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Weekly Devotional: What You Value Most

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer us his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your descendants be named’” (Hebrews 11:17-18 RSV).

Think of what you value more than anything else in your life. Maybe a child. Your spouse. Your home. Your dream. What if God told you to sacrifice that which you treasured most? That’s what He did to Abraham.

After giving Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac, in their old age, God told Abraham to offer up Isaac (Genesis 22). And Abraham obeyed.

Can you imagine all of the thoughts and emotions that Abraham experienced? At the end of your life, after you’ve finally received the son of promise, the God whom you’ve followed, trusted, and obeyed tells you to sacrifice him. Sadness. Confusion. Anger. It’s likely that Abraham felt all of them, and probably more. But he did what God commanded him to do. He took the thing he valued most, ready to offer it to God.

No wonder he’s identified as the “Father of faith.” How many of us would have been willing to do the same? 

When God told Abraham to “Go” (Genesis 12:1), He led him on a journey that eventually brought Abraham and Isaac to Mount Moriah. Each step of the way God called upon Abraham to go and do without providing the full picture for him.

And, each step of the way, God proved himself faithful to Abraham, even when Abraham made mistakes. God rewarded Abraham’s obedience with His faithfulness. And with each passing step, God called Abraham to trust Him deeper, to exercise greater faithfulness to God’s command.

Can we truly trust God? It can be difficult enough to trust Him in the midst of challenging circumstances, but what about when God calls you to relinquish the thing you value most, even the thing in which your hopes and dreams are wrapped up?

Isaac was not simply Abraham’s beloved son; he was the source of God’s fulfillment of His promises to Abraham. All of His promises. And yet, Abraham still chose to trust and obey God.

How different would our world look if we submitted to God in such sacrificial obedience? Abraham’s obedience provided a means for God to bless the entire world. I wonder if ours could do the same.

PRAYER

Father, obedience can be difficult. Giving up the things we desire most, even our hopes and dreams, seems overwhelming. Strengthen our faith, so that we may obey You, even as Abraham did. Amen.

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Simchat Torah: Celebrating the Torah

By Julie Stahl

“For seven days you must present special gifts to the Lord. The eighth day is another holy day on which you present your special gifts to the Lord. This will be a solemn occasion, and no ordinary work may be done that day” (Leviticus 23:36 NLT).

On the day following the seven days of Sukkot, Simchat Torah is celebrated, which literally means, “rejoicing with the Torah.” The Bible says on that day to have another “holy convocation” on which sacrifices are offered to the Lord and no work is permitted.

“Although it focuses on the Torah (the five books of Moses), Simchat Torah is, ironically, not a holiday found in Scripture itself,” says Rabbi Levi Welton. Instead, it’s blended with Shemini Atzeret (“the eighth day of assembly”).  

Every year, synagogues read through the entire Torah in designated weekly portions. The yearly reading cycle ends with Deuteronomy and begins again in Genesis on the day of Simchat Torah. 

“We read the Torah in a continuous cycle, because the circle is both a symbol of eternity and equality. Just as God is eternal, the Torah is also eternal. Just as God created all humanity in His image, we too must treat all humanity accordingly,” Rabbi Welton says.

“There’s an ancient Jewish custom to dance for hours around the bima (“lectern”) on Simchat Torah in a circle symbolizing the eternity of the Torah and its Author,” he adds. It’s also common in Israel for many to dance in the streets.

In Israel, both Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are celebrated on the same day, while outside of Israel in the Diaspora, they are celebrated as two days—first Shemini Atzeret, followed by Simchat Torah.

For Christians, this celebration is a wonderful opportunity to recommit ourselves to God and His eternal Word. It’s also an important reminder to devote ourselves to the study of Scripture and applying its message to our daily lives. 

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

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Torah Reading Commentary: Keeping Our Eyes Undimmed

By Mark Gerson

Perhaps the most puzzling idea in moral thought is that it is okay to do something because it is natural. This idea is, and always has been, so important and prevalent that the great 20th-century Rabbi, Norman Lamm, declared in a 1974 sermon, “The whole point of [the Jewish view] of both life and death is that the natural should not have the last word.”

