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The Miracle of Aliyah: Israel’s Historic Puzzle Pieces Fall into Place 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

“Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).

Aliyah is a Hebrew word meaning “to ascend.” When we read Psalms 120-134, in essence we are participating in the “Songs of Ascent” much like the Jewish pilgrims “going up” to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, rejoicing. Today, Aliyah is used to describe the immigration of Jews from all over the world to their ancestral homeland. Those numbers have been growing since the 19th century, but it all started when God first spoke to Abraham.

God’s call to Abraham is estimated to have occurred sometime between 2000–1700 B.C. His migratory trip, uprooting from Ur and moving to Canaan, is in a sense the first Aliyah. However, the Jewish tribes didn’t take over the land until after the Exodus, as documented in Exodus 23:31, where God describes the land: “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land.”

Abraham and Sarah—who miraculously parented a family that grew into the Twelve Tribes—received God’s eternal promises and covenants. Since then, miracles like scattered puzzle pieces are strewn along Israel’s ancient and modern path through world history. In God’s plan, the puzzle was never a mystery. Israel has been a light to the world since ancient days, when 66 books of the Bible came together as a beautifully connected and completed puzzle picture. God provided the sacred Scriptures we have today via Jewish scribes and by sending His beloved Son to us through the Jewish people.  

Taking a look back at the last 125 years, we see that Israel’s extraordinary Aliyah began in waves after Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897. The Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist and political activist is considered the father of modern Zionism. At the first Zionist Congress, Herzl wrote in his diary, “At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.” 

Herzl would have been astonished that some 806,000 Jews would be living in Israel by May 14, 1948, that nation’s first official day of modern independence. Herzl’s amazement would be even greater after reading in the latest report by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics that nearly seven million Jews currently live in Israel—comprising 73.9 percent of the total population. (Arabs make up another 21 percent, with the remaining five percent designated “other.”)

Yet for millennia prior to 1948, “miracle” would not have been the word used to describe Israel. In the rise and fall of history during the Dispersion, the Jewish people scattered all over the world. They seemed to disappear from sight like discarded puzzle pieces. Nevertheless, always in God’s sight and covenant plan, improbable and extraordinary events have unfolded with Israel’s ingathering of the Jewish people who are firmly settled today in their ancestral homeland. 

God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 opened the miracle narrative: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Fast forward and try to imagine what the Israelites thought of God’s promise to Abraham during 400 years under the Egyptians. Was the promise impossible? Where was the miracle?

Yet in Exodus 6:7, God delivers! “You shall know that I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” Now, for thousands of years, Jews have recounted their freedom beginning with the first Passover the night before they fled Egypt. Jews annually celebrate Passover in Israel and worldwide in what they consider the greatest miracle. God—against all human odds—set them free from slavery.

Deuteronomy 7:9 bears out a succession of miracles leading to this day, this moment, in 2022. “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Reading this verse, we remember the catastrophes that befell the Jews century after century—being crushed by Assyrians and exiled in Babylon, their land occupied by Romans, overrun by Crusaders, and dominated by Ottomans.

Great Britain is one example in the vast expanse of miracles. At the turn of the 20th century, Great Britain—which generations before had expelled Jews for 400 years—freed Israel from the Ottoman Empire and became the nation that provided the legal foundations for the Jewish state to later be established. Lord Balfour, a Christian statesman, led the way with his famous 1917 Balfour Declaration where then-called Palestine was under British Mandate rule. This, despite widespread anti-Semitism from British officers trying to prevent the return of the Jews to their homeland. In the same era, Professor Ben Yehuda began reviving the ancient Hebrew language spoken in today’s Israel. No other ancient language enjoys a miracle resurrection of this magnitude. 

In pre- and post-state Israel, devastating forces propelled Jewish Aliyah to their homeland from Russia, Yemen, Hungary, Germany, and Arab lands. The Holocaust stole the lives of six million men, women, and children. After the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, it would be improbable that 600,000 Jewish people would ever make their way to pre-state Israel to settle. Yet the survivors with their countrymen picked up their meagre weapons and astoundingly defeated four Arab armies that attacked the nascent state a day after Prime Minister Ben-Gurion declared statehood on May 14, 1948. Israel survived against all odds. The miracle, the extraordinary, happened again! 

Isaiah 66:8 poses the question, “Can a country be born in a day, or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” God gave His answer with the United Nations vote on May 14, 1948. 

