Israel, Part 2

In my previous post, I shared pictures and stories of our first three days in Israel, with visits to Tel Aviv, Joppa, Caesarea, Megiddo/ Armageddon, Mt. Carmel, Tiberias, the Mt of Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. As you can tell, we packed a lot into each day!

After staying in Tel Aviv for two nights and Tiberias (on the Sea of Galilee) for two nights, we headed for Jerusalem, where we would spend our remaining time. Even though Jerusalem is several miles south of Tiberias, our Israeli guide Ari told us we were traveling “up” to Jerusalem. He informed us that no matter what location you are starting from, when your destination is Jerusalem you are always to say you’re ascending. That made me think of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). “Jerusalem… That is where the tribes go up — the tribes of the Lord — to praise the name of the Lord…” (Ps. 122:3-4)

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee on our final morning in Tiberias. Ready to head to Jerusalem!

Before heading to Jerusalem we stopped at Mt. Arbel. After a short hike to the top, we were blessed by an incredible view. From the top of the mountain one can see the surrounding countryside, as well as the Sea of Galilee. Though Mt. Arbel is not mentioned in Scripture, it’s very likely Jesus would have spent time here. In fact, this is where I could envision him retreating to when he needed time away from the crowds — time alone with his Father.

“So Jesus dispersed the crowd, said good-bye to his disciples, then slipped away to pray on the mountain.” (Mark 6:46, TPT)
Praise and worship on top of Mt. Arbel.
“My soul finds rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation…” Ps. 62:5-6a.

After Mt. Arbel, we stopped at the Harod Spring. This spring bubbles up from what’s called the Gideon Cave. This was the site where Gideon’s soldiers were selected for war. We read in Judges 7 that the army of Israel was to fight the Midianites, but God told Gideon he had too many soldiers — 32,000. God wanted there to be no doubt that victory would come from Him, and not from their own strength, so Gideon was instructed to drastically reduce the number of soldiers. First he was told to dismiss the men who were afraid, and 10,000 remained. God determined that was still too many, so He told Gideon to bring the soldiers to this stream. He then gave Gideon an unusual order…

Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps, from those who kneel down to drink…” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord told Gideon, “With the three hundred men who lapped I will save you…” (Judges 7:5-7).

Next, we stopped at Beth Shan (later known as Scythopolis). In the days of Joshua, Beth Shan was one of the pagan cities the Israelites did not capture and this stronghold remained in Canaanite hands. Many years later, this was where the Philistines hung the bodies of King Saul and his sons (I Sam. 31). In Jesus’ time, Beth Shan, then known as Scythopolis, was one of the chief cities of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities). In later centuries, Scythopolis became a major Roman city and extensive ruins have been uncovered by archaeologists. Places in Scripture where Beth Shan is mentioned: Joshua 17; Judges 1; I Sam. 31; 2 Sam. 21; I Kings 4; I Chron. 7.

Archaeologists have uncovered extensive ruins in Beth Shan. These are the remains of a mikveh or ritual bath. Mikvehs were used to achieve ritual purity for various reasons, such as following menstruation or childbirth.
Some streets in Beth Shan were paved with marble.
There were also streets paved with thousands of beautiful mosaic tiles, each one laid by hand.
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a Roman theater in Beth Shan that would seat 6000 people.

After we left Beth Shan, we began our ascent to Jerusalem. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures from the bus of things we don’t typically see back home!

A road sign directing the way to Jericho. (Maybe that would have been helpful in the days of Joshua and the wandering Israelites?)
Hmm … to the Dead Sea … or Jerusalem. Note the desolation of the landscape — very barren.
A shepherd leading a flock of sheep or goats. Where do they find water or food? Scenes like this paint Psalm 23 in a new light.
A Bedouin community

Later that day we entered Jerusalem, the City of Peace. As we went through the check point and ascended into the city, our bus suddenly filled with the music of “The Holy City” (Jerusalem, Jerusalem lift up your gates and sing). What a touching and powerful entry into this beautiful city!

Ari took us to a place overlooking the city for photo ops.
Ari then welcomed us to Jerusalem with bread, which he salted, and small cups of grape juice. Bread, salt, and wine represent hospitality, which we certainly experienced throughout our trip!
The city of Jerusalem.

Early the following day, we began our exploration of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a unique and strategic city — a city God has identified as His own. “In Jerusalem I will put my Name” (2 Kings 21:4). I found it fascinating that three of the world’s major religions consider Jerusalem their Holy City. Jerusalem is, indeed, not only the spiritual center of Israel, but it is the spiritual center of the whole world. Why is this city so important to people of so many various religions?

