Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

By Julie Stahl

“It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade” (John 10:22-23).

For eight days Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah, a holiday marking a great victory over 2,000 years ago.

“This is a holiday about spirituality; this is a holiday about values, this is a holiday about connecting to God,” says Rebecca Spiro, a Jerusalem Old City resident.

Also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah is a not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it is in the New Testament.  

“It’s a holiday that celebrates religious freedom and our victory against oppression and our ability to rededicate the Temple,” says Spiro.

In the second century B.C., the Jewish people in Judea revolted against the Syrian-Greek (Seleucid) conquerors. 

The Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV ruled over Israel in 174 B.C. He began to unify his kingdom by imposing pagan religion and culture on the Jews—forcing them to eat pork and forbidding Sabbath observance, Bible (Torah) study, and circumcision. Worse still, the Seleucids defiled the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the Greek God Zeus.

Mattathias, a sage from the village of Modiin, and his five sons took a stand against the prohibitions and idolatry and fled to the hills of Judea. There they raised a small army and engaged in guerilla warfare against the Seleucid Empire. 

Before his death, Mattathias appointed his son Judah the Strong as their leader. Judah was called “Maccabee,” a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words, Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Adonai, which means, “Who is like You, O God.”

King Antiochus sent his General Apollonius to wipe out Judah and his followers, but he was defeated. So, he sent tens of thousands of more soldiers to fight. The Maccabees responded by declaring, “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!” They assembled in Mitzpah, where Samuel, the prophet, had prayed to God. 

Although they were greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees won and returned to Jerusalem to liberate and cleanse the Holy Temple from the idols that Antiochus had placed inside. 

On the 25th day of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 B.C., the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. The legend says that there was only enough sacred oil for the menorah (“candelabrum” with seven branches used in the Temple in Jerusalem) to burn for one day but when they lit it, it miraculously burned for eight days—enough time to purify more oil. That’s why Hanukkah lasts for eight days.  

The Maccabees were also important in early Christianity. Recently, archaeologists uncovered tombs believed to be those of the Hasmoneans about a mile from the modern Israeli city of Modiin and about 20 miles from Jerusalem in the area where the Maccabees would have lived.  

At the site, there was a mosaic floor with a cross on it. Archaeologists suggest that Byzantine Christians found the original tomb and decorated it with the mosaic.

“The Maccabees were Jewish leaders, Jewish rebels. They removed the Greek empire and Greek presence from what is now modern Israel and they established an independent Jewish state, which makes it significant to both Judaism and Christianity,” says archaeologist Dan Shachar.

Another indication of their importance to early Christians is that the books of the Maccabees are part of the Apocryphal books, canonized as part of the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles, but they are not part of the Jewish or other Christian Bibles.   

Today, Jewish people light a special Hanukkah menorah, called a Hanukkiah with nine branches—one for each of the eight days and an additional one called the shamash or “servant candle” used to light the others. Each day an additional candle is lit so that by the eighth day they are all ablaze.

Because of the oil, eating delicious fried foods like latkes (“potato pancakes”) and soufganiot (“jelly donuts”) is another Hanukkah tradition. 

Hanukkah falls around and sometimes coincides with Christmas time. Children are often given presents each day of the holiday.

Spiro says there’s a message in the holiday for today.

“The world’s coming up against Israel. The wolves are circling the sheep. This is nothing new, and the message for Hanukkah is no matter what happens our candles burn bright,” she says. “Civilizations have come and gone, but the Jewish people are still here.”

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East. 

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Torah Reading Commentary: Deborah – Rebekah’s Nurse

By Mark Gerson

This week’s Torah reading, Parsha Vayishlach, is packed with several notable events, including Jacob wrestling with an angel, Jacob marrying Rachel and Leah, Jacob and Esau reuniting, and the rape of Dinah and its aftermath. Each of these, and others, is extraordinary. Yet there is another important—but often overlooked—verse tucked away in this parsha. We are told, in Genesis 35:8, “Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth [Oak of Weeping].” 

This is remarkable because it adds, seemingly, nothing to the progression of the story. If Deborah were a major character—if she were Noah, Abraham, Sarah, or Rebekah—it would be more comprehensible. A great and defining person dies, everyone stops to mourn her—and so of course the story pauses. But this is the first time we are introduced to Deborah, aside from an elliptical reference 11 verses earlier that does not even mention her name. 

The significance of Deborah is suggested by more than the placement in the text of the description of her funeral. There are thousands of people mentioned in the Torah, but the funerals of only a few are recorded. There are four funerals where we are told that people wept. These are of Sarah, Moses, Aaron, and Deborah. So, Deborah is considered—at least by this rather significant indication—to be as valued as three of the people who would be in anyone’s top 10. 