The Jewish population worldwide is slightly over 15 million (0.2%) out of almost 8 billion people. At the online Jewish Virtual Library, I discovered a chart that tells—in numbers—a sad yet remarkable story about the Jewish population in the world. I looked at four years. In 1880 it numbered 7,800,000; in 1939, 16,728,000; in 1945, 11 million, and in 2021, 15,166,200. Tragically, because of the Nazi death machines, the worldwide Jewish population has never again reached its 1939 zenith of 16,728,000. 

However, despite threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran, more than 27,000 Jews moved to Israel in 2021. That was a 30 percent increase from 2020. The United States registered its own increase with 4,000, the highest number since 1973. Others from Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and more came to their ancestors’ homeland. Last year, the Jewish Agency for Israel reported on a “Aliyah Super Week,” so dubbed when 500 immigrants arrived from 20 countries. 

Christians are significantly involved in helping Jews make Aliyah, too. David Parsons, senior spokesman for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), reports, “We have assisted nearly 4,000 new Jewish immigrants from over 20 countries worldwide in moving to Israel, including our sponsorship of Aliyah flights for over 1,500 olim (newcomers) from all around the world.” 

Israel, itself a miracle, now creates miracles that stretch around the world as it shares innovations in medicine, technology, and agriculture. Israelis aid nations like Haiti and the Philippines following natural disasters; they drill wells in Africa and teach farmers ways to increase their crops. Recently, Israel donated $500,000 for food and medical aid assistance for Afghan refugees who fled to Tajikistan to escape the Taliban. Israel is a good neighbor to countries near and far, even though it is surrounded by hostile neighbors who would like to see it destroyed. 

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, famously said, “A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.” The miracle of Israel’s modern establishment and Aliyah are a miracle for all of us. 

Join CBN Israel in prayer this week for Jewish immigrants making Aliyah:

  • Pray for all immigrants for their adjustments to their new home in the Holy Land.
  • Pray with thanks for our faithful God who gives help to those who call upon His name.
  • Pray for all Jews wishing to make Aliyah for their plans, travel, and finances. 
  • Pray for CBN Israel and other charitable. organizations who give vital aid and assistance to new immigrants as they seek to acclimate to life in Israel. 

Beloved by Christians, too, the Psalms of Ascent include many favorites. May we reflect upon Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Single Mother: Elvira’s Story

After her first child was born, Elvira* was weak and exhausted. Plus, she and her husband were in dire financial straits, with no improvement in sight. So, she suggested they wait to have more children until things improved. Instead, he insisted that they have another child.

And a few months later her husband began to assault her. No one she turned to would believe her. She became pregnant again and felt very alone. 

Elvira had a baby boy, who she loved dearly—but her husband no longer cared for her or the children. He also had no concern about their massive debts, either. And within months, he resumed his violent abuse. This time, Elvira called the police, and he was arrested. Yet, how would she survive by herself with two little children—and a husband in prison? 

Thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel has partnered with a caring couple, who run a shelter for women traumatized by domestic violence. Slava and his wife welcomed Elvira with open arms! She and her children had a safe place to stay, free of charge, where she could rest and heal. She now has hope for her future. 

And with the increased domestic violence during the pandemic, CBN Israel is helping to expand the shelter—offering refuge and a new beginning to even more vulnerable women. 

Compassionate donors are making it possible to deliver relief to terror victims, lonely refugees, Holocaust survivors, and other aging seniors. Your support is crucial, as cries for help in the Holy Land persist. You can encourage those in need with food, safe housing, financial aid, and job training. 

Please join us in reaching out at this crucial time!

*Name and photo changed for privacy.

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Biblical Israel: Chorazin

By Marc Turnage

Located two and a half miles north of Capernaum, Chorazin sits in the hills overlooking the lake of Galilee at 45-46 meters above sea level and 267-273 meters above the lake. Although only mentioned once in the Gospels (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:13-16), Jesus cursed the village for not repenting when seeing the miracles he worked in its midst. He cursed Chorazin, along with Capernaum and Bethsaida. Incidentally, the land between these three villages, on the north shore of the lake of Galilee, covers much of the territory of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels. 

The distance of Chorazin from the lake meant that it did not participate directly in the fishing industry on the lake. We learn from rabbinic literature that Chorazin produced exceptional wheat. Excavations of the site reveal that the village, which began in the first century A.D., was a Jewish village.

