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Hanukkah in Ancient and Modern Israel: “A Great Miracle Happened There” 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

On Sunday, November 28, Jewish families worldwide began celebrating Hanukkah—lighting up their homes each day with candles in their Hanukkiahs, their menorah candelabras. By December 6, when the festival ends, all the candles will be glowing. Children are enjoying eight days of gifts and playing dreidel games, and families are feasting on jelly doughnuts and tasty latkes, the traditional potato pancakes fried in oil. 

In recent years, Christians have grown increasingly familiar with the rich Jewish history of festivals and customs. We have joined in the celebration, too, as it also has a special meaning for us. The contemporary Hanukkah (dedication in Hebrew) menorah usually has nine candles, with the center called the servant or helper candle. The servant candle is used each night to light another candle until all are ablaze on the eighth day. In the Christian faith, the servant candle represents our Lord Jesus. 

Our Jewish Jesus celebrated the Festival of Lights, as mentioned in John 10:22-23. It is the only passage in the Bible that refers to Hanukkah, then called the Feast of Dedication. It is not considered a major festival like Passover, Shavuot, or Feast of Tabernacles, yet it signifies the victory of the Maccabees as another eventful part of survival in Jewish history. 

The apocryphal books, Maccabees I and II, contain the stories of their victory, and for us, the New Testament verifies the fact that Jesus joined in the festivities. The Maccabees rose up in 167 BCE to overthrow their enemy Antiochus IV, the Syrian-Greek (Seleucid) ruler. In addition to outlawing important Judaic practice and laws, Antiochus ordered the desecration of the Second Temple—building an altar to the pagan god, Zeus, and sacrificing  pigs. The ancient battle and the Maccabees’ victory in 164 BCE signified once again God’s intervention to save the Jewish people and their faith from extinction.

The Maccabees (also known as the Hasmoneans) then began the process of cleansing the Temple and searching for the pure oil to relight the candles. In doing so, they discovered the seven-branched golden lampstand as described in Exodus 25:31-40, when God gave Moses a detailed design at Mount Sinai to fashion the exquisite menorah. The most skilled craftsman was chosen to make it, hammering it out of a single piece of gold. It weighed perhaps a hundred pounds. 

Although the Maccabees found the lampstand, they discovered only a small cruse of purified oil, enough for just one day. Nevertheless, a miracle happened there” (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham in Hebrew), as Jews for centuries have repeatedly declared. The Maccabees decided to use the small cruse of oil. However, they must have been astonished that it lasted eight days! 

According to biblical laws, the oil used in the Temple took a week to make. It involved beating (not the customary pressing) of the olives, then letting them sit so the pure oil would naturally drain. The Jews regarded the Temple menorah candlelight as the presence of God, just as during the days of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Thus, the eight-day Festival of Lights was born. 

Fast forward from the Maccabees to approximately 100 years later. Our Lord Jesus walked the Temple courts along Solomon’s Colonnade to join in the Feast of Dedication, the Jewish military victory over their enemies. This was the same Temple the Maccabees cleansed and purified. The same Temple where the lights still gleamed. The same Temple where Jewish leaders stopped Jesus to ask Him to declare Himself.   

In John 8:12 Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 

It is not clear to me, but I like to think Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Light of the world during the Festival itself. However, what He revealed in John 10:22-23 stunned His questioners. Christians today believe the assurances He made then: that He is our Shepherd Who protects us, walks with us, and gives us eternal life. 

“Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one’” (John 10:22-30).

Jesus’ bold statements offered hope to many Jews in the Temple on that day. Like the disciples, thousands of Jews believed in Jesus as their hoped-for Messiah. Yet the Romans now acted as their oppressors following in the footsteps of Antiochus IV a hundred years earlier. Nonetheless, the Jewish political and religious leaders in power took His words as blasphemy, adding more reasons to silence Him, especially when Jesus proclaimed, “I and the Father are one.” 

The Festival of Lights is an opportune time to reflect on the Jewish community worldwide, from ancient to modern times—people who have experienced their share of the darkest of days. That’s because we know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has provided the promised light to maintain His covenants with His Jewish people, their survival, and now the modern Jewish state in their ancestral homeland. 