Moreover, Deborah is buried under an oak tree. This is consistent with how ancient Jews would have buried a great person while on a journey. We Jews bury our dead immediately; in Jerusalem today, people are usually buried within hours of their death. When Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel dies, he is far from the family burial plot in Hebron—and so he buries her on the way to Efrat, which is Bethlehem. Of all trees to have selected as Deborah’s burial site, it is both intentional and instructive that an oak tree was chosen. An oak tree, the ever-dependable Wikipedia tells us, “is a common symbol of strength and endurance and has been chosen as the national tree of many countries.” 

So, who is this Deborah? In the biblical imagination, a person’s name is always a window into their character. Deborah means “bee.” Bees are known for their constant productive activity—hence our expression “busy as a bee.” Specifically, as my friend Yaron Carni points out, the activity that bees are best at is pollination—a capability that they use to bring life to everything they touch. And as the sociobiologist E.O. Wilson wrote in a very different context, bees are particularly gifted when it comes to “caring cooperatively for the young.” 

Deborah, therefore, seems to have gone well beyond her role as the wet nurse. This analysis suggests she was the unheralded, even unnamed organizer of the household of Rebekah—which we know from the Bible tended toward (and self-inflicted) tragedy. Indeed, translations and interpretations—and these can be the same thing—of wet nurses often incorporate concepts as broad as bringing up, tutoring, and here, organizing. 

Deborah was, the Torah tells us, Rebekah’s wet nurse. Does this mean that Deborah suckled Rebekah when she was a baby or Rebekah’s children when they were babies? The text leaves that question open, but she would have been at least a generation older than Jacob—who was well into his senior years. In a 2010 sermon, Rabbi David Wolpe brings up a characteristically brilliant insight. Whatever Deborah’s precise function, she died at a very old age, long after any service a wet nurse could even broadly perform. Indeed, there is nothing to indicate that she was performing any services for an adult Jacob—including organizing his household, which was the most chaotic in the Torah. 

So, this remarkable funeral tells us a lot about Deborah and also about Jacob. Jacob, Rabbi Wolpe points out, evidently always remembered a person who had been good to him as a child—long after her professional value had been exhausted. And Jacob remembered in the only way the Torah acknowledges: through action. 

We are discussing the Torah, which means guidebook—as in a guidebook to help us live better lives. So, the story is not really about Deborah or Jacob. It is about each of us. We probably all have people who we can recall were good to us as children—it might be a babysitter or a teacher, a nurse or a housekeeper, an older friend or a neighbor, a delivery person or the cashier at the corner store. 

How many of us even approximate, in our relationship with them, being a Jacob? Jacob, and the Torah, show us how we can consider such people to be like Sarah, Moses, and Aaron in our lives. Even if we cannot get to that point, there is so much we can do in the spirit of this guidance. An email or a letter, a call or a visit (particularly with our children)—there are so many ways to acknowledge and appreciate the humanity in those who were so good to us years before. In so doing, we can honor them—and Jacob and Deborah.  

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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The Menorah: Israel’s National Symbol is a Hanukkah Inspiration

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The imposing 15-foot-high bronze menorah that stands like a sentinel outside Israel’s Knesset Building has long been a tourist favorite. A photo op in front of this extraordinary candelabrum offers a lasting memory for groups or lone visitors who pose before Israel’s official national symbol. The magnificent seven-branch Knesset Menorah reminds us of the survival of the Jewish people, the Jewish faith, and the return to their ancient homeland.

In Exodus 25:31-40, God gave the instructions and detailed design to Moses at Mount Sinai for the seven-branch “lampstand” that made up the exquisite menorah. The most skilled craftsman was chosen to make it, hammering it out of a single piece of gold. It weighed perhaps a hundred pounds. These golden lampstands graced The Tabernacle in Shiloh and the First and Second Temples, providing continuous light in the Holy Place. Only the High Priest tended the wick and replenished the pure olive oil. The light served as a constant reminder to the ancient Jews that God was with them every moment in their wilderness sojourn. Over time, opinions have differed about the seven menorah branches, but some think it symbolizes the seven days of creation. It is the oldest continuously used religious symbol in Western civilization.

Over the centuries, the menorah developed into a nine-branched candelabrum called, in Hebrew, a Hanukkiah or a “Hanukkah menorah.” Lexicographer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) is credited with reviving the Hebrew language but his wife Hemda, herself an author, created the word, Hanukkiah. The eight candles were said to refer to the number of days the oil burned in the Temple after the Maccabees recaptured it in 168 B.C. The ninth candle in the center, set just a little higher, is called the “shamash,” or helper/servant candle, which is used to light the others. 

