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Biblical Israel: Lachish 

By Marc Turnage

Lachish was one of the largest cities within the kingdom of Judah. Located in the Judean lowlands (Shephelah), it sat in the southern branch of the Beth Guvrin-Lachish Valley system, which provided an east-west corridor between the hill country (the area around Hebron) to the coastal plain (towards Ashkelon). Ample water meant that settlement prospered at Lachish in all periods and enabled the cultivation of the land around it. Even today it is in a very fertile area of the Judean lowlands known particularly for its cultivation of grapes. 

The ancient site of Lachish encompasses about thirty-one acres. It first appears mentioned within ancient sources in the 18th century B.C. in an Egyptian document. Excavations at the site have uncovered twenty layers of settlement, which underscores the site’s importance and prominence. 

According to 2 Kings (14:19; 2 Chronicles 25:27), Amaziah, king of Judah, fled to Lachish following a revolt against him in Jerusalem. The rebels killed him at Lachish. During the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 B.C., under Sennacherib, the Assyrian army laid siege to Lachish (2 Kings 18:14, 17; Isaiah 36:2; 37:8; 2 Chronicles 32:9). While besieging Lachish, Sennacherib sent a force against Hezekiah in Jerusalem. 

Excavations at Lachish have revealed the extent of the Assyrian siege. In addition to the biblical account, Sennacherib documented his conquest of the city on wall reliefs, with which he decorated his palace in Nineveh. Both Sennacherib’s wall relief and the archaeological excavations show that the Assyrians built an earthen siege ramp that was used to bring siege engines against the walls of Lachish. Excavations uncovered a number of iron military implements like arrow heads. Archaeologists found a large number of slingshot stones. 

The Assyrian siege devastated Lachish and the kingdom of Judah, but they did not conquer Jerusalem. Lachish was rebuilt after the Assyrian siege but was again destroyed by the Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah in the 6th century B.C. This conquest destroyed Jerusalem as well. During the Babylonian conquest, the prophet Jeremiah notes that the only cities remaining to Judah were Jerusalem, Azekah (in the Elah Valley), and Lachish (34:7). 

Excavations at Lachish uncovered a number of inscriptions written on broken pieces of pottery. One of them, a letter, notes that the people of Lachish could no longer see the signal fires of Azekah, which lay to the north. Azekah had fallen, and the Babylonians were coming to Lachish. 

Excavations at Lachish also yielded a number of royal, Judean, storage jars and jar handles bearing a stamp with the Hebrew phrase, lemelek, meaning “belonging to the king.” These type of storage jars have been found at certain sites throughout Judah and date to the reign of King Hezekiah. Excavations at Lachish have uncovered more of these storage jars than any other site in the kingdom of Judah.

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: Why Have You Been Sent

“As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:16-19 HCSB).

At the outset of His ministry, Jesus framed His mission as doing the work of Isaiah 61 and 58: the proclamation of the good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, setting at liberty the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord.

That’s how He defined His mission. And this is exactly what we see Him doing all throughout His public ministry.

When John the Baptist asked Jesus whether or not He was truly the Lord’s anointed, Jesus assured John that He was carrying out His mission: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news” (Matthew 11:4-5).

In other words, yes, I am the Lord’s anointed, and look at what’s happening: I’m carrying out my mission. That’s my proof.

Jesus was indeed God’s anointed. And as His followers, we are called to continue His mission here on earth. In other words, the reason He was sent is also why He sends us.

The proclamation of the Gospel did not merely address people’s eternal destiny for Jesus. It impacted all of their being, in this life and the next. Their health. Their socioeconomic status. Their position as one oppressed. All of this, for Jesus, proclaimed the year of God’s favor.

Being His disciples means that we have been likewise sent to meet people in these same ways. In doing so, we actually testify to the messiahship of Jesus before a watching world.

If we are going to be Jesus’ disciples, then our mission, activity, and focus must mirror His. He laid out the reason He was sent in the synagogue of Nazareth, and He never drifted from His mission.

Do your focus, actions, and mission align with Jesus’?

