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Weekly Devotional: The Day of Atonement

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT).

The Bible describes three types of sins: 1) intentional sins that I commit against God, 2) unintentional sins that I commit against God, and 3) sins that I commit against my neighbor. For sins I intentionally commit against God, the only course of forgiveness is repentance: You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart (Psalm 51:16-17 HCSB). 

Jesus’ injunction to His followers (Matthew 5:23-24) comes from this biblical realization regarding the different ways in which we must deal with the broken relationships in our lives. For Jesus’ first-century Galilean listeners, the only place they could make an offering was in the Jerusalem Temple—a journey that took at least four days from the Galilee. 

It’s striking to hear Jesus’ words as His initial audience did: If you are at the altar in Jerusalem and remember that someone has something against you, leave your offering, go back at least four days’ journey, and be reconciled. Then return to Jerusalem and present your offering to God. Reconciliation with one’s neighbor provided the foundation for that offering to be accepted. 

Jesus’ commandment to His followers, even the spirit of it, grew from the world of ancient Judaism. This commandment is still practiced today within the Jewish community in the days surrounding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most holy day within Judaism. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur—a day when people fast, repent, and call upon God to forgive the sins they committed against Him—Jewish people first seek to be reconciled with their neighbors. 

They ask forgiveness and seek to make restitution. Why? Because of the belief that we cannot ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur if we have unrepaired relationships with our neighbors. Those must be repaired first, even if we must make restitution. 

This same spirit stands behind the teachings of Jesus. My relationships with others provide the foundation for my relationship with God. Zacchaeus told Jesus, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today” (Luke 19:8-9 NLT). 

When we think about the Day of Atonement, we often focus upon our relationship with God and His forgiveness of our sins. The Bible teaches that our repairing, making restitution, and reconciling ourselves with our neighbor is an indicator of our relationship with God: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen (1 John 4:20 HCSB).

PRAYER

Father, forgive us as we have forgiven. Amen. 

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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

By Julie Stahl

“Be careful to celebrate the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of that same month—nine days after the Festival of Trumpets. You must observe it as an official day for holy assembly, a day to deny yourselves and present special gifts to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:27 NLT). 

Yom Kippur is the Holiest Day in the Jewish year, the “Day of Atonement.” 

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “Ten Days of Awe.” This is your chance, so to speak, to get your heart and relationships right before Yom Kippur. According to Jewish tradition, this is the time that one’s name is either inscribed or not in the Book of Life for another year. 

“These are heavy, heavy days of repentance, reflection, and seeking God’s face as we prepare to go stand before Him in a state of fasting, a state of humility on the day of Yom Kippur,” says Boaz Michael, founder of First Fruits of Zion. 

In some traditions, worshippers pray Selichot or slichot prayers (“forgiveness”) as much as a month before Rosh Hashanah to make sure they are prepared for that day. 

“The Bible speaks about Yom Kippur in terms of being a great day of judgment, of us standing before God. It’s traditionally, according to a Jewish perspective, a time in which we will literally be standing before the Father on that Day of Judgment,” says Michael.

It’s customary to wear white on this day. In some traditions, men wear a white robe or, in Yiddish, kittel. That tradition comes from Isaiah 1:18 (NLT), where God says, “Come now, let’s settle this. … Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” 

Yom Kippur has five prayer services throughout the day, which is more than any other Jewish holiday. 

“The Viddui is the central prayer of confession and forgiveness of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur. And it’s a prayer that they pray not only on behalf of themselves but on behalf of all the Jewish people around the world,” says Reverend David Pileggi of Christ Church in Jerusalem’s Old City. 

He says that the Viddui prayer recognizes the words of Jeremiah: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
(Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). 

“One thing we learn from the Jewish people about Yom Kippur is that it’s not enough to say you’re sorry. You have to confess, say you’re sorry, and then at the same time take practical steps to change your behavior,” says Pileggi. 

