Tour Experiences of the 14 Day “Exploring Israel’s Biblical Sites” Israel Tour
June 13-26, 2022
The Israel Tour Program:
Days 1 & 2 – Monday-Tuesday, June 13-14: Depart for Tel Aviv, Arriving in Israel, Jaffa/Joppa
Our day of departure finally arrived. Our group of 38 used a few different airlines to get to Israel (United, El Al, American, Lufthansa). The majority of us made our connecting flights (we are sorry for the three will arrive not until tomorrow because of delays). Upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in the afternoon, we met our land agent (Kaati), our Israeli guide (Shlomo), and Israeli driver (David).
We made a brief stop in Jaffa/Joppa on the way to our hotel in Tel Aviv. We recalled the biblical stories and ministries of Jonah (Jonah 1) and Peter here (Acts 9,10). We enjoyed dinner together before retiring for the evening. We all are looking forward to our first full day tomorrow here in Israel!
Day 3 – Wednesday, June 15: Gezer, Beth Shemesh, Socoh, Gath, Libnah, Lachish, Beersheba
Today was our first full day here in Israel. We spent the day in the Shephelah (Lowlands) of Judah. The weather was pleasant, with highs in the mid 80s, with very clear visibilities. We read from Psalm 100 as we left the hotel at 7:35.
Our first site was Tel Gezer, a Canaanite and Israelite city located along the Aijalon Valley. Here we saw impressive Canaanite fortifications (tower, city gate, walls), the water system (we climbed down a new stairway), and the Solomonic Gate (1 Kings 9).
Located along the Sorek Valley, Beth Shemesh was our next stop. We climbed the tel (ancient mound) to see Zorah (on the northern side of the valley, the home of Samson), and Timnah (about 4 miles west, the home of Samson’s first wife). We referenced the stories of Samson (Judges 13-16), and read from 1 Samuel 6 about the return of the Ark of the Covenant from nearby Ekron. We could see these stories come alive before our very eyes!
Continuing driving southward to the Elah Valley, we climbed the site of Socoh. From this high unexcavated Judean city, we could see the story of David and Goliath come to life (1 Samuel 17). David came to the battlefield from the Bethlehem in the Hill Country of Judah to the east. After David killed Goliath, the Israelites chased the Philistines to Gath and Ekron.
The hometown of Goliath was Gath (Tel es-Safi). Located along the western side of the Elah Valley only about six miles west of Azekah, we saw some of the recent excavations. Some in the group also climbed to the top of the site of this 125 acre site. The view was very good.
Following a brief lunch stop at a gas station at Beit Guvrin, we hiked to the top of Tel Burna identified as Libnah. While the site was overgrown with weeds and thistles, we managed to see portions of the wall and gate in “Area G” of the site. Libnah is mentioned in Joshua 10 (defeated by Joshua), 2 Kings 19 (it revolted against Judah), and Isaiah 37 (a city later taken by the Assyrians in 701 BC).
Our last site of the day was Lachish. This was a Canaanite city taken by Joshua in two days (Joshua 10). At the end of the 8th century BC, the city was destroyed by Sennecherib, the Assyrian King. We saw the siege ramp that was built to aid in the conquering of this well-fortified Judean city. We climbed the site to the outer gate where the famous Lachish Letters (ostraca) were found. We read “Letter #4” corresponding to Jeremiah 34:7. In the inner gate of the city a two-horned altar was found. Also a stone toilet was discovered in the same chamber, perhaps for the purpose of desecrating this cultic practice. We also climbed to the top of the palace (probably built by Rehoboam, 2 Chronicles 11:9).
Leaving Lachish we drove about 50 minutes to Beersheba. We checked into our hotel, enjoyed dinner together, and then gathered for a brief time of worship and preparing for the next two days.
