.
Following a “St. Peter’s fish” lunch (for most), we stopped at Nof Ginnosar to see the 1st century boat found in 1986. We could picture Jesus and His disciples crowded in a boat like this. We then “sailed” ourselves on the lake, enjoying a time of worship and reflection. The water was a bit rough because of the eastern wind. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14 about the storm narratives Jesus and His disciples encountered.
Driving back to the southern end of the lake, we stopped at Yardenit for our optional baptismal service. 15 reaffirmed their commitment to follow Christ as one of His disciples, while 1 was baptized for the first time. It was a joy to celebrate God’s call upon our lives together!
Returning to our hotel, we enjoyed dinner together and a “Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune, etc… game as well, using the sites of Israel as the questions. It was a great way to review the trip.
DAY 9 – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3: MT. OF BEATITUDES / REFLECTION DAY
Today was a reflection/rest day. It was another absolutely perfect weather day, with sun and temps in the 70s. Following a later breakfast (8 a.m.), we gathered at 9 for our first consideration of the Matthew 5-7 text. The Sermon on the Mount was our focus of the day.
Guided by Pastor Brian, our morning included a “parable walk” here on the grounds and along the shoreline of the lake and some small group interaction. The “alone” time of discovering this text of Scripture along with the physical setting around us was special. We each collected a stone as a remembrance of this experience.
At 11:45 we boarded the bus and drove to Nof Ginnosar for lunch. Here we enjoyed lunch and the water. 7 went swimming in the unusually “high waves” created by an eastern “sharkia” wind. No doubt this was the type of wind that caused the disciples to fear (Mathew 14, Mark 4).
Next we drove to the Mt. of Beatitudes for the afternoon. Our focus was specially Matthew 5:3-13. We again spent some “alone” time considering these powerful kingdom words of Jesus and some small group sharing time. We then walked in silence down the dirt path that leads down to the water’s edge below. At the end of the walk we enjoyed this tranquil time and sunset as we listened Be Thou My Vision. It is our prayer that Jesus is our vision for life.
En route back to our hotel, we made a brief stop at the Tiberias mall for some “modern Israeli culture.” Following dinner, we enjoyed a brief meeting before preparing our bags for checking out tomorrow morning when we leave for Jerusalem!
DAY 10 – WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Today we checked out of our Ohalo Manor hotel along the SW corner of the Sea of Galilee. Before leaving the Sea of Galilee area, we began the day in the Kinneret cemetery. Here we heard about the kibbutz as well as about a woman named Rachel. She was an early pioneer in the country from the Ukraine who was buried here in 1931. She was 41.
Driving south down the Jordan River Valley, we went to Beit Alpha. This is a synagogue that dates to the 5th century AD. We saw the amazing mosaic floor and heard a comical narrative about synagogue life from the Talmudic Period.
Close by we added a “surprise” experience at Sachne. Here we saw a natural pool created by the nearby Ein Harod spring (Judges 7). Some in the group enjoyed a swim here.
Beth Shean (also Beth Shan) was our next stop. This is a huge archaeological site that dates to both the Old Testament and Roman periods. Among the Roman ruins, we saw the bathhouse, the cardo (main street), mosaics, shops, numerous fallen pillars (destroyed in 749 AD by an earthquake), and an almost intact theater. Some climbed to the top of the OT tel where Saul’s body was hung after he died at nearby Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). The view from here of the Roman city below is spectacular, despite the dust storm that began to come upon us from Jordan to the east.
From here we drove into the Hill Country of Ephraim/Samaria. Visibility was now very limited because of the dust in the air. Passing by Shechem /Sychar (Gen. 28, John 4) we arrived at Shiloh. It was here that the Ark of the Covenant resided for 369 years before it was taken by the Philistines. We saw the ruins from the Israelite period (corresponding to Samuel and Eli). We also saw a high-tech presentation of the story of Hannah and Samuel. The flat area below the acropolis/peak of the city was probably where the Tabernacle was. We read from Jeremiah 7 and heard this prophet’s reference he made to Shiloh.
Driving south towards Jerusalem, we passed by other places mentioned in the Bible (e.g. Bethel, Genesis 12-13; Michmash, 1 Samuel 13-14). Arriving in Jerusalem we checked into our hotel (Lev Yerushalyim) and enjoyed dinner together. Most in the group enjoyed a walk to the Western Wall (through the Jaffa Gate).
We are excited to be in Jerusalem for the next 3 days.
DAY 11 – THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Today was our first day in Jerusalem. The weather was overcast but pleasant through about 1 p.m. It then rained off and on for a few hours. We left the hotel at 7:30 and drove to the Western Wall (the Kotel). With our reservation for the Western Wall Tunnel at 8:10, we proceeded straight for this very interesting archaeological wonder. We walked along this western retaining wall (built by Herod when he expanded the Temple on top) for about 400 yards, seeing massive stones (one 500+ tons) put precisely in place. No wonder the disciples marveled when they saw Herod’s Temple (Mark 13:1-2). We existed the tunnel where the Antonio Fortress once stood in Jesus’ day. From here we then walked back to the Western Wall, observing the end of their morning prayer time. Even a few Bar Mitzvah celebrations were about to start.
