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Biblical Israel: Jordan River

By Marc Turnage

The most dramatic geographical feature of the biblical land of Israel is the scar of the Rift Valley. Created by the tectonic plates, this forms part of the Syro-African Rift, the longest scar on the face of the planet. Within the land of Israel, the Rift Valley is referred to as the Jordan River Valley because the Jordan River flows through a large portion of it. Within this valley, Lot chose to settle in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God destroyed (Genesis 13:10).

The Jordan River begins south of Mount Hermon where three headwaters flow together to form the Jordan River. The Jordan River flows south through the upper part of the Jordan Valley, known as the Huleh Valley, then into the Sea of Galilee. It exits the lake on its southern end traveling south over sixty-five miles into the Dead Sea. Over its journey from the Sea of Galilee (656 feet below sea level) to the Dead Sea (1310 feet below sea level), the Jordan River carves a deep and winding course and meanders roughly two hundred miles over its sixty-five-mile journey. 

The Jordan River played a significant role in a number of biblical stories. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River, when it was at flood stage, to enter the promised land and began their conquest of the land (Joshua 1-4). Biblical Israel spanned both sides of the Jordan River, its east and west bank, so too did kingdoms that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah interacted with, like Ammon and Moab. 

Thus, characters in the Bible crossed the Jordan often traveling to the land on the eastern and western sides of the river (Judges 7:22-8:17; 1 Samuel 11; 31; 2 Samuel 2:24-32; 15-19). Elisha followed Elijah on his final day before being caught up into heaven across the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:6-13). After Elijah’s departure, Elisha crossed the river dividing it with Elijah’s coat. Elisha sent Naaman the Syrian to immerse himself in the Jordan River seven time (2 Kings 5:14) to cure him from his skin ailment. 

In the region of the Jordan, John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Luke 3:3). Modern pilgrims today visit a location identified as the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism near Jericho, and just north of the Dead Sea. The identification of this site began in the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries A.D.) to enable Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem to also visit the Jordan River, which is a day’s walk from Jerusalem. The Byzantine Christians, however, did not know that Jewish ritual purity laws of the first century considered the waters of the Jordan River south of the Sea of Galilee impure for ritual immersion (Mishnah Parah 8.10-11). 

It seems unlikely, then, that John would have baptized anyone in the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee; however, the waters of the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee are considered pure for immersion. This geographically fits Jesus’ meeting Philip coming out of Bethsaida (on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee) the day after his baptism (John 1:43-44). Such a meeting would have been impossible in Bethsaida the day after his baptism if Jesus had been baptized near Jericho.

The Jordan River serves as one of the central geographic boundaries and features that plays so prominently in so many biblical stories. 

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

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

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Weekly Devotional: Doing the Father’s Will

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first” (Matthew 21:28-31 NKJV). 

We’ve all heard the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Jesus told this parable to underscore a very important fact: doing God’s will is what matters most. Jesus, His brother James, and even Paul placed a premium on obedience to God’s will. 

Too often within modern Christianity, we place importance on belief, by which we mean an inward psychological conviction. In fact, we often contrast faith against works, doing God’s will. This separation means that it will be harder for us to understand Jesus, because He placed preeminent importance on doing. 

He compared those who hear His word to a man who built his house on a rock. To a woman that called out a blessing for Him, He reminded her that the one who is truly blessed is the one who hears the words of God and keeps them. He told His disciples that if they loved Him, they would obey Him. In fact, Jesus says little about faith and a lot about doing, obeying. 

Within the Bible, faith would better be translated as faithfulness, steadfastness. Such a translation better captures the biblical meaning of the word, and it reflects the aspect of obedience inherent within the biblical idea of faith. It’s not so much about what we think, but what we do, that confesses our trust in God. 

It wasn’t the son who said but did not do, but the one who did the will of his father, that Jesus praises to His listeners. 

