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Weekly Devotional: Are You Only the God of the Past?

“God, we have heard with our ears—our ancestors have told us—the work You accomplished in their days, in days long ago: to plant them, You drove out the nations with Your hand; to settle them, You crushed the peoples. … Why do You hide Yourself and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of Your faithful love” (Psalm 44:1-2, 24-26 HCSB).

Have you ever found yourself frustrated reading the Bible? Not confused, but frustrated. Frustrated because in its pages you read about God’s mighty acts, His deliverance of His people, His signs and wonders, then you look to our world, to your life, and the thought comes: “Where is God, why do we not see Him act as we heard Him do of old?” 

The psalmist felt the same way. He found himself frustrated because of God’s mighty acts in the past, but in the present, the psalmist feels that God has rejected His people. The psalmist cannot even console himself by acknowledging Israel’s sin (44:17-22). He declares that the people have not forgotten God’s name or turned back from Him, yet because He does not act, the people suffer. 

It is such a raw and honest psalm. Most of us would not have the audacity to pray in such a manner. But the psalmist does. He recognized that in a covenantal relationship, both parties have responsibilities. God held Israel to their obligations to the covenant, and so, too, they could hold Him to His. 

The psalmist’s appeal to God’s steadfast covenant love called upon God to remember the covenant He made with Israel. Amid the psalmist’s frustrations, however, he recognized that the God of Israel kept His covenant. Reminding God of His covenant responsibilities had merit because God was faithful to His covenant with Israel. 

We often speak about relationship with God, and we sometimes even criticize the “religion” of the Bible. Yet true relationship allows for the visceral frustrations expressed by the psalmist. True relationship enables both parties to remind the other of their commitments, and it stands upon the confidence that the weaker party can trust the stronger party to remain true to the obligations of the agreement.

The Bible presents God as a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His promises and obligations to His people. Within the Old Testament, this acts as the basis of His love, the covenant. Even when He became angry with Israel, He still acted in faithfulness to the covenant He made with them; He did not give in to His emotions because He keeps His covenant.

He is the same for us. He is faithful. And He is big enough to handle our deepest questions and frustrations. We can trust Him to redeem us for the sake of His steadfast love.

PRAYER

Lord, we have heard about Your mighty deeds of the past, but at times we feel frustrated and forsaken in our present. Please rise up for the sake of Your steadfast love to us. Amen.

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Iran’s Persian New Year: What Will It Bring?

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

To Iranians, Sunday March 20 marked not only Iran’s Persian new year—the year 1401, according to their solar calendar—but also a new century. Iranians worldwide celebrate their beloved new year holiday, called Nowruz—“new day”—on the first day of spring. The overall themes of Nowruz mark the triumph of hope over despair, the end of darkness (winter), and the arrival of light (spring). Regrettably, under the authoritarian leadership of imams and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the arrival of light is still on a long sabbatical. 

After the Iranian Revolution, the current Islamic Republic was established in 1979 by Ruhollah Khomeini, who became the country’s first Supreme Leader. The Government of Iran is an Islamic theocracy which includes elements of a presidential democracy, with the ultimate authority vested in an autocratic “Supreme Leader,” a position held by Ali Khamenei since Khomeini’s death in 1989. It is no surprise that these hardline theocratic leaders also wanted to reduce the popular Nowruz celebrations in the world’s first Islamic state. The Iranian people, however, were furious—and the celebrations remained. However, their society has dramatically changed in the last 43 years. 

Speeches this week from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Raisi reflect aligned ideas. Raisi boasted about the past solar century as being the century of the Islamic Revolution, saying the nation would “remain brilliant in history.” He went on to point out, “God willing, the next century will be the century of the emergence and exaltation of the Iranian-Islamic civilization that emerged from the glorious Islamic Revolution.” Underlying that message is another, unspoken one: that the Iranian-Islamic civilization of the next century will include nuclear weapons.

Yet not all Iranians support their government. In fact, opposing demonstrations in city streets during this year’s Nowruz showed a rift in the oppressive regime. Some shouted “Death to America”—the Great Satan—with pride in the newest missile they hope to launch next year. Another group, the National Council of the Resistance of Iran, chanted “Death to Khamenei” in the lead-up to the holiday.