We walked up to the Jewish Quarter to the Temple Institute. This was an interesting encounter with those who have already prepared for the building of the “3rd Temple.” From here we walked to a shop called Shoreshim where we listened to an Orthodox Jew named Moshe share about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting and enlightening. We enjoyed a brief Q & A time with him as well. We also enjoyed his shop (where everything has some biblical theme associated with the item).
After lunch and some free time in the Jewish Quarter (some walked to see Oscar Shindler’s grave on Mt. Zion), we walked out of Zion’s Gate where the bus picked us up. Driving to west Jerusalem, we visited the Israel Museum. Here we saw three things: The Temple model (1:50 scale model of Jerusalem during the 2nd Temple period), Shrine of the Book (with a few Dead Sea Scrolls displayed), and the archaeological wing of the museum (we saw some “highlight” items from sites we visited on this tour).
Close by is Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum & Memorial. Visiting first the “Valley of the Communities,” we heard Shlomo’s story of how he lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland. We then walked through the Children’s Memorial (1.5 million children died) before walking through the museum itself. It was quite a sobering experience.
Driving back to the hotel, we enjoyed dinner together. Many walked around Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Road for some shopping and coffee. It was a fun evening.
DAY 12 –FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6
We spent the entire day once again in Jerusalem. The morning was again overcast but pleasant (65 degrees). We had some rain for an hour or so in the afternoon.
We left the hotel again at 7:30 and drove to the City of David (OT Jerusalem). Many archaeological ruins are here. After watching a 15 minute video on the history of this city (the city was called Jebus prior to David’s conquering of the city, 2 Samuel 5), we walked down through the ruins located on the eastern slope. David’s palace as located on top. We also saw where Pastor John excavated in 1982.
Continuing down the slope, we next walk through Warren’s Shaft. It as originally believed that Joab infiltrate the city by climbing up this 52 foot shaft, but this theory is no longer held due to most recent archaeological discoveries. Descending down to the Gihon Spring (where Solomon was inaugurated as king), many in the group walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is a 1,720 foot tunnel that was carved out of bedrock (probably a 4 year project, from 705-701 BC) that brought water safely inside the city. We referred to 2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36-37, references that attribute the tunnel to Hezekiah. Others in the group walked through the dry Canaanite tunnel.
Both groups converged at the Siloam Pool. It was discovered 5-6 years ago now. Sitting on the very steps of the pool, 5 in the group read “dramatically” from the narrative of John 9 about the blind man being healed by Jesus.
From here, about half in the group walk north to the “southern wall excavations” of the Temple through the drainage channel, while others ascended via taxi. Once again converging, we ascended the very Temple steps of Herod’s Temple. We remembered the stories involving the Temple (Luke 2, 18, John 10, Mark 12, and Acts 2, among others). We also saw the Roman street that ran under Robinson’s Arch at the SW corner of the Temple as well. For the next 2 hours, we enjoyed lunch, shopping, and exploring in and around the Old City.
We ended the day at the Garden Tomb. While it was raining heavily at first, we enjoyed seeing this alternative site for the place of crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We enjoyed a time of worship and communion as well.
We returned back to the hotel for dinner and a free evening. It’s hard to believe that our last day of the trip is tomorrow.
DAY 13 –SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7
Today was a foggy day. Temps remained mild (65-70) but with reduced visibility. Leaving the hotel at 7:35, we drove to the Mt. of Olives. Although from the top we could not even see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock (where both the 1st and 2nd Temples once stood), we walked down the narrow road, remembering the Palm Sunday event (Luke 19). Descending to the Dominus Flavet chapel (traditionally where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), we could begin to see the Temple Mount and part of the Old City. We read from Zechariah 14 about Christ’s return. We also talked about the Eastern Gate (Ezekiel 44). Walking further downhill, we spent a few reflective moments in the Garden of Gethsemane area (Luke 22).
From here we walked into the Old City through the Lion’s (or St. Stephen’s/Jericho) gate. Soon after entering the Old City, we stopped at the Pools of Bethesda. We read John 5 here. We also enjoyed the 8 second echo inside the St. Anne’s Crusader Church. The singing sounded amazing!
Close by the Via Dolorosa begins. We walked to the Holy Sepulcher Church. This is one suggested location where Christ’s crucifixion and burial took place. After visiting inside the church, we enjoyed lunch in the Christian Quarter before walking out the Jaffa Gate to meet the bus.
This afternoon we drove south to Herodium. This was the burial place of Herod the Great. We climbed this “artificial” mountain that overlooked Bethlehem to the west. We walked down through the complex cistern system before exiting the site.
Driving to Beit Sahour (a Christian Arab village east of Bethlehem), e enjoyed a time of reflecting upon the birth narrative of Christ. We read from Luke 2 and sang a few Christmas carols together, both outside overlooking the “Shepherds’ Fields” as well as in the beautiful Shepherd’s Chapel. Driving into Bethlehem, we ended the day at an olive wood store in Bethlehem.
On our way back to Jerusalem, we stopped briefly at Shlomo’s community. Continuing, we arrived at the Colony Restaurant for our “farewell dinner.” We enjoyed this “last supper” together.
Driving to the airport, we proceeded through check-in and passport control. We boarded our 11:30 p.m. flight home.
DAY 14 –SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8
We arrived back in the States (5 a.m.), went through customs, and made our connecting flights. The end of a marvelous trip!