Torah Reading Commentary: God’s Deal—Doing Well by Doing Good

By Mark Gerson

In Deuteronomy 6:16, the Torah provides an instruction that seems prosaic: “You must not test the LORD your God as you did when you complained at Massah.” This seems prosaic and even skippable, but then the reader remembers this is the Torah—everything is meaningful. Upon reflection, that is especially true of this passage, which cuts to the very constitution of faith. 

One way to look at one of faith’s primary methods of expression—prayer—is as a transaction. We pray to God to give us something—health, resources, strength, love, or something else. And this is, to a point, fine and surely good. In the best case, we want to be God’s partner on earth, and so we ask God to give us what we need to help Him accomplish our mission. 

But there is a problem. It risks making our relationship with God purely transactional—I want something, so I ask the Almighty for it. And what happens when we don’t get what we want, even when its receipt is clearly warranted—for instance, the health of a child? If prayer were an ATM machine—do this, and that will happen—there would be no such thing as faith. There would be no such thing as a relationship with God. Religion would just be one big transaction, and the Bible would be the horse racing guide in the sky, telling us where to place our bets in order to get more of what we want. 

So, it makes sense that God, in the concluding book of the Torah, would forbid tests. 

But several chapters later, God does something interesting. He tells us to test Him. Consider Deuteronomy 15:10: “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.”

This seems to be a deal for us and a test for God. The deal: Give maximally without fear that you will be without, and you will be blessed in everything you do. The test: We can give to the poor gladly and maximally and see what happens. The blessing is—just as it sounds and like other biblical blessings—material. God blesses us to have children, to have full granaries, to have abundant rain—among other things. 

Given the blessing is material and that part of our undertaking—indeed, the most relevant part—is commercial, God is making a bold promise: If you give happily to the poor, you will become wealthier.

Why would God seemingly subvert His anti-test instruction in Deuteronomy 6 just four chapters later? A hint, perhaps, was provided in Genesis 18. Abraham is immersed in a conversation with God when three strangers appear. He bolts from his conversation with God to take care of their every need and want. One of these is, of course, their hunger and thirst. The beverage he provides them is milk. Why milk? Perhaps, as Rabbi YY Jacobson points out, because of milk’s unique quality. Its fundamental use is to feed the young. In that process, a mother produces more milk to the extent that she gives it. In this, it breaks the general rule that the amount we have of any material thing diminishes to the extent that we give some away. By serving his guests milk, Abraham is educating us: The more you give generously and enthusiastically, the more you will have as a result. 

Milk, by increasing to the extent it is consumed, is therefore the exception to the general rule about all material things. And considering the only context where this is the case (i.e., it doesn’t work that way at the supermarket!), God is telling us something about giving: Giving is the exception to the general rule about all spiritual things. 

Here, God is telling us, you can test me. 

We are in 2020, an age when the understanding of big data enables us to test and verify all kinds of abstract claims. Let’s see if we can do so here. Rabbi David Wolpe leads Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He has spent decades as an extraordinary religious leader, both communally and through the biblical teachings that inform his Shabbat morning sermons. In one such sermon, Rabbi Wolpe said that no one ever came into his chambers and said: “Rabbi, I am experiencing financial difficulties because I gave too much to charity.” 

This is interesting! Is Rabbi Wolpe’s invitation the test God was talking about in Deuteronomy 15? I have taken his observation to many friends in the clergy—rabbis, pastors and priests. When I pose the question, “Has anyone ever come to you and said that they are suffering financially because of their charitable contributions to the needy?” the reaction is universal. Every clergyperson to whom I have posed this question has said: “No.” And then I’ve asked a follow-up: “Has anyone, perhaps on their deathbed, ever said that their regret is having given too much money to help the poor?” Again: “No, never.”  

This “no” often accompanies a laugh and stories about how people have made money through giving (sometimes through relationships they have made through charitable endeavors, sometimes otherwise). Given the number of clergy people I have asked this question, and the number of people to whom they minister, the data set is in the millions. 

Out of millions of people, none—according to their clergy—has ever suffered financially from giving to charity. 

So, it seems we have, pursuant to Deuteronomy 15:10, unintentionally tested God—and the results are in. Why would God make helping those in need the exception to the anti-test commandment of Deuteronomy 6? Why would He break His rule and allow a test—and one so clear that a failure risks invalidating the entire divine project on earth? Given what God said of the Torah in Deuteronomy 27:8—that it is “well-clarified”—we should be able to easily figure it out.  

Indeed, every parent easily can. If we had a child in need and someone devoted herself to helping him, what would we do to help her help our child? That’s easy: whatever we could, within our power. Everyone is a child of God. So, what would God do for those who devote themselves to helping His children in need? Everything He can, within His power. And God is omnipotent and deploys that omnipotence in one direction: toward encouraging us (with, literally, a decree from the divine credit officer) that we will always do well by doing good. 

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

Read more

The United Nations Attempt to Delete Israel’s Ancient History

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Imagine waking up one morning to news that the Eiffel Tower is no longer considered French. That the pyramids are not Egyptian. And that the Statue of Liberty is not a beloved symbol of the United States. Your reaction would be astonishment. Yet, here’s a fact that is barely a blip on the world’s news feeds: The United Nations has once again voted to rename Israel’s holiest landmark—the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem—with Arabic names, thereby denying this vital part of the nation’s ancient and proud history. 

This latest offense against Israel at the United Nations occurred on November 4. In one of the seven resolutions scapegoating Israel, 138 member nations—out of 193—formally renamed the Temple Mount “al-Haram al-Sharif,” its Arabic name. They have also renamed the Kotel (Western Wall) as the “Al-Buraq Wall,” allegedly after Mohammad’s horse. 

