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The Twelfth Man for Israel 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

In a stunning upset on October 9, “The Twelfth Man” seemed to play a significant role in the victory in College Station, Texas, when the Texas A&M (Aggies) football team beat the No. 1 University of Alabama Crimson Tide. It ended Alabama’s 19-game winning streak in a game that Aggies and Crimson Tide fans will undoubtedly discuss and dissect for decades.  

Last Saturday, in the last minutes of the fourth quarter, unranked Texas A&M and national champion Alabama tied at 38-38. The Aggies then made football history in a thrilling game from beginning to end when they beat Alabama in the last seconds with a field goal. Final score: 41-38. A big part of their win may have been “The Twelfth Man.” 

Who or what is “The Twelfth Man”? It’s A&M’s entire student body—and fans. The expression goes back a hundred years, when the Aggies were faring badly against a top-ranked school. A&M’s 11-man football team was exhausted, with injuries mounting. Hope of a win grew weaker with every yard played. 

Their coach, Dana X. Bible, remembered that one of his former teammates, E. King Gill, was up in the press box helping reporters identify the players on the field. Bible summoned Gill to play if needed. Gill suited up under the bleachers in an injured player’s uniform. He stood on the sidelines for the entire game. The Aggies won, cheered on by Gill. He later said, “I wish I could say that I went in and ran for the winning touchdown, but I did not. I simply stood by in case my team needed me.” Gill’s attitude of service and support won the hearts of the student body and has grown into a tradition, a trademark, and a legacy that envelops the entire university.

A 6-foot-4-inch bronze sculpture of E. King Gill stands near Kyle Stadium as a reminder that the Aggie fans are “The Twelfth Man.” They stand for the entire game; they chant, shout, and surround their team with roars of high-spirited support. Their war hymn’s lyrics sing about unity whether they are down or up. 

As fans of Israel, our “war hymn” is the Bible. It teaches us how to support the Jewish people—God’s “chosen people”—and His covenants with them that last forever.  

When it comes to Israel, the concept of “The Twelfth Man” is a way to describe Christians as Israel’s Twelfth Man and Woman. Cheering with “Next year in Jerusalem” and being ready to do whatever is necessary to support the Jewish state, Christians stand up against anti-Semitism and for Israel. 

Christians’ obvious support for Israel has grown exponentially in the last 30 to 40 years. We are some of the Jewish nation’s most enthusiastic fans! God has given us a second chance to stand with His people after centuries of well-founded Jewish suspicions leading up to and after the Holocaust. Suspicions and fears about Christians intensified in 1930s-40s Germany.

Putting it in simple terms, during Hitler’s rise to power, German pastors and priests believed Hitler’s March 23, 1933, speech where he outrageously claimed that Christianity was the “foundation” for German values. Silence reigned even as evil broke out into the open. Deportation trains rumbling through German towns and villages sounding with cries of anguish were ignored. Like a twelfth man for Jews, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was eventually hanged in Flossenbürg concentration camp for his outspoken opposition to the evil regime. The fact of Jews distancing themselves from Christians may be even better understood knowing that the SS sang Christmas carols about baby Jesus while daily acting as murderous thugs.

Nevertheless, thousands of courageous moments stand out during the Nazi oppression, as catalogued by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. For the last 50 years, they have undertaken a project of thankfulness and honor to recognize the Righteous Among the Nations. Presently nearly 28,000 Gentiles, who saved Jews in many nations, are honored. Each of them acted as “The Twelfth Man.”

Good signs have indeed emerged, but opposition to those of us who support Israel is growing. This is why we need more and more leaders like Pat Robertson, founder of The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), who made a solemn vow to God in 1974 that he and the organizations he headed would always stand with Israel—no matter the cost. For nearly 50 years, Robertson and CBN have kept that promise and have influenced millions of Christians worldwide to support the Jewish nation and people.   

Then  in 1980, when International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) came into being, Israeli hearts began to warm up to Christians backing the State of Israel. Forty years of their trustworthiness has blossomed into multi-level blessings, including their annual Jerusalem March, which in non-COVID years is one of the biggest events in Israel—another manifestation of The Twelfth Man, with 7,000 Christians waving flags and singing in the streets of Jerusalem. 

