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: Pursued by God

We are often told to “pursue God” and “draw near to God.” The Bible encourages it: “Your face, LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8 NKJV). The Bible makes clear that God can be found by those who pursue Him. So, at times, the action falls upon us to pursue God. 

The Bible also makes clear, however, that God pursues us: “You hunt me like a lion” (Job 10:16 HCSB). The God of the Bible does not sit idle waiting for us to approach Him; He is not passive. Rather, He pursues us.

The writer of Psalm 23 expresses God’s active pursuit of His people with the phrase, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (verse 6). Many translations read, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me,” and while this is an accurate literal translation, it fails to capture the essence of the language.

First, the term “mercy” carries a deeper sense than a passing feeling. In Hebrew the word refers to God’s covenantal mercy, something that is sure and certain. It is not dependent upon a capricious emotion but is bound to God’s covenant with His people.

Also, the psalmist is not saying that the goodness and mercy of God follow after me as something I leave in my wake, nor does he mean that God’s goodness and mercy follow me, chasing me but never able to catch me.

The term used by the psalmist, usually translated as “follow,” is the Hebrew word radaf, a military term meaning to “pursue with the intent of overtaking.” In other words, God’s goodness and mercy pursue me aggressively, as an army does its fleeing foe, seeking to surround me and overtake me. 

Quite often, the cares of life can be overwhelming. When we approach God, He can feel distant and far off. The God of the Bible, however, is One whose covenant mercy pursues us daily. He pursues us. And that is a comforting feeling. He not only asks us to seek Him, but He seeks after us.

Today, will we allow ourselves to be found by Him?


Father, open my eyes to all of the ways You are pursuing me. May Your goodness and covenant mercy surround me and overtake me. May I also be aware that You actively pursue all people, as You do me. Amen.

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In 2022, Israelis Are Staring At Some Good News and Some Bad News 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Most of us have used the idiomatic expression, “What do you want to hear first—the good news or the bad news?” One psychological study showed that most respondents preferred the bad news first, thinking that ending with the good news produced a better mental outlook in the long run. 

Israel has already celebrated one new year, Rosh Hashanah, on their Hebrew lunar calendar. They entered year 5782 on the evening of September 6. Now at the threshold of the Gregorian (Western) calendar, they face a number of significant challenges while also having much to celebrate. 

In keeping with the psychological study, let’s first look at just two of countless “bad news” topics Israel faces in the waning days of 2021. As the world’s only Jewish state, Israel is uniquely vulnerable with regard to security. And Iran, the world’s most prolific sponsor of terror—situated a mere 1200 miles away—occupies huge slices of ongoing strategic planning among Israeli civilian and military leaders. Among the bad news topics: the Biden administration’s goal to keep pushing the talks in Vienna to restart the doomed 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

The U.S., Israel, and our Middle East allies are dealing with a new, more radical Iranian president: Ebrahim Raisi. Due to his murderous crackdowns on civilians in the capital, he was nicknamed the “butcher of Tehran.” To that distinction, add in Iran’s recent surface-to-surface and intercontinental ballistic missiles testing—16 of them. With a range of between 220 and 1250 miles, these deadly weapons can hit the nation of Israel and U.S. bases in the region. Nuclear-tipped missiles are not out of the question, if and when Iran reaches its desired goal of nuclear weaponry. A war game drill called the “Great Prophet 17” showed off swarms of Iran’s drones dropping bombs with pinpoint accuracy. 

The pandemic poses threats of another kind. For almost two years, COVID-19 and its mutations have played havoc with Israel’s population of 9 million, 75% of which is Jewish. According to the Worldometer, as of this writing the geographically small, compact nation has seen a total of 1,364,966 cases and 8,242 people have died. 

David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, astutely observes in a December 23 op-ed, “Over five million worldwide deaths later, COVID continues to make fools of almost all of us—experts, health chiefs, political leaders, commentators… editors.” 

