Beth is in Israel!

Golgotha, the Garden Tomb and the Long Journey Home 

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted here, but our last day in Israel went from one last Biblical site to the airport to a three day visit with my parents to recover from a serious case of jet lag.  There is no way, though, that I would leave you out of our last adventure in Jerusalem.  Thursday morning’s trip was a visit to Golgotha and the Garden Tomb, the place where Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. 

You may be thinking, isn’t the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem the place where all that happened?  If you said that, you may be right.  The site of the crucifixion and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea are in dispute and have been for many, many years. One big doubt that has remained with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is its proximity to Jerusalem’s city walls. Scriptures clearly state that Jesus was crucified outside of the city - outside of Jerusalem’s wall - and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may fail that test. A city wall was built near the church that would have placed it outside of the city, but the date of its construction cannot be accurately pinpointed to place its presence at the time of Christ’s death. 

The Garden Tomb site, which began to gain prominence when archaeologists in the mid-1800s began to question the legitimacy of the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, fits most all of the parameters of the Biblical account.  The Bible describes that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem near a gate of the city along a major thoroughfare. The Garden Tomb site sits well outside Jerusalem’s wall at the time of Christ’s death and is very close to the Damascus Gate, which would have placed the site on or near the Biblical road to Damascus. Consider that the place was called Golgotha, or "place of the skull" in the scriptures, and the pictures certainly make the site all the more compelling. 

The face of a skull here is a little difficult to see as our guide told us the bridge of its nose was broken off in a snowstorm a few years back, and the mouth of the skull is also obscured.  But a photo of the site in the late 1800s is even more compelling. 

As I listened to this evidence, I questioned the Lord about the legitimacy of the site.  I can’t be 100 percent sure but I can tell you I know this much. As I sought the Lord about it, a single white dove flew down from the top of the hill and perched right by our group as we continued our discussion at the site. Was it a sign from the Lord?  In my heart, I had to say yes. 

Our guide also shared with us an interesting tidbit that I found quite interesting.  We have all seen images – Hollywood inspired ones and others – that place the crosses of Jesus and the two criminals on the top of a hillside, framed by a gorgeous sunset.  Our guide said that was not the practice of crucifixion during Jesus’ day. Crucifixions would have taken place near people – beside a road or major thoroughfare – so that people could witness the suffering of those being crucified close up as a deterrent to commit crime.  Jesus was likely crucified at the base of this skull-shaped cliff, with the image of the skull formation in his direct line of sight. (That location is an adjacent bus depot today.) 

The site of the tomb itself is also up for debate among archaeologists, but this site also offers compelling evidence that led to believe that this was the true site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. The tomb itself was discovered in 1867, and in light of the evidence surrounding the Golgotha discovery, things begin to add up even more. John chapter 19 says that at the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a tomb.  The discovery of a large water cistern and a winepress at the Garden Tomb site point to an active garden location in Jesus’ day – a garden in which one would have produced crops such as grapes for wine.  In Matthew 27, the tomb is described as being a tomb cut out of rock, belonging to a wealthy man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea.  Tombs in this day were often constructed with bricks or made from makeshift caves, but not this one.  This tomb is cleanly cut out of a single section of bedrock – hewn out of one stone. This tomb has a weeping chamber, as well as a burial chamber, and would have been sealed with a rolling stone.  It also has a low doorway through which the disciples would have been forced to stoop in order to look into and enter the tomb that morning. Remember in Luke 24 how Peter had to “bend over” to see the strips of linen where Jesus laid? All of a sudden the scriptures were coming alive. 

We had the opportunity to enter the tomb, each one of us, to not only take pictures, but reflect on the wondrous event of Jesus’ resurrection.  It was quite a moment for me to be there with friends both old and new, and to consider the gift of salvation and eternal life He secured for us there. 

I was experiencing a mix of emotions during my whole time here – an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude to God, but also a second set of emotions that was becoming more and more prevalent during my visit to the country. I have said before in this blog that political tensions between the Jewish and the Muslim populations were high, especially in Jerusalem, and encroachment into the Biblical sites by the Muslims was a common feature in this land.  Nowhere was this more prevalent than Golgotha and the Garden Tomb site. 

I had visited several Biblical sites by this time, but was particularly taken aback to see the Garden Tomb surrounded by razor wire. 

Also, a wider view of the Golgotha cliff shows a mosque directly to the right of the outcropping, and behind a fence at the top of the cliff lies a Muslim cemetery. The sign on the fence, which is written in Arabic, sadly declares Allah to be the one true god. 

