Jerusalem has been the location of many jaw-dropping biblical miracles. From the destruction of armies to miraculous healings to prophecies and resurrections. Many today, however, consider the day of miracles to be over. Indeed, Jesus Christ asked of our time, “[W]hen the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
For over a decade, the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg) has been involved in archaeological excavations in the city of Jerusalem. These digs have been one incredible series of miracles. God has truly blessed these endeavors—and the prayers and fasting of the members have been greatly appreciated. In light of the conclusion of our most recent 2018 Ophel excavation, here is a list of just a few of the absolutely remarkable miracles—“big” and “small,” if they can be accounted as such—that we witnessed with our own eyes.
2018 Ophel Phase 3
We start in the year 2017. Four years had passed since the last excavation, and we were getting antsy to return to Jerusalem. Nothing was opening up. Archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar had been trying for 18 long months to get approval for the next phase of Ophel excavations. But she kept hitting a brick wall.
That October, Pastor General Gerald Flurry decided to fly to Israel to meet with her, discussing options for excavations and other Jerusalem work. We speculated that, based on Isaiah 22:22, perhaps Mr. Flurry’s visit would be blessed with an open door for the dig to begin.
Mr. Flurry landed in Tel Aviv for his whirlwind trip and prepared for his meeting with Dr. Mazar. Just one hour before their scheduled meeting took place, Dr. Mazar received a call. It was the jaw-dropping news that the excavation license was approved! This after 18 months of attempting to receive the license! It was clear that God was behind the dig opening up.
It was hoped that it would begin in November. November came and went, and then December. As January rolled around, it became clear that the usual excavation sponsor wouldn’t be able to fund the excavation. Mr. Flurry considered the options, then made the decision that the pcg would take up the full cost of the dig, estimated at $500,000. Within 60 seconds of making that decision, Mr. Flurry was informed by the pcg chief financial officer Andrew Locher that an estate donation had just come through—it was valued at $500,000! With that breathtaking miracle, preparations were made, diggers were selected and sent to Jerusalem shortly afterward.
Excavations began in the middle of January, for what would be a 2½-month dig. One of our prayers was that no artifacts would be missed during the process of excavation. There are many very tiny, important finds that can be scooped up without being recognized and thrown out with the rest of the soil. Coins are a case in point. These are almost impossible to find with the naked eye, due to the fact that they are corroded and blend in perfectly with the earth, pebbles and clay. We use a metal detector to locate them. One day, we were under the gun. We had to remove a few mounds of earth in order for the site builder, who was standing and waiting, to extend our staircase into the dig area (a cave). There was no real time for slow, painstaking metal-detecting—we had to hack out these mounds quickly, using large tools. Suddenly, Justice Brown, who was doing the excavating, called out that he had found a coin. A little while later, he found another! This while rapidly excavating with big tools and without the use of a metal detector. This is just one example among many where God ensured that we didn’t miss important finds—just as we prayed about.
Another came while we were cutting sections; this process entails leaving a vertical section of earth in order to show strata. It is valuable to see the strata, but it is impossible to know what finds could be left within the remaining earth. What if impressive finds were left within the section? Again, we prayed that we would not miss anything. And again, each one of our three sections just “happened” to be cut in far enough to reveal three beautiful bronze objects, one on each edge. Had the sections been cut further out, these objects could have been completely missed.
On another occasion, assistant supervisor Brent Nagtegaal and I were breaking rocks. This can be a painful experience—rock shards often fly around like bullets, sometimes drawing blood. I said a silent prayer for protection, and then bent down to pick up a rock. That very second a rock shard flew straight over my head from a rock Brent had been breaking! I told him what had happened, and we both laughed in gratitude about such an immediate response to prayer!
One day, Brianna Weeks was helping the dig registrar, Alexandra, collect and register finds. One small animal figurine leg had gone missing—the fear was that it had been thrown out near the washing area. Alexandra was desperately looking for the piece in that location, but returned without finding it. Brianna said a silent prayer, asking God to help Alexandra find it. I’ll let Brianna summarize the rest:
It wasn’t long before Alexandra got up to go look for the leg again. She looked in the exact same spot that she had looked before—only this time, I heard a gasp. She had found it! She brought it over to me with a look of total disbelief on her face. She couldn’t believe it. She told me over and over how she just couldn’t believe she’d found it. Then she said that she knew it was a miracle. I was throwing a little party in my head; it was absolutely amazing to see God answer my prayer like that and to see that even she realized that this was a special thing that had happened. She came back to me for days after that, telling me over and over about how she had found the leg and how she still just couldn’t believe it.