Nowruz, with its rich history, is taking place in an economy with a stunning 40 percent inflation. A large sector of the Iranian population will sit down at holiday tables reflecting the skyrocketing prices that forced them to forgo or reduce traditional customs of sweets, new clothes, new furniture, and gifts for their children. One of their traditional dishes is fish and herbed rice. Today, it costs a family of four up to 4 million rials (Iranian currency)—about $95 in U.S. currency. 

Friends and families will gather excitedly for the two-week holiday—especially after COVID-19 restrictions had kept them apart—yet some platters may have less of the items. The markets are full of delicious fruits and goods; however, merchants say that many people come to the market only to look because they cannot buy. Meanwhile, officials like President Raisi describe the market in glowing terms simply because the food stalls are full.

Despite the new year’s festival that heralds the arrival of spring and light, under the iron fist of imams and President Raisi, darkness is all too easy to find. Raisi has a shadowy past as a judge and is often called a butcher and executioner. He was sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the massacre of 5,000 political prisoners (1988) and the 2019 slaughter of 1,500 peaceful protestors. Last year, Khamenei refused to buy COVID-19 vaccines from the United States and United Kingdom—a decision estimated to have caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of citizens between June and September.

Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror, clearly does not prioritize the needs of its citizens. The quality of life would improve dramatically for Iranians at home if the regime decided to abandon its terror operations, its nuclear ambitions, and its hatred for Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. What they have spent to pay for terror is vast—more than $140 billion in the past 10 years, as reported by Global Security. These billions could surely ease the increasing hardships among Iranians. 

Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet nuclear physicist turned dissident and human rights activist, said it best: “A country which does not respect the rights of its own citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors.” Iran is a prime example. 

The Obama/Biden administration’s 2015 Iran deal released Iran’s frozen assets of around $100 billion. Yes, the assets were frozen, they belonged to Iran. The fact that Iranians are still living under substantial hardships is an indicator that the regime is more interested in a revived caliphate to rule the world via means of nuclear weapons than in helping its citizens.

Brigadier General Ran Kochav, spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces—wished Iranians a “Happy Nowruz” in Persian, adding: “I wish the Iranian people a new spring of hope and respect. Missiles and drones will not fix the country’s acute water crisis, just like enriched uranium will not be able to feed any hungry child in Iran.”

The Russians announced that talks on the 2022 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will begin again in Vienna after the Nowruz holiday ends. Thus Russia, another purveyor of terror who recently began warring against Ukraine, now heads up the most dangerous deal in the world. The 2022 Iran deal is already much worse than its 2015 predecessor. President Biden is now considering removing the elite and deadly Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the terrorist designation list. 

Reacting to news about Biden’s possible decision, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed astonishment. They could hardly believe the U.S. would do such a thing, especially since the IRGC was “behind plans to assassinate senior American government officials.” They also pointed out that IRGC members “kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them.” They know that the IRGC has ruined Lebanon, Syria, and oppresses the Iranian population. We simply cannot forget that Iran’s hatred extends to the United States. 

In the Christian community, we can base our prayers on one of the significant themes of Nowruz and throughout our Bible: the triumph of light over darkness!

The light is dawning already for many in Iran. All Israel News wrote an excellent article last year about Iranian pastor Hormoz Shariat, called the “Billy Graham of Iran.” Reports about Dr. Shariat’s ministry indicate that his satellite is beaming the Gospel into Iran, where many are meeting the “Man in White” in their dreams. Shariat himself was a Shia Muslim who converted to the Christian faith. Jesus the Light of the world!

Daniel 2:21 is a reminder of God’s sovereignty: “And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for Israel, Iran, and the Middle East:

  • Pray that JCPOA talks will go in a better direction or cease altogether. 
  • Pray for Iran’s Christian community to grow in strength and faith. 
  • Pray for blessings on all ministries that are reaching out to Iranians. 
  • Pray for those imprisoned in Iran who are innocent. 
  • Pray for Israeli security to remain an effective deterrent against 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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Emergency Relief for Ukrainian Jewish Refugees

Israel needs your help! She needs Christians like you to stand in solidarity with her and help care for her people who are streaming in by the thousands from Ukraine.