This disturbed me greatly, but Cesar, our guide, set me at ease so brilliantly by sharing the most eloquently delivered gospel message I have ever heard.  Cesar is a Christian, originally from Paraguay, who came to Israel on business – but upon coming to the country, Cesar felt a strong urging from the Lord to enter the ministry.  He learned of the job opening as a guide at the Garden Tomb site and is now fortunate and blessed to share the gospel message in the very place where it happened.  You could just feel the love he has for Jesus as he spoke, and his love for the people he gets to meet every day. I left the place encouraged by the fact that no matter what, the message of Jesus Christ is powerful and is delivering people out of darkness every day. The Lord is good! 

After our visit to the Garden Tomb, it was back to our hotel to pack, grab a quick meal and hop on the bus for the airport in Tel Aviv.  Thanks for reading! 

- Beth 

P.S.  I will be writing at least two more blog entries about my visit to Israel, and I am reserving one of those entries to answer your questions about my trip and what I saw there.  If you have a question you would like me to answer, send me an email at beth@bethcrosby.com and I will be happy to answer it as best I can.  Shalom!

The Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall and the City of David 

I thought that I had experienced the most physically challenging day of our tour to Israel but Wednesday was truly the most grueling on my body. Temperatures in the mid-90s, along with miles of walking on every kind of terrain - including two sets of underground tunnels and caverns - nearly did me in. But the physical challenge was definitely worth it as this day was fascinating and inspiring. 

We traveled to the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, which is in very close proximity to the Temple Mount, and made our way through the Cardo. This portion of the community is situated on a very ancient road - a Roman road leading through the heart of Jerusalem. Over 1,500 years ago, this was Jerusalem's main thoroughfare, a place of commerce and community. 

You can see a juxtaposition of different architectural styles here, which is common throughout Jerusalem because of the number of times the city has been conquered and occupied.  Here you can see a good example of Herodian flooring and Roman columns in the same structure. 

I had to laugh, too, when our guide pointed out the recently painted mural in this section of the Cardo.  Can you spot the little boy in the foreground with the baseball cap and backpack? 

Once we were through the Cardo, it was a quick lunch of schwarmas and off to the Western Wall.  Here we had the option of taking an underground tour of excavations along about three-fourths of the western Temple Mount. There was no way I wasn't doing it.

It was challenging and fascinating to walk through these narrow passages and see how the Muslim community built their homes attached to the wall itself. Their community is built above the Roman arches that were once attached to the wall, too, so for a person who has an interest in architecture and archaeology like me, I was intrigued. 

This photo is actually of one stone in the wall, from King Herod's time, and it's about 39 feet long. 

In these tunnels, there is one small section that is marked as the closest point to the actual location of the Holy of Holies. As we walked by, three Jewish women were intently praying at the marker - a common occurrence in these tunnels. 

Soon, we were at the Western Wall plaza to have our opportunity to touch and pray at the wall. Members of my church sent along a number of handwritten prayers to place in the wall, which we placed in the cracks between the stones according to Jewish custom. It was powerful both to pray and to watch others from all around the world do the same. 

For those that wanted to really stretch themselves physically, the rest of the day was spent in the City of David. The City of David is a recently excavated site, and the site of David's defeat of the Jebusites in 2 Samuel 5 and 1 Chronicles 11. It is amazingly preserved, but a point of contention in the city. The site sits adjacent to a large Palestinian neighborhood, and the site is of course disputed by the Muslims. It was jarring to walk through the site at the same time the Muslim community was offering prayers.  The noise of their prayers was almost deafening. 

This site also had an underground tunnel system to it, which explored an aqueduct system built in Hezekiah's time. This was a challenging walk, with VERY narrow passageways, but well worth the time and effort to see. 

Our journey ended at the base of the City of David and the Pool of Siloam.  You would not have recognized the site from the street, as the pool is in a fenced in area in a Jewish residential area. Only a portion of the pool is excavated, for two reasons - one side is, again, residences; and the other side is the location of a Greek Orthodox church, who forbid the Jews from excavating underneath their foundation. 

I had the opportunity to read the story from John chapter 9 of the man born blind who was healed here by Jesus. (I have been doing a lot of reading from the Word to the group, thanks to my radio voice.) I could just imagine Jesus and this man conversing in this very spot, and the joy of this man when he could see His Savior.  A powerful moment. 

Thursday is a busy day for us as it is our last in Israel and we will have a rapid drive back to Tel Aviv to catch our flights, but we have one more trek on our journey.  In the morning we will be headed to the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the Garden Tomb, where we will have a communion service. One more big day in Israel! 