The majority of the ruins one sees when visiting Chorazin today date from after the first century, but they reflect Jewish village life in the Galilee. The central structure from the later village is the synagogue. Built perhaps as early as the third century A.D., the basalt structure resembles the Galilean style synagogues excavated at places like Capernaum, Bar’am, Meiron, and Arbel. 

The synagogue sits in the center of the village. Worshippers entered the hall through three entrances from a large staircase on the south, which faces towards Jerusalem. Two tiers of benches line the two long aisles and the short wall opposite the entrance in a “U” shape. Inside the synagogue, the basalt stone, which is hard to fashion, bears carvings and decorations. 

Excavators uncovered pieces of what appears to be a Torah Ark, where biblical scrolls read in the synagogue were kept. They also discovered a basalt stone seat, which was known as the Seat of Moses (see Matthew 23:1-2; Luke 4:20). The chair bears a dedicatory inscription in Aramaic, which reads, “Remember for good Yudan son of Ishmael, who made (or donated) this stoa, and its steps from his property. May he have a portion with the righteous.” Recent excavations in the floor of this synagogue indicate that it may stand on an earlier public building, perhaps the first century synagogue. 

Although the ruins of Chorazin that one sees today date to after the first century, the site contains a number of features in the homes, installations, like a covered Jewish ritual immersion bath, and details within the synagogue that help to illustrate stories from the Gospels and the life and ministry of 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: Do Justice

“He has told you, mortal one, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NASB).

When the prophet Micah sought to summarize what God wants of us, he simplified our life before God into three directives: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. We are to do justice. The question, however, is whether the cries for justice in our world today reflect the biblical idea of justice.

In our Western world, we often think of justice as more of an abstract ideal. Our courthouses depict justice as a blindfolded lady with the scales in her hands, because justice is to be blind—the same and equal for all. In the Bible justice is not abstract; rather, it is defined relationally, with the central relationship being how God relates to us and calls upon us to relate to Him.

The second relational aspect is how He demands that we relate to each other, which He defines. The violation of either of these relational aspects, either between us and God or us and our neighbor, is what the Bible defines as sin. Justice, then, is defined by God. God Himself is just.

The Bible also makes clear that God is merciful. In fact, as justice cannot be just without mercy, so too mercy gains clarity by justice. They go together.

The cries for justice we hear today do not often reflect this nuanced, biblical reality. Many want justice to roll down upon our world, especially upon those who do not share their faith, politics, or morals. Yet justice requires mercy. Moreover, justice is defined by God.

Micah captures this reality. What does God desire from us? Do justice. Doing justice does not mean playing the judge; it means living in right relationship with others and actively pursuing the wellbeing of everyone around us—particularly the poor, needy, and oppressed among us.

In our efforts to do justice, though, we must also remember to love kindness and mercy. Each of us has played a role in causing or perpetuating injustice in our world. Therefore, in the same way that we need mercy, we must extend mercy to others. 

And finally, we must choose to walk humbly with God. Why? We have to possess the humility to recognize that we are not the judge; only One deserves that title. Unlike human beings, God’s judgment is perfect. He always has a redemptive or restorative outcome in mind.

If we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, then we will be able to more effectively demonstrate the truth of who God is to an unjust, broken, and hurting world. They will see that He is good, just, and full of mercy. 

PRAYER

Father, today may we do justice and pursue what is right for all. Give us empathy for others, to stand in their place. May we love mercy and show it to all we come in contact with, and may we walk humbly with You, our merciful and just Judge. Amen.

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Israel’s Golan: Rising to New Heights

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Traveling north to Israel’s Golan Heights is an adventuresome journey of hairpin turns, vineyards, and vistas of the snow-capped 9,000-foot Mount Hermon. Yet despite an ancient history wrapped in boundless beauty, ominous warning signs about uncleared minefields from the 1967 Six-Day War still dot the landscape—and reflect ongoing controversy. 

I have often visited the Golan Heights before, during, and after serving on the staff of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA. On some visits, my tour groups might see two faces of the Golan. As we rode in four-wheelers on paved and dirt roads—giving us up-close looks at the fields, wildflowers, and trees—we marveled at its beauty. But sitting on the Israel/Syria border during Syria’s horrific civil war, my groups learned firsthand from expert military briefings that were punctuated by bombs in the background. One year, following the 2018 Christian Media Summit, I navigated hairpin turns on the Jordanian side of the Golan. Gripping the steering wheel in the evening shadows, I—along with my good friend Robin—finally arrived after dark! Relieved, we each took a deep breath, stepped out of the car, and shared a Shabbat with new friends and a delicious meal. They made the harrowing drive worthwhile! 

