As I’m typing this, it is hard to think that it is Thursday already. Things have been so full and jam packed that we are unaware of what day of the week it is.
Our morning began with breakfast as Nof Ginosaur, the kibbutz/hotel that we’ve been at the last couple of days. Again a full layout of scrumptious foods to fill you up.
Today is the day that we visit all the sites around the Sea of Galilee. But instead of getting on the bus, we simply walked toward the lake where a museum sits next our kibbutz. Its there that the “Jesus Boat” is on display. Discovered in the mud during a drought year by a couple of fishermen brothers, a boat that dates back to the time of Jesus. It’s about thirty feet long, and the process by which it was recovered from the mud and kept from crumbling is quite amazing. It’s the kind of boat that Jesus and His disciples would have used to cross the Sea of Galilee, the type of boat used by fishermen like Peter, James, and John. Google it and you’ll learn the story of the “Jesus Boat”. The museum also has a pretty nifty souvenir shop, so a few of us did our best to help the Israeli economy.
On the bus, our next stop was at the Mount of Beatitudes, a place where some think that Jesus might have sat with the multitudes and taught (see Matt. 5-7). There’s a big Catholic church at the site – you’ve seen it in the Israeli tourism commercials. One of the things that caught our attention is that there are a LOT of people visiting Israel this year. We’ve never seen so many busses of people in our lives. The crowds are like a busy day at Disneyland! After going through the church, we hiked down the hillside. Or was that up the hillside? Actually, we got part of the way down before we realized that we had made a wrong turn, then had to hike back up the hill and then down the right path. But it all was good – we got lots of exercise and got to surround ourselves with the beauty of Galilee.
At the bottom of the hill is the area known as Tabgha, thought to be an ancient fishing spot, and possibly the place where Jesus and the disciples had breakfast on the beach and Jesus told Peter to “feed My sheep”. We went into the little Catholic church there, and sang some songs acapella – there were great acoustics in the place. Everyone in the room joined with us – it seems that Christians from all around the world know Chris Tomlin songs too (we sang “How Great Is Our God” among others). We also visited another church next door to see a famous mosaic tiled floor depiction of the multiplication of the fish and loaves.
Our next stop was Capernaum, just up the road. This is the city known as a sort of “headquarters” for Jesus when He was up north in the Galilee area.
All sorts of cool stuff to see in Capernaum including ancient oil presses, small family homes, a pretty substantial synagogue, and a house we think might have been Peter’s house. The Catholic Church has built a big structure over Peter’s house – it kind of looks like a space ship.
From Capernaum, we boarded the bus and headed to En Gev, the kibbutz where we would eat lunch. This is the word famous “St. Peter’s Fish Lunch”, and the kibbutz must serve thousands every day. And they do a great job at it. The “fish” is tilapia, and it is thought that this was the kind of fish Peter caught that had a coin in its mouth – you know, it’s in the Bible somewhere. Anyway, we ate Tilapia, pita bread, humus, and strawberry frozen something. Delicious!!!
After lunch we headed up the east side of the Sea of Galilee to the site known as “Kursi”. This is the location thought to be where Jesus cast the demons out of the man and they went into a herd of pigs and well … I guess you could say that the pigs flew … off the cliff. The ruins of a Byzantine church are at the site.
Our last stop before dinner was at Bethsaida. This was a new one for me. In some of my commentaries on the Bible, the “scholars” say that we don’t know where Bethsaida was. Well, now we know better. They’ve discovered the ancient city where Peter was from and where Jesus did a few miracles. It’s in the process of being excavated and more is being uncovered each year. Now we know that while the city was known as Bethsaida in Jesus day, that an earlier city was also at the site, the city known as Geshur, the city where David married a gal and fathered Absalom. Geshur was destroyed by the Assyrians in the 722BC invasion, but by Jesus’ day it had been rebuilt as Bethsaida. It was a city with walls and large houses – at least that’s what has been uncovered so far.