Shalom, 
Beth

An Emotional Day: Hebron and the Holocaust 

Tuesday's journey was both an interesting and an emotional one for us here in Israel. If I were to sum the day up in one word, it would be the word conflict. 

Today's destinations were ones that were rife with the effects of political and religious conflict both present and past, as we visited the city of Hebron and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. 

We began the day early by trading our regular tour buses for armored buses, a necessity when visiting sites in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Hebron is located deep in the southern portion of the West Bank, and our view of the drive certainly echoed the difference between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods. 

We have been told during much of the trip that a number of distinct differences exist between the two sides, especially when it comes to their treatment of the land. Jewish neighborhoods, with their distinctive red tiled roofs, are clean and neatly kept, with every effort made to make the land beautiful. Palestinian neighborhoods, noted by homes with flat white roofs, typically lack the same care for property. Wherever there was a trash heap or an open air dump in Jerusalem, it was in a Palestinian neighborhood. 

This was certainly the case when we entered Hebron. Hebron is a city with 215,000 residents, and over 214,000 are Palestinian. Only about 850 Jews live in the city, and the Palestinians severely restrict their movements within the city. Our guide for the day told us that the Jews are only free to live in and roam about 3% of the city. This photo is only of the southernmost portion of Hebron.  Only a few small neighborhoods less than the size of a city block are Jewish. 

I was so saddened to hear that statistic, considering the deep roots of Jewish faith that are centered in Hebron.  Of utmost significance to the Jewish people is the fact that Hebron is the place where Abraham and his family are buried, in a place called the Cave of Machpelah, or the Cave of the Patriarchs. It's the massive building in this photo.

You read about this site in Genesis chapter 23, where Sarah dies and Abraham buys property from Ephron the Hittite for a proper burial site. It's the first recorded land purchase in the Word. Ephron wanted to gift the land to Abraham, but Abraham insisted on paying full price for the property. I don't know what that says about Abraham, but our guide alluded to the notion that this transaction eliminated all doubt of the legitimacy of the Jews to be in the land. 

The story of the discovery of the Cave of Machpelah is interesting, but I will let you Google it for the time being. The cave has a massive structure built above it, and currently you can not enter or even view the cave itself. What is both interesting and saddening at the same time is that both the Jews and the Muslims consider the site to be holy, and both religions "share" the site - with a wall between them. 

Both Jews and Muslims can worship at the site, but the ability of the Jews to worship there was obtained only after the Israeli army liberated Hebron during the Six Day War in 1967. In order for the Jews to gain access to the site from the Muslims, a compromise had to be reached. That compromise was to divide the building in half. Doors between the two sides remain locked - while I was in the site standing by a door, I could look through a crack in the door and see a young Muslim boy looking back at me. The space reminded me more of a library at first, with sectioned areas filled with books and copies of the Torah.  In the innermost room, there was a place for Jews to pray and worship - a section for men near the front, and women in the back. 

Also of note in Hebron is the Tomb of Jesse and Ruth, which the Muslims also claim as an ancient mosque. That's a military post in the foreground.

Our guide, much like our "Israeli Texas" friend from the Golan Heights, spoke so passionately about his desire for the Jewish people to reclaim the land that is rightly theirs. As we left Hebron, I could better understand their plight and their mission to fully re-occupy the land the Lord had promised them so long ago. 

Our journey took us back to Jerusalem and to a site that I fully believe every visitor to Jerusalem should see. We visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. 

After a hectic lunch stop in the museum's cafeteria, where many of us were unfortunately schooled by the locals on kosher laws in public dining areas, we began the tour of this impressive facility. The design of the museum literally forces the visitor through the timeline of the Holocaust, zig-zagging through dozens of exhibits, images and videos from that horrible time in history. I thought I knew a lot about the Holocaust, but what I read in my school textbooks pales in comparison to what I learned here. "Never again, Lord," was my prayer the entire time. 

Yad Vashem is also a place of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust - for many, the only place where one can come and mourn. A room filled with names and records of many of the 6,000,000 Jews who perished resides here, with many shelves still empty as records are still trying to be located. 

Of particular significance was the Hall of Remembrance. An imposing room, the Hall of Remembrance is a square room with an angular roof and a floor tiled with 6,000,000 small black tiles - one for each Holocaust victim. On the floor is engraved the names of each of the major concentration camps, and underneath are ashes recovered at each of the concentration camp sites. An eternal flame, which resembles a broken goblet, illuminates the hall. 

A memorial honoring the 1,500,000 children lost during the Holocaust also left many of us in tears.