This is not the first time the United Nations has tried to remove the Temple Mount and environs from Israel’s history. Let’s look at their track record. The United Nations was set up in 1945 with 51 member nations at a conference held in San Francisco. Their lofty goals included world peace and security, friendliness among nations, human rights, and better living standards. Some meaningful efforts have taken place, but many member nations have chosen denial, incompetence, or inattention to horrors like the Rwandan genocide and other appalling crises. Syria’s mass murders—plus humanitarian horrors by North Korea, Iran, and China—barely get a glance. 

All too often, the U.N. has demonstrated similar dismissal of—and disregard for—Israel. Consider: For Israel, the most important vote the U.N. ever took—which was enshrined by President Truman on May 14, 1948—rebirthed Israel into a modern state. From that day forward, however, the United Nations has promulgated propaganda, slander, and lies against a nation that has repeatedly helped the entire world. Israel has shone as a light to the world, an island of democracy in a sea of disaster. 

The U.N.’s earlier attempt to rewrite Israel’s history happened in October 2016 during a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Ironically, that body’s role is to safeguard and name landmarks worldwide. Twenty-four UNESCO member states voted in favor of the 2016 resolution and 26 abstained. Only six countries chose the right path and voted against the attempted erasure of Israel’s holiest site: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Both the 2016 and 2020 U.N. decisions are propaganda of the worst kind. It’s an affront to the Jewish faith itself. 

This anti-Israel bias is even more inexplicable when you consider the history of the Temple Mount site. Solomon’s glorious Temple with its magnificent treasures was completed in 957 B.C. It was frequented by Jewish generations for 400 years before the Babylonians destroyed it. The Old Testament is replete with eloquent descriptions of the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, and the sacredness of the Holy of Holies.

 This was nearly 1500 years before Mohammed was born in Mecca in about 571 A.D. Thus, at the time that the Temple in Jerusalem was complete, the religion of Islam had not yet made an appearance.

So what is Islam’s claim to this holy place? Allegedly Mohammed took a night journey on his horse Buraq from Mecca to Jerusalem, where he “ascended to heaven” from the Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem then became the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina.

Two Muslim structures were built on the Temple Mount. The buildings followed the policy of Muslims to intentionally build on top of other religious structures. The Dome of the Rock was built in 691–692 A.D., likely on the site of Solomon’s Temple after Muslim armies overran Jerusalem. The al-Aqsa Mosque was built in 705 A.D. 

The dates on world history timelines make it clear that both Jewish Temples predated the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam, and Mohammed himself. (The Second Temple existed from 516 B.C. to 70 A.D.) 

The United Nations renaming decisions are an affront not only to Jews and Judaism. They are also an offense to Christians and Christianity. Bible-believing Christians fully embrace the Old and New Testaments, which are foundational to our faith. After all, our Lord Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi, walked the Pilgrim Road with thousands in the Jewish crowds. He ascended the southern steps and entered the Temple at least three times a year during Israel’s key Jewish festivals. He walked there. He taught there. And Christians long to visit Israel and walk in Jesus’ footsteps at least once during their lifetime. 

I’ve visited Israel 25 times and the Temple Mount twice. Its 32 acres are easily among the most contentious and explosive acreage on earth. It takes only a word or a visit from an unwelcome Israeli official to spark riots and intifadas. The “rule” is that only Palestinian Arabs are welcome. Even today, Palestinians castigate fellow Muslims visiting from the United Arab Emirates. The Palestinian Authority President, Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, has let the UAE Muslims know they could not pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque. 

Past offenses include a beleaguered Egyptian Foreign Minister being escorted off the premises for his own safety. Palestinians have thrown chairs at Muslims from other nations. “Unwelcome” is also an understatement toward Jews and also to Christians, who are allowed to visit at prescribed hours only. The atmosphere is tense, for Palestinian Arabs lurk nearby, making sure that neither Jews nor Christians are praying or singing. It’s a sad place to visit knowing you are being watched and at risk of being told to leave. It’s more than sad for our Jewish friends; it’s indefensible and outrageous.

When Israelis won the Six-Day War in 1967 and regained their rightful historic ancestry—the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and the Western Wall—they made a magnanimous decision. They allowed the WAQF, a religious institution under the umbrella of the Jordanian crown, to administrate the 32 acres—but those acres would remain secured by the Israeli police. The WAQF oversees visitation, worship, and repairs of buildings on the Temple Mount under what is called the “Status Quo Agreement.” However, since 1967, the arrangement has been far from peaceful. Imams use their sermons to incite the Palestinian Arabs, leading to countless confrontations. 

UN Watch is an independent, non-governmental watchdog organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its Executive Director, Hillel Neuer, is an expert when it comes to U.N. propaganda against Israel. Here are a few of his most telling comments about the 193 member nations and their past and present decisions: 

  • “The U.N.’s assault on Israel with a torrent of one-sided resolutions is surreal.”
  • “The U.N.’s disproportionate assault against the Jewish state undermines the institutional credibility of what is supposed to be an impartial international body.”
  • “The U.N. today showed contempt for both Judaism and Christianity by passing a resolution that makes no mention of the name Temple Mount, which is Judaism’s holiest site, and which is sacred to all who venerate the Bible, in which the ancient Temple was of central importance.”

Finally, Mr. Neuer gave a current list of nations and entities about whom no condemnation has ever been mentioned: North Korea, Venezuela, Pakistan, Hamas, Algeria, Turkey, Russia, China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Clearly, when it comes to Israel, the U.N. has redefined injustice. 

