Growing up I read lots of Bible storybooks. Joshua and the battle of Jericho, David and Goliath, Jonah and the fish, Jesus and His miracles—all favorites that built my love for Scripture as a young kid. And sure, I appreciated that these stories took place in Israel. But it’s one thing to enjoy them on a page. It’s another thing entirely to stand where they actually happened.
I got my chance to visit where all four of those accounts took place plus dozens more with my wife and 23 others this past March and April. All my Israel tour veteran friends had lots of advice for me—pack lightly, wear layers, drink plenty of water, take lots of pictures, always keep your passport on you, bring a ton of spending money. But the one thing they all agreed on was that I’d never read the Bible the same way again, that it turns the black and white of Scripture into color.
Israel’s Beauty Fulfills Scripture
I couldn’t agree more! This place I’d seen depicted in flannelgraphs, picture books, movies, and TV shows all suddenly became a living, breathing entity. Israel’s land has a personality. And it isn’t just a desert landscape. It should be, as it sits in the Middle East region dominated almost exclusively by dry, arid wasteland. Yet we were seeing a glimpse of the still-to-be-fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah 35:1 and 6 before our eyes: “The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”
This place I’d seen depicted in flannelgraphs, picture books, movies, and TV shows all suddenly became a living, breathing entity.
We saw the desert rejoice from east to west, north to south. All kinds of colorful flowers blossomed along the roads and throughout meadows, with brilliant pops of red, yellow, and purple catching our eyes. We saw beautiful waters and streams bursting forth in many forms in Israel, bordered to the west by the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. From the bright teal of the salty Dead Sea to the calm, pure blue of the Sea of Galilee to the green-tinted Jordan River to the crystal springs in Caesarea Philippi and the Jezreel Valley, Israel’s waterways spring up throughout many corners of a land that was once wilderness and desert.
Israel’s History Lives on Today
Beyond its beauty, the land drew me because it brought to life the biblical accounts so foundational to my faith. My first wake-up call came where one of my favorites of Scripture’s dramas took place. We’d only been in Israel a couple hours before stepping in the sandals of David, the shepherd boy from lowly Bethlehem, who would later rule over the whole nation of Israel as its great king. Our tour bus took us up a winding mountain and dropped us at the foot of a steep slope. We climbed to the top to get a good look at what lay before us: a massive stretch of land with hills, forests, plains, and highways.
At the center lay the Valley of Elah, the site of David and Goliath’s great confrontation. Boom. Instant perspective change. It wasn’t just a Sunday School illustration of a boy slinging a stone at a giant anymore. Now it was a real event with real people, a real struggle in the Promised Land of Israel. I could see the details of the land before me, where the valley narrowed and set up the perfect place for David to challenge Goliath man to man. God chose this site to set up this battle as a demonstration of His power and deliverance of His people.
We stopped at the brook where David gathered five smooth stones for his showdown with Goliath. That stream today is nearly dried up and runs under a road that wasn’t created until thousands of years later. Yet we were standing in the same place David did in his great display of faith. This was the first time I felt the black-and-white pages turning to color.
Sailing on the Sea of Galilee and reaching my hand out to touch the water He once walked upon made me fall deeper in love with Him.
I enjoyed visiting many places like this where the heroes of the Bible once made their marks, and I loved the nation’s modern marvels that draw people of all backgrounds to the land today. Strolling the beaches of Tel Aviv, taking a relaxing float on the Dead Sea, and enjoying the shops along Ben Yehuda Street were exciting treats. But nothing meant as much as walking where Jesus walked. Our travels through Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem touched my heart in a lasting way that made me understand my Savior more meaningfully. Sailing on the Sea of Galilee and reaching my hand out to touch the water He once walked upon made me fall deeper in love with Him.
Israel Changes My Future
Beyond the excitement of adventuring and walking in the land of the Bible, I understood this wasn’t just a sightseeing vacation; it was a pilgrimage. Sure, it felt like a vacation many times, especially with nice meals, accommodations, and activities. But it wasn’t like a getaway trip you might take to live in luxury and tune out your responsibilities. It was a place that felt like home even though I had never been before.
Having been there makes all the difference for me today. Now when I read my Bible, I don’t just see names like Caesarea, Mount Carmel, or the Mount of Olives as places too far removed to understand their significance. Now I want to say, “Hey, I’ve been there! I know where that is!” I can tell you in what regions of Israel these places are and what they look like now.
Now when I sing songs with my church, I feel the might of God’s work in Scripture more powerfully than ever before. When we sing about Christ at Calvary, I think of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. I see a skull in a rock at Golgotha where I could visualize the torture, suffering, and death He faced before being laid to rest behind the stone. And just as powerfully, I feel the euphoria of Jesus not staying in that tomb but walking out with the stone rolled away, living again for people to see, before ascending back to the right hand of the Father on high.
Now when I sing songs with my church, I feel the might of God’s work in Scripture more powerfully than ever before.
And now I feel a burden I didn’t feel as strongly before. I can’t stand on the sidelines when I hear Israel slandered or accused of terrible crimes. I see why they need a strong military. There were three terror attacks that left 11 people dead while I was there, and I didn’t know a thing about them until I came home. Without such a well-equipped and prepared defense force, things could have been so much worse. It’s hard to even go a day without hearing in the news how Israel is an evil state bent on destroying Arabs. Yet what I saw didn’t match this claim at all. I saw Jewish and Arab Israelis working side by side, flourishing cooperatively, not at each other’s expense.
For most of us, going to Israel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not many people get to relive their experiences here a second time, especially not when you live 6,000 miles away. So I made sure I didn’t miss my chance to really get to know the land. I wanted to explore everything. I climbed up rocks and trees, waded into the seas, and took off down the unbeaten paths. After all, what good is it to go all the way to Israel if you don’t have some fun?
My life changed when I visited Israel. I came to know my God, His Chosen People, and the land He gave them more deeply than ever. I hope you get this same opportunity one day. I can’t wait to go back!
Hi Jesse! Wonderful article about your trip to Israel! Lots of details enabled me to visualize more clearly how it all must have looked! Thank you for sharing your journey!
Jesse, I read your article just to see if it was how i felt after my huge blessing of visiting the Holy Land in 2012. You nailed it!!! Life changing and it makes my Bible come to life in a whole new way! I, too was amazed at how Jews, Muslims and Christians all occupy the Holy Mount and live together , side by side everyday! Did not realize that! The news media portrays it very differently. I learned so much about my Savior and that verse about Jesus doing everything that His Father tells Him to do became so much more personal and Powerful to me while i was there and now. (John 14:31)I would love to go back.