Israel Study Trip

Day 12: Last Day, Packing up, Garden Tomb, Old City Exploring, Jaffa

We started our last day at the Garden Tomb, a possible location for Jesus suffering and death. The traditional site is the church of the Holy Sepulcher. The place that we visited was discovered in the 1800’s because of a rock face that looks like a skull. It is also in an intersection of three major roads, and outside of the city walls, making it a likely place for the crucifixion as it fulfills at least these three biblical details. About 70 years after the rock face they found a tomb nearby and a wine press lending even more credibility to this site.

Our guide pointed out the skull shaped rock face, look for the two caves in the photo, and reminded us that Jesus’ suffering, though glorious for our salvation, was not beautiful or attractive from an earthly perspective.

After a short walk into the garden we visited the tomb and saw for ourselves that IT IS EMPTY! He is Not Here for He is RISEN! (Matt. 26:8, Mark 16:6, Luke 24:6, John 20:3-8)

We had a time of sharing in a quiet spot in the Garden, we remembered the Hope we have because our Jesus lives, and we enjoyed singing together. Andrew pointed out that as the Jewish blessing on bread was being said, Jesus the bread of life was being placed in the tomb, and when Jesus rose as the first fruits of the resurrection, the Jewish feast of first fruits was beginning. God cares about even the smallest details.

After the Garden Tomb we walked into the Old City for lunch and a bit more exploring and shopping. After buying souvenirs and saying goodbye to the Old City we piled in the bus and headed for Jaffa

It was dark when we reached Jaffa, we walked the streets to see the church of St. Peter, and the house of Simon the Tanner where Peter was when he received his vision about reaching the gentiles. After going to the harbor for one last view of the Mediterranean Sea, we drove to the Tel Aviv Airport. Our flight left at midnight for New York.

It was a wonderful trip! Each person and place added something special and we were blessed to be a part. Please consider a Holy Land tour if you get the chance.

Israel Study Trip

Day 10: Israel Museum, Mount of Olives, Church of All Nation, Gethsemane

We started our day with a visit to the Israel Museum. One of the highlights was the scale model of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, the model was completed a few months before the 1967 6-day war, in which Israel regained control of Jerusalem. We also visited the shrine of the book which normally houses the originals of the Dead Sea scrolls found in the caves of Qumran. Unfortunately there were no originals out today but even the copies were amazing.

The Museum is huge, our guide told us even if you gave everything only a part of a second you would need 3 days. We spread out and visited several different wings, Archaeology, Jewish Art and Life, Synagogue, and various Art exhibits. We even found a coffee shop.

After the Museum we went to the Mount of Olives where we had lunch at a restaurant with a beautiful view and then drove to another spot for a panoramic view of the Old City, with large domes at holy sites for the Christians, Muslims and Jews.

In the picture you can see the Eastern Gate behind and towards the right of the group. In the 1500’s an Ottoman ruler blocked the gate shut and placed a cemetery in front to prevent the Messiah from entering the Temple by the Eastern Gate. I am so glad to know that Nothing can prevent our King of Kings from returning victoriously.

After the lookout we walked down the Palm Sunday Way (the road down the Mt of Olives toward Jerusalem) and came to the Church of All Nations. It is a large basilica built around a rock that is the traditional site where Jesus prayed. It has amazing architecture and some 4th century mosaic floor now protected with glass.

We left the church and walked through the nearby gardens, they contained very old olive trees and a wine press was found near here, so while we don’t know the exact location, this is the area where Jesus prayed

We got a private corner of one of the gardens and had a small service to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and though about what it was that He wrestled with in the Garden. We sang several songs together and it was possibly my favorite part so far. We could see the Eastern Gate from our corner and it was amazing to be in community in that place, celebrating and remembering Jesus’ death while knowing that He lives and will return.

Following our time in the garden we went to Yaffa Gate to briefly explore more Old City shops then up to Soldiers Square for a picture with the Jerusalem sign. After dinner a few of us rode the train to a popular shopping area and watched it come alive as Shabbat ended.

Israel Study Trip

Day 8: Nazareth Village, Megiddo, Mount Carmel, Caesarea Maritima

Sunrise over Galilee

We left the shores of beautiful Galilee this morning with our bags packed, ready to make several stops on our way to Jerusalem.
Our first stop was Nazareth Village.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Nazareth was so small it wasn’t even listed as a city of Galilee in many records. Around 400 people lived there. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Today over 80,000 people call it home.

