Category Archives: The Israel Chronicles

The Israel Chronicles: Day 3 – May 21 (Monday)


Honestly, I don’t know how I’m still running! By the time I finished writing and took a shower last night, it was 11:30pm. I decided not to take a Tylenol PM last night, to try to fully adjust to Israel time to old-fashioned way, so, despite spending the previous 17 hours in full-on information and sensory download, I could not fall asleep. I’ve noticed two main side effects of jet-lag: 1) Trouble falling asleep, and 2) a “spacey” mind. I never struggled adjusting to the time difference here; one night’s sleep took care of that. And I haven’t been waking up at odd hours of the night. But falling asleep has been frustratingly difficult. As for the spacey bit, you can see what I mean by my most recent videos. I’ll start talking about something and mid-sentence I’ll simply forget I was even speaking. After a few seconds, I somehow manage to rediscover my train of thought and safely deliver it back to it’s original place. Anyway, after waking up to see the sunrise over Kinnereth this morning, I only got about 4 hours of sleep.

It was worth it though. The sunrise was serene. Picturesque. The Sea was almost glassy; all around me were the sweet sounds of the birds and waves. The sight brought John 21 to mind. Thousands of years ago, when the sun rose over this same Sea, a relationship broken by pride and sin was restored through God’s loving forgiveness. This was a moment I’ll never forget.

Today we traveled along the eastern side of the Sea, which was entirely Gentile populated in Jesus’ day. As we drove up to the northern edge, we passed by the ancient towns of Hippos, Aphek and Gerasa, the region where Jesus healed the demon-possesed man (think soo-ee-cide). We also drove past the Old Testament city of Geshur, where Absolam hid from his father, David, in 2 Sam 13.

First stop was in the northern-most region of Israel, the territory belonging to the tribe of Dan. We walked through a beautiful nature reserve, wandering through heavily wooded paths with the thunder of a spring-fed river roaring in our ears. How it reminded me of home, hiking along the Russian river. These springs gush out 5,000 gallons of water per second, forming one of the main tributaries that eventually becomes part of the Jordan river.

Sitting in carved out rest stop, we studied Jeremiah 2:13:

“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain [think “spring”] of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water”.

In Israel there are three ways to get water: 1) Dig a well, 2) dig an underground cistern to collect and store rainwater, or 3)Find a natural-fed spring. The first two options are obviously man-made, while the last is God-given. Through Jeremiah, God was telling Israel: “You have abandoned My grace to instead fill yourselves with your own perfomances (religion in the truest sense). But there is no relationship in this, and it won’t work”. I love the insight I’m getting over here!

Then we sat at the foot of a fig tree, studying Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”.

The phrase “train up” refers to the practice Hebrew midwives use to teach stubborn infants to nurse. Picking green figs, they squirt some of the bitter juice into the baby’s mouth, which causes a natural pucker reaction. When put in the proper place, the child will naturally start nursing. “In the way he should go” again draws on a fig tree; unlike the picture perfect oak trees, with sturdy, predictable limbs, fig branches are thin, twisting in every direction. The phrase most literally translates “according to his own bend”. In this proverb, God calls parents to give their children an drawing thirst for the specific life God has called them to, knowing that the child will likely live in obedience if the hunger is properly placed.

Further down the trail in the Danite nature reserve we saw the excavation of Jeroboam’s high place (1 Kings 12:25-33), behind us the border between Israel and Lebanon. My favorite place in this excavated city was this ancient gate that dates to Abraham’s time (around 1850 BCE). It’s a red gate made out of mud bricks, formed in the Caananite town of Laish, later renamed Dan by the Hebrews. I stood along a gate that Abraham probably went through (Gen 14:14) !!!! Very cool.

Next we went to Caesarea Philippi, a city Jesus never went into, but spent some time in the area. And after exploring the ruins, I fully understand why He avoided the place. The ancient city was walled off on three sides, with a huge cliff protecting its back. At the base of this cliff is a giant cave, black and red from the various types of rock inside it. Locals way back when used to call it “the mouth of the underworld”, the perfect place to commune with the gods on the other side. Over a period of 200 years, five different temples were built in this place, one right alongside the other. First came a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar in 20 CE. Then came one to Pan (the greek god of the shepherds, popular in the hills of Dan), and a temple to Zeus. Just to the right of Zeus’ temple sat a temple to Nemesis (funny story of her name became part of our everyday language). And finally, Eligabulus build the Temple of the Dancing Goat, which I thought was a positively comical name… until I learned about its practices. I won’t even explain them for fear of becoming sick, but let’s just say that this site was the perfect, physical expression of how a culture naturally degrades without the influence and centrality of Jesus.

