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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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Biblical Israel: Elah Valley

By Marc Turnage

The biblical writers often assume their readers knew the geographic and regional dynamics of the land of Israel. Sites and locations offer more than simply places on a map; they provide the living landscape that shaped and formed the biblical stories. In addition, the authors of Scripture assume we understand the geographical and regional dynamics that played important roles within their stories.

A great example of this phenomenon is the Elah Valley. This valley serves as the setting for one of the most famous stories in the Bible: the confrontation between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). If the story simply boils down to us as “man kills giant,” we miss the geographic tension created by the author and understood by his audience. Let me explain.

The biblical land of Israel, west of the Jordan River, looks like a loaf of French bread: flat on the sides and puffy in the middle. The puffy middle represents the Hill Country that runs north-south through the land, forming its spine. On the western side of the French loaf along the Mediterranean sits the Coastal Plain. The Philistines lived there. The Israelites lived in the Hill Country, and between these two geographic zones lay a buffer area known in the Bible as the Shephelah of Judah. Low rolling hills with broad valleys characterize the Shephelah.

These valleys created west-east corridors for movement between the Coastal Plain and the Hill Country. Many places mentioned in the Bible lie in and along these valleys through the Shephelah; the Bible mentions them because of their situation in connection to these valleys and routes of travel.

The Elah Valley provides one of these corridors between the Coastal Plain (and the Philistines) and the Hill Country (and the Israelites). Located at the western mouth of the Elah Valley as it opens into the Coastal Plain sits Gath, Goliath’s hometown. At the eastern end of this valley—in the Hill Country—lies Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Is it any wonder that Goliath of Gath and David of Bethlehem met in the Elah Valley? But there’s more. 

The author of Samuel described the Philistines’ movement into the Elah Valley from the west: “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah” (1 Samuel 17:1 NIV). Their movement into the Elah Valley—as well as its regional dynamics, with Bethlehem situated at its eastern end—indicate that the end goal for the Philistines was Bethlehem.

Acquiring Bethlehem provided entry into Judah, and it put them along the main north-south artery in the Central Hill Country. Their actions were not haphazard; they were strategic. And in the midst of these regional dynamics and the struggles between Israel and the Philistines, the author tells of the confrontation between David and Goliath. 

He assumed his audience understood the tension created by the geography of the story. The Philistines’ target: Bethlehem. Jessie and David from Bethlehem were concerned with how the battle fared. Where would David from Bethlehem and Goliath from Gath eventually meet? The author provides such a clear description of the valley, its villages, and even the brook that runs through it that one can stand in the Elah Valley identifying the lines of battle, the location of Saul’s forces and the Philistines, and the flight of the Philistines after David’s triumph.

When we understand the physical settings of the land of the Bible, a depth of understanding and insight into the stories of the Bible opens before us, and we begin to read the Bible as its first readers did and its authors intended. 

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: Pursued by God

We are often told to “pursue God” and “draw near to God.” The Bible encourages it: “Your face, LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8 NKJV). The Bible makes clear that God can be found by those who pursue Him. So, at times, the action falls upon us to pursue God. 

The Bible also makes clear, however, that God pursues us: “You hunt me like a lion” (Job 10:16 HCSB). The God of the Bible does not sit idle waiting for us to approach Him; He is not passive. Rather, He pursues us.

The writer of Psalm 23 expresses God’s active pursuit of His people with the phrase, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (verse 6). Many translations read, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” and while this is an accurate literal translation, it fails to capture the essence of the language.

First, the term “mercy” carries a deeper sense than a passing feeling. In Hebrew the word refers to God’s covenantal mercy, something that is sure and certain. It is not dependent upon a capricious emotion but is bound to God’s covenant with His people.

Also, the psalmist is not saying that the goodness and mercy of God follow after me as something I leave in my wake, nor does he mean that God’s goodness and mercy follow me, chasing me but never able to catch me.

The term used by the psalmist, usually translated as “follow,” is the Hebrew word radaf, a military term meaning to “pursue with the intent of overtaking.” In other words, God’s goodness and mercy pursue me aggressively, as an army does its fleeing foe, seeking to surround me and overtake me. 

Quite often, the cares of life can be overwhelming. When we approach God, He can feel distant and far off. The God of the Bible, however, is One whose covenant mercy pursues us daily. He pursues us. And that is a comforting feeling. He not only asks us to seek Him, but He seeks after us.

Today, will we allow ourselves to be found by Him?

PRAYER

Father, open my eyes to all of the ways You are pursuing me. May Your goodness and covenant mercy surround me and overtake me. May I also be aware that You actively pursue all people, as You do me. Amen.

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In 2022, Israelis Are Staring At Some Good News and Some Bad News 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Most of us have used the idiomatic expression, “What do you want to hear first—the good news or the bad news?” One psychological study showed that most respondents preferred the bad news first, thinking that ending with the good news produced a better mental outlook in the long run. 

Israel has already celebrated one new year, Rosh Hashanah, on their Hebrew lunar calendar. They entered year 5782 on the evening of September 6. Now at the threshold of the Gregorian (Western) calendar, they face a number of significant challenges while also having much to celebrate. 

