Immanuel: God With Us

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 NKJV).

God entered human time, at a specific point in history, in a particular space, within a specific culture, at Christmas. 

When seen within its world, the Advent story has a different look and feel from how we tend to envision it. It certainly is foreign to the modern spirit of Christmas. Yet, when we view it within its historical and cultural context, we find a world that many felt was in chaos.

God’s people yearned for salvation. They earnestly longed for His redemption. God sent His Son into a chaotic and upside-down world. A world where evil reigned in power, and God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved to that power.

Advent communicates a hope realized, but not yet concluded. It calls upon people to submit to God’s will, to obey, to care for those in need. To raise our eyes beyond our own circumstances and look to God’s redemption of His people.

It reminds us that God is faithful to His promises, and so we must wait. We have to be patient. It conveys that God comes to us in the most common and ordinary moments of our lives, even in the birth of a child. It also points to the babe born in Bethlehem as proof that God’s reign is dawning upon the world.

And, as we follow that babe into His adult life, we understand that He calls us to obediently submit to God’s rule and reign in our lives. He invites us to return to God and take part in embodying His message and furthering God’s kingdom.

That is what Christmas means for us. Because of the child born in Bethlehem, we can trust that God is not far away; He is near. He is Immanuel—God with us. We can rediscover that He is both with us and for us; therefore, we can have hope in His redemption.

May you experience God’s presence and nearness like never before on this sacred day as we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Messiah.

Get your free copy of CBN Israel’s Christmas devotional, Immanuel: God With Us.


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Better Together: Christmas Comfort from Israel, American Jews, Christians, and Businesses   

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Mayfield, Kentucky, where tornadoes practically crushed the town of 10,000 into kindling wood earlier this month, is now experiencing the calming currents of help and hope in expressions of Christmas giving. Mayfield is hardly alone, since other towns in four states also suffered along 250 miles of whirling terror. Ninety-two people died, with an estimated 75-78 dead in Kentucky alone. 

“Better together” is an often-used phrase that is quite true. Without regard to their own personal plans, volunteers in the aftermath of devastation have proven superb examples of mutual, widespread humanitarian responses. Untold hundreds of large and small in-person efforts and helpers, along with private fundraising nationwide, are expressions of Judeo-Christian values. Our values, enshrined in the Bible through ancient Jewish scribes under God’s inspiration, are being enacted now in the tornadoes’ aftermath—by caring Israelis and the American Jewish community. Together, they are coming to the aid of Kentuckians alongside businesses, churches, and Christian organizations. Interestingly, Kentucky’s Jewish population is only around 12,500 in a state with a 4.5 million population. 

Israel’s Consul General to the Southeastern United States, Anat Sultan-Dadon, visited western Kentucky last week to convey Israel’s “love and friendship during these difficult days.” After visiting a church and school that have been actively helping victims, Sultan-Dadon commented that the devastation she saw was “heartbreaking,” yet the aid was “heartwarming.” She presented 400 backpacks for Dawson Springs and Earlington schools. The Israeli consulate office in Atlanta represents Israel in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Carolinas.

The consul general’s visit to Kentucky is supplemented by IsraAID, an Israeli non-government organization (NGO). IsraAID’s first crisis response team arrived in Mayfield, and more are on the way. According to Metro Voice News in Kentucky, at this writing Israel is the only country that has sent rescuers and goods to the beleaguered state. Focusing on home repair and removing debris, the IsraAID team is partnering with Team Rubicon, an American international disaster response organization founded by U.S. military veterans. Together, these American and Israeli military-background humanitarians reflect the strong bonds of cooperation between the two nations. Certainly, a historic example of “better together” in contexts both here and in Israel where they train together for the security of both nations and work together to rescue those in need.

Since 2001, IsraAID has responded to humanitarian crises in 55 countries, among them the United States. In June, an emergency delegation of Israel Defense Forces reservists arrived in Surfside, Florida, after the collapse of Champlain Towers South condominium, which killed 98 residents. 