Day 4 – Thursday, June 16: Be’er Sheva, Sde Boker, Zin Desert, Machtesh Ramon, Arad, Judean Desert/Hanokdim
Today was our second full day as we explored the region of the Negev. After a good nights rest in Beersheba and breakfast , we checked out of our hotel and began our day at about 7:40. We read from Psalm 126 (about the “watercourses of the Negev”) to begin the day. The day would once again be sunny, with high temps in the afternoon about 90.
We arrived at Tel Beersheba at 7:50. This is a small but interesting archaeological site. We saw a replica of a 4-horned altar found here, the city well, walls, gates, and a few Israelite “four-room houses. We read from Genesis 21 about Abraham. Isaac (Gen. 26), Jacob (Gen. 47), and Elijah (1 Kings 19) were also here. We left the site by descending down through the impressive water cistern system.
Sde Boker / Gravesite of David and Paula Ben Gurion
We drove about 50 minutes south to the Zin Desert. The small town of Sde Boker overlooks the beautiful canyon of the Zin. We walked the pathway that led us to the grave of David Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister). His wife Paula is also buried here (she died five years earlier). As we circled back to the bus, we saw a number of ibex (mentioned in Psalm 104). From here we drove down into the canyon for a hike to the water falls and back. Some in the group continued the hike, ascending to the far rim.
After lunch at Avdat, we continued south to the Machtesh Ramon, Israel’s Grand Canyon. A lot of interesting geology is exposed here in this large “crater” most likely formed rapidly as a result of the flood in Genesis. Others would take a more evolutionary view.
From here we drove about an hour and a half back north to Tel Arad, an early Canaanite and Israelite/Judean site. Arad was a city whose king opposed the Israelites at the time of Moses (Number 21). The city would later be conquered by Joshua (Joshua 12). We started our visit on top of there citadel. Here we saw the false worship center here, complete with a courtyard, sacrificial altar, and a “Holy of Holies” inner chamber. King Hezekiah (and later Josiah) brought an end to these high places (2 Chronicles 31 & 34). We also saw an impressive cistern. From the top of the site we walked down to the Canaanite city to see the reservoir, house structures, and the walls and towers of the city.
Traveling east now we drove through the modern-day city of Arad en route to descending into the Judean Desert and Hanokdim, our “bedouin-style tent hotel” for the night. Upon arriving we rode camels in the desert. We enjoyed listening to a bedouin share about his lifestyle. Dinner was served in a Bedouin-style way, with plenty to eat. Following dinner, we enjoyed a small bonfire. IT was a unique night here, with the Masada Marathon runners staying here and the wedding of the daughter of the former mayor of Jerusalem and present Kinnesset member. Let’s just say it was loud most of the night. 🙂
Day 5 – Friday, June 17: Masada, Engedi, Qumran, Dead Sea, Wadi Qelt
We enjoyed a great sunrise this morning at 5 a.m., with the runners of the race taking off towards Masada. It would be another sunny day today (as expected for June and all summer long) as our travels took us up the western coastline of the Dead Sea. The temperatures were hot and dry, with highs about 95.We read from Psalm 18:1-2 (metzada) following a great breakfast at the Bedouin camp.
The plans were to drive east to Masada and walk up the Roman Ramp of Masada. Due to the Masada Marathan, the road was closed, causing us to drive around to the east side and take the cable car to the top. Masada was a palace-fortress built by King Herod in the 30s BC. On top of there site we saw the western palace, cisterns, storehouses, and and synagogue. Most in there group then walked down to the lower level of the northern palace. Prior to taking the cable car back down (the Snake Path was closed because of the heat), we saw the bathhouse. The courageous story of Masada (with 967 using the site as a place of refuge) is incredible!
We drove about 20 minutes to a unique place here on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. Ein Gedi is one of only a few natural springs. Together we walked into the canyon (Wadi David) where we stopped to read from Song of Songs 1 (mentioning the henna blossoms), 2 Chronicles 20 (mentioning the Ascent of Ziz), and 1 Samuel 24 (the David and Saul “cave encounter”). We walked back to the far water falls. Many enjoyed getting wet under few of the water falls!
