Israel: Trip of a Lifetime
From Dan to Beer Sheva, Israel speaks to its visitors, beckoning them to love God more.
Pick up a tour brochure touting journeys to places far or near and you’ll likely see the claim, “The trip of a lifetime!” A promise that may or may not live up to the publicity—unless you’re talking about going to Israel.
I went for the first time in 1970 when I was a pastor. I always found the Bible’s wonderful word pictures of the land and etchings of prophetic landscapes appealing topics for exposition. But something was missing. I had never seen with my own eyes what I was preaching about. What would that be like? I wondered.
What I experienced on that first trip—and in some 50 returns to the Promised Land that followed—was deeply transforming. Every journey had something more to say. In God’s land, believers touch the eternal desire to love the Lord more and serve Him better, a desire beautifully expressed in the book of Jeremiah.
‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion’
The spirit of the words Arise, and let us go up to Zion in Jeremiah 31:6 reflect an enduring attachment to the land that is not reserved for Jewish people alone. For Christians, going up to Zion elaborates on what is inscribed in our Bibles. Words from the Holy Book become actual scenes, enhancing what our faith instilled in us. Every site tells a story. As a result, a personal testament emerges along the way, one that begins with Jerusalem.
The view from the Mount Scopus overlook just off the road to the Mount of Olives unveils a panorama of the city aptly described by 19th-century, Jewish-born British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven.”
Disraeli’s view reflected the spirit of the celebrated Bünting Clover Leaf Map that in the 16th century depicted Europe, Asia, and Africa as leaves encircling a ring at the center labeled “Jerusalem,” God’s chosen city. After all, God said, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel [and the world], I will put My name forever” (2 Chr. 33:7).
To be there, surveying a scene like no other, creates a surge of anticipation for what the days to come will bring. And, to say the least, observers will not be disappointed.
Intriguingly, all roads in Israel lead from Jerusalem. Someday, they will lead the world back to Jerusalem for the grand climax of everything God has promised.
Dan to Beer Sheva
From majestic Mount Hermon in the north to the resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea, emotional encounters with God’s land await. From Dan to Beer Sheva (1 Chr. 21:2), Israel is magnificent.
Touring the land comes with fascinating and pleasant offerings too: superb Israeli breakfasts, bargaining in Old City shops, trying a falafel-stuffed pita on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, chatting with friends on quiet nights while sitting on the grass by the Sea of Galilee, floating weightlessly on the Dead Sea, meeting the people of the land, and making new friends and memories that will last a lifetime. The trip makes Israel more than a place on a map or a headline in the news. It makes Israel personal.
Seeing the Promised Land for yourself precipitates a deeper understanding of why Israel and Jerusalem are central to history and why events transpiring in the here and now shape our faith for the future.
Three sites in particular dramatically convey what Israel represents.
This landscape, viewed from the overlook of the sprawling Jezreel Valley, generates a sense of awe difficult to describe. Everything is here, like pages from our Bibles sprung to life before us. In the distance to the left is Nazareth. Mount Tabor also comes into view. Meandering far below is the little river Kishon. All these places speak of momentous events from the past.
The future, however, comes alive at Megiddo. It is the site of the future Battle of Armageddon, where multitudes of military forces will gather for the final conflict. This place has been written about since time immemorial. But for Bible-believing Christians, Megiddo represents more: It is living proof that God’s Word is truth.
Israel is back in its land, and we are witnesses to that phenomenon. Prophetic teaching—far from belonging in the dustbin of history—is indispensable to understanding events taking place today. Clearly, the church has not replaced Israel; nor has the Lord forsaken His people. Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you”) is not fiction or wishful thinking. It is absolute, divine truth.
We cannot make light of the fact that we are privileged as perhaps no generation has been in the past. For millennia, the Bible has revealed what the future holds in the end-times. Today we can see how the nations will line up and what conditions will prevail. They are coming into view. From Megiddo we can see what is and visualize what will be.
More than 100 miles south of Megiddo stands the foreboding desert fortress Masada, overlooking the vast wilderness and Dead Sea. It was fortified by the notorious King Herod as a refuge from his enemies.
But Masada is famous for what happened there long after Herod was gone, when the Roman Empire sought to exterminate the last remnant of besieged Jews huddled with their families in a vain hope of survival.
In AD 70, the Roman legions ravished Jerusalem and slaughtered the Jewish people there. Almost 1,000 Jews, including women and children, tried to flee the genocide by taking refuge at Masada. When they realized their defeat was imminent, they all committed suicide, rather than being captured by the Romans.
If you let it, Masada can awaken you to a life-changing understanding of antisemitism. At Masada, you stand where the Jewish dispersion began, where a vicious Jew-hatred was unleashed that later led to the pogroms and gruesome years of the Holocaust.
World history changed with Masada, spawning campaigns to defame Jewish people and vilify them. These campaigns led to hate crimes against Jews in the streets of America and Europe where today we see the satanic resolve never to tolerate Jewish people or let Israel endure.
Seeing Masada equips us to answer the haters. Antisemitism is not a correctable malady. God will put an end to it Himself someday. Our obligation is to remain committed to God’s people, Israel, as God’s Word dictates. That is the takeaway when observers step into the cable car to descend the mountain.
Galilee and Jerusalem
Projected in every stop rimming the Galilee is Jesus—His words and His works. Echoing from Bethlehem’s cradle to an empty tomb in Jerusalem is the story of Jesus, how He came and what He came to do for us.
Tourists to the Holy Land often say, “I walked today where Jesus walked.” That is, of course, true. However, in all the glorious and spectacular wonderment attached to being in the very places our Savior frequented, there is something else—something inexpressibly personal: a deep sense of intimacy with Christ. Yes, He died for us. But walking where He walked instills the reality of His dying for me.
Often people returning from a tour to Israel are asked, “What did you bring back?” More than anything else, they usually come home with a reaffirmation of personal commitment to Christ, a love of His people and their land, an understanding of what the future holds, expectation of the Blessed Hope, and a desire to return.
All in all, I would say that qualifies as the trip of a lifetime.