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Weekly Devotional: A King and His Servants

It’s interesting to listen to how people speak about their faith. If you pay attention, you may detect that they speak in a manner of what God has done for them. That’s not wrong. The Bible provides people’s reflections on their encounters with God. 

But if we are not careful, viewing our faith through the lens of ourselves—our own experience—can turn our faith self-centered and egocentric. We who live in Western, democratic societies can be very susceptible to this, where we focus on our liberties and treat God as if He exists for our purpose (even if we wrap it in spiritual expressions).

The biblical mind never lost sight of who God is and what our relationship is to Him. “To you I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” God is King. We are His servants. This is proclaimed throughout the Bible. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2, NKJV). 

Within the ancient world, the king took care of his servants, and the servants lived to do the will of their king. The Bible views the world in this way. How different would our lives be if we viewed our relationship with God more as a servant to a king, just like the psalmist? 

We sometimes yearn for such familiarity with God that we can too easily lose sight of His majesty. In our desire for relationship with Him, we can never assume equality with Him; we can never forget that He is the King, and we serve Him.

As the King of the Universe, He takes care of us. He shows mercy to us. We can cry out to Him for assistance and mercy, but we can never forget the nature of our relationship.

He is a good King; therefore, we can look to Him for mercy. We can look to Him for care and provision. But, as servants, we must always stand ready to do His will, for His will matters more than our own.

PRAYER

Father, You are our King, and we are Your servants. We look for Your mercy, and we live to do Your will. Amen. 

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Holocaust Remembrance Tour Captivates American Audiences and Hearts

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Eighty-three years ago, the steel-plated treads of 2,500 Nazi tanks clattered ominously over Poland’s border along with a million-and-a-half German soldiers bent on destruction. That same day, 2,000 warplanes flew overhead to help subdue the population. Six years later, with the liberation of Buchenwald in 1945, Europe, the Jewish community, and the world reeled as they grasped the magnitude of Hitler’s legacy: the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women, and children.

Six million is a familiar number when describing the Holocaust. 

However, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics report, which came out in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day, provides a different way to understand the magnitude and horror of that grim period of history. When Nazis launched their first assault into Poland, the worldwide Jewish population was 16.6 million. Today, the worldwide population stands at approximately 15.2 million—a net loss of 1.4 million. It is a tragedy driven by anti-Semitism that has no end. Nevertheless, the good news is that the Jewish population within the land of Israel has grown from a low of about a half-million in 1945 to around 7 million today.

On Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), Israelis should be seen as role models of victory, not victimhood. Their population has climbed due to hard work and determination. They have become world leaders in medicine, technology, agriculture, business, and technology. Many of Israel’s brilliant innovations are wrapped into one of their cultural values to “repair the world” (tikkun olam) with humanitarian aid and generosity. 

Another improvement to mention is that evangelicals have become more informed about the Holocaust. They want to join their voices with the Jewish community to proclaim, “Never Again.” 

In fact, evangelicals and Jews are cooperating in a variety of ways here in the United States and globally, with Holocaust education and events growing in frequency. Right now, a splendid example of such efforts is unfolding in South Carolina, where a 10-member board composed of both Jews and Christians launched an ambitious project three years ago: They planned a four-week tour in four cities and 11 smaller towns in the state. Their goal from the beginning was to use the arts to inspire and educate audiences with musical stories of hope and heroism to renew the plea of “never again.” 

The board engaged Varna International and Israel’s Violins of Hope—two artistic institutions that share much more than magnificent instrumental and vocal performances. They also entwine Holocaust stories with musical reminders that vigilance against anti-Semitism must rise and hatreds must fall. 

Violins of Hope was founded by Israeli Amnon Weinstein, one of the most respected violin makers in the world. He lovingly restores violins that were played by their Jewish owners in the concentration camps and that survived the Holocaust. In the 1930s, Weinstein’s parents made Aliyah to Israel from Poland, where he had been born. However, the Weinsteins lost 400 family members in Europe during the Holocaust. Since 1996, when Weinstein founded Violins of Hope, he and his son Avshi have skillfully restored the violins in their Tel Aviv workshop.

The Violins of Hope restorations now include more than 80 instruments, donated primarily by family members who visited his workshop. Weinstein’s work honors the memory not only of his family, but of all those who perished or survived. Played by violinists in many countries, the 80- to 100-year-old instruments sing again in concerts that have won international accolades. The Weinsteins’ private collection of Holocaust violins serves as an educational message for all ages. 

“Our violins represent the victory of the human spirit over evil and hatred,” says Weinstein.

Headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina, Varna International specializes in large-scale, artistically rich, and customized choral-orchestral concerts. Their “Songs of Life” tells the World War II story of Bulgaria, which in 1943 rescued all its 49,000 Jewish citizens from trains bound for the concentration camps. It was the largest rescue in Europe. “Songs of Life” is based on a personal story about Varna International founders Sharon and Kalin Tchonev, who commissioned the music. Kalin describes their beautiful connection. “Our passion for the Songs of Life Festival comes out of the realization that had it not been for the miraculous rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews, I (a Bulgarian) would not have my wife and son today since Sharon’s maternal grandparents were among the 49,000 Bulgarian Jews rescued during the Holocaust.” After their rescue, Sharon’s grandparents made Aliyah to Israel, where Sharon was born. 

Four prominent concerts across the state are already underway. The first concert took place last Sunday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where an audience of 1,400 people listened to a glorious concert performed by the local Long Bay Symphony. At this event, the violinists made sure the Jewish violinists who played their instruments while trapped in hell on earth were beautifully remembered since Nazis forced them to play in agony while their friends and families marched to their last moments. 

The South Carolina team also included two more inspiring additions to the four-week tour. Bulgaria’s National Folklore Ensemble—a colorful, beautifully costumed part of the production—sang with voices that seemed like previews of heaven. Featured last weekend in Myrtle Beach, and now in North Charleston on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a poignant art exhibit of 40 oil paintings is on display. Called the Auschwitz Album Revisited, the exhibit was created by Christian fine artist Pat Mercer Hutchens (1927-2014), who left a remarkable legacy. Her artwork is based on an album of stark black and white photos, The Auschwitz Album, which is the only surviving photographic evidence of Jews arriving by train from Hungary to Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps. She devoted herself to honoring them by recreating the photos in sensitively colored oil paintings.

South Carolinian’s Violins of Hope Board and Advisory Committee members, both Christian and Jewish, are doing what they can through the Violins of Hope tour to push back against another dark chapter of anti-Semitism. Their hope is that through the music and art exhibit (running April 18 – May 14), audiences will leave with a renewed purpose to stand up for the Jewish community, the Jewish homeland, and other communities facing challenges.

Ellen Benik Thompson, South Carolina’s Violins of Hope liaison, has voiced a memorable quote for her board’s ambitious and heartfelt project: “Violins of Hope is more than music. Their sounds bring lost dreams to life, creating beauty from ashes and strength for future generations.” 

When it comes to opposing what is wrong and standing for what is right, former Bulgarian President Plevneliev offered an important reminder. “We Bulgarians made it clear that it is within the power of the civil society and ordinary people to change history; that through unwavering determination and resolute resistance even the worst of evils may be averted. [In 1943] the Bulgarian society saved not just its Jewish population, it also saved itself.”  

 Join CBN Israel this week remembering this Bible verse in Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

  • Pray for the Jewish community to find refuge in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Pray for Christians’ willingness to be God’s vessels of help for those who are in trouble.
  • Pray for courage among Christians to stand bravely against anti-Semitism by educating their churches and communities.
  • Pray for Israel’s vigilance during recent outbreaks of terror.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial Day

The Holocaust is etched in Israel’s national memory. Each year, its victims are honored on one special national holiday called Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). All places of entertainment are closed. In the morning, a siren sounds across the country—and everything stops for two minutes of silence, in memory of the 6 million Jewish lives tragically lost.

Their fight for survival was shaped within the shadows and ashes of Europe’s extermination camps. And it gave those who lived the determination to firmly declare, “Never Again.”

That is why today, thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel honors their commitment. We are helping to expose and stem the tide of rising global anti-Semitism, with CBN’s broad international media platform. Through CBN News, we are sharing a biblical perspective on headlines in the Holy Land—and fighting hatred and misinformation with the truth. Plus, we are producing award-winning documentaries that share the riveting stories of Israel’s past and present.

You are also serving Israel’s last generation of Holocaust survivors, most of whom are in their 90s. Today, there are approximately 165,000 survivors left in Israel; sadly, many are isolated, lonely, and struggle to make ends meet. But you are there, providing groceries, medical and financial aid, home repairs, and safe visits with needed food, supplies, and encouragement.

You gift to CBN Israel can let these frail seniors know they are not forgotten, as well as being there for Jewish refugees, terror victims, single mothers, and others in need. So many people in Israel are living week to week.

