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The Bible came to life during a visit to Israel

Mt. Lassen Community Church sent a group of 35 to Israel recently. Here they pose on the steps to the Temple Mount with David Barton and Omer Eshel, upper left, their guides. Debbie Lepage holds the Chester Progressive and Rich Burr holds our American flag. Photo submitted

So this is what it feels like: jet lag. It is 3 a.m. and many of us are wide-awake, ready to go, but with no place to go.

Less than 24 hours earlier we were on the other side of the earth. Thirty-five people from Mt. Lassen Community Church, led by Pastor Todd DuBord, met up with some good people from Texas in what would prove to be the trip of a lifetime — a trip that would prove to be physically taxing, mentally exhausting, yet spiritually uplifting.

We were bound for a Bible study trip to Israel, a trip where for some of us our wallets said “No,” but our hearts and desire won the day and made the journey worth every penny.

What made the experience unique were the guides that added their own incredible knowledge to our trip. Omer Eshel, our primary tour guide, is a fourth-generation premier Israeli archaeologist, certified Israel tour guide and served as the head of staff for Israel’s National Parks at Qumran, Megiddo, Bet She’an and Zippori. His understanding of Hebrew, the Bible, and current and historical Israel sparked interest in each of us.

David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders, was our co-leader and has been referred to as the “Library of Congress in shoes.” Eshel and Barton even left the group for a few hours to meet with the future (probable) prime minister of Israel.

Eshel’s ties got us into private non-public places like the Garden of Gethsemane and the tour was focused on “A Sites,” that is sites that are dated and proven scientifically, but are often not included in a tour of Israel.

We visited usual places like Caesarea Maritima and Philippi, Meggido, Mount of Precipice, and saw Masada (King Herod’s very fortified, three-tiered northern palace high on the cliffs), sailed the Sea of Galilee, floated on the Dead Sea, as well as toured the Garden Tomb where we took communion in a chapel.

We observed stray cats everywhere, even on the baggage claim conveyers!

The first day brought us to a place Jesus would have been as a child. Zippori is not mentioned in the Bible, but was the birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus.

This beautiful archaeological site is on a hill between the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Galilee, about a mile walk from Nazareth where Jesus was raised. This is where Jesus as a boy would have gone with his father to work since it was the “big city.” It is where Jesus’ grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would have lived, and it is where Jesus likely played as a child.

This site has some of the most beautiful mosaic floors, both inside the market stalls and outdoors, depicting the history of the city. It was a city made up of Jews and non-Jews alike, and life here would have impacted Jesus, giving Him probable insight for His parables as He grew up and began teaching.

Gamla is another “A Site” most tours will not see. The city of Gamla is situated on a steep hill shaped like a camel’s hump. It was a Jewish city inhabited by thousands of farmers who terraced their houses one on top of another up the hillside.

Jesus would have visited this city, a day’s walk from the Sea of Galilee. The city was built so that if it were under attack its water system in the lower levels would crumble and kill the enemy.

The Romans finally conquered it in 67 AD by removing foundation stones causing the city to collapse in upon itself.

Thousands of inhabitants died, while others chose to jump to their deaths from the top of the cliff. It was never rebuilt.

Gamla was discovered in the 1970s after Israel took command of the Golan Heights, and excavation continues today.

Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, found us at Capernaum, sitting on the steps of the temple, listening to Eshel teach us about the site where Peter and Jesus lived and taught. It was at this point that Pastor Todd respectfully interjected, and there began a “debate” of sorts.

This is exactly what would have taken place as the Rabbis discussed and debated and the villagers looked on.

Ancient Bet She’an has been extensively excavated since 1986 to reveal public streets, shops, bathhouses and theaters. A severe earthquake destroyed the city in the year 749 AD and everything fell in one direction. Huge columns made from a single stone and still intact, lay like fallen soldiers waiting to be righted.

Beneath one of the fallen columns a woman’s arm clutching a moneybag was found.

Again there were beautiful mosaic floors and a path through the middle rutted by cartwheels.

We witnessed the renewing of one Chester couple’s marriage vows in its ancient amphitheater.

Magdala, Mary Magdalene’s hometown, was a fish processing plant discovered in 2006 after a Spanish hotel firm began grading for a new hotel and came across the ruins.

The hotel was halted and excavation began in 2010. The first synagogue in Galilee was discovered here.

It struck all of us how recent a lot of these excavations are. Israel has been a country in constant turmoil, and that has prevented excavation until they could claim the land that was rightfully theirs.

We finished this day with baptism in the Jordan River.

Caesarea Philippi proved to be fascinating. It was a very developed and beautiful city, not far from the religious communities of Galilee, but it was dominated by immoral activities and pagan worship.

The mouth of the Jordan River is there, and a cave above was used for pagan goat sacrifices. If the water in the river below the cave ran clear, the sacrifice was accepted, but if it ran with blood, the sacrifice was not good enough.

Jesus brought his disciples there as a sort of graduation ceremony, asking them “Who do you say I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus told them “… on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:15-18 paraphrased)

We were standing at the mouth of this cave, the gates of hell where this took place, reading these verses. Following this, we walked down to a grove of trees and took communion. For many of us this was the most meaningful communion we had ever taken.

Visiting Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Eshel became quite excited. During his early 20s, he served as head of staff and took part in excavation. He was one of 100 people who, fearing threat from Syria, moved the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the night from Qumran to 20 floors below the Bible Museum in Jerusalem for safe keeping.

By the way, Omer Eshel trained the staff of the Bible Museum in Jerusalem!

We took part in an archeological sift of soil from under the Temple Mount — ground the Muslims excavated against the will of Israel.

Dumped in a pile, Eshel and his crew got permission to move the soil to a safe site and sift it for artifacts. This project just started May of 2019.

Every bucket of soil is sifted, washed, and sorted for artifacts. The group found a tooth as well as bone fragments, glass, mosaic pieces and lots of pottery.

Highlights of the Western Wall

Pastor Todd and his son, Jesse DuBord, went forth to pray together at this historic site. Another couple left their prayer for medical healing in the Western Wall Tunnel closest to the Holy of Holies.

That wall dates back to the time of Christ. Within the Western Wall tunnels, we saw the “Western Stone,” the biggest stone of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

At 45-feet-long by 13-feet-tall, and weighing about 570 tons, it is recorded as one of the heaviest objects ever lifted by humans without the assistance of any modern machinery.

Visiting a site known as the Tomb of Samuel, which dates back before the time of the First Temple and the Hellenistic period (940-332 BC), we stood inside a beautiful mosque built in 1730 and sang the Doxology. The acoustics made everyone sound like angels!

The culmination of the tour took place atop a hill called Azekah overlooking the Elah Valley.

Using two forests down in the valley, one large representing the Philistine army and one small representing the Israelites, he pointed out a large tree in between the two to represent Goliath, and referred to David as a small bush.

He then told the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17:1-58 as we looked out over the valley where it took place. The Bible came to life!

As we ended our last day, Omer took us to his home to meet his beautiful wife and children. What a privilege to be welcomed in and see him in his home life, just a dad and a husband. His wife makes beautiful silver jewelry and many of us came home with pieces we will treasure.

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