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Weekly Devotional: Who Are You To Judge?

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11-12 NKJV)

A Jewish contemporary of Jesus said, “Do not judge your neighbor until you have come to his place.” It’s an ancient version of our modern saying: “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” 

We live in a world that clamors for mercy, yet each group speaks evil about their opponents, and in so doing, we judge one another. Many sugarcoat their speech by claiming that they are defending the “truth,” and therefore they justify the harshness of their words against their foes. “He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.”

This is not an appeal for universalism. It’s a call for mercy. Do not judge your neighbor until you have come to his place. The Bible is clear: God is the just Judge, and the just Judge of the world will judge justly. Leave it to Him. We are not called to judge but to show mercy. To forgive. To treat others in the same manner we want God to treat us. 

That’s not easy in the world in which we live. Our world is polarizing. It divides us. It encourages us to judge those who don’t agree with us. It fuels our suspicion and negativity toward others. And, in the midst of this, James asks us, “Who are you to judge another?” 

In our world today, we have to fight against the inertia that pulls us toward judging others. There is only One who can judge, and He reserves that right for Himself. God looks upon the hearts and minds of people, and He knows where they’ve come from.

If we reflect the same judgment that our world renders on one another, then our faith doesn’t really mean much. Let’s strive for love and mercy because the just Judge is also merciful, even towards us.

PRAYER

Father, may we be merciful toward others, as You are. Amen. 

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On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Little-Known Story Offers Inspiration 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Amid the worldwide resurgence of anti-Semitism, recommitting to the rallying cry of “Never Again” is vital. The venom of hatred is once again poisoning the world against the Jews, God’s chosen people. Simply remembering the Holocaust is not enough.

We cannot imitate many within the European Christian community, which in large part ignored what was happening all around them. From 1942 to 1944, trains inhumanely jammed with Jewish families rumbled through Germany, Poland, and other nations while Christians attended church and sang hymns. 

Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps were among the most notorious. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes the breadth of the horror: “Beginning in late winter 1943, trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on a regular basis carrying Jews from virtually every German-occupied country of Europe—from as far north as Norway to the Greek island of Rhodes off the coast of Turkey in the south, from the French slopes of the Pyrenees in the west to the easternmost reaches of German-occupied Poland and the Baltic states. … The Germans killed nearly three million Jews in the five killing centers.” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency headlined this article in a Swedish newspaper: “10,000 Jews Deported from Germany to Poland in One Week.” 

Thankfully, some Jews escaped transport to the death camps. A remarkable story was hidden for years about Bulgaria, a nation that was occupied by Nazis in World War II. Michael Bar-Zohar—a Bulgarian Jew who immigrated to Israel in 1948 and later served as a Knesset member—shared this astounding story in his 1998 book, Beyond Hitler’s Grasp. After World War II, when the Soviet Union took over Bulgaria, its communist leaders buried this 1943 story. Finally, when the Iron Curtain opened in 1990, tales of Bulgarian heroism began to emerge in their new era of freedom. 

This particular narrative is both complex and fascinating. In 1941, Bulgaria’s King Boris III aligned with Germany. Then in early February 1943, an agreement took place between a Nazi official in Sofia—Bulgaria’s capital—and the Bulgarian Commissar for Jewish Questions. Their signatures set in motion a secret plan to deport Jews to Poland. Without warning, Bulgarian police arrested 11,343 Thracian and Macedonian Jews and took them to the border, where Nazis forced them onto the long, horrific train ride. All perished in Treblinka.

Soon after, another part of the plan became known via covert information that reached several Bulgarian legislators and religious leaders. Dimiter Peshev, Deputy President of the National Assembly, had already realized with horror his part in allowing the deportation of the Thracian and Macedonian Jews. Peshev sprang into action, as arrests were already in progress and they were just three days away from loading Jews onto the trains. Peshev and the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church’s Archbishop Stefan of Sofia galvanized the people in the capital, Sofia—creating a fire of determined peaceful resistance that lit Bulgarian hearts at all levels of society. 

Bulgaria’s national motto, “Unity Makes Strength,” symbolized that nation’s long history of diversity and harmony with its Jewish citizens. Together, Bulgaria’s citizens would help ensure freedom for its Jewish population. Although some Bulgarian Jews were put in work camps in Bulgaria, they weren’t deported to extermination camps.

There were myriad examples of Bulgarian bravery. Bishop Kiril of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church led 300 of his church members to defy Nazis by standing in front of a train filled with Jewish men, women, and children in the town of Plovdiv. Bulgarians washed away hateful slogans painted by Nazis. A teacher publicly wore a yellow star to stand up for her Jewish friends, and a baker hid Jews in his bakery oven. 

Three Nazi deportation attempts were made. All three failed, and the trains left empty. Bulgaria saved its 49,000 Jewish citizens. It was the largest rescue in Nazi-occupied Europe, yet it remained mostly hidden from historical accounts until the Soviet Union dissolved. It earned Bulgaria the distinction of being the only Axis-aligned country that didn’t deport its Jews.