Your support can bless them by offering food, shelter, job training, finances, and more. Please help us make a difference in this special land!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Megiddo

By Marc Turnage

Situated in the western Jezreel Valley at the foot of the lowlands of Mount Carmel stands the ancient mound of Megiddo. It overlooks where Nahal Iron crosses through the Carmel lowlands, which provided passage for one of the branches of the most important highway in the Ancient Near East, a highway that connected Egypt via Israel’s coastline, through the Jezreel Valley, onto Damascus and Mesopotamia. Megiddo’s importance stemmed from its location guarding this most import roadway. 

Archaeological excavations have revealed twenty layers of civilization beginning in the Neolithic period until the fourth century B.C. Its strategic significance made it the stage for battles through much of its history, with Pharoah Thutmoses III in 1468 B.C., Pharoah Merneptah in 1220 B.C., Pharoah Shishak in 924 B.C., and the battle in which Josiah, king of Judah, died at the hands of the forces of Pharoah Neco in 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:29-30). 

Megiddo’s strategic importance made it the object of Israelite conquest when the Israelites entered the land (Joshua 12:21). By the “waters of Megiddo,” the forces of Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanite forces of the king of Hazor (Judges 5:19). Megiddo fell within the territorial allotment of Manasseh (Joshua 17:11), but the Manassites could not take possession of Megiddo. It remained under the control of the local Canaanites (Joshua 17:12; Judges 1:27). 

During the United Monarchy, Solomon is said to have fortified Megiddo, along with Gezer and Hazor (1 Kings 9:15)—all three cities provided overwatch of the international coastal highway running from Egypt to Damascus and Mesopotamia. The final mention of Megiddo within the Bible is the death of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-24). Within the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., Megiddo became an administrative city of the Assyrians, but its settlement steadily declined until it was abandoned in the fourth century B.C., most likely due to Alexander the Great’s conquest of the land. 

Visitors to the site today can visit two multi-chambered gate complexes from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Two separate palace and administrative complexes have been excavated, as well as an area that contained several cultic places of worship from different time periods. The site contains the remains of horse stables, stone mangers, and an exercise corral for the horses. Kings of Israel stationed horse and chariot forces, which were the tank corps of the ancient world, at Megiddo due to its strategic location. 

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the site that has been excavated is the water system. Ancient sites, especially administrative centers like Megiddo, had to provide the water needs for the city in times of peace and war. Most ancient sites sat on hills to offer the protection of elevation from an attacking army. Springs, however, usually do not sit on hills; they are found at their base. At Megiddo, the spring sits at the bottom of the west side of the mound. To bring the water into the city, the engineers cut a square shaft through the earth within the city’s fortified walls that connected to a long horizontal tunnel (80 meters long) that had been dug to the source of the spring. This tunnel brought the water to the area where the shaft had been dug, and the shaft enabled the people in the city to descend and draw water. 

A final word should be made regarding the well-known idea that the ancient site of Megiddo had some connection with John’s mention of Armageddon in Revelation (16:13-14, 16). The usual explanation, Armageddon represents the Hebrew meaning the “mountain of Megiddo.” People will speak about the Valley of Armageddon, yet the Bible never mentions a Valley of Armageddon. This is a modern fiction, which appears for the first time in the nineteenth century. 

No ancient Church father or Christian source ever connected Armageddon with Megiddo. Moreover, as we noted, Megiddo ceased to be inhabited in the fourth century B.C. The location of the site was forgotten. The first century Jewish historian Josephus did not know of it. In fact, he relocated the death of Josiah to a town he knew on the border between Egypt and the land of Israel. The fourth century Church father, Eusebius, did not know its location, nor did he connect Megiddo with Armageddon. No one, then, knew in the first century, when John wrote Revelation, where Megiddo was. 

Finally, while Megiddo sits on a hill created by layers of civilization, it cannot be described as a mountain. Hebrew has a word for “hill,” a word that accounts for the names of places like Gibeah, Geva, and Gibeon. Megiddo is a hill, and not a mountain. Time does not permit a full explanation for what stands behind John’s Armageddon, but suffice to say, he expected the gathering point for the armies of wickedness to fight against God to be Jerusalem (Revelation 11:1-2; 14:20; and 20:9), the mountain of assembly.

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

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

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Weekly Devotional: Who is My Neighbor?

“Just then an expert in the law stood up to test [Jesus], saying, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the law?’ He asked him. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. ‘You’ve answered correctly,’ He told him. ‘Do this and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-28 HCSB).

To Jesus’ reply, the lawyer followed up with the natural question, “And who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.

