Yep! That's right... I had the absolute blessing of an opportunity to see Israel for nine days. We travelled to the places that I've read about in the Bible since children's church flannel graphs, and it was incredible. Let me share with you some of the condensed highlights of the trip, if you're interested... Unfortunately, I won't be able to share every detail of the trip, because I would be forced to write this blog for days on end. I will say this though: every inch of that country has massive historical and biblical significance. If you ever have the chance to go... go! It truly changes the way you read God's Word - now when I read a passage, I can picture the places where events occurred, and more vividly understand symbology used by the authors who wrote to the people who would've best understood analogies used in original context... It's a game changer, for sure.
Day 1: Shepelah
In the pictures you will see below, we spent some time in the region where Samson famously flexed around town and against the Philistines. The first picture is exiting a large underground cistern that was their water supply. We also spent some time at Azekah, overlooking the Valley of Elah - you may have heard of this place, as this is where David defeated the giant Philistine named Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Second picture is looking over the valley where this great battle took place.
Day 2: Negev Desert
We bussed from the Shepelah region to the Negev Desert. Day 2 highlights were hiking the many switchbacks to the top of Masada, which is a mountaintop rich with history. Herod the Great built a three-story palace on the cliff side up there, it was a fortress that overlooked and protected, and this is where a group of zealous Jewish people refused to bow it's knee to Rome. First picture is me on the top floor of where that crazy palace once was. We also rode camels and experienced amazing hospitality from a group of Bedouin people - they served us delicious hot tea and coffee - it was awesome.
Day 3: Negev Desert
We stayed in the Negev on day three and went to Ein Gedi (first picture below), which is a lush oasis in the middle of this desert where some big Bible names would hang out from time to time. Namely, this is where David found refuge when he was hiding from a blood-thirsty King Saul (1 Samuel 23:26-29). We also went to Qumran which is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered (second pic), and where I wandered off in the mountains by myself to the point where it got a little too silent - probably not a good idea, but very exciting. We finished the day on a high note, by visiting the Jordan River - where John the Baptist baptized people - most significantly, he baptized JESUS in this river (Matt 3:13-15). Wow factor reached a high point here...
Day 4: Galilee
Now we really got to the area where Jesus spent a ton of time, so this became increasingly powerful for me... We started by hiking massive Mt. Arbel, which required legitimate climbing. Traditionally, people think this would have been one of Jesus' retreats when He needed some peace, quiet, and alone time with the Father. The view overlooked all of Galilee region - breathtaking. The first picture is me with some friends I made at the top (Geoff is mean muggin' but he's a very sweet and amazing guy - don't let that this pic deceive you, haha). From there we went to the Mt. of Beatitudes, where people believe Jesus gave His sermon on the mount (pic with kitty looking off in the distance). We visited Tabgha, right on the coast of the Galilee waters - where Jesus fed 5,000 and appeared to His disciples post-resurrection. We finished the day at Capernaum, where Jesus spent the majority of His ministry and performed the majority of His miracles. The synagogue floor is dated to the first century, which means I actually got to walk on the same exact floor Jesus walked on. High point, for sure.
Day 5: Galilee
Qatzrin was an ancient town that was partially reconstructed, so we could actually see what a town in Bible times would have looked like, that was really cool to see. We visited Caesarea Philippi, where Peter declared Jesus as Lord in Matt 16:13-20. One of the major highlights of the day was visiting Dan, where one of the worst tribes of Israel took it's roots. The picture below is known as Abraham's Gate - it's 4,000 years old and Abraham would have passed through it to rescue his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14). Wow...
Day 6: Galilee -> Jerusalem
This day started on the hilltop of Beth She'an, where King Saul's life ended in battle. This overlooks the ancient Roman city of Scythopolis. This would have had big city vibes in a region that was used to more small town, Jewish living - brought entertainment, trade, culture, and excitement - along with pagan evils and idol worship. This was mainly a travel day to Jerusalem, but we drove past places like Mt. Carmel where Elijah hosted a God vs. Baal deathmatch. We finished the day at Caesarea Maritama, where Peter and Paul spent a chunk of ministry time. Below is a couple pics from Scythopolis.
Day 7: Jerusalem
We closed out our trip with three days in Jerusalem. Our first day there we went straight to the Temple Mount. We learned about the Dome of the Rock, which is a Muslim mosque located directly where the first two Temples were originally located before their destruction (which is also where Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac). We had time to pray at the Western Wall (which is the west side of the massive wall surrounding the Temple Mount), which has no holy significance itself, Jews go there pray because it is the closest they are permitted to where the Holy of Holies once was. From there, we went to Herodium - one of Herod's many palaces that overlooked Bethlehem, and we also had the opportunity to go into Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity (3rd pic) - where it is believed Jesus was born. Umm... what?! Crazy.
Day 8: Jerusalem
This day started in the City of David (which is directly south of the Temple). We spent time in the place where it is believed David's palace was (but TBE: to be excavated). From there, we hiked through Hezekiah's tunnel (an amazing human feat - tunnel through a mountain that is thousands of years old) - and we emerged from that tunnel right into the Pool of Siloam where Jesus sent the blind man He healed. This picture is from the view where David's palace was most likely located, looking over the City of David.
Day 9: Jerusalem
Our final day was particularly special, as we traced the path of Jesus into the city as He was approaching His final week. We started at the Mt. of Olives, where many significant events occurred in Jesus's life - namely His ascension to Heaven (where that first picture was taken). We hiked from the top down to the Garden of Gesthemane, where Jesus sorrowfully prayed before being betrayed and arrested (Matt 26:36-38 - also second picture). Our walk continued though the East Gate, to the Pool of Bethesda - where Jesus healed a sick man (third pic). We continued by walking the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked to the place He was crucified. This trek ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is believed Jesus was crucified and buried for three days.
There were countless lessons that I learned on this trip and memories made that will last my entire lifetime. When I reached places where Jesus actually walked, talked, and healed - I must say that I felt a closeness to God that I hadn't experienced. In that same token, however, I was reminded of verses like James 4:8, when it says:
Come near to God and He will come near to you.
This verse doesn't say that you need to be in the Holy Land to draw near to God, it simply states that if you come to God, there is this promise that He will come near to you no matter where you are. I am very grateful to have experienced this journey of a lifetime, and watch the Bible come to life - but I am also happily reminded that you don't need to go there to experience a personal relationship with God. If you aren't feeling close to God right now, be encouraged by this promise - wherever you are, in whatever current state you're in (emotionally, physically, spiritually) - approach God in His Word and in prayer, and He will be good on this promise to come near to you.