“They lost everything. That’s the reality,” said an Israeli medic at an overwhelmed Ukrainian border crossing. “Many are coming with nothing. Most are women with children, grandmothers, and the elderly.” Men must stay and fight the Russians.

“All are very hungry. There are no grocery stores along the road out,” added the medic. “And what normally takes a few hours to exit Ukraine, now takes several days because of the mass exodus.”

This is the tragic situation for thousands of Jewish refugees who struggle to leave their war-torn homes in Ukraine for safety and freedom in Israel. With Russian bombings and shelling right behind them, Israel is in fact the Promised Land.

This international “humanitarian crisis” of up to a projected 4 million refugees has deeply impacted Israel and the Jewish refugees who are fleeing there. 

Sadly, the most vulnerable ones are hit the hardest: the elderly, Holocaust survivors, children, and poverty-stricken families. What little they had, is even less now. Many left with just the clothes on their backs and what they could carry in their arms, or drag behind them. 

Thanks to compassionate friends like you, CBN Israel is once again on the front lines of defense and rescue for Jewish people struggling in Israel to make new lives for themselves. 

There is a great need for food, clothing, temporary shelter, blankets, ground transportation, medical care, and a long list of other critical needs.

It is essential that we move quickly. We must provide more lifesaving necessities and rescue for these displaced Jewish people and many other children of Abraham like them.

Through God’s grace, and with your prayers and gifts, the Ukrainian Jews who have safely reached Israel can receive the life-changing assistance they desperately need as they cope with their world turned upside down.

And as you send your gift of Christian love and care, remember that your blessing is also at hand as Genesis 12:3 promises us:

“I will bless those who bless you [Israel].”

Will you join us in helping our Jewish brothers and sisters in great need?

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Dead Sea

By Marc Turnage

The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, at 1,300 feet below sea level. It formerly received six million tons of water daily from the Jordan River. It forms part of the Rift Valley. It is forty-three miles long and nine miles wide. It is deepest on its northern end, at 1,310 feet deep. 

The Bible never refers to it as the Dead Sea; rather, it uses names like the Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:12), the Sea of Arabah (Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16; 2 Kings 14:25), and the sea of foul waters (Ezekiel 47:8). The first century Jewish historian refers to it as Lake Asphaltitis (Antiquities 1:174). By the latter half of the second century A.D., Greco-Roman writers began referring to the body of water as the Dead Sea. 

Its biblical name, the Salt Sea, derives from the salt-mineral concentration within the water of about 30% (most oceans are about 3% for comparison). The density of the water enables modern tourists to float, and it also means that the water remains relatively calm. In antiquity, the sea was valued for its salt, a valued commodity in the ancient world, and the bitumen found floating on its surface. 

The saltiness of the water, as well as the salt flats around the Dead Sea, give the name, the Valley of Salt, to the land south of the Dead Sea in the Bible (2 Kings 14:7). While the waters of the Dead Sea are too salty for normal life to live, fresh-water springs and oases, like En Gedi and En Feshkah, enabled the growth of vegetation, trees, like date palms and balsam, and agriculture in the region of the Dead Sea. 

The Dead Sea divides into two parts. The boot-shaped peninsula that extends into the water from its eastern bank divides it between its northern part, approximately thirty miles long, and the southern part, about fifteen miles long, but it is only thirty to thirty-five feet deep in this area. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:1-12) resided near the shore of the Dead Sea. Biblical writers, especially the prophets, often used the imagery of the barren, arid, and salty landscape around the Dead Sea to communicate their messages. Isaiah (35) and Ezekiel (47) envision a day when the salty water of the sea will become fresh and sweet, and only the salt flats on its shores remain. 

During the time of the Bible, people used the Dead Sea for travel between the western and eastern shores. Herod the Great (Matthew 2) built two palace-fortresses, one on the western shore (Masada), and one on the eastern shore (Macherus) to protect and watch over the industry and agriculture of the region. 

Today, the mining of the minerals of the Dead Sea by the Israelis and Jordanians, as well as the restricted flow of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea, and natural evaporation is resulting in the shrinking of the Dead Sea. 

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: Be Prepared

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they did not take extra oil with them; but the prudent ones took oil in flasks with their lamps. Now while the groom was delaying, they all became drowsy and began to sleep.

