After six hectic tour days, today was truly a soul refreshing break. Strengthened by another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed toward our first stop: Ein Gedi.
Ein Gedi is a lush oasis in the middle of the Judean desert. After miles of desert and desert mountains, our eyes feasted on field after field of date palm trees (a successful cash crop here). Who knew these existed in such abundance here!
Ein Gedi literally means “the spring of the kid (young goat)” and we saw some of those goats almost immediately! These Ibex are wild and in abundance in these desert mountains, and it was such a treat to see them roaming wild!
Ein Gedi takes its name from a freshwater spring which flows from the rocks over 650 feet above the Dead Sea. When King Saul heard that David was in the vicinity of Ein Gedi, he gathered several thousand soldiers and hunted for David in these very caves. There’s a LOT of history in these caves.
It was in these very caves where David hid from Saul and wrote many of the Psalms (1 Samuel 23:29). We started out the day hiking up to the springs where David spent much of his wilderness time running from Saul.
The morning grew warm and the climb was not for the faint of heart, but we did it! The hidden springs along the way and shade toward the falls felt refreshing from the inside out. It felt like we climbed Mount Everest, so naturally we took a group victory picture!
From Ein Gedi, we headed through the desert to Qumran. This settlement was home to the Essenes, a devout set of Pharisees who moved out to Ein Gedi because they disapproved of many religious practices in Jerusalem. From here they wrote all of the Old Testament scrolls over and over by hand and sealed them in clay jars to faithfully preserve the Old Testament texts. The only book not found was Esther. The scrolls were discovered by a boy in 1947 and have verified the accuracy and reliability of Scripture. Hallelujah!
Then we headed to the Dead Sea! The saline content in the Dead Sea is 37%, which means no living organism can survive in it. The beautiful, panoramic view of the Dead Sea from the highway roads was truly stunning!
We finished this day refreshed and better acquainted as brothers and sisters in Christ. What a most perfect day!
Following an excellent hotel breakfast in Netanya, Tel Aviv, we struck out toward Caesarea. Along the way, Ori (our Jewish guide) taught us several Hebrew phrases such as please, thank you, and good morning. He also taught us how to count to ten in Hebrew, which was fun to hear recited with Texas accents.
Caesarea is both a nature and archaeological site in Israel. The roads leading toward the remains of Herod’s seaside palace and port were lined with colorful flowers and olive trees. The cool sea breeze felt wonderful as we made our way into the remains of the first century Roman amphitheater, which faces the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
We gathered on the steep stone seats and I read from Acts 10 where Peter shared his first Gospel message here in Caesarea with the Gentiles through Cornelius. “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10) I love Cornelius’ intentionality to gather his family and friends to hear the Gospel!
Next to the amphitheater are the remains of Herod the Great’s palace, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. (This Herod was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as he sought to destroy Jesus as a child.)
We stood in the very spot where Paul made his appeal to Herod to be tried before Caesar in Rome! We walked down the hillside to marvel at Herod’s 20,000 seat Hippodrome that hosted his chariot races. Before leaving Caesarea, we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean surf.
As we left Caesarea, we passed vast banana plantations being cultivated for commercial revenue. It was surprising to see rows and rows of banana trees in the middle of the desert! We stopped to be awed by the architecture of Herod’s famous aqueducts that brought fresh water into Caesarea from 15 miles away.
From Caesarea, we made our way to Mount Carmel. Wayne taught a very thought-provoking message about Elijah and his contest with the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18. There is a stunning panoramic view from the top of Mount Carmel across the Jezreel Valley. We enjoyed a hearty lunch with the most incredible array of fresh, colorful vegetables before leaving Mount Carmel for Megiddo.
Megiddo is so much more than simply the future site of the biblical end times battle. Megiddo stands at the most strategic crossroads in all of Israel. Active excavations have uncovered impressive fortifications, including this stone edifice built by none other than Solomon!
As gusty winds and storm clouds gathered around us, I shared portions from the book of Revelation about the epic end times battle as we looked over the very fields where it will begin. Then we made our way down 180 steps into the cool darkness of an ancient water well that was drilled through the heart of Megiddo’s mountain to provide/protect fresh water supplies into the city in times of conflict.
