Last day in Jerusalem

Our guide, Ronny Simone, is an author and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli army, as well as an amazing historian. Our church always requests Ronny as tour guide. He has become a friend and he has visited our church. I think he will be coming in January or February to do a seminar. I bought two of his books and began reading one of them while we were still in Israel. The one I started with was "The Story of Israel." The morning of our last day, I read the third chapter, "The Kingdom." I had no idea what we were going to see that day. As it turned out, we saw the excavation site for one of the events I read about that morning.

In II Kings 19:32-35 the Bible tells us that it was God who saved Jerusalem:

32 "Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria:
"He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.

33 By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city,
declares the LORD.

34 I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant."

35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

When this site was excavated, the skeletons of an army along with their weapons were discovered. It was the unearthed physical evidence of an entire army slaughtered by the hand of God in one location. Prior to our trip, I had not known about this evidence. I believe the Bible on faith and I believed this happened because God's Word tells me it did. But it is an amazing experience to stand in physical locations where events not only occurred, but where historical evidence has proven the Bible to be true and accurate. As Ronny told us the story I had just read about that morning and showed us this spot, it was another one of those spiritual high points in the trip for me. The event had been refreshed in my mind first thing in the morning and then I stood in the place where the event happened and was preserved for future discovery. However, if I just showed you the picture, it would look like nothing more than a bunch of rocks.



This next picture was taken in the surrounding area of the Jewish Quarter. I looked up behind me and saw these apartments (overlooking the site). I thought the building was pretty and showed the contrast between ancient and modern civilization.

I was only able to take two pictures of this next site. The excavation has been turned into a museum and you are not supposed to take photographs inside museums. I didn't realize that and I started to snap pictures immediately. Ronny was so kind. He let me get a couple of shots before he pointed out the restriction. I apologized and he smiled, shook his head and said, "It's fine. No problem."

I wish I could have taken more pictures. You can google any of these sites and bring up a wealth of information. The following is a review of the site I copied from Fodor's Reviews online (www.fodors.com):

Herodian Quarter & Wohl Archaeological Museum
Category: Museums/Galleries, Archaeological Sites
Location: Jewish Quarter
Fodor's Review:
Excavations in the 1970s exposed the Jewish Quarter's most visually arresting site: the remains of sumptuous mansions from the aristocratic Upper City of the Second Temple period. Preserved in the basement of a modern Jewish seminary, the geometrically patterned mosaic floors, faded frescoes, and costly glassware, stone objects, and ceramics provide a peek into domestic life of the richest families in the days of Herod and Jesus. Several small stone cisterns have been identified as private mikva'ot, (Jewish ritual baths); holograms depict their use. Large stone water jars are just like those described in the New Testament story of the wedding at Cana. Rare stone tables resemble the dining-room furniture depicted in Roman stone reliefs found in Europe.

On the last of the site's three distinct levels is a mansion with an estimated original floor area of some 6,000 square feet. None of the upper stories have survived, but the frescoes (half replaced by the later, more fashionable stucco) and the quality of the artifacts found here indicate an exceptional standard of living, leading some scholars to suggest this may have been the long-sought palace of the high priest. The charred ceiling beam and badly scorched mosaic floor and fresco at the southern end of the fine reception hall bear witness to the Roman torching of the neighborhood in the late summer of AD 70, exactly one month after the Second Temple itself had been destroyed. Precisely 19 centuries later, the victims' compatriots uncovered evidence of destruction so vivid, wrote chief archaeologist Nahman Avigad, "that we could almost smell the burning and feel the heat of the flames."

After Ronny gave us the history, Allen took over with the spiritual implications of this site for us. This palace is believed to be the home of the high priest in the days of Jesus. Allen talked about what life would have been like for the high priests and those with a certain status both socially and religiously at that time. He talked about the life of Jesus and the miracles He'd done, reports of which were widespread. He reminded us that all of the Jews did not reject Jesus. He had many followers who did not betray Him. But those with positions of status and authority were not willing to risk their lifestyles and the political/religious prestige they so enjoyed. We don't know what they believed in their hearts. They may have even recognized the signs and miracles accompanying Jesus' claims. They may have even considered the possibility that He was who He said He was. But they were threatened by Him. He challenged their authority and the religious system they clung to. They were obviously unwilling to give up what was precious to them in order to follow Jesus and believe in Him.