Please join us in praying for Israel as they continue to come under assault by the United Nations: 

  • Using Isaiah 5:20, which says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness,” let’s pray that God will change hearts in the U.N.
  • Pray for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, for great wisdom and strength. She is a Christian.
  • Pray for UN Watch, which keeps track of the U.N.’s record of poor behavior. 
  • Continue to pray for Israel’s peace. We know that God has His imprint on the Temple Mount and all of Israel.

May we remember God’s solemn and unwavering promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: 

“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

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. 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

Read more

Holocaust Survivor: Tamara’s Story

As an 84-year-old, Tamara is an optimist—despite enduring the terror of the Holocaust and World War II. Yet, she has spent her twilight years living out her dream in a battle zone.

Tamara was a child in a Jewish community in Kyiv, Ukraine, when the war started. Her father died in the Soviet army—but Tamara, her mother and baby brother survived in a barn in Tajikistan. Sadly, they returned to Kyiv to find their relatives had all died, and their village was destroyed. So, they lived on the streets, while her mother worked to save for an apartment.

When her mother learned her sister was alive in Melitopol, Ukraine, they relocated, and Tamara stayed with her aunt after her mother died. But she had always dreamed going to Israel, the land of her forefathers. Together with her aunt, they eventually emigrated there in the year 2000.

They landed in Sderot, a city under constant bombing from Gaza. One day, her home was hit by a rocket, destroying two rooms. She and her aunt survived, and the government fixed the basic damage—yet they left pipes and other items unrepaired. For almost 15 years, she lived in toxic conditions, with black mold, and wet walls and floors. But friends like you were there for her!

CBN Israel repaired the leaking pipes and removed harmful mold. For the first time, Tamara breathes clean, safe air in her own home. Her walls are now white instead of black, and she is grateful!  And your gifts to CBN Israel can help many others, bringing food and supplies to refugees, families with young children, and those who are alone.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, the needs have escalated. Your support can provide groceries, financial aid, and more vital essentials to those who suffer. Please let us hear from you!

Read more

Weekly Devotional: Abandoning Love

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not … I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first’” (Revelation 2:1-4 RSV).

John’s message to the church in Ephesus praised their works, their patient endurance, their testing of those who claimed to be apostles (but were not), and even their bearing up for the sake of Jesus. But they had abandoned the love they’d had at first.

Interpreters have often taken this to mean that they abandoned their love for Jesus, but that doesn’t make sense within the context. He commended them for their patient endurance for the sake of His name. They were fine as it related to Him. That wasn’t the love they had abandoned. They had lost the love they had for fellow believers.

In the midst of testing those who were calling themselves apostles and refusing to bear evil men—actions that are necessary within the community of faith—they had lost the love that they had for others. We have to walk a fine line between preserving the integrity of the faith, which reflects God’s holiness, and loving those made in His image. When maintaining the purity of the faith becomes our focus, we can fall into the trap of our judgment becoming judgmental and unloving. 

Jesus will not tolerate this. He taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV). He threatened the Ephesian community that if they did not change their behavior and “do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5 RSV), He would come and remove them.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of being judgmental and unloving. We justify our actions, claiming that we are defending God and the faith from corruption. God doesn’t need us to defend Him; He needs us to reflect and represent His character. He is holy; He is also love.

Our current environment makes it easy for us to become polarized, even within the church. We can quickly resort to judging others while hiding behind a claim of righteousness. We cannot abandon our love for one another and expect our communities of faith to reflect a healthy body of Christ.

If we persist in judging others, we need to heed the warning Jesus offered to the Ephesians, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5 RSV). He will judge those who insist on judging others without love.


Father, we confess that too easily we fall into the trap of judging others; forgive us. While we seek to walk rightly before You, may we do so in love for others. Amen.

Read more

Torah Reading Commentary: “Here I am”

By Mark Gerson

One of the most enjoyable aspects of hosting the podcast, “The Rabbi’s Husband,” is learning why my guest chose the passage we are discussing. There are thousands of biblical passages to choose from, and a guest—by virtue of having selected the one under discussion—invariably has derived original, fascinating, and sometimes moving insights from it that have profoundly impacted his or her life. I am fortunate to be able to learn, discuss, and share these insights. 

One example is an episode I released last week with Rabbi Ari Berman. Rabbi Ari is the President of Yeshiva University in New York, which is the premier institution of Modern Orthodox Judaism. The passage he chose was perhaps the most interpreted, debated, and haunting passage in the Bible: the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) from Genesis 22. Every biblical student, from the most renowned ancient Rabbis to kids in Sunday school today, have encountered, pondered, and commented on this awesome passage. 

Who could say anything original about it? Well—Rabbi Berman. 

At the beginning of the passage, God appears and says one word: “Abraham.” 

Abraham responds to God with equal conciseness: “Hineni” (“Here I am”). This is not a declaration of location. It is a statement of existential presence. Here I am: completely, wholly for you.  

God tells Abraham—at least, Abraham interprets God this way—to take “your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac” to the mountain to sacrifice him. This is the first mention of love in the Bible. 

Several verses later, Isaac indicates he realizes something is odd. They are going up the mountain for a sacrifice, but there is no lamb. 

Isaac asks: “Avi”? This is often translated as “Father.” But it is the most personal way to express that relationship. It is more like “Daddy.” 

Abraham responds: “Hineni.” 

Just as Abraham was present for God, he is now present for Isaac. But there is a problem. How can he be present for both God and Isaac, given that God has (according to Abraham’s understanding) instructed him to slaughter his son? 

