Biblical Israel Tour Experiences from September 7-20, 2014. A 14 Day Israel & Jordan Tour
DAYS 1 & 2 – SUNDAY/MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7
The Israel tour to the Holyland began today! The majority of the group flew on our Austrian Air flight to Vienna and then on to Tel Aviv. We are thankful that we all arrived in Tel Aviv. After going through passport control at the Ben Gurion Airport (named after Israel’s first Prime Minister), we picked up our luggage and walked to our bus. We were greeted by Shlomo, our guide, and Abraham (“Bambi”) our driver. We were also delighted to meet Rick Ricart, owner of imagine Tours & Travel and Miri, our Israeli agent.
The weather was beautifully sunny and mild, in the 80’s. Leaving the airport we drove to Jaffa for a quick walk through this biblical city (Jonah 1, Acts 9 & 10). From Joppa, the Tel Aviv coastline looks amazing! We drove a few miles south to Bat Yam, where we checked in to the Leonardo Hotel. Some strolled on the beach both prior and after dinner and our orientation meeting to help us prepare for the coming days on being in the land of the Bible called Israel.
We are all looking forward to a good night’s rest as well as our first full day tomorrow.
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9
This was our first full day, and it was a good one! After a great breakfast overlooking the Mediterranean, we loaded the bus with our luggage and left the hotel at 8 a.m. We spent the day exploring a number of cities in the Shephelah (lowlands of Judah). The first site was an “off-the-beaten-path” type of site called Gezer. We talked about how important this city was throughout ancient times. The city was fortified by King Solomon (1 Kings 9). Here we saw a replica of the “Gezer Calendar,” an impressive Middle Bronze gate, as well as a three-chamber gate attributed to Solomon. Standing stones (or messaboti in Hebrew) are also on display here. Gezer is located on the edge of the Ajalon Valley.
The next site we saw is Beth Shemesh, located in the Sorek Valley. We read the story about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines (1 Samuel 6). We also explored on of the cisterns of the city. Continuing south, Azekah and the Elah Valley was the next site. Looking west from the top of the tel (“ancient mound”) we could see Gath (Tel a-Safi, or Zafit). This was the home of Goliath the giant. Looking eastward from the top we could see the battlefield between the Philistines and the Israelites. In the narrow part of the valley was where David defeated Goliath (1 Samuel 17).
Still continuing south, we stopped for lunch at Beit Guvrin. Some had their first “falafel,” an Israeli and Arab sandwich. Following lunch, we explored 2 of the numerous caves of Maresha/Beit Guvrin, including the columbarium and the bell caves. Micah 1 and 5 were read in the bell cave, followed by singing a few songs of praise. Shlomo also shared with us a song played on his recorder. The last stop of the day was Lachish It was a city taken by Joshua in 2 days (Joshua 10), one of the 31 cities taken in the Conquest (Josh 12). The Israelite city (a two wall city) was seiged by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Jeremiah 34:7 was read in the context of the famous Lachish Letters” (“ostraca”ˆ) found here. Lachish letter #4 is the ostraca that echoes the words of Jeremiah. We climbed the siege ramp built by Sennacherib and ascended to the palace structure on top of the tel.
From here, we drove to our hotel in Beersheba. We enjoyed dinner at 7 p.m., followed by a brief gathering and optional walk around part of the city. It was a great first day of being introduced to the land and context of the Bible!
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
This was a day spent in the Biblical Negev. Leaving our hotel at 8 a.m. again, we drove to Tel Beersheba, the archaeological site. We saw numerous ruins, including a well, three-chamber gate, typical “Israelite 4-room houses,” a massive cistern system, and a replica of the altar found here in the 70s (the real one is in the Jerusalem Museum). We read from Genesis 21 about Abraham, and eluded to Psalm 23 and the “cup” that overflows. From here we drove south towards Sde Boker and the Desert of Zin. We visited Ben Gurion’s tomb here. We also saw numerous “ibex,” (wild goats, Psalm 104). Next, we drove into the beautiful canyon of Zin where we walked to the water falls and back. About 15 in the group hiked further up to the eastern rim of the canyon. We ate lunch at nearby Avdat.