Falling in love with the scenic Golan Heights and its history is easy to do. So, when Israel made headlines about the Golan late last month—on December 26, 2021—I embraced it as good news, since the government’s plans will enhance Israel’s security and sovereignty. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his cabinet announced their goal to double the population of the Golan Heights over the next five years. The Knesset approved a $317 million plan to build 7,300 homes. Fittingly, they met in a small village, Mevo Hama (“Gateway”). Located a mile from the Sea of Galilee, the kibbutz is considered the southernmost location in the Golan.

A predictable media outcry ensued over Israel’s decision, as if Israel was the problem. In its regrettable habit of excluding key facts and context, the media conveniently ignored the 19 years of Syrian aggression against Israel before the Jewish nation captured the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. In a December 29, 2021, article by Hadar Sela at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), she writes, “During the years between 1949 and 1967, a generation of children who came to be known as the ‘shelters generation’ grew up in Gadot and many other nearby villages and kibbutzim and it was this difficult reality which led a delegation from the area to press the Prime Minister of the time, Levi Eshkol, to capture the Golan Heights during the last day and a half of the Six-Day War.”

Also omitted by the mainstream media was Israel’s significant offer right after the war: to return the Golan in exchange for peace. The now-famous “Three No’s” entered the Arab vernacular when they met in September 1967 in Khartoum, Sudan. The Arab League announced, “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, and No negotiations with Israel.” 

Fortunately, the Abraham Accords have changed many minds about those “no’s.” Years have passed since that utterance. Today, there are 53,000 Golan Heights residents—both Jews and Arabs—who will benefit from 2,000 newly created jobs, more agricultural initiatives, and additional housing to accommodate the increase in population. Living peaceably in the area are 27,000 Jews, 24,000 Druze, and 2,000 Alawite Muslims. Also planned in the new venture are transportation systems along with educational and healthcare facilities.

In his remarks, Prime Minister Bennett said this move was prompted by the Trump administration’s decision in 2019 to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. The United Nations, media, and others condemned Trump’s stance, claiming that Israel was violating international law. However, many international law experts, such as Professor Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, disagree. In testimony before Congress in 2018 he asserted, “Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israel control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive war.” And, as he further explained, such changes would not apply retroactively.

Aside from controversies over international law, Israel’s security is paramount. From the towering Golan Heights, the Israelis can monitor Syrian movements and Iran’s efforts at transporting weapons into Syria. History proves that neither Syria nor Iran is interested in a peace agreement with Israel. Iranian troops are entrenched in Syria right over the Syrian edge of the Golan. Syria is the Iranian Imams’ proxy for weapons storage depots on land and at the port of Latakia. Israel’s Golan buildup not only benefits its citizens, but it sends a clear message that Israel is not retreating. Israel’s population is increasing. Statistics show that 25,000 Jews made Aliyah to Israel last year, up 30% since 2020. Hopefully, many families and businesses will choose the beautiful Golan for their new homes, jobs, and lifestyles. 

Both Deuteronomy 4:43 and Joshua 21:27 show God’s land deed in the Golan, then called the biblical city of Golan in Bashan. God assigned it to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 13:29-31). Ancient and modern battles have ensued in and around the Golan, with borders changing and rearranging with the rise and fall of nations and armies. Since 1967, when Israel reclaimed its Golan heritage, archaeologists have uncovered substantial proof of ancient Jewish life. They have discovered around 30 synagogues in the region. The menorah, Israel’s national symbol, is engraved into numerous centuries-old stones and boulders of all sizes. 

I learned about the synagogues, their locations, and architecture in a fascinating book of text and photos entitled Ancient Synagogues of the Golan by Dafna and Eran Meir. In 2019, Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) hosted its last in-person Christian Media Summit prior to COVID-19. They planned a fantastic day in the Golan for us and also gifted us with this informative hardcover book. 