Locally, the Jewish Federation of Louisville has already surpassed its 50,000-dollar goal by raising $100,000 in a relief fund going to the American Red Cross. Project Friendship, a social-service arm of Chabad of Kentucky, has delivered winter clothes and shoes to residents in western Kentucky valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Chabad is the world’s largest international organization of Jewish education and outreach.

The business community is acting too. They are going full speed to help, as described by Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, president and CEO at Greater Louisville, Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce. “In Greater Louisville alone, we have seen companies making significant monetary donations, running supply drives, and even lending a hand on the ground,” she said. “I am confident that the business community will continue supporting our neighbors as rebuilding efforts get underway.” Ms. Davasher-Wisdom grew up in Bowling Green where—she finally learned amidst the chaos—her family members were safe.

On other fronts, Kelly Craft, a lifelong Kentuckian, is a former pro-Israel U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She and her husband, billionaire Joe Craft, implemented matching gifts where they raised more than $3 million dollars in a University of Kentucky Athletic Department telethon. 

Just hours after the tornadoes hit, the influential Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, started a drive to help their citizens. Seventeen deaths and widespread damage had stunned the city overnight. Under the guidance of senior pastor Dr. Steve Ayers, his staff and volunteers found the generous responses so overwhelming that the organizers were forced to pause—so they could recruit even more volunteers to organize the donations and make much-needed deliveries. Last Sunday they hosted a prayer and lantern service that drew residents together.

Bowling Green was also the destination of a Hope Force International (HFI) team that has been cleaning up yards, buzz-sawing downed trees, and securing tarps on rooftops. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, HFI trains hundreds of volunteers and reservists prepared to serve with compassion and God’s love when disaster hits. They deploy as quickly as possible in the United States and abroad, from Appalachia to Haiti to Nepal. HFI calls their practical and spiritual help “the ministry of presence,” with all teams working sensitively and providing chaplains who offer comfort to those who have suffered traumatic losses.

Reading over this brief list, we can see that we are “Better Together” in groups large and small and as nations working together for the betterment of our citizens. The concept is stated beautifully in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up.” 

Grateful for Israel and all responders, may we be sure to direct our love, praise, and gratitude toward our Heavenly Father this Christmas. In Exodus 20:3 God commands us, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” I appreciate Israel not because they were or are without sin but because God chose them—although imperfect vessels—to transmit His love through the Bible and through His Son. The Incarnation, Immanuel, God with us, is God’s unconditional gift of love to the entire world. We ourselves—like all peoples and nations—are imperfect. We owe the King of Kings, our Redeemer, all that we are and ever hope to be. Merry Christmas!

We invite you to join with CBN Israel in prayer during this week of Christmas: 

  • Pray with rejoicing in the true meaning of Christmas—that the birth of Jesus demonstrates that He is Immanuel, God with us. 
  • Pray that Christians all across the globe would share God’s love and goodwill with those around them this Christmas, especially those in desperate need.
  • Pray for the organizations and individuals—including IsraAID—who are blessing those in Kentucky who have lost family, friends, homes, possessions, and jobs. 
  • Pray for CBN’s Operation Blessing teams on the ground in Kentucky who are distributing food, water, diapers, supplies, and Home Depot Cleanup Kits.

May you and your family enjoy a Merry Christmas, or in Hebrew, Chag Molad Sameach!

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

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Winter Heater Distribution

Imagine living in an old, frigid apartment with little or no heating—and your fixed income barely makes ends meet. Whenever the weather turns cold in Israel, this is the plight of many impoverished seniors, single mothers, new immigrants, and others trying to survive. 

As the chillier months set in, many in low-income communities resort to dressing in layers or wearing jackets indoors, as well as covering themselves with thick blankets to stay warm. Living in a drafty apartment where you always feel cold is hard on many—whether it’s a mother with young children, a refugee family struggling to put food on the table, or an aging Holocaust survivor who needs that extra warmth. But where can they find help? 

Thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel is able to distribute heaters throughout the Holy Land each winter—using our broad network of local partners to ensure that the neediest are served first. 