But at midnight there finally was a shout: ‘Behold, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. But the foolish virgins said to the prudent ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ However, the prudent ones answered, ‘No, there most certainly would not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the groom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

Yet later, the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, because you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13 NASB).

A Jewish sage, a contemporary of Jesus, told his disciples, “Repent the day before you die.” His disciples responded with the question: “Who knows the day of his death?” To which their master replied, “Yes, therefore, one should repent every day.”

A number of Jesus’ parables called upon His listeners to be ready, for no one knows their final day. He contrasted the wise and foolish maidens as those who were ready and those who were not prepared. His point: Be like the wise maidens—be ready. 

We don’t like to think about our final day, but we will all have one. Our society often does everything it can to avoid thinking about our end. Jesus didn’t seek to scare His listeners, but like His contemporary, He sought to remind them that this life is short and it’s not the end. 

How we live in this life is preparation for the next. And at any moment, on any day, we could meet the Judge of the universe. Are we ready? How can we be ready? 

By daily seeking to live our lives in submitted obedience to God. By finding the daily humility to repent. It’s not complicated. It’s not scary. But it is real. How will you live today? Will you live with eternity in view? Be prepared and repent the day before you die. 

PRAYER

Father, we humble ourselves before You. Forgive us when we fall short of obeying You. May we always be ready to stand before You. Amen.

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Purim 2022: Modern Hamans Spawn Global Terror

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

Last night and today, the Jewish community is celebrating Purim, which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman in the ancient Persian Empire. Queen Esther acted on her cousin Mordechai’s wise counsel after he overheard Haman’s plan to murder all of the Jews in Persia. This powerful, high-level official in King Ahasuerus’ court was relentless with his wicked plans—plans that ultimately backfired back on him and ended with him hanging on the gallows he’d built for Mordechai. In thwarting Haman’s genocidal intent, Esther and Mordechai saved Persia’s Jews. 

The ancient Jewish Queen Esther and Ukraine’s modern-day Jewish President Zelensky—two unlikely leaders—drew on an extraordinary level of courage. They offer us role models for today amid Haman’s brand of evil that is rampant in our world. 

Chief among ruthless present-day “Hamans” are Russia, China, and Iran. The leaders of these countries have woven a web of evil which threatens its own citizens as well as those of other nations. Moreover, Purim is a reminder that modern Iran was ancient Persia. Regardless of whether Iran’s leaders even know or think about Haman, the Muslim imams replicate his hatred of the Jews. 

Russia has unleashed its violence over the years, invading Afghanistan (1979—as the Soviet Union), Moldova (1990), Georgia (2008), and now Ukraine. In 1967, Russia incited Egypt to attack Israel, leading to the Six-Day War. Now, as Putin takes center stage with his relentless destruction of Ukraine, it is necessary to continue praying for and offering aid to Ukrainians. However, we cannot ignore Russia, China, and Iran and their fellow terrorists on the sidelines. 

To name a few: terrorist leaders in Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, and the Taliban along with groups in North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela. And, although shamefully ignored, Africa’s billion-plus population includes nations that suffer horribly—with tens of thousands of deaths in wars all over the continent, including Islamic terrorists, broken governments, and dictatorships. But Africa is not my focus today.

Iran’s Islamist theocratic government is indisputably the biggest terror country in the world with its willing surrogates. In Vienna, Austria, the U.S. government’s negotiations to renew the Obama/Biden administration’s flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) continue. The 2015 U.S. strategy remains the same today: Give Iran all it demands without any serious pre-deal requirements from the U.S. Seven years later, the JCPOA 2022 agreement is far more alarming. That may be a moot point: This past Monday, 49 Republican senators told the Biden administration they would not support the revived JCPOA, citing concern that it would weaken sanctions and lessen restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. 