God, in Deuteronomy, seems to have thought so. In Deuteronomy 34:5, we learn the general vicinity of where Moses is buried: “in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor.” Peor! This is the place, we learn in Numbers 25, where the Jews in the desert committed one of their two most spectacular sins. They turned the holiest place in the world, the Tabernacle, into a venue for idol worship, fornication, and (in the Rabbinic imagination) every other physical act such as defecation. Why was Moses buried opposite this place? Because, as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin writes, Peor emphasized “pure nature.” Moses is buried “opposite” it to remind us of what he and God singularly opposed.  

Every person shares the same concluding physical act: dying. But Moses, we see in Deuteronomy 34, does not merely expire. He dies at the commandment of God, showing us that we can even (or perhaps especially) die in a manner worthy or unworthy of God. It is certainly worthwhile to consider what it might mean to die in a godly way. Jacob and Moses showed us one way, as they called in those close to them to give each a final blessing that was oriented to their specific and unique qualities.  

And the author of Deuteronomy, in the description of Moses on his day of death, teaches us another way. Moses died at 120 years old when “his eyes had not dimmed, and his vigor was not diminished.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that these clauses are existentially connected. Moses’s vigor was not diminished because his eyes were undimmed. In this, Moses is teaching us not only how to die but also how to age.  

The Torah asks us to consider: When are our eyes undimmed? Well, when they are wide open—when they are taking in new things, when they are observing new things, when they are relaying new information to our brains. We naturally associate such things with youth. And that, as Moses demonstrated, is the point. He acted against nature, and the result was vigor until he was gathered to his people at 120 years of age. 

One guest on my podcast, The Rabbi’s Husband, was my friend Joe Lonsdale, a great technology entrepreneur and investor in his thirties. Joe discussed meeting the late Israeli President Shimon Peres. The elderly statesman, who had probably just left the presidency at that point at age 90, discussed with Joe his future plans in technology entrepreneurship! 

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ruth Westheimer came to our home for Shabbat dinner every Friday night when she was home. That was only around half of the time, as Dr. Ruth spends roughly half of the year traveling to speak and lecture, to promote her new books and films, to go to conferences and to universities. About a year ago, another close friend of ours was over for Shabbat dinner. Dr. Ruth asked him what he did. He said he’d just retired. She gazed at him with passionate concern. “You must not retire! Instead—rewire!” Dr. Ruth turned 92 in June. 

I am the Chairman of United Hatzalah, the Israeli network of crowd-sourced first responders who are able to arrive at any trauma (from COVID-19 complications to heart attacks, from choking to sudden births) within two minutes. We had a virtual fundraising event last month that was hosted by a couple from Los Angeles, Shari and David Wiener. David was wearing a hat that identified him as a survivor of Auschwitz, where he was enslaved for many years before coming to the United States and launching a remarkable career in real estate. 

We subsequently asked David if he would host another event—this one for the children and grandchildren of United Hatzalah volunteers and supporters, providing these young people with what might be their last opportunity to learn about the Holocaust from a survivor. He immediately said that he would do so anytime—and would send each of the young adults involved a copy of the book he’d written about his experiences to read before the event. It is scheduled for November.  

I was speaking the other day with my friend Michael Oren, who just published a beautiful book of short stories, “The Night Archer.” Michael told me that his mother, Marilyn Bornstein, is coming out with her first book. Marilyn is 92.

How should we spend our ninth decade? Apparently by writing a first book, starting a new business, traveling to a new place, educating a new audience. By going against nature and keeping one’s eyes undimmed, one’s vigor remains undiminished.

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

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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United Nations at 75 is Usually United Against Israel 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Like a giant international shredding machine, the United Nations still betrays its lofty goals enshrined in its 1945 charter. Maintaining world peace, friendliness among nations, respect for human rights, mutual problem solving, and promoting harmony have been tattered over time. The U.N. marked its 75th anniversary last week at its annual 193-nation General Assembly meeting digitally rather than at the New York headquarters due to COVID-19. The U.N.’s anemic response to Iran, its coddling of Palestinian leadership, and its censure of Israel overshadow its original purposes. 