Going through a place such as this is emotionally draining.  Experiencing both the frustration at the plight of the current day Jews in Hebron, and the horror and sheer madness that was the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s, left many of us emotional wrecks - myself included. I was deeply saddened and angry at the same time by how one group of people can treat another - and how we so many times fail at compassion and acceptance. 

Tomorrow is a huge day for us here in Israel, as we spend the day deep in the heart of Jerusalem. We spend our day in the Jewish quarter exploring the Cardo, the excavation site of the City of David, and the Western Wall.  Shalom from Israel! 

-- Beth

Jerusalem and a Surprise Visit to Bethlehem  

I don't think I have had a more powerful day in my life spiritually than Monday, when we got our first real chance to explore Jerusalem.  And yet I know there is so much more to come....

Our group started our trek early in the morning because we had so much ground to cover.  Our first stop was the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  But before we would get there, we had a long downhill walk to take - and it turned out that the very road we were on was part of the route Jesus took into Jerusalem during his triumphal entry. 

Once we learned that, we were singing spontaneous hosannas the whole way down. It was a very steep downhill trek, so steep that if you leaned forward while you were walking you would start rolling downhill.  I jokingly wondered whether Jesus chose to ride the donkey because He wanted to spare his knees and ankles! 

All kidding aside, the walk was truly inspiring and made all the more interesting when our guide pointed out that there were no palm trees along the road.  You might be thinking the same thing I did -  wasn't Jesus greeted with people waving palm branches when He entered Jerusalem?  Yes, but according to our guide, palm branches would have had to have been carried to Jerusalem from elsewhere, which made me believe that the rejoicing of the people as Jesus entered Jerusalem wasn't as spontaneous as we are so often led to believe.  The people would have had to carefully prepare for His triumphal entry, too, by gathering those palm branches.  Food for thought there.... 

Stepping into the Garden of Gethsemane was another very emotional experience.

The garden is quite secluded - protected and gated by the Catholics that operate the site.  But once you're in the garden, you have a nearly perfect view of the Eastern Gate and a view of the Temple Mount. (It was obstructed for us because of some taller trees.)  We took a few moments to read the account of Jesus' prayer here in the garden, and of his arrest.  We also took a considerable amount of time to pray among these olive trees, many of which had been there for more than 2,000 years.  I kept thinking to myself, did Jesus touch this one?  Did He pray under this tree?  Which tree did the disciples fall asleep under? I couldn't shake the fact that I was walking where Jesus walked and praying where Jesus prayed. I also couldn't but consider the great suffering He was under at the time, about to bear the full brunt of our sin and shame on the cross.  I left there changed. 

Our next stop was the Upper Room. 

This was the spot where our group experienced the most anointed, most powerful time of worship during our entire trip. The Holy Spirit was certainly moving as we entered the room. 

I heard it said that the Upper Room was not necessarily a room, but more of a rooftop - and that to me made some sense, considering that the architecture in the room was heavily Gothic in style.  The decorative arches do not speak of the time of Jesus, but the stone floor of the room was certainly of the Herodian period. But nevertheless, right where I was standing, was the place where the events of the Last Supper and of Pentecost took place. 

Our group, along with others from many different nationalities who had entered the room, spontaneously began to sing and worship the Lord.  I recorded about a minute of that worship, and you can give it a listen at the bottom of this blog entry. It was absolutely angelic. 

While our time was shorter in the Upper Room than we wanted, I left with a deep sense of God's presence and His pleasure in us for our offering of worship. 

Our day took an interesting and pleasant turn as I learned that we were going to a place not on our itinerary.  We were going to Bethlehem! 

Bethlehem is in the West Bank and currently under Palestinian control, so we were not expecting to be granted access. Jews are not entirely welcome there, either. A concrete wall separates Bethlehem, and fences have been constructed along the road to Bethlehem to prevent the Muslim residents from throwing rocks and other more "sinister" items at suspected Jewish commuters. 

Once we entered Bethlehem, we were welcomed at the most amazing gift shop - and it turned out that this gift shop was run by Christians!  We were immediately greeted by Pastor Stephen (I won't use his last name here for security reasons) who told us of the mission work his church is doing in the West Bank.  A tremendous ministry - and right then I knew I would be adding his church to my list of prayers. 

We shopped like crazy here, since the proceeds from the store went to the ministry. Then it was on to a very special site in Bethlehem.  We went to a place called Shepherd's Field - the field outside of Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds proclaiming the Savior's birth. 