The menorah has long been an iconic symbol that abounds all over Israel, appearing in ancient mosaics and on contemporary coins. It was no mistake that Israel’s Provisional Council of State on February 10, 1949 (11 Shevat 5709), adopted the menorah as its national emblem. They held a contest in 1948 won by brothers Gabriel and Maxim Shamir. The Shamirs’ seven-branched candelabrum is depicted on a deep blue shield, with two olive branches appearing on each side in white and the country name Israel written in Hebrew (יִשְׂרָאֵל) below the menorah. The Knesset Menorah, a bold bronze sculpture created in 1956 by Benno Elkan, stands next to Israel’s parliament building at 14 feet high and weighing four tons! 

Since Israel became a modern state on May 14, 1948, Israelis proclaim Happy Hanukkah with the Hebrew greeting, “nes gadol haya po,” which means “a great miracle happened here.” We agree—and wish all our Jewish friends everlasting light, today and forever. 

Please join CBN Israel in prayer for Israel and the Jewish people during this Hanukkah:

  • Pray for the Israel Defense Forces who are modern-day Maccabees protecting their land from terror.
  • Pray for Israel, especially now during Hanukkah until December 6, in their latest lockdown due to another COVID-19 variant. 
  • Pray with praise to our Lord Jesus, who is the Light of the world! 

May we reflect upon these words about Jesus: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). 

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

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Victim of Terrorism: Rivka’s Story

Rivka and her husband immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1973, and they have established deep roots over the past decades. Living in the coastal city of Ashdod, they both worked from home. Because they lived in an old building without a bomb shelter, they had to use the stairwell for protection in the event of an attack.

One night, during a barrage of attacks, a rocket detonated right next to their building. The explosion blasted out all the windows. Nearly everything was destroyed in an instant. The couple was hit by shrapnel, and Rivka needed stitches. But they were glad they survived with no serious injuries. 

However, the severe damage to their home and the loss of their personal belongings were devastating. The couple is now renting an apartment while figuring out how to repair their home and move forward. Thankfully, CBN Israel reached out to them. 

We provided the couple with access to trauma counseling through our local partners as well as emergency relief, including financial aid to cover immediate essentials. Rivka says, “Thank you… We are so overwhelmed by your kindness!” 

And your gift to CBN Israel can offer hope and help to other terror victims—as well as Holocaust survivors, single mothers, aging veterans, and refugees. As cries for help continue, your support can deliver assistance to those struggling to live in the Holy Land—by bringing them nutritious meals, safe shelter, financial aid, and more. 

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

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Biblical Artifact: Theodotus Synagogue Inscription

By Marc Turnage

In the centuries between the Old and New Testaments, an important institution developed within Judaism, the synagogue. The Gospels and Acts mention synagogues frequently; they played an important role in the lives of Jesus, His followers, and the growth of His movement. The origins of the synagogue, though, are shrouded in the mists of time. The earliest witness to them come from inscriptions outside of the land of Israel. 

One such inscription from Egypt, dating to the 3rd century B.C., refers to a “place of prayer.” Within the Jewish Diaspora (the Jewish community outside the land of Israel), ancient sources (both literary and archaeological) refer to synagogues in various ways: synagogues, which means a gathering or meeting place, prayer houses, and sabbateions (Sabbath places). We should not assume that they all functioned exactly the same, but the ancient sources do indicate a degree of similarity. Synagogues today, both within Israel and outside of it, serve as places of communal prayer. Scripture is read, but the synagogue service centers around prayer, an act reminiscent to the earliest practice attributed in Diaspora synagogues as attested by the ancient sources.

In the early 20th century, a Greek inscription was discovered in a cistern at the City of David in Jerusalem. This inscription dates to the first century A.D., and it dedicates a synagogue in Jerusalem. To date, the synagogue has not been found, but its dedicatory inscription has. In this inscription, Theodotus, a ruler of the synagogue, and the son and grandson of synagogue rulers, built the synagogue for three things: 1) the reading of the Torah, 2) the teaching of the commandments, and 3) as a guest house for travelers. This inscription proves significant because it provides a description of the synagogue practices within the land of Israel during the first century A.D. 

