Holocaust Survivor: Sofi’s Story

Sofi was born the day WWII started, and her father was a Red Army naval officer in Latvia. When he went to war, Sofi’s mother was instantly taken prisoner, and the Nazis took the children to Germany. Those that could pass as Germans were raised in German homes.

Tragically, Sofi recalls, “I had dark hair, so I was taken to an orphanage. The Nazis conducted experiments on us…” As the war ended, the Soviet army liberated the orphanage.

Sofi was reunited with her mother, but it took years to find her brother and sister, who had made it to Israel. She and her mother tried four times to join them, and finally immigrated to Israel in 1972. Sofi married, had kids, and enjoyed life. Yet as she got older, things changed.

Her husband became paralyzed, and she cared for him at home for three years—until she became too weak, and he needed to go to a special care facility. She gets lonely living by herself, and has trouble walking—so it is hard to leave her apartment. But who could help her?

Thankfully, friends like you offered a lifeline. Through CBN Israel, donors brought welcome visits and food baskets—plus, a new walker! She exclaimed, “You bring groceries, and you never forget to call me on my birthday… I’m so happy you still remember us. It’s great to know you care!”

And your support of CBN Israel can let other Holocaust survivors like Sofi know they are not forgotten—as well as immigrants, single moms, and lone soldiers in need. So many in the Holy Land are going through difficult times. You can provide groceries, shelter, and financial help to those who are hurting.

Please help us reach out and make a difference!


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Biblical Israel: Elah Valley

By Marc Turnage

The biblical writers often assume their readers knew the geographic and regional dynamics of the land of Israel. Sites and locations offer more than simply places on a map; they provide the living landscape that shaped and formed the biblical stories. In addition, the authors of Scripture assume we understand the geographical and regional dynamics that played important roles within their stories.

A great example of this phenomenon is the Elah Valley. This valley serves as the setting for one of the most famous stories in the Bible: the confrontation between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). If the story simply boils down to us as “man kills giant,” we miss the geographic tension created by the author and understood by his audience. Let me explain.

The biblical land of Israel, west of the Jordan River, looks like a loaf of French bread: flat on the sides and puffy in the middle. The puffy middle represents the Hill Country that runs north-south through the land, forming its spine. On the western side of the French loaf along the Mediterranean sits the Coastal Plain. The Philistines lived there. The Israelites lived in the Hill Country, and between these two geographic zones lay a buffer area known in the Bible as the Shephelah of Judah. Low rolling hills with broad valleys characterize the Shephelah.

These valleys created west-east corridors for movement between the Coastal Plain and the Hill Country. Many places mentioned in the Bible lie in and along these valleys through the Shephelah; the Bible mentions them because of their situation in connection to these valleys and routes of travel.

The Elah Valley provides one of these corridors between the Coastal Plain (and the Philistines) and the Hill Country (and the Israelites). Located at the western mouth of the Elah Valley as it opens into the Coastal Plain sits Gath, Goliath’s hometown. At the eastern end of this valley—in the Hill Country—lies Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Is it any wonder that Goliath of Gath and David of Bethlehem met in the Elah Valley? But there’s more. 

The author of Samuel described the Philistines’ movement into the Elah Valley from the west: “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah” (1 Samuel 17:1 NIV). Their movement into the Elah Valley—as well as its regional dynamics, with Bethlehem situated at its eastern end—indicate that the end goal for the Philistines was Bethlehem.

Acquiring Bethlehem provided entry into Judah, and it put them along the main north-south artery in the Central Hill Country. Their actions were not haphazard; they were strategic. And in the midst of these regional dynamics and the struggles between Israel and the Philistines, the author tells of the confrontation between David and Goliath. 

He assumed his audience understood the tension created by the geography of the story. The Philistines’ target: Bethlehem. Jessie and David from Bethlehem were concerned with how the battle fared. Where would David from Bethlehem and Goliath from Gath eventually meet? The author provides such a clear description of the valley, its villages, and even the brook that runs through it that one can stand in the Elah Valley identifying the lines of battle, the location of Saul’s forces and the Philistines, and the flight of the Philistines after David’s triumph.

When we understand the physical settings of the land of the Bible, a depth of understanding and insight into the stories of the Bible opens before us, and we begin to read the Bible as its first readers did and its authors intended. 

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

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: How’s Your Light?

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV).