The field itself is not much - just a gently sloping hillside with rocks, grasses and a few caves.   But as we read through the account in Luke chapter two, I could picture how this field went from the dark of night to being as  bright as the noonday sun when the angel appeared.  I found it interesting that this field provided a perfect line of sight to Bethlehem itself. The village would have been in their view when that angel told them the good news. 

Tuesday takes us outside of Jerusalem and into the West Bank again, as we visit the city of Hebron.  It is sure to be another incredible day in Israel! 

Shalom, 
Beth

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  1. Upper Room Spontaneous Worship

Capernaum, Mount Carmel and a Glimpse of Jerusalem 

Sunday's journey took us to only two sites, primarily because this was the day we finally made the two hour trek to Jerusalem.  We had one more stop to make in Galilee, and this is the one I was most looking forward to.  Our morning started off in Capernaum.

Capernaum is on the northernmost side of the Sea of Galilee, and according to our guide, was the second most affluent community besides Migdal during Jesus' time. It is just to the west of the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus taught and where the feeding of the 5,000 took place. Walking through the gates of Capernaum, I knew I was in for something special.

We stopped first in a small garden, where our guide oriented us to the architecture in the site. I didn't realize it at first, but I was right next to the synagogue of Capernaum, where Jesus would have certainly taught.

I love architecture and archaeology, and I found this site fascinating.  One could date the walls of the structures by the types of stones that were used in construction. This was a region of volcanic activity which brings with it a lot of darker basalt rock in the structures.  Later structures were built with a different type of rock, lighter in color. The original synagogue here had been destroyed by an earthquake and another structure was built over it, but you could clearly see the original stonework in the lower portions of the walls.
Rock walls outlined the many homes that surrounded the synagogue - and as our guide told us, the closer your home was to the synagogue, the more affluent you were in the community.  Peter's house was less than 50 yards from the walls of the synagogue.  That fact alone changed my view of Peter.  He had to have been well off.  His home was larger than most that I saw here.  He would have had a lot of pull here, too - and having Jesus as his house guest made his home the center of activity for the entire community.

His house would have been busy with all that happened here.  Peter's mother-in-law was healed here by Jesus.  The paralytic man with the four friends who lowered him through a rooftop to get him to Jesus?  That was Peter's house.  Right there, in Peter's proverbial living room, Jesus not only forgives the man, but makes it so the man could walk out that front door on his own power. (Or should I say, the power of God!)

There is a church built over Peter's house in Capernaum and while I was not able to go inside, I could hear other groups of people worshiping and singing to God. I have not heard a better rendition of "How Great Thou Art" in my life.

Our next stop involved a drive to Mount Carmel - another powerful moment on this trip.

As we drove to Mount Carmel - which is the site of Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal - we drove through the Jezreel Valley. As we did, we studied the story from 1 Kings 17 and 18. The Jezreel Valley is a lush agricultural region now but if you read in chapter 17, Elijah had proclaimed a drought in the land - a three and a half year drought.

When the people heard word that Elijah was about to battle with the prophets of Baal, the people would have looked up to the peak of Mount Carmel, awaiting word of what the prophet would do.  I couldn't help but imagine what it must have looked like when fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah's sacrifice, and to have the rains finally come. Here is a photo of a statue of Elijah at the site of the victory:

The view from Mount Carmel is stunning - you can easily see Mount Tabor and Mount Gilboa, which frame the valley. Besides being known as the Jezreel Valley, this valley is also known as the Valley of Megiddo, or the Valley of Armageddon. We all found it interesting that there was a military airport in the middle of the valley.

After Mount Carmel, we made the journey to Jerusalem, for our very first look at the city.

We were singing and praising the Lord as our bus climbed the mountainsides to the most incredible vantage point.  There, we could see the entire Old City.

Monday takes us into the heart of Jerusalem, to the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and more.  Thanks for reading!

-- Beth

The Golan Heights, Hezbollah and Israeli Texas 

Saturday's adventure in Israel took on a much different flavor as we departed briefly from our tour of the Biblical sites and ventured more into the political landscape of the country.. 

Not to say that the two aren't intertwined because they certainly are.  My experience with the people in Israel has offered a great deal of revelation into world politics and the utter importance of keeping Israel - ALL of Israel - in Jewish hands.  I won't delve into more of that here except to say that today's experiences have shown me both the confidence of the Israeli people in God's divine hand on their country, and the reality of the threat they face every day. 

Our trip took us to the Golan Heights - a mountain range on the far northeast edge of Israel.  If you recall the times in the scriptures where Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he would have likely landed in the Golan Heights.  This is the place where Jesus cast out the demonic spirits in the Gadarene man in Luke chapter 8.  This area was also known as Bashan, which was promised to Abraham in Genesis 15 and was assigned to the tribe of Manassah in Joshua 13. As we drove further north through the Golan, I felt very much like we were in Colorado, with cliffs, evergreen trees, and hairpin turns. 