He says there’s a parallel between Yom Kippur and the teachings of Jesus. 

“We have a saying of Jesus, don’t we? It says, if you bring your gift to the altar and your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled with your brother. Jewish tradition says, to go get your relationship right with your neighbor, with your brother, with your family member, forgive and be reconciled and then on the Day of Atonement, when you begin to fast and pray and to confess, God will hear your prayer and forgive you as you have forgiven others,” says Pileggi. 

“It’s the teaching of Jesus and it’s also something that’s part and parcel of Jewish tradition and here the two line up very nicely,” Pileggi adds. 

In the synagogue, the Book of Jonah is read. 

“Jonah is a symbol of repentance. He’s commanded by God to call the people of Nineveh to repent, but he himself was struggling through his own reflections about who receives God’s judgment and who receives God’s mercy,” says Michael. 

“So, Jonah can so often symbolize our own actions—doubting God, disobeying God, and determining who’s worthy of His redemption. But, like Jonah, we’re invited to repent of our disobedience and prejudices so that we can rejoin God in building His kingdom,” Michael adds. 

He affirms that Yom Kippur holds a deep meaning even for those who believe in Jesus. 

“It’s through the work of Messiah that our sins are taken away. He is our great atonement. I think this is a beautiful biblical understanding for us to affirm and hold onto in the context of our daily lives, but at the same time, we also need to be reminded to live a life of repentance,” Michael concludes. 

Holiday Greeting: G’mar Chatimah Tovah (“May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life”) and Tzom Kal (used to wish others an “easy fast”). 

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East. 

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Biblical Artifact: Temple Warning Inscription

By Marc Turnage

The first century Jewish historian Josephus described the Jerusalem Temple in great detail. He noted that the large outer court was separated from the holy precincts by a balustrade that had inscriptions in Greek and Latin forbidding non-Jews from passing this wall. Non-Jews were permitted to be in the outer court, which lay outside the sacred area of the Temple. 

A thick marble slab with seven lines inscribed in Greek warning “foreigners” (non-Jews) from passing the balustrade of the Temple and entering its sacred precincts was discovered in 1871, north of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The inscription reads: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and forecourt around the sacred precinct. Whoever is caught will himself be responsible for (his) consequent death.” It currently resides in the archaeological museum in Istanbul, Turkey. A broken marble slab with six lines inscribed in Greek was discovered in the area of Lion’s Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. It resides in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

Both inscriptions verify Josephus’ description of the warnings on the balustrade of the outer court of the Temple. Paul was accused of violating this prohibition by bringing non-Jews past the partition (Acts 21:26-30). Paul also used this physical partition, which separated non-Jews from the sacred areas of the Temple when he wrote to the Ephesians: 

“So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called ‘the uncircumcised’ by those called ‘the circumcised,’ which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it” (Ephesians 2:11-16; emphasis added). 

According to Paul, that which served as a sign in the Jerusalem Temple for the separation between Jews and non-Jews had been abolished in God’s redemptive community, in which Jews and non-Jews were now reconciled.

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: A More Excellent Way

Paul’s community of believers in Corinth was a mess. They had all kinds of issues. A man had taken his stepmother from his father. There was the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. They abused the Lord’s Supper by the wealthy eating and getting drunk while the poor went away hungry.

Their communal times of worship were chaos. At the center of all of their problems were quarreling and divisions, which happened because these individuals put themselves and their rights above those of their neighbors.

We love to read 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter—at weddings. You may even assume, if you haven’t read Paul’s entire letter in a while, that he wrote it for young married couples. But he didn’t. He actually positions this chapter between his discussion about corporate worship, the gifts of the Spirit within the body of Christ, and words of prophecy and tongues. Why?

In chapter 13, Paul offers a blueprint for how Christian communities should handle division, discord, and ego—the more excellent way: love. He begins by outlining a number of spiritual acts and practices. He concludes that even if he does all of these things, yet lacks love, they are worthless.