Just consider. United Nations Watch, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, has a mandate “to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.” In 2018, the organization reported an astonishing 21 condemnations of Israel, while there was only one each for Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and zero for China—nations hardly known as human rights sympathizers. Last year the numbers were similar: 18 resolutions against Israel, with only seven other nations cited. Not all the statistics are in yet for the 2020-2021 General Assembly, but they are likely to resemble previous years as indicated by China and Cuba now running for seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In addition, most member nations refuse to support robust opposition against Iran’s Persian leaders. The Imams remain devoted to achieving nuclear capability despite the diminished well-being of their people. Supplying weapons to their terror surrogates—Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and elite Iranian troops in Syria—they have made clear threats against Israel, the Arab Gulf nations, and the United States.   

However, there were some hopeful moments in the U.N. meeting last week. Under President Trump’s leadership, the Abraham Accord signed by Israel, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates last month means the atmosphere has improved somewhat. Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the UAE Foreign Minister, said in his speech that “the signing of a historic peace accord with Israel … opened broad prospects to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region.” 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft—a longtime Christian supporter of Israel—declared: We call upon state sponsors of terror, most notably the Islamic Republic of Iran, to finally and completely cease funding and arming terrorists around the world.” 

Prime Minister Netanyahu proclaimed, “Israel and states across the Arab world not only stand together in advancing peace. We stand together in confronting the greatest enemy of peace in the Middle East—Iran.” Netanyahu praised President Trump for withdrawing from the defective Iran deal of 2015 and for restoring U.S. sanctions on Iran. Recently, when the U.N. Security Council refused to extend the arms embargo on Iran that was due to expire on October 18, President Trump called for the deal’s “snapback” option to prevent weapons sales to Iran. Netanyahu urged the Security Council to stand with the U.S.    

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh countered, “The prime minister of the fake, usurping and child-murdering Zionist regime continues to tell lies by taking the podium at international circles, and is trying to deceive public opinion and the global circles with ridiculous shows in order to prevent trial of the regime’s criminal leaders at international courts.”

Palestinian obstinacy continues, voiced by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. “There will be no peace, no security, no stability and no coexistence in our region while this occupation continues and a just, comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the conflict, remains denied.” 

While Israel is demonized by many U.N. voices, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority escape censure. Over the last 40 years, beginning with Yasser Arafat, Palestinians have cleverly used propaganda to draw U.N. members almost entirely to their side. Their propaganda strategy would not have been needed had their Arab predecessors agreed to United Nations Resolution 181. 

On November 29, 1947, Resolution 181 divided Israel (then called Palestine) into two states, “one Arab and one Jewish, with an economic union between them.” Calling it the “Partition Plan,” the U.N. developed specific steps leading to independence for both Jews and Arabs, including drafting a democratic constitution, renouncing violence, assuring equality for all and freedom of religion.

In this way, the secular U.N. did attempt a peace plan early on. The Jews agreed to the terms; the Arabs did not. War and terror followed in succession. The Palestinian Arabs have now defied United Nations Resolution 181 for 73 long and brutal years.

Had their Arab interlocutors agreed to U.N. Resolution 181 in 1947, and then to Israel’s modern statehood in 1948, the Palestinians would live in freedom rather than under the oppressive decisions of their own leaders. Palestinian children would not read hate-filled anti-Semitic textbooks. Arab Christians would not face persecution. Arab journalists would not fear imprisonment. Economic success could be theirs. And Israel would not have faced decades of nonstop war and terror.

Despite the U.N. debates, the final passage of the Partition Plan is pretty well known on November 29, 1947. Yet 7,000 miles away in Israel a lesser known event of extraordinary significance was unfolding. This date is one that signified a convergence of miracles where God revealed His divine stamp of approval. 

A Hebrew University Professor Eliazer Sukenik sat in his Jerusalem study intently bent over fragile scroll fragments. A Bedouin shepherd boy had discovered scrolls in jars hidden in caves in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. The scrolls had come on the open market for sale. Professor Sukenik was the first expert to determine their authenticity. He later wrote in his journal, “I read a few sentences. It was written in beautiful biblical Hebrew. The language was like that of the Psalms, but the text was unknown to me. I looked and looked, and I suddenly had the feeling that I was privileged by destiny to gaze upon a Hebrew Scroll which had not been read for more than two thousand years.” 

His hands were already shaking when his son ran into his study shouting the news on the radio. “The vote on the Jewish State passed!” Professor Sukenik later said, “This amazing discovery shows us that the Biblical texts were passed down with extraordinary accuracy. The scrolls were a thousand years older than any text we had … yet the book of Isaiah you have in your Bible is the same as the one found in that ancient jar in Qumran, with only a few letters changed.”