Thus, the Menorah and the Hanukkiah are emblematic cousins existing in two different eras, both symbols of religious liberty, restoration, light, and victory

In 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion rechristened the ancient symbol as Israel’s official emblem, its coat of arms. On either side of the coat of arms menorah, olive branches stand for Israel’s longing for peace. In 1956 the British Parliament donated to Israel the famous Knesset Menorah mentioned earlier. It was fashioned by Benno Elkan, who had escaped Nazi Germany in 1933 and settled in England, where he became a gifted sculptor. Elkan included intricate bronze reliefs and engravings on his menorah, which some have called a “visual textbook of Jewish history.”

That Jewish history includes the desecration of the Second Temple in 167 B.C. by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifested”) and his army. The Syrian empire’s tyrant proclaimed himself a deity, demanding that the Jews abandon God and their faith. Realizing that their religious liberty was at stake, the outnumbered but valiant Jewish Maccabees rose up as an elite fighting force to stop the despot’s genocidal goal of destroying God’s chosen people and their faith. 

The Maccabees fought for three years, at the end of which they recaptured the Temple and cleansed it of Antiochus’ paganism. The story about finding only a day’s supply of oil—which burned for eight days while more oil was purified—is not mentioned in the Bible. Whether that story is a legend or not, the Festival of Dedication (“Hanukkah”) was born. It is celebrated for eight days, supposedly because the sacred oil miraculously burned for that length of time. While the light’s symbolism is important, another reality runs deeper and is sometimes obscured: the Maccabees’ victory over Antiochus guaranteed the survival of the Jews and Judaism, as well as the birth of the future Messiah, Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem just a few miles from Jerusalem. In John 10:22–23, the only verse in the Bible that mentions the event, Jesus is described as celebrating the Festival of Lights, also called Feast of Dedication. At that time, Jesus declared His deity, saying, “I and the Father are one.” 

It’s important to note that the Feast of Dedication goes beyond candles and oil. This was a landmark victory where God enabled a remnant of dedicated fighters to preserve His people. The ancient Maccabean triumph has endured as a symbol of eternity, survival, and sacrifice to keep religious freedom. For Christians, the fact that our Lord celebrated the festival verifies the significance of restoration, dedication, and overcoming against all odds. The Festival of Dedication is a way to remember “Persumei Nisa,” Aramaic for “publicizing the miracle.” The miracle was the Maccabean victory. 

Let’s fast forward from the Maccabees and the Second Temple frequented by Jesus to the last 90 years of history, which are filled with stories about Hanukkah menorahs and celebrations. One of the most treasured stories began in 1931 when Rabbi Akiva Posner and his family lived in Kiel, Germany. On the last night of Hanukkah on December 11, 1931, Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a picture of their lit hanukkiah sitting on the ledge of their window. The picture also captured a Nazi flag in the background across the street at a Nazi headquarters building. After she received the developed picture, Mrs. Posner wrote this caption in German on the back of her photo: 

Chanukah 5692 (1932)Death to Judah,” so the flag says. “Judah will live forever,” so the light answers.” Her simple yet profound words still capture the meaning of the Festival of Dedication today. In 1934, the Posner family mercifully fled Germany, escaping to British Mandate Palestine and settling in beautiful Haifa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

Wonderfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. In 2005 one of the Posners’ grandsons, Yehuda Mansbach, donated the family hanukkiah to Yad Vashem, Israel’s World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He made one request to Yad Vashem, which agreed that the Mansbach family could annually take it to their home in Beit Shemesh, Israel, and light it for Hanukkah following the tradition of his parents and grandparents. Yehuda recalled, “The menorah and the photo were part of the family’s history, but nobody ever made a big deal about it.” 

Four years later, the Posners’ great-grandson, Akiva Mansbach, took the hanukkiah menorah to his Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) army base so he and his unit could use it to celebrate. Dressed in his IDF uniform, he saluted the family hanukkiah menorah. Akiva remarked, “The same light that my great-grandparents lit in the exile in Germany is the light that so many light today in Israel. It demonstrates the continuity of Jewish history.”

Yad Vashem has now amassed archives of multi-topic testimonials from Holocaust survivors. Among the topics shared are ways that the Jewish communities tried to maintain their identity and their Hanukkah traditions. In Nazi-occupied countries, the Nazis forced the Jews into a thousand walled-in ghettos in cities like Minsk, Riga, and Warsaw, where many died in the appalling conditions. 