The miracles kept on coming.
Another was the general energy on the dig site. It is a rigorous routine, especially for the students: waking up around 4 a.m., beginning the dig at 6:30 a.m., finishing at 2:30 p.m., taking college classes throughout the afternoon and on into the evening. Yet somehow, we felt more energized than one would expect, considering the regimen. Callum Wood (a 2012 digger) recalled trying to maintain the (incredibly productive!) schedule after the dig was over—in his words, “Not a chance.” The ability to handle the intense workload “was one of the biggest miracles I remember from the dig,” he said. There are the general aches and pains, but it is common for the students to report that, upon entering the dig site, the aches and pains disappear—until the dig day is over and we walk back out of the gate.
Of course, anything that God loves, Satan hates. And so there are the clear satanic attacks that come with digging—particularly on this excavation. For that initial 2017 meeting for the dig to start, Stephen Flurry was originally intended to go—instead, he was grounded in the Philippines, his wife sick and unable to secure a doctor’s note to fly. One of the students who came in to participate on the dig was hassled at the airport by an immigration officer. Despite having the correct paperwork, he was lambasted as a “liar.” Archaeologist Brent Nagtegaal, waiting on the other side of Customs, talked on the phone with this officer—he was also castigated as a “liar.” One day there was a massive gas explosion just down the road from our apartment. We noticed what had happened as we neared home, returning from the dig site. The hunt for survivors was being conducted in the parking garage where it had happened; one person was killed and three injured.
One day, a sinister event happened. A man stopped by the dig site to meet with Dr. Mazar—he had worked with her and us about 10 years ago during the City of David excavations. The meeting was nothing unusual. But just two days later, he was stabbed to death a few hundred yards away in the Old City. The tragedy struck us as particularly unusual—we had no contact for a decade, and within two days of meeting him, he was killed. It was a stark reminder of how much Satan hates these excavations and that we must pray for God’s protection.
And who could forget Operation Pillar of Defense, which occurred during our 2012 excavation? Hamas had, for the first time, fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem from Gaza. The air around us was sporadically filled with the howling of air raid sirens and the thump! of the rockets as they crashed in the distance, fortunately causing little harm or damage. Hearing the sirens was an eerie experience—that was the first time they had ever been used in Jerusalem.
Then there was the strong verbal abuse and protests by Orthodox Jews attempting to shut down the City of David excavation in Area G, accusing us (falsely) of digging up tombs. Hundreds of Jews had succeeded in shutting down an excavation there a decade before, pelting the excavators with rocks. This one, though, they couldn’t run us off.That area yielded up the important finds of the Gedeliah bulla and the exciting tunnel continuing underneath the Stepped Stone Structure. During later digs on the Ophel, we were on the receiving end of rock throwing—from Arabs atop the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The stones could have done immense damage had they hit their mark—yet we were protected and the dig was allowed to continue.
Previous Digs: 2006–2013 (City of David and Ophel)
So far, we’ve covered some details of this most recent excavation (along with some few satanic attacks from previous ones). But there is a whole decade-worth of miracles that have taken place through previous excavations. Here are some highlights.
Remember the biblical event where Elisha’s servants were chopping wood near the Jordan River to build a house? (2 Kings 6:1-7.) An ax-head had flown off a handle into the river. Elisha threw a branch into the river and the borrowed iron tool floated to the top. We didn’t have anything exactly like that happen (maybe because there are no nearby rivers!), but we did have miracles happen with sledgehammer heads. 2013 digger Justin Bacon recounted witnessing sledgehammer heads come off the handle—but strangely, not while in use. Heads came off when they were set down from work. I had a slightly different experience in 2012. I was attempting to break down a wall with a fellow digger, Oren. I saw Oren, who was already off to the side, start walking away. I swung the tool as hard as I could—and immediately, the head flew off to the side, smashing into the precise location that Oren had moved from seconds before. We were both left somewhat shaken, but grateful for protection. A similar event happened to Victor Vejil, who was working in the 2007 City of David excavation. While scooping up loose earth, he swiveled to the side to dump his earth into a bucket behind him. At that precise moment, a pickax-head javelined right into the exact location where his head had been a second earlier, while scraping the earth. God prevented severe, if not fatal, damage from happening.
