The knowledge and insight of the tour guide brought Israel, past and present, to life . New places and ones I have visited before were explained through history, stories, anecdotes and the Bible. I learned how Masada, the desert fortress on a mountain of rock, was supplied with an abundant supply of water year round. And I saw that roots of the ancient olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane sprout new trees from their underground roots.
Special highlights for me, which I had not seen before, were the Garden Tomb, the City of David, Independence Hall and the Valley of Tears.
The Garden Tomb
The Bible describes the place of Jesus’ burial as outside the walls of the Old City (John 19:20, Heb. 13:12-13) and near Golgotha (the Place of the Skull – John 19:17). Some consider the Garden Tomb to be this location.
This was such a refreshing part of our tour in a shady garden setting, away from the noisy street outside the walls. All the workers there were dear Christians themselves, adding to the uplifted atmosphere. The local guide showed us photographs from the 19th century of an escarpment shapped like a skull (“Golgotha”). Today, due to weathering and erosion the likeness of the skull is less obvious, but visible all the same.
Then we were taken to the tomb from the time of Jesus, carved out of rock. Along the front of the tomb was a trough used for rolling a stone across the opening and inside were two niches for placing the bodies. Being able to see and explore the tomb brought the familiar biblical passages to life. But the best part was the sign inside the door that read “He is not here – for He has risen”. Very inspiring!
The City of David
The City of David, next to the Old City, is King David’s original stronghold (2 Sam. 5:9). We walked through on-going excavations and our guide pointed out the discoveries linking this to David’s site. It was amazing that we were seeing where biblical Jerusalem began.
In this hall in Tel-Aviv on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the results of the United Nation’s vote recognizing the State of Israel. He then went on to read the nation’s declaration of independence. Standing in that same room, with the photographs I have so often seen it felt like I was there when it happened all those years ago. When they played the recording of Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence and the singing of their national anthem “HaTikvah” (“The Hope”), I got all choked up! I know some of the song in Hebrew, especially the last two lines. But I could hardly get the words out: “To be a free people in our own land – the Land of Zion and Jerusalem”. This was biblical prophecy fulfilled.
The Valley of Tears
The Valley of Tears (Psalm 84:6) is where, in October 1973, Israeli tanks held out against Syrian tanks that vastly outnumbered them along the Golan Heights. This was a critical battle in the Yom Kippur war, a war that Israel almost lost to a combined surprise attack by Egypt and Syria. The fierce tank battles that took place there, with great losses on both sides, was a hinge point in the conflict. If the Syrian tanks would have broken through the Israeli lines, they could have swept down into northern Israel and taken the land. But brave young Israeli soldiers, even facing great losses to themselves, held back the Syrian tanks and saved the day on the northern front.
The Valley of Tears memorial site, overlooking the Syrian border, commemorates the battle and the men who fought it. You can still see Syrian and Israeli tanks left behind from the battle.
The day we were there, one of the key commanders from the original battle was giving a talk to a large group of young Israeli soldiers (men and women). We sat in on his talk, and although we couldn’t understand it (in Hebrew, of course), we again got to experience “being there”.
Bill Janzen, USA