We come to know God through obeying Him. It’s not through ecstatic experience or special revelation that we come to know God. If you want to grow closer to God, obey His will. If you want to please Him, obey His will. If you want to remain steadfast, obey His will. This is how we know God. 

Today, pursue doing His will; be the son who did the will of his father.

PRAYER

Father, may we pursue doing Your will today in everything we say and do. May doing Your will be our supreme joy. Amen.

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Finding Light While Combatting Hate: My Discovery of Evangelical Christian Friends

By Ellie Cohanim

Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred and has plagued humanity from the beginning of recorded history. As the Trump Administration’s U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, I spent my days tracking antisemitic incidents and attacks around the globe—strategizing on policies that the United States could implement to end Jew-hatred worldwide and advocating for those polices with my foreign counterparts. 

In doing so, I realized that the trend lines have not been on our side. Year after year, study after study has been showing increasing antisemitic attitudes and attacks on Jews—whether the reports are those of how Jews are perceiving the society around them (the survey of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, for example) or those monitoring antisemitic attitudes and incidents (from the Kantor Center or Combat Antisemitism Movement). Additionally, and without exaggeration, we would wake up every single morning to news of an incident—a synagogue being attacked, a cemetery being desecrated, a Jew being assaulted—somewhere in the world, which often required response either from one of our embassies or from our own offices at the Department of State. 

In this day-to-day work of combatting antisemitism, it was easy to get lost in the darkness of combatting hate. My own portfolio in the office of the Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism was focused on the Near East and Western Hemisphere regions. In a recent profile of me in the Jerusalem Post (https://www.jpost.com/jerusalem-report/article-694668), I discussed how—as soon as I was tapped for the State Department position—I requested to work on Iran issues. 

The Trump Administration went on to designate Iran as the leading state sponsor of antisemitism in the world—due to the Iranian regime’s denial of the Holocaust as government policy, their terror proxy activity targeting the Jewish state of Israel, their hate-filled propaganda against Jews, and their oppression of Iran’s local Jewish population. The subject of Iranian antisemitism is one I know well. Born in Iran myself, I was forced to flee the country with my family at the age of six due to the rising antisemitism in the country, beginning with the events of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. 

One of the first acts committed by the radical revolutionaries was executing the president of the Jewish community, Mr. Habib Elghanian. My own father was threatened to be reported to the revolutionary tribunals as a “Zionist spy,” and my family understood that his life was at risk. We fled the country and arrived in the United States, where we were granted refugee status. Growing up in the United States and becoming a citizen of this great country is what I consider the greatest blessing in my life. Nowhere but in America can a little girl come to a new country with no knowledge of the language, receive world-class educational opportunities, and one day be tapped to represent her government.

Working on Near East Affairs—the State Department’s designation for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—also afforded me the opportunity to take a small part in making history by being a member of what we termed the “warm peace team”—those of us privileged to work as part of the Abraham Accords team. Antisemitism in the Middle East is “institutionalized antisemitism,” meaning that antisemitism has been taught in schools and in the educational materials, it is broadcast in the media, and it is preached in certain mosques. I held some tough conversations with my counterparts in that region on the need to revise curricula; to pull books like the infamous Russian propaganda piece, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from official book fairs; and to stop the broadcast of Arabic language TV series that demonize Jews.

On the flip side, and as part of the Abraham Accords efforts, I was able to find inspiration and sources of light. I worked closely with Bahrain’s King Hammad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) they signed with the State Department to combat antisemitism and antizionism, which was followed soon after with an MOU signing with Morocco’s Mimouna Association, a non-governmental organization. 

I also had the privilege of partnering with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Dr. Muhammed al Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, who made history by taking the first delegation of Muslim faith leaders to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. I made an official visit to Egypt, where I was invited to attend the opening of the Grand Synagogue of Alexandria. The Synagogue had been part of a multi-million dollar restoration project of historic national monuments—a project launched by Egyptian President Abdel El-Sissi—which included a Coptic church. I also went on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates during Hanukkah 2020, where I participated in a glorious Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the base of Dubai’s Burj al Khalifa tower. 