Following lunch, we drove back north to Arad, an ancient Canaanite and later Israelite city. We read Numbers 21 about the King of Arad who opposed Moses (the city would later be destroyed by Joshua) and 2 Chronicles 34 about the religious reforms of both Hezekiah and Josiah. Driving through the modern city of Arad, our last stop was the Foundation of Tears. This is a unique place with a Messianic theme, combining the 7 last statements of Christ with the suffering of the Holocaust. It is a remarkable ministry.
Driving 10 minutes further east into the Judean Desert, we arrive at our “Bedouin tent facility” called Hanokim. When we arrived, we enjoyed a 30 minute camel ride out into the desert. We then enjoyed dinner (“family style”) and a “hospitality” meeting with a Bedouin man.” After getting arranged in our “huts,” we enjoyed a a time of singing and devotion under a spectacular “full-moon” sky! It was a real privilege to praise and glorify God, the creator of the heavens and earth!
It was a unique a unique day in these southern regions of Israel.
DAY 5 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
We woke up at 6 a.m. this morning here in the desert. Greeted by a cool morning and wonderful sunrise, it would be a hot day around 100 degrees. Following breakfast, we loaded the bus and departed around 7:30 for Masada. After hearing an introduction to this impressive “fortress,” we climbed the Roman ramp on the western side of the site. We visited a few of the more impressive ruins: southern palace, a cistern, the synagogue and the bathhouse. Shlomo also shared the story with passion. About a dozen of us hiked down the Snake Path, a stony trail that descends about 1,000 feet. It took about 45 minutes.
After loading the bus on this eastern side of the site, we traveled north to Engedi. This is where David hid from Saul (1 Samuel 24) in a cave. We hiked to both the first and second water falls. Some in the group enjoyed getting wet. Continuing north along the western side of the Dead Sea, our next stop was Qumran. We ate lunch here. A few even hiked up towards the cave area of the city inhabited by the Essense community. After lunch we saw the site itself, including mikvot (ritual baths) and the scriptorium. Nearby, we enjoyed a time at the Dead Sea, a body of water consisting of over 30% salt and minerals. We “floated” for a short time.
Our last site of the day was Jericho. We visited the tel. From here we looked east into Jordan, seeing Mt Nebo and “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” the baptismal location of Jesus. On the site, we saw the oldest tower structure in Israel as well as the stone retaining walls from the time of Joshua. Praise God for the historicity of the Bible.
From Jericho, we drove about 2 hours north to the Sea of Galilee. We checked in to our hotel for the next three nights, Nof Ginnosar, located on the NW corner of the Sea of Galilee. We enjoyed a late dinner and a free night.
DAY 6 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
What a great day of focusing upon the life and ministry of Christ. Leaving the hotel at 7:45, our first stop was Mt. Arbel. The option to climb the cliff trail was enjoyed by 12 in the group, while the others enjoyed bussing around to the northwest approach to the top. Along the way, we observed Arab farmers harvesting their olive crop. Arriving to the top together, we marveled at the view of almost the entire Sea of Galilee (‘Kinneret” in Hebrew) 800 feet below.
Driving back through Tiberias, our next stop was an extra site added to the program, Magdala. Here, we saw a First Century synagogue no doubt visited by Jesus (although not mentioned specifically in the Gospels). This was the home of Mary Magdalene. Further up this NW corner of the lake was Chorazim, one of the three cities “condemned” by Jesus. Here we visited a 3rd century synagogue, complete with replica of a “Moses seat” found here (Mt. 23).
Nearby was Capernaum, the hometown of Jesus. Ruins dating to the 1st century are here, although the synagogue dates to the 5th century AD. We read Mark, Luke and John, all stories that took place here. Jesus displayed his s’mekah (authority) here. Following our visit here, we visited the “Jesus boat” (found in 1986) at Nof Ginnosar.
Following lunch we drove to the southern point of the lake to Yardenit, the baptismal site. About half the group reaffirmed their faith in Christ in the waters of the Jordan River. It was a special time for all. Close by we visited the Kinneret Cemetery where the famous “Rachel,” an early Jewish pioneer of the land from Ukraine, is buried.
We ended the day with a wonderful boat ride on the lake and a visit to the Mt of Beatitudes. On the boat we enjoyed a time of worship, quiet reflection, and fellowship. On the Galilean hillside, this is where Jesus preached his first sermon (The “Sermon on the Mount”). We then walked down the path on the shoreline of the lake. It was a special way to end a wonderful day!