With this question unresolved, Abraham and Isaac proceed up the mountain. Abraham binds Isaac, lays Isaac on the altar, and takes out the knife. The Bible makes the purpose very clear. Abraham is holding the knife to “slay his son.” 

At this moment, with Abraham’s arm presumably raised high to strike the fatal blow, an angel of God appears. The angel says: “Abraham, Abraham.”  

Why, Rabbi Berman asks, does the angel say “Abraham” twice? The angel could presumably have said “Abraham” as loudly as necessary for the Jewish founding father to hear. And Abraham, presumably, would be ready to listen to an emissary of the God who is giving him this horrible assignment. The answer is in Abraham’s reply. 

“Hineni”—the third time. 

The purpose of the repetition of “Abraham” is clear. The angel, as Rabbi Berman explains, was addressing both Abrahams: Abraham the child of God and Abraham the father of Isaac. Abraham, in answering “Hineni” to the third statement, was being educated in one of God’s great truths: He could be present both as God’s child and as Isaac’s father. 

This message was not primarily intended for Abraham, as he and Isaac walk down the mountain apart, live apart, and do not have another recorded conversation. It was intended for us. Our two great allegiances are to our God and to our children. What happens, the story of the Akeidah leads us to ask, when they conflict? 

The answer is reminiscent of what Maimonides, perhaps the greatest rabbi of all time, said when asked what to do when the Torah and science conflict. Given, he said, that the Torah is true, and science is true—they both must be right. So, if you think that the Torah conflicts with a scientific fact, your interpretation of the Torah is wrong. 

Similarly, God is telling us at the Akeidah: If you think your obligation to your son and to God conflict, your interpretation of either obligation must be wrong. In God’s world, you can be present for both the Lord and for your children.

Why is this important? It disproves a common expression: “I would do anything for my children.” Anything? Even if we are tempted, we cannot be present for our children in a way that does not also accommodate God. 

If a parent wants to indulge a child with too much money or too few rules, to gain a child an advantage by cheating or to protect him from consequences by lying, the answer from Genesis 22 is clear: Your responsibility is to be present for both God and your child. And we cannot be present for God in a way that does not accommodate our children. If a parent wants to study or pray at the expense of providing sufficiently for his family economically or spiritually, the answer from Genesis 22 is equally clear: Your responsibility is to be present for both God and for your children. 

What a gift from God! Given that our feelings of love for God and for our children are so powerful, they can each easily take over our entire selves. And no tension could be more painful and more difficult than the one that could be produced when our greatest passions meet our greatest ambitions. In comes God, telling Abraham—and in so doing, telling us—there is no such tension. You can always be true to God and true to your child. In fact, being present for one means being present for the other. 


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

Read more

Jesus’ Overlooked Statement That Could Have Changed Jewish History

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Is it possible that overlooking one of Jesus’ most profound declarations could have been a leading cause of the cancerous spread of anti-Semitism in churches and communities throughout the world? This cancer has endured for centuries, and the diagnosis is clear: It’s a malignant melanoma. Left untreated, this cancer is deadly. Its simplest definition, “hostility to or prejudice against Jewish people,” also applies to Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. 

Yet even after centuries of hostility toward the Jewish people—the targeting of Jewish communities during the Crusades and the Inquisition, bloody massacres of Jews during the pogroms of Russia and Europe, 6 million Jewish men, women, and children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust during World War II—the cancer of anti-Semitism is still on the rise. 

So, what is Jesus’ pivotal statement that held the potential to diffuse anti-Semitism within churches across the globe? It’s found in John 10:17–18. In response to His confrontation with the religious leaders, when He healed a blind man on the Sabbath, Jesus boldly declared, “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” It’s imperative to understand that many individuals and groups played a part in the crucifixion of Jesus. However, make no mistake: In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus agonizingly accepted God’s redemptive plan to “lay down His life and take it up again.” He was, after all, God in the flesh. Nothing and no one could have prevented Jesus’ death on the cross or His resurrection three days later. Yet, over the centuries, people have forgotten this critical truth. And that oversight may have led to centuries of assigning wrongful blame for His death.

We know in biblical history that when Satan entered onto the scene in the creation story, he quickly set about to undermine and destroy God’s plans and purposes. That evil intent evolved when God chose Abraham to father the Jewish generations to convey His words and to send our Savior to be born into a Jewish culture 2,000 years ago. It was God’s intention that, through the covenant with Abraham and his descendants, “all peoples on earth [would] be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). In other words, if God chose the Jewish people to play a central role in His plan to bring redemption to all of humanity, then it would make absolute sense that they would be a primary target for the evil forces at work in our world. One way to explain anti-Semitism: Whatever God loves, Satan hates

When anti-Semitism marched through later centuries with swords and spears, boots and bombs, with tanks and terror, we expected that the phrase “Never Again” had been permanently stamped into the collective consciousness of Western society. Yet we’re presently confronted with a different and deeply troubling phrase: “Now Again.” It’s not mass imprisonment and genocide in concentration camps. But anti-Semitism, like cancer, can take many forms and is able to spread undetected until it’s too late. 

The modern malignancy has been clear for decades among terrorists surrounding Israel in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria, with Iran’s apocalyptic Imams as their malicious benefactors. Today’s anti-Semitism has spread to the United Nations, college campuses, political parties, activist groups, churches, synagogues, social media, and businesses in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world. 