The most significant discovery in all of Israel were the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran in 1947. Ancient scrolls were found here preserved in 12 separate caves. At the site itself we saw many miqvot (plural for mikve, or ritual baths), cisterns, and the scriptorium. In front of Cave 4 (and 5 & 10), we read from Psalm 19 and “151,” an extra psalm found here. Thanks be to God for the preservation of His Word.
Our last experience of the day was to float in the Dead Sea. This is the lowest place on earth! We went to Qumran’s public beach where we enjoy floating in this body of water (33% salt and minerals). The breeze from the east stirred up some waves, but the floating sensation was unique!
Wadi Qelt Overlook
Our last stop of the day was an overlook of Wadi Qelt. Here we were visited by “Isaiah, the prophet” who shared the words of Isaiah 40 with us. Shlomo also sang Psalm 23 for us. The setting for these two passages was perfect.
From here we drove to our “kibbutz-hotel” (Al Mog) close by for dinner and overnight.
Day 6 – Saturday, June 18: Jericho, Beth Shean, Beit Alpha, Sachne, Spring of Harod, Mt. Gilboa, Sea of Galilee
Today was another warm and sunny day, typical for Israel in the summer. High temps were in the 90s, but with a nice breeze. It was also another day with many biblical connections. Following breakfast and checking out, we read from Psalm 44:8 as we drove to our first site.
Tel es-Sultan, or OT Jericho was our first site of the day. While waiting for the site to open, we saw a nice replica of the Medeba Map, a 6th century AD map of the region. We then climbed the ancient site of Jericho. Looking eastward first we saw the area of the Mt. Nebo (Deuteronomy 34), the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2), and the baptism location of Jesus (John 1). At the site we saw mud brick walls, stone retaining walls, and the oldest tower / structure in Israel. We read from Joshua 6. We celebrated the historicity of Scripture in light of who have used archaeology to discredit the Bible narrative. The papayas were sweet after visiting the site! Before leaving the area of Jericho, we also drove south to view the area of Herod’s winter palace and the location of NT Jericho. Jesus befriended Zacheaus (Luke 19) and Bartimeaus (Mark 10) somewhere here.
Driving north along the Jordan Valley, we arrived at Beth Shean. This was the only city of the Decapolis located on the west side of the Jordan River. For sure, the archaeology site of Beth Shean is the most impressive in all of Israel! In the Roman part of the city, we saw the bathhouses, colonnaded streets, many mosaics, the agora/market place, public latrenes, and the best-preserved theater in Israel. Some climbed to the top of the OT site where the bodies of Saul and his sons were hung on the walls of there town square (1 Samuel 31, 1 Chronicles 10). Popsicles hit the spot on this hot day!
Following a great lunch near Afula, we visited the 6th century AD synagogue of Beth Alpha. The mosaic flood is complete with reliefs of the Ark of the Covenant, the story of Abraham and Isaac, menorahs, shofars, and even the signs of the Zodiac.
Nearby are the spring waters of Ein Harod. Today, this spring creates a massive swimming hole called Sachne. It is a national park where many people come and enjoy the swimming. Many of us experienced the warm waters and enjoyed the pounding water falls on our shoulders. We spent about 1.5 hours here.
To close the day, we made an additional stop on Mt. Gilboa. The view looking eastward towards Beth Shean was spectacular! We read from 1 Samuel 31 about the fall of Saul and his sons here. Also in view was the Hill of Moreh (Judges 6-7), Mt. Tabor (Judges 4-5), Shunem (2 Kings 4), and Tel Jezreel (2 Kings 9 and others.
It took about an hour to drive to Tiberias and Nof Ginnosar, our kibbutz-hotel for the next three nights. It’s located on the western shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. We are looking forward to two full days here in the north!
Day 7 – Sunday, June 19: Hippos, Hazor, Dan, Mt. Hermon, the Upper Galilee (“Hill 713”)
Today was another great weather day. It was sunny but not as hot, with highs in the 80s. We spent most of the day in the northern part of there country. We read from Matthew 4 as we left the hotel after breakfast at 7:35.
