Day 1: Flight to Tel Aviv and a first glimpse of Jerusalem
Israel is....rocky. Numbers 13:27 tells us that it is a land flowing with milk and honey. Either it's changed a lot in the last few thousand years, or the Israelites had been colorblinded by too many years in the desert (having seen the desert...that's totally possible). The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a very crazy taxi ride) was like driving on a different planet; the roads snake in and out of endless hills covered in pale rocks. Jerusalem is built entirely of white limestone, by requirement to match the ancient buildings.
Our small team of 10 met the big group of 43 at our hotel for dinner. Afterward, we walked to the Western Wall. It was smaller and less grand than I had imagined. It was below the Temple Mount, tucked away in a corner - still big, like the side of a huge building - but still just a remnant of the former glory of Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 6).
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in the corner of an alleyway - so small, inconspicuous - which overlooked a remainder of the wall Nehemiah rebuilt. How amazing; I just read Nehemiah recently, about the time I found out I would be going to Israel. I remember reading about Nehemiah rebuilding the wall in 52 days and thinking "I'm going to be there!" Standing above that wall, wide and rounded from age, was too surreal. Physical evidence is absolutely unnecessary to faith, but it's such a privilege to see the historical reality of the Bible right in front of your face. Nehemiah tells us that the Israelites toiled day and night at the wall, despite the opposition of those surrounding them, weapons in hand, ready for a fight (Nehemiah 4). It only took them fifty-two days. What a God Thing. After they rebuilt the wall, Nehemiah read the Book of the Law all day, and the people stood before him and listened all day and worshiped God. And we get antsy when the sermon runs past 45 minutes!
After seeing the wall, most of the group stopped for ice cream. Some of us were tired and/or lactose intolerant, so one of our team leaders said he'd take us back to the hotel, a group of maybe 6 or 7. Well, turns out he didn't really know the way back to the hotel...so we wandered around old Jerusalem and made a full circle before actually turning where we were supposed to and got back after everybody else did. Even though it was late and we were tired, and we mocked Paul endlessly for getting us lost, I really didn't mind. It was very cool, since the sun had gone down, and I love getting wandering foreign cities at night and also getting lost in foreign cities - probably not very safe habits, but adventurous ones. I always seem to find the way back, and once you've been lost in a city, you've probably seen parts most tourists would never see. We were also in the Christian Quarter, which is a pretty safe section of the old city (it's divided into four quarters, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian).
Pretty cool first day.
"When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated our plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you heard the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us." So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out."