The hatred is darkly conceived, whether murder by gunfire, stabbing, or cyberspace plotting. For example, hate-filled hackers broke into a Jewish Zoom meeting and interrupted prayers with their Nazi symbols and ugly slurs. Threatening, defamatory notes are taped to the doors of Jewish students in college dorms. Even in the U.S. Congress, at least two openly anti-Semitic congresswomen were elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in 2019 the United States had the greatest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1979. Could emphasis on Jesus’ words in John 10:17–18 have derailed the heinous genocide of the Holocaust? What about today’s rapidly growing malignancy? 

A glance at history will help shape our answer. As ardent Jewish believers, Jesus’ disciples—and thousands more Messianic Jews—traveled the Roman Empire with the Good News. In God’s plan, Judaism birthed Christianity. God prepared for a one-of-a-kind birth event through the Old Testament prophecies. God’s redemptive plan culminated in our Jewish Savior, Jesus Christ. 

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, non-Jews embraced Christianity en masse through the Jewish Apostle Paul. When the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70 A.D., the narrative began veering in another direction. Aided by the passage of time and Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, the Jewish roots wilted. Christianity blossomed when Constantine made it the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 381 A.D. Although Paul’s 30 years and 10,000 miles of travel lit Christianity’s fire for Gentiles roughly 350 years before Constantine, a precursor of already embedded disdain of its Jewishness had crept in. Beginning around 150 A.D., some early church fathers unfortunately laid the groundwork for anti-Jewish sentiments among non-Jews that would later be carried into the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

Centuries later Martin Luther, the foremost pioneer of the Protestant Reformation, exacerbated anti-Semitism with his anger at the Jews for rejecting Jesus. This rigid, unreasonable stance marred his otherwise profound legacy. Luther’s 1523 A.D. pamphlet, “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew,” transitioned into the malicious and horrendous book, “On the Jews and Their Lies,” two decades later. In a dreadful manipulation of Christianity’s message, in the 20th century Hitler drew from Martin Luther’s “On the Jews and their Lies” in his propaganda against the Jewish people.  

Fueled by an emphasis on misinterpreted New Testament verses about the death of Jesus, it became commonplace to accuse only the Jews for deicide—killing God! Gentile Christian populations pointed deadly fingers of blame at the Jewish people, their religious leaders, and the Jewish disciple, Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Yet the early Jewish believers—responsible for carrying the Gospel to the nations—were eventually martyred for their unwavering faith. They and the Jewishness of Jesus slipped into the background of Gentile thinking, where even today some Christians express surprise to learn that Jesus, His family, and early followers were all Jewish. 

The ensuing centuries produced vicious slander, lies, persecution, and death in Jewish communities worldwide. Gentiles gradually decided that God had rejected the Jewish people and that the Christian church had “replaced” them as His chosen people, a theory that eventually became known as “Replacement Theology.” These Gentile churches embraced a doctrine that assumed God had abandoned His ancient, eternal covenants with the Jewish people. Furthermore, in the eyes of non-Jews, the Jews were solely to blame for Jesus’ death—and so they became the evil stepchildren who were ultimately responsible for killing Jesus. 

In reading the New Testament accounts, many Gentile Christians lacked the historical and cultural context to read the Gospels more accurately. As a result, they assumed there was no difference between the Jewish leaders who argued with Jesus during His ministry and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who wanted Him dead. What’s more, they also presumed that the decision to hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, made by the Chief Priests and Sadducees, represented the wishes of the Jewish masses. Consequently, this is how the actions of a few Jewish elites in Jerusalem, who collaborated with Rome and saw Jesus as a threat to their wealth and power, were now transferred indiscriminately to the entire Jewish people.  

By blaming only the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion, many within Gentile churches found themselves on a slippery slope of hatred or judgment of the Jewish people. Moreover, they missed the central message of Jesus’ words about His life in John 10:17–18: “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” Today, many pastors and churches still subscribe to Replacement Theology, elevating the status of the church and dismissing the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. In essence, they set aside God’s divine plan of redemption, forgetting the profound debt of gratitude owed to the Jews, God’s chosen people, for our faith. While Satan was at work using every means possible to kill Jesus, it was Jesus who had the power and authority to lay His life down. He was not merely another Jewish victim of Roman brutality; He willingly sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for all human sin and wrongdoing. Yes, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, the Chief Priests, the Sadducees, and Judas all played a role, but Jesus is the one who chose to give His life. No one could have touched Him had He not made that choice as our Sacrificial Lamb. 

Here we are in the 21st century with anti-Semitism on the rise around the world. Is it too late for modern-day Christians to help stem the tide of this hatred? No, because God has given us a second chance to express our commitment to the Jewish people as shown by the warming friendships between our two communities. Thankfully, many Christians over the past decades have recognized the error of Replacement Theology and have acknowledged how often these views have planted the seeds of anti-Semitism within the church. While it’s not possible to change the past, it is possible to impact the future and build bridges of healing with our Jewish brothers and sisters. 

Consider taking the following steps. When studying the Bible, become familiar with the Jewish culture and God’s unbreakable covenants with the Jewish people. Rediscover the biblical message, including the message of Jesus, through a Jewish lens. Remember that Jesus, His family, and His early followers were all Jewish. (They read from the Old Testament Scriptures—not the New Testament; they met in synagogues—not churches. Their faith was Judaism, not Christianity.) Make it your goal to understand Jesus and the Gospels within their Jewish context and begin to peel away centuries of baggage that actually reflects Greco-Roman and Western thinking more than it reflects the true biblical message and worldview. Reach out to build friendships with Jewish people in your community. Be sure to do so in love and build relationships without an agenda. Defend Israel where needed and support the valuable projects and initiatives of CBN Israel.  