Evangelical fact-based media has made a considerable difference, with the CBN News Middle East bureau established 20 years ago and Erick Stakelbeck’s popular program, The Watchman, on Trinity Broadcasting Network. Smaller media outlets likewise retain their importance in their commitment; they are The Twelfth Man, too.

Another manifestation of Christian support occurred during the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) of 2000-2005, when Arab terrorists murdered more than 1,000 Jewish men, women, and children. Although many Jews fled their country and most Israel tours were canceled, many groups of Christians decided to come anyway. Israelis noticed.

The years since the end of the Second Intifada have accelerated and deepened ties between Israelis and Christians. An historically Jewish institution, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) began proactively welcoming evangelical Christians into their ranks in 2005. They have become expert advocates with the U.S. Congress to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship legislatively. In 2006, Reverend John Hagee founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI)—now with more than 10 million members—which launches important petitions to Congress and holds educational events across the U.S. 

AIPAC and CUFI are considered leaders in educating and reaching out to the 535 members of the U.S. Congress on legislation that benefits the United States and Israel, especially in our mutual security interests. 

Congressional support is significant with votes on our annual security aid to Israel. As Iran’s threats via surrogates Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria are relentless in their anti-Israel hatred, multiple Christian individuals and organizations are active in supporting, I daresay, thousands of prayer groups, humanitarian aid, donations, tours, and fact-based media. They are also loyal in their opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes economic warfare against Israel. Individual and small group relationships between Israelis, Christians, and Jews worldwide undergird the bigger landscape of tangible pro-Israel support. 

The question must be asked, though: Will Evangelical Christians—an estimated 600 million worldwide—turn our numbers into a far greater Twelve Man/Woman operation with anti-Semitism surging in so many parts of the world? 

We have plenty of options for supporting Israel. I have mentioned only a few of them. So let us keep in mind the unity, support, and longevity of Texas A&M’s Twelfth Man.

Eli Gold, known as the “radio voice of Alabama Crimson Tide football,” summed up the concept of “The Twelfth Man,” saying in the last two seconds of the game, “Let the crowd tell the story.” Gold remained silent, and when the stadium echoed the roar of fans overcome with joy, every listener knew that their home team in College Station, Texas, had won! Gold is now in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, not because he played in the game, but because he contributed via his own popular broadcasts. In an interview, he observed that he was thrilled that a “Jewish kid from Brooklyn with zero athletic talent would make it into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.”

As Christians, may we stand strong as enthusiastic fans of the world’s only Jewish state, unified and active on behalf of Israel. We don’t have to be the star on the field. Like E. King Gill, we can cheer on the sidelines for Israel—by encouraging them with our support in multiple ways. 

Think of what we can accomplish with the example of “The Twelfth Man”—to cheer Israel on in word and deed as they confront the unrelenting hostility from the U.N. and global mainstream media, are singled out for condemnation, boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and endure the constant threats of war and terror along their dangerous borders.

Please join with CBN Israel this week in praying that Christians will support Israel like never before:

  • Pray for an exponential increase for Christians to get in the game and stand up for the Jewish nation and people.
  • Pray with deep gratitude that God is enabling Christians to support Israel in thousands of effective and impactful ways.
  • Pray that Christians will gain strength and not grow weary in their steadfast commitment to support Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Pray that CBN Israel will continue to successfully mobilize thousands of Christians worldwide to stand with Israel and bless her people in need. 

As we join together in prayer, may we reflect upon Ephesians 6:11: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

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: Kalia and Havier’s Story

Kalia and Havier became Israeli citizens in 2000, and lived in Beersheva with their four children. Havier has been the full-time pastor of a large Spanish-speaking congregation for years—but when money was tight during the pandemic, he tried to find additional work. Being in his fifties and living in a rural area, jobs were scarce. However, he was an excellent carpenter. 

So, he took out a loan, bought tools and equipment, and opened his own small business. Tragically, soon after, someone broke into his workshop and stole everything. Havier was devastated. He is still paying back the loans, and now manages on a small government pension.  