We’re now getting ready for dinner and then tonight we’re going out on the Sea of Galilee for a worship service on the boat. More tomorrow …
Our morning started REAL EARLY today. Our alarm went off at 4:00am, we showered and met up at the bus at 5:00am. Mount Arbel is real close to our hotel, Nof Ginosaur. In fact you can see our hotel from the top of the mountain. After a half hour bus ride, we were up at Arbel in the dark. Pink skies beginning to lighten up faced us as we hoofed our way uphill to the peak. Mount Arbel gives you the most magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. They say that if you stretch out your arms while looking the Sea of Galilee, that 90% of Jesus’ ministry lies between your two arms. Slowly the sun began to peak over the Golan Heights as we watched a glorious sunrise. After some time to gawk and gaze at God’s handiwork, we hiked back down to the bus and headed back to Ginosaur for a big Israeli breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, a cinnamon roll, croissant, potatoes, and I’m not going to tell you how much I actually ate!
Our next stop was Chorazin. Jesus didn’t have very kind words for this city located along the Sea of Galilee. He had preached and performed miracles, but these people went on their merry way ignoring the Son of God. The city is now a pile of ruins – black basalt rocks piled everywhere. There was a black empty mikvah – a ritual bath. Foundations of houses, city streets, and a fairly large synagogue are what remains. The synagogue gives a fairly good idea of what religious life was like in the first century. It’s possible that Jesus even preached in this place.
Our next stop was Tel Hazor. I was looking forward to this stop – one I’ve never been to, yet last year I was teaching through Joshua and we talked about the King of Hazor, Jabin, building an alliance to fight Joshua and the Israelites. It is a magnificent site. On top of this “tel” was the ruins of Jabin’s palace. We are pretty sure it was dated back to Joshua’s time because of the evidence of fire – this was one of the cities that Joshua burned to the ground. Another cool aspect of Hazor (pronounced hat-sore) is the ancient water system. It’s like the water system in Jerusalem and Megiddo – where there is a large deep hole dug into the ground with stairs carved into the stone for the servants to go down to the spring to retrieve water. I was winded after descending and climbing all those stairs!
Next was Tel Dan, the historical northernmost part of Israel. It’s both a scenic nature preserve as well as a huge archaeological site. Green trees grow along the rushing water that comes out of a huge spring – water that is coming underground from Mount Hermon, water that forms one of the three tributaries to the River Jordan. It’s a gorgeous place. Historically, Dan was infamous for the idol worship that got a hold in this place. There was a temple with a golden calf and all sorts of bad stuff. Ancient city ruins, some dating back to the time of Abraham.
David led us in worship and I gave a short Bible study about Dan’s false religion and encourage the people to not be a “Dan Fool”, but to worship God the way He wants to be worshipped.
On the way to lunch at Kfar Blum, our bus developed an odd problem – the rear door wouldn’t close so our bus driver drove extra slow to the Kibbutz, where he was able to fix the problem. Our bus driver’s name is Gabriel, he’s a real angel. We call him Gabby. Lunch was another delicious buffet with too many things to choose from. We had chicken, potatoes, beef, vegetables, salad, and of course just a little bit of dessert … or three or four desserts. Kfar Blum is always a treat.
Our next stop was a quick trip to the Banias Falls – we squeezed in an extra treat, and run, and lots of stair steps, but a gorgeous water fall.
Then on to Banias itself, sometimes known as Caesarea Phillippi. The pagan population had built a famous temple to the god Pan, and some of the ruins are still there. It’s in a cave there that the pagans used to sacrifice goats, a place that some have suggested are the “gates of hell” that Jesus said would never prevail against the church. David said that we have now been to the gates of hell and back. There is also another huge spring, one of the other three tributaries to the Jordan River at this spot.