Indeed, COVID has directly disabled Israel’s tourist industry. For the month-long period between November 28 and December 29, 2021, no tourists were allowed to enter the country—including tourists from the United States. Contrast that with the 5 million visitors who filled restaurants and hotels in 2019. While the tourism industry is only 2.5 percent of Israel’s economy, it is the lifeblood of small businesses, hotels, tour guides, buses, and restaurants for the Jewish, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian Arab communities.

COVID controversy has somewhat infected relationships between Christians and Jews, as well. For example, Israel has granted entrance to the popular “Birthright” program (that provides free trips to Jewish youths from other nations) while banning Christian groups—groups that migrate annually to Bethlehem and other venerated Christian locations to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Some Israeli Christian leaders have used the word “discrimination” against Israel—a nation known for its welcoming religious freedom. These decisions are enacted even with an estimated 63 percent of Israelis having been vaccinated. Hopefully, these decisions will eventually be “water under the bridge.” Another idiom—to leave the past behind. 

With security and health realities at the top of the “bad” list, the “good” list is reflected among countless treasured Bible verses. The psalmist declares, “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). God’s faithfulness is good news! The fact is that Israel has survived for thousands of years and since 1948, as the modern Jewish nation is the focus of the world’s attention almost daily. 

Israel is astounding as the only nation in the world that speaks its revived ancient language—Hebrew—and the statistics about Jerusalem are miraculous. Attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice, it is now a thriving city of 901,302 people and one of the oldest capitals in the world. 

Although tourism is languishing, with negative effects on a significant swath of citizens, Israel’s overall economy is impressive. A Dun & Bradstreet report shows that Israel outpaced the world average of 5.9% economic growth, with such growth reported at 7 percent. Not surprisingly, Israel’s high-tech industry is the mover and shaker in that regard. 

From 2020 until well into 2021, the Abraham Accords can be expressed in another idiom—they are a “breath of fresh air,” good news in the Middle East. The winds blowing between Israel and the UAE are refreshing now with an exchange of official ambassadors. Cooperative efforts in business, technology, travel, and health are unfolding also in Bahrain and Morocco.

Also as part of the Abraham Accords, another nation has resumed its diplomatic relations with Israel. Marking the first anniversary of their alliance, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI announced that his nation will renovate hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish heritage sites and revert to the original names of some of the country’s Jewish neighborhoods. Jews have lived in Morocco since ancient times with a mixed history, yet ties were maintained between Israel and Morocco. In 1963, some 100,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel. The strengthened ties bode well for a better relationship than ever. 

Let us now revisit the good news/bad news idiom. Several Bible passages are reminders of the realities we all experience in varying degrees. Whether we live in Israel, the United States, or any other nation, as believers we can draw reassurance from Jesus in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

It is easy to pine for the “good old days,” yet another idiom. Nevertheless, in Jesus someday the good days will be every day in our eternal homeland. 

Although we may have heard or repeated this Bible verse a thousand times, its depth only increases and overcomes the bad news of this world like never before. The good news is summarized succinctly in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Happy New Year 2022 from CBN Israel to all our friends worldwide! 

Please join with us in prayer this week:

  • Pray that all leaders will use wisdom in their pandemic decisions while navigating individual freedoms—particularly in Israel. 
  • Pray that peace, not fear, will hover over Israel, the Middle East, and our entire world as we head into this new year.
  • Pray for Christians in Iran and other persecuted nations to cling to Jesus for wisdom, courage, strength, and divine empowerment. 
  • Pray that God would grow CBN Israel’s capacity to bless the needy throughout the Holy Land and reach millions worldwide with news and films that tell the true story of Israel. 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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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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Immanuel: God With Us

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 NKJV).

God entered human time, at a specific point in history, in a particular space, within a specific culture, at Christmas. 

When seen within its world, the Advent story has a different look and feel from how we tend to envision it. It certainly is foreign to the modern spirit of Christmas. Yet, when we view it within its historical and cultural context, we find a world that many felt was in chaos.

God’s people yearned for salvation. They earnestly longed for His redemption. God sent His Son into a chaotic and upside-down world. A world where evil reigned in power, and God’s chosen people found themselves enslaved to that power.