Meanwhile, during an onslaught of rockets from Gaza into Israel, Kalia’s health took a turn. She had surgery, and while resting at home, she endured pain and panic attacks. One evening, the emergency siren sounded, and the family hurried to their bomb shelter. When they emerged, they were horrified to see that a rocket had hit their home. The water pipes had burst, flooding the interior, and all their belongings were destroyed. The couple was overwhelmed.

But CBN Israel was there to help. We provided emergency rent for a temporary place to stay, while their home is repaired. And we offered them trauma counseling from local professionals. Havier exclaimed, “We have been so blessed by your kindness and compassion!” 

Your gift to CBN Israel can rush relief to more terror victims—while supplying groceries, housing, financial help, medical aid, and essentials to those in need. So many are hurting in Israel. Your support can reach out to single mothers, refugees, Holocaust survivors, and others who are struggling. 

Please join us in bringing hope to those in crisis!

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Biblical Israel: Yodfat

 By Marc Turnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: True Religion

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27 NASB).

Within our Western society, even among Christians, the term “religion” has gained a negative connotation. Such thinking was foreign to the biblical mind. James outlines what true religion is. Notice, it pertains to how we treat others: bridling our tongues, caring for widows and orphans, and keeping ourselves from being soiled by the world. This is a pure and undefiled religion before God. 

We often describe our faith and relationship with God as pertaining primarily with how we relate to God. Yet James focused it on how we relate to others. Our treatment of others is what ultimately demonstrates our relationship with God. So, let’s look at this for a minute. 

Our social media world encourages us to communicate, to share our thoughts and opinions, to comment on others’ thoughts and opinions. As such, it has greatly contributed to the division and contempt expressed in our world today. How many use such platforms to “set others straight”? 

Is that bridling our tongues? Just because we can say it and have the platform to do so, does that mean we should? James says about those who cannot control their words that their religion is worthless. If we evaluated our relationship with God using James’s criteria, how would we fare?

He then mentions that pure and undefiled religion before God is that which takes care of widows and orphans in their distress. Ancient religions, like Judaism, valued ritual purity in their worship. When one approached the Temple in Jerusalem, you had to ritually immerse; in that way, your worship, your religion, would be pure. 

Since we don’t tend to look at worship in that manner today, we don’t feel the full impact of James’s words. James, however, says that true, pure religion is not something you do ritually; rather, it’s how you care for the outsiders of society who are in need. 

James, like his brother Jesus, recognized that the evidence of a sound relationship with God is how we relate to others, particularly the less fortunate. He reserved harsh words for those who do not bridle their tongue. He defined what religion truly mattered to God: our treatment of others. We relate to God by how we relate to others.

PRAYER

Father, help me to guard my lips today, and may I keep myself pure and love those around me, especially those in distress. Amen.

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The Gush Etzion Tree: A Symbol of Hope in Israel’s Heartland

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

When tourists visit Israel, some sites are absolute essentials for Christians. The Garden Tomb, Western Wall, the Old City, Capernaum, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Sea of Galilee are topmost on most tour agendas. However, Israel possesses endless discoveries stretching from ancient to modern times, with lesser-known tourist destinations full of inspiration and history.   

In 2012, on one of my recurring trips to Israel, friends introduced me to Gush Etzion, a region I had never visited. Located in Judea south of Jerusalem, it is about a 15-minute drive from the capital. Gush Etzion is composed of 22 towns—a cluster of communities with good schools, businesses, wineries, recreation, agriculture, and parks. The region has been a security anchor for Jerusalem, punctuated with tragedies and victories alike. The biblical heartland, Judea and Samaria, is often referred to as the “West Bank” as it lies west of the Jordan River. The entire Jewish population of the heartland is more than 400,000 citizens, which includes Gush Etzion.

Here is a brief history of this region. Jewish pioneers attempted to create communities here as early as 1927. After several challenging attempts, four agricultural villages were founded between 1943 and 1947. Appalling battles followed after the November 29, 1947, United Nations 33-12 vote favoring Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). Tensions dramatically escalated. Although the Jews accepted the plan, the Arabs rejected it. 