We were there for a young pregnant immigrant woman with two children. Her husband earns little, and this family was thrilled to be warm again. We also delivered a heater to an elderly widow and mother, who is the sole provider for her mentally ill daughter. She is constantly worried about high heating bills and had no extra money for a heater. It was a godsend to her. 

And you can also help so many across Israel in other ways—with groceries, housing, financial assistance, and more. As the needs have grown during the pandemic, your gift to CBN Israel can provide aid and encouragement to the hurting, while sharing vital news and stories through CBN News and our documentary films.

Please join us today in reaching out!


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Biblical Israel: Bethlehem

By Marc Turnage

Bethlehem gains its notoriety as the birthplace of Jesus (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:1-7); however, by the time of Jesus’ birth, the village already had quite a history. Bethlehem first appears in the Amarna Letters (14th century B.C.) as a Canaanite town. Its name comes from this period and means “house” or temple (“beth”) of Lahmu, a Canaanite deity; it did not, as is commonly assumed, mean “house of bread.” Bethlehem played an important role in the Old Testament, as it was the home of David (1 Samuel 16). 

Bethlehem’s location along the central watershed route that ran north-south through the Hill Country accounts for much of its importance. Located five-and-a-half miles south of Jerusalem and thirteen-and-a-half miles north of Hebron, it served as a major juncture of roads coming from east and west that connected to the watershed route. Its strategic position and close proximity to Jerusalem led Rehoboam, king of Judah, to fortify it as part of his defenses of Judah. So, too, Herod the Great built his palace fortress Herodium to the east of Bethlehem, guarding a road that ascended to the Hill Country from En Gedi in the first century B.C. 

Bethlehem sat at the eastern end of the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17), whose western end opened onto the Coastal Plain, the land of the Philistines. Thus, when the Philistines moved into the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17), Bethlehem was their goal, which explains the interest of Jessie and his son David in the conflict taking place in the valley. During the wars between David and the Philistines, the Philistines eventually set up a garrison at Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:14-16; 1 Chronicles 11:16), indicating David’s struggles to control the major roadways of his kingdom. 

David’s connection to Bethlehem derived, in part, from its location within the tribal territory of Judah, in which it was the northernmost settlement of Judah (Judges 19:11-12). In the fields around Bethlehem, David’s ancestors Boaz and Ruth met, and the prophet Samuel anointed David in Bethlehem, at the home of his father Jessie (1 Samuel 16). 

In the first century, Bethlehem remained a small town on the southern edge of Jerusalem. The proximity of these two locations is seen in the stories of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2 and Luke 2:1-38). Early Christian traditions, as well as the earliest Christian artwork, depict the birth of Jesus within a cave in Bethlehem. Homes in the Hill Country often incorporated natural caves into the structure. Animals could be kept within the cave, having the main living space of the family separated from the animals by a row of mangers. 

Following the Bar Kochba Revolt (A.D. 132-136), the Romans expelled Jews from Bethlehem and its vicinity as part of their expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem, which was renamed Aelia Capitolina. The Emperor Hadrian built a pagan sanctuary to Adonis above the cave identified as the birthplace of Jesus. The church father Tertullian confirmed that at the end of the second century A.D. no Jews remained in Bethlehem. 

In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine—as part of his move toward Christianity—built three churches in Palestine (which is the name the Romans called the land at this time). One, the Church of Nativity, he built in Bethlehem over the traditional site of Jesus’ birthplace. Begun in A.D. 326, the church incorporated the traditional cave identified as Jesus’ birthplace into the building. St. Jerome came to Bethlehem and lived in caves around the church at the end of the fourth century to learn Hebrew from the local Jewish population, so he could translate the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin (the Vulgate). A Samaritan revolt in 529 partially destroyed the Constantinian church. The Emperor Justinian ordered its rebuilding, which the modern Church of Nativity reflects with minor modifications.

Very little archaeological work has been done in Bethlehem. Most comes from around the Church of Nativity, but no systematic excavations have been carried out. The modern city of Bethlehem impedes the ability of much archaeological activity; thus, very little is known about Bethlehem’s archaeological past. 