All of these developments in the MENA region—most of them due to the hard work and commitment of many of my colleagues in the Trump Administration to broker not just peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, but also diplomatic, economic and social ties between these countries—all left me with tremendous hope as I was finishing my term in office in January 2021.

I found one additional source of light and inspiration as I spent my days fighting the growing hatred towards Jews: my partnerships with members of the Evangelical Christian faith community, forged through the course of combatting antisemitism in the Western Hemisphere region. 

While most of the countries in the Middle East region no longer hold Jewish populations, my other region of responsibility—Latin America—faced very different issues of antisemitism, because there are Jewish communities in countries throughout that region.

The Jews of Chile face a particularly challenging environment, as they are a very small community in a country with approximately 400,000 to 500,000 Palestinian expatriates. Many in this Palestinian expatriate population have adopted a virulently anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian narrative. In fact this Palestinian expatriate community, while being mostly of the Christian faith, has imported into Chile the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute although Chileans would not inherently have any particular ties or interest in that Middle East conflict. I was working with the local Jewish community (which was facing antisemitic attacks) at the same time that certain members of the Chilean Parliament successfully passed BDS legislation that would boycott, divest and sanction goods and services from Israel. At this moment, it occurred to me that the tiny Jewish community would always be deeply outnumbered in that country, but that there was one group of allies they had not yet turned to for help. And that was the local Evangelical Church community.

I worked with some good friends who served on President Trump’s Faith Council, and together we connected the local Chilean Jewish community with their Christian neighbors. Through this particular endeavor I understood that, perhaps for the first time in Jewish history, the Jewish people are no longer alone.

I am ever grateful to each Christian woman, man and teenager I meet who stands by the side of the Jewish people and by the side of the Jewish state of Israel. This support has become a source of light and inspiration for me as I daily continue to work on combatting Jew-hatred around the world.

Ellie Cohanim is the former U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and a political and national security contributor to CBN News. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EllieCohanim.

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Ukraine: Overcoming Darkness with Light 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Ukraine has enjoyed freedom ever since 1991, when it crawled out from under the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin’s callous disregard for Ukraine’s population is a grim reminder of Joseph Stalin, one of the world’s most monstrous killers, who ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953. It is as if Putin has taken on Stalin’s mantle of murder. 

Beginning in the 1930s, Stalin executed a million of his citizens, a number that scholars estimate grew to between 20–60 million people during World War II. It happened through both world wars and the Cold War, and now it’s happening again: Europe is facing a chaotic, complex eruption of evil that threatens the entire continent. And it’s taking place while our world is still reeling from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, a plague of sorrow and uncertainty. 

However, during the last 30 years Ukraine—the second-largest European country—has enjoyed another kind of outbreak, one that helps sustain it today: It is the largest missionary-sending nation in Europe. While religious preference is practiced among Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, it has mostly rested historically in the Orthodox Christian denomination. Now, a vibrant evangelical sector is scattered among Ukraine’s 43 million citizens. 

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) has played a significant role even under communism, when Ukraine had the second-largest Baptist community in the world, behind only the United States. IMB missionaries from the United States planted churches, taught in seminaries, and shared our Lord Jesus throughout Ukraine. Their ministry has resulted in a Christian force of faith among Ukrainians who capably and devotedly share and stand on their faith at home and abroad. The stability and strength of the Ukrainian Christian community is much needed, since Ukraine—like many other nations—is dealing with corruption and all the other challenges facing the nations of the world.

It is difficult to determine numbers in the current chaos, but stories are emerging about pastors, their congregations, and other Christian ministries that have chosen to remain in their country as an expression of their faith. Examples include Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv, where in 2013 only 40 students were enrolled. By 2019, the enrollment had grown to nearly 800—Christians who were preparing to become pastors or missionaries to other nations in Europe and Asia. 

