On December 14th2018 Jonas and Kristi drove from their temporary home in Virginia to New York City to catch a flight from the JFK airport. They were beginning a two week trip to the Holy Land. They had each been there before—Kristi with a church group and Jonas through the military, but this was their first trip together. It was also Jonas’s first trip there since becoming a believer, so it had added appeal to him particularly.
After a 4 to 5-hour layover in Paris, they reached Tel Aviv at 4:30 p.m. the following day. Armed security was everywhere, even at their hotel. It did not amount to harassment, especially with them obviously being tourists, but safety certainly did not seem to be taken for granted. With Israel being surrounded by hostile neighbors this is easy to understand.
They went to Jerusalem on a high-speed train on the morning of the 16th. It was a shock to enter this city which had only been known in relation to ancient cultures, transported at speeds exceeding 100 mph. These same cultural contrasts followed them throughout their stay. There was ancient history, preserved and displayed everywhere. But these were collectively an Elephant in the room it seemed, as locals went about their daily lives using cutting edge technology and engaging in business just as people would anywhere else.
The cultural diversity was immediately obvious as they entered Jerusalem. There were Jews of many types, Muslims, and many others who were not easy to classify. Most of the first day there, Jonas and Kristi spent riding the inner city train, getting to know the new city a bit.
The following day they had a tour guide scheduled to take them to the old city—the city of David. But first, they headed for the western wall—a holy place of worship for the Jews. Jonas noticed an elderly man there, leaving the wall where he had apparently been worshiping. His steps were hardly a half a foot at a time and each one seemed to take all his strength. What inspired and strengthened a man to exert this much effort to fulfill a religious rite? Was it strong religious habit, or did he really meet with the living God there?
Jonas mulled over these thoughts for a while and reflected on the history of the wall. But soon it was time to meet their guide by the south wall. As they approached the point of rendezvous, they noticed a group of Jews, singing, dancing and blowing shofars. Their guide came up and seeing their interest, explained that a Bar Mitzvah was underway.
The guide took them to an overlook first which they believed was the highest point in ancient Jerusalem and was on top of David’s palace. He pointed out many landmarks, such as the Mount of Olives, ruins from the second temple, the Kidron Valley, and ancient tombs. They descended underground into the actual palace of David which was obviously in ruins, but very interesting because of its origins.
But there was something Jonas was looking forward to even more in this bit of subterranean exploration: the ancient temple of Melchizedek. It was under guard and generally off limits to the public, but Amos, their guide, knew the archaeologist in charge of the excavation site where the temple was located.
The site was lit, but work was not finished yet. There was a hole in the floor and a notch in the wall where Amos explained an olive press had been. This is where the oil was pressed out of the olives to be used in the offerings. Next to this, there were channels cut in the floor leading to a higher place where the alter was suspected to have been. The channels in the floor were to allow the blood of sacrifices to flow away from the alter.
As Jonas observed all these things, he was sobered as he thought of where he was. A temple of Melchizedek, who many believe to have been a form of God incarnate. And in a part of the temple where he would have been struck dead in the holy presence of God, had it still been the sanctified or active temple of Melchizedek.
They stayed there for a half hour, taking pictures and soaking it all in. It was a shock to go back out to the noise of tourists after this solemn experience.
They got to see the pool of Siloam where a blind man had been healed by Jesus. There were scriptures provided by the guide, detailing the event. Only a portion of it was excavated and exposed for tourism. The rest was under a church, which did not permit excavation under their building.
They found Roman roads that were dug up where many believe Jesus walked during His time on earth. Amos took them to a place that sold shofars where Jonas got to blow a shofar in Israel for the first time.
They came by the garden tomb on the way back to the hotel. Close by they saw what is considered Golgotha. It was a cliff, and on the face of it they could faintly see the outline of a scull which is what it is named after in Greek.
They decided to enter and were certainly glad they did so. Entry was free and it was staffed by volunteers and founded by a Christian organization. The volunteers were very helpful and sincere. After entering, they were able to see Golgotha and the tomb close up. They were even able to enter the tomb, but were barred from going to the part where Jesus was believed to have lain.
The following morning—their third full day—they went to the mount of Olives. They passed by the garden of Gethsemane on their way up. On the way back down, they stopped there and looked around a bit. It was full of beautiful Olive trees, one of them being old and gnarled. Some say it was there in the days of Jesus.
They walked along the south wall where they had a view of the eastern wall beyond a hill. There was a retaining wall holding the hill in place. At one point on this retaining wall there was a vertical line painted. When Jonas sighted along the line directly ahead, he could see the eastern gate. Directly behind him was the Mount of Olives. There was script painted beside the line in various languages. The one in English said, Yeshua. The Mount of Olives is the place where many believe Jesus will return to and the eastern gate the place where He will enter Jerusalem.