Finally, memorize John 10:17-18. When you hear an anti-Semitic remark, quote the words of Jesus and speak the truth in love. Although Christianity’s divorce from its Jewish roots resulted in overlooking Jesus’ own declaration, let’s make sure to do our part to stand against all forms of anti-Semitism. Defending our Jewish brothers and sisters—and Israel—is an act of love to God.

Pray with us this week with a focus on stemming the tide of global anti-Semitism:

  • Pray that all Christians will recognize that we, as Gentiles, have been given the privilege of being grafted in with the Jewish people as God’s people. 
  • Pray for the worldwide Jewish community who find themselves feeling more fearful and uneasy due the rise of global anti-Semitism. 
  • Pray for the world’s only Jewish state—Israel—which experiences unrelenting hostility, hatred, and even terror simply because they are Jews. 
  • Pray for CBN Israel that, with the help people just like you, we would be able to stand with Israel and bless her people in need like never before. 

“The reason my Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).

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

Read more

Weekly Devotional: Those That Please God

“Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; play the lyre to our God, who covers the sky with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, and causes grass to grow on the hills. He provides the animals with their food, and the young ravens, what they cry for. He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love” (Psalm 147:7-11 HCSB).

The psalmist begins this psalm by calling upon the people to sing to the Lord. He quickly transitions into a series of descriptions of God’s taking care of the natural order—He provides clouds, rain, grass, and food for the animals; He attends to the cry of the young ravens. Notice how each element provides the basis for the next. When the psalmist looked at the natural order, he saw God’s hand; he saw God’s provision, and it moved him to praise God.

Do we see God’s hand and provision in the natural processes of our world?

The psalmist transitions from recounting how God provides clouds, rain, grass, and food for animals to reflecting on what God doesn’t value and what He does. The might of horses and the swiftness of men spoke of military prowess within the ancient world. Strong cavalry and swift soldiers were essential for national defense and conquest. Nations looked to these as a source of their might, what made them great.

But military power, strong horses, and swift soldiers did not impress God. The one who covers the heavens with clouds, sends rain on the earth, makes the mountains sprout grass, and cares for birds and beasts does not value the things that nations prize and delight in. Rather, He values those who fear Him, who wait for His faithful love.

We tend to value different things than God does. It’s not our power and prowess that delights God. It’s our fear and awe of Him. In constructing verse 11, the psalmist defines those who fear God as those who wait for His faithfulness.

Do we have the patience to wait for God’s faithful love?

Even as followers of God, we often find ourselves enamored with the things our world delights in, but it shouldn’t be so. God values things differently than we do. The things we value should reflect His values.

And we should never forget to look at the world around us and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with awe at the one who provides clouds, rain, grass, and food for beasts and birds. He’s not only worthy of our praise and thanksgiving; He values our awe of Him and our waiting for His faithful love.


Lord, when we look at the world around us that You created and oversee, our hearts are overwhelmed with awe for You. We praise you and wait for Your faithfulness. Amen.

Read more

Torah Reading Commentary: Abraham – The Constitution of Faith

By Mark Gerson

One of the many lessons about biblical understanding I have learned from my Christian friends is the principle of “First Mention.” This principle, in the words of Pastor R.T. Kendall, states, “The way a word is first used in the Bible will be the way this word is largely understood thereafter.” Others have emphasized that this highly intriguing principle is not limited to understanding a “word” but also a concept, a doctrine, or an idea.

So, who has the first relationship with God in the Bible? This is perhaps debatable, but I’ll define a relationship as an encounter between two or more beings that develops over time and involves the committed and extended participation of both parties. You don’t have a relationship with the person you ask for directions on the subway and never see again, and Cain didn’t have a relationship with God, who criticized him for killing Abel and never spoke with him again.

With whom does God have the first relationship in the Bible? God seems to have wanted a relationship with Noah, but Noah never says anything to God. And there was a lot he could have said. For instance, he could have asked God if He really thought that everyone was evil and deserved to be destroyed, including the 5-year-old child who was playing by the tree around the corner from the ark.

The first relationship that God has in the Bible is with a man born 10 generations after Noah: Abraham. Abraham is the first person with whom God has multiple conversations, and both parties are transformed by these conversations. Indeed, the Bible does not record that dynamic between any two beings before Abraham and God. This is not to say that Abraham and God had the first relationship; the Bible does not purport to record everything that happened. But it is instructive, particularly with regard to the principle of “First Mention,” that the first relationship between God and man is that of God and Abraham.

What happens in their first conversation? It is, appropriately and perhaps tellingly, momentous. God comes to Abraham (then Abram) and says: “Fear not … I am a shield for you; your reward is very great.”

Abraham is going to say something back. It will be the first recorded response to God since Cain’s ignominious, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—and it will be the first, and thus perhaps the defining interaction, in the relationship.

This is a good time to stop and consider a paradox of biblical understanding. Jewish teaching instructs that the 101st time studying a text is incomparable to the 100th, as the biblical text yields new lessons, fresh insights, and original guidance every time it is studied. This is almost intuitive. If a person invited to a Bible study demurs by saying, “I’ve already read that,” he would be greeted quizzically or pitifully—depending on whether he should know better.

However, a key toward deriving new lessons from an additional consideration of the text is pretending that you don’t know what follows. Much learning comes through anticipating what you think the biblical figure will do or should do—and then matching that against what he or she does. The most fruitful biblical interpretation, then, comes from rereading what we have never read before. This exercise in pretending to forget what happens next in a familiar story might be difficult to execute—but it is possible, and the reward in biblical understanding is well worth it.