Now, the seminary is assisting refugees on their way to the Polish border. In an interview, seminary president Yaroslav Pyzh commented that they feel a special kinship with Gideon’s story in the Bible, since they are a small army going up against a great one and “have a disadvantage in everything.” Yet graduates from the seminary are returning to help, along with currently enrolled students switching from “studying to serving.” Since Sunday, they had helped around 500 refugees, mostly women and children—providing food, clothing, and a resting place on their journey. Pyzh and his wife are housing some refugees in their home and he is recruiting other citizens to do the same. He is maintaining a list of the refugees in the hope that they can be traced later to reunite with their Ukrainian families.

Another example of faith in action is beloved Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, who founded the Republic Pilgrim in 2000. It has become the largest rehabilitation center for children in Eastern Europe. Four thousand street children have passed through the doors where help and hope have thrived. Pastor Gennadiy is himself the father of 38 kids, three of them biological. He is revered throughout Ukraine and abroad for his compassion for neglected, at-risk children. It came to my attention that, last weekend, Pastor Gennadiy undertook a rescue of children from Republic Pilgrim in eastern Ukraine and took them cross country to an unnamed border. Rather than crossing over with them, he returned to help others. 

The courageous Ukrainian Christian community is joined by Christians worldwide—both individuals and organizations, large and small. CBN’s Operation Blessing is on the ground in Ukraine and along its borders providing critical relief to those in need. Samaritans Purse is operating in Moldova on Ukraine’s southwestern border. A Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base in Cluj, Romania, is giving aid and support to Ukrainian refugees fleeing their county. 

Respected Christian organizations located in Israel are mobilizing aid. CBN Israel is already reaching out to Jewish refugees desperately fleeing to Israel from Ukraine. The Jewish Agency for Israel has asked the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) to help Jewish Ukrainians make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel. Founded in 1980, ICEJ has already actively aided some 45,000 Ukrainian Jews to settle in their ancestral homeland during the last few decades. 

Israel’s Diaspora Ministry has already pledged $3.07 million in aid, saying: “This decision comes from the unique mandate of the State of Israel, and in particular, its Diaspora Ministry, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, to support Jewish individuals and communities in harm’s way.” IsraAID, one of Israel’s expert NGOs, is already on the border of Moldova to provide relief and mental health support for Ukrainian refugees. 

In Christian media, CBN News senior international correspondent, George Thomas, is in Ukraine reporting the true stories of what’s happening on the ground, as is Chris Mitchell, CBN News Middle East bureau chief and host of Jerusalem Dateline. Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Erick Stakelbeck is providing articulate commentary on Ukraine in The Watchman program. 

Trusted Christian media is important, yet prayer is the most critical component to all that is happening in the world. Christians worldwide are not only finding ways to donate to reliable institutions, but they have mounted prayer vigils in person, on Facebook, and via Zoom. Individuals, families, and churches are joining together in prayer for the people of Ukraine. In an interview, Olga Buznitska—who is on the staff of CBN’s Orphan’s Promise—made this profound statement: “Keep praying. Your faith can create history.” 

Ukraine’s Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelensky, is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He made a comment early on in the Russian invasion, when the Biden administration offered to help him leave Ukraine. His stirring, no-nonsense reply will take its place in military history. Wearing his uniform, standing with a group of his soldiers, he observed, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” His comment is one that Christians can take to heart in our walk here on earth. Our “ammunition” is the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and unified fellowship with other believers. That is where we derive our hope and our courage in a chaotic world, which only the God of the universe knows the beginning from the end.  

Join CBN Israel this week in prayer, including these Bible verses for Ukraine and all nations directly impacted: 

  • “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
  • “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
  • “In every way we’re troubled, but we aren’t crushed by our troubles. We’re frustrated, but we don’t give up. We’re persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We’re captured, but we’re not killed. We always carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus is also shown in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
  • Blessed is the man [or woman] who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

Remember: “Keep praying. Your faith can create history.” 

