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Purim: The Story of Esther

By Julie Stahl

“Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to all the Jews in all of King Ahasuerus’s provinces, both near and far. He ordered them to celebrate the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar every year because during those days the Jews got rid of their enemies. That was the month when their sorrow was turned into rejoicing and their mourning into a holiday. … For Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them. He cast the Pur (that is, the lot) to crush and destroy them. But when the matter was brought before the king, he commanded by letter that the evil plan Haman had devised against the Jews return on his own head and that he should be hanged with his sons on the gallows. For this reason these days are called Purim, from the word Pur” (Esther 9:20-22, 24-26 HCSB). 

Purim celebrates the Jewish people’s rescue from and victory over a wicked government minister who wanted to destroy them thousands of years ago as recorded in the book of Esther in the Bible. And although it’s the only book in the Bible where the name of God is not mentioned at all, His fingerprints are all over it! 

“The book of Esther is kind of about the end of the world—Jerusalem’s destroyed, there are no more prophets, God has stopped speaking to people, and you can’t see Him anywhere. The kingdom is gone, the armies are gone, the glory that was Jerusalem and Israel is gone, and the Jews are scattered throughout the Persian Empire,” says Yoram Hazony, author of God and Politics in Esther. 

Haman—an evil advisor to King Ahasueres (Xerxes) with a desire to wipe out the Jewish people—conspired to kill the entire Jewish population throughout the ancient Kingdom of Persia (modern-day Iran) on a single day. Since the King trusted Haman, he agreed. 

But, unknown to the King, his beloved Queen Esther was Jewish. She and her cousin Mordechai exposed the plot and turned the tables. So the Jews were rescued and instead became victorious over their enemies. This is what we celebrate at Purim. 

Hazony says there’s a deep lesson here.

“We all like favor, we all like political favor; we love it when people love us and Esther does, too. She loves being queen,” says Hazony. “But the question is when it comes down to it and you need to do something to throw away that favor, throw away political favor in order to do the right thing, do you have it in you?” 

At the Western Wall and in synagogues in Israel and around the world, Megillat Esther, or the scroll of the Book of Esther, is read on Purim. But this reading is unlike any other. Parents and children dress up in costumes. At one time, this ritual was to imitate the biblical characters, but now it includes popular costumes, too. They cheer when the names of heroes Mordechai and Esther are read—and boo and use noise makers when the name of Haman, the villain of the story, is mentioned. 

According to Rabbi Welton, there are two possible reasons for the costumes: to symbolize how Esther concealed her identity until the last moment or how God was a “concealed force behind the salvation of the Jews.” 

Sending financial gifts to the poor and food gifts to others are traditions. Some Jews have a Purim feast. A special treat called hamentaschen (“Haman’s hat” in Yiddish) or oznei Haman (“Haman’s ears” in Hebrew) is a triangular cookie filled with dates, chocolate or nuts eaten at the holiday. 

In most Jewish communities, the holiday is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities or those that were at one time like Jerusalem, the holiday is celebrated a day later and known as Shushan Purim. 

Hazony summed up Purim like this: “The Persian Empire. One Jewish Woman. Guess Who Wins?” 

Holiday Greeting: Hag Purim Sameach! (“Happy Purim!”) 

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with CBN News’ Middle East Bureau in Jerusalem since 2009. She also plays an integral role in the weekly CBN News program, Jerusalem Dateline. 

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Biblical Israel: Mount of Olives

By Marc Turnage

The Mount of Olives is a north-south ridge that sits on the eastern watershed of the hills around Jerusalem. To its east, the land slopes drastically down towards the Jordan River Valley and the area around Jericho, towards the Dead Sea. 

The steep fall-off of the topography east of the Mount of Olives, together with the weather patterns coming from the west off the Mediterranean Sea, which causes the rain to fall along the heights of the hill country, means that the land to the east of the Mount of Olives sits in the rain shadow, with little vegetation. This wilderness provided refuge for those seeking concealment from the authorities. When David fled Jerusalem from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13-23), he went over the Mount of Olives into this wilderness seeking refuge.