We live in a world where people like to talk. Our lives are filled with the noise of communication. Our news, sports, and even weather are filled with talking heads that all have something to say. Social media provides a platform for everyone to talk and express themselves. As followers of the Lord, too often we assume that we display our light through what we say, the causes we defend, and even the arguments we have on God’s behalf. 

Light shines. It provides illumination in the darkness. It just does; that’s its nature. It doesn’t have to announce itself or let everyone know what it’s going to do. It shines and is visible to all.

Many of us who grew up in church were told that the way our light would shine was by sharing with our words, but that’s not what Jesus says. He equates letting our light shine with our good works. Thus, it’s not what we say; it’s what we do. Our actions, deeds, and works cause those around us to give glory to our Father in heaven.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. We live in a world filled with cheap talk, quite often even by those who are followers of the Lord. We complain about the rise of anti-religious attitudes and secularism in our society, and we think that we need to speak out all the louder to stem this growing tide.

Perhaps, if we take Jesus more seriously, we should let our light shine by doing good works. People can argue with our words; they cannot argue with our actions aligned with the teachings of Jesus. 

Do our good works cause people around us to give glory to God every day? Do we realize that perhaps the reason our world doesn’t glorify God is because we lack good works, or our light isn’t shining brightly enough? Maybe we should focus more on what our works communicate than our words. So, how’s your light; how’s our light?


Father, may we live our lives today obediently submitted to Your will and commands, so that those around us may see our good works and give glory to You. Amen.

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From Prison in Iran to Freedom in America, She Still Speaks Truth

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

I have followed and written about Iran’s 1979 Islamic takeover until the present-day “Women, Life, Freedom” movement protesting this ruthless regime. Given my long interest in communicating about the dangerous Islamic Republic leadership, God blessed me as only He can. He orchestrated my meeting Iranian Christian Marziyeh (Marzi) Amirizadeh in a doctor’s office waiting room! I then welcomed the privilege of interviewing her.

She breathed life into facts far beyond any broadcasts or commentary could do. Risking their lives in Iran’s oppressive regime, Marziyeh and her close friend Maryam Rostampour covertly shared the Gospel. With undercover deliveries from believers outside Iran, Marzi and Maryam gave away 20,000 Bibles and founded several secret house churches. After four years, they came to the attention of officials who arrested them in 2009.

When the guard booked them, he hung a sign around their necks with their names and charges that read, “Accused of promoting Christianity in Iran.” He then took their pictures, whereupon smiles spread across Marzi and Maryam’s faces. They viewed the accusations as an honor.

They were jailed in Iran’s Evin prison, notorious for its harsh treatment of political prisoners. Its unfettered brutality is feared among Iranians who live in the world’s biggest terror-sponsoring regime. From their beloved homeland, taken over by ayatollahs who want to rule the world by any means, the Islamic Republic regime has conducted terrorist attacks and assassinations in more than 20 nations since 1979.

Marziyeh and Maryam remained imprisoned for 259 days. During their captivity, the Holy Spirit shone through them with officials and prisoners alike into the unimaginable darkness within Evin’s walls before their miraculous release. Marzi’s best-selling books, Captive in Iran and A Love Journey with God, detail the severe hardships—and the miracles—as a significant reminder of wide-ranging persecutions among some 360 million Christians worldwide living under tyranny.

Since immigrating to the United States, Marzi has received her master’s degree in International Affairs from Georgia Tech and ran this year for Georgia’s legislature. Although she did not win the seat, it was a way for her to highlight the privilege of religious freedom in the context of Iran’s threats to the United States. She plans to persist in advocating for Iran’s 85 million people, 70 percent of whom are under 30 years old. During her imprisonment in 2009, she recalls, “I was witness to how many people got arrested and tortured right in front of my eyes. It broke my heart.” With radical clerics running the government, Iranians are understandably afraid. However, “Women, Life, Freedom” protests in the last three months are clearly showing the people’s bravery and their yearning for freedom.

Marzi’s continuing purpose in life is to draw attention to the oppression of Iran’s people. She is troubled about media bias and their refusal to give a platform to Christians like her who have lived under persecution and want to offer facts to correct/embellish the narrative of suffering. 

She “strongly believes” that this protest will go on. It began in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Under arrest for improperly wearing her head covering (hijab), Amini was beaten to death while in “morality” police custody. Marzi observes, “It’s not just about a piece of cloth. The protesters are not in the streets facing guns and bullets just for that. Our people wonder if the Western nations are going to stand with them for regime change rather than betraying them by making deals.” She suggests that nations recall their ambassadors from Iran and stop negotiations and any financial support that would release billions of dollars “used to suppress and kill more people.” The Biden administration’s temporary decision to keep the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List was welcomed by Iranians.