We drove around the north end of the Sea of Galilee (past Bethsaida, Mark 8, John 6) before heading south on the eastern side. After making a brief stop by the only cliff area on the east side, we continued to Hippos (Sussita), one of the Decapolis cities. Climbing the site, we saw many Roman ruins, including a number of Byzantine churches, wine presses, and many pillars. At the overlook of the lake below, we sang a few songs of worship and read from Mark 5 about the transformation of the demoniac.
Traveling north into the Hulah Valley, Hazor was our next visit. This was a large Canaanite city in the Middle Bronze Period, with perhaps 10,000+ living in this 200 acre city. We saw the Canaanite temple and palace, the Solomonic gate, and other Israelite ruins from the 9th and 8th century. The Israelite city of Hazor was destroyed in 734 BC.
Driving to the base of the Golan Heights, the nature preserve and archaeological site of Dan was a our destination. We walked along the Dan Spring into the area of the cultic center. Here we sat on the stone steps between the high place and the sacrificial altar of Jeroboam. We read from Judges 18 and 1 Kings 12. Leaving the site we saw the Middle Bronze mud brick gate and the gate and walls of the Israelite city.
In the early afternoon we drove past Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16) to the highest place in all of Israel, Mt. Hermon (Psalm 42, 133). We took the gondola to the top of this ski resort. The view was spectacular! Eleven in the group hiked down the rather treacherous trail while others descended in the gondola. The air was crisp and a bit cooler here (70s).
Upper Galilee / “Hill 713”
On our way back to the Sea of Galilee area, we drove to the Upper Galilee where we hiked about 25 minutes to the very best view of northern Israel. From “Hill 713” (as defined by Dr. John’s historical geography professor in Jerusalem years ago), we could see the entire width of the country, including the Golan Heights (to the east), the Sea of Galilee, the Lower Galilee, and the Carmel Range (to the west).
We returned to our hotel for a late dinner and free evening. It was an unique day here in the north!
Day 8 – Monday, June 20: Arbel, Jordan River (Yardenit), Magdala, Capernaum, Mt. of Beatitudes, Boat Ride
Today we spent the entire day around the Sea of Galilee. Our focus was the life and ministry of Jesus. The weather was sunny and warm, with highs in the low 90s. We read from Matthew 13 as we left the hotel at 7:40.
Our first stop was Mt. Arbel. While it is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, it very well could have been the location for the Sermon on the Mount and the “high mountain” where Jesus met His disciples after His resurrection in Jerusalem (Matthew 28). Ten in the group hiked up the cliff trail, while the rest in the group drove around and approached the top from the west. The visibility to the Plain of Genesseret, Magdala, Capernaum, “Hill 713” (in the Upper Galilee), and across to the eastern side.
Yardenit/Jordan River Baptism
From Arbel we drove to the southern end of the lake to where the Lower Jordan River begins. Here, about 20 people reaffirmed their faith in Christ by being submersed in the waters of the river in a place called Yardenit. The water was clear and mild and our hearts were warmed by the experience!
Located on the SW corner of the lake is the Kinneret Cemetery. Many early Jewish pioneers to the land are buried here. This includes an Ukraine Jew named Rachel. She wrote many poems that are read by Israelis today. Shlomo shared (through both word and song). She died in 1931.
We traveled back north through Tiberias to the 1st century site of Magdala. Although only mentioned once in the Gospels (Matthew 16), this Jewish city in Jesus’ day was large in size. Here was saw a small/modest 1st century synagogue large enough to only hold about 50-60 people at most. In recent excavations, archaeologists believe they found a second 1st century synagogue here.