The Mount of Olives in antiquity never belonged inside the city of Jerusalem. It always sat as its eastern boundary separated from the city of Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley. The Mount of Olives also served as Jerusalem’s cemetery beginning in the Chalcolithic period (Stone Age). Tombs from the time of the Judean monarchy (Old Testament), as well as the first century (New Testament) have been discovered on the Mount of Olives. At the foot of the mountain sit three monumentally decorated tombs from the first centuries B.C. and A.D., one of which is the misnamed Tomb of Absalom. 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on His “Triumphal Entry” (Luke 19:28-29), He approached the city from the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims to Jerusalem today can walk down the Mount of Olives on the “Palm Sunday” processional route, but this would not have been the path Jesus took, as it led through a first century cemetery, which would have rendered Him ritually impure prohibiting Him from entering the Temple. Most likely His route would have taken Him over one the saddles of the ridge on either its northern or southern part. 

The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that at the end of the age, when God’s kingdom is revealed in all the world, that He will stand on the Mount of Olives, which will split east to west, opening a chasm that will cause the mountain to move to the north and south (Zechariah 14:4). The Mount of Olives is not only connected to Jerusalem’s history in both the Old and New Testaments; it is also directly linked to its future. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Finding God in the Ordinary

“He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 NKJV).

We usually approach our Bible reading hoping to find something for our “spiritual” lives, but the Bible is not always “spiritual” in the way this word is often understood.

Many of the stories and wisdom sayings of the Bible represent the everyday reality of the people living in ancient Israel and Judah. They are not innately religious, but they can help us embrace a more holistic form of “spirituality” that encompasses all aspects of our lives.

And this, in part, provides the opportunity to teach us about biblical spirituality. It penetrated everyday life—the common, ordinary existence of the people. It did not solely pertain to those moments of religious practice and observance, but offered regular, commonsense wisdom. The book of Ecclesiastes is filled with this.

Ecclesiastes has an abrupt and abrasive outlook and message. The Teacher has sought understanding and wisdom and concludes that it really does not matter, since the end of everyone is the same. Along the way of his discovery, he shares practical wisdom. Our text for today offers one example.

His message: Do not sit idle waiting for the right moment or the right time. If the farmer waited for the proper wind, he would never sow. If he tries to time the rains, he won’t have seed in the soil when the rain comes because he waited for the proper moment.

The Teacher notes that the only way one can ensure he or she will prosper is to practice industry all day, sow in the morning and in the evening do not sit idle, for no one knows what will work, The Bible encourages a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility. This probably derived from the people living in a world where existence required daily effort and attention.

But even after the farmer labored sowing his seed and reaping his harvest, he blessed God who brought food from the earth. The farmer viewed God as being part of the common and ordinary aspects of his life.

So, too, our lives offer us the opportunity to continually invite God into our everyday moments. The writer of Ecclesiastes certainly viewed our labor, our work, and all of life as being spiritual. Why? Because God wants to be involved in our daily lives, and we are invited to welcome Him into all aspects of our existence.

PRAYER

Father, as we labor today and live our lives, may our work and energy be pleasing before You. May we seize every moment and bless You for all that You provide. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Jordan River

By Marc Turnage

The most dramatic geographical feature of the biblical land of Israel is the scar of the Rift Valley. Created by the tectonic plates, this forms part of the Syro-African Rift, the longest scar on the face of the planet. Within the land of Israel, the Rift Valley is referred to as the Jordan River Valley because the Jordan River flows through a large portion of it. Within this valley, Lot chose to settle in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God destroyed (Genesis 13:10).

The Jordan River begins south of Mount Hermon where three headwaters flow together to form the Jordan River. The Jordan River flows south through the upper part of the Jordan Valley, known as the Huleh Valley, then into the Sea of Galilee. It exits the lake on its southern end traveling south over sixty-five miles into the Dead Sea. Over its journey from the Sea of Galilee (656 feet below sea level) to the Dead Sea (1310 feet below sea level), the Jordan River carves a deep and winding course and meanders roughly two hundred miles over its sixty-five-mile journey. 

The Jordan River played a significant role in a number of biblical stories. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River, when it was at flood stage, to enter the promised land and began their conquest of the land (Joshua 1-4). Biblical Israel spanned both sides of the Jordan River, its east and west bank, so too did kingdoms that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah interacted with, like Ammon and Moab. 

Thus, characters in the Bible crossed the Jordan often traveling to the land on the eastern and western sides of the river (Judges 7:22-8:17; 1 Samuel 11; 31; 2 Samuel 2:24-32; 15-19). Elisha followed Elijah on his final day before being caught up into heaven across the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:6-13). After Elijah’s departure, Elisha crossed the river dividing it with Elijah’s coat. Elisha sent Naaman the Syrian to immerse himself in the Jordan River seven time (2 Kings 5:14) to cure him from his skin ailment. 