On that “light” note, we made a quick stop up in the mountains for lunch. I don’t know what it was called, but Kelsey and I shared this delicious thin flat bread that was spread with tangy goat cheese. Delicious! And then we went off to Har Bental (“Mountain, son of the morning dew” aka, the Hebrew origin of Mountain Dew), where we could see Lebanon to the west, Syria to the east and even Jordan in the distance. What a privilege to find myself in such a place!

Our last stop was Qazrin, a town dated back to 300-500 CE, looking at a restored Rabbi’s house. It was neat to see this house (different from the cave or insulae style homes); the bottom level was for animals, with a small upper story for people.

And then we came back to Ma’agan, our beautiful hotel along Galilee. Since this was our last night here, a few people wanted to take the opportunity to be baptised in the Sea, an area around which Jesus did so much. Ben Fetterhoff, Kelly and Peter (three of my classmates) were among the crowd, and I cried. I always cry at baptisms; even if I don’t know the individual personally, seeing a brother or sister in Christ publically proclaim their love and dedication to Jesus is so encouraging and worship-inspiring. What a great way to end a great day!


The Israel Chronicles: Day 2 – May 20 (Sunday)


We spent today around the western side of the Sea of Galilee, and what a beautiful day! First stop was the cemetary belonging to the Kinneret kibbutz (a close-knit community system inspired by the many European immigrants into Israel). We visited the grave of Rachel, a Ukranian Jew who came to Israel at the turn of the century. She was a prolific poetess and wrote many of her poems about her love of the land and her desire for a child. Since her tragic death from tuberculosis at only 40 years old, many of her poems have been put to music, and on this site, our Hebrew guide, Shlomo, played us her songs on the recorder. It was a beautiful, serene moment.

Next we stopped on a mountainside where Jesus probably preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). I found out that the soil in the area is volcanic; deep into the Afro-Syrian rift (the deepest cleft in the earth’s surface upon which you can walk), the whole area surrounding the Sea is riddled with dormant volcanoes. The high metal levels in the rocky terrain make for natural sound amplifiers. An international sound/recording company performed a study in this region, sprinkling microphones across the mountainsides to discover the extent of its amplification. After collecting all the data, they discovered one man speaking along these hillsides could be heard by 5,000-7,000 people. Sounds like the ideal preaching spot to me! Getting to read through and discuss Jesus’ words on site was simply incredible.

Here I learned about the practical lifestyles of Jesus’ fishermen disciples. They would fish at night because the water in the Kinnereth (the Hebew word for the Sea of Galilee) is so clear the fish would be able to see their linen nets in daylight. Come sunrise, they’d clean the nets more towards the southern side of the lake, where the current can bring the left-overs down to the out-going Jordan river. Then they’d hang their nets up to dry; if the linen stayed continually wet, it would soften and break apart. But after about 2 hours of drying, they’d pull them down, preventing them from becoming brittle in the noon-day sun. Then they’d eat, sleep away the hottest parts of the day, and rise just in time for sunset and another night of fishing. If I were a fishermen, it would make perfect sense to me why the days in Israel start at sunset instead of sunrise. During these 2+ hours of net-drying, Jesus was probably teaching his disciples and those nearby. I love how the more I learn of the simple practicalities of life here, I can see Jesus’ life so much more clearly. With every passing day He seems that much more grounded.

Next stop: Korazin, to see an insulae-style house. We know Jesus spent time in this town (“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Luke 10:13), but we have no record of what He actually did. Nevertheless, we stopped here because it has some great excavations of houses typical in Jesus’ day. And, looking at the ruins, we studied the engagement process in Bible times.