  • Judaism: Jerusalem, and more specifically, what is known as the Temple Mount, is the place where the two Jewish temples were located. The first one, Solomon’s temple, was built around 960 BC and later destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC, when they captured Jerusalem, destroyed it and carried the Jewish people into exile. The second temple was built on the same site around 515 BC, after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile. Herod the Great later expanded Jerusalem’s second temple into a massive, ornate structure. This was the temple that was present in Jesus’ day and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. We’re told in Mark 13 that Jesus foretold the destruction of this temple. “As they were leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, ‘Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls!’ Jesus replied, ‘Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!'” (Mark 13:1-2).
  • Islam: Muslims, adherents of the Islam religion, revere Jerusalem as a holy city because of its association with its leader, Muhammad. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was taken from this site on a nighttime, spiritual journey through all the heavens until he was joined with the Divine Presence. It was while he was in this exalted state, that he was given revelations from the supreme god, Allah. These revelations became the basis of all Islamic beliefs. The Islamic Dome of the Rock was built on this revered site in 691 AD.
  • Christianity: Christians consider Jerusalem holy because of its association with Jesus Christ, the Messiah. “Jesus proved his God-given authority by making his triumphal entry into the very heart of Jerusalem and cleansing the temple, the center of Jewish worship and tradition. Here, just outside the city several days later, He was crucified and resurrected. Not far from Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus also ascended to heaven.” (Quote taken from The Holy Land, by George W. Knight, p 90.) (Note: Most of the information included above came from the book, The Holy Land, by George W. Knight, pp 89-91.)
  • Actually, though, we need to go back further … all the way back to Abraham, with whom all of these religions have spiritual ties. The Temple Mount is located on the same mountain as Mount Moriah, where God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It was on this very mountain that God confirmed His love and His covenant to Abraham. Mount Moriah was also significant in the life of King David, King Solomon, and so many others throughout history … and today it stands as the Temple Mount.
This picture was taken while standing on the Mount of Olives, located just east of Jerusalem. In the background you can see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. In the forefront, just beyond the black gate, are row upon row of tombs. (I’ll explain that more fully in the next picture.)

The Mount of Olives plays a very significant role in Scripture, especially as it relates to Jesus the Messiah. On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as King, approaching from the Mount of Olives. It was also to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his disciples went after sharing their final Passover supper together (Matt. 26:30; Mk 14:26; Lk 22:39). Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12); and it is to the Mount of Olives where Jesus will return! “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west…” (Zech. 14:4)

This is a close-up picture of a Jewish burial site. Many Jews bury their dead here facing the Temple Mount (see previous picture), so that at the resurrection it will be the first thing they see.
These are the Eastern Gates of the Temple Mount. Since the Jewish people believe that when Messiah comes He will enter the Temple Mount through these gates, the Muslims have blocked the gates with stone. In addition to this, they have built a massive cemetery in front of these gates, in order to defile the ground. They know a Jewish person would never defile himself by walking through a cemetery. (Hmmm, I’m not sure these measures will prevent the triumphal return of Jesus the Messiah!)
We left the Mount of Olives and walked down the “Palm Sunday Road” to the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet the very stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:38-40)
Marty led us in a time of quiet worship in the ancient Garden of Gethsemane, reminding us that Jesus not only died for us, he died as us. Gethsemane means “oil press” or “olive press.” It was here, like an olive in a press, that Jesus was pressed by the weight of our sin to bring forth our deliverance. We, too, as we share in the suffering of Jesus, are brought through seasons of pressing to bring forth the likeness of Christ in us.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed…. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:8,10)
An ancient olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Marty directed our attention to the nearby olive trees, pointing out their trunks, bent and twisted from withstanding centuries of storms. The branches, as you can see on the picture, are ripe with olives. The olives will remain hard until the first heavy rain. We were told the Hebrew word for rain is similar to the word for grace. Our hearts remain hard until grace shows up.
Note: Olive trees can live up to 2000-3000 years. It’s amazing to think that perhaps some of these olive trees were there in Jesus’ day, giving silent witness to his suffering as he agonized in prayer, was betrayed by Judas, and deserted by his closest friends.
The Church of All Nations, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This church contains a flat rock surrounded by a wrought iron crown of thorns that is said to be the “holy rock of agony” on which Jesus prayed while in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Next we went to the possible location of the House of Caiaphas, where the High Priest of Israel resided. It was here that Jesus was informally tried by the Sanhedrin. This was also where Peter denied knowing Jesus, as depicted on the statue.
“…Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And Peter went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62).
The Via Dolorosa — commemorating the route Jesus walked on his way to the cross.
These stones are located a few floors below street level. It is believed that these could very likely be some of the original stones from the path Jesus walked. The atmosphere here was very somber as we envisioned an exhausted Jesus, beaten, bloody and weak, carrying his cross to Golgotha.
A beautiful mosaic wall depicting Jesus’ walk on the Via Dolorosa.
This picture shows a map of the Old City. The Old City is surrounded by ancient stone walls and is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. What a fascinating city within a city! We spent some time walking around the outside perimeter — a 2.5 mile labyrinth of narrow streets, stone alleyways, endless steep stairways (stone, of course), and crowded marketplaces.
The sign noting our entrance into the Jewish Quarter.
The day we visited was Shabbat (the Sabbath), so the Jewish Quarter was very quiet. The marketplace was closed and there were very few people in the streets.
This was how the rest of the Old City looked as we continued our walk! LOTS of people in the streets and marketplaces.
We saw a lot of diversity in the Old City.
A vendor selling pita bread and Coca Cola 🙂
Narrow streets and lots of steps.
These are the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. It was here that Jesus healed a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. Marty read the story to us from John 5:1-9.
“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie… One who was there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there…, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ … Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once, the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”

In my final blog, I’ll share with you pictures and stories from our final two days in Israel. We spent a day in the Judean desert, exploring Masada, En Gedi and the Dead Sea. Our final day was again spent in Jerusalem, where we went to the City of David and walked through ancient, underground tunnels; to the Pool of Siloam; the Upper Room; the Garden Tomb; the Western Wall (previously known as the Wailing Wall); and the Shrine of the Book, a museum which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Thanks for reading!

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