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.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Glory to God in the Highest

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14 NKJV)

We often sing, “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains” at Christmas. The season would not be complete without “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”—Glory to God in the highest. Yet how often do we reflect upon the meaning of the words the angels declared? 

The praise of the angels to the shepherds recorded in Luke’s Gospel (2:13-14) underscored the reality of God’s nearness in the birth of Jesus, as well as embodying Jewish redemptive hopes of the first century. 

It also gives voice to the hope for redemption shared by Jews and Christians through the centuries. With the advent of Jesus, God draws near to His people—His goodwill is for everyone. His reign dawns through those who obey His will. He demonstrates that He is Immanuel—God with us. 

The angels told the shepherds that their good news “will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). God’s goodwill is not simply for a select or chosen group of people; it extends to everyone, for “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NASB). 

His merciful will reaches out to all mankind to bring peace, healing, and wholeness. And, in the birth of Jesus, God has drawn near to demonstrate within the bounds of history what His will is, to give voice and example to His will (see Hebrews 1:1-2). 

God’s will is for all humankind. In the birth of Jesus, His glory, peace, and favor have drawn near to everyone. This is the good news the angels proclaimed: God is for us! 

The message of the angels was an announcement of God’s nearness. God is for us, and He has drawn near to us. God is a part of human history; therefore, there is hope. 

God has not turned a blind eye to the suffering of the righteous or a deaf ear to the cry of the afflicted. His love and mercy extends to all mankind: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 


Father, in this Christmas, as we reflect on Your nearness and goodwill toward us, may we extend Your mercy and goodwill to everyone around us, even those who are away from you. And, in so doing, may we truly proclaim with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Amen. 

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Jerusalem, the “City of Three Christmases” in Israel, the Land of Religious Freedom

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Israel, the world’s only Jewish nation, has historically been a beacon of religious freedom for the three monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Christmas observances last for days in Israel with a vast array of decorations, festivities, and traditions—and a variety of denominations represented. Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on December 25, 2021, Orthodox Christians on January 7, 2022, and Armenian Christians on January 18, 2022. Thus, another name for Jerusalem is “the city of three Christmases.”

Within Israel’s small size, the Yuletide tapestry seems to twinkle more vividly. 

Walking down the streets of Jerusalem you may laugh with delight to see Santa Claus riding a camel on cobblestone streets. To the north, the city of Haifa lights up its 40-foot-tall Christmas tree where the “Feast of Feasts” takes place—with Christians, Jews, and Muslims enjoying foods, music, and the arts together. In Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity holds a midnight mass and Christmas carols fill the streets of Manger Square. In Nazareth, which contains Israel’s largest Christian population (22,000), Pastor Saleem Salash’s Arab Christian congregation at Jesus the King Church hands out hundreds of gifts to needy children. In Tel Aviv, you might see slender Santas playing volleyball.

For decades, Israel’s Christian population has grown because religious freedom is respected and protected. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics shows Christians as a small minority of around 177,000 with a majority of them Arab Christians (77%). The most recent statistic (2019) shows that the Christian population grew by 1.5% that year.

Although the actual season and date of Jesus’ birth is an interesting topic of discussion, most traditions view it as occurring in December and call it Christmas. However, Jesus’ virgin birth to a young Jewish woman and His birthplace in Bethlehem are facts of history and lineage, as recorded in Matthew’s first chapter, through King David and Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. 

While recalling some of the details of Israel’s Christmases, I am reminded of my own childhood. We always read the King James Version of Luke 2 on Christmas Eve. I still have our family Bible, now more than 70 years old, with ruffled pages and candle wax drippings. However, nothing could ever mar those beloved memories of reading the remarkable story of Jesus’ birth with my family. Our Christmas Eve candlelight services, celebrated by hundreds in First Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina, still linger in my memories as moments of joy. As a teenager, we also attended the Catholic church across the street to celebrate in their lovely, more formal midnight services.

