Around the Sea of Galilee

Israel, Day 11

Ariel is an artist as well as one of the all-time best tour guides. He crafts silver jewelry, designing each himself. One of the pendants he showed us (iPhone pictures) had an outline in the shape of the Sea of Galilee with two scenes – Jesus walking on water and Jesus calming the storm. It was really cool.

We learned more to the story about why this lake, the Sea of Galilee, is called a sea. Turns out it’s because the people of the day did not have a word for “lake!” At the time, every body of water was called a sea. The Sea of Galilee never progressed with language.

Today we made a complete circuit of this lake, I mean sea. I could picture the shape as we traversed its path because of the pendant.

But this morning instead of getting on the bus, we walked down to the pier in front of our hotel and got on a boat! And not just any boat, but a replica of a fisherman’s boat from the days of Jesus. It was bigger than I would have expected, but simple, plain, and very functional.

In our 45-minute ride to the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee we heard stories, danced, fished, and shopped. Not to mention cruise the waters Jesus walked on!

We docked at the Boat Museum where we saw the remains of an actual boat from the first century – the kind that Peter and Andrew, James and John would have fished from. The boat itself was interesting, but I really enjoyed its story. Archaeologists had to be creative to find ways to uncover and move it without it drying out and disintegrating to dust!

When we headed to the parking lot out to our bus, we were surprised to find many Israeli soldiers taking pictures and hugging loved ones. Now, we’ve gotten used to seeing soldiers, but I can’t recall a time we’d seen such a concentration of them in one place.

Our bus driver, Motti, inquired for us. They were paratroopers who’d just been on a training exercise – walking/running through the night from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. That’s over 90 KM (about 54 miles) and includes a mountain range! The only map they had was the one they’d memorized.

I’d get lost.

Ariel explained that every Israeli, male and female, is required to join the military for a set number of years after high school. He regaled us with some of his own experiences while in the Army.

He’s really smart.

Leaving behind the paratroopers, we made several quick stops in the northern region of the Sea of Galilee.

One was Capernaum, a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus used as a base camp of sorts. In fact, Capernaum is referenced many times in the New Testament, second only to Jerusalem!

Five of the twelve disciples were from Capernaum: Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew. The first four were fishermen. The waters at Capernaum were warmer, which attracted fish—a sure draw for fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector.

Capernaum was full of tax collectors because it was a city on a main road that connected nations such as Egypt and what is now Iraq, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, much trade occurred at Capernaum, which meant Rome had their men there to collect the taxes.

The two ruins we spent time in at Capernaum were a synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law’s home.

Recall from the Bible that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick and Jesus healed her…in her home. A diary discovered by archaeologists revealed that years later her home became a shrine where early Christians would go to worship Him. Eventually someone expanded the home and created a church, and years later the orthodox Christians added more walls to make it a large church. I didn’t mention…it was a round building. So interesting.

Right next door a Jewish synagogue was built at some point. Ariel speculated that there was a bit of a rivalry between them.  Maybe a bit like Home Depot and Lowes or 7-11 and Circle K??

Jesus stayed busy when in Capernaum with the ministry of miracles – the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the healing of the paralytic whose friends let him down to Jesus through a roof, and the casting out of demons were a few. But in the end, He cursed Capernaum for their lack of faith. To this day it’s never been anything more than a city of ruins.

Near Capernaum was the Mount of Beatitudes and the Church that venerated the site. The ride up to the Church of the Beatitudes was beautiful and its gardens and buildings were spectacular. I think all of us enjoyed strolling and taking pictures there…a few of us even decided it’d be a great place to retire.

The Church commemorates the place where Jesus gave His first teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, which is listed in the book of Matthew. It begins in Chapter 5 with the Beatitudes, a description of nine blessings.

The Church’s architecture reflects those blessings with its octagonal structure, each of the eight sides dedicated to one of the Beatitudes. The ninth Beatitude is symbolized by the ceiling, a dome, reaching toward heaven.

Another spot we visited was Tabgha, at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes. “Tabgha,” meaning seven springs, is a church that celebrates the “feeding of the 5,000” miracle. Loaves and fish were the theme in the church and on the grounds!!

The rest of our afternoon was spent down at the river…the Jordan River. We had some great spiritual connections at the river where John baptized Jesus. The Jordan is not a large river – not wide, not long, but it is significant in so many ways.

For us that day, it meant renewal – spiritually and emotionally. It was one of those important markers for us as followers of God – the place His people claimed their inheritance (crossing into the Promised Land).

What’s our inheritance as followers of Jesus? One is the Holy Spirit, dwelling and moving in us. Another is eternal life, heaven…forever with God! Part of our inheritance is our calling, that “field” God has given us to work.

It was a moving afternoon. We ended our time together with song and Scripture. Our pastor read to us some of Matthew 5, where the Beatitudes are written. Having been at the Dead Sea, salt had new meaning. Having been below ground so many times on this journey, light took on greater significance. So when our pastor spoke his benediction over us, “Be the light of the world and the salt of the earth,” we heard it with new ears.

Salt without its flavor is of no use. What does that say to us as believers who never pour out to others what’s been given to us?

Light always overcomes darkness. Have you noticed how dark our world is becoming? Guess what? WE have a light that will shine in the darkest of places. What are we doing with that light?

Walking through the Holy Land with Ariel and 41 other pilgrims has changed me. I think most of us would say that we’ll never read the Bible the same way again, never doubt who Jesus is, never take for granted the country we live in, and never hear the word JEEP again without thinking of Ariel!

I turn the page in my little red journal and realize there’s only one day left.

How did that happen?

Then I look back over the pages of this blog and realize…it’s happened one very full day at a time.

Blessings from Israel,



Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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