There were so many miracles in terms of us finding objects. Of course, there are all of the miracles relating to the finding of large structures, such as Nehemiah’s wall. The only reason this wall could be identified was because a collapsing tower required excavation. This tower was nearly 2,500 years old—it could have gone at any time. Yet its excavation became mandatory just when we were on the scene. As a result, in 2007, Edwin Trebels and Brent Nagtegaal became the only diggers in that critical location, enabling the discovery of the wall and the later discovery of the Gedaliah bulla and other critical Area G finds.
Having Armstrong students miraculously finding incredible things became a bit of a theme—to the point that Amir, Area D Supervisor in 2018, commented that wherever he put the Armstrong students to work, something interesting was always found. As Kassandra Verbout related, “Amir would tell us that we really needed to find a coin or some piece of identifiable pottery, or else we won’t be able to date whatever we were digging. And almost always after that, we found a coin or something really cool that they were excited about. It was obvious where God’s hand was.”
Along this theme: In 2013, there were three areas of the dig site—A, B and C. While our college students worked on all areas, Area B had the largest concentration and was also the only area led by AC supervisors. Area C had spent months digging through late-Byzantine material. They weren’t going to be able to finish their entire area in time, so relinquished a portion of it to us. Literally within minutes of taking over that section, we discovered a large layer of sealed, clean Iron Age ii material—the important period belonging to the biblical kings of Judah! To hit this material so suddenly, after months had been spent digging through Byzantine material above, was a real blessing. And the area proved critical for further understanding of the general Iron Age period.
Soon after taking over this area, Michael Benedetti was moving a large boulder to the edge of an 8-foot drop-off. We were dumping stones onto the bedrock below. The coast was clear—but at the last second, as Michael was rolling the stone over the edge, he saw out of the corner of his eye someone step the “danger zone.” He immediately tried to stop the rock going over the edge, but to no avail. The rock was far too heavy, and the momentum carried Michael over with it. He plunged over the side, “surfing” the rock down the earthen edge to the bedrock below, missing the guy who had been in the way. From above, we believed we saw Michael’s face smack into a short wall as his body splayed out. We expected to see his face smashed and covered in blood (with broken limbs to boot). We were shocked and grateful to see he was completely fine—he got up, a little dusty and more shocked than anything else! It was a miracle that he stayed on top of the rock, rather than getting rolled underneath it—and that his face was kept (surely by mere millimeters!) away from whiplashing into the wall.
In the 2013 Ophel excavation, a shaft leading into a large cave was being cleared of the massive boulders that were wedged inside. Brent and I were standing in the cave, at a distance, waiting and watching for the boulders to come through into the shaft as workers pounded on them from above. As expected, the massive rocks came thundering through and tumbled away from us, down a sloped incline toward the back of the cave. All except one. This massive boulder hit at an angle and raced along the ground in the opposite direction—toward Brent. He couldn’t get away in time and the rock struck his leg, pinning it against the bedrock cave wall. With such a forceful hit, Brent’s leg should have been badly broken. Blood showed immediately through his jeans, but he was able to hobble away. He was taken to a hospital, where they stitched up the cut. Amazingly, the X-rays showed no break—not even a fracture! (Actually, the wound meant he had an excuse to spend a week away from the dig with his soon-to-be-fiancé, Michelle, who was about to arrive in Israel.)
In the 2008 City of David excavation, the diggers were working beneath a large projecting boulder. They believed the boulder to be extremely long and still supported, while they dug underneath at one end in preparation to move it. Work stopped when a break was called 10 minutes early that day—which was very unusual. When the workers returned to the massive boulder, they found it had collapsed during the break, smashing the tools left beneath it. Another breathtaking miracle (and believe me, excavation breaks are never called early—they are always either on time or slightly late!).
In 2012, Harley Breth and Omrit were excavating deep in a cutout at the base of the towering northern end of the Solomonic “Straight Wall.” Another digger was standing atop the wall, moving items into a removal bag. He was on the edge of the wall and stepped away—as soon as he did, the high mass of boulders making up the very end of the wall tilted over and stopped at an angle above the heads of Harley and Omrit working below! Upon hearing the loud groaning from the boulders above, all Harley could do was look up, helpless, while Omrit, who was in a better position, scampered away. Seeing the collapsing wall just stop gave Harley time to escape. He and Omrit spontaneously hugged each other and exclaimed something like, I can’t believe it. That was going to fall on us. We’re alive! Once all the workers were clear, Jessie Hester climbed atop the Solomonic wall, safely behind the tilted end, and with a long pole lightly tapped one of the boulders. Immediately, what must have been over 1,000 pounds of wall came thundering down onto the area where Harley and Omrit were working, pounding the bedrock below. Had an angel not stopped the rocks from falling all the way, Harley would certainly have been killed, and Omrit, who was working a little to the side, would have likely been severely injured or killed. There was a massive collective sigh of relief that day.
