Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee

We spent our second and third nights in Israel in Tiberias, which is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Our hotel, the Ron Beach Hotel, was remarkable and there was just something about being at the Sea of Galilee that filled my troubled soul with peace. Even today, just revisiting my photos and reliving the time I spent there is calming.

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You don’t have to be a Bible scholar, which I am definitely not, to know that the Sea of Galilee played a significant role in the ministry of Jesus. This is where He chose disciples, where He walked on water, and where He calmed the angry seas.

The beautiful Sea of Galilee. You may also hear it called the Sea of Tiberias, the Lake of Gennesaret, or (in Hebrew) Lake Chinnereth or Kinneret.
Notice the fertile, beautiful land on the Sea of Galilee. I didn’t expect such beauty when I visited Israel. Flavius Josephus, the first-century Roman historian, said, “One may call this place the ambition of Nature,” when writing about the Sea of Galilee and its surrounding countryside.

Logistics of the Sea of Galilee

Of all of the sites in the Holy Land that we visited, the Sea of Galilee is probably the least changed from when Jesus walked on earth. It is a beautiful, heart-shaped lake found in the hills of northern Israel. I didn’t realize that it sits almost 700 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth.

Though it is called a sea, the Sea of Galilee is actually a very large freshwater lake. At its widest point, it is about 130 miles long and only 8 miles wide with a depth of 141 feet. By contrast, Lake Michigan is 307 miles long by 118 miles wide, with a depth of 279 feet.

 "Astronaut photograph ISS020-E-31066 was acquired on August 15, 2009, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera fitted with an 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 20 crew."
This photo is from NASA Earth Observatory. The Jordan River is visible flowing in at the northern end of the lake and out at the southern end. Image of the day for September 14, 2009.

While I was unaware of it while I was there, Israel is currently very worried about the state of the Sea of Galilee. An ongoing drought and overuse are responsible for the fact that the lake is shrinking significantly.

The Sea of Galilee, which is both fed and drained by the Jordan River, is Israel’s chief water reservoir.  It is also a major source of income as it draws tourists from around the world.

The lake also played an important economic role in the time of Jesus. Then, it was filled with fishermen whose catches were sold all across the Roman empire.

Palm Trees in Israel

I probably should not have been, but I was surprised and fascinated by all of the palm trees in Israel. These trees do not produce coconuts, they produce dates. Unfortunately, I recently read an article that laments the disappearance of Israel’s date palms. Apparently, an epidemic of red palm weevils is wreaking havoc across the nation. I hope they get the pest under control. I hate to think of Israel without its regal palms.

These stately palm trees lined the walkway to where we were going to take our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I don’t know that I completely agree, but I read recently that palm trees provided the sweetness described in the Bible when God promised the Israelites a land of that flowed with milk and honey.

The National Bird

The bird below is a hoopoe. It was voted as Israel’s national bird in 2008. The chosen bird had to “represent Israel’s character, be a permanent resident of the country and appear in Jewish tradition.”

As I was doing my Bible studies recently, I was surprised to find the hoopoe listed in Leviticus among the animals that God’s chosen people were not to eat. It was in good company. Other birds that God told Israel not to eat because they were considered unclean included eagles, hawks, and owls.

We were fortunate to come across a hoopoe as we were walking to the pier on the Sea of Galilee. His crest opens, but while we were watching him, he kept it closed. This bird was completely unintimidated by a tour bus full of people ohhing and ahhhing over it.

Crown of Thorns

Before Jesus was crucified, his captors made mocked Him. After flogging Him, soldiers crammed a woven crown of thorns onto His head. See John 19. They didn’t know how right they were when they deridingly called Him “the King of the Jews.”

Crown of Thorns tree
These thorns on the Crown of Thorns tree are immature. They are green and have not reached nearly the length they will when mature. Still, they give you an idea of how sharp and long the thorns were in the crown that was crammed onto the Savior’s head before He was crucified. In addition to the pain caused by the long, sharp needles, GardeningKnowHow says that the plant is poisonous and its sap causes skin irritation.

Sailing on the Sea of Galilee

This man was playing the most soulful music as we approached the boat that would take us for a ride on the Sea of Galilee. He stopped playing just as I turned on my camera to record it. I wish he hadn’t. His music, played with such a simple instrument, gave me the chills it was so hauntingly beautiful.
Green and fertile – the gorgeous Sea of Galilee. You can see the pier in the distance where we will board our boat, the Matthew, for a trip out to “sea.”
The totem pole stood alongside the looooong dock we walked down to get to the boat. I’m not sure what the significance of the totem pole was, but I thought it was interesting.

These two boats, the Matthew and the Mark, take thousands of tourists for a short ride on the Sea of Galilee.Notice the American flag flying on the Matthew boat. It was raised while they played the Star Spangled Banner as we left the dock. For me, that was a very moving, meaningful and much-appreciated gesture.

Here is a video I took while riding on the Matthew. I’m certainly not a professional videographer, but hopefully, you can begin to feel the experience. Notice the song playing in the background, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Yes, He does and that never feels truer than when you’re cruising on the Sea of Galilee, remembering all He has done for you personally and the world in general.

Always the animal lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the seagulls that follow the boats as they “go out to sea.” Apparently, my enthusiasm for the birds was noticed by our tour guide. He brought me (and several other tourists) some old bread to throw. I was suddenly in heaven … and the birds couldn’t have been happier.

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Another wooden boat carrying tourists on the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee in Scripture:

Jesus calls four disciples: Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20

The miraculous catch of fish: Luke 5:1-11

Jesus calms the storm: Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

Jesus walks on the water: Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52

The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-7:28

The Parable of the Sower: Mark 4:1-9

The miraculous feedings of the crowds: Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Paying the Temple tax: Matthew 17:24-27


Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee
Journey to Israel … Ginosar and the “Jesus Boat”
Journey to Israel … St. Peter’s Restaurant

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