To rewind: God tells Abraham not to fear, that he will be Abraham’s shield and that Abraham’s reward will be very great. What would we expect Abraham to do? Surely to express awe, gratitude, devotion, or some combination.

Instead, Abraham says, “What can You give me seeing that I go childless, and the steward of my house is the Damascene Eliezer? … See, to me You have given no offspring; and see, my steward inherits me.”

Abraham responds, in other words, with the opposite of what we expect. He tells God that he wants only one thing and implies that not even God can provide it.

One might expect God to become disappointed, frustrated or angry with Abraham. Instead, God tells Abraham that he will father a child and, consequently, have so many descendants that they will be as hard to count as the stars. And then, as if to bolster his credibility, God reminds Abraham of something: “I am God who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit it.”

Proving Himself might seem beneath God, but He decides to show us all what humility is: sublimating ourselves to our principles. In the process, God reveals Himself further: as merciful, understanding, slow to anger, and solicitous of the man with whom He would like to begin a world-changing relationship.

Abraham, one would expect, will finally treat God like God—with reverence, appreciation and trust. Yet, after God makes an argument to show that He is worthy of Abraham’s respect—“I … brought you out of Ur Kasdim [of the Chaldeans] to give you this land to inherit it”—what does Abraham say?

“My Lord, how shall I know that I am to inherit?”

The audacity of Abraham’s continued need for God to prove himself, combined with the fact that Abraham is never criticized for this and is called in the Jewish tradition, “our father,” leads us to ask: This being the first encounter in the first relationship in the Bible, what are we supposed to learn?

We have a word, or really a concept, for the relationship of man with God: faith. To understand Abraham’s faith—and how it might instruct us—it helps first to consider his name. Every Hebrew letter corresponds with a number, and so the combination of letters adds up to something numerically. The numerical equivalent of the word “Abraham” is 248. There are, at least by traditional Jewish counting, 248 organs in the body. So, Abraham is complete. This means a lot of things, particularly that his faith is complete. Abraham is a man of complete faith.

How could this man of complete faith—this father of the Jewish people and of “many nations”—be constantly (even when in direct conversation with God) questioning whether God will do what He says? Because he doubts. These doubts do not concern the existence of God. That is not a serious question for Abraham, any more than it is for us. These doubts are much more profound.

They concern whether he should base his life upon his God-given mission, whether he understands God’s promises correctly, and whether God will deliver on Abraham’s understanding of those promises when all evidence suggests that He won’t. These doubts concern, most of all, whether God is present with him.

Do these questions sound familiar? If so, the next question is: How should one feel about them? We can feel inadequate, weak, faithless. Or we can think of the source of faith, the Torah.

In Leviticus 25:18-19, God hopes that there will be people who “follow my decrees and [are] careful to obey my laws. … Then the land will yield its fruit and you will eat your fill.” It sounds like these are deserving people of faith. And they are. How do they respond to this divine promise? Very much like their father Abraham, as would be suggested by the principle of “First Mention.” These people, the Torah suggests, may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?”

One might be tempted to condemn or at least criticize them for their faithlessness! But not God. He says that he will send “a blessing.”

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

Read more

Abraham Accords Agreement Welcomes Sudan into the “Circle of Peace”

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

President Trump’s foreign policy is dramatically reshaping the Middle East. The intensely complex, conflict-ridden region is moving into a new era. On a conference call in the Oval Office on October 23, Trump announced Sudan’s entry into the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. Gratified about “peace in the Middle East without bloodshed,” President Trump called Sudan “a new democracy” and broached the possibility of including five more Arab nations into the fold. 

During that three-way telephone conversation from the Oval office, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the Abraham Accords a “circle of peace.” Since September 15 of this year, three Arab countries have now normalized relations with the Jewish state: first the United Arab Emirates (UAE), then Bahrain, and now Sudan. 

Reporters on hand in the Oval Office asked Prime Minister Netanyahu about the benefits of the Accords. He mentioned the already active plans in the areas of tourism, technology, and trade with UAE and Bahrain. To the President Trump’s remarks that “the same thing is going to happen with Sudan. … It changes the lives of people,” Netanyahu responded, “Exactly as you said, Mr. President. We’re not engaging in bloodshed. We’re not engaging in antagonism. We’re engaging in cooperation. … It’s not a distant vision. It’s not a distant dream. … We’re actually seeing the fruits of peace right now. … We’ve never seen anything like it.”

In thanking President Trump for brokering the peace agreement, Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, pointed out, “We’re about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan’s previous, defunct regime. I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism.” He hopes that his once-reviled country will now become a respected nation.

Prime Minister Hamdok was referring to Sudan’s pock-marked history that has been deeply scarred by its terrorist-Islamist President, Omar al-Bashir. Thrown out in 2019, he is finally in prison and standing trial. The International Criminal Court is indicting al-Bashir with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide—the first head of state to be so charged. In the meantime, Sudan’s current regime is a shaky one, shared by two leaders: Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his civilian counterpart, Prime Minister Hamdok. Al-Burhan is set to cede control of the transitional Sovereignty Council to Hamdok in 2022. 

Sudan’s transition to a civilian, democratic government is frankly miraculous, and in numerous ways. While optimism was on full display during the Oval Office conference call, Sudan’s shocking history will pose knottier challenges for the peace agreement to move forward. Sudan’s former President, Omar al-Bashir, ruined Sudan during his reign of terror from 1989 until 2019 when he was deposed. A civil war that took place in western Sudan, the Darfur Genocide is tragically cited as the first genocide of the 21st century. Figures vary, but some show that 2.5 million people were murdered, including 1 million children who were brutally tortured, raped, or killed. 