In the region of the Jordan, John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Luke 3:3). Modern pilgrims today visit a location identified as the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism near Jericho, and just north of the Dead Sea. The identification of this site began in the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries A.D.) to enable Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem to also visit the Jordan River, which is a day’s walk from Jerusalem. The Byzantine Christians, however, did not know that Jewish ritual purity laws of the first century considered the waters of the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee impure for ritual immersion (Mishnah Parah 8.10-11). 

It seems unlikely, then, that John would have baptized anyone in the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee; however, the waters of the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee are considered pure for immersion. This geographically fits Jesus’ meeting Philip coming out of Bethsaida (on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee) the day after his baptism (John 1:43-44). Such a meeting would have been impossible in Bethsaida the day after his baptism if Jesus had been baptized near Jericho.

The Jordan River serves as one of the central geographic boundaries and features that plays so prominently in so many biblical stories. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Coming in Last to Serve God Best

“For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NKJV).

The striking image Paul chose to use to describe apostles, as being exhibited last, like men sentenced to die, came from the victory processions within the ancient world, and particularly those of the Roman Empire.

After an army won a great battle or war, the conquering general led a victory procession through the streets of the capital city. Following the general’s chariot and soldiers came the spoils of war, and last of all came the prisoners of war, whose fate usually resulted in death.

In fact, as part of the victory ceremony upon arriving at the end of the procession, they often executed many of the prisoners of war. Not a very noble position or end. Yet Paul compared God’s exhibition of apostles to such a situation.

He continues contrasting the situation of the apostles with the Corinthian believers. The apostles are weak, fools, held in disrepute. They find themselves poor, yet they respond to the abuse of others with blessing. The lives of the apostles contrast with everything people tend to want in life: material substance, favor among people, a life of peace and ease.

So why did Paul choose to remain faithful to such a life? Because he understood that the best way to serve God means being last, for God will reverse the current situation of things and the last will become first. Paul understood that his faithfulness in the midst of the present reality meant future reward and blessing from God. In other words, Paul remained faithful because he kept the end in sight.

Being an apostle or prophet in the Bible was not a pleasant experience. It often meant ridicule and revilement. It meant losing in the present to win in the end. It meant sacrificing the desires of the present for obedience to God’s ultimate plans and purposes.

This is a very different outlook than our modern world has. It’s a very different outlook than many in our churches have, including some of our leaders. If your prayer is genuinely to serve God best, then trust Him with your life even if it means hardship and suffering on this side of eternity.

PRAYER

Father, we trust our lives into Your hands. We are Your servants, and so do with as You please. May we serve You best, even if it means our discomfort and foolishness. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Sea of Galilee 

By Marc Turnage

The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. It sits 600 feet below sea level. It is a lake, and not a sea; thus, the Evangelist Luke correctly describes it often as a lake (5:1; 8:22, 33). 

The Lake of Galilee sits in the Jordan River Valley, which is part of the Syro-African Rift Valley. The Jordan River flows through the lake from the north where its three headwaters converge south of the ancient site of Dan to form the Jordan River and flow south into the lake. The river continues out of the south end of the lake on its southward journey towards the Dead Sea. The modern exit of the Jordan River on the south end of the lake is not the ancient exit of the river; the modern exit was created for the dam used to regulate the flow of water out of the lake.

Hills surround the lake on its western, northern, and eastern sides. To its south, one finds the continuation of the Jordan River Valley. On its northwest and northeast corners sit two fertile valleys into which water runoff from the surrounding hills flow. The northwest valley is known as the Gennesar Valley, which the first century Jewish historian Josephus says was the name given to the lake by the locals (see Luke 5:1). The valley on the northeast side of the lake is the Bethsaida Valley, so called for the ancient site of Bethsaida, the home of Jesus’ disciples Peter, Philip, and Andrew, which was located in the valley along the shoreline of the lake. 

The Bethsaida Valley, while fertile, has three large water tributaries, including the Jordan River, flow through it, which made it more challenging for travel by foot. Two of these tributaries flow out of the Golan Heights feeding the water of the lake along with the Jordan River. Between the Gennesar Valley and Bethsaida Valley ninety-five percent of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels took place. He fed the 5,000 in the Bethsaida Valley (Luke 9:10). Within this area, one finds the villages of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida, which Jesus cursed (Luke 10:13-16). 

South of the Gennesar Valley sits the modern city of Tiberias, which was built by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, in the year 19-20 A.D. Antipas moved his administration from Sepphoris to Tiberias, which was where he resided during the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. 