Allen pointed out that this should be an important lesson for us. What are we protecting, holding onto, that might stand in the way of our fully responding in obedience to Jesus and following Him more fully and completely? In what ways, choices or priorities are we rejecting the Son of God today? What do we value in our lives more highly than the Kingdom? We want to think we value nothing more highly than Jesus and the Kingdom. But the fact is that our lives are often a demonstration of other things being more important, capturing more of our attention, our focus, our resources, our time. We are all guilty. Living a life of denial and convincing ourselves that we are different from the people of those days is a mistake. If we had been alive at that time, what blinds us to the reality that we very well may have been one in the angry mob? Could it be a belief in ourselves as being morally superior, possessing superior intelligence, greater faith? It's not true. We are not superior in any way. We are the recipients of God's unmerited favor. Apart from the grace and mercy of God, we were the angry mob.

The pictures do not convey how impressive this home was. I had no idea anyone had a 6,000 square foot home in the days of Jesus (other than Herod).



This is just a scenic picture from the Jewish Quarter.

This was our last official site of the trip, but not quite the end of my pictures. We walked back through the streets of the old city on our way to the bus and I couldn't resist taking a picture of a little pizza kitchen...
Our last stop before returning to the hotel was very special. We got to visit George and Betty's apartment, where they live many months of the year. We sang and prayed and had a little snack. Then we had the rest of the afternoon free to spend however we chose. Several wanted to shop. I wanted a frozen coffee drink.

We strolled down a few more streets, had some coffee and returned to our room to pack. Just two days prior, I was so sad when I thought about the trip ending. I was not ready to go home yet. I loved Jerusalem. I loved Israel. I loved spending time with our friends. You really do bond with people when you travel (unless you have a bad experience, of course). I had become attached to our group and I knew I would miss seeing so much of them. I knew when we got home, life would return to the normal pace and we'd all be busy preparing for the holidays. I'm happy to report that we have gotten together with several since the trip. We had dinner last night with Lee and Donna. We might not even know each other had we not taken this tour together. And I'm so thankful to now have them as such dear friends. It's hard to imagine not knowing them now.

I thought I would not be ready to go home. But finally on the very last day, I found myself eagerly anticipating being home again. I was ready. I was feeling no reluctance as I packed up my things and prepared for our departure.

We decided to have dinner in the hotel on our last night. I haven't gone into great detail about the food because, for once, food was not the focus for me. But I had the best pita and focaccia breads I've ever tasted at this hotel. They are freshly baked. I had pasta and an order of focaccia with olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A lot of places add lemon juice to their olive oil and serve that as a salad dressing. It is so good. And when I asked for Parmesan cheese, they brought a bowl full of it. I could have made a meal out of the focaccia, oil and cheese. I bought a recipe book of Israeli dishes and I plan to try my hand at fresh pita. By the way, I learned that to say pita bread in Israel is the equivalent of saying "bread bread."

After dinner, we brought our luggage down and loaded the bus. The long journey home was about to begin. As it turns out, our journey was prolonged by a technical problem on the plane after we boarded. I think our departure was delayed for almost two hours. I'm not absolutely sure because I went to sleep. But we missed our connection and had a much longer layover in Newark. Normally, a delay like that would stress me out. But I just looked at it as an opportunity to spend a little bit more time with my travel buddies. However, when we finally arrived in the church parking lot to collect our vehicles, I have to say it felt so good to be back home in Murfreesboro. And I was very tired. We managed to stay awake all day and not go to sleep until 9:00. But I still woke up at 3:00. It took me over a week to get back on Central time as far as my sleeping is concerned.

Well, John is patiently waiting for me to finish this very long blog post and work out. And this has become REALLY long (if you are even still reading). I have a few more pictures and video clips I have not uploaded yet. I may share those at some point. But this officially concludes our first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, November of 2008. I hope this will not be a once in a lifetime experience. We both have the strong desire to return one day. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Israel, you simply must not miss it. I promise you that it will renew, refresh, enhance and strengthen your faith and the reality of God's plan in the earth. We have wanted to go for a long time and I knew that someday we would. But I just wasn't sure how long John might procrastinate (thinking he could not be gone that long from work). I am so thankful he made this trip a priority.

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