Nazareth Village and Modern Nazareth

Nazareth Village was the only open field left in the city limits and was owned by a Catholic hospital who was thinking of possibly turning it into a parking lot, if I have the story right. They were happy to give it to a Christian group who had a vision to create a living history museum so travelers could see for themselves how people lived in the time of Christ. When they acquired the land they were surprised to uncover the only ancient wine press that has been found in the entire city and a tomb right next to it. The tomb was a rich man’s tomb, carved out of rock with a stone over the opening, similar to the one our Lord was buried in. It was as if God had been preserving that plot of ground for the right era and for the right vision.

We watched a weaver, and olive press in action, a potter, and a re-enactment of Jesus reading from the scroll in Isaiah in the synagogue. It was a very worthy stop and enjoyed by all.

Postcards showing Village life

Next we toured Megiddo. There we saw a tel with 35 layers of civilization. This is where our guide, Andrew, had worked on a dig earlier this year. It was fascinating to see this large tel where so many people from different times had lived on top of another. Solomon had stables here. Being in a direct path between Africa and Asia made it a trade stop and a battleground many times over the years. The Jezreel Valley is located in this spot and the Battle of Armageddon will be fought here someday.

Next we had a great view of the land from Mt Carmel, remembering when Elijah had prayed to the living God, and He sent fire down from heaven, consuming the altar and the sacrifices before the prophets of Baal. So thankful that Elijah’s God still lives today!

Caesarea-by-the-Sea is a favorite stop of mine. Catching it in the golden hour is breathtaking. The large stone theater, the aqueduct, and remains of Herod’s palace and temple are incredible sights, the Mediterranean Sea making a spectacular backdrop to it all. Yet the kingdom that was once so glorious is gone and it’s remains are slowly but surely turning to rubble, while the kingdom that lives in our hearts grows larger as the centuries move on. Peter converted the first Gentile, Cornelius, and Paul was imprisoned in this place.

Then it was time for a two hour drive to Jerusalem, the city of David. We found our hotel and had supper. We look forward to tomorrow, when we get to discover new sights and watch the Sabbath begin.

Israel Study Trip

Day 6: Mount Arbel, Capernaum, Beit Tsaida, Magdala, Sea of Galilee

We started our day at Mount Arbel, some chose to hike up and some rode the bus and hiked to the lookout. It was a beautiful hike, with views of the sea of Galilee, but challenging in places and required some almost vertical climbing. Mount Arbel is the tallest mountain around the sea of Galilee. Probably the mountain where Jesus went to pray, (Matthew 15:22-27) as it’s high and has a view of the sea, and also where he gave the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20.

After Mount Arbel we went to Capernaum, name from Caphar (Village) of Nahum. Capernaum was a Jewish fishing village on the Roman road, and was the center of Jesus’ ministry after he was rejected in Nazareth. Here the woman with the issue of blood was healed, Jarius’ daughter raised, the 12 chosen, Peter’s mother-in-law healed, Matthew called, and many other things. Today we walked in a synagogue from the 3rd-4th century AD, built over the original synagogue where Jesus would have taught. We saw Peter’s house, the house of Jarius next to the synagogue, and a place for pressing olives. The newer synagogue has columns with inscriptions which seem to represent donors, and contain the family name “Zebedee”.

“and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; And to them which sat in the region and shadow of death Light is sprung up.”

Matthew‬ ‭4‬:‭13‬-‭16‬

Next stop was lunch and a tour at Magdala, from Hebrew Migdal meaning tower. This synagogue and town were discovered in 2009 when construction began on a hotel/resort. Today the hotel is built around the ruins and the ancient synagogue is one of only seven found that date to Jesus’ time. As we know that Jesus taught in Galilee, He probably walked on this synagogue’s floor. Magdala was famous for building boats, it’s tower, (possibly used to store fish to be sold) and the story of Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus healed.

We visited a series of chapels built to celebrate the care of women in the life of Jesus and the church, including a very special one called “the Chapel of the Encounter” to commemorate the women who was healed by touching Jesus’ garment. We learned that “hem” is a slightly inaccurate translation, in the original language the word means the threads or tassels of his prayer shawl, the idea first appears in Malachi 4:2 with the word “wings”. Simply put, even the very very edge of Jesus’ clothing carries healing for us and He is Always near.

