Day 8 – Sunday, May 25

Though we were here nearly 20 years ago, I had forgotten how compact a country Israel truly is. Usually compared to the state of New Jersey, one can easily drive “from Dan to Beersheba” (the northern/southern boundaries in biblical times) in less than a day.

We spent the first part of last week exploring the Northern Negev and the Judean wilderness, pondering biblical rock and water imagery and studying the scriptural texts related to each site we visited.

The teaching on this trip has been absolutely phenomenal. Designed as a “Biblical Study Tour” rather than a guided vacation or tourism venture, we have had the benefit of two superb hosts: Daniel Block and Yoni Gerrish. Dr. Block is an Old Testament professor at Wheaton Graduate School and also was a Senior Translator of the Pentateuch for the New Living Translation – the translation our group is using as we travel.

Yoni Gerrish did his doctoral work in Second Temple Judaism and has several decades of expertise in guiding groups as a licensed tour guide in Israel. His vast knowledge of the geography, archaeology and history of the land along with his fluency in Hebrew as well as some Arabic are giving us an incredible educational edge as we listen to his lectures as well as Dr. Block’s commentaries and messages.

We spent the weekend (the Jewish Shabbat as well as the Christian Sabbath) in the Galilee region. The “holiday village” resort where we stayed for three nights was on the Kinneret (the biblical Sea of Galilee), and our bungalow was literally only a few feet from the water. How we loved sitting next to the water watching lights outlining the villages on the hills surrounding the lake!

With that as our home base, our group ventured to the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights as we considered the extent of Jesus’ ministry in this northern part of the country. We looked over the border into Lebanon to the north and Syria to the northeast (so close that we could hear the gunfire as the country is embroiled in a tragic civil war.) When we heed the biblical command to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that includes Israel’s neighbors as well.

To spend our personal Sabbath worshipping on the Sea of Galilee was a dream come true. As we took a boat across the lake (where, yes, winds DO often whip up quickly due to the geographic features of the landscape to the west), Dr. Block delivered an impassioned message on John 21. We viewed an ancient boat dating back to the first century AD that provides a very good conception of the vessels the disciples would have used (in fact, even the locals call it the “Jesus Boat.”)

And we had a fantastic lunch of “St. Peter’s fish” (tilapia!)

Yesterday (Monday) we drove along the Jordan River on our way from ancient Jericho to Jerusalem, where we are spending our last five nights. What a thrill it was to pass from the wilderness into the city itself with the golden Dome of the Rock gleaming in the twilight. The Pope had departed the city just before we arrived, and we were amazed at the numbers of policemen and women still lining the streets.

My head, heart and notebook are full of future lessons to share. It’s late here, though, and as I write fireworks are exploding across the old city of Jerusalem in celebration of “Jerusalem Day” tomorrow, when we plan to hike knee-deep in water through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and visit Yad Vashem, the museum dedicated to the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah (Holocaust).

A final word: if you are a serious student of the Bible or a teacher or preacher, you MUST GO to Israel. It is often described as the “fifth gospel” and for good reason. There is no substitute for studying the Word in the context in which it was written.

It is expensive  to come? Most certainly, yes. We saved our shekels for years to self-fund this trip. But it’s more costly not to gain the incalculable benefits of an on-the-ground education.

And wait until I tell you about our time in Bethlehem!!