The Old Testament acts as a profound forerunner to the Incarnation when God took on the earthly flesh of redemption in Bethlehem possibly near the Tower of the Flock. Temple-destined perfect lambs were born and raised by shepherd priests for Passover. George Frederic Handel’s Messiah, composed in 1741, is unmatched in its majesty, with eloquent passages such as Isaiah 9:6—“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” On the occasions I have either attended a concert or sung in the alto section of Messiah, it gives me a glimpse of heaven through its biblical lyrics and Handel’s anointed musical genius. 

Now, looking at later years of Israel’s Christians and churches, a few among many churches immediately stand out. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the Church of the Holy Tomb) was built in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the fourth century. It was first called a Greek name, Church of the Anastasis (Resurrection). Most Christian tourists visit the church, which is considered the traditional site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The interior wafts with incense, shines with candles, and creates a sense of overwhelming awe. 

Centuries later, in 1849, Christ Church was completed. Located right inside the Jaffa Gate, it is a favorite for evangelicals and part of the Anglican denomination. Christ Church is considered the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East, with a décor both simple and elegant. From its founding, Christ Church has emphasized the fact that the Jewish faith is the building block for Christianity, and it celebrates both Jewish and Christian traditions and holidays. 

Another interesting site is Israel’s Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In 1878, the first YMCA branch in Israel opened. The current beautiful building, designed by the same architectural firm that designed the Empire State Building, was dedicated in 1933. An overflow crowd listened to the dedication speech by the famous Christian general, Edmund Allenby. During World War I, his forces defeated the ruling Ottomans in Palestine, as it was called under the British Mandate. The YMCA was dedicated as an institution of peace among the monotheistic faiths, an Israeli NGO with Christian origins.

Evidence of the peaceful purpose of the International YMCA remains on full display in Israel as an example of the Jewish-majority nation that guarantees religious freedom. On November 28 of this year—falling on both the first day of Advent and Hanukkah—1,500 people packed the impressive grounds for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Professor Gabi Scheffler played Christmas music on the YMCA’s 36-bell carillon and Santa made a special visit. Rana Fahoum, Muslim CEO of the Jerusalem International YMCA, commented, “Jerusalemites of every faith look forward to these festivities all year. It is one of the very few occasions where you can see a microcosm of residents—Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. Jerusalem comes to the tree lighting.”

Throughout Israel and in the capital of Jerusalem (the “city of three Christmases”), be assured that Israel’s Christian minority—made up of expatriates, Christian ministry leaders and staff, Messianic believers, Arab Christians, and multiple denominations—are recognized. They are welcome to hold church services, Christian concerts, tree lightings, prayers, and carol singing to celebrate the most profound birth in world history in the land where it all happened. 

Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jews and God’s chosen land for His people, is the place where the greatest gift the world has ever known was given, Jesus our Jewish Messiah.

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for Jews and Arabs living in Israel:

  • Pray for God’s perfect peace to permeate throughout the land of Israel—especially between Jews and Arabs.
  • Pray with thankfulness for Israeli cities like Haifa, which has a wonderful reputation for the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs.  
  • Pray for the decreasing number of Arab Christians who live in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem and face ongoing persecution and threats from Muslims.
  • Pray that, through CBN Israel, Christians throughout the U.S. will continue to express God’s love and goodwill toward the people of Israel, especially those in desperate need.  

May you and your family enjoy a Merry Christmas, or in Hebrew, Chag Molad Sameach!

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

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Holocaust Survivor: Eugenia’s Story

Eugenia remembers the fear she felt when the Holocaust began in Ukraine. She experienced a similar fear as Israel went into lockdown because of COVID-19. It brought back vivid memories of life during the war. “I was very young, but I recall the loud sounds of the Nazi motorcycles and large trucks. It was all so new and scary. My mother and I ran to a nearby village, but the Nazis found us, and we were taken to the ghetto,” says Eugenia.  

After Eugenia’s father died fighting the Nazis, she and her mother had to fend for themselves in the ghetto. They ate whatever they could find, even old potato skins that had been tossed out. All they knew was hunger, cold, and fear. To this day, she doesn’t know how she survived.