In any event, Iran refuses direct contact with Americans. The Biden administration asked Russia, yes Russia, to serve as an intermediary. Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-profit research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. He describes the negotiations at the Vienna hotel where talks are held: “Messengers walk up and down the hallways carrying various proposals and ideas back and forth between the rooms.” Some of Iran’s demands include a demand for $100 billion in sanctions relief, an ultimatum for its banks to remain untouched by sanctions, and a long-held refusal to allow real International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

If the United States gives in to Iran’s demands, it opens a path for Russia to use Iran’s banks as a conduit for money—despite the growing sanctions imposed on Russia—and effectively neutralizes them. Let’s be clear. Israel is not the only nation in Iran’s crosshairs. Last Sunday, Iran fired a barrage of missiles directly at an American consulate complex in Irbil, Iraq. There were no casualties, but it is the first time that missiles came directly out of Iran itself, next door to Iraq. Iran and Iraq share a border. The missiles have a range of about 180 miles. Iran has openly bragged about its attack calling the complex an Israeli spy location. The Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said the missile attack was retaliation for Israel’s recent bombing of a Damascus suburb, in which two senior IRGC officers stationed in Syria were killed in an underground facility. 

As for Iranian surrogate Syria, the results of tyrannical President Assad’s war against his own people has wrought a staggering level of devastation since 2011. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly remarked, “The destruction that Syrians have endured is so extensive and deadly that it has few equals in modern history.” During the Syrian civil war, Putin took over the strategic Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean, part of aiding and abetting members of the elite Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps located in Syria. Israelis are forced to continually bomb weapons depots and weapons transports that travel across Syria to deliver weapons to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

UN News itself recently reported on Syria’s 11-year war. “Hundreds of thousands have been killed, more than half of the pre-war population—somewhere in the order of 22 million—have been displaced. More than 100,000 are missing or forcibly disappeared. Syria’s cities and infrastructure have been destroyed. Today the poverty rate in Syria is an unprecedented 90 percent; 14.6 million people in Syria depend on humanitarian aid.” Syrian fighters are going into Ukraine now that Putin is paying them to push into the country to create more death and chaos. 

As for China, Austin Ramzy at the New York Times reported on February 23 that Putin and Xi Jinping met during the Beijing Olympics. The next day, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Russia and China share a 2,615-mile-long border. (By the way, Russia has borders with 16 other countries.) In a meeting at the February Olympics the two neighbors made a joint statement declaring that their friendship had “no limits.” Not surprisingly, China is against sanctions on Russia.

China and Iran are also locked together in a mutually beneficial alliance that has grown since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Among the benefits, Iran gives China a strong foothold in the Middle East. Last year, China made a deal to invest $400 billion dollars over 25 years in exchange for Iran’s oil. 

Russian aggression worries Europeans in particular. More than at any time since World War II, European governments are planning, watching, and waiting while China, Russia, and Iran are accelerating their alliances with each other. 

Amid all the bad news, the U.S. Congress generated some good news. Last Friday, Democrats and Republicans voted for $4.8 billion in military aid to Israel. Given the fact that Americans are suffering inflationary woes, it is easy to react negatively to such a vote. Nevertheless, Israel functions for us like an aircraft carrier would in the Middle East. This package strengthens our own national security. Israel does not want—nor would it ask for—American soldiers on the ground, but the added funds help Israel living in a hotbed of terror. For the United States, Israel’s intelligence-sharing is an enormous benefit.

Ever the peacemaker, Israel has accepted the baton in the race to help Ukrainian refugees. Yesterday, it announced that it is offering healthcare and other assistance for up to 15,000 refugees. “The Welfare Ministry will provide the refugees with temporary housing, food assistance, material assistance, social services and other rights like health insurance and enrollment in the education system,” a ministry spokesman said.

For Purim, late yesterday a small group of Ukrainian Jews maintained Jewish tradition and read the book of Esther in the ruins of Lviv’s Golden Rose synagogue. Destroyed by Nazis in World War II, members have maintained services in what was left after World War II in the historic synagogue’s entrance hallway. The Golden Rose now doubles as a refugee shelter. 

For Ukraine’s Jews, Christians, and all other citizens, let us also remain vigilant with prayers for our nation and our world during these disturbing days we live in. And like the Jewish refugee beauty queen in Persia, and now a courageous Jewish comedian-turned-Ukrainian-president, may we ask the Lord to give each of us that kind of bravery.   