At the bottom of the Kidron valley they saw the tombs of the prophets.
Shopping at some local Jewish shops made the list as well, then they made their way to the rampart walk where they were able to buy tickets and walk on top of the old city walls.
Renting a car, they drove out of Jerusalem on day four. Israeli driving was an interesting prospect—Jonas said the horn was a vital anatomy of any car on the road. Ein Gedi was the next destination, down by the dead sea. King David ran in this territory while hiding from Saul.
Water was the main feature of this area, especially the falls.
While Jonas and Kristi were standing atop the falls, a man showed up on the other side, speaking another language. There was no one around so Jonas assumed he was on his phone. Soon it became apparent that this was not the case. Jonas and Kristi both perceived in their spirits that something bad was happening and that the man was being influenced by evil in some way.
A few people showed up on his side of the falls and as they glanced at him, apparently trying to figure out who he was talking to, he told them to leave him alone in English. Jonas and Kristi resisted him in prayer for some time and Jonas stared him down as well, until he finally gesticulated angrily and left.
They spent some time by the Dead Sea and lounging about their hotel while in this area as they had done a lot of walking in Jerusalem.
On day six, they parked as close as they could to the ruins of Gomorrah in a camping site. They estimated they were about a mile from the ruins which was their destination. Walking was the only option.
They made it to the ruins but it ended up being much farther than they had anticipated. They had to set up rock piles as way points or they could have easily lost their way. It was a barren desert but they found an oasis upon arrival.
While there, they picked up a few artifacts including burned and unburned brimstone. There were burned artifacts strewn about, apparently damaged by the brimstone. A fox randomly showed up on the scene as well.
By the time they returned to the car they had walked 7 miles.
They drove to the Sea of Galilee where they had a hotel booked. That evening and the following day were spent lounging about the hotel. It was Shabbat anyway, so it was quiet and they had a nice view of the Sea from their room.
Sunday they watched the church service at Oasis Tabernacle online. At the end of the service, there were a couple of songs. Jonas turned to Kristi and said, “I feel like there is a pent up shofar blast in me that needs released.”
Jonas felt led to blow the shofar over the valley of the Sea of Galilee, but didn’t want to disturb his neighbors. They went down the road a way to Ophir overlook. It was around 9:00 in the evening and a full moon was shining. Jonas gave 3 blasts on his shofar over the valley.
Tel Dan & Abraham’s Gate
A couple of days later, Jonas and Kristi went to Tel Dan, to a site where one of the ancient kings of Israel had set up a golden calf for worship. A few miles from there, they visited the Canaanite gate which is also known as Abraham’s gate. It is a gate Abraham passed through in his expedition to rescue Lot from the kings in that area who had held him captive.
While there, Jonas received a revelation or vision of Abraham coming out of that very gate. He saw him as a man with gray hair but not as he would have imagined a great patriarch would look. Just as a man going about his business in the time he lived in. It gave Jonas a completely new perspective when he heard a message about Abraham later.
They saw Caesarea Philippi and the Jordan River while in this area as well.
In the final days Jonas and Kristi got to see the summit of Mount Arbel and they rented a small boat to go out on the Sea of Galilee in peace, rather than going on a big tour boat.
On their last day of touring, Jonas and Kristi woke up to steady rainfall, which put an end to their outdoor plans of going to a nature reserve and a mountain overlook. After debating the matter for a while over breakfast, they decided to drive to their destinations in hopes of better weather by the time they arrived.
It was still raining when they got to the nature reserve, so they left and headed for the overlook which was about 20 miles away. The rain still had not let up so they stopped at a café for coffee. Jonas got the idea he would shop for a little shofar for my son Oliver.
Tzfat was the town Jonas found online after searching for Jewish marketplaces, so this is where they headed. It was about 30 miles to this town but it was pretty much on the way back to the hotel.
By the time they made it there, the rain had stopped and there were several beautiful rainbows visible around them. They did some shopping in this town, making an acquaintance with a local proprietor who made hand-made pottery. Discussions ran along religious lines mostly. They also did end up getting the shofar they were looking for as well.
Next in line was the mount of Beatitudes. While there, an epiphany of sorts came to Jonas. He realized that all the objects he had seen that Jesus had supposedly touched or walked on had a different surface by now, 2,000 years later. This meant he was not really touching the same things Jesus had touched, but he realized that these objects had at one time all vibrated at the sound of Jesus’s voice. All Jesus had spoken in His ministry was the word of God and these objects had all been there and been immersed in the sound of it.
In Jonas’s mind, this solidified the special place Israel already had in his heart. But now it was time to go home and all that would remain were memories—and the things God had ministered to their hearts—these would remain, inscribed without fading.
All photo credits go to Jonas & Kristi Troyer