Author Shelley Neese in her book, The Copper Scroll Project, framed the Dead Sea Scrolls within the awe-inspiring convergence of Resolution 181 with the Isaiah Scrolls. “The Dead Sea Scrolls made for a symbolic birthday gift for the state still struggling to survive out of utero. The texts are celebrated icons of Israel’s heritage. … These ancient scrolls symbolize the people of Israel and their great contribution to the world: the Oracles of God.” 

On November 29, 1947, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His beloved Son Jesus united the Jews with their most ancient Scriptures on the very night that the U.N. voted on its plan. Just a half-year later, on May 14, 1948, the ancestral homeland became a Jewish country. Isaiah 66:8 came alive under God’s plans to restore Israel into a modern state: “Can a country be born in a day, or a nation be brought forth in a moment?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Join CBN Israel with prayers for the birthplace of our faith, Israel:

  • Pray for change within the United Nations and that Israel will be perceived in the light of the facts rather than slander. 
  • Pray that God will give U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft special wisdom and strength as she carries out President Trump’s policies. 
  • Pray that President Trump develops more ideas and strategies that will help to reshape the Middle East in a positive way. 
  • Pray with thanks that many Iranians are coming to faith in Jesus. Pray also for their protection from their apocalyptic Imams. 

In his speech last week, President Trump challenged: “If the United Nations is to be an effective organization, it must focus on the real problems of the world. This includes terrorism, the oppression of women, forced labor, drug trafficking, human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.” 

God has always planned for the genuine “united nations.” Psalm 86:9 (NKJV) promises: “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Counseling for Terror Victims in Sderot

Loud sirens blaring… frantic scrambling for shelter… a frightening torrent of rocket attacks… For many, this is life in Sderot—a city in southern Israel near the Gaza border.

For residents caught in the crossfire, the challenges are great. Children grow up facing emergency drills and running to bomb shelters. These little ones suffer from anxiety and PTSD, and have trouble sleeping. Nearly half the population has moved out over the years.

Sadly, some can’t afford to leave. Yet the toll of long-term stress and trauma is real—and often debilitating. But friends like you are bringing God’s love and comfort to Sderot’s terror victims.

CBN Israel partners with a professional counselor in Sderot. Rina is an expert at treating those with serious chronic stress disorders, depression, and panic attacks. Broken hearted by the plight of her city, she opened an office at her church. We are providing free counseling there to any who are hurting—as well as offering home visits for those who can’t travel. And we are also there with relief aid, including blankets, diapers, baby food, fans, walkers, and radiators.

One woman shared about Rina, “I have never met anyone with such a kind heart, together with a professional approach to the situation. My life has changed…”

And you can change lives in cities across Israel. You can bring help and hope to lonely Holocaust survivors, immigrants, and more. Your support is crucial as the needs escalate in the Holy Land, especially in the aftermath of the global pandemic. Your gifts can deliver food, housing, job training, and financial assistance to those in crisis. Please join us in reaching others!

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Weekly Devotional: A More Excellent Way

Paul’s community of believers in Corinth was a mess. They had all kinds of issues. A man had taken his stepmother from his father. There was the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. They abused the Lord’s Supper by the wealthy eating and getting drunk while the poor went away hungry.

Their communal times of worship were chaos. At the center of all of their problems were quarreling and divisions, which happened because these individuals put themselves and their rights above those of their neighbors.

We love to read 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter—at weddings. You may even assume, if you haven’t read Paul’s entire letter in a while, that he wrote it for young married couples. But he didn’t. He actually positions this chapter between his discussion about corporate worship, the gifts of the Spirit within the body of Christ, and words of prophecy and tongues. Why?

In chapter 13, Paul offers a blueprint for how Christian communities should handle division, discord, and ego—the more excellent way: love. He begins by outlining a number of spiritual acts and practices. He concludes that even if he does all of these things, yet lacks love, they are worthless.

He then defines love: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 RSV).

The solution to the problems within the community in Corinth: love. Love as Paul defined it.

Reread Paul’s description of love for a moment. How would the practice of such love within our communities impact them and the wider world?

Paul viewed the divisions within the believing community as reflecting negatively upon the body of Christ. Such divisions undermined their testimony and witness. The solution to their my-way, me-first, my-rights, my-gifts attitude was to act in love, for it will outlast prophecy and tongues.