Please join with CBN Israel in prayer this week:

  • Pray for millions of Ukrainians who are trapped or fleeing their country.
  • Pray for Ukraine’s border nations that are welcoming refugees. 
  • Pray for Jewish and Christian humanitarian outreaches, both large and small
  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer each day that “His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

May we reflect upon 2 Chronicles 15:7: “But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

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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Purim: The Story of Esther

By Julie Stahl

“Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to all the Jews in all of King Ahasuerus’s provinces, both near and far. He ordered them to celebrate the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar every year because during those days the Jews got rid of their enemies. That was the month when their sorrow was turned into rejoicing and their mourning into a holiday. …

For Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them. He cast the Pur (that is, the lot) to crush and destroy them. But when the matter was brought before the king, he commanded by letter that the evil plan Haman had devised against the Jews return on his own head and that he should be hanged with his sons on the gallows. For this reason these days are called Purim, from the word Pur” (Esther 9:20-22, 24-26 HCSB). 

Purim celebrates the Jewish people’s rescue from and victory over a wicked government minister who wanted to destroy them thousands of years ago as recorded in the book of Esther in the Bible. And although it’s the only book in the Bible where the name of God is not mentioned at all, His fingerprints are all over it! 

“The book of Esther is kind of about the end of the world—Jerusalem’s destroyed, there are no more prophets, God has stopped speaking to people, and you can’t see Him anywhere. The kingdom is gone, the armies are gone, the glory that was Jerusalem and Israel is gone, and the Jews are scattered throughout the Persian Empire,” says Yoram Hazony, author of God and Politics in Esther. 

Haman—an evil advisor to King Ahasueres (Xerxes) with a desire to wipe out the Jewish people—conspired to kill the entire Jewish population throughout the ancient Kingdom of Persia (modern-day Iran) on a single day. Since the King trusted Haman, he agreed. 

But, unknown to the King, his beloved Queen Esther was Jewish. She and her cousin Mordechai exposed the plot and turned the tables. So the Jews were rescued and instead became victorious over their enemies. This is what we celebrate at Purim. 

Hazony says there’s a deep lesson here.

“We all like favor, we all like political favor; we love it when people love us and Esther does, too. She loves being queen,” says Hazony. “But the question is when it comes down to it and you need to do something to throw away that favor, throw away political favor in order to do the right thing, do you have it in you?” 

At the Western Wall and in synagogues in Israel and around the world, Megillat Esther, or the scroll of the Book of Esther, is read on Purim. But this reading is unlike any other. Parents and children dress up in costumes. At one time, this ritual was to imitate the biblical characters, but now it includes popular costumes, too. They cheer when the names of heroes Mordechai and Esther are read—and boo and use noise makers when the name of Haman, the villain of the story, is mentioned. 

According to Rabbi Welton, there are two possible reasons for the costumes: to symbolize how Esther concealed her identity until the last moment or how God was a “concealed force behind the salvation of the Jews.” 

Sending financial gifts to the poor and food gifts to others are traditions. Some Jews have a Purim feast. A special treat called hamentaschen (“Haman’s hat” in Yiddish) or oznei Haman (“Haman’s ears” in Hebrew) is a triangular cookie filled with dates, chocolate or nuts eaten at the holiday. 

In most Jewish communities, the holiday is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities or those that were at one time like Jerusalem, the holiday is celebrated a day later and known as Shushan Purim. 

Hazony summed up Purim like this: “The Persian Empire. One Jewish Woman. Guess Who Wins?” 

Holiday Greeting: Hag Purim Sameach! (“Happy Purim!”) 

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with CBN News’ Middle East Bureau in Jerusalem since 2009. She also plays an integral role in the weekly CBN News program, Jerusalem Dateline. 

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Lifesaving Bomb Shelters

The ongoing threat of attacks from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon causes Israeli families and communities to live in a perpetual state of high alert and anxiety. Every time a siren goes off—at all hours of the day or night—the people in harm’s way have only 10-15 seconds to run to a secure location. No one should have to live this way.

In northern Israel, where many fatalities occurred during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, there is a dire need to help protect border towns and other nearby communities. Today, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon are reported to have more than 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. 

It is equally important to safeguard those living in southern Israel near the border with Gaza. From there, Hamas terrorists have been firing rockets and missiles for years, and their range, arsenal and accuracy are only intensifying. In 2021, the world witnessed Hamas fire over 4,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.

But through CBN Israel, friends like you linked arms with local Israeli municipalities to save precious lives! Compassionate donors made it possible to install lifesaving emergency bomb shelters for communities in high-risk areas as well as providing urgently needed relief and trauma counseling for people directly affected by terror attacks. 