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 an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Victims of Terrorism: Irena and Suzanna’s Story

The air was filled with red-alert sirens. People were frantically rushing to nearby bomb shelters. This was Irena’s life in the city of Holon near Tel Aviv, during a conflict with Hamas terrorists in Gaza. She was 48, a single mother to her daughter Suzanna—and their city was in the flight path of the rockets that bombarded their community. 

One day, Suzanna feared for her mother’s safety, and begged her to stay home from work. But Irena was needed on the job. On her way there, the sirens wailed, and she noticed a mother trying to get her two children out of the car to safety. Irena stopped and ran with them for shelter, but a missile exploded. The blast ripped through Irena’s leg, as shrapnel pierced her head and back.

Rushed to the hospital, Irena was in critical condition. They stabilized her, amputating her leg to save her life. Still, she was in serious condition, under heavy medication, battling infections and comas, and due for another operation. 

But friends like you were there, providing them with emergency relief funds—as well as offering trauma counseling. Suzanna said gratefully, “Thank you… We were so in need of money after Mom was hurt. I could not pay her rent and bills and would worry about what would happen.” 

Your gift to CBN Israel can provide help to many terror victims—as well as Holocaust survivors, refugees, single mothers, lone soldiers, and more. The pandemic has intensified the needs across the Holy Land. Your generous support can bring groceries, housing, financial aid, and essentials to the hurting. 

Please join us in reaching out today!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Sea of Galilee 

By Marc Turnage

The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. It sits 600 feet below sea level. It is a lake, and not a sea; thus, the Evangelist Luke correctly describes it often as a lake (5:1; 8:22, 33). 

The Lake of Galilee sits in the Jordan River Valley, which is part of the Syro-African Rift Valley. The Jordan River flows through the lake from the north where its three headwaters converge south of the ancient site of Dan to form the Jordan River and flow south into the lake. The river continues out of the south end of the lake on its southward journey towards the Dead Sea. The modern exit of the Jordan River on the south end of the lake is not the ancient exit of the river; the modern exit was created for the dam used to regulate the flow of water out of the lake.

Hills surround the lake on its western, northern, and eastern sides. To its south, one finds the continuation of the Jordan River Valley. On its northwest and northeast corners sit two fertile valleys into which water runoff from the surrounding hills flow. The northwest valley is known as the Gennesar Valley, which the first century Jewish historian Josephus says was the name given to the lake by the locals (see Luke 5:1). The valley on the northeast side of the lake is the Bethsaida Valley, so called for the ancient site of Bethsaida, the home of Jesus’ disciples Peter, Philip, and Andrew, which was located in the valley along the shoreline of the lake. 

The Bethsaida Valley, while fertile, has three large water tributaries, including the Jordan River, flow through it, which made it more challenging for travel by foot. Two of these tributaries flow out of the Golan Heights feeding the water of the lake along with the Jordan River. Between the Gennesar Valley and Bethsaida Valley ninety-five percent of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels took place. He fed the 5,000 in the Bethsaida Valley (Luke 9:10). Within this area, one finds the villages of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida, which Jesus cursed (Luke 10:13-16). 

South of the Gennesar Valley sits the modern city of Tiberias, which was built by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, in the year 19-20 A.D. Antipas moved his administration from Sepphoris to Tiberias, which was where he resided during the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. 

The lake itself provided a fishing industry for the locals. The water off the Bethsaida Valley provided excellent fishing, especially for the local tilapia. People used the lake not only for fishing, but also for travel. Both Josephus and the Gospels indicate that people traveled around the lake by boat much more than they did by foot.

The Gospels record the sudden storms that occur on the lake. The topography of the surrounding hills and canyons create wind funnels across the lake, particularly the northern part of the lake. Storms on the Lake of Galilee are serious, especially the wind storms that blow in from the east off the Golan Heights down onto the lake. The easterly wind storms that hit the land of Israel are quite severe, and even in the present day, can cause damage to property and agriculture, even the loss of life. These easterly winds are known as sharkia, from the Arabic “shark” (east). They are most prevalent from October-May. They turn the lake’s waters into churning, violent swells, easily 10 to 12 feet high. 