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional gathering out by the lake as the moon rose from the east.
DAY 7 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
Today was another sunny day. It was also no so hot as we traveled north to the Golan Heights. Our first site of the day was Gamla, a 1st century city that as destroyed by the Romans in 67 AD. At this “camel-humped” city there is a 1st century AD synagogue. A few in the group hiked down the path, while the bus transported the rest to these ruins. We saw Griffon vultures on the way! Even though not mentioned in the Bible specifically, it is no doubt that Jesus taught in this synagogue. From here we visited the Talmudic village of Katzrin. Here we entered a reconstructed house probably very similar to the type of house used in Jesus’ day. We read the story from Mark 2 here.
Traveling north, Bental as the next stop. This is an old Israeli military site. From here we could see the border with Syria. We ate nearby (at Birkhat Ram) at a restaurant owned by a Druze family.
In the afternoon, we came down from the heights of the Golan to visit three more sites, the first being the NT site of Caesarea Philippi. We read from Matthew 16 & 17 and visited the ruins of the grotto area. This site as a pagan city during the days of Jesus. It also is probable that the Mt. of Transfiguration even took place somewhere in this area of Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133:1-3). The next site was the OT site of Dan (called Laish in the days of Abraham through the days of the Judges, see Genesis 14:14 & Judges 18). We walked through the nature preserve. This is the location of one of the three tributaries of the Jordan River. We saw the ruins of Dan’s high place built by Jeroboam as well as a “Middle Bronze” mud-brick gate structure.
Our last stop of the day was Abel Beit Maacah, a site where Pastor John excavated this summer. Here we saw a few open squares in two areas of excavation. This was a strategic site held by both the Canaanites, Arameans and Israelites during the course of biblical history. We read from 2 Samuel 20 about the story of Sheba, Joab, and the “wise woman.” This site is located about a mile from Lebanon. The view of the area was very good too (Mt. Hermon, the Hulah Valley to the south).
We drove south through the Hulah Valley back to the Sea of Galilee area and our hotel at Nof Ginnosar. We enjoyed dinner together and an optional meeting on the water’s edge too. It was a great day in the north!
DAY 8 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14
We left the Sea of Galilee today. The day was once again a bright and sunny day, with comfortable temps in the 80s. Leaving at 7:45 after packing up our luggage, we traveled west and south to the Lower Galilee region. Our fist stop was Sepporis, a large city from the 2nd century BC through the Late Roman Period (5th Century AD). The city existed in Jesus’ day and was the primary city in the region. Jesus grew up in the shadows of this influential city. Here we saw numerous mosaics, including the Nilometer and the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. We also sat in the Roman theater that seated 4,000 people. Upon leaving the site, we walked a little of the “Jesus Trail” where we enjoyed a quiet time of worship and reflection. John 1:46ff was read, focusing upon Philip’s words in the text, “Come and see.”
From here we drove to the Precipice of Nazareth. From here not only is the city of Nazareth in full view, but this vantage point provided us our first view of the Jezreel Valley. From here we saw Mt. Tabor (Judges 4,5), the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6,7), Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31), and Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). We also could see the Mountains of Gilead to the east across the Jordan Valley.
Crossing the Jezreel Valley, our next stop was Megiddo. This is a site that has about to dozen levels of occupation. We saw various gate structures (Late Bronze through Iron Age), the palace area, an Early Bronze round altar, and a grain silo. We then walked don 180 steps into the water systems used here in order to bring water safely and secretly into the city.
Next, we drove to Mt. Carmel. After lunch at another Druze place, we visited the Carmelite chapel at Muhraha. We read the story from 1 I Kings 18 about Elijah “defeating the odds” against the 450 prophets of Baal. The view from the roof of the chapel was very good, allowing us to clearly see across the entire valley.
Our last stop of the day was Caesarea, the city built by Herod the Great. We saw the theater where we read from Acts 10, 12, and 26, among others, about the boldness of both Peter and Paul. Paul sailed in and out of the city’s large port several times. We also saw the palace area, the hippodrome, the Crusader city, impressive marble statues, and the aqueduct. From here we drove to Jerusalem. We arrived for check-in and dinner at our hotel, the Dan Boutique, followed by an optional walk to the Western Wall. Another great day!