Ilan Isaacson is the head of security for the Eshkol Region, an area with 32 communities situated along the Israel-Gaza border. “You are making such a difference,” he said gratefully. “It is so important for our families and communities to have resilience and peace of mind. Thank you!”

At this crucial time in the Holy Land, your support can be a lifeline to those who are in crisis. You can bring groceries, financial help, safe housing, job training, and more—while sharing vital news and stories from Jerusalem. 

Please join us in blessing Israel and her people in need!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Mount of Olives

By Marc Turnage

The Mount of Olives is a north-south ridge that sits on the eastern watershed of the hills around Jerusalem. To its east, the land slopes drastically down towards the Jordan River Valley and the area around Jericho, towards the Dead Sea. 

The steep fall-off of the topography east of the Mount of Olives, together with the weather patterns coming from the west off the Mediterranean Sea, which causes the rain to fall along the heights of the hill country, means that the land to the east of the Mount of Olives sits in the rain shadow, with little vegetation. This wilderness provided refuge for those seeking concealment from the authorities. When David fled Jerusalem from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13-23), he went over the Mount of Olives into this wilderness seeking refuge.

The Mount of Olives in antiquity never belonged inside the city of Jerusalem. It always sat as its eastern boundary separated from the city of Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley. The Mount of Olives also served as Jerusalem’s cemetery beginning in the Chalcolithic period (Stone Age). Tombs from the time of the Judean monarchy (Old Testament), as well as the first century (New Testament) have been discovered on the Mount of Olives. At the foot of the mountain sit three monumentally decorated tombs from the first centuries B.C. and A.D., one of which is the misnamed Tomb of Absalom. 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on His “Triumphal Entry” (Luke 19:28-29), He approached the city from the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims to Jerusalem today can walk down the Mount of Olives on the “Palm Sunday” processional route, but this would not have been the path Jesus took, as it led through a first century cemetery, which would have rendered Him ritually impure prohibiting Him from entering the Temple. Most likely His route would have taken Him over one the saddles of the ridge on either its northern or southern part. 

The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that at the end of the age, when God’s kingdom is revealed in all the world, that He will stand on the Mount of Olives, which will split east to west, opening a chasm that will cause the mountain to move to the north and south (Zechariah 14:4). The Mount of Olives is not only connected to Jerusalem’s history in both the Old and New Testaments; it is also directly linked to its future. 

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 Right Paths

“The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 HCSB).

God’s name is at stake in us, and we can trust in His care for this very reason. The psalmist used the image of sheep and a shepherd to convey this reality. Shepherding in the land of Israel is challenging. The climate of parts of the land can prove extreme and inhospitable. 

The terrain can prove treacherous for both sheep and shepherd. Human and animal predators pose threats to the sheep; moreover, shepherding often takes place isolated from other people in the midst of a dry, harsh climate. If the shepherd loses his sheep, his name is at stake.

Sheep and goats forage all the time; they move constantly. The image of the shepherd causing them to lie down indicates that they have been satiated; they have enough to eat. Within the wilderness areas of the land of Israel, flash floods are common. “Still waters” offer safe water for the sheep to drink and slake their thirst in the heat. Nourishment and water bring refreshment; this is how God leads His flock. 

Within the lands east of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where shepherds led their flocks, one finds erosional trails cut in the soil. While rain does not come often, it does come, and the soil sluffs off creating these erosional circles around the hill. This landscape sits in the rain shadow, so it doesn’t get a lot of moisture, which is essential for life. One can get lost on these erosional paths wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. 

The shepherd knows the right path to lead his flock. God knows the right paths to lead us. Shepherds lead their flock from behind or on the side. If they tried to lead from the front, they would lose their flock as sheep and goats have a tendency to wander. The shepherd leads by corralling, but he knows the way to go. 

Very little in our lives today bring our souls renewal and nourishment. God does. He also knows the best paths for our lives, and if we will listen and trust Him, He will lead us in the right way. 

Remember His name is at stake in us. Just as a shepherd doesn’t want to lose any of his sheep, neither does God want to lose any of us. That is a comforting thought. Rest in that today. 

PRAYER

Father, today, renew our lives, and lead us in the right paths, for Your name’s sake. Amen.

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