The “Women, Life, Freedom” movement embodies decades of simmering frustrations especially among the younger population, which has given up on reforms. Marzi articulates that Iranians consider themselves and their country separate from what they view as a criminal regime and believe that they and Iran have been taken hostage by the Islamic Republic. She explained, “Sharia law has ruined their lives, but it’s not that they are turning their back to God. As soon as you are born, there is no option for you. Papers are filled out right away and you became a Muslim.” She added that only the Koran is available in bookstores, and that millions of people never practice Islam.

The Islamic dictatorship’s injustices, tight social and political control, economic hardships, and discrimination against ethnic minorities prevail. Marzi explains, “For many years the regime has deceived people about reforms, saying it just to calm people down.” What’s different now? “This time, people are saying ‘enough is enough’ and say they will fight until the regime collapses.” Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reports that, since September, more than 500 people have been killed thus far, among them 63 children. The prison population is bloated, with an estimated 18,000 detained and 39 who may face a death sentence. One protester, Majid-Reza Rahnavard, 23, was executed publicly. He was convicted of “waging war against God,” a capital offense. His body hung from a crane in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

During my interview, Marzi reflected on her life growing up, which answers important questions about today’s protests. “Every morning at school, they forced us to stand in line and say, ‘Death to America and death to Israel,’ that Israeli people are our enemies, and they should be eliminated from the face of the world. That is cruel to brainwash little children.” She explained that the radical clerics’ ideology teaches students that the Twelfth Imam will come to conquer the world through an Islamic caliphate and that “you will go to heaven by destroying Israelis and Americans.”

Marzi considers herself fortunate, since one of her father’s relatives married an American woman. When they traveled to Iran, as a child Marzi loved hearing about America. She views it as a miracle and dreamed about one day coming to America. “Finally, God brought me here and I’m so blessed and honored to live in this great country.”

She verified that Iran has the fastest-growing church in the world “coming to Christ. Persecution is helping people to see the truth. “When we were evangelizing in Iran,” Marzi recalls, “we didn’t have even one bad experience. Everyone was so thirsty to find the truth and I could see that God had prepared their hearts even before we talked to them.” She adds that she “strongly believes” that millions of people will come to Christ very soon. She referred to Jeremiah 49:38: “‘I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials,’ declares the LORD.” Genesis 10:22 shows that the region was named for Elam, son of Shem, son of Noah. The civilization existed for thousands of years, from 3200–539 B.C.

Amid the insults, torture, intimidation, and threats of a death sentence, Marzi experienced timely answers and Bible verses where God brought illumination into her mind and emotions. “It was very difficult, but the Holy Spirit reminded me that I should practice how to love my enemy since Jesus told us to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” Once, when an interrogator asked her to give him the name of her pastor, she responded, “Jesus Christ is my pastor.” On another occasion—among frequent abuses—when a prison employee asked why she was incarcerated, Marzi answered, “I’m here just because of my faith. I’m not a criminal.” The response: “You should be executed!” She survived the brutality amid the beauty of having a relationship with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Without the Holy Spirit, it is nothing but a religion.”

When I asked Marzi to articulate her message to Americans, she referred to 1 Corinthians 12:25-26: “God has so composed the body … that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” She added, “The church in Iran is suffering for justice and we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with Iranians who are fighting against the enemy of the church and the world. Our duty is not just reading our Bibles at home, enjoying our freedom, and going to church. For me, faith without action is dead. Everywhere Christians must stand up for freedoms before it’s too late. The Islamic Republic regime is a threat to the whole world. They are spreading agendas into your soul. Do not invite this evil to your home and to your country. Wake up!” 

Getting to know Marzi—and experiencing the authenticity of her courageous faith and her calling—inspired me to appreciate my religious freedom more deeply. I pray you will also be inspired to uphold Iran and other nations that persecute and kill Christians by praying, advocating, and donating to ministries aimed at blessing and rescuing the persecuted.

May we ponder this verse in Joshua 1:9—Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

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

  • Pray that the worldwide Christian communities who live in freedom will seek ways to advocate for persecuted Christians.
  • Pray for tyrannized Christians to sense comfort and wisdom through the Holy Spirit.
  • Pray for Marziyeh (Marzi) Amirizadeh—for more open doors where she can raise awareness and motivate audiences as advocates for those who are suffering.
  • Pray for millions more Iranians to meet their Savior Jesus.