Have you ever noticed the nature of that question, “Who is my neighbor?” No matter how broad or narrow you make the circle, the question seeks to draw a line and define who’s inside and who’s outside of the line. Who are we obligated to love, and who are we relieved from loving? Jesus, however, turned the lawyer’s question around: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers” (Luke 10:36)? In other words, it is not for us to define insider and outsider, but rather: We must go be the neighbor.

Jesus drew His inspiration for His teaching from God Himself. He recognized that God does not distinguish in His mercy, and neither can we. “But I tell you, love your enemies … so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45). Jesus saw in nature God’s mercy toward all humanity, and He calls upon His followers to imitate God: “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

But that makes us uncomfortable. We want to believe that God loves us because we’re on the inside. Of course, we want Him to love those like us because they also are inside the line—they are our neighbors. But those who hate us? God must certainly feel differently toward the evil and unrighteous, right? No—not according to Jesus. He sends His sunlight and rain on everyone. His mercy extends to all of humanity without distinction, and we must follow His example.

It’s wonderful to think about how much God loves us, but He loves our enemies the same. He calls us to imitate Him in our mercy toward them. That’s hard. But it’s what we’ve been called to do.

So, who is our neighbor? The person across the street. The foreigner and stranger in our midst. Our enemies, the people who hate us. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

PRAYER

Father, You send Your sun and rain on us all to show Your great mercy. May we be merciful as You are merciful to everyone. May we demonstrate our love for You by how we love others who are created in Your image. Amen.

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The Torn Veil: Why Christians Care About the Temple Mount

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Joyful Christian tourists once again arrived in Israel for this year’s Holy Week observances after two years of Israel’s strict COVID-19 lockdown policies had kept them away.

Tour itineraries always include Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. Although visits to the city’s Temple Mount are sparse because of too few visiting hours and too many restrictions, the 36-acre compound is treasured among Bible-focused believers. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, yet it is under the authority of the Jordanian Waqf Foundation. 

Here’s how that came about: After Israel unified Jerusalem following its victory in the Six-Day War, in a gesture of religious tolerance the Israelis decided to allow the Waqf to continue as the site’s administrative body. Today the Waqf, combined with rabbinical law—which is also restrictive toward Jews—can make walking around the Mount more than a bit strained. On one of my visits to the Temple Mount with a friend, we were followed by a Palestinian “minder.” Neither Christians nor Jews are allowed to pray there. Our minder often shook his finger in an accusing way, although we were dressed appropriately and doing nothing wrong. The atmosphere was tense and felt somewhat sterile.

Regardless, biblical narratives and historical facts keep the Temple Mount as a true treasure of the Jewish faith. 

Some may wonder why Christians would care about visiting the Temple Mount when it can be such a turbulent spot. In fact, the Temple Mount is often referred to as “ground zero” in the religious and territorial conflict between Israelis and their Arab neighbors. And, as the holy site for the three major monotheistic faiths, there are so many possibilities for clashes and offenses to various sensibilities. Often, this 36-acre landscape of holy sites is vulnerable to a mere word, a visit, or a mindset of hatred that erupts into a blaze of violence. This year it’s especially volatile because, in a rare convergence of the three monotheistic faiths, their celebrations are now taking place at virtually the same time this year: Holy Week for Christians, Passover for Jews, and Ramadan for Muslims. Unfortunately, what is not rare is the violence that breaks out on and around the Temple Mount. 

Violence erupted once again just last week on April 15, which was the first day of Passover and the Christian observance of Good Friday. Following Muslim prayers at dawn, several hundred young Palestinian men launched a rock-throwing campaign against Israeli police, whose job is to keep the peace on the Temple Mount. Waiting until Muslim prayers ended, Israeli police entered the al-Aqsa Mosque and arrested 470 men to quell the violence. 

Many of the global mainstream media ignored how the violence flared up. Nevertheless, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis describes the facts: “Around 4 a.m. on Friday morning, dozens of Palestinians began marching around al-Aqsa Mosque (some carrying banners associated with Hamas), started breaking stones and then throwing them at police and Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below—while stockpiling more rocks at the mosque to prepare for further attacks. Palestinians later barricaded themselves inside the mosque and hurled stones and fireworks toward officers. The violence prevented large numbers of Muslims from worshiping at al-Aqsa.”

Christians living outside Israel may not easily comprehend the trauma of terrorism. Yet violence on the Temple Mount or any part of Israel is of deep concern. And hopefully, my thoughts will help explain our reverence for the Temple Mount and its surroundings.

Because Jesus was born into a Jewish culture, we know He grew up celebrating major Jewish feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). Luke records a fascinating encounter in chapter 2, verses 41-47. In the Temple, when Jesus was 12 years old, He and the Jewish scholars engaged in theological discussions for three days that “astonished” the learned men. I have often wondered if this was a version of Jesus becoming bar mitzvahed, where young men read from Torah publicly for the first time at 12 or 13 years old. 