The Lake of Galilee provides the setting for many of the stories in the Gospels, sayings and actions of Jesus. On its shores, He taught the people about the kingdom of Heaven and performed many miracles. 

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

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

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Weekly Devotional: A Broken Spirit

“My spirit is broken, days are cut short, the grave awaits me. Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility” (Job 17:1 NIV).

Despair is a common human emotion. As finite beings, we often struggle to see beyond the moment, and when circumstances overwhelm us, we can all too easily find our emotions swept away. The floodwaters come over us, and we despair. And that’s okay—as long as we don’t stay there.

The dreadful circumstances in Job’s life overwhelmed him. He didn’t feel like being “spiritual”; the reality he was facing was too heavy. Yet, he didn’t try to hide what he felt; he embraced it. He shared it with his friends: “My spirit is broken, days are cut short, the grave awaits me.”

Have you ever been there? Don’t compare yourself to Job or anyone else. Your worst day is your worst day. Have you been there? 

It’s okay. We all have. Having faith does not mean that we do not experience despair. Sometimes the most honest part of our faith can be articulating our despair. Job was done, his spirit broken. He looked toward the grave. He felt he couldn’t do anymore. His friends offered little help. Their comfort did little. 

We need to learn to find God in our despair. That does not mean we ignore it. We can’t assume that if we don’t acknowledge it, it will go away. It won’t. Our despair stems from being overwhelmed in the moment. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re finite. That’s why we need to find God in our despair. The One who is infinite. 

When you experience despair, all feels lost. Our hopes, our dreams, everything seems gone. Job was honest about how he felt. God eventually answered him. God didn’t give him a step-by-step program to get out of his despair. God entered and answered Job in his despair. 

When we find ourselves overwhelmed by despair, we can turn our back on God. It’s easy to do. The challenge is to remain facing toward God even in the midst of our despair and feelings of brokenness. That’s the key—which way we’re facing. 

Our life may be desolate for a time, but if we face God, He can redeem those moments. He can answer us out of eternity. 

PRAYER

Father, even in the midst of our deepest despair and desolation, may we turn our faces toward You. Amen.

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Iran Negotiations 2022: Landmark or Land Mine? 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

President Obama and Vice President Biden viewed their 2015 Iran deal as a landmark agreement, believing it to be the best way to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The last seven years, however, have shown it to be quite ill conceived—a veritable land mine, in fact. And there’s plenty of blame to go around concerning the “bad Iran deal,” as it came to be known among many Americans and Israelis. 

In simple terms, U.S. negotiators incorrectly used a foreign policy strategy of “carrots and sticks,” the idea that the correct blend of incentives and punishments can convince nations to alter their policies and behavior. Unfortunately, the American team wanted to believe that Iran would keep any agreements made, even though Iran is the world’s most prolific purveyor and state sponsor of terrorism. U.S. negotiators offered Iran a ton of carrots first, often neglecting the sticks in its diplomatic basket. 

John F. Kennedy once observed, “There comes a point where you see no evidence that the carrot and diplomacy are working.” Yet the Iran negotiators, past and present, have consistently ignored the most reliable indicator of Iran’s compliance. Prominent in Shia Islam’s religious teaching—which Iran follows—is the concept of taqiyya (dissimulation and concealment). Deception and lies are allowed when dealing with enemies according to the Quran.

In Iran’s long litany of complaints against the two allies, the U.S. is called the “Big Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan.” But Iran’s decades of threats against the U.S. and Israel are not merely words. Today, 43 years later, Iran still celebrates both its 1979 Islamic Revolution victory and its takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran that same year, when more than 50 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” are often-shouted chants at these celebrations. 

Among those attending this year’s festivities were foreign ministers from communist Cuba and from Venezuela, which is run by a dictator who has ruined the once-wealthy nation. Both nations are allies of Iran. It is said that 1,500 Iranian cities and 30,000 villages celebrated this year’s anniversary victory. Why would so many join in the celebrations, since the Iranian leadership spends so much on its nuclear quest rather than everyday needs of its citizens?