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, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently 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 Facebook.

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Biblical Israel: Caesarea

By Marc Turnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Waiting for Redemption

“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:25-28 NKJV).

Simeon waited all his life yearning and longing to see God’s redemption. He hoped and prayed for it. He may not have lived long enough to see the consolation of Israel, but he did see the way God would bring it about. He saw the Lord’s anointed. 

We live in a world of instant gratification, fast food, instant messaging, and video-on-demand. Perhaps nothing displays this more than the commercialism of the Christmas holiday season. However, the story of Christmas is about patience, not immediacy. It’s about God fulfilling His long-awaited promise to Israel’s fathers, answering the hope of redemption. It’s about the patience to wait.

Simeon waited (Luke 2:25-35). He hoped. He trusted. He waited for the salvation of Israel and his people (2:25). And, as an old man, he knew that when he held the baby Jesus that he would not be there to see the completion of the child’s mission (2:29-32), yet he trusted that God would fulfill His promises through this child. He only caught a glimpse of what He waited for, and he was content because He knew that God was faithful and would do what He promised.

We so often make our faith about us. We do this with Christmas—what Christmas means to me, what God has done for me. Simeon never saw the end of God’s promised redemption. Yet, when he held the baby Jesus, he understood that God’s redemption did not place him, Simeon, at the center; it was not about what God would do personally for him. Rather, God’s redemption would come to all. The collective redemption meant more than his own personal comfort.

We often treat our faith as instant gratification. Instant. Immediate. And when it doesn’t happen as we want, we become frustrated with God. We make excuses why it hasn’t happened. Our faith sometimes proves rather weak and impatient when compared to that of Simeon’s, who had the patience to wait and never lose sight of the God who promised.

Are we content to play a part in God’s overall plan? Christmas poses that question to each of us. The figures of the Christmas story all played roles in God’s redemptive plan. None of them saw the entire fulfillment of God’s promises, and neither have we.

Yet are we willing to play our part in His plan? Or do we place ourselves at the center of the Christmas story? Simeon waited. He trusted. And he rejoiced to see part of God’s promise fulfilled knowing that the God who promised would ultimately bring His promises to fulfillment.


Father, waiting is difficult. Being patient challenges us, but we know that You fulfill Your plans and promises. So, we choose to trust and submit to You obediently to play whatever role You have for us for Your glory. Amen. 

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Christmas Songs, Broadway, Philanthropy, and Politics: A Surprising Combination of American Jewish Contributions

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The song “White Christmas” is deeply embedded in American culture, whether your state is snowy or sunny this time of year. Irving Berlin (1888-1989) wrote “White Christmas” in 1947. He expressed his love and appreciation for America after his Jewish family fled the pogroms (persecutions) in Russia in 1893 and settled in the Lower East Side of New York City. Berlin is considered one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century, having amassed some 3,000 songs to his credit.

Jews have immigrated to America since before the American Revolution. Around two-and-a-half-million Jews came here from Central Europe and Russia between 1881 and 1924. My husband Paul’s family was among those escaping persecutions and political upheaval and immigrated by way of Ellis Island.

I have seen firsthand the history and gratitude among Jewish immigrants through my husband’s eyes. Paul is a proud first-generation American, born in 1944. Retired from business ownership and humanitarian aid positions, he is now a published poet and author. As Paul’s parents did when they were children, many Jewish families embarked on risky voyages, arriving in the New World with little more than a suitcase. They stood at ship railings with tears in their eyes when they saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

America beckoned them in an era before Israel’s 1948 rebirth as a modern Jewish state. “Shelter me in the shadow of your wings” from Psalm 17:8 was an inspiring phrase among many refugees who described America as the “Golden Land.”

In America, where Irving Berlin deeply valued his opportunities and freedom, the composer’s “White Christmas” is an all-time favorite. Another is his beloved patriotic song “God Bless America,” with its eloquent lyrics asking God to “stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.” And, among his numerous accomplishments on the business side of the music industry, Berlin helped pioneer the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which protected the rights and royalties of songwriters.

Later, Berlin wrote a Broadway production based on his song, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” After opening on Broadway on July 4, 1942, then filmed in Hollywood, the show toured across America, as well as army bases near battle lines in Europe and the South Pacific. Due to his patriotism and expert planning, Berlin raised over $6 million for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. President Harry S. Truman awarded Irving Berlin the Army’s Medal of Merit in 1945 for “Extraordinary service as creator and producer of the musical revue, This Is the Army.”