In keeping with the psychological study, let’s first look at just two of countless “bad news” topics Israel faces in the waning days of 2021. As the world’s only Jewish state, Israel is uniquely vulnerable with regard to security. And Iran, the world’s most prolific sponsor of terror—situated a mere 1200 miles away—occupies huge slices of ongoing strategic planning among Israeli civilian and military leaders. Among the bad news topics: the Biden administration’s goal to keep pushing the talks in Vienna to restart the doomed 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

The U.S., Israel, and our Middle East allies are dealing with a new, more radical Iranian president: Ebrahim Raisi. Due to his murderous crackdowns on civilians in the capital, he was nicknamed the “butcher of Tehran.” To that distinction, add in Iran’s recent surface-to-surface and intercontinental ballistic missiles testing—16 of them. With a range of between 220 and 1250 miles, these deadly weapons can hit the nation of Israel and U.S. bases in the region. Nuclear-tipped missiles are not out of the question, if and when Iran reaches its desired goal of nuclear weaponry. A war game drill called the “Great Prophet 17” showed off swarms of Iran’s drones dropping bombs with pinpoint accuracy. 

The pandemic poses threats of another kind. For almost two years, COVID-19 and its mutations have played havoc with Israel’s population of 9 million, 75% of which is Jewish. According to the Worldometer, as of this writing the geographically small, compact nation has seen a total of 1,364,966 cases and 8,242 people have died. 

David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, astutely observes in a December 23 op-ed, “Over five million worldwide deaths later, COVID continues to make fools of almost all of us—experts, health chiefs, political leaders, commentators… editors.” 

Indeed, COVID has directly disabled Israel’s tourist industry. For the month-long period between November 28 and December 29, 2021, no tourists were allowed to enter the country—including tourists from the United States. Contrast that with the 5 million visitors who filled restaurants and hotels in 2019. While the tourism industry is only 2.5 percent of Israel’s economy, it is the lifeblood of small businesses, hotels, tour guides, buses, and restaurants for the Jewish, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian Arab communities.

COVID controversy has somewhat infected relationships between Christians and Jews, as well. For example, Israel has granted entrance to the popular “Birthright” program (that provides free trips to Jewish youths from other nations) while banning Christian groups—groups that migrate annually to Bethlehem and other venerated Christian locations to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Some Israeli Christian leaders have used the word “discrimination” against Israel—a nation known for its welcoming religious freedom. These decisions are enacted even with an estimated 63 percent of Israelis having been vaccinated. Hopefully, these decisions will eventually be “water under the bridge.” Another idiom—to leave the past behind. 

With security and health realities at the top of the “bad” list, the “good” list is reflected among countless treasured Bible verses. The psalmist declares, “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). God’s faithfulness is good news! The fact is that Israel has survived for thousands of years and since 1948, as the modern Jewish nation is the focus of the world’s attention almost daily. 

Israel is astounding as the only nation in the world that speaks its revived ancient language—Hebrew—and the statistics about Jerusalem are miraculous. Attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice, it is now a thriving city of 901,302 people and one of the oldest capitals in the world. 

Although tourism is languishing, with negative effects on a significant swath of citizens, Israel’s overall economy is impressive. A Dun & Bradstreet report shows that Israel outpaced the world average of 5.9% economic growth, with such growth reported at 7 percent. Not surprisingly, Israel’s high-tech industry is the mover and shaker in that regard. 

From 2020 until well into 2021, the Abraham Accords can be expressed in another idiom—they are a “breath of fresh air,” good news in the Middle East. The winds blowing between Israel and the UAE are refreshing now with an exchange of official ambassadors. Cooperative efforts in business, technology, travel, and health are unfolding also in Bahrain and Morocco.

Also as part of the Abraham Accords, another nation has resumed its diplomatic relations with Israel. Marking the first anniversary of their alliance, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI announced that his nation will renovate hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish heritage sites and revert to the original names of some of the country’s Jewish neighborhoods. Jews have lived in Morocco since ancient times with a mixed history, yet ties were maintained between Israel and Morocco. In 1963, some 100,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel. The strengthened ties bode well for a better relationship than ever. 

Let us now revisit the good news/bad news idiom. Several Bible passages are reminders of the realities we all experience in varying degrees. Whether we live in Israel, the United States, or any other nation, as believers we can draw reassurance from Jesus in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

It is easy to pine for the “good old days,” yet another idiom. Nevertheless, in Jesus someday the good days will be every day in our eternal homeland. 

Although we may have heard or repeated this Bible verse a thousand times, its depth only increases and overcomes the bad news of this world like never before. The good news is summarized succinctly in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Happy New Year 2022 from CBN Israel to all our friends worldwide! 

Please join with us in prayer this week:

  • Pray that all leaders will use wisdom in their pandemic decisions while navigating individual freedoms—particularly in Israel. 
  • Pray that peace, not fear, will hover over Israel, the Middle East, and our entire world as we head into this new year.
  • Pray for Christians in Iran and other persecuted nations to cling to Jesus for wisdom, courage, strength, and divine empowerment. 
  • Pray that God would grow CBN Israel’s capacity to bless the needy throughout the Holy Land and reach millions worldwide with news and films that tell the true story of Israel. 