PRAYER

Father, thank you for sending Jesus. Lord, please enable us every day to align our purpose and mission with His and proclaim the year of Your favor. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Yodfat

 By Marc Turnage

The Galilean village of Yodfat lies in the hills three miles north of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, across Beit Netofa Valley, an easy day’s walk. Its primary industries were textiles and pottery manufacturing. The inhabitants of Yodfat herded sheep and goats for the purpose of converting their wool into fabrics and textiles. Archaeologists discovered a number of loom weights in the area, which indicates that an industry of textiles came from Yodfat.

Yodfat provides an important window into the world of Jesus. During the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73), the first century Jewish historian Josephus relates that he commanded the Jewish forces in Galilee. He fortified villages throughout Galilee including Yodfat. 

The Roman army laid siege to the village building a siege ramp for soldiers to cross over its wall. As the Roman forces besieged Yodfat, Josephus and some of his men hid in a nearby cave. He convinced them to commit suicide rather than surrender to Rome. When the moment came for his death, however, he changed his mind and surrendered to Rome. He was taken to the camp of the general Vespasian. Roman forces destroyed Yodfat. It was never rebuilt.

Yodfat provides a time capsule into the Galilean world of Jesus in the first century. Archaeological excavations at Yodfat show the social strata of a Galilean village. A home with beautifully painted frescoes was discovered similar to other wealthy homes excavated in Jerusalem. The finds also indicate the presence of both merchant and artisan classes, who owned and distributed, manufactured and produced textiles and pottery. We can also assume the presence of poor people as well, but they do not leave remains within the archaeological record.

The excavations at Yodfat speak to the religious life of first century Galileans. While a synagogue has not yet been discovered, archaeologists uncovered Jewish ritual immersion pools (mikva’ot). These stone vessels indicate a concern for Jewish ritual purity laws. The animal bones discovered at the village show a distinct avoidance of pigs in accordance with Jewish law. The archaeology of Yodfat indicates that the people living in this area were Jews concerned with observance of Jewish law.

These were the Galileans to whom Jesus taught, healed, and ministered. Yodfat was destroyed a little over 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. When we touch the site of Yodefat, we touch the Galilee of Jesus and his disciples. The pottery that litters the ground of this site is the kind of pottery used by Mary in Nazareth. Yodfat’s close proximity to Nazareth suggests that Jesus would have known this Galilean village, and likely visited it. And it offers a view of the hills and valleys that Jesus and his disciples traveled.

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: Sufficient for the Day

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11 NASB).

Jesus often alluded to passages from the Old Testament in His teachings. When He taught His disciples to pray, He instructed them to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This image would have drawn to the minds of His disciples the story of the manna in the wilderness.

God provided manna in the wilderness to feed the children of Israel after they left Egypt (Exodus 16:11-36). They were permitted to gather only enough for that day. They could not gather more than a day’s sufficiency—except on the sixth day. On that day, they gathered a double portion to keep them for the Sabbath.

Prior to Israel’s entry into the promised land, Moses reminded them how God kept them in the wilderness: “He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3 HCSB).

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He instructed them to ask only for their “daily bread.” Just like those wandering in the wilderness, He expected His disciples to understand their need and reliance upon God for His provision.

The emphasis on looking to God for the sufficiency of the day also reminds us of Jesus’ instruction to His followers to not worry about what they will eat or wear because God knows what they need (see Matthew 6:25-34).

That sounds great, right? Don’t worry. Trust God.

Have you ever wondered whether the Israelites in the wilderness ever went to sleep at night worrying that the manna wouldn’t be there when they woke up?

Spiritual slogans often wither in the heat of life’s cruel realities. That’s why our faith cannot rest upon motivational words, but on a genuine encounter with the living God, who provides our daily bread. He is trustworthy, even when our momentary circumstances seem to scream otherwise.

He does provide our daily bread. And we must look to Him and trust Him. He, however, doesn’t give us what we need tomorrow, today. We have to trust that today’s sufficiency is enough for today, and tomorrow’s will be there tomorrow.

Jesus called upon His disciples to trust God, even in the midst of hardship, trials, and difficulties—to not let the cares of life choke our trust in God. Do we have faith enough to see God so intimately involved in our daily lives providing our daily bread?