Despite the inhumane suffering, the Jews found ways to celebrate Hanukkah not only as an expression of their faith but to keep their sense of community seeking light in the darkness. Those who survived the ghettos found themselves transported to the concentration camps where the horrors increased. Yet even in the depths of the Nazi darkness of the camps, Jews invented ways to observe Hanukkah. A Jewish-Hungarian survivor imprisoned at a German labor camp describes taking threads from a blanket to make Hanukkah “candles.” One family made a menorah from foraged wood, aluminum, and battery parts. They used grease and cotton wicks for candles. Another testimonial described an inmate’s shoe, a wooden clog, which they turned into a hanukkiah, using strings from a concentration camp uniform for a wick and black shoe polish for the “oil.” The Holocaust survivors’ stories are a legacy for both the Jewish and Christian communities—a legacy of devotion to faith, religious liberty, and the will to live. 

Depictions of menorahs have been found all over Israel—in mosaics, on ancient coins, and engraved into Jerusalem stone. I’ve had the privilege of seeing one of the most beautiful Jerusalem stones; it was discovered in 2009 when a first-century synagogue was uncovered in Magdala on the Sea of Galilee near Tiberius. Archeologists identified it as a Torah reading table with a seven-branched menorah beautifully chiseled into it.

Since Nazis confiscated most of the menorahs to melt them down for silver, few pre-World War II menorahs still exist. When European menorahs from the 18th and 19th centuries are discovered and sometimes sold at auction, they can fetch up to $100,000 apiece.  

Modern day menorahs are also scattered all over the globe in public places. In fact, the world’s tallest menorah rivals Israel’s majestic Knesset Menorah. The 32-foot-high structure is located in Manhattan near Central Park. At annual Hanukkah celebrations, cherry pickers help with the lighting of real oil lamps on the 4,000-pound steel structure. Our National Menorah in Washington, D.C., has been erected and lighted annually since 1979. It stands 30 feet high and is located near The White House on the Ellipse. 

Opinions vary as to whether Jesus declared, “I am the Light of the world” at the ancient Festival of Lights in Jerusalem. Yet, while the location of His words is shrouded in speculation, one magnificent truth prevails: Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

In ancient times, the Jews were God’s vessels for our Scripture and our Savior. Jesus’ earthly homeland, with its innovations and acts of mercy for nations in need, still carries out God’s purpose for Israel as described in Isaiah 49:6—“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

May the Menorah of the Holy Spirit light our hearts and minds as we share Jesus’ light with others and remain dedicated to our Judeo-Christian faith. 

Join CBN Israel in praying for the Jewish community as they celebrate Hanukkah: 

  • Pray for Israelis celebrating Hanukkah (December 10-18) during the COVID-19. pandemic.
  • Pray especially for those who are alone in Israel at a time when Hanukkah is usually a joyous occasion.
  • Pray with thankfulness that God has preserved remnants of His chosen people to ensure religious liberty. 
  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its modern-day Maccabees who guarantee Israel’s security and freedom. 

And may we reflect on Jesus’ revelation in John 10:22-23: “Then came the Festival of Dedication [Lights] at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” There, He revealed His own deity, declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

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 frequently traveled to Israel. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times. She hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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World War II Veteran: Arkadi’s Story

It was December 1942, and Arkadi was enjoying a relaxing visit with relatives in Minsk, Belarus. Suddenly, the Nazis raided the city overnight. His loved ones were taken away to the ghetto, as he witnessed a massacre—with the dead piled up in the streets. He recalled, “I wish I could erase this horrible memory…I still see and hear the cries of the people.” 

Arkadi went into hiding, and joined a group of partisans. They organized attacks on the Nazis—bombing their weapon storages, cars, and military bases. More brave Jewish and non-Jewish men and women joined them in fighting back against the horrors of the Third Reich. Arkadi was given an award for his valor by the USSR after World War II ended.  

Today, Arkadi is a 97-year-old veteran and Holocaust survivor, living in Israel. But he can barely walk and needed a walker to help him move around the house. Who could help him? 

Thankfully, friends like you were there. CBN Israel provided him with a new walker, so he can be more mobile and independent. He is thrilled by all we are doing to support elderly Israelis and Holocaust survivors, even during a pandemic, saying, “I am beyond grateful!” 

And CBN Israel is also offering much-needed help at this critical time to single mothers, immigrant families, terror victims, lone soldiers, and more. We are delivering food and vital necessities and bringing hope to the hurting. 

So many people across the Holy Land need help. Your generous support can bring groceries, housing, medicine, and financial aid to those who struggle—while also broadcasting Israel’s important stories through CBN News.

Please help us bless this special land and her people in need!


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Biblical Israel: Nazareth

By Marc Turnage

Nazareth—the boyhood home of Jesus—sits on a limestone ridge (the Nazareth Ridge) in the Lower Galilee that separates the Jezreel Valley to the south from the Beit Netofa Valley to the north. Nazareth first appears in ancient literary sources in the New Testament (Matthew 2:23; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4, 39, and 51). According to Luke, Jesus’ mother, Mary, came from Nazareth (1:26). Matthew relates how the Holy Family, after returning from Egypt, relocated to Nazareth (2:19–23). Jesus taught in Nazareth’s synagogue (Luke 4:16-30), and as His popularity grew, He became known as “Jesus from Nazareth” (Matthew 21:11).

