Saturday, July 20, 2013
We woke up Saturday morning for our last day in Israel. We toured Jerusalem ALL DAY LONG, and then boarded a plane Saturday evening for the long trek home. So to say ‘our final day was exhausting’ might be the understatement of the year. So get ready for a long post!
We left our hotel and walked several blocks until we reached the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem. This is the entrance to the Muslim quarter. I should have inserted this map several blogs ago for better demonstration, but here is a look at the Old City of Jerusalem and the location of all the gates within the city walls.
When we arrived at the Damascus gate our tour guide Andre stopped to talk to us for a while (not that this was any different, he stopped to talk to us A LOT throughout the trip cause he has a never-ending wealth of knowledge about all things Israel). He pointed out things about this gate, much like several other gates to the city. As you can see in the picture below there are tall skinny slivers in the walls of the gate. This was were soldiers could stand and shoot arrows at attacking enemies, while being protected themselves. Also, the structures that stick out from the walls have openings between giant corbels below in which boiling hot oils could be dumped onto attacking enemies at the gate.
Being a Saturday, the market was especially full of Muslims coming to buy goods. Andre told us this was one of the areas of Jerusalem that we needed to keep our purses and bags close and walk with a purpose. He said once we started walking through the market we needed to keep up and keep walking until he led us all the way through. This was one of the places in Jerusalem where I felt like we were right in the middle of everyday common life in Jerusalem. Of course Jerusalem is still very touristy, but this particular area felt the least touristy. It is also one of the areas where Jews would not be caught dead walking through. Actually, that’s exactly what they would be if they were found walking through the Muslim quarter…dead. Jerusalem is an interesting city where Muslims, Jews, and Christians all live in very close proximity, but because they each have separated quarters, they rarely mingle. I think Christians aren’t segregated as much, but Muslims and Jews do not dare intermingle. It took us about 10-15 mins to walk completely through the market, and we saw beggars on the streets, market salesmen calling out trying to entice a sale, so many foreign languages being exchanged. It was quite interesting to experience. Andre lead the way, and Greg was the designated caboose making sure we all made it through and no one got separated.
Once we exited the area of the market, we found ourselves on the Via Dolorosa, which literally means “Way of Suffering” or “Way of Sorrow,” and is a street through the Old City in which Jesus (likely) walked as he carried his cross to his crucifixion. Talk about literally walking in Jesus’ footsteps. It was an incredible feeling.
Next we kept walking our way through the city heading towards the Small Wailing Wall. Now let me see if I can explain this clearly (I had to do some google research to make sure I got my facts straight). The Holy of Holies was the room within the Temple where the Arc of the Covenant was held and only the most high priest could enter. He would enter once a year to make a blood offering. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the veil that was torn was this veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the the Holy Place in the Tabernacle of the Temple, which symbolized Christ had come as the ultimate sacrifice and He was the way to God the Father. Ok, stay with me, I’m getting to the importance of the Small Wailing Wall. The Holy of Holies is no longer standing. It was destroyed when the Second Temple was destroyed. But it’s location is presumed to be located underneath where the Dome of the Rock now stands (on the Temple Mount). The Dome of the Rock belongs to Muslims. So neither Jews or Christians can go inside the walls of Temple Mount. Instead, Jews come to the Western Wall (the portion of the ancient walls surrounding the grounds where the Jewish Temple once stood). It is one of the most sacred spots to the Jewish religion. Part of the Western Wall is located within the Jewish quarter. But if you’ll look back to the Old City map I posted above, you’ll see that over half of it runs through the Muslim quarter. And since the Jewish Temple was located in the northern portion of the Temple Mount, there is actually a portion of the Western Wall that is geographically closer in location to the former Temple than the portion in the Jewish quarter. THIS IS THE SMALL WAILING WALL 🙂 See, I told you I’d get there! But if you’ll remember, Jews wouldn’t dare enter the Muslim quarter. However, there are armed guards who stand at the entrance to this little alley where the Small Wall is located and they are allowed to enter to come pray at the wall. They come and write their prayers to God on pieces of paper and leave them in the rock crevices of the wall.
Next we continued walking through Jerusalem to the Jewish Quarter to the main Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall.
There are a few important things we needed to know about approaching the Wailing Wall. Hats are never to be worn in the courtyard of the wall. Men and women have separate portions of the wall they are allowed to approach. Also, it is very disrespectful to turn your back to the wall. So when leaving from the wall, you walk backwards for a few feet and then you may turn and walk away. Granted, as Christians, this wall is not significant as it is with the Jewish religion, but out of reverence, everyone is expected to abide by these rules. So they guys went to the left side of courtyard to access the wall, and me and the ladies went to the right side. It is always pretty crowded at the wall, so we didn’t go all the way to it, but stood several feet back and observed. Oh, and you aren’t allow to take photos within the courtyard area. So the photos we have were taken from another viewpoint within the Jewish quarter.