PRAYER

Father, give us this day our daily bread. Amen.

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Weekly Devotional: Be Steadfast

“He gives strength to the weary, and to the one who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:29-31 NASB).

The word “to wait” in Hebrew also means “to hope”—“those wait [hope] for the LORD.” The ability to remain steadfast, unmoved no matter what the circumstances—that’s what the Bible means by faith.

Faith in the Bible does not refer to “belief” in the sense of some inward, psychological state; rather, faith is steadfastness. It’s hard to remain steadfast when you’re tired. It’s hard to continue hoping when nothing seems to change, “yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength.” 

One of the reasons athletes train and condition is so that when they call upon their bodies to perform at peak levels during a performance, they can do so without becoming tired. When we are tired, we lose focus; we don’t function well. Tiredness affects mental and physical performance; it impacts our emotional health. It opens us up to giving up. Do we have patience to wait on God? 

That’s becoming increasingly difficult in our world today. We want rapid answers to our questions and prompt solutions to our problems. Waiting is not a part of our 21st-century DNA.

Paul spoke about what produces hope in our lives: “Affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 HCSB). 

Affliction, or suffering, produces endurance, and endurance produces hope. Our waiting and steadfastness produce hope in our lives.

We may get tired; everyone does, even the young. We may be weary, life does that. But do we focus on remaining steadfast in our commitment to obey God? That, Paul says, produces hope, and those who hope in God will renew their strength. 

The true test of our faith is not what we say, not what we feel, but how steadfast we remain. Hope does not disappoint because we serve a God who brings rest to the weary, who restores the downtrodden, and who strengthens the weak.

Our steadfastness also offers an incredible testimony to a watching world that wants everything now.

PRAYER

Father, renew us, we are weary. May we remain steadfast, hoping in You. Amen.

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Victim of Terrorism: Malka’s Story

Years ago, a Jewish couple narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and eventually moved to Israel. They thought the worst was behind them. Over 70 years after the war, Malka and Michael faced more danger, when their home in Israel was targeted in a rocket attack. 

Malka remembers, “When I heard the blast, I thought the world ended, and saw my husband covered in blood. Shrapnel pierced his ear. He has Parkinson’s disease, and I couldn’t move him to safety. It was so horrible.” As thousands of rockets rained down from Gaza, medical personnel eventually reached and treated Michael. But their nightmare continued. 

Their apartment building had massive structural damage, so the government declared it unlivable. They evacuated and had to rent an apartment. After saving up for years to pay off their home, Malka says, “Now we are using what little money we have to pay for this rental apartment, while the government decides what to do with our old building. It’s heartbreaking.” 

In desperation, they turned to CBN Israel. Thankfully, friends like you brought them groceries, and have paid their rent as they wait to hear from the government. Michael says, “After all the hardships, it’s great to see that someone cares.” Malka added, “We knew you were Christians—I had never received help like this. Without it, we wouldn’t have made it. We are so thankful!” 

Your gifts to CBN Israel can bring aid and comfort to other terror victims—along with single mothers, lonely immigrants, frail Holocaust survivors, and more. 

In the face of rocket attacks, poverty, and those fleeing war, your support can supply food, shelter, financial help, and job training to those in need. 

Please help us give urgent relief to victims of war and terrorism!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Ashkelon

By Marc Turnage

Ashkelon sits on the southern Mediterranean coast in the modern State of Israel. The Bible identifies it as one of the five Philistine cities along with Gaza, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. Ashkelon sits on the Mediterranean coast between Gaza and Ashdod. The ancient site sat on a ridge of cemented sandstone called kurkar. Its elevated vantage point allowed for the observation of the sea routes from Egypt to Lebanon. 

Ashkelon receives, on average, almost fourteen inches of rainfall a year, which, while not a lot, is sufficient for viticulture and the cultivation of gardens. The high-water table meant that the city had an abundant supply of freshwater throughout its ancient history. Over a hundred ancient wells have been uncovered in excavations. 