We finished our day with a tour through a museum that houses a boat found in 1986 that dates to the time of Jesus, and a ride on the Sea of Galilee. There was a lot of interesting information about how they saved the 2,000 year-old boat through a 9 year process and lots of chemicals. On the modern boat, Andrew and our guide both helped us to understand some of the illustrations Jesus used showing us a city on a hill, the proximity of a millstone producer to the lake, and what the other side of the lake meant. It was awe-inspiring to realize that we were on the waters where Jesus once walked and taught.

Israel Study Trip

Day 3 – Tel Be’er Sheva, Wadi Zin and Tel Arad

We started our day with a hike up Tel Be’er Sheva, the site of Abraham’s well and a city dating from the 8th and 9th century BCE.

This is the place where Abraham came when God promised him the land, and instead of coming in to conquer, Abraham dug a well (Be’er) and swore an oath (Sheva) with Abimelech for the use of the water. Genesis 21:31 Beersheba is in the south of Israel, the north end of the Negev (desert, meaning to wipe dry).

Be’er Sheva is the end of the patriarch’s road, beyond it is only desert. The southernmost city in OT Israel, so the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” means all the land. As we drove through this area we saw lots of Bedouin camps, the tents and camels seem to appear out of nowhere, as you look across the hills there are random dots of tents/shack houses and modern towns.

From Be’er Sheva we headed further into the Negev, south to Wadi Zin at Ein Avdat. Ein (Springs) Avdat (name of a ancient Nabataean city nearby), is truly streams in the desert. The source of the water is unknown but it is slightly salty. We tasted the needles of one of the trees for a little salt.

I never pictured the wilderness with such high hills, we were in a river valley (wadi) and the sides went very high above us. We all hiked back to a waterfall, then a few returned to the bus and the rest took a longer hike up to the top that included several switchbacks and two ladders to reach the top rim.

Andrew told us the wilderness is the land of God, and there is rabbinic teaching that the farther you go in the wilderness the closer you get to God. God brought his people through the wilderness to enter the land of promise, wilderness in our lives is to teach us something and God is always near,

After Ein Avdat we stopped for lunch at an area nearby with a gas station, coffee shop and McDonalds, then back towards our hotel to visit Tel Arad.

Tel Arad is an ancient city built ca.3500 BC, and later rebuilt as a Canaanite city. It is the oldest city in the area that shows signs of urbanization; a double wall, city planning, and use of trade. Because of its strategic location near the border and a crossroads it was important to several different civilizations including the Canaanites, who traded with Egypt, the Divided Kingdom of Judah, and the Romans.

There is a temple in Tel Arad set up and oriented East to West, just as the Jerusalem temple though on a much smaller scale. Because the altar is of uncut stone, it’s identified as a temple to YHWH probably buried during Hezekiah’s time (2nd Chronicles 31:1) and so preserved from destruction later. Interestingly, the temple has two altars of incense in the Holy of Holies possibly indicating mixed worship.

After more hiking around the site, we went back to the bus for a short ride back to the hotel and enjoyed dinner together in the hotel dining room. Some of us went out to explore the small shopping area and community space near the hotel, get some bottled water, and enjoy the lovely weather.

Israel Study Trip

Day 2 – Shabbat Meal with a Jewish Family

We got into Tel Aviv at about 4:00pm Friday evening. Getting our visas and customs went fairly quickly, Israel no longer stamps passports so we each got a small card to tape into our passport instead. After some freshening and luggage collecting we met our guide Najeeb and bus driver Elias.

We headed to Alon Shevut, a settlement in the West Bank, for Shabbat with a Jewish family. They live in a gated community that was sealed for Shabbat so we left the bus at the entrance and they walked us in. On Shabbat Orthdox Jews don’t use electricity or drive (or ride in) cars, so the streets were empty.

Shabbat meal starts with a song welcoming in the Sabbath. There was a blessing over the wine (from a cup that survived the Holocaust), a ritual washing before the Hallah bread, and then lots of food including humus with several different toppings, matzo ball soup, chicken, rice, salad, roasted tomatoes, cookies and coffee.

It was a special evening. They graciously invited us to ask any questions about their beliefs and way of life. We talked about Bible stories familiar to all of us, how to keep faith alive in the modern world, and how Israel is changing and balancing between secular and religious influences.

After the meal we drove to Hotel Inbar for our first night looking forward to sleep and more adventures.