We finished up our touring in the afternoon with a drive through the Golan Heights. This is the area northeast of the Sea of Galilee, captured in 1967 from Syria during the six day war. We saw the border with Syria. I’d tell you more, but I was beginning to nod off on the bus! It’s hard being an old man.
We’ve finished dinner now, and after posting this update, we are seriously thinking about going to bed!
We got up today around 6:00am, showered, and went down to the grand buffet breakfast at the Dan Panorama Hotel. Waffles, omelets, scrambled eggs, pastries, veggies, fruit, and lots of great food to fuel our morning.
Our first stop was at Caesarea – the secular Roman government center from the time of Jesus. A giant open air theater, the “Pilate Stone”, ruins of an ancient palace, the hippodrome (racetrack and Olympic game site), remains of a Crusader city. We saw ruins on top of ruins – Herod’s buildings, Byzantine ruins, Crusader ruins, and Muslim ruins. Back on the bus, we then made a quick stop at the famous Roman aquaduct as well.
Our next major stop was northward at Mount Carmel, where Elijah faced the prophets of Baal and called down fire from heaven. We had a time of worship and Pastor Tim from Fremont gave a message on the story of Elijah. Then up to the top of the monastery there and we got a great view of the Jezreel valley as well as the Mediterranean. Back on the bus and a short drive to a Druze café where we had falafel on pita bread. It’s a busy place and all the tour buses seem to stop there.
Our next was Zippori (or Sephoris), the ruins of a city that dates back to the time of Jesus. Zippori was only uncovered about twenty years ago. It is a few miles northwest of Nazareth. One of the things that stands out about this ancient city was the tile flooring. It was everywhere. The synagogue, houses, and stores all had ornate pictures telling stories, all made out of very tiny colored tiles embedded into the floors. The synagogue tiling told the story of “redemption”, and the idea that God had not forgotten the Jews, even though their Temple had been destroyed. A house had the story of the Nile, the annual flooding, and pictures of wild African animals. Amazing stuff.
We still had a little time before sunset and so we drove up onto a ridge in Nazareth overlooking the city of Nazareth.
We’ve now made our way up to the Sea of Galilee and are settling into our hotel rooms at Nof Ginosaur, run by a kibbutz. We’re heading for dinner in a little bit, perhaps an early bedtime and then tomorrow we’ve got an optional sunrise on Mount Arbel (leaving at 5:00am!)
We got off to an early start on Sunday morning. The groups from Calvary Chapel Fullerton and Calvary Chapel Anaheim met the airport at 5:30am. We got our boarding passes, checked our bags, went through security, and settled in to wait at our gate for our 8:30am flight. It was beginning to rain at LAX. Some of us got breakfast at McDonald’s while we waited. Five hours flying to Philadelphia on a no frills U.S. Airways flight (no meals served, no movie). This was followed by a five hour layover. The groups scattered through the airport to get some dinner. We met up with the groups from Calvary Chapel Fremont, and last of all, Countryside Christian Fellowship from Eugene, Oregon, barely making it in to Philadelphia before it was time to board the next flight.
The group from Countryside had been travelling since 3:00pm the previous day. After another security check, we all settled into our seats on the huge U.S. Airways Airbus 330 bound for Tel Aviv, Israel. Much different flight on a much larger plane. Each seat had a video screen with lots of movie choices. We were served a dinner at the beginning of the flight and breakfast at the end of the flight. Eleven hours in the air to Tel Aviv. I think I got about 2-3 hours of sleep. We were met at the airport by our tour guide Miriam. We boarded our tour bus and headed for the beach at Tel Aviv where our hotel, the Dan Panorama, sits overlooking the Mediterranean. We settled into our rooms (VERY nice rooms), and had our first Israeli buffet feast. The food in Israel is amazing. More about that as the trip unfolds. Before heading to bed for the night, some of us walked along the beach – we made it about halfway to Jaffa (Biblical Joppa) before turning back. It was great to sleep in a real bed. Now to get over the jet lag.