Our ancient sources do not indicate that prayer took place regularly within the synagogues of the land of Israel. Rather, we find these sources, like Luke 4, consistently depicting the reading of the Scriptures and their explication as central to Sabbath worship in the synagogue. Moreover, the first century synagogues that have been discovered, like at Gamla and Magdala, have a main hall with benches around the sides making the center of the hall the focal point. Jews pray facing towards Jerusalem. 

Later synagogues in the land of Israel, after the destruction of the Temple, orient their halls towards Jerusalem. This indicates that in later periods prayer became an essential part of the synagogue service, but not in the first century in the land of Israel. Instead, as indicated by the Theodotus inscription, the primary role of the synagogue was the reading of the Torah and its teaching. The orientation of first century synagogues, focused on the center of the hall, reflects such a reality. It should also be noted that this is what the Gospels depict Jesus doing in the synagogue on the Sabbath, reading the Scripture and teaching. 

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 Magnificat

“He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:51-55 NKJV).

The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) voice the Jewish redemptive hopes and aspirations of the first century. They yearned for God’s removal of Rome, freeing His people so they could worship Him. And they anticipated the reversal of the social order. These were subversive ideas; they upset those who resided in palaces and felt comfortable with the status quo. They hoped God would exalt the lowly and bring down the mighty, that the hungry would be filled and the rich would be made poor. 

God’s redemption was not merely inward and personal. God’s redemption impacted all His people and manifested itself in visible, tangible ways within the social and political order. Mary’s words are anything but safe; they are radical. Israel’s long-held hope for redemption has now come, and it will disrupt the established world.

We tend to view Christmas through our own lens—what God has done for me. In doing so, we can all too easily fail to feel the collective sense of hope and upheaval that the message of Christmas originally articulated. It’s there in Mary’s song; in the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist; in the angelic proclamation; and even in Simeon’s utterance about the newborn Jesus in the Temple. 

God is fulfilling His promises to Israel’s fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—with the birth of Jesus. The hopes of His people, and the world, are being realized in the baby in Bethlehem. But this redemption will upset the social and political order of the day. 

It’s hard for us sometimes—wrapped in the lights, sounds, and smells of Christmas—to hear the disruptive and subversive tone of the first Christmas. But we need to. What God did in sending Jesus was more than for our personal benefit. It manifests itself in visible and tangible ways to all humanity—the mighty and the lowly. 

Jesus articulated the message of Christmas when He read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue of His hometown Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). 

PRAYER

Father, manifest Your redemption this Christmas in the world among the hurting, suffering, poor, and oppressed. And help us to be present where You are. Amen.

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Thankful for Israel: A Blessing to the World  

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Today, as we observe a national day of thanksgiving and count our many blessings, may we be extra mindful of those who are distressed and in need throughout our world. This is where we should especially take to heart the extraordinary example of our friends in Israel and how they continue to be an exceptional model of what it means to take our blessings and use them to be a blessing to others. It is remarkable to witness the countless ways in which the modern Jewish nation is still fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

For instance, consider how IsraAid, Israel’s largest non-governmental humanitarian organization, stepped in to rescue refugees following the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and the subsequent rapid Taliban takeover. IsraAid immediately began operations to help rescue both Afghan Christians and Muslims, who found themselves under intense persecution due to their religious or political allegiances. IsraAID responded, as they do in many other crisis situations around the world, because they believe in using their blessings—as a country and people—to bless others.

Through a series of near-miraculous connections, IsraAID rescued 42 members of the female Afghan Cycling and Robotics teams on September 6. Around-the-clock networking resulted in passports and transit papers, border crossing in buses, nail-biting negotiations with the Taliban, delays at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, and dangerous Taliban threats about a flight from northern Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Each and every breakthrough was absolutely astounding. UAE’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed himself welcomed IsraAID’s team with rescued Afghanis—a wonderful byproduct of the Abraham Accords peace agreement. 