Whether believers visiting Israel walk on the Pilgrim Road or sit on the southern steps that led up to the Temple, the realization that our Jewish Savior walked countless thousands of footsteps in Jerusalem is profoundly meaningful. 

Two different Temples stood on the Temple Mount. King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in A.D. 70, and Muslims built their sites on the grounds some 600 years later. History does not reveal that a church ever stood on the Temple Mount. However, Jesus’ teaching, walking, and healing makes the area a sacred location for those of us who follow and worship Him. Remembering what happened on the day of His crucifixion, though, is the most powerful magnet drawing Christians to the Temple Mount.

In a physical feat only the mighty Hands of God could achieve, He tore in two the purple, scarlet, and blue veil/curtain (parochet) in the Temple when the Perfect Passover Lamb breathed His last breath on the tree. Luke 23:44-45 relates, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”

Keep in mind, this massive curtain was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and four inches thick. The curtain hid the Holy of Holies, God’s Court. Although the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat were not in the Second Temple, the Holy of Holies was treated the same. Jews viewed the Holy of Holies as the place of God’s Shekinah glory, the dwelling of His divine presenceOnly the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could do that just once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Throughout the centuries—from the movable Tabernacle in the desert, to Shiloh for 369 years, to the First and Second Temples—the Jewish people revered the Holy of Holies with a profound sense of awe, respect, and fear. 

It is easy to imagine the priests’ terror when they saw the curtain rent in two. It was incomprehensible. Yet when God tore the veil in two, He welcomed us into the Holy of Holies through the blood of His Perfect Lamb so that we could step inside to fellowship with Him, both Gentile and Jew! Jesus’ substitutionary death for us, and God Himself tearing the veil, meant that we were no longer separated.

The physical rending of the curtain was certainly spectacular, and the result is eternal. Our repentance—recognizing His sacrifice and inviting the Lord Jesus to come into our hearts—bridged the impassable gap between Holy God the Father and us. 

We are familiar with Jesus’ last words on the Cross: “It is finished.” The Greek word tetelestai supplies more insights, meaning as it does “to end, to pay or discharge,” as in a debt. In ancient times, tetelestai was stamped or written on important documents in the New Testament era to show that a bill had been paid in full. 

On a hill outside Jerusalem’s walls, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” His death on the cross coincided with God the Father tearing the veil on the Temple Mount opening the Holy of Holies. Jesus paid our sin debts in full. He took our place. 

Somewhere atop the Temple Mount, the Second Temple stood. The magnificent veil was torn from top to bottom. And we know our risen Lord will one day return!

Please join CBN Israel in praying for Israel, the Middle East, and believers worldwide:

  • Pray that all believers will gain a deeper understanding of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice. 
  • Pray with gratitude that Jesus loves us enough that He willingly died as our substitute. 
  • Pray for those in our nation and world who have rejected the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Pray for peace in Jerusalem as tensions have been high, especially as holidays for the three major religions overlapped for the first time in three decades.
  • Pray for the nations within the Abraham Accords to stand firm in their peace agreement with Israel—even amid the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, more than ever, may we continue to pray for “the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

 

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Biblical Israel: Arbel

By Marc Turnage

Arbel sits high upon the sheer limestone cliffs along the northwest corner of the lake of Galilee, northwest of Tiberias, overlooking the fertile plain of Gennesar. The Arbel Cliffs form the southern boundary of the plain of Gennesar and provide a striking visual landmark along the northwest shores of the lake. From here, visitors can see the geography on the northern shores of the lake of Galilee where 95% of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels took place.

Arbel could be identified with Beth-Arbel mentioned in the prophecy of Hosea (10:14). The current site of Arbel, however, began at the end of the second century B.C. The settlement most likely started as part of Hasmonean settlement of the Galilee when Jewish immigrants from Judea moved into the region. Rabbinic tradition identifies a Sage, Nittai, who lived in the second half of the second century B.C., as from Arbel (m. Avot 1:6-7). He served as the head of the Sanhedrin (m. Hagigah 2:2). His prominent position within Jewish society indicates a significant Jewish religious presence in Galilee at the end of the second century B.C.  

After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70, the priestly division of Yeshua, the ninth priestly division, settled at Arbel. Arbel was principally known for the growing of flax from which the inhabitants produced linen (Genesis Rabbah 19:1). The Arbel Valley was also known for its agricultural fertility, especially the production of grain (y. Peah 7, 4, 20a). Excavations uncovered wine and olive presses, as well as large pools, probably used for the processing of flax.

