DAY 8 – MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25: OLD CITY, WESTERN WALL TUNNEL, JEWISH QUARTER, HERODIUM, BETHLEHEM, SHEPHELAH – SOCOH, GATH, GEZER
Today we left the hotel early because of our set reservations. So we managed to get up, eat breakfast, and get off by 7 a.m. The weather was again sunny, with temps around 70.
Western Wall / Tunnel
We first drove a short distance to the Dung Gate where we entered into the Western Wall plaza. We had two reservations for the rabbinical tunnels here (as they are also called). What we did is walk parallel to the massive Herodian wall that served as a retaining wall for the 2nd Temple. One stone (the Master Course) weighs several hundred tons, and yet was placed with such precision! Indeed the Temple was an incredible building project (see John 2:20… this was already a 46 year old project to this point!).
Boarding the bus again, we drove south then east to Herodium. This was yet another of Herod’s palace-fortresses. Built on the edge of the Judean Desert and just east of Bethlehem, Herodium was also where Herod was buried. Climbing the site, we saw many ruins, including the rounded towers, the synagogue, and the water cistern system. The view of the surrounding area (Judean Desert to the east, Tekoa to the south, Bethlehem to the west, and Jerusalem to the north) provided a panoramic perspective of this region.
Driving to a place just east of Bethlehem (in Beit Sahour), we gathered in a cave in an area known as the shepherds’ fields. Here we learned the role of the shepherd in biblical times. Reading from Luke 2, Micah 5, and Galatians 4, we also celebrated Christ’s birth and the perfect timing of His coming. We also sang a few Christmas songs in the cave as well as in the Chapel of the Shepherds. The acoustics were very good!
“My favorite experience today was to stand in part of the Elah Valley where David defeated Goliath! Pastor John took us into a wheat field where the valley becomes more narrow and where the battle perhaps took place. It was a ‘wow’ moment for me!” -Tour member-
From here we drove to Bethlehem. We visited an olive wood shop and store. We first went down to the factory to see how the olive wood items are made. Many of the olive wood items were handcrafted. We then visited the store of the finished wood product and jewelry.
Driving west now, we descended to the Shephelah (Lowlands) of Judah. This region comprises of smaller hills and valleys. Five main valleys ran west to east, providing natural transpiration routes from the Coastal Plains to the Hill Country of Judah. Stopping along that valley near the site of Socoh, we literally stood in the narrow section of the Elah Valley where David fought Goliath! We read the story from 1 Samuel 17. We could pinpoint the battlefield here!
Located about 5-6 miles west of Azekah is Gath. We drove to the base of this Philistine site where Goliath lived. The site was taken by Hazael the Aramean king in 830 BC (2 Kings 12).
Next, we visited was Gezer. Located on the Aijalon Valley, this was first a Canaanite city conquered by Joshua and later by Egyptians (I Kings 9). At the site was saw Canaanite walls, towers, gates, and a water system. On the other side of the tel we saw Israelite walls and gates built by Solomon. We passed by the Canaanite standing stones as we left the site.
We returned back to the hotel for dinner and a free evening.