The day included a delicious Israeli lunch at the newly named Trump Village, followed by an inspiring ceremony under a large tent as the sun slipped behind the hills. Leaders representing three faiths signed a proclamation of peace and unity for the Golan, including Druze Sheik Salim Abu Salach, Rabbi Aharon Eisental, Chief Rabbi of Hispin Village, and David Parsons, international spokesman for International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem. One hundred and twenty media professionals from all over the world witnessed the signing. 

The ceremony was inscribed into our hearts with a prayer written and spoken especially for the ceremony by Hadassah Schwartz, Senior Coordinator of International Religious Journalism for Israel’s Government Press Office: 

“Our Father in heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel and Jerusalem, bless the Golan Heights and those who seek its peace and send blessings and success to all their work. Envelop us in Your peace, bestow eternal happiness to the inhabitants of our land. Remove war and bloodshed from the world and bequeath a great and wondrous peace from heaven. ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore’” [Isaiah 2:4].  

“Sanctify the earth with blessed rain and bestow upon us rich produce from above. Manifest Yourself in bold splendor before the eyes of all inhabitants of Your world. As it is written [Isaiah 21:2], ‘The Lord of Hosts has a day in store for all the proud and lofty; for all that are exalted, and they will be humbled; for all the tall and lofty Cedars of Lebanon and all the oaks of Bashan.’ May everyone endowed with a soul affirm that the Lord God of Israel is king, and His dominion is absolute. Amen.” 

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for the nation and people of Israel:

  • Pray Hadassah’s prayer not only for the Golan Heights but for Israel, the United States, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. 
  • Pray for Israel’s ongoing vigilance of its northern border near Syria and Lebanon. 
  • Pray for an end to the terror plots of Israel’s enemies—particularly in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and among Palestinian militants.
  • Pray for the Christian community to remain steadfast in prayer and action on behalf of Israel and the worldwide Jewish community.
  • Pray for CBN Israel to be more effective than ever at reaching millions worldwide with the true story of Israel and the Jewish people. 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Victim of Terrorism: Ludmilla’s Story

Ludmilla and her husband moved to Israel from Ukraine in 2000 and settled in Sderot. Her husband is now disabled—and at 62, she is his primary caregiver. With four children and eight grandchildren in Ukraine, the couple has no relatives nearby.

When COVID-19 first hit, Ludmilla worried that tighter travel restrictions might follow, so she persuaded her family to come and visit Israel. Her children had to return to Ukraine, but they agreed the grandchildren should stay longer. With Ukraine’s political unrest, Israel seemed safer for the grandkids. But then, Israel was targeted by non-stop rocket fire.

Although the children were confined to a safe space, they were terrified and suffered nightmares. Ludmilla felt guilty for inviting them. Suddenly, a rocket made a direct hit in their yard, blowing out their windows. The stress and shock Ludmilla felt triggered a heart attack, and she was hospitalized.

Yet, friends like you were there for her, through CBN Israel. Compassionate donors provided a financial grant for food, essentials, and repairs—while offering professional trauma counseling through local partners. 

Ludmilla now takes heart medication and is doing much better. The children are doing amazingly well, and their parents feel that they are still safer staying with their grandmother in Israel. Ludmilla is thrilled by the kindness she has received and says, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart!” 

Your gift can let other terror victims know they are not alone—along with helping immigrants, Holocaust survivors, and others in need. With so many in the Holy Land facing challenges, your support can supply them with groceries, shelter, and financial aid. 

Please help us reach those who are hurting!

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Biblical Israel: Magdala

By Marc Turnage

The site of Magdala sits a little over three miles north of Tiberias, on the southern edge of the plain of Gennesar, on the shore of the lake of Galilee.

Ancient sources seemingly refer to this site by three names; Greek and Latin sources refer to it as Taricheae; Hebrew and Aramaic sources use the names Magdala or Migdal Nunaya. Although a question remains whether all three names refer to the same site, many accept that they do. Since the Byzantine period (4th-7th centuries A.D.), tradition has identified this site as the home of Mary Magdalene, mentioned in the Gospels, but Mary’s connection with this site is by no means certain. 

The ancient sources written in Greek and Latin, dating to the 1st century, refer to the site as Taricheae. Taricheae served as an important administrative center from the 1st century B.C. into the 1st century A.D. Its name in Greek refers to “factories (vats) for salting fish.” The city’s location on the shores of the lake of Galilee indicate that fishing and fish processing served as its primary industry. The administrative role of the city, as well as its size, suggest that its fishing and fish processing involved smaller villages that lay within its toparchy, like Capernaum. 