Arbel was the location of a clash between the Hasmonean forces of Antigonus and Herod (c. 39-38 B.C.). After Herod gained control of Sepphoris, he sent his force “to the village of Arbela,” and after 40 days, Herod’s forces fought the supporters of Antigonus (Josephus, War 1:305-313). Herod’s forces won the battle, and Antigonus’ supporters fled some taking refuge in caves “very near the village” of Arbel (Antiquities 14:415). There are three groups of caves in the cliffs of Mount Arbel, and most likely the rebels sought refuge in the western group of caves, which are the closest to the village of Arbel (approximately 400 meters). 

Herod eventually dealt with the rebels held-up in the caves. His forces could not make a direct assault on the caves due to the sheerness of the cliffs. His engineers constructed baskets to lower soldiers down the cliff face by machines anchored to the summit of the hill. The soldiers, armed with grappling hooks, fished the brigands out of the caves hurling them to the rocks below. Soldiers hurled fire into the caves to force the rebels out of them. Some of the rebels threw themselves along with their families down the cliffs while Herod watched from a fortified position on an opposite hill.

During the First Jewish revolt against Rome, Josephus fortified the “cave of Arbel” (Life 188; see Life 311; and War 2:573). Josephus likely fortified the eastern group of caves on the Arbel Cliffs where there are remains of actual fortifications. He also quite possibly utilized the western group of caves previously used by the supporters of Antigonus against Herod.

Today visitors can hike to the overlook from the cliffs of the Gennesar Valley and the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They can also see the remains of a limestone synagogue built in the fourth century A.D., which continued in use until the eighth century A.D. Renovations were made in the late sixth or early seventh century A.D. 

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

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

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Weekly Devotional: The Resurrection

“Why are you seeking the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:5-7 NASB).

The Romans crucified thousands of Jews in the first century; Jesus was one of them. His death on a cross was not unique. It proved to be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). The difference: the resurrection. Jesus walked out of the tomb.

The resurrection became the cornerstone of the New Testament message that Jesus was God’s Messiah. He “was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4 NKJV). When Paul was addressing the pagan Athenians, he sought common ground to proclaim his message—an altar to an unknown god, quoting their poets, not quoting the Jewish Scripture—yet the one thing he could not equivocate on was the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus served as God’s promise to those who are faithful that they too will participate in the resurrection at the end of the Age (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15). It also provided a powerful reversal. The crucifixion and death of Jesus left the hopes of many shattered (Luke 24:21). While Jesus died fully trusting His good and loving Father, His followers did not share the faith of their master. But God specializes in turning the dark into light, making the impossible possible, and bringing life from death.

In the resurrection of Jesus, God triumphed over the grave. He brought life from death; He turned darkness into light. He gave hope. This is why in the midst of our deepest despair, we do not lose faith. No matter how dark the night, how devastating the diagnosis, how impossible the situation, God will triumph. He will transform death into life and darkness into light; and so, we have hope. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb. 

The Apostle Peter firmly declares the hope we have because of the resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NASB).

Even when we come to the end our lives and face our own death, we have nothing to fear. We have extraordinary hope, for ourselves and our loved ones. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb. 

PRAYER

Father, You are our hope. Even in our darkest moments, You bring us light and life, and therefore we trust You. Thank you for the hope we have in the resurrection. Amen.

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Passover: The Feast of Unleavened Bread

By Julie Stahl

“The LORD’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the next day, the fifteenth day of the month, you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the LORD continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, all the people must stop their ordinary work and observe an official day for holy assembly. For seven days you must present special gifts to the LORD. On the seventh day the people must again stop all their ordinary work to observe an official day for holy assembly” (Leviticus 23:5-8).

It was the night before freedom. All of the Israelites were huddled in their homes. They had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Moses had conveyed God’s instructions to kill a lamb for each household and then put the blood on the door posts of their homes. The Israelites were also commanded to roast the lamb and eat it—not leaving their homes until morning. That night, they waited in anticipation to see what would happen.

God struck the firstborn of every Egyptian home all the way up to Pharoh’s household that first Passover night, as the angel of death “passed over” the homes of the Israelites. The cry must have been agonizing, but the next day after 10 plagues and 400 years of slavery, the Israelites were finally free to leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses!

That’s the Biblical story of the Exodus, which is commemorated each year during Passover. In Exodus 13:8, God commanded the Jewish people to recount the story to their children year after year and to eat unleavened bread or what the Bible calls the bread of affliction for seven days.