It is significant to note the historical truth here. The Arabs could have built their own state in 1947-48, but didn’t. Then in 2005, Israel forced its 8,000 Jewish residents to leave behind their businesses, synagogues, and homes in Gaza. When the last Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier closed the Kissufim gate, the Mediterranean coastline awaited the decision of Arab leaders to create tourism, prosperity, and freedom for their people. Instead, Arab Palestinians set about to destroy everything in sight that could have benefited them—greenhouses, other businesses, homes, anything left there for their use by the departing Israelis.  

In 2007, Gaza’s Palestinians elected Hamas, a terrorist organization. That move has proven a disaster for them and for civilians in southern Israel. Even now, if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chose to follow the lead of Arab nations in the Abraham Accords, it would immediately improve the well-being of the Palestinian population. Renouncing the glorification of terrorists in “pay-to-slay” bonuses for their families and removing their hate-filled media would set them on a more productive path. At present, Israel has no “peace partner,” since Mr. Abbas has refused direct negotiations since 2009. 

Looking in the rearview mirror again, on January 15, 1948, 35 Jewish members of the Haganah—Israel’s vital underground military from 1920-1948—were killed by the Arab Legion while trying to resupply Kfar Etzion, one of four kibbutzim in the Gush Etzion bloc. The Jewish defenders fought for about six months. Then on May 12—two days before Israel declared its official statehood on May 14, 1948—Arabs massacred 127 Jewish men and women after 30 Jewish defenders could not hold out against thousands of Arab attackers. As bestselling author Jay Sekulow summed up in Jerusalem: A Biblical and Historical Case for the Jewish Capital, “By holding off the Arab forces for that one critical day, the people of Gush Etzion helped saved Jerusalem.”

In a eulogy for these fallen heroes, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, stated, “I can think of no battle in the annals of the Israel Defense Forces which was more magnificent, more tragic, or more heroic than the struggle for Gush Etzion. … If there exists a Jewish Jerusalem, our foremost thanks go to the defenders of Gush Etzion.”

After the Arab/Israeli War, when the 1949 armistice lines were set, the region was not included. During the 1967 Six-Day War launched by Arab armies, Israel recaptured the region, then began rebuilding (and adding new communities to) the Etzion bloc.

On my visit, after walking around the grounds, homes, and businesses and viewing a film at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, the most impactful sight for me was the Gush Etzion tree, also called the “Lone Tree” and the “Oak of Return.” It is one of the region’s biggest attractions. There it stood—alone, unremarkable, and plain in its surroundings. Nevertheless, it struck me as poignant and powerful in its longevity and survival. Arabs not only destroyed Jewish lives in 1948; they also destroyed the buildings and pulled up every tree except for the lone oak. It was easy to understand its significance for the Jewish people.

Last December, in fact, members of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and government leaders rededicated the Lone Oak Tree plaza after two years of renovations at the site. At the ceremony, Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman spoke about the biblical “first tourists”—the Twelve Spies in the book of Numbers. He went on to describe the Lone Oak: “As a testimony to the glory of the land, they brought back fruits from this region. … The Lone Oak has strong roots—long and deep, which symbolizes the strength of Gush Etzion.”

His quote echoes my reaction not only for the enduring tree, which has been standing for 700 to 800 years, but for Israelis—and for us walking out our Christian faith. It is a symbol of strength and deep roots enduring in war and peace. The Jewish homeland has withstood, recovered, and thrived. Its history is much like the personal history of humankind, living in the paradox of tragedy and joy.

Another first for me was walking where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob walked! Called the Way (or Path) of the Patriarchs, it is located in Gush Etzion.  

The truth and the facts about Israel are repeatedly proven—first by the Bible in ancient times, then reinforced today by archeology and science. Anti-Semitism, twisted facts, propaganda, and lies do not override the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. 

Hope in the heartland is intensified by the fact that our Lord, a Jewish Rabbi, has chosen to live in our hearts. In thanks for our Savior alone Who gives us new and eternal life and the symbol of the Lone Tree! 

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

  • Pray for Israel as a nation for the strength of the Lone Tree as they face increasing anti-Semitism.
  • Pray for Judea and Samaria, the biblical heartland, which comes under considerable criticism and accused of “occupying” the land God gave them.
  • Pray that slander from anti-Israel activists will be overcome by the truth.