Following a wonderful St. Peter’s Fish lunch, we continued to the NW corner of the lake and to the site of Capernaum. This coastline city served as Jesus’ ‘home base’ for His Galilean ministry. Inside the 5th century AD synagogue (with the 1st century one below at a lower level), we read from Mark 1, 2, 9; Luke 7, and John 4, 6. We passed by the octagonal Byzantine church (inside is a 1st century house structure deemed by some as possibly being Peter’s house) to the Sea of Galilee where we read from Matthew 4 and Mark 9. Jesus called the four fishermen along this shoreline. We are called to serve humbly in the kingdom.
Mt. of Beatitudes
Up on there hill overlooking Capernaum is the traditional Mt. of Beatitudes. We walked up a small hill and tried a nice location under a tree
where we heard part of Matthew 5 read in both Hebrew and English. On top of the larger hill is the traditional location of this event marked by a chapel built in 1938.
Boat Ride/Ancient Boat
Our last experience of the day was seeing the 1st century wooden boat found here in 1986 when the water level was low. It was amazing to picture Jesus in a boat like this! From this museum we walked to our own boat ride on the lake. We enjoyed a time of worship and reflection as we could see in all directions the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. We read from Mark 4 and Matthew 14. Jesus calmed the storm twice.
We walked back to our hotel from here and enjoyed dinner and a free evening together. Some enjoyed swimming in the lake before dinner.
Day 9 – Tuesday, June 21: Precipice of Nazareth, Megiddo, Jezreel, Caesarea, Jerusalem
Day 9 – Tuesday, June 21: Precipice of Nazareth, Megiddo, Carmel Range, Caesarea, Jerusalem
Today was a mix of clouds and sun, and with slightly cooler temps in the 80s. We left the Galilee area in the morning after breakfast, and arrived in Jerusalem in time for dinner. We read from Matthew 5 and 11 as we left the hotel at 7:35.
Precipice of Nazareth
We drove south through the Lower Galilee to the Precipice of Nazareth. The visibility from here of Mt Tabor (Judges 4), the Hill or Moreh (Judges 7), and Mt. Carmel to the west (1 Kings 18) was impressive! We considered the life of Jesus as read from Luke 4. We listened to the song, Jesus Messiah, as we closed a time of teaching and reflection. Jesus came tfor the purpose of redemption to both Jews and Gentiles alike.
Located along the edge of the Jezreel Valley is Megiddo. We drove across this broad Jezreel Valley to get here. This archaeological site was about 25 layers of occupation spanning a period of about 2,500 years! It was a Canaanite and Israelite city. Pharaohs like Thutmose III conquered it in about 1468 BC. Climbing the site, we saw 3 series of city gates, Solomon’s stables and palace, a sacrificial altar from the Early Bronze Period, and a grain silo. We left the site be descending down through the water system that was engineered to bring water safely inside the walls of the city. We also had a great view of the Jezreel Valley referred to as the Valley of Armageddon in Revelation 16. In the end, God wins when Jesus returns!
Driving along the “byways” (edge) of the valley, we then ascended to the highest peak of Mt. Carmel. This is a mountain range overlooking the Jezreel Valley on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. Upon arriving at the site, we first entered a Carmelite chapel called Muhraha. We read from Amos 1 and 9, Isaiah 35, and Songs of Songs 7 (all referring to Carmel). The primary story (1 Kings 18) involved Elijah who confronted the 450 prophets of Baal, the Phoenician/Canaanite god of rain and thunder! Elisha was also on this mountain range (2 Kings 4). The view from the top of the roof of the chapel was incredible. W enjoyed a full view of the Jezreel Valley. We ate a great buffet lunch at a nearby Druze restaurant.
Following lunch, we descended down to the Sharon Plain to Caesarea. In the theater of this city built by Herod the Great in 22-10 BC, we read from Acts 10 (Peter), Acts 12 (Agrippa 1), Acts 21 (Philip), and Acts 26 (Paul). We then walked across this ancient city to see the palace, hippodrome, the location of the grand harbor, and the Crusader gate, wall, and mote. We also saw an impressive periphery (purple) statue. Before leaving the site we saw the aqueduct and enjoyed sticking our feet in the Mediterranean Sea.