Then on October 13, Newsweek magazine reported that IsraAID helped facilitate a second rescue in early October with 125 at-risk Afghans, which included families of the Afghan Cycling and Robotics teams. Israel, along with other goodhearted nations, acted as shining lights amid the darkness and despair. Their actions were a blessing in the middle of this disastrous situation. 

I met IsraAID’s cofounder, Yotam Polizer, in 2018 when he spoke at an American synagogue. Afterward, I spoke with him in a brief interview. I was struck once again that Israel is still a light to the world and growing ever brighter in a chaotic world. IsraAID, founded in 2001, specializes in search and rescue efforts in natural disasters, helping populations affected by war, poverty, and displacement globally. IsraAID’s humanitarian assistance encompasses those in need, no matter their ethnicity, politics, or religion. Yotam pointed out that IsraAID is usually “the first to arrive and the last to leave.” He uses the acronym FILO—First In, Last Out.

Since Israel has faced daily terrorism of all kinds in its modern history, IsraAID has developed expert teams of professionals who use what they have learned to provide relief in more than 55 nations. Following one of Israel’s cultural values to “repair the world” (tikkun olam in Hebrew), they span the globe with both emergency and long-term development projects. Whether in Nepal, Guatemala, Mozambique, Greece with its Syrian refugees, and even U.S. states hit by hurricanes or ravaged by fires, people in need hear Hebrew-speaking teams walking among them ready to offer assistance. 

In recent interviews about IsraAID’s help in Afghanistan, Polizer mentions that the NGO usually goes into countries following natural disasters. Yet the Afghan situation was an emergency on the front end. IsraAID jumped in and kept in close contact with several American groups, including U.S. veterans and Christian groups focused on immediate evacuations where possible.

One of the Afghan refugees did not know until the IsraAID bus stopped at the border of Tajikistan that Israelis were helping them. He said that social media had painted the Israelis “with a bad image.” When he learned that the Israelis were the ones who had helped rescue them, he described them as “angels” and then apologized in shame for his wrong opinion. He now considers them as family. 

IsraAID, other non-profit organizations, and private groups are dedicated to rescuing those on their waiting lists who are in danger from the Taliban terrorists who idolize evil deeds, carrying out murder and mayhem against anyone who does not comply with their oppressive aims.

On this Thanksgiving Day, may we recognize our divine calling to take our many blessings and use them to be a blessing to others—especially those in crisis and in desperate need throughout our world. May we follow the example of Israel and organizations like IsraAID as they continue to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. 

Please join CBN Israel in thanking God and praying for the people of Israel:

  • Pray with gratitude for the abundance of ways that Israel is fulfilling prophecy as a light to the nations. 
  • Pray for humanitarian organizations like IsraAID and their teams who often risk their lives to help the vulnerable and needy across the globe.  
  • Pray that Israel will continue to be blessing to the world through their humanitarian efforts as well as their many lifesaving medical and technological innovations.  
  • Pray for Christians worldwide to stand by Israel and her people, especially amid the lies and slander from the mainstream media.
  • Pray with thanksgiving for all the blessings in your life as well as the opportunities God has given you to bless others.  

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

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Widowed Single Mother: Anna’s Story

When Anna moved from Ukraine to Israel, she started a new life—and found romance. It’s where she met her husband—an Israeli citizen who was also from Ukraine. They had a little girl, and everything was going well. Then, without warning, tragedy struck. 

Sadly, Anna’s husband suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of just 53. Her world suddenly collapsed. And then, in the midst of coping with her grief as a widow and single mother, she was blindsided legally: She learned she had no official citizenship status in Israel.  

In Israel, there are no civil marriages, or automatic citizenship by marriage. Anna was not Jewish, and her husband had neglected to register their documents of marriage. It left her vulnerable. The one thing in her favor was that her daughter was born in Israel, and gave Anna some protection and minimal welfare benefits. But Anna had to fight for permanent Israeli status. 