He then defines love: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 RSV).

The solution to the problems within the community in Corinth: love. Love as Paul defined it.

Reread Paul’s description of love for a moment. How would the practice of such love within our communities impact them and the wider world?

Paul viewed the divisions within the believing community as reflecting negatively upon the body of Christ. Such divisions undermined their testimony and witness. The solution to their my-way, me-first, my-gifts attitude was to act in love, for it will outlast prophecy and tongues.

Too often, our modern faith can reflect an egocentrism that opposes the teachings of Jesus and Paul. The evidence of our spiritual maturity is not our exercising of spiritual gifts, but rather how we love others.

Read Paul’s definition of love again. How would our world look if we lived like that? What would our proclamation of the living God be if we treated one another with love?

PRAYER

Father, may we love others as You have loved us. May the world around us see Your truth through the love we show them. Amen.

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Rosh Hashanah: Feast of Trumpets

By Julie Stahl

“Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. On the first day of the appointed month in early autumn, you are to observe a day of complete rest. It will be an official day for holy assembly, a day commemorated with loud blasts of a trumpet. You must do no ordinary work on that day. Instead, you are to present special gifts to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:23-25 NLT). 

Rosh Hashanah literally means the “head of the year.” But biblically it is much more than that. In the book of Leviticus in Hebrew it is actually called Yom Hateruah—the day of the blowing of trumpets or ram’s horn (shofar). 

The piercing blast of the shofar is meant to remind the hearer to repent for his sins and make things right with his brothers and sisters. The rabbis say that reconciliation with God and man will confound the enemy. 

“It’s something that people connect to their soul to hear the sound of the shofar,” says Eli Ribak, third-generation shofar maker. 

The ram’s horn is used as the traditional shofar because when Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God provided a ram in the thicket to be used in his place. 

The only animal horn that is forbidden to use as a shofar is the cow’s horn. That’s because the Jewish people don’t want to remind God of the time Israel worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness. 

In some traditions, the shofar is blown in synagogues and at the Western Wall each morning for a month before the holiday to give plenty of time for repentance. 

Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of creation, specifically the day God created Adam and Eve. As such, God the Creator is hailed and crowned as “our King” on that day. 

Christians often blow the shofar throughout the year, but in Judaism it’s only blown during the month of Elul, prior to Rosh Hashanah and at the holiday. It was also blown at the coronation of the kings of Israel, to announce the new king or the coming of the king. 

Boaz Michael, founder of First Fruits of Zion, says that’s a foreshadowing for those who believe in Jesus. 

“And they tell us something, they’re speaking to us, they’re reminding us of something, and one of the things they’re reminding us of is the creation of the world, the coming of the king, King Messiah one day at this time, the coronation of his Kingdom here on earth,” says Michael. “This is what the shofar is to remind us of, and it speaks to us every day when we hear that sound.” 

For Christians, there are a number of references in the New Testament referring to the sounding of trumpets. 

“And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31 NKJV). 

Paul writes, “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT). 

The seven trumpets in Revelation also make clear they play a part in the end time calling. 

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the autumn Jewish feasts and begins the “Ten Days of Awe” that lead up to Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”). 

A festive meal at the start of the holiday includes eating apples dipped in honey for a sweet new year; dates, that our enemies would be consumed; pomegranate seeds, that we would bear much fruit; eating round hallah, symbolizing the circle of life and the crown of God’s Kingship; and eating a fish or ram’s head, symbolic of being the head and not the tail in the year to come. 

Another custom is called Tashlich, which literally means “to cast away” or “to throw away.” This concept comes from Micah 7:19 (NKJV): “He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” 

This is a time of reflection to think about and repent for sins of the previous year and to determine how one could do better in the coming year. During this ceremony, Jewish people stand by a body of water and symbolically cast their sins into the water. 