Today, the actions of Bulgaria’s brave citizens can remind us to set aside apathy and denial and express in word and deed our commitment to the Jews of Israel, America, and worldwide. For Jewish and Christian communities that want to actively prevent anti-Semitism’s malignant growth, so many choices are available. 

Among these choices, cultural and artistic renditions of Holocaust-era stories can inspire us to act today. There are three I especially want to highlight: Varna International, Israel’s Violins of Hope, and The Auschwitz Album Revisited art exhibit. A dedicated group composed of Jews and Christians have organized a four-week concert tour across South Carolina beginning April 24. They and The Jerusalem Connection Report share one goal: to educate audiences—through music and the art exhibit—with inspiring stories of honor and heroism to renew the “Never Again” message.

When husband-wife team Kalin and Sharon Tchonev founded Varna International 21 years ago in Columbia, South Carolina, they had no idea their company would bloom into a globally recognized festival organizer. Specializing in large-scale, artistically rich, and customized choral-orchestral concerts throughout Europe, Israel, and the United States, they have staged performances at The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and hundreds of other esteemed venues. 

Inspired by the Bulgarian people who rescued their Jewish population from certain death, Kalin and Sharon Tchonev conceived the “Songs of Life” festival. It is their personal love story. Kalin explains, “Had it not been for the miraculous rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews, I (a Bulgarian) would not have my wife and son today. Sharon’s maternal grandparents were among the 49,000 Bulgarian Jews rescued during the Holocaust.” In 1950, her grandparents immigrated to Israel, where Sharon was born.

Israel’s Violins of Hope embodies the victory of the human spirit over evil and hatred. Famous luthiers Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshi have restored 60 violins in their Tel Aviv workshop since Amnon founded Violins of Hope in 1996. Amnon has collected instruments since the end of World War II—instruments belonging to Jews before and during the war. Violins were donated or bought from survivors; some came through family members. Although Amnon’s parents escaped the Holocaust by making Aliyah from Poland to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in 1935, many other members of his family were later murdered in World War II. As their website explains, Violins of Hope is a “project of concerts based on the collection … not only a memorial to lost culture and people, it is also an educational act that reaches young students and adults wherever our concerts are performed.”

The final prong of this educational tour is an art exhibit called The Auschwitz Album Revisited. Christian artist Dr. Pat Mercer Hutchens (1937-2014) expertly recreated oil paintings in color from 40 black-and-white photos in a Nazi album. An  Auschwitz survivor discovered the album  when it was liberated in 1945. The artist finished the project despite suffering with cancer. Her art is permanently exhibited at the Liberty University art gallery in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Jerusalem Connection Report joins in to honor the lost and educate the living with the art exhibit in several music locations on the tour. 

Over the four-week period starting in April, hundreds of South Carolina musicians and choirs will present Holocaust Remembrance Stories (violinsofhopesc.org/events-tickets).

I pray that all Christians will make choices to stand against rising anti-Semitism. We can’t all be a Corrie ten Boom or an Oskar Schindler, but many avenues for offering help exist today. Patronizing concerts and art shows and making donations to humanitarian aid for Holocaust survivors. Supporting the production of films and documentaries by CBN Israel. Refusing to participate in slanderous Jewish jokes. Passing on facts in emails and social media. Inviting a Jewish friend to dinner or an expert to speak in your church or attending a synagogue.

Also, please join CBN Israel in prayer on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day:

  • Pray that the Jewish state will continue to be a place of refuge for the Jewish people. 
  • Pray for the remaining Holocaust survivors to be well cared for in their later years. 
  • Pray for the world to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and pledge “Never Again.” 
  • Pray for the next generations to be educated about what happened during the Holocaust. 
  • Pray for CBN Israel as it reaches out in love to Holocaust survivors throughout Israel. 

Today, may we solemnly reflect upon the weighty words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

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 an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990.  She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer 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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Remembering the Holocaust

In 2005, the United Nations designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this solemn day, the world remembers the 6 million Jewish men, women, and children who were killed by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. 

We also honor the survivors whose courage, strength, and resilience were shaped within the shadows and ashes of Europe’s extermination camps. And this horrifying genocide gave those who lived the determination to declare, “Never Again.” 

That is why today, CBN Israel honors their commitment. With CBN’s extensive international media platform, extraordinary people like you are helping to expose and stem the tide of rising global anti-Semitism. Together, Christians are sending a clear message to the world—declaring that we will stand with the Jewish nation and people. 

Through CBN News, friends like you are also sharing a biblical perspective on headlines in the Holy Land—and fighting hatred and misinformation with the truth. Plus, the dedicated support of CBN Israel partners makes it possible to produce award-winning films that share the riveting stories of Israel’s past and present. 