Today, Eugenia lives alone in Israel. She isolated herself to avoid catching the coronavirus, but you were there for her through CBN Israel. Our staff brings her groceries and takes the time to make sure she is all right. She admits, “In the beginning I was very scared of the virus and didn’t know how I could go out to get food. But having you come to check on me and bring me these groceries helped ease my mind.”

Because of the support of CBN Israel donors, Eugenia has the food she needs and someone to look after her. That helps keep her fears at bay. “It means so much that you remember me and care about me. It’s a great feeling and has helped me through this difficult time. Thank you.”

And CBN Israel is bringing help and hope to so many lonely seniors, single moms, refugees, young families, and others struggling in the Holy Land. At a time when many Israelis are in crisis, you can offer needed aid and encouragement. Your gifts can bring food, housing, financial help, and more to those in desperate situations. 

Please join us in blessing others in need!


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Biblical Israel: Herodium

By Marc Turnage

Three miles southeast of Bethlehem sits Herodium, the palace-fortress built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2). Overlooking the birthplace of Jesus, Herod’s fortress guarded the eastern roads through the wilderness from Bethlehem to Ein Gedi. It also served as a reminder of the difficult political situation in which the Jews found themselves within the first century. Herod represented Rome—the pagan empire that exploited the resources of the land of Israel for its benefit. 

Herod built the artificial cone shaped hill to commemorate his military victory against the last of the Hasmoneans, Mattithias Antigonus, who was aided by the Parthians. Herod won a skirmish as he fled Jerusalem, and later built Herodium, the palace-fortress he named after himself, on this site. Herodium consists of two complexes: the palace-fortress and the lower palace. The palace-fortress consists of a circular double wall, with four towers (the largest of which faces to the east). Inside the structure, Herod built a private bathhouse, a triclinium (“U” shaped) dining room, reception halls, and living quarters. 

Archaeologists have recently uncovered the large entry gate into the palace-fortress. Jewish rebels during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73) and the Bar Kochbah Revolt (A.D. 132-136) occupied Herodium. The Jewish rebels of the First Revolt converted the dining room into a synagogue. It was one of the last rebel strongholds to fall to the Romans in the First Revolt. Letters sent to the Jewish garrison at Herodium from the messianic leader of the Bar Kochbah Revolt, Shimon ben Kosiba, were discovered in caves along the shores of the Dead Sea. 

Josephus records that Herod the Great was buried at Herodium. After he died in Jericho in 4 B.C., his body was brought to Herodium where it was interred. Archaeologists discovered Herod’s tomb in 2006. They uncovered an ornate mausoleum on the northern side of the conical shaped hill of the palace-fortress. Pieces of Herod’s sarcophagus were also discovered. It had been smashed in antiquity. Excavations next to the tomb uncovered a stairway that led from the bottom of the hill to the entry gate of the palace-fortress, as well as a small theater. The box seating of this theater contained ornate decorations including plaster molding and beautiful frescoes. Herod constructed this theater, most likely, for the visit of Marcus Agrippa, both a close friend of his and of Caesar Augusts (Luke 2).

The lower palace consists primarily of a large bathhouse and pool complex. Roman style bathhouses consisted of four main areas: changing room, cold bath, tepid bath, and a warm/hot room that could either function as a steam room or a dry sauna. The bathhouses at Herod’s palaces had these features. The pool at Herodium was heated as well as the bathhouse. 

There is a certain irony that within the shadow of Herodium, the angels proclaimed the good news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in the field. Herod’s fortress and monument to himself overlooked the very place where it would be announced that a new king would be born and that he would be Israel’s Messiah. And, it also stood watch when Herod’s soldiers killed the young boys seeking to remove the threat of the child born to Mary and Joseph. 

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.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: God Steps Into Our Turmoil

“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria” (Luke 2:1-2 NKJV). 

