Our Savior watches over us

Recently I heard someone sing “The Sparrow” by Charles Billingsley. We often get so caught up in the day-to-day struggles, wondering how we will make it through. But God reminds us that He is caring for us every day:

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26).

On the first day of our tour in Israel, we were sitting at the (dry) well at Beer Sheba, where Abraham and Isaac both had dug a well. I noticed that there were several small birds, possibly sparrows, flitting about in the branches above us. Here we were in the middle of the desert, with no water around anywhere, and very few plants, yet these little creatures were being cared for by our own Heavenly Father.

“Lord, I place my cares on you this day. Watch over my family, and make us to be more like you. Thank you for your watchcare today–and every day.”

 

Israel Tour Wrapup

I’ve come to the last day, the last afternoon and evening of my trip to Israel. Every day has been a wonderful blessing and very special time of fellowship with precious believers.

After lunch the group had a session where we just talked about what the trip meant to each one of us. There were as many ideas as people, I believe. Each one of us were specially blessed by the entire trip.

The afternoon was a time of shopping at the Christian Quarter, a small street full of vendors. My sister and I walked around together and enjoyed a relaxing time together. The evening was a time of rest, trying to get some sleep, as we had to leave for Tel Aviv at 11:30 p.m. for a 5:00 a.m. flight. As far as I know, everyone made it home, even if some had delayed flights.

One more picture, that to me epitomizes what this trip is all about: worship.

Worship

Worship

Golgotha, the Place of the Skull

The last two places we visited are perhaps the most significant, for me, anyway. While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may be the site of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, this other location seems much more appropriate for various reasons.

Golgatha

Golgotha

Situated just outside the Damascus Gate north of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is a large rocky cliff with several large indentations that appear to look like a skull. Crucifixions were done just below this cliff, next to the road from the Damascus Gate, so that anyone traveling could view the criminals.

Golgotha photo from 1800s

Golgotha photo from 1800s

Mount Moriah extends from the Temple site to this particular hill, with the “place of the skull” being a higher elevation. Our guide, a Messianic Jew, mentioned that when Abraham came to Mount Moriah to offer Isaac, he left the servants at one place, and continued up the mountain where he built an altar to sacrifice Isaac. It may be that the very place Jesus was crucified is the site of Abraham’s altar. Our guide also indicated that this area may have been used as a quarry to mine the stones for Solomon’s temple.

Hill of the Skull

Hill of the Skull

The atmosphere here and at the Garden Tomb was one of reverence and worship, much different than the atmosphere at the Church of the Sepulchre. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among the many people visiting the site.

Via Dolorosa & the Pool of Bethesda

Once we left the Mount of Olives, we walked up through the Lion’s Gate (also called St. Stephen’s Gate, where some think he was martyred), and traveled the Via Dolorosa. Near the beginning of the way, we stopped at the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a paralytic man. Apparently, the Pool of Bethesda consisted of two large pools, and built on top in the middle was a Crusader church.

Pool of Bethesda

Pool of Bethesda

Next to this site was the Church of St. Anne, renowned for its acoustic qualities. We entered this quiet church, sat down, and sang “Holy, Holy, Holy,” listening to the echoing through the chamber–very beautiful.

The Via Dolorosa  is supposedly the path that Jesus walked while on trial to His crucifixion. This particular “way” is probably not the real path, but has become famous and has been walked by many who want to worship Christ. It ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Mount of Olives

Bright and early Tuesday morning we set off from our hostel in the Old City. As near as I can tell from the map, we went out of the western Jaffa Gate, around the Old City, and to the eastern side of the Old City to the Mount of Olives. We stopped at a Necropolis, to see how the Jewish people were buried. There are thousands of sarcophagus boxes on the side of the Mount of Olives, as many Jews want to be near where the Messiah returns.

Jewish Sarcophagi

Jewish Sarcophagi

Mount of Olives Sarcophagi

Mount of Olives Sarcophagi

We then traveled down the mountain to the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a beautiful garden of olive trees, planted around 1000 AD by the Crusaders. I am reminded when Jesus agonized over his coming crucifixion in this quiet place.

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

Continuing down the mountain, we could look over the Kidron Valley to the Eastern Gate, through which Christ will enter into the Old City of Jerusalem some day in the future!

Kidron Valley & Eastern Gate

Kidron Valley & Eastern Gate

Sunday, the 11th, 2nd Half

You realize we did so many things each day that it is hard to keep everything straight. Anyway, we then viewed a large model of 1st century Jerusalem, and were able to get a bird’s eye view of the layout.