Holiday Greeting: L’Shanah Tovah U’metuka (“May you have a good and sweet new year!”) and Chag Sameach (“Happy holiday!”).

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East. 

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Biblical Israel: Jerusalem

By Marc Turnage

The most mentioned city in the Bible is Jerusalem. From the time that David made it the capital of his kingdom, it became the focal point of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and later of the Jewish people and faith. 

Jerusalem’s origins date back to over four thousand years ago. It originally grew up around the Gihon Spring, a karstic spring, which served as the water source of the city for thousands of years. Over its history, the city expanded and contracted. The original city that David conquered from the Jebusites occupied the eastern hill of the city, where the modern City of David sits (this was biblical Mount Zion). 

David’s son Solomon expanded the city to the north building his palace, administrative buildings, and the Temple. As the importance of the city grew, and with the collapse of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., people began to settle on the western hill (modern day Mount Zion), which lay outside of the walls of the city at that time. King Hezekiah encircled the western hill with a wall, portions of which are still visible in places where it has been excavated. 

This was the city destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. When the Judahites returned from the Babylonian Exile, they resettled the eastern hill, and the city shrank in size. This was the situation during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. 

In the second century B.C., during the Hasmonean kingdom, a wall was built around the city that followed Hezekiah’s wall line and even incorporated portions of it. Then, sometime in the first century B.C., a second wall was added that incorporated a northern, market section of the city. This was the extent of the Jerusalem known to Jesus. It had two focal points, on the east the Temple Mount, and in the west, the palace of Herod the Great with its three towers perched on its northern side. 

During the reign of Agrippa I (A.D. 41-44), a third wall was begun, but construction was halted at the request of the Roman Emperor. This third wall was not completed until shortly before the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt. At this point, the city reached its largest size in antiquity. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and tore down the three walls. The destruction of the city was so complete that the footprint of the city moved north and west. 

Jerusalem would not reach or exceed the size it was prior to the destruction in A.D. 70 until the modern period, when, in the 19th century, people began to settle outside of the modern Old City Walls, which were constructed by the Ottomans in the 16th century.

The modern Old City, which has little to do with biblical Jerusalem, follows the layout of Jerusalem established in the Late Roman Period. Subsequent centuries left its imprint on the city, Byzantine Christians, Umayyads, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, and British all left their marks on Jerusalem. 

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: When God Rains on Your Parade

“Elijah the Tishbite, from the inhabitants of Gilad, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word’” (1 Kings 17:1 NKJV).

Nobody likes a prophet. Biblical prophets always communicated inconvenient truths, especially to the corrupt political and religious leaders.

They saw the world differently. They saw the world the way God did. And their vision often contrasted with that of those around them. They made life uncomfortable because they did not allow abuses of power and people to be ignored or whitewashed. They reminded Israel that obeying God’s commands extended beyond mere cultic religious ritual.

Israel disobeyed God during the reign of King Ahab. Rather than serving God, the Israelites followed after Ba’al, the Phoenician storm god.

The book of Deuteronomy instructed the Israelites, “If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the LORD your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land in the proper time, the autumn and spring rains, and you will harvest your grain, wine, and oil” (verses 11:13-14 HCSB). If, however, Israel decided not to obey, then the opposite would happen; namely, the rains would not come and the crops would not be there.

Archaeology of the kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab and his father Omri suggests that Israel experienced a golden age of sorts during this period. Large building projects, growing wealth, Israel exploiting its strategic location within the region—life in Israel during Ahab’s reign was good. Prosperous. Things were going well.

Then Elijah showed up. He made Ahab’s life difficult. It wasn’t going to rain in Israel for several years except at Elijah’s word.

Kings within the ancient Near East provided a connection between the people and the gods, responsible for the people’s well-being. When Ahab’s wife Jezebel—a Phoenician princess—learned it wasn’t going to rain, she encouraged Israel to worship her god, the storm god Ba’al.