DAY 9 – MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15
What a great first full day here in Jerusalem. Once again the sun and blue skies greeted us, with very comfortable temps in the 80s. Leaving the hotel shortly after 7:30, our first destination was the Mt. of Olives. We were joined by a TV crew from the Netherlands (prearranged for the purpose of doing a documentary). Arriving on top, the view of the Old City of Jerusalem was spectacular. From here one can see many sites related to the Bible.
From the top, we walked down this western side of the Mt. of Olives, stopping at Dominus Flavet (Church of the tears/weeping). We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. Towards the bottom of the slope is the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we reflectively considered the passion of Jesus and the place where he was betrayed. (Luke 22).
Walking through the Lion’s (or St. Stephen’s) Gate, we first stopped at the Pools of Bethesda. We sang a few songs in St. Anne’s church and saw the ruins of the pool. Close by, the Via Dolorosa begins. We walked this traditional “Way of the Cross” to the Holy Sepulcher Church.
Existing the Old City at the Jaffa Gate, we met our bus and drove to Bethlehem. After eating lunch, we toured a place where olive wood carvings are made. We also enjoyed a little shopping too. Driving out of Bethlehem, Herodium was our next visit. This was where King Herod was buried. We climbed this “artificial” mountain, saw its impressive ruins, and descended down through the city’s cistern system. We returned towards Bethlehem to Beit Sahor and the “Shepherds’ Fields.” In a cave, we considered the implications of Galatians 4:4 (“For just at the right time, God sent His Son…”) and sang a few Christmas carols. We concluded the day by visiting the Church of Nativity. We saw the traditional place where Christ as born.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda, a café and shop area of western Jerusalem. We also stopped to see the famous signatures on the floor of the King David Hotel. Another great day!
DAY 10 – TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
Leaving the hotel once again at 7:30 today, our first stop as close by. Entering the Old City through the Dung Gate, we ascended to the Temple Mount. After getting through security and walking up the ramp that gave us a good view of the Western Wall, Shlomo introduced us to the history of the Temple. Muslims control this area, and they consider the Temple Mount the 3rd most holy area (even though Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Quran once!). We saw the Al Asca Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. We saw the inside of the sealed Eastern Gate as well.
Leaving the Temple Mount, we enjoyed a little over an hour at the Kotel, the Western/Wailing Wall plaza. Some went down to the Wall to pray. Prayers can still be left in the cracks of the Wall. From here we had a tour of the “Western Wall Tunnels” (also called Rabbinical Tunnels). We walked parallel to this western retaining wall of the Temple itself, being amazed not only at the weight of the stones placed by Herod (one called the “Master Course” weighs around 450-550 tons), but also the precision in which they were placed.
Next, we walked out the Dung Gate and loaded the bus. We drove into the western part of the city. Here we visited the Israel Museum. We saw the 1:50 scale model of Jerusalem as it would have looked in 70 AD. We also ate lunch here. Because the archaeological part of the museum was closed until 4 p.m., we loaded back on the bus and drove 10 minutes to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial & Museum. We heard Shlomo share his story of his many family relatives losing their lives in Poland during WWII. We visited the Children’s Memorial as well as the museum itself. It was all quite moving.
From here we returned to the archaeological museum and saw the “highlights” of some of the artifacts found at various excavations all over the country. We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk on the quiet Promenade, giving us a great view of the city from the south. It was another great day!
DAY 11 – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17
Today was a great last day here in Jerusalem. We once again began the day at 7:30 from the hotel. It was another very pleasant sunny day in the low 80s. We traveled by bus around the Hinnom Valley to the entrance into the City of David excavations. Here we began the tour of this ancient part of Jerusalem with a 3-D movie, followed by a walking tour of the eastern slope excavations. We saw remnants of David’s palace, Israelite houses, Warren’s shaft (part of the ancient water system) and the Gihon Spring tower. We then walked through the “wet” Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,720 foot engineering feat completed in 701 BC. Others walked through the “dry” ancient Canaanite tunnel. We referred to the stories from 2 Samuel 5 (David’s capture of Jebus), and 2 Kings 20 & 2 Chronicles 32 (Hezekiah vs. the Assyrians). We exited the tunnel at the Pool of Siloam (John 9) where we sat on the very steps of this ancient pool where the blind man washed his eyes.