In fact, Radio Free Europe reports that teachers in more than 100 Iranian cities are protesting their low wages. In 2017, citizens protested the high cost of living; in 2019, protests were against gasoline prices; in 2021, the concern was water shortages. Despite facing possible arrest, imprisonment, and shootings, the protestors continue their uprisings. In a document leaked from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Radio Free Europe’s Radio Farda said the rising discontent in Iran might be nearing a “state of explosion.” They also reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admitted: “U.S. sanctions were not the only cause of Iran’s economic woes.” He went on to say that government mismanagement was a problem, blaming bad decisions by previous governments.

Taqiyya—concealment—is not the only facet of Iran’s negotiating strategy. Iran’s apocalyptic Imams view their highest goal as obeying Allah. That means welcoming their Islamic religious leader, the 12th Imam (Mahdi in Arabic), to establish a worldwide caliphate in which everyone becomes Muslim. Most Shiite Muslims believe that the 12th Imam, who was born in 868 A.D., was put into hiding in 941 A.D. and will remain there until judgment day. That makes Christianity and Judaism targets, which also has significant repercussions for the U.S. and Israel.

Overlooking Iran’s compelling force of Shiite religion, the U.S. and other nations are feverishly working to resurrect the 2015 Iran deal in Vienna, Austria. Negotiators are currently on the eighth round of talks since April 2021, when the Biden administration reopened them. Between Iran, France, Germany, China, Britain, and Russia, the talks are like a clever game of chess. Although Iran and India argue about who invented chess (ancient Persian writings mention chess), Iran is an expert with clever hidden strategies played with some who desperately want a deal no matter what. Iranian leaders are skilled at taking advantage of Western appeasement. 

Unwilling to comprehend and/or investigate Iran’s religious motivation for gaining world superiority, the negotiating nations cannot seem to understand that they are not dealing with a country that genuinely wants peace. The European Union serves as the chair; Communist China and Russia have seats at the table. The U.S. is only indirectly involved because Iran refuses direct talks with the U.S.—they will not sit at the same table. Now, Britain and France function as go-betweens with the U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, one of the lead negotiators in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Unrest is showing on the U.S. team, and rightly so. On January 24, Richard Nephew, the U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran, left the negotiating team because he considers that tougher talks are crucial to making progress. The Hill reports that two other unnamed members of the team may resign for the same reason.

In closing, when a Shiite Muslim theocracy is interested in taking over the world with a nuclear threat in its arsenal, we can be sure that its people will remain at risk. On February 9, All Arab News reported more troubles about Iran, which is bragging about its Khaybar-Shekan missile that travels 900 miles. It has been dubbed a “castle buster,” referring to a battle where Muslims overran a Jewish castle hundreds of years ago. The “castle buster” can reach Israel and some of our U.S. bases in the region. 

Lieutenant General Michael Kurilla, the nominee to lead U.S. Central Command, testified in Congress: “Renewed [JCPOA] negotiation efforts must consider the significant changes that have occurred in the security and geopolitical environments since the 2018 American withdrawal from the agreement.” He also noted that the Biden administration’s sanctions waiver to Iran means that “Iran will increase its support of proxy and terrorist groups that target U.S. forces in the region.” That means Yemen, Syria, Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. 

Let us pray together that the Vienna negotiators will remove the basket of carrots for now, adhere to Lt. Gen. Kurilla’s briefing, and restrict Iran’s missile development. Why? One of the biggest carrots in the “bad” 2015 Iran deal did not include Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program. No restrictions! A wide-open path to harming Israel and our military personnel in the region! Will Iran achieve nuclear-tipped missiles next? 