Advent communicates a hope realized, but not yet concluded. It calls upon people to submit to God’s will, to obey, to care for those in need. To raise our eyes beyond our own circumstances and look to God’s redemption of His people.

It reminds us that God is faithful to His promises, and so we must wait. We have to be patient. It conveys that God comes to us in the most common and ordinary moments of our lives, even in the birth of a child. It also points to the babe born in Bethlehem as proof that God’s reign is dawning upon the world.

And, as we follow that babe into His adult life, we understand that He calls us to obediently submit to God’s rule and reign in our lives. He invites us to return to God and take part in embodying His message and furthering God’s kingdom.

That is what Christmas means for us. Because of the child born in Bethlehem, we can trust that God is not far away; He is near. He is Immanuel—God with us. We can rediscover that He is both with us and for us; therefore, we can have hope in His redemption.

May you experience God’s presence and nearness like never before on this sacred day as we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Messiah.

Get your free copy of CBN Israel’s Christmas devotional, Immanuel: God With Us.


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Better Together: Christmas Comfort from Israel, American Jews, Christians, and Businesses   

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Mayfield, Kentucky, where tornadoes practically crushed the town of 10,000 into kindling wood earlier this month, is now experiencing the calming currents of help and hope in expressions of Christmas giving. Mayfield is hardly alone, since other towns in four states also suffered along 250 miles of whirling terror. Ninety-two people died, with an estimated 75-78 dead in Kentucky alone. 

“Better together” is an often-used phrase that is quite true. Without regard to their own personal plans, volunteers in the aftermath of devastation have proven superb examples of mutual, widespread humanitarian responses. Untold hundreds of large and small in-person efforts and helpers, along with private fundraising nationwide, are expressions of Judeo-Christian values. Our values, enshrined in the Bible through ancient Jewish scribes under God’s inspiration, are being enacted now in the tornadoes’ aftermath—by caring Israelis and the American Jewish community. Together, they are coming to the aid of Kentuckians alongside businesses, churches, and Christian organizations. Interestingly, Kentucky’s Jewish population is only around 12,500 in a state with a 4.5 million population. 

Israel’s Consul General to the Southeastern United States, Anat Sultan-Dadon, visited western Kentucky last week to convey Israel’s “love and friendship during these difficult days.” After visiting a church and school that have been actively helping victims, Sultan-Dadon commented that the devastation she saw was “heartbreaking,” yet the aid was “heartwarming.” She presented 400 backpacks for Dawson Springs and Earlington schools. The Israeli consulate office in Atlanta represents Israel in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Carolinas.

The consul general’s visit to Kentucky is supplemented by IsraAID, an Israeli non-government organization (NGO). IsraAID’s first crisis response team arrived in Mayfield, and more are on the way. According to Metro Voice News in Kentucky, at this writing Israel is the only country that has sent rescuers and goods to the beleaguered state. Focusing on home repair and removing debris, the IsraAID team is partnering with Team Rubicon, an American international disaster response organization founded by U.S. military veterans. Together, these American and Israeli military-background humanitarians reflect the strong bonds of cooperation between the two nations. Certainly, a historic example of “better together” in contexts both here and in Israel where they train together for the security of both nations and work together to rescue those in need.

Since 2001, IsraAID has responded to humanitarian crises in 55 countries, among them the United States. In June, an emergency delegation of Israel Defense Forces reservists arrived in Surfside, Florida, after the collapse of Champlain Towers South condominium, which killed 98 residents. 

Locally, the Jewish Federation of Louisville has already surpassed its 50,000-dollar goal by raising $100,000 in a relief fund going to the American Red Cross. Project Friendship, a social-service arm of Chabad of Kentucky, has delivered winter clothes and shoes to residents in western Kentucky valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Chabad is the world’s largest international organization of Jewish education and outreach.

The business community is acting too. They are going full speed to help, as described by Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, president and CEO at Greater Louisville, Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce. “In Greater Louisville alone, we have seen companies making significant monetary donations, running supply drives, and even lending a hand on the ground,” she said. “I am confident that the business community will continue supporting our neighbors as rebuilding efforts get underway.” Ms. Davasher-Wisdom grew up in Bowling Green where—she finally learned amidst the chaos—her family members were safe.