The land around Ashkelon consists of sand ridges that run parallel to the coast. The local kurkar served as a basic stone for building at the site. Its location on the sea and just west of major land trade routes made Ashkelon a maritime trading center. Ancient seafaring vessels traveled using the trade winds and currents, tacking their way following the coast. Thus, Ashkelon served as an important location along the sea route between Egypt and Lebanon. 

Its close proximity to the most important overland route in the Ancient Near East, a route that connected Egypt with Damascus and Mesopotamia, meant that Ashkelon could capitalize upon its location for both land and sea trade. Throughout its history it maintained this dynamic; in the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries A.D.), wine from Ashkelon was found in England. 

Ashkelon functioned as an important site in the Middle (1950-1550 B.C.) and Late (1550-1200 B.C.) Bronze Ages. Its fortifications from the Middle Bronze period are quite impressive including an arched gate, which is one of the oldest arches in the world. In Iron Age I (1200-1000 B.C.), Ashkelon underwent a change within its material culture. 

Excavations have revealed that during this period a distinct Philistine material culture emerged. With the Philistine appearance, both pig and dog entered the diet of the people; food avoided by both the Canaanites and Israelites. Excavators have uncovered tools and elements necessary for the manufacturing of textiles. 

Two Phoenician shipwrecks discovered off the coast of Ashkelon illustrate the importance of Ashkelon for maritime trade. These vessels contained over four hundred wine amphorae. Ashkelon, like Gaza, Ashdod, and Ekron, was destroyed around 600 B.C. by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The strategic importance of the city meant that it was rebuilt in the Persian period, and it continued to serve as in important trade center through the Byzantine period. It was eventually destroyed in A.D. 1270. 

The Bible says little about Ashkelon. That was likely due to the biblical writers being unfamiliar with the cosmopolitan center of Ashkelon. The prophets Amos, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Zechariah denounced the city, but it did not serve as an important focus of the Bible. That, however, does not reflect the significance of this ancient site.  

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: Out of the Depths

“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. … I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6 NKJV).

Have you ever been there? In the depths? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by life and its circumstances that you felt as if you were in the deepest, darkest pit? The psalmist did. And he cried out to the Lord. 

This is actually an amazing statement by the psalmist, because when you find yourself in the depths, one of the hardest things to do is cry out to God. You may think that sounds strange. Perhaps you think that the natural cry should be to God. And it should. The problem, however, is that when we find ourselves in the depths, we stand on the edge of despair. 

Circumstances overwhelm us like violent waves of the ocean. At first, we may find the strength to face the challenges and hardships, but eventually, even inside of us, we begin to faint, wear down, and despair. 

Faith is not just believing God in the good times or even the mildly bad times; faith is crying out to God from the deepest depths of despair, when everything outside of us and inside of us feels like things are hopeless. When we can cry out to God in that moment, pleading with Him to hear our cry, that is the genuine test of our faith. 

Everyone faces hardships and overwhelming circumstances, many of which we cannot control. The challenge of faith is this: that even though we find ourselves in deep despair due to circumstances and the doubts that arise in us, we continue facing toward God. No matter our circumstances, we cry out to Him and know that He will answer us. He will not abandon us. 

The psalmist didn’t allow his circumstances to consume him, nor did he buy into the thought that his circumstances separated him from God’s being able to hear him. From the depths, he called out to the Lord because the God of the Bible is near to the cry of His people. 

When you find yourself in the depths of despair, turn toward God, not toward your circumstances. That doesn’t mean that the hardship, difficulty, or pain will subside. It does mean that the God of the universe will hear your cry, and the deepest depths are not too deep for Him.

PRAYER

Father, please hear our cry. Give ear to our plea today. We choose to trust You even in the midst of our most difficult circumstances. Amen.

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Biblical Israel: Gamla

By Marc Turnage

The ancient site Gamla sits in the central Golan Heights about six miles east of the northern end of the Sea of Galilee and the Bethsaida Valley. The ancient village sat on the spur of a hill created by two streams, Nahal Gamla and Nahal Daliyyot. The spur that the village of Gamla sat on can be seen easily from Bethsaida and the Bethsaida Valley; thus, while we never find mention of Jesus in Gamla, he would have known the site. The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the village and the battle that took place there during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73). 