In the late afternoon we began our drive around Tel Aviv before we ascended to Jerusalem. We entered this magnificent city and saw our first glimpse of the Temple Mount and the Old City. We checked into our hotel and enjoyed an early dinner. Following dinner, many walked to the Western Wall, the most hotly place for Jews today! We are looking forward to our first full day in Jerusalem tomorrow, Israel’s capital!
Day 10 – Wednesday, June 22: Mt. of Olives, Old City, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Southern Wall Excavations, Gush Ezion
Our first day here in Jerusalem was a refreshingly cooler one, with a mix of clouds and sun, and temps in the mid 70s. We saw a lot that connected us the Old Testament, the life of Christ, and with modern Israel at the end of the day.
Mt. Of Olives
We left our hotel reading from Psalm 125:1-2 as we drove around the Old City to the Mt. Of Olives. The view of the Old City and the Temple Mount was incredible! We walked down to Dominus Flavet where we read from Luke 19, Acts 1, and Zechariah 14. Continuing down the pathway, we made a brief stop about the traditional Garden of Gethsemane where we read about Jesus’ passion (Luke 22).
Old City/Pools of Bethesda/St. Anne’s Church/Holy Sepulcher Church
From the western slope of the Mt. of Olives we walked into the Old City through the Lion’s Gate (also Called St. Stephen’s and Jericho Gate). We visited St. Anne’s Church, a Crusader Church with a 6-7 second echo. We enjoyed singing here! Next to the church is the Pool of Bethesda. We read John 5 of the miracle that took place here. From here we walked through the Old City to the Holy Sepulcher Church. Built in 325 AD, this is the traditional location for the death and burial place of Jesus. The archaeological and historical records favor this site. We were even able to go inside the Edicule (enclosure over the tomb) because of the few tourists here. We ate lunch nearby.
From lunch we walked to the Western Wall. This wall served as a retaining wall to support the expanded Temple platform. We enjoyed walking down to this Herodian wall. Some of us placed prayers into the cracks of the wall.
Southern Wall Excavations/Southern Steps
A short distance away is the SW corner of the Temple where we walked on the Herodian pavement. This corner may have been the pinnacle of the Temple where Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4). We walked up the southern steps used by commoners in Jesus’ day. Jesus Himself would have used these steps to enter the Temple. While sitting on these steps in the shade, we recalled the many mentioned in the NT who used these steps (Luke 2, 18; John 2; Mark 13; and Acts 2, etc…).
City of David
South of the Old City is the City of David. After gathering on the observation tower, we walked down through the “Area G” excavations. We saw David’s palace, city walls, and houses (including the house that Dr. John helped excavate in 1982). Next we descended down through Warren’s Shaft . Initially this was thought to be the “water shaft” used by David’s men in conquering the city of Jebus (1 Samuel 5), but new discoveries do not suggest this was the shaft. Many walked through the 1,700 foot-long Hezekiah’s Tunnel (2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32), while some took the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. Both groups met at the Pool of Siloam (John 9).
Our last stop was outside of Jerusalem in the district of Gush Etsion. Here we visited the “Lone Tree” of the area (and the mosaic done by Rachel and Shlomo). Nearby we drove to see an hour-long presentation about how four kibbutzim tried to defend this area against Arab attacks in 1947-48. It was well done.
We returned to our hotel for another great dinner and a free evening.
Day 11 – Thursday, June 23: Yad Vashem, Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum, Free Time in Old City
It was another beautiful day today, with crisp and cool morning temperatures, and pleasant afternoon sun (highs in around 80). It was a “museum day” as we visited Yad Vashem, Israel Museum, and Bible Lands Museum. We read Psalm 137 as we left the hotel at 7:40.