The census of Quirinius stirred up bitter feelings for the Jewish people. At this time, Rome officially annexed the territory of the land in which Jerusalem sat, and the people came under direct Roman rule. Some Jews responded to Roman rule by refusing to participate in the census, choosing rather to take up the sword and spill Roman blood. Unlike those who took up the sword, Jesus’ parents participated in the census.

Luke’s highlighting of the census of Quirinius contrasted the coming of Jesus and the dawning of God’s redemption with the rise of militant Jewish movements that arose to fight Rome and force the Romans from the land of Israel. Jesus’ movement was different. He would not counsel military action; rather, He called people to repentance and caring for the poor.

Luke communicated that the sabbatical year of God’s redemption had come; the time was now. Some looked to the militant Jewish rebel movements to effect God’s redemption. Luke declared that God’s redemption, His drawing near to His people, came from the baby born to these two Jewish parents who obeyed the census. This child, the one Luke will tell about—His life, His message, His death, and vindicating resurrection—offers God’s clearest revelation of Himself. 

Turmoil often makes us yearn for God’s assistance. It can also lead us to seek our own means to make it happen. God is never deaf to our cries of help, yet He often uses means that we find ourselves blind to because of the uncertainty and difficulty of our circumstances.

Jesus entered a world of turmoil. Rome had taken over. The people of Israel cried for God’s redemption; the question became, how would He achieve it? Some sought armed resistance as the path, yet God’s redemption entered the world through a baby born to a pious family. A baby who would grow up and tell people that God’s reign came through obedience and that repentance brought redemption near. A baby who ultimately died, whom God raised from the dead as evidence that His redemption had come near. 

The Christmas season can so often heighten our feelings of turmoil. Financial troubles. Being alone. And, even if it’s not true for us personally, many people around us may feel sadness and confusion during this season. The message of Christmas is that God steps into our turmoil. He is not somewhere else; He is near. He does not abandon us—even if we don’t always see Him or understand His plans and purposes.

Into the turmoil of the first century, God sent His Son, who called upon people to submit in obedience to God and His ways. And He calls us to do the same today. 


Father, even amid our own turmoil and frustrated hopes, may we lean into Your presence this Christmas season, realizing that You never forsake us, and You still come to us asking us to simply trust and obey You. Amen.

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The Connection Between King David, Christmas, and Palm Sunday 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The candles are extinguished for Hanukkah 2021, the Jewish Festival of Lights, and are now replaced in many homes with the lights of glowing Christmas trees and festive decorations. Our Christian nativity scenes are on prominent display, with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger. Often lost, however, is the humble yet splendid context of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David.

Let us take a look at a significant side note of facts and details before we take an imaginative journey to the ancient town of Bethlehem where our Jewish Savior was born. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, His disciples and the Apostle Paul traveled throughout the vast Roman Empire to spread the Good News throughout the known world. Tragically, generations later, Gentile believers gradually began distancing themselves from the Jewish roots of their faith and Jesus’ Jewish ancestry. As a result, centuries of Christians found themselves vastly disconnected from the origins of their faith.

Yet, over the last few decades, Christians have made monumental strides toward rediscovering the Jewish roots of our faith. Part of the heightened awareness of Jesus’ ancient Jewish culture and setting is the fascinating connection between Migdal Eder (Tower of the Flock), the shepherds in the Bethlehem fields, and the shepherd boy who would one day be crowned King David. This glistening thread of history is as wondrous as the star that later guided the wise men to the child, Jesus, who would grow up to become the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

The Tower of the Flock no longer stands, but Scripture reinforces the shepherds retelling their stories for hundreds of years until a Byzantine monastery was built over the site of Migdal Eder in the fourth century. The Bible mentions Migdal Eder (or Edar) in two specific passages, Genesis 35:21 and Micah 4:8. The Hebrew word Migdal means “tower” and Eder means “flock.” This important tower stood on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which are approximately six miles apart.