May we reflect upon Psalm 1:3, a beautiful verse to pray over Israel as well as our own walk with God: “He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

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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Elderly Widow: Eliana’s Story

During World War II, when Eliana’s father was drafted, her mother and siblings fled Ukraine for Uzbekistan. A year after her father came home from serving on the front lines, Eliana was born. 

But the war was still raging, and food and essentials were scarce—especially for a family with five children. It was a time of widespread famine, disease, and poverty. Despite the hardships, her family stayed close and maintained a strong bond. 

Today, Eliana is a 76-year-old widow, who immigrated to Israel in 2009. Her two surviving siblings and daughters live far away. When COVID-19 struck, with lockdowns and restrictions, it became impossible to see them. 

Although she kept in touch with her family from a distance, Eliana felt lonely and isolated. But fortunately, she became part of a local congregation that partners with CBN Israel. We sent local volunteers to visit her safely, bringing groceries and essentials. She says, “It is so wonderful that you care enough to assist people like me in Israel … during this lonely time. Thank you!” 

Your gift to CBN Israel can assist many elderly Jewish widows and widowers, including Holocaust survivors—along with single moms and others. Your support during this pandemic and beyond can help those in need across Israel with food, housing, finances, and more. 

Please help us reach out at this critical time!

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Biblical Israel: Ashkelon

By Marc Turnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Have You Ever Wanted to Give Up?

The prophet Jeremiah lived in troubled days. God called him to prophesy to the kingdom of Judah in the years leading up to the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple, and the deportation of many of its citizens to Babylon.

There were other prophets in Jerusalem at this time, too, and some of them had the very opposite message to the people from what Jeremiah had shared.

As a result, Jeremiah ran into trouble with the Jerusalem priests. Pashhur the son of Immer, the chief officer of the house of the Lord, had Jeremiah placed in stocks for his prophecies.

Jeremiah found himself disillusioned and discouraged:

“LORD, You persuaded me and I let myself be persuaded; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the LORD has resulted in taunting and derision all day long” (Jeremiah 20:7-8 NASB). 

Jeremiah had a message that no one wanted to hear. Not the king and his court, not the priests in the house of God, and not the people.

He even came to the point of despising the day he was born (20:14-18). He was ready to give up. He didn’t want the call to be a prophet anymore. It separated him from those around him, including his close friends (20:10).

Yet, when Jeremiah came to the point of no longer speaking the word of God, he found that he could not. He could not hold it in; he had to speak, even if it meant he still felt overwhelmed, isolated, and frustrated.

Why? Because Jeremiah understood something very important: God was King and had laid claim to his life; therefore, regardless of the circumstances and what Jeremiah felt, he had to proclaim the word God had placed in him.

Too often we want to be comfortable in our faith. We don’t want God’s call to disrupt our lives or our standing within the world around us. We don’t want to be seen as strange or weird—one of those people.

The prophets of the Bible did not always fit in. God commanded them to do some strange things to convey His message. And they did it. Why? Because God is King, and they had submitted to His call.

Of course, not every weird thing a person does makes him or her a prophet. But sometimes living in obedience to God will put us on the opposite side of our friends, family, and society.

Jeremiah endured because God had called him—and because God’s message sought to redeem His people.

Sometimes we, too, can feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and disillusioned with our faith. We may feel like Jeremiah and want to throw up our hands and walk away. In those moments, allow the word God has put in you to burn.

Remind yourself that He is King, and if we commit our cause to Him (20:12), He will redeem our obedience and faithfulness.

PRAYER

Father, never let our feelings overwhelm us to the point that we give up from what You have called us to do. May Your word burn inside of us today that regardless of our circumstances, we proclaim it to our world that needs You. Amen.

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Joel Rosenberg’s Newest Book Enemies and Allies: Stepping Into Middle East History 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Author Joel C. Rosenberg’s latest book links his front row seat to history with his page-turning style. It’s as if he stepped into one of his previous sixteen thrillers. However, his newest book is not a novel. It is real.  

Joel’s conversations since 2016 with key Arab leaders have given him first-hand observations into the seismic shifts taking place in the Middle East. Could those shifts signal peace? 