Gennesar (Gennesereth) is a large fertile plain on the northwest corner of the lake of Galilee. The name refers to the region of the fertile plain. Magdala functioned as the largest city and port serving the Gennesar Valley; thus, when Jesus arrives by boat to Gennesar (the region) in the Gospels, he likely used the port of Magdala. 

Archaeologists first excavated a small section of the site in the 1970s. Excavations since the 2000s have provided a number of significant finds that shed light on Jewish life around the lake of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus. Excavations have uncovered installations that likely served for the processing and salting of fish, indicating the identification of the site as Taricheae. They also uncovered a series of streets laid out in an urban grid pattern, and along some of these streets, houses were uncovered that speak to the wealth of the people that lived in them.

They were built with finely cut stones having mosaic tile floors. Pottery and glass vessels discovered in these homes further speak to the wealth of the inhabitants. These homes also had private Jewish ritual immersion baths (mikva’ot). Ground water filled and refilled these pools. Their presence is rather unique since the lake itself could serve Jewish ritual purity needs. The owners of these homes apparently desired a high degree of ritual purity, which required them to include private ritual immersion baths in their homes.

Excavations uncovered the ancient Hasmonean (1st century B.C.) and early Roman (1st century A.D.) harbor of Magdala. Pottery and coins provided a clear date for the structure, which had the mooring stones still in place. This harbor served the fishing industry of Magdala, as well as provided transit for travel around the lake. Magdala sits just below Mount Arbel, which overlooked a pass through which a road led from the northwest corner of the lake west into Galilee, and which could also be used by Galilean pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. 

Excavators uncovered a modest public building, which they have identified as a synagogue. This building consists of three phases. The middle phase dates to the early-mid 1st century A.D. This structure consists of an entrance with a narrow rectangular hall from the west, possibly a room for study known as a beit midrash. One passes from the entry vestibule into the main hall, which is surrounded on all sides by benches. This placed the focal point of the hall in the center of the room (this is a common layout for first century synagogues).

The aisles had mosaic floors, and the columns of the main hall were covered with frescoed plaster. The walls also had frescoes plaster upon them. In the center of the main hall, archaeologists discovered a stone with four short legs. This decorated stone preserves a number of images, the most striking of which is the seven branched menorah that resided in the Jerusalem Temple. The iconography of this stone seems to tie to the Temple in Jerusalem indicating that those in this synagogue connected their worship with the worship in the Temple. 

In the land of Israel in the 1st century, the primary function of the synagogue was the reading and teaching of the Torah. We see this with Jesus in the Gospels. The layout and orientation of 1st century synagogues in the land of Israel, like the one in Magdala, focus on the center of the hall where the Torah would be read and expounded upon. This stone discovered in Magdala has been identified as the base for a Torah reading stand. Jews read the Torah standing; they sit to teach (just like Jesus; see Luke 4:16-20). This decorated stone likely served as a base for a stand for the Torah reading, when all eyes would be fixed on the one reading and explicating the Torah (Luke 4:16-20).

The Gospels do not mention Jesus in Magdala. Yet, he sailed to the region of Gennesar where Magdala was located. He taught in all the synagogues of the villages and cities of Galilee. The Magdala synagogue dates from the time of his ministry; he could have taught there. Excavations at Magdala reveal that the population of the Galilee in the 1st century was Jewish, and devout Jews at that. Some had wealth, but they adhered to Jewish concerns of purity and worship.

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: On Display

One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD asked Satan, “Where have you come from?”

“From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered Him, “and walking around on it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” 

Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t You placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse You to Your face.”

“Very well,” the LORD told Satan, “everything he owns is in your power. However, you must not lay a hand on Job himself.” So Satan left the LORD’s presence (Job 1:6-12 HCSB).

God thrust Job into the arena. Have you ever noticed this? God brought him before Satan. He drew attention to Job’s blamelessness and uprightness, his fear of God. 

By doing so, He put these qualities within Job to the test. Satan suggested that Job would not remain faithful if he suffered, and this becomes the setting for the book of Job: his tests and suffering. Sometimes our faithfulness has to be tested in the fire of trial and suffering. Job came through the test. But God put him in the furnace of testing. Why?