That’s what we call matzah (“unleavened bread”) today. Even though it’s made with flour (and no leavening agents), it must be mixed, rolled and shaped, and baked within 18 minutes to inhibit the rising.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have told the story from the book of Exodus on the eve of Passover, “the fourteenth day of the first month” (Leviticus 23:5) in a special meal with symbolic food called a Seder, which means “order” in Hebrew. There are many traditions from all over the world, but the basic story is the same—God’s miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people against all odds.

Rabbi Levi Welton said that Passover, like all Jewish holidays, has a spiritual theme with applications for each person at any time.

“On Passover, the theme is freeing oneself from ‘personal slavery’ or self-limiting beliefs and transmitting a Jewish identity to the next generation. As the Talmud states in Tractate Pesachim 116b, ‘In each and every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as though he actually left Egypt,’” says Welton.

Prior to Passover, Jewish people around the world remove all leaven from their homes. Varying traditions define leaven differently, but in general, it means that all bread, crackers, cake, cookies, noodles, and anything made with a leavening agent or flour are removed from the house. Many Jewish people even search every nook and cranny to make sure that not even a crumb remains.

At the Seder, certain foods are placed on a Seder plate to symbolize parts of the story. A shank bone represents the sacrifice of the Passover lamb; an egg represents the cycle of life; maror (usually horseradish) symbolizes the bitterness of slavery; haroset (a sweet paste made of apples or dates) symbolizes the straw/mortar used to make the bricks in Egypt; and karpas (parsley or a vegetable) symbolize springtime and is dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt; and matzah (“unleavened bread”) is also included on the table in a pouch or napkin.

Christians find deep meaning in celebrating the Passover Seder. Jesus’ Last Supper was actually a Passover meal, and the bread that He blessed and broke saying, “take this and eat it, for this is my body” was unleavened bread (Matthew 26:26)

Because of Jesus’ words during the Last Supper, many Christians to this day take communion with matzah bread. Some even say that its designs, with stripes and piercings, are symbolic of the suffering God’s Messiah, Jesus, endured when He was beaten and crucified. The fact that matzah is unleavened also represents His sinlessness.

Christians believe that Jesus was our Passover Lamb, sacrificed for the sins of the world.  Many say that the cup Jesus raised was actually the third of four cups of wine that were drunk during Passover meals. The third cup is known as the Cup of Redemption, which fits perfectly with Jesus’ words: Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:27-28). 

Passover and Resurrection Sunday (Easter) often occur the same time in March or April. Passover is celebrated for eight days, though only the first and last days are full holidays. In Israel, the Seder meal takes place on the first eve only and elsewhere in the world, Jewish people celebrate two consecutive Seder nights.

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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The Perfect Lamb Crushed in Gethsemane

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

When Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, rode into Jerusalem at the age of 33, He was about to experience His last Passover on earth. He had arrived in Jerusalem on lamb selection day, when thousands of lambs were chosen for the Temple sacrifices. Multitudes of His followers filled the air with joyful shouts on the Day of Lambs—Palm Sunday. Jesus attended Passover each year, along with Jews traveling from all over the known world for the most significant Jewish festival. 

The initial outpouring of ecstatic shouts eventually shifted into disappointment among many Jews, who hoped for a secular king riding in on a stallion—a symbol of overthrowing their Roman oppressors. Instead, Jesus rode a humble donkey, symbolizing a servant-king. Along with waving their palm and olive branches, the crowds may have wished for regal banners and guards leading the way ahead of Jesus. 

Dramatic events swiftly moved forward. Walking the Pilgrim Road up to the Temple on lamb selection day, Jesus shocked everyone by angrily overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple, accusing them of turning that house of prayer into “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). 

Later in the week, Jesus and His disciples assembled in the Upper Room for Passover (in Hebrew, Chag Ha-Matzot), the feast of freedom. However, freedom was not Jesus’ destiny that night. His destiny was embodied, literally, as the substitute for our sins, which through His shed blood guaranteed our freedom instead. Along with His profound sermon in John 17, Jesus performed another surprising act that week: The King of Kings humbly knelt to wash the feet of His disciples and instructed them to serve others. 

How must Judas have felt that night, his feet washed by His Savior, already having been paid off with silver to betray Him. Their conversation unfolded this way in John 13:21-28 (HCSB): 

“When Jesus had said this, He was troubled in His spirit and testified, ‘I assure you: One of you will betray Me!’ The disciples started looking at one another—uncertain which one He was speaking about. One of His disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out who it was He was talking about. So he leaned back against Jesus and asked Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus replied, ‘He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.’ When He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, ‘What you’re doing, do quickly.’ None of those reclining at the table knew why He told him this.”