Thankfully, friends like you were there for her, through CBN Israel. We have given her needed groceries and support. And with her daughter now in school, we provided a computer for her homework. Anna says gratefully, “You are always there for us, and every holiday, you remember us by making it possible to buy nutritious food and other essentials…” Anna and her daughter are touched by all the support they’ve received. And we offer a lifeline to so many in need. 

CBN Israel reaches out with relief aid and God’s love to aging Holocaust survivors, refugees, terror victims, and more. For Israelis who are facing personal losses and crisis, your support is crucial. You can bring food, housing, job training, finances, and more.

*Name and photo changed for privacy.

Please join us in reaching out to those in need throughout the Holy Land.

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Biblical Israel: Nazareth

By Marc Turnage

Nazareth—the boyhood home of Jesus—sits on a limestone ridge (the Nazareth Ridge) in the Lower Galilee that separates the Jezreel Valley to the south from the Beit Netofa Valley to the north. Nazareth first appears in ancient literary sources in the New Testament (Matthew 2:23; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4, 39, and 51). According to Luke, Jesus’ mother, Mary, came from Nazareth (1:26). Matthew relates how the Holy Family, after returning from Egypt, relocated to Nazareth (2:19–23). Jesus taught in Nazareth’s synagogue (Luke 4:16-30), and as His popularity grew, He became known as “Jesus from Nazareth” (Matthew 21:11).

Although Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient sources prior to the New Testament, archaeologists have uncovered remains from the Middle Bronze Age (time of the Patriarchs), Iron Age II (time of kingdoms of Israel and Judah), and the late Hellenistic eras. The discovery of tombs from the early Roman period (first century B.C. to second century A.D.) indicates the limit of the village, as Jews do not bury their dead inside of cities or villages. The site in the first century covered an area of about sixty 60 acres, with a population of maybe perhaps 500 people. 

Ancient Nazareth sits 3.8 miles (about an hour-and-fifteen-minute walk) to the south of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee when Jesus was a boy. Its proximity indicates its dependency upon Sepphoris; moreover, its location between the Jezreel and Beit Netofa Valleys, both of which contained international travel routes, suggests that Jesus was anything but “a hick from the sticks.”

Archaeologists uncovered what they tentatively identify as a Jewish ritual immersion bath from the early Roman period. If they are correct, it may point to the location of the synagogue of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30). This, as well as early Christian structures, are now enclosed inside the modern compound of the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, built in the 1960s. 

Later Jewish tradition identifies Nazareth as the location where the priestly course of Hapizez settled after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70; an inscription discovered in the coastal city of Caesarea, from the Byzantine period, repeats this. The church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius indicate that the population of Nazareth was Jewish into the sixth century A.D. 

By the fourth century A.D., Christian pilgrims began to journey to Nazareth and were shown a cave identified as the home of Mary. It remains a place for pilgrims to this day. It has housed churches since the Byzantine period. Today, Nazareth contains two main pilgrim churches: the Catholic Church of the Annunciation and the Orthodox church built over the spring of Nazareth. 

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 Annunciation

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” 

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:34-38 NKJV). 

Mary lived in a land under foreign Roman rule. If the God of Israel alone was God, how could this be? The Jewish people yearned for God’s redemption. But, against the might of Rome—how would that happen?

Then the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. He announced a message to her that had been anticipated and hoped for by many. So, on the one hand, she was prepared to hear it and receive it—she would be the vessel of God’s redemption by giving birth to His Son. However, there was one problem: She was a virgin. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

Gabriel then proceeded to relay how this would be accomplished, concluding with the reminder, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” The Jews found themselves in a difficult and dark period looking for God’s redemption—how will this be? Mary, a virgin, asked the same question—how will this be? The answer is: With God nothing will be impossible.

Mary’s story and Israel’s in a way are intertwined. How can this be? A virgin and an enslaved people—with God nothing is impossible. He always provides a way. He entered the story. Mary responded to Gabriel’s message by saying: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” She didn’t understand how it would happen, but she trusted in God. She submitted to His will. 