The book of Job never answers Job’s question, “Why?” When God finally answers Job, His response in essence is: I’m God, you’re not. Sometimes there is no answer to the question of why people suffer. But God answered Job, and this has much greater significance. Job wanted to make his case before God, something he didn’t get to do. Yet God answered him, and in the end this is what mattered—not the answer, but the One who answered.

Still, God thrust Job into the arena. Throughout the Bible, God placed people in the arena with all eyes watching to show forth His glory. When we remain faithful in the midst of trials, sufferings, hardships, and pain, not only is our faith strengthened, but we glorify God before a watching world. Satan could no longer express a caveat for Job’s faithfulness, because he remained faithful through his trials and suffering. 

Job’s story tells us, though, that God will thrust us into the arena—not for our comfort, but for His glory. Sometimes God wants to put us on display before a watching world. 

In the midst of trials, sufferings, hardships, and pain, will we choose to remain faithful to God? Will we be a bright and shining example to the world around us? Will they see that our faith is genuine and will remain unshaken even during adversity?

PRAYER

Father, in the midst of trials, hardships, and suffering, may we display loyalty and faithfulness to You. Amen.

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Hope in the Holy Land? One Film Casts a Light

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

After decades of enmity between Jews and Palestinians, is it possible that improved, strong steps from these two communities will finally land on a bigger planet of cooperation? Trying to solve entrenched disputes between Jews and Palestinians has exasperated presidents, prime ministers, pacifists, and prognosticators for decades.

However, the filmmakers saw another possibility. Hope in the Holy Land, an ambitious film, is co-produced and directed by Justin Kron and Todd Morehead. A pastor and California film producer/director, Morehead traveled all over Israel, listening to and recording the sentiments of everyday Jews and Palestinians. In the film, the two perspectives are both skillfully and effectively captured.

The film was deliberately released on May 14, 2021, Israel’s Independence Day and what Palestinians call the Naqba (catastrophe). The film explores the possibilities of achieving harmony—not by presenting briefings from experts, negotiators, polling, or statistics—but by broadening the perspective to average ordinary people on both sides and offering a balanced, compassionate examination of the conflict.

I viewed Hope in the Holy Land last October at Restoration Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. 

I enjoyed meeting and talking with Justin Kron when I attended the film’s showing. For this column I asked Justin, co-creator and producer, to email me a quote. His response expresses the goal of the film. “In this world where agenda-driven narratives are pushed at the expense of truth and the well-being of humanity, we set out to do the opposite for the sake of our own integrity as filmmakers and for the benefit of the viewers, especially those who want to understand the conflict through a biblical worldview.”

Kron goes on to articulate the balance they sought to “not only honor Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state, but also to uphold the dignity of Arabs living in the land. What we discovered is that there are Jews and Arabs on both sides who also embrace that worldview, and we’re grateful that we got to help share their stories.”

Awaiting the film’s opening credits, I was both curious and skeptical. As a longtime pro-Israel advocate, years of my work professionally has centered on mentoring Christians to interact with their members of the U.S. Congress through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Among the legislation, defunding the Palestinian Authority was important, due to its policy of monetarily rewarding terrorists’ families. Reflecting on my writing and research since 2016 when I retired from AIPAC, I have written on topics about the United Nations; anti-Semitism; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and the results of lies fed to the Palestinian population by their leaders. 

I recalled many trips to Israel. On some trips, I learned about pockets of friendship and cooperation in shared industry workplaces for Jews and Palestinians—even in Judea and Samaria, the biblical heartland. Favorable Palestinian and Jewish relationships abound on university campuses, hospitals, and in research and technology projects. Yet a cloud of hatred still hovers over Palestinians, abetted by their leaders.

Egyptian-born Yasser Arafat invented the concept of “Palestinians” as a separate ethnicity when he founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. Sixty years later, it has become a dangerous deterrent to peace, along with the frustration and fear felt by the Jewish community after decades of dead-end peace plans and unrelenting terrorism. I and millions of evangelicals worldwide have viewed Israel as needing friends and advocates. That remains true. 

As I sat in the audience, I found myself wondering what I would think once the film ended. My thoughts finally came to attention when the opening credits rolled into a 111-minute documentary film of time well spent. Todd Morehead experienced the in-person conversations with Jews and Palestinians in a tapestry of opposite opinion and everything in between. The film’s interview approach was refreshing in its authenticity, whether I agreed with every interviewee or not. Morehead carried himself as a calm, sincere questioner and listener. 