When you think of dig miracles, you don’t expect anything to involve clothing. Yet an impressive miracle happened for Jessie with his clothes. He came to the 2012 dig with only two pairs of pants, unable to afford to buy more. He prayed that they would last for the duration of the dig, reminding God of the miracle that He performed for the Israelites in the wilderness, allowing their clothes to last for 40 years without wearing out (Deuteronomy 29:5). If God could do that, then He could certainly preserve his pants for the duration of the dig! As Jessie relayed, “I lived in Israel that year for seven months and my pants never tore or showed any sign of wear.” (All around him, the rest of us were blowing through pants like nothing else! I ripped through about four pairs myself.) Jessie continued:
The very day I arrived back in America, my pants ripped. Amazing! God not only preserved my pants like I had asked Him to, but He also preserved them for the exact duration: the whole time I lived in Israel. Perhaps I should have asked for 40 years instead!
Another miracle happened, regarding Kyle Tremblay’s hand (2013). Kyle had slipped and fallen a short distance off a wall on the excavation. He was all right on the whole, but had injured his hand. That night, his hand swelled up like the Michelin Man. He was anointed and prayed for God’s healing so that he wouldn’t be kept from the excavation. The following day, his hand was in agony, swollen and he could hardly lift his drink bottle. But he was determined to go to the dig site, trusting God for a miracle. We arrived at the site, and his supervisor, Amir (who wasn’t aware of his injury), directed him to his first task of the day: moving heavy boulders. It was the perfect trial. Kyle didn’t mention his hand. Instead, he followed the instructions, walked over to the pile, sized the first boulder up, and bent down to heave it up. Up came the boulder. There was no pain. From that moment on, Kyle’s hand was immediately fully functional, without impediment. It was an astounding miracle—less than an hour before, he could barely lift a drink bottle. God heard and answered his prayers and his display of faith.
There were more miracles like this. More healings. A leg that should have been crushed by a large boulder rolling onto it—yet did not even have a bruise. A large boulder that was dropped onto a foot—but the foot in question just happened to be protected in a narrow crack between two rocks. There are the individual miracles that happened enabling people to even go on the dig site to begin with. There are the miracles that worked out for the excavation cooks. Special assistance in finding the best deals or in being given unwarranted discounts and having exactly enough cab money. Miracles of protection in violent crowds. Protection on trips. And on and on and on.
Past, Present, Future
Miracles surround the excavations. The protection has been much-needed. It’s not as if ordinary digs are so accident-free. Some sites have even claimed the lives of the excavators (e.g. Herodium and Masada). And it’s not as if we have a blasé attitude toward health and safety. Dr. Mazar is one of the most incessantly safety-conscious people I know. But with archaeology—structures multiple thousands of years old, tools put under intense strain, many people doing many different jobs—there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong. As they have, tragically, in other excavations. And so we desperately need the prayers of protection and guidance from God’s people, and the miracles that God provides daily on the dig site.
The above is only a small example of the kinds of miracles—“big and small”—finds, near-misses, opportunities, etc that happen every day. There are multiple more. It was a hard job selecting which examples of divine intervention to present. Even to be working with Dr. Eilat Mazar is a miracle. She came to our attention in 2005 with the discovery of King David’s palace. We wrote an article on the discovery, not even realizing the special connection the Church under Herbert W. Armstrong had with her grandfather in conducting excavations back in the 1960s and ‘70s. It wasn’t long, however, before the connection was realized, a meeting was established, and the unique relationship between us was continued after a 30-plus-year hiatus. This year actually marks the 50th anniversary of the Armstrong-Mazar partnership!
We look forward to many more archaeological miracles in the future. In fact, the Bible prophesies them. It prophesies that in the end time—our time today—the tombs of the kings will be discovered (Jeremiah 8:1-2), as well as the ark of the covenant (Jeremiah 3:16). We eagerly await those discoveries!
The day of miracles is not over. Miracles surround the dig site. Some may believe one or two or three to be mere coincidence. But all of them together? It’s just not possible. God continues to provide major miracles for His Work in Jerusalem—just as He provided major miracles for Israel to reclaim that city in 1967 (find a listing of them here). It’s up to us if Christ will “find faith on the earth” when He returns. There may not be much faith the world over, but there are certainly plenty of miracles.