Although Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient sources prior to the New Testament, archaeologists have uncovered remains from the Middle Bronze Age (time of the Patriarchs), Iron Age II (time of kingdoms of Israel and Judah), and the late Hellenistic eras. The discovery of tombs from the early Roman period (first century B.C. to second century A.D.) indicates the limit of the village, as Jews do not bury their dead inside of cities or villages. The site in the first century covered an area of about sixty 60 acres, with a population of maybe perhaps 500 people. 

Ancient Nazareth sits 3.8 miles (about an hour-and-fifteen-minute walk) to the south of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee when Jesus was a boy. Its proximity indicates its dependency upon Sepphoris; moreover, its location between the Jezreel and Beit Netofa Valleys, both of which contained international travel routes, suggests that Jesus was anything but “a hick from the sticks.”

Archaeologists uncovered what they tentatively identify as a Jewish ritual immersion bath from the early Roman period. If they are correct, it may point to the location of the synagogue of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30). This, as well as early Christian structures, are now enclosed inside the modern compound of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, built in the 1960s. 

Later Jewish tradition identifies Nazareth as the location where the priestly course of Hapizez settled after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70; an inscription discovered in the coastal city of Caesarea, from the Byzantine period, repeats this. The church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius indicate that the population of Nazareth was Jewish into the sixth century A.D. 

By the fourth century A.D., Christian pilgrims began to journey to Nazareth and were shown a cave identified as the home of Mary. It remains a place for pilgrims to this day. It has housed churches since the Byzantine period. Today, Nazareth contains two main pilgrim churches: the Catholic Church of the Annunciation and the Orthodox church built over the spring of Nazareth. 

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: The Proclamation of Good News

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news”’ (Luke 1:18-19 NIV).

Luke repeatedly speaks about the “proclamation of good news” within his Gospel and Acts. He uses the phrase “to proclaim good news” as opposed to the noun “gospel.” His language reflects a more Hebraic form of expression and goes back to biblical passages from Isaiah (40:9; 41:27; 52:7; and 61:1), which ancient Judaism understood as part of God’s promised redemption for His people. 

When the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, John’s father, that he came to announce good news to Zechariah (Luke 1:19), he doesn’t merely mean the birth of a son (although that was certainly tremendous news for the aged couple). Rather, Gabriel’s language hints at the role Zechariah’s son will play in God’s redemptive actions for His people (1:15-17). And Zechariah would have understood that. 

The angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10 NIV). Their jubilant message to the shepherds—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (2:14 NKJV)—articulated the essence of the good news they proclaimed: God is fulfilling His promises to His people; the hope of redemption has come! And He does so and draws near through the birth of these babies. 

The worldview of the Bible focuses primarily on the community and collective, as opposed to the individual as we do within Western society. The angelic proclamation to Zechariah and the shepherds announced God’s redemption for His people. It was not for a few. And the individual was not the center of God’s proclamation of good news; it was meant for all people. 

We often personalize our faith: What does the Bible say to me? What has God done for me? And, at Christmas, what is God’s gift of salvation to me? If that is our primary focus, we miss the angelic proclamation—which was about God, His fulfillment of His promises to His people, and the hope of redemption for all the people. 


Father, thank You for the fulfillment of Your good news by sending Jesus. May Your good news of hope and redemption be shown through our lives to the world, and may they know that it is Your good news for all people. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: All His Years? Yes!

By Mark Gerson

In the portion of the Torah (the Parsha) that we Jews will read in synagogue on Saturday, Jacob is, per Genesis 32:24, “left alone” and spends the night wrestling with a man and/or an angel. The man/angel, bested in the fight, tells Jacob to let him go. 

Jacob’s magnificent reply has become, perhaps, the animating idea of Judaism: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” A Jew, Jacob is teaching us, insists on emerging from a struggle with a blessing. 

Where would Jacob have learned this? One might reply, sensibly, that he didn’t learn it from anyone—he just thought of it in the moment. That is possible, but most people do not do their best thinking following an all-night wrestling match where they suffer a lifelong injury. 

We are provided with a possible hint earlier when Jacob, in Genesis 32:9, refers to “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac.” Abraham, of course, is Jacob’s grandfather—not at all a synonym or substitute for father. Then why would Jacob call Abraham his father and place him first?