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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Biblical Israel: Caesarea

By Marc Turnage

The book of Acts mentions Caesarea a number of times. In Caesarea, the Gospel came to the Gentiles for the first time as Peter proclaimed Jesus to the God-fearing Roman Centurion Cornelius and his family, who subsequently received the Holy Spirit as the Jews had (Acts 10). 

The grandson of Herod the Great, Agrippa I, died in Caesarea, an event related in Acts and by the first century Jewish historian Josephus (Acts 12:19-23; Josephus, Antiquities 19.343-350). Paul sailed to and from Caesarea on multiple occasions (Acts 9:26-30; 18:22; 27:2). Paul also remained in Caesarea under house arrest, where he faced the Roman Procurators Felix and Festus, as well as the great-grandson of Herod the Great, Agrippa II, and his sister Bernice, before he sailed to Rome appealing to Caesar (Acts 23:23-27:2).

While Paul found himself under house arrest in Caesarea, Luke—the author of Luke and Acts— was part of Paul’s company, yet he could move freely throughout the land of Israel. It seems reasonable that while he resided in the land of Israel, he came in contact with the material he used to write his life of Jesus and the first part of the book of Acts, before he joined the story in Acts 16 (see Luke 1:1-4).

Herod the Great built up a small Phoenician port named “Strato’s Tower” into the second-largest harbor in the Mediterranean, which he named after his friend and benefactor Caesar Augustus. Around the harbor, which he called Sebastos, Augustus’s Greek name, he built a city with a palace, stadium, theater, and a temple to Augustus. The city continued to grow and expand, reaching its height in the late Roman and Byzantine eras (third through seventh centuries). 

After the death of Herod in 4 B.C., the territory of Caesarea fell to his son Archelaus (Matthew 2:22). Rome, however, removed Archelaus from power in A.D. 6 at the request of his Jewish subjects. Rome annexed his territory and brought it under direct Roman rule, which took the form of Roman prefects. These provincial governors, like Pontius Pilate, resided in Caesarea as it became the headquarters and administrative center for the Roman governors. 

Archaeologists uncovered a dedicatory inscription of a small temple to the Roman Emperor Tiberias by the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. This inscription actually provides an important window into the psychology of Pilate, who went to excessive lengths to put himself in good favor with the emperor.  

The First Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66-73) broke out in Caesarea as tensions between the local Jews and Gentiles boiled over. At the conclusion of the revolt, the Roman general Titus forced 2,500 Jewish prisoners of war to fight to the death in the stadium of Caesarea as part of his victory games.

Caesarea played an important role in the history of the Church Fathers. Origen (A.D. 185-254) taught 23 years in Caesarea, where he established a library. Eusebius used the library of Caesarea to write his Ecclesiastical History. 

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: Waiting for Redemption

“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:25-28 NKJV).

Simeon waited all his life yearning and longing to see God’s redemption. He hoped and prayed for it. He may not have lived long enough to see the consolation of Israel, but he did see the way God would bring it about. He saw the Lord’s anointed. 

We live in a world of instant gratification, fast food, instant messaging, and video-on-demand. Perhaps nothing displays this more than the commercialism of the Christmas holiday season. However, the story of Christmas is about patience, not immediacy. It’s about God fulfilling His long-awaited promise to Israel’s fathers, answering the hope of redemption. It’s about the patience to wait.

Simeon waited (Luke 2:25-35). He hoped. He trusted. He waited for the salvation of Israel and his people (2:25). And, as an old man, he knew that when he held the baby Jesus that he would not be there to see the completion of the child’s mission (2:29-32), yet he trusted that God would fulfill His promises through this child. He only caught a glimpse of what He waited for, and he was content because He knew that God was faithful and would do what He promised.

We so often make our faith about us. We do this with Christmas—what Christmas means to me, what God has done for me. Simeon never saw the end of God’s promised redemption. Yet, when he held the baby Jesus, he understood that God’s redemption did not place him, Simeon, at the center; it was not about what God would do personally for him. Rather, God’s redemption would come to all. The collective redemption meant more than his own personal comfort.

We often treat our faith as instant gratification. Instant. Immediate. And when it doesn’t happen as we want, we become frustrated with God. We make excuses why it hasn’t happened. Our faith sometimes proves rather weak and impatient when compared to that of Simeon’s, who had the patience to wait and never lose sight of the God who promised.

Are we content to play a part in God’s overall plan? Christmas poses that question to each of us. The figures of the Christmas story all played roles in God’s redemptive plan. None of them saw the entire fulfillment of God’s promises, and neither have we.

Yet are we willing to play our part in His plan? Or do we place ourselves at the center of the Christmas story? Simeon waited. He trusted. And he rejoiced to see part of God’s promise fulfilled knowing that the God who promised would ultimately bring His promises to fulfillment.

PRAYER

Father, waiting is difficult. Being patient challenges us, but we know that You fulfill Your plans and promises. So, we choose to trust and submit to You obediently to play whatever role You have for us for Your glory. Amen. 

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