I was somewhat skeptical about the value of touring Israel before I found out I was going myself! I am no longer skeptical. I do believe in the value of a visit and a thorough tour. Let me list off some of the benefits of my two-week trip:
- It is valuable to stand on the top of a hill with a map and actually see the Jezreel Valley (aka the plain of Esdraelon) spread out before you, with the mountains closing off your view to the left and the terrain dropping down to the Jordan Rift on your right. Can you picture that by looking at the following picture from the Holman Bible Atlas? I doubt it. A live, 3D picture is worth 3,000 words.
- Next, I’ve gotten a real sense for the spatial relationship of the various towns and cities appearing in the Bible. Capernaum, Bethsaida, Galilee, Hazor, and other Bible places now call up not just images, but 3D space and tactile experience. I have already experienced reading the Bible with a new vividness just because I’ve been to the places it mentions.
- I also benefited from seeing the terrain, from the rockiness of the many otherwise green hills to the desert areas around the Dead Sea.
- I loved seeing the people. We ran into dozens and dozens of school groups in Jerusalem, and I thought it was fascinating to watch the Jewish and Muslim kids and adults there and elsewhere.
- I didn’t think this would matter much to me, but I did thoroughly enjoy standing in some of the very places where famous things have happened. Probably the highlights in this category for me were preaching on Rahab on the Jericho tel and standing inside Qumran cave 1 (see pic below), where the major Isaiah scroll was found. I had been hiking all over the hillside to find the cave before someone else finally located it, and that gave me a feel for the forbiddenness of the Qumran area.
- I was confirmed in my disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. I have never in my life been in a darker, more terrible place than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. My feelings exactly matched those of Carl Trueman when he visited Rome recently.
- Lastly, I have a wonderful pastor who gave some soul-stirring devotionals in the various places we visited. My immense debt to him only increased during this visit.
Here are a few photos I took in Jerusalem:
Jewish man near Wailing Wall
Boy at his Bar Mitvah at the Wailing Wall
Bar Mitzvah celebrants on the ladies’ side of the fence at the Wailing Wall
Me at the Wailing Wall
Here’s one last photo marking a special event. Right after this shot was taken in Samaria (now Sebastia, near Nablus), the older guys in the village came out in soccer gear to challenge the visitors to a friendly game. I’m not a soccer player, but I can run fast and pretend for a few minutes. Our tour group’s younger guys went out and played, we mixed up teams so that it wasn’t Americans vs. all, and we had a great time. I do love people, and that was one thing I wish I could change about my visit: I wish I could have spoken to more Israelis—Jewish, Muslim, Druze, or whatever—about their beliefs and their daily life.