Too often, our modern faith reflects an egocentrism that opposes the attitudes of Paul and Jesus. The evidence of our spiritual maturity is not our exercising of spiritual gifts, but rather how we love others.

Read Paul’s definition of love again. How would our world look if we lived like that? What would our proclamation of the living God be if we treated one another with love?

PRAYER

Father, may we love others as You have loved us. May the world around us see Your truth through the love we show them. Amen.

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Sukkot: Feast of Tabernacles

By Julie Stahl

“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work” (Leviticus 23:34-36 NIV).

Some call it a Jewish camping trip with the conveniences of home. Actually, it’s an ancient biblical command that’s still being kept today and it begins just four days after Yom Kippur. For thousands of years, Jewish people around the world have followed the biblical injunction to live in temporary dwellings during the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot

“It helps us remember,” says Israeli Seth Ben-Haim. “First of all, we’re commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt and how we needed to wander through the desert for forty years without permanent dwellings, but it also reminds us that even though we’ve been brought into the land of Israel, we haven’t reached our final destination,” he says.

Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, when Jewish people were commanded to go up to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to worship.

For seven days, families eat, sleep, study and pray in the sukkah, or “booth.” Rabbis say the sukkah must have at least three sides and the roof must be made in such a way that the stars are visible through it at night and it’s open to the elements. Most people use either palm fronds or a straw mat for the roof. And many are decorated at least in part by the children.

“Otherwise, we’d be in the protection of our homes and the purpose of living temporarily in this flimsy tabernacle is so that we can remember that ultimately, we’re under HaShem’s (“God’s”) protection,” says Ben-Haim.

Another part of the Sukkot celebration is recorded in Leviticus 23, where the Bible commands us to take four plant species—a citron  (Etrog), a palm branch, a bough of leafy trees (myrtle), and a willow branch—and “celebrate with joy before the Lord your God for seven days (NLT).”

Great care is taken to choose an Etrog without a blemish but with many bumps. During morning prayers, Jewish men wave the Lulav (the three branches) and Etrog before the Lord.

“We wave them in many different directions, and we really look above and that’s what this type of roof helps us to remember. We’re looking above because that’s where our help is going to come from,” says Ben-Haim.

The New Testament records that Jesus went up to Jerusalem at the Feast: But soon it was time for the Jewish [Feast of Tabernacles], and Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles!’ … Then, midway through the festival, Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach” (John 7:2-3, 14 nlt).

For Christians (actually the whole world), the Feast of Tabernacles has prophetic significance. In the book of Zechariah, the prophet says that one day all nations will come up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast.

Since 1980, thousands of Christians from around the world come up to Jerusalem every year to see prophecy fulfilled and to celebrate at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s Feast of Tabernacles event. Other Christian ministries also hold Feast celebrations now.

“They’re following the invitation of Zechariah 14, where it says that one day all the nations will come up to celebrate this biblical feast here in Jerusalem, to worship the Lord and keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Our showing up here now for this feast is a statement of faith that there’s coming a day when the Messiah will rule here,” says David Parsons, ICEJ spokesman.

Zechariah 14:16-18 says, “In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to celebrate the [Feast of Tabernacles]. Any nation in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will have no rain. If the people of Egypt refuse to attend the festival, the Lord will punish them with the same plague that he sends on the other nations who refuse to go.”

HOLIDAY GREETINGS: Hag Sameach (“Happy Holiday!”) and during the intermediate days, Moadim L’Simcha (“a joyful holiday!”).

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

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Torah Reading Commentary: What is Worthy? A Challenge from Jonah

By Mark Gerson

One of the abiding principles of Jewish biblical interpretation is that there are “70 faces to the Torah.” This means that there are multiple ways to legitimately interpret and properly learn from any biblical passage (70 is used because seven is the Jewish number of completion). Indeed, there are 70 faces to this statement! The word “face” in Hebrew is plural. There is no way to say “face” in the singular because there is no notion of a person having only one “face.” If something doesn’t exist, there is no need for a word to describe it. We can appreciate the truth of this insight by how we present ourselves differently on LinkedIn and on Facebook, in worship and at a football game, in a job interview and at dinner with friends.   