That’s one of the issues Joel C. Rosenberg addresses in his latest book, Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East. In an interview earlier this month on The 700 Club, Rosenberg sees two factions at work in the Middle East. The negative one is that Iran is “dangerously close” to nuclear weapons, which could lead to a “nuclear 9/11 and a second Holocaust of Israel.” The positive one is that the Abraham Accords offer evidence of “huge positive tectonic change in the region—of attitudes toward Jews, towards Israel, and towards Christians.”

Enemies and Allies—released on September 7—joins the author’s impressive output of 16 novels and four nonfiction works. This collection of interviews with key political figures of our day—culled from five years of research—offers an insider’s look at events in the Middle East, and what new alliances may mean for the future of this volatile region. In his book, Rosenberg has skillfully fashioned first-person meetings with Arab leaders into another genre—mixing groundbreaking, off-the-record conversations into an intriguing format that makes new developments in Middle East history an adventure. 

Joel’s five-year journey has taken him to meetings in royal palaces, beginning with a surprising invitation in 2016 from Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The monarch invited Joel and his wife for a five-day visit after reading Joel’s novel The First Hostage, which included the king. In describing that remarkable event, Joel says, “The king of a sovereign nation read one of my books! Check that off my ‘Things I never thought would happen’ list.” 

A series of meetings then evolved over the next several years where, by invitation, Joel organized small groups of evangelical Christian leaders to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah, United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reading the details of how God threaded together these remarkable meetings where American evangelical leaders played a groundbreaking part in discussions is a fascinating, history-making story.

One of the most significant moments transpired in 2018, when a group met with Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi. Joel recalls, “When we sat in his palace, he told us he was going ‘to make peace with Israel.’ We were sitting on a huge news story and yet the ground rules at the time were that the conversation was off the record. We couldn’t go out and tell everybody another Arab country—the first Gulf Arab country—is going to make peace with Israel. We kept our word.” 

After his publisher sent me a copy of Enemies and Allies, I interviewed Joel via phone. We first met in 2009 at Old Ebbits Grill, a D.C. landmark eatery when I worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Over lunch with Joel and several of his colleagues, we enjoyed wide-ranging discussions about Israel and the Middle East. He had already penned his first novel, The Last Jihad, which was written months before 9/11 and published in 2002, as well as four other thrillers. I later invited him to speak at the annual AIPAC Christian Delegate Dinner. We’ve continued good conversations since then, running into each other at National Religious Broadcasters conventions and Christian Media summits hosted by Israel’s Government Press Office. 

Rosenberg’s resume is packed with impressive credentials. With five million books already sold, he is a New York Times best-selling author and founder of a humanitarian charity, The Joshua Fund. In 2020, he became editor-in-chief of two Middle East news websites: All Israel News and All Arab News. With his newest book, he achieves the rightly deserved descriptor of “historian.” 

I have read all of Joel’s books, some of them twice. After absorbing Enemies and Allies, it is easy for me to recommend that this non-fiction book should be required reading in every middle and high school, home school, university, mainstream media, for pastors’ sermon prep, Sunday school classes, and small group Bible studies. It is replete with facts and an extensive bibliography—a captivating discourse on recent Middle East history. 

Maintaining the confidences shared by Arab leaders, Joel has now, in timely fashion, disclosed little-known facts and conversations that took place prior to the Abraham Accords ceremony on the White House lawn on September 15, 2020. As he said in his 700 Club interview, “It’s the first book ever to take you inside those palaces—and you meet and hear on the record from some of the Middle East’s most powerful, consequential, and controversial leaders.”

In addition to the firsthand observations and discussions on politics, freedom of religion, and a new period of change within Arab countries, Joel openly maintained his fidelity to the Bible and his faith. An evangelical Christian with a Jewish heritage, Joel made Aliyah to Israel in 2014 with his wife and four sons. Now a dual American-Israeli citizen based in Jerusalem, Joel has even more depth and perspective.

About the in-person meetings themselves, Joel reflected, “Not many of us could have foreseen Arab leaders would even invite us. That would have seemed like a totally crazy idea just five years ago. We were the first delegation in the history of the United Arab Emirates ever as evangelical Christians to be invited to come and meet with the leadership.’’