We kept walking through the city, making our way through the Armenian quarter and the Christian quarter. We went to a place that historians say could be the room where the last supper may have occurred. Below this room we saw a tomb where St. Peter is (possibly) buried.
These are the remains of the city walls of Jerusalem walls during the First Temple period (1000-586 BC), but the city was expanded during the Second Temple period so these remains now lie within the city.
We also did some souvenir shopping in the market. Anything made from olive tree wood is one of Israel’s main materials for souvenirs. We bought a manger scene made completely from olive wood, some Christmas tree ornaments, and a few other figurine trinkets for family members. Greg also got a Bible with an olive wood cover. I also bought some earrings made from sea glass that craftsmen find on Israel’s beach shores and then make jewelry with them.
Our last stop for the day might have been one of the most interesting. We went to the Garden Tomb. Now, the thing about this tomb is that we don’t know for sure if it is the exact spot for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, but it is the best representation of what the tomb would have looked like. And there are actually a lot of features about this area that make it a possible candidate for the location of the crucifixion and burial. The hillside in this area has the appearance of a skull, which is what “Golgotha” means, Skull Hill. And it’s location, in Jesus’ time, would have been an area of the city where several roads were joined and crossed, which means those who were ordered to be crucified would have been prominently on display for many people to see. Also, this particular tomb is clearly located within a garden. In John 19:41 it is written, “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus…” And the term “garden” used here in Hebrew means something more like a “farm.” It would have been an area of agriculture, not just an area of flowers much like the term “garden” we think of. And as you see, historians discovered a grape press here which confirms that this area was a rich man’s garden (possibly belonging to Joseph of Arimathea). So there are a lot of features linking this spot to Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. But there are also a lot of scholars who actually believe the location of Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb is in a spot in the Christian quarter where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is now built. Either way, it was a very humbling experience to see and walk into this tomb knowing it could very well be the very tomb where Jesus Christ was laid. I can’t even explain the feelings that welled up inside just being in that place. And after viewing the tomb, our group gathered for prayer and communion. It was such a great way to wrap up an AMAZING trip.
As we made our final walk back to the hotel to collect our things for our long travels home, we made one last stop at the Jerusalem Prayer Center. This building is like a community center for Christians in the area. It is a place they can come to fellowship, worship, and pray. And it has a great story behind it. You know the hymn It is Well With My Soul? It was written by a man named Horatio Spafford. (You can read the full story here: the story behind the hymn ) Long story short, he and his wife were faithful Christian people who enjoyed helping those in need. But they were not spared of their own hardships. Not only did they lose their son to scarlet fever, they lost the lives of their 4 daughters, who drowned in a ship wreck in 1873, their mother one of the few survivors. As Horatio traveled by ship to Europe to bring home his wife who had survived the ship wreck, he came to the spot over which his daughters had drown in the Atlantic Ocean. It was on this trip that he wrote the words of the hymn, It is Well With My Soul. What does this have to do with Israel and the Prayer Center? Well, several years later, after Horatio and his wife had started another family again, they decided to travel to Israel and settled in Jerusalem. Here they served the poor and needy, showing them the love of Christ. The Prayer Center in Jerusalem is the former home of Horatio and his wife. When we entered the Prayer Center, we were told about the accounts of the Spafford family, and then we all sang the beautiful hymn. Granted this hymn has always had a special place in my heart, since it was sung at my Grandaddy’s funeral. But singing it that day, in the home of the man who wrote the song, and after experiencing all the glorious things we had experienced in Israel over the last 10 days, I couldn’t stop the tears that began streaming down my face. I just felt so overwhelmed by God’s faithful and loving spirit, and I sang that song like I’ve never sang before. With wholehearted joy and humbled gratitude.
So after a looooong day of walking all over Jerusalem, we ate our final meal in Israel then walked back to our hotel to gather all our luggage and load up on a bus to head to the airport. We had about 16 hours of travel ahead of us. We left Israel Saturday evening, and arrived in America Sunday morning, but with 2 layovers before getting home to Birmingham, we were totally whooped by the time we got home!! Thankfully we had our family welcoming us home and eager to come visit us at our house and hear all our stories. Considering 4pm Alabama time felt like 2am for us, we needed their visit to keep us from falling asleep! I’m sure we crashed at about 8pm that night.
It was truly a trip of a lifetime. I would love to go back one day. The impact it had on our personal relationship with God and with each other is invaluable. Thank you to everyone who helped make it possible! We couldn’t have done it without you 🙂