A young man in love would first go to his father, who would in turn go to the girl’s father, and they’d make the decision. Then the young man would come to her house, and she’d prepare bread and wine for him. Thanking God for the bread and wine (symbolizing God’s faithful provision of our needs and even wants), he would eat and drink himself and offer them back to the girl. If she also ate and drank, she showed her acceptance of his proposal and they were engaged. Next, he would go back to his father’s house (a walled-in plot of land), and build a room for he and his wife to live in, right alongside his father’s house. The engagement lasted only as long as it took him to build the house. The girl had to be ready at any moment for his return, because as soon as he finished the house, he would come to bring her to the wedding ceremony. Sitting inside one of those “houses”, we noted how the disciples would have seen Jesus’ last words at the dinner table in John 14 as signs of engagement:

 ” My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3

“And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for  I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is  poured out for you is the  new covenant in My blood. ” Luke 22:17-20

Sitting there in Korazin, I was overcome with Jesus’ love for me. When you look at it in context, Communion should bring up the same feelings within me as playing with an engagement ring would. My Savior loves me, and He’s coming back any minute. I’d better be ready, and I can’t wait!

Finally, we went to Capernaum (in Hebrew “house of Comfort”), one of my favorite places. We saw Peter’s mother-in-law’s house (Matt 8:14), and stood on the very street where Jesus healed the bleeding woman (Mark 5:25-34).

After spending the day studying and reveling in Jesus’ love and power, we got the opportunity to spend some time alone with Him, sitting along the Kinnereth. I tried to express my emotions into words in prayer, but I couldn’t. After a few minutes of silence, a song came to mind, and this prayer/song has echoed in my head ever since:

You are beautiful beyond description

Too marvelous for words

Too wonderful for comprehension

Like nothing ever seen or heard

Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom?

Who can fathom the depths of Your love?

You are beautiful beyond description

Majesty enthroned above

And I stand, I stand in awe of You

I stand, I stand in awe of You

Holy God to Whom all praise is due

 I stand in awe of You

The Israel Chronicles: Day 1 – May 19 (Saturday)


Last night was the beginning of Shabbat (the Hebrew word we’re translated as Sabbath), so the streets of Tel Aviv we nearly dead after sundown (as you know, the Hebrew day starts at sundown, not sunrise). And, praise God, I slept soundly; I only woke up long enough for me to wonder if I would be able to fall alseep again. I think by tomorrow I’ll be completely on Israel time.

8 am we all loaded on the bus.  Our first and only night in Tel Aviv was over; time to start the tour. First stop: Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea by the Sea). This was the Roman capital in Israel. We explored a Roman theater, learned all about the “clanging gongs” (more literally a “sounding brass”) and “tinkling symbols”.

We saw the palace of the Agrippas (and whoever else) and I actually stood where Paul appealed to Caesar. Within the same household (1 generation prior) Herod Agrippa was eaten by worms here too. Gross, yes. But also awesome.

The agrippas had a sweet set up; their palace (rather small), was right on the Mediterranean Sea, with a theater to the south and a chariot-racing stadium to the north. Everything in Israel is made from stone; picture various shades of brown (Nacho Libre quote “My favorite color is light-tan”). The contrast that with the most vibrant sapphire-blue water you can imagine, and you’re seeing what I enjoyed this morning.

Next we went up to Mount Carmel, most literally Karem = vineyard, El = God. “God’s vineyard”. You don’t irrigate a vineyard; it “waters itself” by absorbing the morning dew. The Carmel Ridge (it’s not really a mountain) is one of the most “wet” parts of Israel. It almost always recieves rainfall in the rainy season. The farther north and west you go in the country, the greener it it grows. Mount Carmel overlooks the valley of Meggido, the largest agricultural plain in Israel. So when King Solomon says, “Your head corwns you like Carmel” in Song of Songs 7:5, he menas she has beautiful, rich hair.

From this height, I could see the Mediterranean Sea, Nazareth, Nain, Shunnam, and Mount Tabor. Israel, at its widest part, is only 50 miles across. Isn’t that wild? Over looking the plain, we studied Rev 16:13-21: valley of Meggido = Har-Magedon = Armageddon. This si where, after the 7 years of tribulation are over and all the nations turn on the Jews in fury, Jesus returns in judgement for the earth before He establishes His millenial Kingdom. In the Hebrew perspective contemporary to John, God does not send judgement to you, He merely harvests whatever you sowed for yourself. We grew the grapes, and God gives “the cup of the wine of his ferice wrath.” Rev 16:19.