However, the famous creator was not the only Jewish composer to pen Christmas songs. Some of the most-played favorites were written decades ago by 11 Jewish lyricists and composers. Among them was Johnny Marks, who in 1939 wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which is much loved by children. You may not have eaten chestnuts, yet the musical notes of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” by Mel Torme in 1945 “helped to make the season bright.” 

“Winter Wonderland” was composed by non-Jew Richard B. Smith and his Jewish friend Felix Bernard. Smith wrote it as a poem in 1934 while in a sanitorium for tuberculosis, then showed it to his friend Felix, who wrote the music and promoted it into fame. It was first recorded the same year by Richard Himber and his Ritz-Carlton Orchestra.

Song, dance, fine arts, theater, and musical instruments are woven into the ancient and present-day fabric of the Jewish community. King David, beloved by both Jews and Christians, not only filled the psalms with songs, but he danced, too! The Book of Psalms provides sacred evidence of the musical importance and contributions of both ancient and contemporary Jews.

In today’s American Jewish community, some of my favorites are Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and Carole King, along with other entertainers like Jerry Seinfeld and Harrison Ford, one of my favorite actors. Jewish worship music is my top listening choice, as performed by Paul Wilbur, Marty Goetz, Lamb’s Joel Chernoff, and Aaron Shust. Their musical renditions radiate with joy and inspiration.

Turning from Jewish musical giftings to philanthropy, fame, and organizations, Jewish contributions have benefited the United States in outsized ways despite their small population, which today numbers slightly over 7 million. Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Stephen Spielberg, and Elizabeth Taylor are recognized, iconic names.

In the philanthropy genre, wealthy Jewish donors are known for their generosity. Yet another sector is also generous as pointed out by Bar Nassim, a postdoctoral fellow in modern Jewish studies at Brandeis University. Sixty percent of Jewish households earning less than $50,000 a year donate, compared with 46 percent of non-Jewish households in that income bracket,” he notes on The Conversation website. He also points out that, via both private and public donations, Jews represent more than 7,000 foundations. We Christians would do well to follow their examples to increase our giving.

Jewish generosity, whether secular or religious, is underpinned by Scripture. Our call is the same: to give to our churches and charities with compassion toward those less fortunate. These Scriptures enshrine tithes and offerings:

“Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice” (Psalm 112:5).

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).

“Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

Beyond Christmas songs written from Jewish hearts and Jewish philanthropy that has strengthened our country, another entity originated in the United States. It grows more significant amid Jew hatred here at home, toward Israel, and worldwide. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was founded in 1953 by the Jewish Zionist Isaiah Leo (Si) Kenen. AIPAC is the foremost organization designed to encourage and persuade the U.S. government to enact specific policies that create a strong, enduring, and mutually beneficial relationship with our ally Israel.

From its beginning, AIPAC has found that aiming to educate both Democrats and Republicans in Congress—and by bringing together every race, religion, and background as activists—results in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. AIPAC is historically a Jewish organization; however, they have welcomed pro-Israel Christian, Black, and Hispanic members who are effective advocates with their members of Congress to vote on Israel’s security aid and related legislation, a two-way street of benefits.

AIPAC has led the way to advocate in a bipartisan manner with Congress on security aid to Israel, where around 75 percent of it is spent here in the U.S. at factories whose employees are manufacturing military hardware as tools for Israel to oppose aggressive terror. The flawed 2015 Iran deal, the U.S. administration’s current effort to revive that misguided deal, and Israel’s security aid remain AIPAC’s most consequential issues to oppose terror by promoting facts and common sense in Congress.

As we lift our voices in the sacred music of the season and the popular Christmas songs penned by talented Jewish songwriters, let us make sure to give thanks and increase our friendships with Jewish Americans.

Join CBN Israel this week in prayer for both the Jewish and Christian communities:

  • Pray for the safety of the Jewish community in Israel as they observe Hanukkah as well as Arab Christians in the Holy Land as they celebrate Christmas.
  • Pray also for the American Jewish community in their Hanukkah celebrations.
  • Pray for vast populations in our world who are suffering and for extra compassion from both Jews and Christians to ease their circumstances.
  • Pray that the reality of Jesus’ birth in Israel will convey God’s unconditional love toward us and with increased awareness of a world that needs His Light in the darkness.

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, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently 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 Facebook.

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Biblical Israel: Bethlehem

By Marc Turnage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Glory to God in the Highest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

By Julie Stahl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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