It has been two months since I came back from the ancient piece of real estate given to God’s chosen people and somehow words cannot seem to adequately express this pilgrimage. I believe that the opportunity to go to the Holy Land is indeed one of God’s spiritual blessings and Ephesians 1:3 rightly encapsulates our thanksgiving to God.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3, NLT)
I grew up being surrounded by books which can be found at almost every corner of my house. Nevertheless, I realise that the go-to book for my family has always been the Bible. It was pure delight for me to experience how the Bible, the book which I have been reading since young, sprang to life. Being able to visit the much talked about land in the Bible connected me with my spiritual roots. In preparation for the journey, my family and I scrolled and read through heaps of reading materials and watched some video clips that we got hold of in a timely manner on the Promised Land.
As we visited numerous places during the 11-day pilgrimage organised by my church, the reflections at the end of each day were essential, to go through the places we visited and to recall the faith lessons that can be learnt from each place. It was a humbling experience to see the places in the Holy Land where Jesus lived, performed miracles, demonstrated His love for others, was crucified, buried and resurrected from the dead.
Here are some of the highlights of my journey:
Petra is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. We walked through a narrow crevice of the gorge called ‘The Siq’ which ends with the view of the Treasury which seemed to be set alight by the sun. Here, I am reminded of God as my rock (Psalm 18:2). Looking up at the enormity of the rock-cut architecture, it is no wonder that the word “rock” is a common imagery used throughout the Scriptures.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. Psalm 18:2, NLT
2. Mount Nebo
Mount Nebo is the place where Moses first saw the Promised Land. On that clear and sunny day, we stood at the viewpoint terrace, trying to locate the surrounding areas including the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Jericho based on the given directions and coordinates. A profound and poignant moment it must have been for Moses when he stood alone with God on this mountain. Although this scenic view of the Middle East looked barren, we know that this land and mountains are living witnesses of stories in Biblical times.
3. Megiddo (Armageddon)
Megiddo is an age-old fortified town, the place where the final battle between the forces of good and evil is prophesied to take place (Revelation 16). Ongoing research and excavations are still being carried out in this place that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
One of the important features of this city is the underground water tunnel described as one of the engineering wonders of the world. We descended into the tunnel that led to the spring which is the source of water of the city. The spring was initially located outside the city walls so this secret tunnel enabled the defenders to tap fresh water without the knowledge of the enemy. This tunnel has electric lights today and a modern walk for visitors. As our guide switched off the lights in one stretch of the tunnel, it became pitch black. In darkness, he explained how the oil lamp was used in Old Testament times and sometimes tied to the traveller’s ankles to illuminate their path step by step. This would enable the person to have their hands free to carry the water in jars and still see where they were going. As we made our way through the rest of the dimly-lit tunnel, we were all drawn to the verse in Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
4. Mount of Beatitudes
On this mountain which is overlooking the Sea of Galilee, we had a worship and communion service. As we sang praises to God, it was simply amazing to hear the birds tweeting along as we sang the chorus:
This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears,
all nature sings and round me rings, the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.
5. Sea of Galilee
One of the memorable moments here was witnessing the sunrise by the Sea of Galilee. We got up early that morning during our stay at the hotel in Tiberias which was overlooking the sea. I was enveloped with a sense of peace as I witnessed the emerging sun, rising slowly behind the hills by the sea. Flocks of birds could also be seen as though they too were flying by to capture this scene.
Later that day, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee in a fishing boat replica. In fact, the sea was so calm that I hardly felt it moving. Our guide reminded us of the story of how Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23–27). What a great comfort we have that the Lord has promised to be with us even in the storms of life. He is in control and He gives us peace in the midst of our storms (Matthew 11:28).
6. Wadi Qelt
This Judean wilderness also called the Valley of the Shadow of Death (envisaged in Psalm 23) is the main road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The wilderness was possibly the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). St George’s Monastery is built on the steep cliffs of this Judean Desert and it is thought to be close to the cave where Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5–6).
As we spent some time in this rocky terrain admiring the alluring rugged beauty of the wilderness, we could also hear the howling of the wind in this peaceful area. It gave us a taste of what it must be like to seek solitude in the desert and a reminder of how God will sometimes speak to us in a gentle whisper if only we listen.
7. Old City of Jerusalem
Psalm 122:2–3, NLT
And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a well-built city; its seamless walls cannot be breached.
Walking through Damascus Gate and Jaffa Gate, and walking along the intense narrow, cobbled streets of the Old City which has been preserved for thousands of years brought us back in time. We joined throngs of other pilgrims from around the world in Via Dolorosa, a street within the Old City, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. What an experience it was as our patience was tested during the two-hour queue to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site which is believed to be the place Jesus was crucified.
We also visited many other significant sites including the Jordan River where we witnessed two sisters-in-Christ getting baptised, Caesarea Philippi, the Wedding Church at Cana, the Church of Nativity (the church that marked the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem), the Garden Tomb, Tel Dan, and Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. One evening just before sunset, we also made our way to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, where we used the mineral-rich mud for our faces, bodies and hair.
This journey has certainly inspired me to read the scriptures more fervently, and has helped me to connect the dots of biblical history. The familiar names of the cities and regions in the Bible now pops up and rings a bell knowing that I was there, walking the streets and towns that Jesus himself once was. The delectable cuisine we had in this land flowing with milk and honey provided nourishment for our bodies throughout this trip that entailed lots of walking and climbing. Embarking on this pilgrimage has definitely been a worthwhile investment. Making this journey at this particular stage of my life has become more meaningful as it struck me that Jesus was around my age when he first started his ministry. At the end of this trip, I came back with a deep sense of connection to this land. From time to time, the parting words of the founder (who is in his nineties) of the tour company that we engaged, continue to echo in my ears as he quoted Psalm 122:6 – Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces (Psalm 122:7).
For more information on faith-based tours or pilgrimages, visit World Discovery Travel at www.worldiscovery-travel.com.
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