Like everything else in the Bible, there are 70 faces to Jonah 4:10-11. God, commenting on Jonah’s reluctance to prophesize to the evil Ninevites while being happy to receive the mercy of a plant that grew instantly, tells him, “You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should I not care about Nineveh, that great city…”

One “face” of this statement is of God showing Jonah—who was first identified as “Jonah the son of Amittai” (son of “truth”)—how even Jonah appreciates the existence of mercy. There is nothing “truthful” about a plant that appears at full size and strength overnight. Its ascendance is due entirely to God’s grace and mercy and Jonah, in spite of being the “son of truth,” loves it. He learns that even he, a man defined entirely by truth, appreciates and needs mercy. 

Another “face” of this statement is revealed through Jonah’s reaction to God’s “appointment” of a worm that destroys the plant. The plant did not exist the day before—and yet its absence grieves him “so deeply that I want to die.”

Does Jonah realize the absurdity of caring so deeply for something that is here today and gone tomorrow due to no work of his own? We are not told, because the story is not primarily about Jonah. It is, as both a book in the Bible and a work of truly great literature, about each of us.  

Every parent (and perhaps every child of a parent!) can understand exactly what God might have been thinking. All of us parents have marveled at how the most minor annoyances (or even perceived annoyances) can deeply upset a 4- or 5-year-old child. It is cute to us because we know that the problem is not real, that the moment will pass (the speed with which 4-year-olds can go from inconsolability to joy always astonishes), and that the child will soon become more mature.  

Unless, as Jonah demonstrates, they don’t—or really, we don’t. Perhaps the only difference is that when we were children, our parents marveled at what made us upset—but now that we are adults, God marvels at what makes us upset. A question for this Yom Kippur season of reflection and repentance: Who among us has not had Jonah 4:10 moments (or more) where we are driven to inconsolability by some equivalent of the gourd that didn’t even exist in our lives yesterday? Such sorrow may not drive us, as it does Jonah, to a death wish. But it will drive us to distraction from more worthy things that would otherwise command our inevitably limited attention.   

The self-reflection that this face of Jonah 4:10 offers may just be the most important we can have. More than Jonah, we each have many beliefs, claims on our time, relationships to develop, opportunities to pursue, texts to study and places to see. Such are the gifts of living in a prosperous, free, dynamic and creative society. But the hours in our days and the years in our lives are inelastic. This means we will die with much of what we ask unanswered and much of what we want to do unfulfilled. Which will those be? The answer stems from our response to another question: What, from my many faces, should I focus on? 

How can we avoid this problem of Jonah 4:10 and focus on the things that deserve our most precious and limited resources—those of attention, concern and time? A characteristic of the internet—one of, perhaps, its 70 faces—is how accessible it makes insightful commentary on the Book of Jonah. One such sermon was given seven years ago by Pastor Chris Weeks of the Kent City Baptist Church in Michigan. Pastor Weeks, in discussing Jonah 4:10, provides what might be the corrective. He cites a prayer written by Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. 

From my chairmanship of African Mission Healthcare, I know Samaritan’s Purse to be an organization that saves lives and alleviates suffering throughout the entire world in the name of Jesus Christ with astonishing effectiveness. So, I was looking forward to seeing what the founder of this remarkable and sacred institution prayed in a Jonah context. 

This great humanitarian entrepreneur said, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”

Indeed, the spirit of Bob Pierce’s prayer would have saved Jonah from the absurdity of equating his life with that of a newly formed plant. It will similarly orient us, particularly at this time on the Jewish calendar, to the things that are worthy of our most precious resources: attention, concern and time.  

Jonah isolated the problem, Bob Pierce provided the answer—and now that the Jewish New Year has begun, we have the God-given chance to live accordingly. 

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

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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National Mall Comes Alive with Songs, Shofars, and Speakers

By Arlene Bridges Samuels     

September 26, 2020, in Washington, D.C., is a day that will join history-making prayers from the last few centuries, when tiny groups of Christians and big prayer movements changed nations and advanced missions worldwide. Events like the 1738 New Year’s Eve prayer meeting convened by Charles and John Wesley, which is credited with saving England. The Welsh Revival, Salvation Army, and Azusa Street prayer meetings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that also impacted nations for the better. And now, just last Saturday, Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands brought their hopes and prayers from 50 states to participate in The Return on the National Mall and the Washington Prayer March from the Lincoln Memorial to the United States Capitol.  