Our first visit took us to western Jerusalem and to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Museum and Memorial. First, we saw part of the Avenue of the Righteous dedicated to Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. We saw trees planted in honor of Oscar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom, and others. We heard Shlomo’s family story. He lost 12 family members in Vilna, Poland (now Lithuania). We then visited the Children’s Memorial (1.5 children died during the Holocaust). Lastly, we walked through the museum on our own.
Also located in west Jerusalem is the Israel Museum. We saw three things here: The 1:50 scale-model of Jerusalem at the time of 70 AD, the Shrine of the Book (where we saw some of the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and the Archaeological wing of the museum. We saw a few highlights of the artifacts found from all over the country that have biblical connections.
Bible Lands Museum
After getting a bite to eat at the museum, we had a guided tour through the Bible Lands Museum. Located on the same grounds as the Israeli Museum, Collin from Scotland led us showed us around the museum some of the more important / interesting artifacts.
We drove back to the Jaffa Gate around 3 p.m. Most in the group enjoyed exploring the Old City on their own. We met Moshe and Dov, two Orthodox brothers who owns a biblical shop called Shorashim. Many also visited the “spice man” whose family has had this spice shop for about 600 years! A few also climbed the Redeemer Lutheran Tower for a panoramic view of the Old City below. It was a fun
We returned to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to the King David Hotel and Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Streets. It was another great day.
Day 12 – Friday, June 24: Wadi Qelt Hike, Shiloh, Samaritan Village, Mt. Gerizim, Samaria
Today we spent the day first driving east from Jerusalem and then north well into the Hill Country of Samaria. The sun greeted us as we left at 7 a.m., starting our day with a hike in the Judean Desert. It was a unique day going to where most groups don’t go!
Wadi Qelt/St. George Monastery
Leaving the hotel we read from Psalm 61-63 and Luke 10 as we drove around the northern part of the city before turning east to the Wadi Qelt in the heart of the Judean Desert. This was our second time here in this region. However, we drove to see the St. George Monastery built in the side of the cliff. Some in the group hiked down the steep descent to the bottom of the wadi to see it. The hike back up was challenging.
We continued our drive north through the Desert of Parath (Jeremiah 13) and past Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14), Bethel (Genesis 12), and Ai (Joshua 7-8) into the Hill Country of Samaria/Ephraim to Shiloh. The Tabernacle once stood here for over 300 years. It was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). We watched a short movie about the events that took place here. We also read from 1 Samuel 3 (the call of Samuel, “hineni”) and Jeremiah 7. We also saw the excavations of the site. This season revealed more evidence of the Tabernacle. Dr. Scott Stripling, Director of Associates of Biblical Research, just completed another season of digging here this week.
We drove to the outskirts of Shechem (modern Nablus) where we enjoyed a great lunch owned by one of the few who claim to be descedents of the ancient Samaritans. Nearby we visited the Samaritan Village where the 85 year old Samaritan priest greeted us. Every Passover they sacrifice lambs as part of their ongoing practice on Mt. Gerazim.
We drove to the top of Mt. Gerizim, a high mountain above ancient Shechem below. We saw the ruins of a large Byzantine church here. Down below we could see the Jacob’s Well Church (the location of Sychar, John 4) as well as the ancient site of Shechem (Tel Balata) where Abraham, (Genesis 12) and Jacob (Genesis 34) were. On the other side is Mt. Ebal. Blessings and curses were shared back and forth on these two mountain (Deuteronomy 11, 27). Joshua’s altar was found in Mt. Ebal in the 1980s (Joshua 8), with Dr. Scott Stripling recently discovering what it believed to be a “curse tablet.”
Samaria / Sebaste
On the way back to Jerusalem we made a brief stop at the ancient city of Samaria. This was the final capital of the northern kingdom of Israel before it was destroyed in 732 BC. Among the ruins of this OT city we saw the walls of the palace of Kings Omri and his son Ahab. Much later, Herod the Great built a temple in honor of Augustus here in 27 BC. We saw the massive steps and platform of this structure, as well as an impressive theater.
It took about an hour and a half to drive south back to our hotel in Jerusalem for dinner and a free evening.