In Genesis, Jacob cast his tent at Migdal where he buried Rachel, the love of his life, who died giving birth to Benjamin. Then Micah 4:8—a prophecy written around 700 years before Jesus’ birth—reads, “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

As we know, shepherds and sheep occupy a prominent place throughout the Bible. They are mentioned 500 times! The beloved Psalm 23, written by the shepherd king, David, enshrines our Lord as our Shepherd along with Jesus’ own words. In John 10:11 Jesus declared, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” He then says, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15).

King David was born in the town of Bethlehem, which is known along with Jerusalem as the City of David. Since the mention of Migdal Eder appears in Genesis, David would have known about Migdal Eder from Scripture and from shepherding. There in Bethlehem, the prophet Samuel anointed him to be Israel’s king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Jesus’ earthly adoptive father Joseph was of the lineage of King David, a fact that is intentionally established in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. 

Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the obligatory Roman census and pay taxes. By imperial decree, everyone was required to go to their ancestral town. Surely it was no accident or coincidence that the young Jewish couple would return to Joseph’s hometown at this specific moment in time. Rather, it was all part of God’s plan that Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem—in close proximity to The Tower of the Flock. 

For centuries, shepherds were completely familiar with The Tower of the Flock. The tower and the Bethlehem fields were their workplace. The stone structure was two floors high, allowing the Chief Shepherd to look out over the flock for predators from the second floor. The shepherds also led the ewes from the fields into the tower to give birth.

The late Dr. Jimmy DeYoung Sr., in his Day of Discovery program, described his research on the shepherds’ skill: “They would reach into the mother’s womb and pull out this newborn lamb. Then they would reach back and get some swaddling and snugly wrapped the lamb because if it harmed its limbs in any way, it would be disqualified as a [Temple] sacrifice. Once the lamb was wrapped, they would lay it in a manger until it calmed down then they would unwrap the swaddling and let it run off to its mother for some food.”

When angels appeared to the shepherds in the Bethlehem fields with their glorious birth announcement, the shepherds appeared to know where to go based on the directions provided to them in Luke 2:11-12: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The connection between the birthplace of Jesus and the location of The Tower of the Flock, where the Temple lambs were born, is fascinating to say the least. 

The Jewish leaders in charge of Temple sacrifices chose the shepherds since they were experts in animal husbandry. They appointed them as Levitical priests. The lambs they tended on the birthing floor of Migdal Eder each year were special. When the lambs reached a year old, the shepherds herded thousands of them to Jerusalem for Passover—what ancient Jews called the Day of Lambs—to present them to the Temple priests. The priests inspected them, then chose the ones without spot or blemish as the sacrificial Passover lambs. It is a description of our Savior, Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, also sacrificed at Passover for us.

Allow this realization to sink deeply into your heart. These particular events—Jesus’ birth, life, and death—intricately link with the ancient Levitical shepherds and the Temple-destined lambs. When Jesus identified Himself as the Lamb of God, He chose a metaphor and image that only His Jewish audience could fully appreciate. Then, a few days later, the dramatic events of Jesus’ final Passover, subsequent arrest, trial, and conviction eventually culminated in the Perfect Lamb of God being nailed to a tree with His blood splattered outside the walls of Jerusalem. Simultaneously, the priests in the Temple were slaughtering the Passover lambs.

Throughout the Christmas season, our decorated trees and homes are a wonderful source of joy, tradition, and family memories. Yet may we never forget to reflect upon that first Christmas when Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, was born in Bethlehem not too far from where the unblemished sacrificial Temple lambs would have also been born. May we remember the true meaning of Christmas, when Jesus entered time and space to be Immanuel, “God with us.” This Christmas let us also reflect upon these life-changing words about Jesus’ profound and permanent sacrifice for all of us: 

“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. … For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:11-12, 14).

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week as we prepare to celebrate Christmas:

  • Pray that the Christian community in Israel and throughout the Middle East would be encouraged in their faith this Advent season. 
  • Pray that Christians will focus first and foremost on the core message and hope of Christmas—that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” 
  • Pray that our Christmas celebrations will include blessing others who are in need. 
  • Pray for CBN Israel as generous partners make it possible to share God’s love and goodwill with impoverished families, elderly widows, lonely refugees, and more.

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

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