Themes of repentance and revival filled the capital city’s air with humble supplications from believers across denominational lines, cultures, ages, nations, and ethnicities. The unity of hearts joined in one overwhelming purpose was evident among the masses and in the small groups—in prayer circles and on podiums, steps, walks, and stages—asking God for His forgiveness and mercy to replant the sacred roots of faith that had been sowed by our founding fathers and mothers. 

These two simultaneous events grew into one of the largest outdoor prayer meetings the United States has ever known. Best-selling author Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Kevin Jessip, CEO of Global Strategic Alliances, organized The Return: National and Global Day of Prayer and Repentance. They invited Christians across the world to attend in person or online. Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, began the Washington Prayer March, saying in one of his prayers, “Father, our country is in trouble, and we need Your help.”

The Return’s numbers—based on five years of planning—is a sign of divine intervention. In my interview with Kevin Jessip, he commented, “The Lord provided the plan and met every need for us to implement it.” He also talked about the astonishing simulcast numbers. “The Google Analytics map worldwide indicates that 154 countries tuned in.” Kevin added, “Our livestream reached its capacity several times but maintained its global signal. We had only a one-eighth-of-a-second delay in the 90-language translations.” He noted, “The simulcast numbers will be verified soon but right now, for example, we are getting reports that 600,000 groups in Latin America, 93,000 pastors and their churches in Pakistan and India, and 250 million in Africa watched and prayed.” Kevin mused, “If hundreds of millions watched, it may be the biggest broadcast of its kind in world history.” 

In direct contrast to other groups in recent months, peace prevailed everywhere on the Mall and along the Prayer March’s 1.8-mile route. No violence, no verbal threats. While The Return team worked closely with the National Park Service and security officials, Kevin mentioned, “The National Mall grounds were anointed prior to the event in prayer walks and the practical layers of security personnel were excellent. God’s Holy Spirit hovered over the gathering with His peace, His shalom.”  

As the day progressed, participants from multiple faith communities and ethnicities mounted the stage lifting prayers by the dozens; for our government, our citizens, those who are suffering, persecuted Christians worldwide, our police, and our military, among many. The prayers of repentance included Christians’ clear confessions and recognition of apathy and inaction from pastors, churches, individuals, and organizations. The issues ranged from abortion, immorality, racism, addiction, suicide, human trafficking, et al., to the resulting threats to our American society and way of life. 

There was no lack of passion, especially from Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, the keynote speaker. The weekend slate of programming was punctuated with moments of wonder, especially in his remarks. The thousands of participants sensed the sweep of the Holy Spirit. The author of The Harbinger I and The Harbinger II again connected Bible verses with real-time events, creating a string of scriptural pearls matched with the U.S. and Israel’s factual histories. When the September 26 date was set months ago, Cahn reported, he had not known that the September 26 Shabbat was called the Shabbat Shuvah, “Shabbat of Return,” falling between the Jewish New Year and their Day of Atonement. The Jewish community reads several Scripture passages on Shabbat Shuvah from Hosea 14:2-10, “Return O Israel unto the Lord your God” along with verses from Joel and Micah. 

American and Israeli flags waved throughout the crowd and dozens of attention-getting, anointed shofars sounded at significant moments. Affirmations for Israel were much in evidence in prayers and talks. Jessip commented that Israelis were “calling him saying they were watching the simulcast.” Popular Messianic Jewish artists, Paul Wilbur and Marty Goetz, sang their much-beloved songs. It is no surprise that Israel was also included on this day, since Christians embrace and honor Israel as the birthplace of the Christian faith through Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Through His redemptive sacrifice He opened the door for both Gentiles and Jews—welcoming us under His tallit, His prayer shawl, to enter the Holy of Holies together.  

President Trump and the First Lady sent a message concerning the momentous occasion, which was delivered directly to the event’s stage. Rabbi Cahn read aloud its words, including: “As we continue to combat the challenges ahead of us, we must remember the sage words of President George Washington during his first Presidential Address: ‘Propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.’ As a country and a people, let us renew our commitment to these abiding and timeless principles. Today, I am pleased to join my voice to yours in thanking God for blessing this nation with great power and responsibility. With reverence, humility, and thanksgiving, we beg for His continued guidance and protection.”

