Sunday, April 29, 2012

Our weekend in Israel

On Saturday (which is the Jewish day for worship or Shabbat), we went to our leader Todd's old church from when he lived in Israel, The Jerusalem Assembly. The music was in Hebrew and the sermon was in Hebrew but then translated into English. This made the service quite a bit longer than our services at home, but it was good that we could at least understand some of it!

After that, we had a free afternoon in Jerusalem. We spent our time eating Pizza (yum!), shopping for souvenirs, getting lost, and getting to things after they had closed or were to crowded for us to go in. It turns out, having a guide lead us around most of the time is quite helpful (thank you Todd!) We spent the last hour of our time sitting in the shade reading, resting and calling home. Then we got to spend a very relaxing evening at our guest house up on the mountains surrounding Jerusalem and truly got to have a Sabbath to rest and recover from a busy week!

Walking around the Biblical garden on the property of the Yad Hashmona Guest House.

Baby grapes!

The next morning we left the Jerusalem area and headed north to Caesarea - an ancient port city that Herod the Great built to connect with Rome.

A view of the ruins at Caesarea - quite a large city in the 1st century.

We also got to see (and touch) the Mediterranean Sea!

Matt was excited to get to stand in the rooms of the Herod's Palace where Paul would have been imprisoned in Caesarea (Acs 23-25).

We stopped a little ways north of Caesarea to see the remains of a massive aqueduct system that Herod built to bring fresh water to Caesarea from the springs of Mt. Carmel.

We then drove up to the top of Mt. Carmel and climbed to the roof of a monastery up there to overlook the Jezreel Valley. Above is a statue of Elijah in the courtyard of the monastery.

While looking at the Jezreel Valley below, we read the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 17-18 where he challenges the prophets of Baal to call on Baal to send down fire to light their sacrifice. After calling on Baal all day but got no answer. Then Elijah took his sacrifice and poured fur jars of water on the offering and the wood... three separate times! The he called on the name of the LORD and the fire of the LORD came down and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones of the altar, and the soil.

While driving down the road, we pulled over to take pictures of a 1st century tomb that was discovered while making the road. This tomb has a rolling stone next to it similar to what would have been in front of Jesus's tomb.

We then went on to the Tel of Megiddo - which was an ancient city on the southern edge of the Jezreel valley. Referenced here was Revelation 16:16 which names this valley as the staging ground for battle - Armageddon, "Mountain of Megiddo."

We then stopped at Ein Herod (spring of Harod) where Gideon trimmed his army down to 300 men before going in to battle so that the victory was truly God's (Joshua 7). It was so amazing to be standing at the site where this historic event took place!

Matt and I in front of a bougainvillea plant like we had in our back yard in Phoenix - good memories of it's beauty, but bad memories of it's thorns!

Next we went to Tel Jezreel and talked about a number of stories from 1st and 2nd Kings that took place here. One was from 1 Kings 22 when Ahab & Jehoshaphat fought the Arameans. We also read about King Jehu from 2 Kings 9 where he has success in battle against the town of Jezreel.

We ended the day by driving up the mountains into Jesus's home town of Nazareth. We were tricked by our leader into believing that our hotel was kind of a run down one, but as we pulled out were pleasantly surprised to find we were staying in the nicest hotel of the trip. The luxury Golden Crown hotel on the outskirts of Nazareth. It was a very nice treat and a relaxing night. We got to Skype with our kids and my family who was staying with them and it was great to see everyone's faces. Only a few more days on the ground here until we head home. We are tired and mentally full but still loving our time in the land of Israel!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Masada, En Gedi and the Dead Sea

Today we woke at the base of Masada - a palace fortress built by Herod the Great and later used by Jewish rebels as the fought against the Romans. It was the last holdout against the Romans and finally fell in 73 AD after a 3 year siege. There were three ways we could get up - a sunrise hike leaving at 5:15am, a hike leaving at 7am and riding the cable car up. Matt and I picked opposite extremes - he got up for the sunrise hike and I took the cable car up :)

The view from the top of the mountain Matt hiked up that morning

The giant store houses on top of Masada - there was enough food stored here in case Herod needed to hide out. The Jewish rebels were able to take advantage of that during the siege.

Herod's palace had 3 levels on the north side going down the side of the mountain. Incredible feats of engineering took place here.

When I turned around from taking the picture above, this is what I saw. The view from the north end of Herod's Palace. You see the Wilderness in the foreground and the dead sea in the background.