Watching Hope in the Holy Land reminded me of a playground seesaw. The film seriously and successfully integrates a single pivot point in the center of the widely contrasting opinions, ranging from hostile to harmonious. The compassionate pivot point creates a safe place where viewers see and hear opposite—as well as shared—perspectives that stretch whatever opinion audiences hold while viewing the array of Jews and Palestinians.

Revisiting the reality of our own humanity and emotions, it occurred to me anew while spellbound with the film that both hatred and fear can disfigure minds and emotions. Guarding against both are struggles that we must choose to place in the waiting hands of our God and Savior to heal. 

Hope in the Holy Land has collected an impressive series of awards. They include the Audience award at the 2021 San Diego International Jewish Film Festival, winner of the 2020 International Christian Visual Media Gold Crown Award, and an official selection of the 2020 Justice Film Festival. The multiple, wide-ranging endorsements on their web site at hopeintheholyland.com uphold the excellence and value of the documentary. This documentary is a worthy one!

The film rests under the umbrella of the Philos Project, a non-profit that describes itself as “a community of Christian leaders who advocate for pluralism in the Near East.” The organization has initiated a series of significant projects since its founding. One of these is Passages, co-sponsored with Museum of the Bible, which offers Christian college student leaders a fresh, innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land. 

Rabbi Tuly Weisz, editor of The Israel Bible and CEO of Israel365, wrote an opinion piece for Fox News a few years ago. In it, he cited Genesis 15:18-21, when God and Abraham began what is now a 3,000-year-old conversation. God promised, “I will assign this land to your offspring.” It resulted in God’s eternal contract with the Jewish people. Rabbi Weisz goes on to say that the Hebrew Bible contains 1,000 verses connecting the Jewish people with the land of Israel.

These biblical facts remain unmoved as one of the cornerstones of my Christian faith. However, Hope in the Holy Land is a visual vessel with a reminder of another vital biblical cornerstone: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). 

Following our Jewish Savior, we are the ones who must do our best to uphold biblical truth about God’s sovereign perspective of Israel, the Jewish homeland, all the while remembering we are to love others as He loves us. One of the film’s epigrams asserts, “In spite of all the years of conflict, there are people here rising above the hurts of the past, to speak the truth, and be lights in the darkness. There’s hope here—if you know where to look for it.” 

Psalm 104:19 describes our Creator: “He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knows its going down.” Father God will set everything right at a time only He knows. In the meantime, the Bible is the place to embrace God’s covenant relationship with the Jewish people matched with His law of love for the Arab people.

Please join CBN Israel in prayer for both Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land:

  • Pray for the evangelical community to reset any attitudes that are not biblical.
  • Pray for both Jews and Arabs who are suffering within an intense conundrum. 
  • Pray for all the Arabs and Jews who enjoy and stand up for their friendships.
  • Pray for all who live in Jesus’ birthplace, that they will come to know Messiah. 


Arlene Bridges Samuels
pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Victim of Terrorism: Malka’s Story

Malka and her husband have weathered many challenges living in Israel. He has been disabled for years with severe spinal problems—and has undergone long periods of extensive treatment. Walking and speaking are now difficult for him, and the struggle has been discouraging. 

When Malka learned that her husband might not have a long time left to live, she wanted to do something special to lift his spirits and make him more comfortable. So, she bought new furniture and electrical appliances, to make their home more enjoyable. 

But soon after, Israel endured a barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza. And sadly, just one week after Malka’s brand-new purchases were delivered, a rocket made a direct hit on their home—demolishing both floors, and all their belongings. Even worse, shrapnel hit her husband’s head and destroyed his hearing. It drove him to severe depression. He cannot eat or sleep, and his body constantly shakes. But thankfully, loving people like you were there for them through CBN Israel. 

CBN Israel donors made it possible to give Malka emergency financial assistance, to help cover any essentials they needed. And the couple was offered trauma counseling through local professionals who partner with us. Malka exclaimed, “Thank you for this aid—we are overwhelmed by your kindness!” 

Your gift to CBN Israel can touch the lives of other terror victims, along with single mothers, immigrant families, and aging Holocaust survivors in need. With so many across the Holy Land in crisis, your support is crucial in offering them groceries, housing, financial aid, and more. Plus, you can help bring vital news with a biblical perspective, and documentaries that share Israel’s stories. 

Please help us make a difference in this special land!

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