From here some of the group walked up the drainage channel that ran under the Herodian street above. Others bussed up to the southern wall excavations. At “Robinson’s Arch” we saw the foundation of this SW “pinnacle” corner of the Temple. On the Herodian street we saw the huge boulders that were brought down by the Romans in 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed. We also walked over the southern steps of the Temple. Here is where commoners entered the Temple in Jesus’ day. Here we shared the stories of Simeon (Luke 2), Jesus in the “Solomon’s portico (John 10), the amazement of the disciples over the grandeur of the Temple (Mark 13:1) and the Pentecost story (Acts 2), among others (see also Luke 19 and Mark 12).
We ate lunch in the Jewish Quarter, followed by some free time (it was fun to “people watch”) as well as a visit to “Shorashim.” Here we heard Moshe talk about his Jewish faith. It was quite interesting. From here we walked through the Muslim Quarter. Exiting the Old City at the Damascus Gate, we arrived at the Garden Tomb for our Communion Service. It was a great way to end the day and our time in Jerusalem.
We returned to our hotel for dinner and a free night. We leave for Jordan tomorrow.
DAY 12 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
This morning we loaded up our luggage, checked out of our hotel, and headed to the border into Jordan. We arrived at the Allenby Bridge crossing at about 8:30. Saying goodbye to Shlomo and Bambi at the passport center, our Jordanian bus met us, taking us to the Jordanian passport center. Here we met our guide, Mo, who helped us through the procedures of entrance into this Hashemite Kingdom.
Our first stop on this eastern side of the Jordan River was Mt. Nebo. We ascended to the top for a fairly descent view of Jericho and the Dead Sea on the Israeli side. We read from Deuteronomy 31 & 34, as well as Joshua 1. It was here Moses died, with Joshua taking the lead as they crossed into Israel from here. Our next stop was a mosaic factory organized to help handicapped Jordanians. It is really an patient art to learn to do mosaics. Nearby we visited the ancient mosaic called the “Medeba Map.” We entered St. George’s Church where this 6th Century AD map can be seen on the floor. Following visiting the church, we ate a boxed lunch.
Later this afternoon we drove to Machareus. This was a Hasmonian fortress later re-built by Herod the Great. It was here where Herod Antipas (one of Herod the Great’s son) be-headed John the Baptist. We sat in the palace area where Salome danced while we read Mark 6.
The drive from here to Petra (Wadi Musa) took about 3.5 hours. We stopped in Karak for a refreshment and bathroom stop before arriving at our hotel located right near the entrance of the ancient site of Petra at around 9 p.m. We enjoyed a late dinner. We’re excited to spend the day within Petra tomorrow.
DAY 13 – FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19
What a great day, with perfectly blue skies and comfortable temps in the 80s. We checked out of our hotel and walked to the entrance to the ancient site of Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world. Here is where our adventures began! Seeing Petra begins by walking through the “Siq” (canyon) a total distance of about 1.5 miles from the entry. A few road horses for the first 300 yards, while others took the horse-drawn buggy all the way to the end of the Siq. Mo, our Jordanian guide, shared with us along the way about the Nabataeans who lived here. As the canyon ends, the site really only begins. It is a site that expands 65 square miles (100 square kilometers).
The first monument/tomb one sees is the famous Treasury. This 120 foot-high tomb of Aretas III (see 2 Corinthians 11:29) was amazing to see. It has been marvelously protected by the rain and wind for 2,000 years. From here we began our walk through the site. We saw a countless number of tombs carved into the site of the cliffs in every direction. Some of the group walked down the Roman street to the stepped path that leads to the Monastery tomb on the western edge of the site. Some enjoyed riding a mule there. The other optional hike was up the backside trail to the High Place. The hike was both scenic and difficult, but the view from the top made it all worth it.
We all returned to a close-by hotel where we could shower off the dust, sand, and sweat that accumulated during the course of the day. Refreshed, we loaded in the bus and drove back to Amman, stopping in Karak once again for a snack/bathroom break. We arrived at a restaurant in Amman for our “farewell dinner.” After dinner, we drove to the airport for our night flight home.
DAY 14 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
We arrived back in the US today. The end of a great trip together!