Mount Hermon is the highest point in this mountain range, but is over the border in Syria. 

What I didn't realize as we were driving was how close we were getting to the border.  Right over the chain link fence is the country of Lebanon. 

Our first destination was a kibbutz called Misgav-Am, located near the northernmost tip of Israel. Here we met the most interesting man - Aryeh Ben Yaakov. 

What was immediately noticeable about Aryeh was the fact that he was armed with a holstered .357 pistol.  He wore a cowboy hat and had a bravado that would knock you over. When I learned that he had come to Israel from Cleveland in 1961, I was definitely intrigued. 

Aryeh is the manager of the kibbutz and shared his story about his time in Israel. He came to the country in 1961, joined the Israeli Defense Force upon his arrival and became a paratrooper. He served four tours of duty, became a decorated veteran of the IDF, and was one of the paratroopers that placed the Israeli flag at the Temple Mount during the Six Day War in 1967. Having him at this particular kibbutz made all the more sense to me, as he went on to explain where we were at and the political tension of the region. 
Misgav-Am is indeed located high on a mountainside touching the border with Lebanon, and Syria is just a few miles away.  I took a panoramic video of the view.  The beginning of the video starts with the Mediterranean Sea, and continues with a view of villages in Lebanon, and ends with a view of Mount Hermon in Syria. 

Aryeh went on to explain that the villages we were looking at in Lebanon were all under the control of Hezbollah. There, anyone is allowed to build homes tax free, without government control, save for one regulation.  The first floor of your home belonged to the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah could seize your home at any time and use it as cover for a military strike against Israel. Aryeh went on to explain that many structures were built and remained unfinished, for the sole purpose of  providing cover for the Hezbollah fighters. 

"This is Israeli Texas," Aryeh said, noting that living at the kibbutz meant both making a living in agriculture and being a military listening post for the Israeli army. Aryeh went on to share his passion - a passion shared by every Israeli I have met - to protect, defend, and keep all of Israel in Jewish hands. 

After our time in Misgav-Am, we traveled to another significant site in the Golan Heights - the Valley of Tears of Kuneitra - the site of a battle during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. There we met Raanan (Rani) Levy, who shared much with us about the political climate of Israel during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as today. 

A monument was built to honor those who gave their lives in this battle, a battle where Israelis were greatly outnumbered but miraculously stopped an attempt by Syria to advance into the Golan Heights.  What was most interesting about this place was that as we talked, we were staring at a village on fire in Syria, due to skirmishes that had taken place in Syria's civil war. 

(I should note that one of my travel companions visited this site two years ago, and while she was at a site near the Valley of Tears, her group saw a bombing just over the border into Syria that killed 26 people. That bombing made national news.) 

All in all, I came away from today's travels with a greater sense of urgency in my prayers for the country and a deeper appreciation of the pride the Israelis have in their country.  These people are fighters, and as our new friend Aryel said so eloquently, "God is on our side." 

Our travels take us next to Capernaum, Jesus' home base of ministry, and then on to Mount Carmel and the site of Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal.  We'll be in Jerusalem by nightfall. Shalom from Israel! 

-- Beth

On the shores of Galilee 

Friday's journey in Israel kept us very close to the waters of Galilee - in fact, every activity we did had something to do with the water.  We started off our day with a  boat ride to take in the view of the vast shoreline. Here you can see the cities of Tiberias, Migdal and the region of Tabgha. 

As we rode through the water, I couldn't help but reflect on a couple of things out of God's Word.  While not a still day, we were there on a beautiful morning.  The waters weren't choppy and the wind was not at all strong.  I wondered to myself just how many storms popped up on this body of water in the scriptures, and how such fierce storms could come up on a Galilee fisherman so fast.  Our guide gave us an explanation.  With warm winds from the Mediterranean, and colder winds from the Golan Heights meeting in the bowl-shaped valley that is Galilee, the perfect conditions for storm activity are almost guaranteed. Our guide told us that by two o'clock in the afternoon, strong winds begin to whip through the valley. He also said it was not uncommon to see nine foot waves in the Sea of Galilee. It had to be a very bad storm for the disciples - many of them avid fishermen - to think they were going to die in Mark chapter four. 

Where the events of Mark chapter four exactly took place is unknown, but I could certainly envision it happening as we sailed. How bad was the wind anyway? Were the disciples panicking as they got drenched?  I imagined their surprise when Jesus said, "Peace, be still," and the storm ceased.  