Little did Matt know, we were up for another hike that morning. This time we hiked up near En Gedi - an oasis in the desert where David camped while running from Saul (Psalm 63, 1 Samuel 23)

In a bamboo cave on the way up. There were a lot of families and kids here because it was a holiday weekend as Israel just celebrated their Independence Day.

In front of the waterfall at En Gedi

After En Gedi we headed over to the Dead Sea - where it is impossible to sink. It is the lowest place on earth - 1300 ft below sea level. The salt content of the Dead Sea is 10 times that of the ocean! Needless to say, we were warned not to get it in our eyes. A lot of people flock to the Dead Sea because it's mineral composition (it has a number of other minerals besides just salt) are said to be healing for a lot of skin ailments. I picked up some Dead Sea Mineral hand cremes in the gift shop :)

The view on the walk down to the Dead Sea. A lot of people like to rub the black/brown mud from the sea shore on their bodies like a body scrub/mask. We did not try it.

There were HUGE salt crystals that just build up at the waters edge.

Matt and I floating in the Dead Sea. We could not get our feet to stay under the water for long. It was like trying to hold a swimming noodle under the water... it just pops right back up. Our bodies have a higher water concentration in them than the Dead Sea does. Bizarre. I felt like I was on Mars or something. You couldn't really swim in the traditional way since anytime you were on your stomach you had to work not to flip back over. We did a lot of back floating and peddling.  We only touched the bottom when we got in then we could not touch it anymore... but it didn't matter because we couldn't sink! We literally just bobbed like corks in the water. SO FUN!

Down the road about 30 minutes from En Gedi is Qumran. This is the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. I already typed some about them from Day 1 when we actually got to see them on display in the Shrine of the Book, but over 900 fragments were found in the 11 caves. Above is a picture of the pots that the scrolls were stored in.

A picture of Cave 4 which held some of the most important finds.

On our way home, we drove up the Ascent of Adummim - the road that goes down to Jericho from Jerusalem and is the road that Jesus referenced in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We also saw this monastery built into the side of this Wadi, or drainage canal. This was a very high, very scary, but breathtaking lookout.

We are ready for our day of rest tomorrow! And we have some free time in Jerusalem again! Still having a wonderful time and are learning so much that we can't wait to share with you all in person!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Benjamin, Samaria and Jericho

Today we headed out from the Gloria hotel, our home for the first 4 days of the trip, and drove north through some new territory for us. We drove through the Central Benjamin Plateau which has a lot of Biblical sites (Ramah - home of Samuel, Gibeah - home of Saul and where he had his palace/capital, Gibeon - Gibeonites tricked Joshua into signing a peace treaty). Our first stop for the day was at Shiloh - where the tabernacle was set up when the Israelites came into the land after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It was awesome to think about how Hannah came here to pray and ask God for a child. And then when Samuel was born to her, this is where she brought him to Eli the priest as she had promised God.

Matt looking around at the site. We were told we could pick up anything we saw laying on the surface (e.g. discarded potsherds) but were not allowed to dig :) We were able to find a number of broken pottery pieces to bring home from Shiloh!

The view down the slope of Shiloh showing how it's location was chosen because it was easy to defend.

Matt tracing the potsherds that we found into his field notebook.

Our next stop was Shechem which was such an important site in Biblical History. Our leader Todd hadn't been able to return to this site for 12 years because of political issues. But today this area is open and he was as excited as I've seen him on this trip to get to return to such an important site. Shechem is surrounded by an Arab town and it was funny seeing such an ancient site in the middle of a city. We heard the Muslim call to prayer over loud speakers up on the mountain while we were there.

Here are the ruins of the ancient city. This is also the place that God promised Abraham the land (Genesis 12:6-8). This is also the site where Joshua brought all of the tribes of Israel here in accordance with God's instructions to Moses.  We reenacted part of this history by splitting our group in half with one group standing on the Mt. Gerazim side and one group standing on the Mt. Ebal side and reading back and forth to each other the blessings and curses from God's law (Joshua 8:30-35).

Mt. Gerazim

Mt. Ebal

We then drove down to Jericho and had lunch at a local restaurant. Matt had falafel and I had shawarma again.