We invite you to join CBN Israel this week to pray for Israel, Iran, and the Middle East:

  • Pray for Iran’s citizens who are suffering oppression from their leaders.
  • Pray for protection for the many Iranians who are meeting our Lord Jesus. 
  • Pray for the current negotiators to use wisdom and face realities about Iran. 
  • Pray for Israel’s contingency plans to stop Iran from “going nuclear.”
  • Pray for the continued success of the Abraham Accords peace agreement and for more nations within the Middle East to join. 

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 an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990.  She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Biblical Israel: Dan Spring 

By Marc Turnage

The land of Israel did not merely provide the stage upon which biblical events too place, its flora, fauna, climate, and geology provide the images, metaphors, and vocabulary that biblical writers used frequently to communicate their message whether in narrative, poetry, or prophecy.

There are places within Israel today where one can stand within the geography used by the biblical writers and feel and hear, within the setting, the message they sought to communicate. The Dan Spring is one of those places. 

The spring acquires its name from the biblical site of Dan, the northernmost city within biblical Israel. Located at the base of the foothills of Mount Hermon, it provides the largest of the three springs whose tributaries come together south of the site of Dan to form the Jordan River.

The Dan Spring produces roughly 240 million cubic meters per year. With such a large amount of water coming from the spring, especially in the winter and spring of the year when the rains and snowmelt add to it, the sound of the Dan tributary roars as it flows towards the meeting point to form the Jordan.

The psalmists use this setting and the sound created by the waters in a couple places. Psalm 29 proclaims: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (29:2-9; emphasis added). 

The highlighted bold type shows the psalmist’s use of the waters of the Dan spring to describe the voice and glory of the Lord. How do we know he meant the Dan Spring? Because of the geographic detail provided, which is italicized. These locations—Lebanon, Sirion, and Kadesh—surround the northern area of Israel and the Dan Spring.

When the psalmist listened to the raging waters of the spring and its tributary, he found himself moved to comparison with the voice and glory of the Lord. He communicated his message through the physical setting of the Dan Spring and the surrounding countryside.

In Psalm 42, we find another use of the Dan Spring for the psalmist’s poetry: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? … My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me” (42:1-7; emphasis added). 

The psalmist begins by likening his desire for God to a deer craving the streams of water from springs, like the Dan. Although lush with vegetation, the summer heat and humidity of the region of the Dan Spring is difficult for animals and humans. He finds himself in the region of the Dan Spring (the italicized portions) and feels overwhelmed with the roar of the gushing spring. 

Traveling to the land of Israel is more than visiting sites. It should transform how we read and interact with the physical reality of the land of the Bible.

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

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

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Weekly Devotional: When Adversity Strikes

“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:29-31 NKJV).

When the chief priests of Jerusalem commanded Peter and John to no longer speak in Jesus’ name, the two disciples had a choice to make. They went to their community and together they prayed. 

They did not pray for favor with the rulers. They did not pray for deliverance. They did not pray for protection. They prayed for boldness to continue in their way. They asked God to show forth His glory through signs and wonders. As a result of their prayer, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. 

How do you respond to adversity? Do you seek a way out or the removal of the problem? The followers of Jesus did not see adversity as a problem to be avoided or from which to be delivered. They did not reason, “If we just gained favor with the ruling powers.” Rather, they sought to stay their course faithfully in doing what God had called them to do. 

Adversity does not mean we are out of God’s will, nor should we seek to avoid it. They sought boldness to do the task they had been given and believed that ultimately God would glorify Himself and His servant Jesus. 

When you find yourself confronted with adversity, how do you pray? Our true submission to God seeks His glory above our comfort; it submits to the challenges we face, recognizing that how we handle them provides an opportunity for Him to show forth His wonders. 

The followers of Jesus did not pray a prayer that focused on themselves. They could have—they had just been threatened. Rather, they sought God to glorify Himself through them, and they offered themselves as vessels for Him to use for that purpose.  

Our daily prayer should be that in our lives, no matter the situation or adversity we face, God will glorify Himself.

PRAYER

Father, glorify Your name through our lives. No matter the situation, we will stay faithful to You; glorify Yourself in this world through us. Amen.

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