For the same reason, perhaps, that we call a beloved friend “sister” or our parents’ closest friend “uncle.” Jacob looked up to and learned from Abraham like he did his biological father and that made “father” the most appropriate appellation for his grandfather. What would Jacob have internalized from Abraham so deeply that he was able to create one of the most important ideas in human thought at such a moment of physical weakness and exhaustion? 

Abraham, we are told in Genesis 24:1, was “coming with his days.” But there is a problem here. Abraham was not always the man we know him as. The tale, all too commonly told, that he smashed his father’s idols and set off on his own is certainly false. Abraham set off on his journey with his father, who died during the journey in Haran. The relationship of Abraham and his father Terah was not one of rebellion. It was the hope of every father: that the son should travel with him and continue going further than he himself was able to. 

Still, Abraham left somewhere to go on a “journey.” And journeys, in the Bible and in our life, are never merely physical. Abraham was certainly not always the righteous man he became—and he was, seemingly, at one point very different. 

Assuming Abraham spent at least some part of his life as an ordinary guy (or worse), why are we told he was “coming with his days”? The Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, as recounted by his student Rabbi YY Jacobson, gave a magnificent answer. A woman came to him and said that she, though having been born Jewish, spent many years lost to the 1960s—in far-away places, practicing idolatry. She expected the Rebbe to prescribe some long period of fasting or something like that, but he didn’t. He cited Abraham. He told her that just as Abraham was “coming with his days,” so too was she now coming with all of hers. One’s past, the Rebbe interpreted the passage, could be construed as the indispensable preparation for the holy life that one is living now—and is thus an inseparable part of it. 

Such a past, then, is not even really the past. It is the beginning—the unlikely beginning, perhaps, but the beginning nevertheless—of the process that led to the person one is today. And the past, therefore, is not something that one should obsess about in guilt and anxiety. It is an indispensable part of the journey. 

It was this notion of coming in all of our days that describes one of the most colorful people in Jewish history. Resh Lakish was a gladiator and/or a bandit—literally, probably, a killer—before he became inspired by the great Rabbi Yochanan. Resh Lakish gave up his evil ways and emerged as one of the great Rabbis of the Talmud. Yet that did not mean that he lost a hundred pounds and renounced his physical capabilities. The Jerusalem Talmud tells the story of a Rabbi Imi who was kidnapped in a dangerous area. Rabbi Yochanan said, “Wrap the dead in his shrouds.” But Resh Lakish had a different idea. “Even if I am killed or I kill someone, I will go and I will save him with strength.” Resh Lakish, as the kidnappers found, came to them with all of his days—and rescued Rabbi Imi. 

The story of Abraham coming with all of his days, which Jacob seems to have internalized, answers a question from the great 20th-century Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik. Rabbi Soloveichik noted that we are never told what Jacob and the man/angel struggled over. What could this strange absence possibly be teaching us? Perhaps only one thing: that the cause of the struggle, if there was one, doesn’t matter. The important thing is that Jacob struggled. 

Jacob, at the conclusion of the night, will have his name changed to Israel—“And you have struggled with man and with God and have prevailed.” We are the people of the struggle—the people who struggle with God, with the state of the world, and with ourselves. 

The learning here is counterintuitive. The point of a struggle is not to overcome it and move on through our journey. It is to take from that struggle a blessing, and for the struggle—or at least the blessing in the struggle—to always be a part of us. As the Rebbe described, Abraham is our great forefather precisely because he came with his days. And as the Rebbe applied, the woman who came to him might have appreciated and lived out her Judaism so profoundly because she knew what life was like without it. Without his probably regrettable early days staying with him, at least in some way, Abraham would have been a lesser man. If Resh Lakish had not maintained at least some of his earlier days, his colleague would have been murdered—and we would not have this great story of Jewish strength and pride. 

It is by extracting the blessing from the struggle and keeping that part of the struggle with us, that we can come with all our days—and get one step closer to Abraham. 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Obama’s New Book Lacks Important Context and Omits Significant Israel History

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Former President Barack Obama has penned a 728-page memoir, A Promised Land, that was released on November 17 and has already amassed record-breaking sales in its first week: 1.7 million copies. Lauded for its eloquent use of language, the book nonetheless has engendered criticism regarding Israel—and I’d like to add my voice to the critics.

Delving into an extensive assortment of book reviews from Israeli and Arab writers, I am conveying my research matched with my own experiences and expertise as a professional in the pro-Israel movement. I’ve worked, studied, traveled, and written about the Middle East for 20 years. In this week’s column, I am focusing on the former president’s view on Palestinians and “settlements” and a troubling lack of context about Israel’s history and its need for defensive measures in order to survive. Also, including more context about the Palestinian leadership’s intransigence, corruption, and anti-Semitism over the decades would have provided a narrative more closely aligned to reality. Obama’s thin contexts leave behind a troubling trail of misinformation about Palestinian leadership, Gaza, and Israel, the Promised Land.  