Model of Jerusalem

Model of Jerusalem

The highlight of my day was to visit Qumran. Even though we couldn’t literally climb up to the caves (though this is an option for tourists), just being there was exciting. To think that God preserved so many texts from the Old Testament, just to show critiques that His Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, is a wonderful blessing. There are even reports that some New Testament Scriptures were preserved as well.

Qumran Caves

Qumran Caves

Sunday, June 11

We first visited Scythopolis, a first century Roman city, just below the Old Testament city of Beth She’an.  It is located at the junction of three valleys, Jezreel, Jordan and Harod, and was an important crossroads. We spent some time here discussing the various martyrs of the Christian faith, and reflecting on what the future may hold for us as Christians in the last days.  This entire area was destroyed in 741 AD by a huge earthquake.

City of Beth She’an/Scythopolis

We then traveled south on the “Pilgrimage Route,” from Scythopolis by the Jordan River, to Jericho and then up to Jerusalem. The Jewish families were required to travel to Jerusalem three times a year for feast days. It usually took two weeks walking.

My mind must be playing tricks with me, because we visited Jericho twice in our 2 weeks. The first time was on June 5, and the we went there again this day. Anyway, one particular part of the wall is still standing–must be “Rahab’s house”! We also saw “Zaccheus’ tree,” a sycamore tree similar to one he would have climbed.

Jericho - standing wall

Jericho – standing wall

“Zaccheus Tree” in Jericho

 

 

 

Saturday, June 10

Saturday morning started early with a rededication baptism in the Sea of Galilea. Throughout the whole tour we were encouraged to listen to what the Lord would have us do with out lives and to submit to His will completely. What a blessed time, even for those who were not baptized!

Bethsaida, meaning “House of Fish,” was Peter and Andrew’s home town. During Jesus’ time, Bethsaida was on the upper shore of the Sea of Galilee, but currently is considerably north or the shoreline. Apparently, the delta from the Jordan River has filled in some of the land, and coupled with numerous years of drought in the land, the city is no longer close to the water.

Bethsaida

Close by Bethsaida is another possible site of the feeding of the 5,000. Shortly after that, Jesus walked (and Peter) on the water of the Sea of Galilee.

Hillside, possible site of the feeding of the 5,000

Next in our tour, we visited Dan, where the Israelites had set up an altar to Jehovah, which later turned into a place idolatrous worship. Dan is also the site of one of the springs that feeds into the Jordan River. It is a delightfully peaceful place, at least by the spring.

Kursi is the place where Jesus cast demons out of a man, and the herd of pigs ran down into the water. There are many caves and tombs in the hillsides, where the demon-controlled man could have lived.

Jesus took his disciples up north to Caesarea Philippi, also called Banias, or Panias. There is a massive cliff city names for the emporer, dedicated to Caesar as well as the goat-god Pan. Herod had built a temple over a cave, which was called “The Gates of Hell.” In this place, Jesus asked his disciples: “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock [that Jesus is God] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:16-18).

Friday, June 9

Our day started out with a trip to the Sea of Galilee, to see a 2000 year-old fishing boat that had been preserved in the mud. We also had a special time out on the Sea of Galilee, with singing and dancing, as well as a time of reflection that this is where Jesus walked on the water. Pictured here is one of the precious women in our tour group.

2000-year-old fishing boat

On the Sea of Gaillee

Magdala is the city where Mary Magdalene came from. We visited there shortly, seeing the synagogue where Jesus would have taught.

Jesus made his headquarters in Capernaum during his ministry in the Galilean territory.  Peter had built a house in Capernaum, and there was a 3rd century house-church built over the place his house may have been. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed here, as well as the paralyzed man let down through the tiles of the synagogue by four of his friends.

Taghba is the possible site of the feeding of the 5000. There are seven warm springs flowing into the Sea of Galilee here, and it may have been here that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip to be “fishers of men.” This may also have been the spot where Jesus met His disciples after His resurrection and encourage Peter by forgiving him of his denial.

Mt. Beatitudes is the supposed spot of the Sermon on the Mount. Everywhere you look there are possible places where Jesus may have walked and taught. It’s hard to really comprehend how wonderful the land of Israel is. Even after a week I’m still awed by the experience.

The Desert Will Bloom

We spent Sunday in the Negev which is desert in the southern part of Israel. This is the area where the children of Israel wandered for 40 years before entering the Promised land.

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as a rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing… (Isaiah 35:1-2)

In 1948 the desert area was 84% arid, unusable land. At this time it stands at 62% unusable land. By using drip irrigation, the Israelis are reclaiming the land for farmland. They have just finished their harvest of wheat. The desert is truly “blooming”!

We also rode camels and slept in a Bedouin tent, similar to what Abraham and Sarah had done. What an interesting lifestyle!

Wheat fields of Negev

Camel ride at Bedouin Oasis