Then we stopped for lunch, and we’re off to Zippori. Nothing Biblically happened here, but this is the only archologically excavated Roman villa close to Jesus’ time we have in Israel. So we walked through a house much like the Pharisees and Sadducees would own in Jesus’ day. I now have a visual setting for Luke 14-17.

And finally, to Nazareth! Funny enought, modern Nazareth is much, much bigger than Jesus’ hometown; it completely encircles the original site. The Catholic Church of the Annunciation (where we celebrate Gabriel announcing Mary’s upcoming pregnancy) actually sits on top of the majority of historic Nazareth. So it’s a pretty good assumption that this church is the actual site, since Nazareth was Joseph and Mary’s hometown. The central altar of the church is surrounded by stained glass windows, and the upper level is the modern church, built in 1968, with a brand new, HUGE pipe organ. All around the sanctuary are mosaics, paintings or statues of Mary and Jess from various Catholic churches around the globe. They very door of the church shared the Gospel, walking you through Jesus’ whole life, announcement to ascension.

Then we went “next door”, to an excavation right next to the church, examing what the average Nazareth and Bethelehem home looked like: a cave. There isn’t really enough wood in the area to turn into lumber for building a house, and caves are significantly cooler than the stone houses they make in Israel. These caves have three chambers: a family room (where you eat, sleep, etc), a guest room (sometimes used for storage as well), and in the back is the winter-stable. Since the second room is used for guests, we have translated it as “inn”. That gives the Christmas story a new light, doesn’t it? Rather than picturing Joseph checking every Israeli motel for a spare room, we see Joseph and Mary (the un-wed-but-pregnant youngster) so ostracised in the community that they aren’t even accepted in anyone’s guest room. Instead, Mary has to give birth in an overcrowded cave, with the animals. Christmas is so much more real now.

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The Israel Chronicles: Travel Day, May 17-18 (Thurs/Fri)


The following posts are the online edition of my nightly journal entries, chronicling all the happenings, sights and lessons I recieved while spending 11 days in Israel.

We, the 10 of us GCBI students (two of my classmates didn’t join us on the trip), left the Institute a little before 1pm on Thursday, and everything after that is all a blur. Ha, I hardly even remember the 2 1/2 hr flight from Orlando to Philly (funny how a 10 1/2 hr flight puts things into perspective). A mad-dash through the airport with the just-introduced Ms. Joan (one of Pastor Randy’s collegues) leading the way, and suddenly we were on the plane to Tel Aviv. This is when it really hits me: I AM GOING TO ISRAEL!!!!!!
My original plan was to sleep for the first 5 hours of the plane ride, waking up at 2am EST (9am Israel time), diving head-first into Israeli time. My body, on the other hand, had different plans…. (grumble grumble).
Despite how much I love being tall, I could have done without my height last night. I never got comfortable; I spend 3 hours with my eyes closed, willing sleep to come. No zzzz’s. So, I finally gave up a watched a couple of movies.
We finally (!) landed in Tel Aviv and by this time the tired half of me was definitely stronger than the excited half. But God is good! No one lost their luggage; no one lost their patience on anyone else; we made it through customs all clear!
Our tour bus is very nice, with beautiful, big windows. Our hotel tonight is also very nice; it’s right on the Mediterranean Sea with a sandy beach.
Tonight was incredible, in two simple ways:
1) I got to swim in the Mediterranean Sea, which, for all I know, could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
2)I ate, and enjoyed, cow tongue.
I went through the buffet line in the hotel’s restaurant, picking small portions ov whatever looked tasty and unfamiliar. I ate couscous wrapped in grace leaves, some herbed rice with nuts, and this delicious pie (really it was just nuts and honey in a crust), and also ate cow tongue. I probably wouldn’t have picked it if I had know what is was at the time, but I’m glad I did. I initially thought it was lamb, but as soon as I bit into it, the texture was softer and I noticed it was more flavorful than I remember lamb tasting. I actuallylikedit. Who knew?
I’m exhausted…. Till tomorrow.