I also had a hard time comprehending how I could be gazing upon the very site of Jesus' ministry headquarters. Here, in the span of my peripheral vision, were the sites of so many deliverances, so many healings, so many miracles.  To think that one person, in this small place, changed the world.  I was overcome. 

After landing in Migdal, we took a short drive to Tobgha. Here we find the place where Jesus restored Peter three times after his three-fold denial before His crucifixion. A church now stands over the rock where Jesus is believed to have cooked and served fish for the disciples, which was saved for posterity by the Franciscans. 

Also found in Tobgha is the believed location of the Sermon on the Mount and the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  This spot would have worked beautifully, as the landing is a naturally shaped ampitheater. 

We went to a small restaurant near the shoreline for lunch and received a tasty meal of fresh tilapia and salads.  Our other stop for the day was the Jordan River, where 25 of our group were baptized. It was a very meaningful moment for so many, including me. 

With Shabbat (Jewish for the sabbath) quickly coming upon us, and businesses closing before sundown because of it, we headed back to our hotel for the evening. Saturday's ride takes us north of the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights and the borders of Lebanon and Syria. Thanks for reading!

--- Beth

Shiloh 

Today was a tough day  physically but I got to do something I love - study history. I have always been a fan of archaeology, so I was particularly excited about today's destination.  Today we visited the ancient site of Shiloh in the region of Samaria, which is now a part of the West Bank.

It was quite an interesting journey to get there, as we drove along the north edge of the Dead Sea and into the Jordan River valley. It was considerably dry in this area so I could not see the waters of the Jordan, but our guide assured us it was there. What has impressed me as I have traveled through the area is the large amount of farming that takes place around the Dead Sea region. The Israelis have become masters at irrigation - every plant is accompanied by a copper water pipe to bring water to it.  Even the flower beds at our hotel is irrigated this way - there is no waste of water here!

Getting to Shiloh involved entering the West Bank - and transferring to an armored bus for our time in the area.  Not that we were in danger at all, but even the children ride these armored buses to school.  Caution is apparently the norm at this point.

School was not in session for the Shavuot holiday, so Shiloh was filled with children and characters in ancient costumes were all over the site offering learning opportunities for them.  Our guide took us through a number of excavations, starting with the main gate to the ancient city.

One interesting find was that of an ancient olive press - with olives being a primary crop in this region.


Another was this site - an excavation of a building with a beautiful mosaic floor.  It was here where two major archaeological finds were discovered that proved the location to be ancient Shiloh, and the dates of its occupation.  The building standing on top of the excavation is an old mosque.

We finally made our way to the far end of the ancient city and the site of the Israelite's first tabernacle in the Promised Land. Alongside it, an active archaeological dig was taking place, which I thought was fascinating.  But what was most fascinating was where I was about to stand - on the actual spot of that tabernacle, where our guide read us the story of Hannah.

It was here, in the very spot I was standing, where Hannah made her plea before the Lord for a child. As we were encouraged to offer our own prayers to the Lord here, I couldn't help but relate to her plight.  And I could also imagine her returning to that very same spot to bring her son Samuel to live in Eli the priest's care. God answers the prayers of the barren and the hopeless.  I was greatly encouraged. 

Our journey took us to another town in the West Bank, the city of Ariel.  Our time there was focused on the Israel of the present and the future, as the city grew from nothing more than a vision in 1978 to a town boasting a population of 20,000 Israelis.  Rapid growth and the dedication of Jews looking to return and claim this homeland have turned the city into a modern community filled with life.  A great community with great potential.

We traveled to the city of Tiberias in time for a late dinner and tomorrow, we are on the Sea of Galilee. We're in the heart of Jesus' headquarters, so the next few days should be glorious!

Shalom,

Beth

 

 

 

 

The Wilderness of En Gedi  

It's day two in Israel and after a good night's sleep, our group finally got out to do what we were here for - see the land of the Bible and learn about the country that we as believers hold dear.  It was a short day of touring as we were granted an afternoon of sunbathing and a dip in the Dead Sea, but what we saw today was impactful, and a taste of what was to come. 

Our trip today took us to a site along the Dead Sea called En Gedi. 

In the Bible, it's called the Desert of En Gedi, the Wilderness of En Gedi, or in one translation I found, the "crags of wild goats." En Gedi is most accurately translated as "spring mountain goats," which to me brings the best description of the area -- a green oasis in the desert, home to wild mountain goats and other animal life.