Obama’s perspective was a political, philosophical view shaped early-on by Dr. Edward Said, Dr. Rashid Khalidi, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Columbia University’s liberal professor Edward Said (1935-1993) was a highly respected Palestinian intellectual who condemned Israel and viewed it as a predatory occupier “waging a war against Palestinian civilians.” When his friend Barack Obama got involved in politics, Rashid Khalidi, another prominent Palestinian professor at Columbia and University of Chicago, observed, “Because of Obama’s family ties to Kenya and Indonesia, he would be more understanding of the Palestinian experience than typical American politicians.” Khalidi considers Israel “a callous occupying power.” 

The controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright rounds out Obama’s list of key influencers from his university days and into his early political career as a senator in the Illinois legislature. As recently as 2015, Reverend Jeremiah Wright described Israel as “an apartheid state” and declared that “Jesus was a Palestinian.” The Obamas attended his Chicago church for 20 years. Wright married the future First Couple and baptized their children. 

In early 2007, when Obama started his campaign for the U.S. President, he had built important relationships in the Jewish community. When he gave a speech at a Chicago American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) event, he commented, “Israel is our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance.” He later claimed, “Such advanced multi-billion-dollar systems would help Israel deter missile attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza.” Former President Obama made good on supporting Israel’s annual security aid and also approved major funding for Israel’s Iron Dome, a defensive superstar protecting Israeli civilians. He plans on writing his second memoir, and it will be useful to weigh his words in 2007 about Tehran in light of the later Iran deal which culminated in 2015. A Promised Land ends in 2011.

In 2008, AIPAC invited presidential candidate Obama to speak at its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. His star was already shining from his speech at the 2005 Democratic National Convention. In presidential election years, it’s AIPAC’s policy to invite the two nominees, both Democrat and Republican, to speak. Thus, in 2008, John McCain also spoke at the event. 

It’s noteworthy to define AIPAC. It’s not a political action committee. It is a bipartisan organization, historically Jewish, founded in 1953. Its sole purpose is to strengthen the bond of the U.S. and Israel in a mutually beneficial relationship. AIPAC’s members include Jewish, Christian, Black, and Hispanic pro-Israel activists. The organization educates Congress—both Democrats and Republicans—focusing on legislation that assures Israel’s security, a security that rebounds to help the U.S., among multiple benefits, with intelligence-sharing about the Middle East. AIPAC’s even-handed policies, devoid of personal attacks against members of Congress, have led to essential efforts for Israel’s annual security aid and other related legislation. 

As Obama’s campaign grew, a Los Angeles Times headline read “Campaign ’08: Allies of Palestinians see a friend in Obama.” He had effectively masterminded both sides.

I am setting the record straight on just several of his incomplete renderings of history, since too many exist to include here. Obama has dealt a disservice to some key facts about Israel. 

One of the best reviews I read was written by Israeli Rabbi Dov Lipman in his November 26 article published in the Jewish News Service. It’s called “Obama’s Revisionist ‘Promised

Land.’” When I worked for AIPAC, I recruited and staffed nine trips to Israel for Christian leaders sponsored by its affiliated foundation, American Israel Education Foundation. We enjoyed Rabbi Lipman’s excellent briefing at the Knesset in 2014. Lipman was elected to the Knesset and served from 2013–2015. We all felt a kinship with him on many shared conservative issues. He was also regularly active with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. 

To begin with a few of Obama’s quotes in Lipman’s article, here is the 44th president’s brief description of Israel’s miraculous establishment as a modern state. “As Britain withdrew, the two sides quickly fell into war. And with Jewish militias claiming victory in 1948, the state of Israel was officially born.” 

These two sentences describing the reestablishment of Israel after 2,000 years of dispersion are a slight to biblical history. Surprisingly, his 728-page book omitted one of the most magnificent stories of a nation. On May 14, 1948, Israelis rejoiced at the founding of the modern Jewish state. The next day five Arab armies attacked. Although they were poorly equipped, the Jewish citizens came together as one, knowing that their existence as a Jewish state depended on beating back the Arab threat and achieving complete victory. God enabled their unity, grit, and determination—yet they paid a high price. Six thousand Israelis died in that war, out of a population of little more than 800,000. Their resources were scant, but God increased the loaves and fishes of creative strategies and defensive weapons and they won against all odds.  

Obama goes on to say that in 1948 “Israel would engage in a succession of conflicts with its Arab neighbors.” This bland, one-sided viewpoint omits the Arab-instigated wars designed to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. Looking at this 72 years later, we see that the list of wars is long. 