Everyone who spoke, led worship, and prayed—in person or via video—added to the beauty of the day or articulated actions needed for the future. Gordon Robertson, President and CEO of The Christian Broadcast Network, challenged the churches, affirming: “In Heaven, there’s no racial divide.” He urged pastors and churches to take purposeful steps to “integrate so that Sunday mornings will not be the most segregated time in America.” 

The Return last weekend will be remembered not only for its spiritual depth but for being a catalyst. Requests are rushing in—from 17 nations already—asking for The Return to take place in their countries.  

On the two-hour Washington Prayer March, around 50,000 walked a route that involved seven prayer stops, including the World War II Memorial and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. At the Lincoln Memorial, Vice President and Mrs. Pence surprised Franklin Graham and the crowd with their visit. Mr. Pence remarked, “Since the founding of our nation, the American people and our leaders have gone to prayer in challenging times.” Former Governor Mike Huckabee and Sissy Graham Lynch, granddaughter of Billy Graham, hosted the Prayer March simulcast. In their simulcast, almost 4 million people watched from 57 countries. More than 50,000 comments poured in from far-flung nations like Malaysia, Great Britain, and South Africa. The simulcast also featured country music star John Rich, who sang a song he’d written called “Earth to God.” Its poignant lyrics embody a universal expression of prayer: 

Earth to God, come in, God. I know you’re there, hearing our prayers wherever You are. We need you now, to send your love down. Take away the pain in your holy name, We ask this now. We need your light, we need your love, to heal the world You made. And save us now in our darkest hour with your amazing grace. Earth to God, we’re holding on but not for long. Can you pull us all close to the Holy Ghost and keep us strong.

Join us at CBN Israel in joyous praise and fervent prayer this week:

  • Praise God for His divine protection of hundreds of thousands of participants who traveled at their own expense to Washington, D.C., from all 50 states!
  • Pray for God’s mercy for our nation as we continue to call out to Him to bring healing to our nation and to our world. 
  • Pray for God’s guidance to show us individually and as churches to abandon apathy and replace it with actions to turn in God’s direction and stand with others to do the same.
  • Pray for Israel, the birthplace of our Christian faith, specifically during the lockdown, that widespread health will return and that the nation can reopen and thrive.    

May our “Earth to God” prayers sustain us as we pray that our repentance and revival will move forward to strengthen the worldwide Christian community to shed the light of Christ in the challenging days ahead.  

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Weekly Devotional: The Day of Atonement

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV).

The Bible describes three types of sins: 1) intentional sins that I commit against God, 2) unintentional sins that I commit against God, and 3) sins that I commit against my neighbor. For sins I intentionally commit against God, the only course of forgiveness is repentance: “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 HCSB). 

Jesus’ injunction to His followers (Matthew 5:23-24) comes from this biblical realization regarding the different ways in which we must deal with the broken relationships in our lives. For Jesus’ first-century Galilean listeners, the only place they could make an offering was in the Jerusalem Temple—a journey that took at least four days from the Galilee. 

It’s striking to hear Jesus’ words as His initial audience did: If you are at the altar in Jerusalem and remember that someone has something against you, leave your offering, go back at least four days’ journey, and be reconciled. Then return to Jerusalem and present your offering to God. Reconciliation with one’s neighbor provided the foundation for that offering to be accepted. 

Jesus’ commandment to His followers, even the spirit of it, grew from the world of ancient Judaism. This commandment is still practiced today within the Jewish community in the days surrounding Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most holy day within Judaism. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur—a day when people fast, repent, and call upon God to forgive the sins they committed against Him—Jewish people first seek to be reconciled with their neighbors. 

They ask forgiveness and seek to make restitution. Why? Because of the belief that we cannot ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur if we have unrepaired relationships with our neighbors. Those must be repaired first, even if we must make restitution. 

This same spirit stands behind the teachings of Jesus. My relationships with others provide the foundation for my relationship with God. Zacchaeus told Jesus, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today” (Luke 19:8-9 NLT). 

When we think about the Day of Atonement, we often focus upon our relationship with God and His forgiveness of our sins. The Bible teaches that our reconciling ourselves with our neighbor is an indicator of our relationship with God: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love God he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 HCSB).

PRAYER

Father, forgive us as we have forgiven. Amen. 

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