The lake itself provided a fishing industry for the locals. The water off the Bethsaida Valley provided excellent fishing, especially for the local tilapia. People used the lake not only for fishing, but also for travel. Both Josephus and the Gospels indicate that people traveled around the lake by boat much more than they did by foot.

The Gospels record the sudden storms that occur on the lake. The topography of the surrounding hills and canyons create wind funnels across the lake, particularly the northern part of the lake. Storms on the Lake of Galilee are serious, especially the wind storms that blow in from the east off the Golan Heights down onto the lake. The easterly wind storms that hit the land of Israel are quite severe, and even in the present day, can cause damage to property and agriculture, even the loss of life. These easterly winds are known as sharkia, from the Arabic “shark” (east). They are most prevalent from October-May. They turn the lake’s waters into churning, violent swells, easily 10 to 12 feet high. 

The Lake of Galilee provides the setting for many of the stories in the Gospels, sayings and actions of Jesus. On its shores, He taught the people about the kingdom of Heaven and performed many miracles. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Behold Your God

Life can often distract us. It might be the unrelenting stress and busyness within our own lives, the whirlwind of anxiety often generated by a 24-hour news cycle, or the latest novelty being presented as the solution to our problems. We find ourselves consumed by the cares and worries of this world, and God gets lost in the distraction.

These are the real threats the modern world poses to our faith: the increasing demands on our valuable time, the constant worry over the chaos in our world, and the allure of comforts and conveniences that give us the illusion of self-reliance.

Each of these traps can cause us to lose sight of God, and we slowly fail to recognize the truth that “the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28).

Keeping our faith in this modern world means choosing daily to expand our vision beyond our current situation or surrounding events and gazing into eternity, to the One who created everything. It means fixing our eyes on the God who has held the oceans in His hand, who has measured off the heavens with His fingers, who knows the weight of the earth, and who has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale (Isaiah 40:12).

Being a person of faith, however, does not simply mean acknowledging that God is our Creator. God is not merely the cause of all existence; He provides meaning to it. He is far more than a first cause; He is the author of love, truth, and life. “With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, and informed Him of the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14). The answer: no one.

He rules over all creation: “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). He elevates and brings low. He raises kings, nations, and leaders, and He also humbles and casts them down. But He never loses sight of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the weary. Instead, He is the one who strengthens them and lifts them up.

Our modern world so often captivates us with anything and everything that will steal our focus. If we’re not careful, we can spend our lives so consumed by the cares and worries of this world that we miss the opportunity to live with the hope and perspective that God is on the throne and that He is in control. God rightly challenges all of His people with the question, “To whom then will you compare Me that I would be his equal?” (Isaiah 40:25).

Living with true faith in the modern world means clearing away all of the distractions and beholding our God who is the source of love, truth, meaning, purpose, hope, and life. It means that we live each and every day in awe and wonder of Him—and Him alone.    

PRAYER

Father, overwhelm us with Your timeless and awesome presence. May we live each and every day in awe and wonder of You. No one is like You. May we never lose sight of that. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Dan Spring 

By Marc Turnage

The land of Israel did not merely provide the stage upon which biblical events too place, its flora, fauna, climate, and geology provide the images, metaphors, and vocabulary that biblical writers used frequently to communicate their message whether in narrative, poetry, or prophecy.

There are places within Israel today where one can stand within the geography used by the biblical writers and feel and hear, within the setting, the message they sought to communicate. The Dan Spring is one of those places. 

The spring acquires its name from the biblical site of Dan, the northernmost city within biblical Israel. Located at the base of the foothills of Mount Hermon, it provides the largest of the three springs whose tributaries come together south of the site of Dan to form the Jordan River.

The Dan Spring produces roughly 240 million cubic meters per year. With such a large amount of water coming from the spring, especially in the winter and spring of the year when the rains and snowmelt add to it, the sound of the Dan tributary roars as it flows towards the meeting point to form the Jordan.

The psalmists use this setting and the sound created by the waters in a couple places. Psalm 29 proclaims: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (29:2-9; emphasis added).

The highlighted bold type shows the psalmist’s use of the waters of the Dan spring to describe the voice and glory of the Lord. How do we know he meant the Dan Spring? Because of the geographic detail provided, which is italicized. These locations—Lebanon, Sirion, and Kadesh—surround the northern area of Israel and the Dan Spring.