Day 13 – Saturday, June 25: Garden Tomb, David’s Citadel, Shepherds’ Fields, Herodium, Bethlehem, Farewell Dinner, Airport
Today was our last full day here in Israel’s capital, and the last day of the trip. The weather was once again perfect, with a cool start to the day, and a mild ending. What a great trip this has been, with a great group of people God has called together to His land.
The departure from the hotel was 8:35 today, a nice change to the 7:30 starts. We read Psalm 48 as we made the short drive to the Garden Tomb located on the north side of the Old City. This is a recent (since the end of the 19th century) suggested site for the crucifixion and burial sites of Jesus. After visiting the site, we enjoyed worship and Communion together. It was a special time!
We drove around the eastern and southern sides of the Old City and were dropped off at the Zion’s Gate. From here we walked around to the western side of the Old City where we saw ancient steps that would have led into the palace of Herod. It is suggested that perhaps this was part of the “lithostrotos” mentioned in John 19 where Pilate condemned Jesus to death outside the gate that was once there. We then went inside David’s Citadel and down to the Kishle (used as an old prison in the Ottoman Period). This was probably the area of the inner section of the palace, and another possible location for where Jesus was sentenced to death (Luke 23).
We met David and our bus outside Jaffa Gate and drove to the Shepherds’ Fields in Beit Sahour (east of Bethlehem). After a great lunch here, we dropped down into a cave to consider the humble birth of Jesus. He was born in a kataluma, a guest room of a typical 1st century house. This may have been the lower court yard of the house where animals were kept. We read from Luke 2, Micah 5, and Galatians 4:4. Jesus came “just at the right time.” We also sang a few Christmas carols here in the cave and in the Shepherds’ Chapel.
Nearby to the east, Herodium was our next visit. This was where Herod the Great was buried in 4 BC. We saw the odion (small theater), and a great video prostration inside the reception room. Some in the group climbed to to the top of the site to see the royal arches, bathhouse, and cisterns.
We ended the day at an olive wood shop and store in Bethlehem. The quality of the craftsmanship on some of the items was incredible! Many purchased olive wood items and jewelry.
We drove back to our hotel to freshen up and prepare for the flight home. Most in the group fly back either late tonight or early Tommorrow morning. Three in the group (plus Dr. John) are staying to dig at Tel Dan next week. It was an extensive Israel trip, seeing about 60 biblical sites!
Day 14 – Sunday, June 26: Flight back to the U.S.
Most in the group flew home either late last night or early this morning. Praise God that the Alabama group with us were able to re-book their canceled flight in order to get back to the States.
It was a great trip with a great group of people! Praise God for the safety of our travels, the incredible learning experiences, and the fellowship of one another!
Day 14 –21 – Sunday, June 26 – Saturday, July 2: Optional Excavation/Dig at Tel Dan
The trip extended for four people in the group: Dr. John, Cathy, Gary, and Nina. We drove north to Kiryat Shmona Sunday. At Netanya we stopped of a quick swim in the Mediterranean Sea before arriving at our Airbnb. The drive was nice as we past many of the sites we visited during there trip (i.e. Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Arbel Cliffs, Sea of Galilee, Hazor, etc…)
The team is participating in the Monday-Friday excavation in “Area L” of the site. We are working in late 9th / early 8th century BC (Israelite Period), specifically exposing more and more of a rectangularly-shaped stone house. Each morning begins with waking up at 4 a.m. and being at the site by 5:15. Each dig day ends at 1 p.m. with lunch at the site.
We fly home on Friday night and arrive back in the States on Saturday, July 2.
Located in southern Israel, the Zin Desert is a beautiful place to visit. Biblically, the 12 spies came up through this area (Numbers 13). Also, Moses ‘struck the rock’ somewhere in the Zin (Numbers 20). On this tour we will have the chance to hike here and enjoy the beauty of the canyon.
The Zin Desert is one of the most favorite places to visit!