The 1948–49 War of Independence. The 1991 Gulf War, where Iraq fired Scud missiles into Israel. (Israel did not retaliate.) The 1956 Sinai Campaign. The 1982 and 2006 Lebanon wars. The 1967 Six-Day War. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, where Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on its holiest day. Plus, in 1987 and 2000, Israel quelled two violent Palestinian intifadas (uprisings) and defended Israeli civilians against Gaza’s terrorist group Hamas in Operation Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge.

In another historical error, Obama imagines, “The rise of the PLO was the result of the Six-Day War.” As a matter of fact, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded three years earlier—in 1964. Obama’s inaccuracy with dates bolsters anti-Semites and the uninformed to lay blame on Israel for recapturing its biblical heartland in its 1967 victory in the Six-Day War. 

Obama was not a fan of the “settlements.” He demanded in 2009 that Prime Minister Netanyahu freeze the building of homes in the “settlements.” The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, had promised he would engage in direct negotiations if the building stopped. Eleven years later, Prime Minister Netanyahu is still waiting, but he wisely decided years ago to continue building those homes—realizing Abbas’s “promise” to negotiate was another bad-faith Palestinian ploy. 

One of the most glaring omissions is Obama’s failure to mention Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal of 8,000 men, women, and children from their homes, businesses, and synagogues in Gaza—a departure that was excruciatingly painful to those whose lives were completely uprooted. The Israeli government had hoped that the Palestinians would then build a “Singapore by the Sea.” (Many people still wrongly think that Jews live in Gaza.) Instead, the Palestinians immediately destroyed everything the Jewish community had left behind for them. And, rather than ushering in an era of peace, the evacuation from Gaza led to Hamas’s terrorist takeover in 2007—which for the last 13 years has resulted in unrelenting rocket assaults and riots against Israeli civilians in southern Israel. A mantra from most of the world—including former U.S. Democrat and Republican Presidents—has habitually placed the burden of making peace on Israel’s shoulders.  

Journalist Amir Taheri, born in Iran, is now the neo-conservative European chairman of Gatestone Institute, an outstanding think tank. Taheri was a former executive editor-in-chief of Iran’s daily Kayhan from 1972 to 1979 and has written for publications including Asharq Al-Awsat, the prominent Arab international newspaper. In his review of Obama’s memoir, Taheri comments, “A Promised Land doesn’t make it clear to whom was America promised and ends with the killing of Osama bin Laden. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ became a disaster. The ‘Grand Bargain’ with the mullahs of Tehran fizzled into a tragicomic number. The ‘red line’ set in Syria became pink and then disappeared altogether.”

Obama’s current 728-page musings end in 2011. Hopefully, his follow-up memoir will comport more closely with history matched with context. And given Obama’s vast influence in the U.S. and around the world, he should take extraordinary care to tamp down rising anti-Semitism by presenting both Israel’s history and her people in an accurate light.

Join CBN Israel in praying that the true history and story of Israel will prevail:

  • Pray that journalists and authors will write factually about Israel.
  • Pray that biblical and modern truths about Israel will continue to increase and that the propaganda will decrease. 
  • Pray that reason and discernment will take precedence over the mindless acceptance of distorted and twisted narratives about Israel.
  • Pray that more intensive biblical education about Israel will increase. 

Remember Proverbs 25:18: “Like a club and a sword and a sharp arrow is a man who bears false witness against his neighbor.”

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 frequently traveled to Israel. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times. She hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Aiding Ethiopian Families

Imagine walking through the desert for weeks—a long, dangerous trek, where you shed whatever weighs you down. And then arriving in a new country with nothing—all to fulfill a hope and dream. This is the plight of many Ethiopian Jews who immigrated to Israel, the land of their ancestors.

Yet their hardships continued, as they tried to adjust to modern life in another nation.

Many came from farm villages, living in mud huts. They spoke no language but their own and had no basic education. Caught between maintaining their cultural identity and adapting to new ways, they endured—hoping their children’s future would be brighter.

So when COVID-19 struck, Israel’s Ethiopian community was already battling poverty, and it hit them hard. The lockdown left many jobless, and desperate to put food on the table.

But friends like you were there for them. CBN Israel learned from a single mother we helped that Ethiopian women use an important and nutritious staple called Teaf. It’s a grain that can feed a huge family with a small amount, and can also be stored for years. We were able to buy 55-pound bags of Teaf that can each feed a family for a year—helping them survive this crisis!

And CBN Israel is also reaching out to aging Holocaust survivors, terror victims, young families, and other vulnerable Israelis who need our help.

Your support is crucial, especially during this pandemic and beyond. You can provide food, housing, financial aid, and more to those in need.

Join us in extending a lifeline to those in crisis—your gift can make a difference for so many vulnerable families and communities!


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Biblical Israel: Caesarea

By Marc Turnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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