January 13, 2015
We first stopped at the Shepherd’s Fields, where we visited a cave, remodeled to hold worship services, and learned some interesting facts. As recently as the 1970’s, shepherds followed strips from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea. They would lead their sheep to the Dead Sea region (Israel’s version of Arizona) during the winter months, and then lead them back toward Bethlehem as summer approached. Shepherds put their animals in the back of the cave, where their breathing and bodies provided heat for the whole cave. The father slept by the front of the cave so he could protect the others. And so these shepherds were easily awakened by the angel chorus 2,000 years ago.
January 12, 2015
We began our day at the top of the Mount of Olives. Dr. Wittmer lead us in a devotional about the physical return of and hope we have in Jesus Christ. After our devotional we started walking down the Mount of Olives towards the City of Jerusalem and the Sheep Gate. Just before walking through the Sheep Gate we paused to read about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ and His weeping for the city in Matthew 21:1-11. The Sheep Gate was used during temple worship time to bring the sacrificial lambs into the city. What a powerful picture of the humility of Jesus Christ coming to the city through the Sheep Gate as the ultimate lamb and sacrifice for our sins. Only Jesus brings reconciliation and atonement for our sins before a righteous and Holy God.
January 11, 2015
Today marked our first full day in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. We woke up at 5:45 and were on the bus by 7:15. Our guide warned us that it would be a rainy day and he was right! Our first site was the Temple Mount, a crucially important area for the major religions of the world. The area is controlled by the Israeli Defense Force and we had to pass through several checkpoints in order to get around the Temple Mount.
January 9, 2015
Since we’ve begun our journey around the land of Israel, a single question has framed our travels, “How long, O Lord?” A brief survey of the Old Testament clearly illustrates this recurrent theme: How Long. The people of Israel are longing for a king to rule over them, like the other nations; a king that will drive away enemies and expand territories, like the other nations; a king that will bring freedom. Judges come and go. Kings come on the scene, but they too have their imperfections, and they fall short of expectations and lead the people away from God. Before they know it, in come the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and it’s away to exile. Not too long after, the Romans come in and conquer the land. How Long, O Lord? How long must we wait!
We were up and running at 4:30 am. Our group headed to Mt. Arbel and wasted no time to start hiking eagerly. The excitement was high as we learned that most sources agree that a trail following the valley behind Mt. Arbel and connecting the cities on the northeast of the Sea of Galilee to Southern Israel all the way to Jerusalem, was a path that Jesus took with his disciples regularly. It took us a solid 45 mins to hike the Arbel through a few harrowing twists.
January 7, 2015
En Gedi is an oasis of beautiful flowing waterfalls, green accacia trees, and a variety of animals and insects, including the amazing ibex and rock hyrax. It is located on the western seashore of the Dead (Salt) Sea, the lowest point on the planet (~1,300 feet below sea level). It is 22 miles east of Hebron, which lies at 3,000 feet above sea level, and provides the major source of water for En Gedi. Despite this region receiving only 1.3 inches of waterfall per year, Hebron receives more, and this flows down the mountain hills right towards the city, thus sustaining it with water for life.
January 6, 2015
We started off the morning with breakfast at the Isrotel hotel, where we are currently staying. After breakfast, we all gathered along the shore of the Dead Sea for devotions, which was led by Dr. Peter Osborn. He spoke about the basic need of water in a dry land, and such Scriptural words take on considerably new meaning when surrounded by the vast and arid nature of the Judean desert. From the hotel, we drove north along the Dead Sea to Masada. Half of the group took the cable car up to the top of the steep plateau, while the rest of us walked the zigzagging two-mile trail to the top.