And in John 18:3, we’re told that Judas slipped out of the Upper Room and met up with those carrying torches to the garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus and His remaining disciples—now numbering 11—also departed from the Upper Room. The disciples must have been puzzled, nervous, even angry when Judas left. The day had already proved different from any other in the three years they had been with their Rabbi. In the darkness the group walked about a mile to the Mount of Olives, familiar to all Jerusalemites as it was an important manufacturing area that produced valuable olive oil. At the foot of the Mount of Olives, they arrived at Gethsemane. The English word “Gethsemane” combines two Hebrew words, Gat and Shmanim, and is defined as “the place where olive oil is pressed”—the “Garden of the Olive Press.”

The geographic location of Gethsemane is rich with symbolism. Knowing the mechanics of olive presses makes it easier to visualize why Jesus led His disciples to that specific spot for prayer before His arrest. 

During Roman rule, olive presses numbered in the thousands—in groves scattered all over Israel and the Roman Empire. Large and small presses made of stone crushed the harvested fruit. The larger presses included stones suspended with ropes from wooden crossbeams—stones that weighed up to a ton. The pulp eventually underwent enough crushing that the precious commodity could be emptied into clay jars. The refined oil was used in cooking, anointing oil, and Temple lights.

In Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV) we read this compelling verse, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Like the wooden beams holding the stones on the olive presses, our Savior Jesus bore the wooden beams of the crucifixion tree crushed under the incalculable weight of our sins. 

In the Garden of the Olive Press, Jesus cried out: “Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36 NKJV). The Christian community is well versed in the fact that Jesus prayed in anguish and wept tears of blood prior to his arrest. Although one might wonder if sweating blood is an exaggeration, it is true. In fact, Hematidrosis is the medical term for the rare occurrence where blood is mixed in sweat. It happens in extreme situations where someone is facing death or another incredibly stressful event. And Jesus faced anguish, a burden that only one person in the history of the world confronted. On the cross, His death and sacrificial blood was for all people for all time. Untold billions of sin burdens crushed Jesus. 

The olive press in Gethsemane represented physical symbols of the crushing emotions Jesus experienced as Hematidrosis took place in His body. Crushing is the method of getting what is most valuable, the oil, out of the olive. Jesus’ emotional crushing in the garden of olive presses produced the precious oil and blood of our redemption. 

Eventually, after three periods of praying in the Garden—and His disciples unable to stay awake despite their Master’s admonition to do so—Jesus announced, “Here comes my betrayer.” Judas Iscariot led a mob armed with clubs and swords dispatched by the power structure, the Chief Priests, teachers of the law, and the elders. After Judas had placed the kiss of death on Jesus’ face, the arrest, interrogation, mocking, and abuse went operational. Later Judas committed suicide.

Following Jesus from the Garden of the Olive Press into the traumatic, violent night, it is essential to recall what He said to the Pharisees: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18 NKJV). 

Jesus was willing to be crushed and to pour out the pure oil of His life on the cross to redeem mankind. No one could stop God’s redemptive plan! Not the Jews, not the Romans who carried out the death sentence. 

When Roman soldiers hammered spikes into Jesus’ body, Temple priests had spent untold hours slaughtering the Bethlehem lambs by the thousands. Priests threw lambs’ blood all over the Temple court. Expertly wielding their knives, the priests chanted the Hallel Psalms (113–118). Maybe Jesus could hear snippets of the chants where He hung outside Jerusalem’s walls.

When the skinning, bloodletting, then roasting of lambs for food began, the priests hung the lambs on wooden hooks stretching out their front legs onto a crossbar in the shape of a cross. Jesus hung on the cross, thus removing the need for thousands upon thousands of lambs dying on a conveyor belt of killing and hanging.

God’s Perfect Lamb perfected John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

Knowing more about Gethsemane and Jesus’ identification with the olive presses, let us rejoice that Jesus freed us from sin’s grip, crushed for us! 

Join CBN Israel in prayer this week, thanking Jesus for being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29): 

  • Pray during Holy Week for an outpouring of Jesus’ loving sacrifice to touch hearts of those who don’t know Him.
  • Pray for millions suffering in Ukraine to sense God’s saving grace.
  • Pray for Christian and Jewish organizations inside and outside Ukraine that are bravely helping to rescue those in peril.
  • Pray for Christians worldwide to keep easing suffering and persecution.

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, may we reflect upon these words of the Apostle Peter: “He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:22-25 HCSB).

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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