Gamla offers an important window into Jewish village life in the Galilee and Golan during the first century. Once the Roman army of Vespasian destroyed the site (A.D. 67), it was never reinhabited, and therefore, functions as a time capsule into a first century Jewish village. The primary settlement of the site began in the Hellenistic period. It started as a Seleucid fort. The fort eventually became a village inhabited by Jews in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. 

Excavations at Gamla uncovered only a small percentage of the village, but they provide significant information about the Jewish life in the village. Towards the upper part of the hill, excavations uncovered a large olive oil press with a Jewish ritual immersion bath (mikveh) attached to it. This indicates that the inhabitants sought to prepare olive oil with concern for ritual purity. Excavators also uncovered a second large, industrial olive oil press indicating that Gamla served as a center for olive oil production exporting it to other Jewish communities. The community also seems to have grown grain and even practiced viticulture. 

Excavators uncovered the largest known urban synagogue discovered in Israel from the Roman period. At the entrance of the building, they found a ritual immersion pool. The synagogue itself consists of the main hall, with benches around the walls of the hall. The focal point being the center of the hall where the reading of the Scriptures and explication would have occurred. To the right of then entrance, in the north wall, was an inset into the wall, which most likely housed a cabinet where scrolls were kept. A small study room is also next to the main hall. 

Excavations also yielded evidence of an affluent class within the village. Painted fragments of plaster indicate the presence of wealthy homes. Finger rings and earrings, as well as gemstones and other jewelry attest to an affluence among some of the citizens. The presence of Jewish ritual immersion pools, as well as stone vessels indicate that the population of the village adhered to Jewish ritual purity. 

Excavations also attest to Josephus’ story of the fall of Gamla. Evidence of battle, destruction (including the breach in the city’s defensive wall), arrow heads and ballista balls were discovered throughout the excavations. Its destruction preserved this first century Jewish village, which offers one of the best examples of the villages known to Jesus.

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: Remember Where You Have Come From

“Remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2 NKJV).

Remember! One of the most frequent commands throughout the Bible is “Remember!” Remember the road you’ve traveled, the struggles and trials you’ve faced. And remember who brought you along your path.

Remember who provided for you, cared for you, and calls upon you to remember and observe His commandments. Remember. 

We often turn to God in our times of need. When circumstances, finances, diagnoses, and life are too overwhelming, then we turn to God. We cling to Him through those wilderness times of our life, relying upon His presence and provision. But once He brings us through those times and we find ourselves upon a firm footing, standing in the Promised Land, how quickly do we forget, rely upon ourselves, and ultimately turn from His ways? Remember.

The festivals that God gave Israel within the Old Testament served two purposes: 1) They were connected with the agricultural cycle, particularly the harvest times, and 2) they called the people to remember what God did for them in the wilderness—how He led them and provided for them. 

The agricultural nature of the festivals called upon the Israelites to remember who sent the rain in its season so the crops could grow, and ultimately who was responsible for their sustenance and provision. The connection with the wilderness wanderings called upon the people to remember a time when their need for God and His provision was more acute, to remember where they came from.

During the fall harvest festival, Sukkot, God instructed the children of Israel to construct temporary shelters, or booths, that they lived in for the duration of the festival. “Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:42-43 NIV). 

Dwelling in booths was to remind future generations—generations that did not experience the hardships and uncertainty of the wilderness—how God provided for His people.

When later generations found themselves living prosperously in the land, the booths reminded them of a time in their history when their forefathers lacked such prosperity, and in that moment, they should remember God, who brought Israel out of Egypt. 

What is the ultimate goal of this remembrance? We find it in the passage from Deuteronomy quoted initially: “Remember … whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

We confront our limitations and smallness in times of need. We realize how finite we are. It becomes easy to turn to God in those moments. And, as a loving Father, He comes to us. But when we find ourselves in times of prosperity, it’s too easy to think we stand alone on our own two feet, and turning from God and His commandments becomes easy.

Remember where you have come from. Remember where He has taken you. Remember His commandments and purposes for your life. Remember that He is your Savior and King.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for taking us through the wildernesses of our lives and providing for us. May we always—in good times and in bad, in plenty and in want—remember You and all that You have done for us. Amen.

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