And caring people like you are serving Israel’s last generation of Holocaust survivors, most of whom are in their 90s. Today, there are nearly 200,000 survivors left in Israel. Sadly, many are alone—and struggle to make ends meet. But compassionate friends like you are there, making it possible to facilitate safe visits with needed food, medicine, and encouragement. 

Most of all, the loving support of CBN Israel partners lets these frail seniors know they are not forgotten, just as it does for impoverished families, new immigrants, and others in need. 

So many people in Israel are struggling to survive. Your support can bless them by offering food, housing, job training, and more. You can also unite with other Christians in taking a stand against the toxic poison of anti-Semitism in our world today. Thank you for caring! 

Please join us in remembering the Holocaust and firmly declaring, “Never Again.”

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Biblical Israel: Qumran

By Marc Turnage

Located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, about seven miles south of Jericho and twenty miles north of Ein Gedi, sits the ruins of Qumran. Eleven caves around Qumran yielded, arguably, the most important archaeological discovery of the twentieth century: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The current name, Qumran, comes from the Arabic word qamar (“moon”), so it was not its ancient name, which remains unknown. Some have suggested that it may be Secacah (Joshua 15:61-62). 

In 1947, in a cave just north of the ruins of Qumran, Bedouin shepherds discovered seven leather scrolls hidden inside. This set off the frantic search by scholars and Bedouin alike to discover more caves and scrolls. Around Qumran, eleven caves were discovered between 1952-1956 that contained scrolls. The discovery of scrolls in the caves around Qumran led archaeologists to excavate the ruins of Qumran in 1951 and from 1953-1956. 

The library of scrolls discovered in the eleven caves yielded approximately 30,000 fragments of scrolls, comprising about 1,000 manuscripts written on leather, papyrus, and one on copper, in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The library proves incredibly important for our understanding of the text of the Old Testament, as well as ancient Judaism, the Judaism of the first century. 

Every book of the Old Testament, except for Esther, was discovered among the Qumran library. The most copied books were Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah, which are also the three Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament. The library also contained non-biblical works written by Jews from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D., with a unique collection of writings belonging to the Jewish sect that lived at Qumran, a group most scholars identify as the Essenes, which are mentioned by several ancient writers. 

Most scholars identify the ruins of Qumran as belonging to a group of Essenes. The site consists of rooms, which have been identified as a scriptorium, where the community members copied the scrolls, a dining room, which is the longest room at the site and had a pantry filled with bowls, plates, and cups. The site also contains pottery kilns, water reservoirs, as well as several large communal Jewish ritual immersion baths. 

The site, which sits in a dry, desert climate, used a series of dams and water channels to bring water from the nearby wadi, which flooded during the winter rains. The dams and channels ensured that water flowed into the settlement and filled the water installations. 

The discovery of the scrolls significantly advanced our understanding of the text of the Old Testament, as well as the world of ancient Judaism, which is the world of the New Testament.  

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: What Matters to God?

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 ESV). 

If someone asked you, “What matters to God?”—how would you respond? 

We sometimes struggle to feel the impact of the words of Scripture because we do not belong to the world of the Bible. We do not understand worshiping God with sacrifices; we might think we do, but we don’t. Within the ancient world, sacrifices and altar worship provided a solemn connection between the people and God (or in the case of non-Israelites, their gods).

The words of Hosea struck his audience in a very specific way. God desired steadfast love more than sacrifices? The knowledge of Him more than burnt offerings? The prophet’s answer: Yes.

What matters to God? Steadfast love and the knowledge of Him. The term translated as “steadfast love” in Hebrew refers to covenant faithfulness, or covenant loyalty. In other words, obedience. It does not refer to an emotional feeling about God, but rather our steadfast and faithful obedience to Him. 

The deliberate construction of Hosea’s statement places “steadfast love” parallel to “the knowledge of God.” This communicated something significant to Hosea’s ancient reader: Demonstrating steadfast love to God is equivalent with the knowledge of God. In the Bible, one knows God by obeying Him. Obedience gives us knowledge of God, not theory or speculation. Therefore, if you want to know God, obey Him. 

But God also commanded the Israelites to sacrifice. We often read such declarations in the Bible through our lenses that do not value sacrifice, which reduces our reading of these passages to something binary—either this, or that. That is not what the prophet is saying. 

Sacrifices were important; God commanded them. They served a role. The question wasn’t sacrifices or steadfast love; rather, it established a priority. Steadfast love matters more to God than sacrifices, but that did not negate sacrifices altogether. The point Hosea was making to his audience is that sacrifices were meaningless without obedience.

The same can be said for some of our religious practices today—including prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, singing worship songs, and the list goes on. These activities, while important, mean little to God if we do not also walk in obedience to Him.

So, what would you say if someone asked you, “What matters to God?” May your answer be, “Let me show you by my obedience to Him,” and then let them see your steadfast love for God as you walk in His ways. 

PRAYER

Father, may we choose to walk in Your ways today, so that we might grow in our knowledge of You and live obediently to You in everything that we say and do. Amen.

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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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