When the psalmist listened to the raging waters of the spring and its tributary, he found himself moved to comparison with the voice and glory of the Lord. He communicated his message through the physical setting of the Dan Spring and the surrounding countryside.

In Psalm 42, we find another use of the Dan Spring for the psalmist’s poetry: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? … My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me (42:1-7; emphasis added).

The psalmist begins by likening his desire for God to a deer craving the streams of water from springs, like the Dan. Although lush with vegetation, the summer heat and humidity of the region of the Dan Spring is difficult for animals and humans. He finds himself in the region of the Dan Spring (the italicized portions) and feels overwhelmed with the roar of the gushing spring. 

Traveling to the land of Israel is more than visiting sites. It should transform how we read and interact with the physical reality of the land of the Bible.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Sons That Do His Will

“A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two obeyed his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31 NLT).

Jesus told this parable in order to firmly illustrate the importance of doing God’s will; not simply saying “yes” to God.

Biblically, obedience does not refer to the intent of one’s heart or good desires. Obedience, which is doing God’s will, is all about action.

Our modern Christianity can sometimes spiritualize the Bible unnecessarily, even to our detriment. Moreover, we tend to relegate behaviors to emotions and feelings.

The biblical world viewed obedience as action: Love is an action, faith is an action, hope is an action. Emotions do not capture them. Feelings do not express them. Doing does.

The first son had no intention of helping his father, but “he changed his mind.” The second son had the right intention but did not act. Which of the two sons did the will of the father? The first son. Why? Because he acted.

Living according to God’s will means acting according to God’s will. It means doing the will of the Father.

Jesus places our obedient response and action as the key to entering the kingdom of Heaven—His movement—here and now. Our purpose as followers of Jesus is to pursue obedience to the will of the Father in all we do.

Therefore, we need to make sure that we call people to action. Repentance is an action in the Bible, not a feeling. Our behavior displays our repentance.

The first son showed his repentance when “he changed his mind and went anyway.” Of the two sons, he is the one who chose to obey his father’s will. May we do the same.

Let our actions mark us as doers of God’s will, and may we be children who pursue doing the will of our Father.

PRAYER

Father, we confess our desire to do Your will in everything that we say and do today. May our obedience glorify You. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Mount Carmel

By Marc Turnage

Mount Carmel is a limestone ridge that bisects the coastal plain of the land of Israel branching off from the mountains of Samaria west towards the Mediterranean coast. It is most famous as the location for the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18:19).

Today, the Carmelite monastery of Mukhraka (Arabic meaning “burned place”) remembers that event. The mountain’s geographic location along the Mediterranean coast makes it fertile for agriculture (600mm average rainfall a year), which also led biblical writers and prophets to herald Carmel as a place of agricultural abundance (Song of Solomon 7:6; Isaiah 33:9; 35:2; Amos 1:2). Its fertility, rainfall, and proximity to the Phoenician coast, just to its north, made Carmel an appropriate location for the worship of Ba’al, the Phoenician god of storms and fertility. Even after Elijah, people continued to worship Ba’al of Carmel. 

The fertility, precipitation, and location of Mount Carmel play a key role in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al. Agriculture in the land of Israel proved difficult in the ancient world. The people depended solely upon God for rain to water their fields and crops due to the topography of the land (see Deuteronomy 8; 11:10-20). 

For this reason, God promised that as long as Israel obeyed Him and His commandments, He would send rain in its season; if Israel disobeyed, He would shut the heavens, so it wouldn’t rain. The concern for rain in its season (at the appropriate time) lead the Israelites to often look also to other local deities, like Ba’al, to provide rain, just in case.

The people had turned from God by worshipping Ba’al during the reign of King Ahab, and therefore, God sent drought on the land. Elijah called the children of Israel, together with the prophets of Ba’al, to gather on Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel receives some form of precipitation 250 days a year; it sits on the southern edge of Phoenicia where Ba’al worship originated. It also provided a high place. 

Ba’al is often depicted walking on the mountains, a god of high places. The drought that God sent offered a direct challenge to the god of rain. Elijah’s challenge, the god who answered with fire was God; Ba’al’s symbol was a lightening bolt. The heart of the story lies within the geographic setting of Mount Carmel. 

Of course, after God sends the fire upon Elijah’s sacrifice, and the people turn to the Lord as God, then He sends the rain. The setting and background of this story underline the challenges of daily life faced by the ancient Israelites; these challenges that raised the fundamental question that Elijah posed to the people, “If the Lord is God, then serve Him.”

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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