As modern readers of the Bible, we look at Elijah from the position of our comfort. He is God’s man. A hero of the faith. But to Ahab and Israel, he was a pain. His proclamation interrupted their prosperous comfort. No one living in the kingdom of Israel looking around at the prosperity of the kingdom would think anything was wrong. Life’s good. We’re prospering. Surely something is right. But not in the eyes of God, so He sent the prophet, the proclaimer of inconvenient truths.

Within the Bible, God’s pleasure is tied only to our obedience—not the prosperity we find ourselves in within the moment. In the same way, when we find ourselves in want, that is not the sign of His displeasure.

God, however, will not tolerate our disobedience forever. He will eventually rain on our parade. Or, in the case of Ahab’s Israel, not rain, which is actually worse.

Do we listen to those inconvenient voices in our lives that challenge us to see things from God’s viewpoint? Do we respond with repentance and obedience? That can make all the difference.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending inconvenient voices into our lives, voices that challenge us to see our actions the way You do. Lead us Lord to walk in Your ways, and in all things, to obey You. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Wadi Qilt

By Marc Turnage

Roadways are one of the most significant aspects of biblical geography. Roads often gave significance to locations, villages, and cities. In fact, roadways influenced and dictated settlement patterns, the building and establishing of cities and villages. Controlling roadways meant control of travel, commerce, and communication. Many of the events described in the Bible happen due to their strategic locations along important roadways. This aspect of biblical geography is often missed by the casual reader of the Bible. 

One of the challenges faced by Jerusalem in the period of the Old Testament was that it did not sit directly on major roadways. The principal north-south road through the central hill country laid west of the city, and deep canyons to its west and east made access from these directions very difficult. Therefore, the Central Benjamin Plateau, the tribal territory of Benjamin, was so important for Jerusalem; it provided the convergence of north-south and east-west roads. It was Jerusalem’s crossroads. If a resident of Jerusalem wanted to go to the east or west, he or she first traveled north to Benjamin where they met up with the east-west roads.

This reality continued to some extent into the New Testament period. However, with Jerusalem’s increased importance and the connection between it and Jericho, which sits about twenty-three miles to the east, a roadway was established between Jerusalem and Jericho. Over the course of these twenty-three miles, the land drops off between Jerusalem to Jericho from 2700 feet above sea level to 850 feet below sea level. 

This roadway, which still lay slightly to Jerusalem’s north, followed the route of a canyon system that cuts through the hills to the east of Jerusalem heading down towards Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The main branch of this system, above Jericho, become the Wadi Qilt. At the mouth of the Qilt sat Herod the Great’s winter palace; where, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod died in 4 B.C. Herod’s palace consisted of two parts that straddled the Qilt, and he diverted water from the wadi to serve his pools, bath, and palace needs. 

Jesus passed by Herod’s palace (see Luke 19:11) on His journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. One route Galilean pilgrims took to Jerusalem brought them down the east bank of the Jordan River; they crossed near Jericho, and then ascended to Jerusalem via the roadway that followed the Wadi Qilt. This also served for the setting of the story Jesus told about the man “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” who fell among thieves, and eventually a kindly Samaritan helped him (Luke 10:30-37). 

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: A Fast that Pleases God

Have you ever noticed that we can approach God with seemingly the right intentions and desires, but in His eyes, our motivations and desires matter little in light of how we treat others?

The prophet Isaiah says the people “seek [God] daily, delight to know [His] ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God” (Isaiah 58:2 NKJV). They even delight in the “nearness of God.” Sounds like they’re doing everything right. Isn’t that what we tell people to do—seek God daily and delight in His nearness? Yet God calls upon Isaiah to announce to the house of Jacob their guilt and sin (58:1).

The people ask God why their fasts are ineffective. They fasted. They starved their bodies (58:3). That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Shouldn’t God answer us then?