En Gedi is a valley nestled in a tight cluster of mountain bluffs that has a small river running through it. It is currently a nature park and wildlife reserve, with a surprising number of, yes, goats; acacia and date trees, and hiking trails that will take you well up the hillside. You read about En Gedi in a number of sections of scripture - one being Song of Solomon 1:14, where the female speaker identifies her beloved as "a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi," but the most dramatic reference to En Gedi is in 1 Samuel 23 and 24. 

It was in En Gedi where David eventually landed with his 400 men when he was fleeing King Saul, and it was in the caves of En Gedi where David would cut off a piece of Saul's robe, sparing Saul's life. A number of caves exist in the bluffs of En Gedi, as you can see above.

Standing in this place, I couldn't help but wonder how David and his 400 men could survive here, but with an abundance of animal life and a steady water supply, it was possible. What I didn't know was how anyone could get up to those caves with any kind of speed. A number of us wondered about that. 

We also made some new friends in the wildlife of En Gedi, especially this little guy who loved to sunbathe. 

This coney, also known as a hyrax, posed perfectly for us to take pictures. Similar to a badger or a rabbit, the coney is actually related more to a rhinoceros and is talked about in the Word in places such as Proverbs 30:26, Psalm 104:18 and Deuteronomy 14:7.  They are an interesting animal - one resource I found says that the coney's feet are not formed for digging, and because of that, the coney can't make its home in burrows. Instead, they reside in the clefts of the rocks. How convenient to use En Gedi as the perfect place of refuge. 

I spent a short time this afternoon taking a swim in the Dead Sea.  Everything you hear about that experience is true.  I couldn't get in the water past my waist without the oh-so-salty water lifting me up off my feet. I float easily to begin with, and I couldn't even get my neck wet, the water made me so buoyant.  I spent about a half hour in the water, just floating there, taking in the view. It was mentioned that my view to the west - the country of Jordan, with its hilly terrain - may have been near to the site of Sodom and Gomorrah.  I didn't have a local to tell me for sure, but maps say it is close.  With all the salt and mineral deposits on and near the Dead Sea, it would seem a logical place for Lot and his wife to be, considering her end.  Salt, anyone?

Tomorrow is a big travel day, with our group heading to stops in the West Bank and ending in Tiberias and a hotel on the Sea of Galilee. There's much more to come, too - thanks for checking in on us! 

Blessings, 
Beth

Touchdown in Tel Aviv 

Fifteen plus hours in an airplane and I'm finally here. 

I and my group of southern Minnesota ladies landed in Tel Aviv, Israel late in the afternoon on May 30th and wow, what an experience.  I have never flown more than about four hours at one time but our New York to Tel Aviv leg was more than 11 hours - and oddly timed, too.  Dinner was served for us promptly at 11:30 p.m. American time and breakfast was served at 4:00 in the afternoon, Israeli time.  By the time we got to our hotel on the edge of the Dead Sea, it was 9:00 p.m. and time for dinner again.  Good thing the food was tasty, otherwise I would be a little less willing to adjust. 

As I said, we touched down in Tel Aviv late in the afternoon and by the time our tour group were all gathered into their buses, the sun was beginning to set and I had my first impression of this country.  Care to know what I first noticed? 

No traffic! 

The highways of Tel Aviv were quiet - too quiet in my opinion, for being the modern bustling metropolis that it is.  Guy, our tour guide, quickly told us why.  Our arrival in Israel coincided with Shavuot - a Jewish holiday also known as the Feast of Weeks that commemorate the day the Israelites were given the Torah, or the law,  on Mount Sinai.  As Jewish holidays begin at sundown and involve abstaining from work, commuters on Tel Aviv's roadways were scarce.  

Their absence gave us a short window to easily view the countryside as we made a two hour journey to our hotel.  Rolling hills and areas of green trees peppered the desert, and as we enjoyed the variety of foliage and farm fields, Guy said something profound.  He talked about how all of the green trees and farmland were reclaimed from the desert, and how water was a precious commodity to the Israeli people.  Water is so needed for farms to thrive, and wasted water is an affront to the Israelis.  (Don't throw out those half empty Dasani water bottles!)  He also shared how the Jews, when they finally had the opportunity to reclaim their promised land, rushed to plant the trees and start the farms - and how it related to a word in Isaiah 35 that talks about the glory of Zion: "The wllderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."  I found that particularly fitting. 

The journey to our hotel was after night had fallen, so sadly no more wisdom for the night (and no pictures) but we have a big day in store tomorrow.  We spend part of the day in En Gedi and the rest on the shores of the Dead Sea.  I'm looking forward to the adventure. 

Peace, 
Beth

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