By Doyle Roth
Those who have traveled to the Holy Land know what an amazing journey it is. We recently completed a trip and were once again blessed as we saw the geographical context in which much of the Scriptures were written.
Archaeologists continue to uncover history that consistently confirms the Word of God. We traveled around the country and walked in the footsteps of Jesus and many people from the Old and New Testaments. Our trip included stops at Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea, the Dead Sea, Qumran, and Jerusalem.
The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful lake with many references in the Gospels. Our boat stopped in the middle for a special time of Scripture reading, prayer, and a moving time of worship.
We walked through the Israelite gates of Dan and saw the high place where King Jeroboam set up a golden calf (1 Kings 12:28, 29). It is easy to understand why the tribe of Dan moved to this northern area with its lush surroundings and the largest spring in the Middle East.
We were amazed at the excavations of Hazor that reveal the city conquered by Joshua (Joshua 11:10-13) and a water system designed under the rule of King Ahab. A hike into the oasis canyon of En Gedi revealed beautiful waterfalls and the many caves David and his army used as refuge from King Saul (1 Samuel 23:29).
In Jerusalem we went through excavation tunnels under the city along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and Hezekiah’s Tunnel (2 Kings 20:20) in David’s Jerusalem. A recent excavation revealed a Roman street from the time of Jesus and a new discovery of the large Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:1-7).
In Jericho we took the cable cars over the ancient tell that Joshua conquered (Joshua 6) up to the Mount of Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11) for a beautiful view of the city and the Jordan Valley. The local residents of Jericho graciously opened up the building covering Elisha’s Spring (2 Kings 2:19-22) to show us the source of the fresh water still in use today.
The Israel we saw is much different than what is seen on the evening news in America. Tourism is high. The hotels we stayed in were completely full. We met many people from the United States and Christians from around the world. We enjoyed visiting friends in Nazareth and walking the streets of the cities.
Everyone in our group felt safe and secure. We were accepted and treated warmly by Israelis and Palestinians, by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. There are areas filled with turmoil that are not safe to travel, but those are isolated areas in comparison to the country as a whole.
Israel is a beautiful country with amazing contrasts. There are lush tropical gardens with abundant fresh fruit as well as barren deserts. Beautiful waterfalls and flowing streams contrast to the Dead Sea. Mount Hermon is capped with snow in the winter and has ski resorts, while just an hour away is the year-round hot springs resort of Hamat Gader. It truly is the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) God promised to Moses.
God blessed our trip in ways we never dreamed. During the early hours of our first night in Israel, a member of our group went into cardiac arrest. People in the neighboring rooms in the hotel immediately responded. My wife, Jean, along with three other women—Julie, Kristin, and Glenda—gave Roberta CPR for a very long 20 minutes until medical help arrived. Glenda happens to be a nurse who works in the cardiac intensive care unit of a noted U.S. hospital. Another nurse in our group—Doris—brought along a CPR mask, a stethoscope, and a blood pressure cuff and helped monitor the situation.
When the medical team arrived, they shocked Roberta’s heart and it started beating again. God heard the desperate prayers of many in the room and the hallway of the hotel that night and breathed life back into Roberta.
After surgery later that day, and what the doctors called a miraculous recovery, she was dismissed from the hospital two days later. By the end of our time in Israel, Roberta was participating in all the events, and she returned home with the group. God answered our prayers and restored her life.
The day after Roberta was released from the hospital, we went to the spring of Harod at Mount Gilboa. We read the story of Gideon’s army (Judges 7) as well as the final battle of King Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31). We drove to Beth Shan where Saul’s body was taken after his death (31:10). The day was very hot—over 100 degrees. Many in our group hiked through the excavations of the Roman city to the top of the ancient tell.
One member, upon coming down from the tell, got separated from the group. He was seen in the parking lot near our bus but went missing after that, and his family became alarmed. We prayed as we began searching the grounds of the excavation. Authorities joined in the frantic search for our missing friend. We were concerned about the heat and the possibility of dehydration.
When we could not find him, our prayers changed from “God please show us where he is” to “please send someone to him and bring him back safely to us.”
When a car pulled up with our friend, there was much rejoicing and prayers of thanksgiving. Dehydrated and confused, he had walked as fast as he could and was found six miles out of town. The man who returned him would not accept a reward or give his name. His response to us was that “God will provide the blessings.”
When we were desperately searching for our lost friend, the stories Jesus told of the lost coin and the lost sheep suddenly took on a much deeper meaning. The search was for a lost soul who was in grave danger and time was of the essence. Our concern was not for the 40 members of our group who were all safe and secure, but for the one who was lost and in danger. Jesus compels us to search for lost souls in this world with the same passion. When he was brought back to us, the rejoicing we felt was similar to the joy of the Father when the prodigal son returned. It was an example of God rejoicing when a lost sinner comes home to receive his grace. God answered our prayers through an unknown stranger, and we praised God.
I would recommend a trip to Israel today for anyone who desires a life-changing experience. Our group went to the Holy Land to learn and grow in Bible knowledge and understanding, as well as to grow in our relationship with God. All were accomplished. No place has a richer history than this phenomenal country. Much of the roots of our faith can be found there.
The temple is no longer standing in Jerusalem, but God dwells within the temple of his people. I am thankful he still has plans for each of us as his followers.
Doyle Roth serves as executive minister with Harvester Christian Church, St. Charles, Missouri.