A second civil war took place in Sudan’s south, a more ethnically diverse part of the country. After 20 years of war, South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. By that time, 1.5 million people had been killed and 4 million displaced. The nation’s current population of 10 million is mostly Christian and animist.

Sudan’s population today is more than 41 million, mostly Sunni Muslims. Upwards of 2 million Christians live there, with Catholics and Protestants in the majority along with 100,000 Orthodox Christians. The country’s history dates back to the Bible, which calls Sudan by varying ancient names such as Kush (Cush), Nubia, and Havilah. For example, Genesis 2:11-12 mentions Nubia as rich in gold, bdellium and onyx. Some scholars even believe that this area was the southwestern boundary of Eden, a vast well-watered land in between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. And Numbers 12:1 tells us that Moses married a Cushite woman.

Thus far, Sudan is the largest nation geographically in the Abraham Accords and sits on Egypt’s southern border. Protests for democracy began in 2018, and in 2019 the military overthrew al-Bashir. The country began to see shafts of light in their 30-year cavernous hole of darkness. 

Sudan is no longer constitutionally dominated by Islamic laws and it assures freedom of religion. The interim Sovereign Council now has a Christian woman as a member. Yet, even after al-Bashir’s ouster, unrest and instability persisted. In addition, Christian persecution remained rampant—with murder, discrimination, and arson strikes against this minority population. In 2019, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended a special envoy to help Sudanese Christians during the transition to democracy. 

The USCIRF is chaired by Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council. He praises the appointment of Donald E. Booth as special envoy to Sudan. For years Christians were not allowed to march at Christmas, but when December 25 was declared a public holiday last year, Sudanese Christians marched with joy. Of this jubilant expression of religious liberty, one pastor exclaimed, “How great is freedom!”

Another set of miracles surrounds Sudan’s history with Israel. In 1967, Sudan hosted the Arab League in its capital, Khartoum, after Israel won the 1967 Six-Day War. The League passed the Khartoum Resolution, which famously contains “The Three No’s”—no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel. In Netanyahu’s announcement to Israelis from his Jerusalem office last week, he commented that Khartoum’s three “no’s” had become three “yeses” of peace. “Today, Khartoum has said, ‘yes to peace with Israel, yes to recognition of Israel, and yes to normalization with Israel.’ This is a new era. An era of true peace.”

Prior to finalizing the negotiations, President Trump mandated that Sudan first pay $335 million to U.S. terror victims and families. He tweeted, “Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, justice for the American people and big step for Sudan!” 

A big step, indeed. The U.S. government had pressed this issue with Sudan for 25 years, due to a direct al-Qaida connection. Osama bin Laden had lived in Sudan for five years in the 1990s. His al-Qaida network perpetrated two terror attacks that killed 700 Americans. Sudan was already included on the terrorist list in 1993—with sanctions—due to its support for jihadists. Sudan is listed as one of four State Sponsors of Terror—with Iran, North Korea, and Syria. A U.S. President has the power to lift the designation, and Congress has 45 days to object if it wishes. In an interesting aside, Spanish politician Josep Borrell Fontelles, a diplomatic High Representative of the European Union, tweeted: “US intention to lift the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation of #Sudan is momentous.”

Please join us in praying for Sudan as it joins the “circle of peace” with Israel:

  • Pray with thankfulness that the Trump Administration has designated $50 million to advance religious freedoms worldwide, using a State Department “whole of government” approach. 
  • Pray for physical, spiritual, and emotional healing for Sudanese Christians who have undergone horrifying traumas and grief.
  • Pray that stability will expand and become permanent for Sudan’s transitional government. 
  • Pray that the current leaders, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdock and Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan will grow in unity on behalf of their nation
  • Pray for blessings of health and stamina for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is a dedicated Christian. He is the point man for the evolving new era in the Middle East. 
  • Pray that Israel and the U.S. will continue to make strides toward unprecedented peace in the Middle East.

Yes, momentous events are unfolding in Sudan. Yet our prayers must reflect the complicated realities ahead. Let us include Genesis 2:11-12 prayers asking God to restore modern Sudan’s ancient Nubian prosperity akin to rich in gold, bdellium and onyx.

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


Read more

Victim of Terrorism: Lena’s Story

Lena and her husband were working the factory night shift, when her phone rang. It was the police—reporting that her apartment building was hit by a rocket. The couple rushed home and stood there in shock. Their apartment was gone. Everything they ever owned was destroyed.

Israel had been under rocket attack from Gaza, and their village in Ashkelon faced constant bombardment. Yet, they were emotionally unprepared for the terrorism they saw.

“I felt so empty… On the one hand, I felt so grateful, because my husband and I were still alive. Our neighbors in the apartment above us and the apartment below us were all killed,” Lena said tearfully. “But, on the other hand, I knew we had lost everything. … I’d never see it again.”

Although the government restored their building’s exterior, the entire interior was ruined—furniture, photos, appliances, electronics. But thankfully, friends like you were there for them.

CBN Israel local partners in Ashkelon were there to help Lena and her husband clean up the debris. Thanks to generous people like you, we gave them furniture, so they could live normally until they could save up to buy other necessities. We also provided them with electronic devices, and a washing machine and refrigerator, which they desperately needed.

Lena and other terror victims are so grateful for this help. We are extending God’s love and emergency aid to many more who are hurting throughout the Holy Land, especially during COVID-19.

Your support of CBN Israel can offer food, essentials, and more to Holocaust survivors, refugees, lone soldiers, and families in crisis. Please help us make a difference in this special land for those in need!


Read more