On other fronts, Kelly Craft, a lifelong Kentuckian, is a former pro-Israel U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She and her husband, billionaire Joe Craft, implemented matching gifts where they raised more than $3 million dollars in a University of Kentucky Athletic Department telethon. 

Just hours after the tornadoes hit, the influential Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, started a drive to help their citizens. Seventeen deaths and widespread damage had stunned the city overnight. Under the guidance of senior pastor Dr. Steve Ayers, his staff and volunteers found the generous responses so overwhelming that the organizers were forced to pause—so they could recruit even more volunteers to organize the donations and make much-needed deliveries. Last Sunday they hosted a prayer and lantern service that drew residents together.

Bowling Green was also the destination of a Hope Force International (HFI) team that has been cleaning up yards, buzz-sawing downed trees, and securing tarps on rooftops. Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, HFI trains hundreds of volunteers and reservists prepared to serve with compassion and God’s love when disaster hits. They deploy as quickly as possible in the United States and abroad, from Appalachia to Haiti to Nepal. HFI calls their practical and spiritual help “the ministry of presence,” with all teams working sensitively and providing chaplains who offer comfort to those who have suffered traumatic losses.

Reading over this brief list, we can see that we are “Better Together” in groups large and small and as nations working together for the betterment of our citizens. The concept is stated beautifully in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up.” 

Grateful for Israel and all responders, may we be sure to direct our love, praise, and gratitude toward our Heavenly Father this Christmas. In Exodus 20:3 God commands us, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” I appreciate Israel not because they were or are without sin but because God chose them—although imperfect vessels—to transmit His love through the Bible and through His Son. The Incarnation, Immanuel, God with us, is God’s unconditional gift of love to the entire world. We ourselves—like all peoples and nations—are imperfect. We owe the King of Kings, our Redeemer, all that we are and ever hope to be. Merry Christmas!

We invite you to join with CBN Israel in prayer during this week of Christmas: 

  • Pray with rejoicing in the true meaning of Christmas—that the birth of Jesus demonstrates that He is Immanuel, God with us. 
  • Pray that Christians all across the globe would share God’s love and goodwill with those around them this Christmas, especially those in desperate need.
  • Pray for the organizations and individuals—including IsraAID—who are blessing those in Kentucky who have lost family, friends, homes, possessions, and jobs. 
  • Pray for CBN’s Operation Blessing teams on the ground in Kentucky who are distributing food, water, diapers, supplies, and Home Depot Cleanup Kits.

May you and your family enjoy a Merry Christmas, or in Hebrew, Chag Molad Sameach!

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Winter Heater Distribution

Imagine living in an old, frigid apartment with little or no heating—and your fixed income barely makes ends meet. Whenever the weather turns cold in Israel, this is the plight of many impoverished seniors, single mothers, new immigrants, and others trying to survive. 

As the chillier months set in, many in low-income communities resort to dressing in layers or wearing jackets indoors, as well as covering themselves with thick blankets to stay warm. Living in a drafty apartment where you always feel cold is hard on many—whether it’s a mother with young children, a refugee family struggling to put food on the table, or an aging Holocaust survivor who needs that extra warmth. But where can they find help? 

Thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel is able to distribute heaters throughout the Holy Land each winter—using our broad network of local partners to ensure that the neediest are served first. 

We were there for a young pregnant immigrant woman with two children. Her husband earns little, and this family was thrilled to be warm again. We also delivered a heater to an elderly widow and mother, who is the sole provider for her mentally ill daughter. She is constantly worried about high heating bills and had no extra money for a heater. It was a godsend to her. 

And you can also help so many across Israel in other ways—with groceries, housing, financial assistance, and more. As the needs have grown during the pandemic, your gift to CBN Israel can provide aid and encouragement to the hurting, while sharing vital news and stories through CBN News and our documentary films.

Please join us today in reaching out!


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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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