After that we walked across the street to ancient Jericho - one of the oldest if not THE oldest city in the world. There were other settlements and villages before the time of Jericho, but this is the first city with a city wall. We saw the base of the wall that was destroyed when the Israelites marched around the city 7 times on the 7th day (Joshua 6). The main wall was built on top of these stones (pictured) with mud bricks and part of the wall was breached that day as told in the story in Joshua allowing the Israelites entrance into this first conquered city.

Looking at more of the tel of Jericho (tel - mound built up over time as city is built upon city)

Also driving through Jericho we saw a tall sycamore tree reminding us of the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19).

We also saw the New Testament site of Jericho just south of ancient Jericho. Pictured are the remains of another of Herod the Great's palaces.

We ended the day with a long, winding drive down into the region of the Dead Sea and stayed at a hotel at the bottom of another major Israel site, Masada. More on that tomorrow!!

It was truly another remarkable day and much more restful than some of our first few days in Jerusalem because we are pretty much over the jet lag and have been taking more trips by bus instead of walking. My highlight for the day was probably being at Shechem - the place where God first made his promise to Abraham - such a foundational point for all of Biblical history. I am so thankful to be here and so appreciative of all of the people who are taking such good care of our children while we are gone.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, and other fun stuff

Today we got up at 5am to go early to see more of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This huge church contains both the hill where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried. A couple other people from our group joined us as we walked across the much quieter early morning city to get to the church.

We were hoping to be one of the first ones there to beat the crowds, but even before 6am there were still a few tour groups there! So we got as close as we could to the sights. Above is a statue erected over Golgotha - the place where Jesus was crucified. You could see the bedrock from Golgotha below the statue.

Also in the church was this tomb - not the traditional tomb of Jesus, but one from the same period that we went into. As we were waiting in line to see the actual tomb of Jesus, a priest/bouncer loudly shooed everyone away and closed the doors as they were about to start mass. We may try again to get in there another day we are in Jerusalem. We'll see. Still, it was amazing just to be so close to where our Lord was crucified, buried, and raised again on the 3rd day.

After breakfast, we boarded our bus to head across the Kidron Valley that separates Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. There are so many stories from Jesus's life that take place on the Mount of Olives. We started at the top and walked down the path to the bottom stopping at places along the way. I had the privilege of reading Matthew 21:1-11 to the group about Jesus's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem during the week leading up to his crucifixion.

Matt and I at the top of the Mount of Olives looking over Jerusalem.

At the bottom of the hill was the Garden of Gethsemane. We saw some close to 1000 year olives trees in that garden. They wouldn't have been the ones from when Jesus was there since Rome cut down all of the trees surrounding Jerusalem to build siege weapons when the fought to take over the city in 70 AD. We also went inside the Church of the Nations - a Byzantine church built on the site.

After that, we boarded the bus to head up to Herodium - which is the remains of Herod the Great's palace from the time of Jesus. Herod the Great was the king when Jesus was born who had all of the babies in Bethlehem killed after the Magi visited him and told him about the birth of the king of the Jews (Matthew 2). He also did MANY other major building projects around the country of Jerusalem (building port cities, rebuilding the temple mount, etc.)

We then headed into Bethlehem which is currently an Arab state. So we had to pass through a checkpoint into what is today a big city... not at all the small village it was in Jesus's time. We were able to visit a place called Shepherd's Field which has some great views of fields surrounding Bethlehem which remind us of the fields where angels appeared to shepherds announcing Christ's birth. The place where Jesus was actually born is not known.

Matt and I in the garden at Shepherd's Field

This valley had many important things happen in it including the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites where David fought and killed Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:1 it says, "Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. The pitched camp at Ephes Dammim between Socoh and Azekah." We were able to drive to the top of the hill of Azekah and look toward the hill of Socoh and know that the battle took place in the valley between. We read the story of David and Goliath and were truly blessed to be there!


The picture above was taken in the brook that runs through the Elah valley which is located in the foothills next to the Hill Country of Judah (where Jerusalem sits). Matt is picking up some stones from the now dry brook to bring home as souvenirs. The stones that were traditionally used by slingers were the size of a baseball.

In the creek bed! I was quite car/bus sick at this point! I made a change and now sit in the front of the bus :) Bleh!

The Elah valley from the hill of Azekah

Below is a picture of Matt posing like Samson in the Sorek Valley where most of the events of Samson's life occur. Judges 13:25 tells us that Samson was born between Zorah and  This picture shows the hills of Zorah (on the left) and Eshtaol (on the right).