It is clear that God gave favor in this and subsequent meetings. The Christian leaders who witnessed this historic moment kept their promise to Mohammed bin Zayed about the future peace. It would become the first with a Muslim nation since 1994 between Jordan and Israel. When bin Zayed’s decision was not made public, it became a cornerstone of trust for the future between Christian and Arab leaders. Mohammed bin Zayed made the announcement himself in August 2020 during a call with President Trump and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Enemies and Allies was already on the printing presses when the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan grew into a military, civilian, and diplomatic crisis. During the interview, I asked Joel what he would write in a chapter about this calamity. 

He responded, “In Enemies and Allies I emphasize that if you don’t understand the nature and threat of the evil posed by radical Islamism, you can be blindsided by it. Biden’s surrender to the Taliban movement is one of the great catastrophes in American foreign policy. It is clear that he was blindsided.” 

Joel went on to say that with one move, President Biden pulled out the “Jenga stick” and the whole game collapsed. It was a great analogy. Jenga is a game that involves building a tower out of wooden blocks, where players take turns removing a block from the tower and stacking it on top, making the structure increasingly unstable. If the tower falls apart on your turn, you will lose the game. “By doing this, Biden has emboldened our enemies and rattled our allies,” Joel asserted.

Regarding more Arab nations joining the Abraham Accords, I asked for Joel’s observations about Saudi Arabia possibly joining in. While he cannot divulge private conversations, Joel mentioned that he’s had in-depth, off-the-record discussions with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and his inner circle. “It may be a whole process that could take years, but that’s something that we should be praying for.” If the Saudis join, Joel says it would be “the mother of all peace deals.” 

Two Bible verses are wise reminders for all believers in forming relationships with others of no faith or another faith. Psalm 37:3 exhorts: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Joel has grown into a behind-the scenes-goodwill ambassador, an informal bridge between Christians, Israelis, and Arab leaders. The breadth and depth of his newest book reveals the way that God has used his talents during world-changing events—not only to write a compelling, fact-based history book but also to wisely navigate relationships. It is refreshing that someone so prominent in the seismic shifts of Middle East history could remain a role model for humility, prayerful approaches, and authenticity. To better understand the rapidly shifting landscape in Israel and the Arab/Muslim world, read Joel’s book, ramp up your knowledge of Middle East history, and pray for the region.  

Please join with CBN Israel in prayer this week for Israel and the Middle East:

  • Pray that we evangelicals will follow the Lord’s lead as His ambassadors, walking in our faith prayerfully and in wisdom with an engaging approach. 
  • Pray for Arab leaders taking risks to align with Israel, resulting in benefits to their own people and standing/serving as a bulwark against their common enemy: Iran.
  • Pray for deepened cooperative relationships with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region and beyond. 

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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Giving Food and Care to Elderly Jewish Widows

Starvation. Assault. Forced to sleep on the cold, wet ground. And the constant threat of death. These are the unthinkable deprivations that many Jewish children experienced as they were seized from their villages and marched to the horrors of concentration camps. No one should have to experience that brutality, then live with the nightmarish memories all their lives. 

Today, some 140,000 survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel, and the trauma of their past is only intensified by the modern-day attacks of terrorists and rockets aimed at destroying the Jewish homeland. Thousands of these survivors are widows or widowers living in poverty, with no family to count on, barely able to stretch their small stipends to cover food, medicine, rent, and electricity. And the isolation imposed by COVID-19 has made their lives even harder. 

But you and I can change this by providing essential food and care to these elderly people. Through our efficient network of ministry partners and volunteers, you can deliver food, medical assistance, home visits, and—most of all—hope to those in great need. When give your support to CBN Israel, you can provide food and care for Jewish women and men in the Holy Land who feel hopeless and alone. 

And what a difference you’ll make! These dear people often tell us that when someone delivers food packages from CBN Israel, it is like opening a window to the world, serving as a comforting reminder that they have not been forgotten. As you share God’s love with the poor and lonely, you can help fulfill the promise of Psalm 107:9, “He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

Please join us in giving food and care to elderly Jewish widows, widowers, and others in desperate need.

GIVE TODAY

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