God responds with a jolting message: On your fast day, you do what pleases you. You exploit your workers; you cause strife and contention (58:3-4). While they may have the proper desires towards God, and even carry out their fasts properly (see 58:5), their reprehensible behavior toward others causes their voices not to be heard on high.

God doesn’t care that they starve themselves, putting on sackcloth and lying in ashes. Such a fast does not move Him.

The prophet then offers the fast that God desires, “a day pleasing to the LORD,” the kind that moves Him to act on the people’s behalf “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free” and “break every yoke” (58:6). He calls upon the people “to share your bread with the hungry,” to bring to your house the poor who are cast out, to cover the naked, and “not hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7).

Instead of starving themselves, donning sackcloth, and lying in ashes, they should treat others with care and compassion, which will then motivate God to act on their behalf. “Then shall your light burst forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily and … the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’(58:8-9).

Isaiah’s message: God is far more concerned with how you treat those around you, especially the poor and needy, than He is with your religious piety or even your desire to seek Him.

The mark of true spirituality is not only our pursuit of God, but also our actions towards others. Our intentions and desires may seem spiritual, but if we do not treat others with care and compassion, then our desires for God matter little to Him.

What motivates God to answer our cries? How we treat those around us, especially those in need.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us for not seeing those around us as the true path to showing our desire and delight for You. May our actions be pleasing before You, O Lord. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Sepphoris

By Marc Turnage

Sepphoris was the capital of the Galilee during the first part of the 1st century A.D., when Jesus was a boy. Located four miles north of Nazareth, Sepphoris sat in the Beth Netofa Valley, which provided a main east-west roadway in the Lower Galilee from the northwestern part of the Sea of Galilee to Akko-Ptolemias on the Mediterranean coast. Sepphoris consists of an upper and lower city. Within Jewish history, Sepphoris served as the location where Judah the Prince compiled the rabbinic oral teachings into the Mishnah, the earliest body of rabbinic teaching. It was written in Hebrew.

Excavations at Sepphoris uncovered evidence of settlement even as early as the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I. It seems, however, that a continuous settlement existed at the site from the Persian Period (5th century B.C.) through the Crusader Period. Excavations reveal that during the Roman Period, the western part of the upper city contained Jewish residents, as indicated by the presence of Jewish ritual immersion baths and two oil lamps decorated with menorahs. The upper city also contained a theater set into the northern scarp of the hill, overlooking the Beth Netofa Valley. It could hold about 4500 spectators. Some assign the date of the theater to the 1st century A.D., but most archaeologists date it to the early to mid-2nd century A.D. 

One of the center pieces of the site of Sepphoris is a Roman villa built in the 3rd century A.D. The villa contains a beautiful mosaic floor in its dining room, a triclinium. The center of the mosaic contains scenes depicting the life of the Greek god Dionysius (the god of wine and revelry), including a drinking contest between Dionysius and the hero Heracles. Surrounding the Dionysius scenes are scenes of hunting with wild animals and naked hunters including various flora. In this band of scenes, on the southern end of the mosaic, appears a depiction of a beautiful woman, with either a hunter or Cupid, next to her head. If it is Cupid, then the woman likely is intended to be the goddess Aphrodite. 

Excavations in the lower city have revealed a city planning typical to the Hellenistic-Roman world, a cardo (a north-south street) and a decumanus (an east-west street). Some archaeologists date this urban planning to the 1st century A.D.; others date it to the 2nd century A.D. The cardo and decumanus are flanked by colonnaded sidewalks for pedestrians, with mosaic pavements. Within the lower city, homes, public buildings, as well as a lower city market, have been uncovered. 

Excavators discovered a synagogue in Sepphoris that dates to the 5th century A.D. Its floor is a mosaic that depicts the sun god Helios with his chariot of horses surrounded by a zodiac. Biblical scenes were also depicted although this part of the mosaic was damaged, but it seems to have depicted the story of the binding of Isaac (like the synagogue in Beth Alpha). It remained in use until the 7th century A.D. 

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.

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