From Megiddo we headed straight to the bustling city of Nazareth (Jesus’ childhood home). The Church of the Annunciation sits where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The modern façade holds beautiful carvings of Gabriel and Mary at the top with the four Gospel writers etched below.
The courtyard’s colonnade holds dozens of mosaic artwork pieces donated from various countries which depict the annunciation. The diversity and beauty of each piece took our breath away.
The Church of the Annunciation is a working church, and there was a service being conducted as we entered. Careful to be respectfully silent, we made our way down around the church, marveling at the vast painted ceiling and art pieces lining the walls (once again showing various country’s interpretations of the annunciation). The contribution from the USA here was an incredible three dimensional likeness of Mary.
We descended the steps to view the place believed to be Jesus’ childhood home with Joseph and Mary.
We made our way back to the bus to depart for our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. We passed through Cana as night closed in and saw the church on a hill where Jesus turned water to wine in his very first miracle.
We arrived at our hotel to sit down and enjoy a most scrumptious buffet together as we exchanged impressions about our eventful day. Everyone was dumbfounded at the variety and beauty of this delicious feast.
Walking some of the places today where Jesus walked and spent time as a child reaffirmed the continuity of the past into the present where Jesus still lives inside of every believer. What a beautiful pilgrimage. Thank you, God, for a truly remarkable day!
After eighteen months of planning and preparation, my group and I leave for Israel on Wednesday!
Pastor Wayne Graumann and I will be teaching at various locations as our group of 35 pilgrims make our way through the Holy Land. Here are the dates and locations during our journey:
Wednesday, Nov. 13 – Depart the USA, arriving in Tel Aviv on Nov. 14th Thursday, Nov. 14 – Jaffa, Caesarea Friday, Nov. 15 – Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Cana, Mount of Precipice Saturday, Nov. 16 – Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Bethsaida, Jordan River, Tabgha, Church of Primacy of St. Peter Sunday, Nov. 17 – Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Gideon Springs, Beit Shean, Jerusalem Monday, Nov. 18 – Western Wall, Temple Mount, Via Dolorosa, Southern Steps, Bethlehem Tuesday, Nov. 19 – Qumran, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea (swim/float), Jericho Wednesday, Nov. 20 – City of David, Shrine of the Book, Model City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Pool of Siloam, St. Peter Gallicantu, Garden Tomb Thursday, Nov. 21 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Elah Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane Friday, Nov. 22 – Depart the Holy Land to return home forever changed
Wayne and I will both be blogging (with photos) each day along our journey and we would love for you to follow along. My posts will appear here and Wayne & Kathy’s posts will be here: https://gofarther.me/
We would covet your prayers as our group of 35 walks the very places where Jesus walked. The spiritual growth that each of us will experience simply cannot be overstated. We carry you in our hearts with us!
After nearly eighteen hours of travel, our group of 35 pilgrims arrived safely in the Holy Land. We were tired but exhilerated! Our Imagine Tours guide met us at the airport holding this greeting sign that provided us all a hearty chuckle to start our adventure.
After climbing aboard our bus, we headed straight toward Jaffa – the modern name for the biblical city Joppa. The Hebrew word Joppa means beauty, which was evident by its breathtaking location overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Our first order of business was to try out the local fare for lunch that included falafels and shawarma (meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie).
We walked through Joppa seeing the seaport that Solomon used to import cedar logs from Lebanon which were used to build the original Temple of God in Jerusalem. It was from here that Jonah attempted to flee God’s calling to preach to the rebellious people in Nineveh.
We wound our way through narrow stone streets and walkways to spend some quiet time in the Church of St. Peter, which is believed to have been built over the site of Simon the Tanner’s home where Peter received the missionary vision from God in Acts 9-10.
Wayne gathered us for a time of prayer overlooking the city to pause our busy feet and minds to ask God to bless our time for this great spiritual adventure.
We concluded our day with a delicious meal of local fare of grilled fish, a plethora of fresh vegetables, and mini lamb burgers at our hotel in Netanya, Israel. Even though we were in the middle of a bustling city that is home to nearly a quarter million people, the sea breeze and beautiful shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea beckoned within walking distance.
Thank you, God, for getting us here safely an starting off our adventure in such stunning surroundings!