Throughout the Bible, God showed up to deliver His people. He sent messages of hope in the darkest circumstances. When things seemed impossible, He sent deliverance. The annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary proclaims that He is with us. 

This holiday season some of us find ourselves in impossible and hopeless situations. If not us, we know someone who is struggling. And while we may not have the solutions ourselves, we can trust that “with God nothing will be impossible.” Will we choose to trust and submit to God, even when we don’t know how it will happen? Will we serve Him even when the situation seems impossible?

Redemption comes through obedience. Mary trusted God and submitted to His will. Her choice led to the redemption of the world. Do we trust God regardless of the appearance of our external circumstances? Will we obediently submit to His will for Him to bring hope and deliverance in our lives and those around us?

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending Your Son. Despite how difficult the circumstances appeared, You made a way. Lord, may we submit to You and help bring Your light, hope, and redemption to our world. Amen.

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Israel Hosts Fifth Christian Media Summit in Friendship and Unity

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

A week ago, I attended Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) Christian Media Summit (CMS). Held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, this year’s summit drew more than 100 media professionals and opinion leaders from across the world. According to the CMS website, the summit’s goal is to “foster better understanding and strengthen the friendship between Christians around the world and the State of Israel.” Like a Christian media United Nations, attendees “Zoomed” in from some 40 countries on four continents. We expectantly joined together once again, this time to unite around the 2021 theme, “Abraham Accords and Abrahamic Religions: Partners in Peace.” I was not disappointed. 

I participated in the 2018 and 2019 Summits on the ground in Jerusalem. Nitzan Chen, who has been director of the GPO since 2011, envisioned this outreach to Christian media and launched the first summit in 2017—engaging Israel’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem and Heritage, and Tourism. Each year its impact multiplies to educate members of Christian media, equipping us to do our reporting with a robust background of context for each topic. This was the fifth time the prime minister met with the media in order to highlight progress made during a given administration. Not surprisingly, at this year’s event, Israel’s improved relations with its Arab neighbors was prominent.

While Nitzan’s credentials as a journalist, broadcaster, reporter, and past chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council are impressive, he is also a warm, sincere friend to all of us. His dedication and enthusiasm are evident. I am heartened that he had the foresight to reach out to Christian media knowing that we report facts to counterbalance the liberal media.  

Nitzan has put the entire GPO staff on this project, getting the funding and scheduling an array of speakers that included top officials, artists, military, attorneys, Arab Israelis, archaeologists, and many others. In essence, he is Israel’s de facto official liaison to the Christian World for the CMS, a tool that he and his staff designed.

Nitzan shoulders a lot of responsibility. The Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA), a non-profit organization, lists 480 journalists working in international news outlets. They report from Israel, Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. Those based in the region include Israelis and Palestinians who work for foreign media outlets. The GPO is the touch point for foreign journalists. They issue press cards to media employees in Israel and coordinate media for state events and official visits. Bloomberg, Reuters, The New York Times, the BBC, Der Spiegel, and other major news outlets view Israel as the epicenter for stories about events being shaped in that part of the world. 

Although those of us in Christian media view Israel, the ancestral Jewish homeland, as the epicenter, we draw our views as facts from the Bible, the ultimate authority. Nonetheless, many foreign media in the FPA, founded in Israel in 1957, have become instruments of bias.

Several of many excellent talks included remarks from Israel’s leadership. Prime Minister Bennett took the opportunity in his first speech to say, “Today more than ever, Israel stands united with Christians. We are brothers and sisters, we are united, and we won’t let anyone extinguish our light.” He emphasized, “In the Middle East, there is only one place that fully protects Christian life, where the Christian community is growing, thriving, and prospering, and that’s in the State of Israel.” Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, commented, “We know we can count on you, dear friends and allies in the Christian world, to stand with us in the fight against terror and to be our partners in the efforts to counter the lies and spread the truth of Israel.” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid observed, “You are colleagues, and more than that, friends. What unites us is greater than what separates us.” 

In addition to Israeli speakers, we heard wonderful remarks from Arabs representing nations that were signatories of the Abraham Accords, such as Ahmed Al Mansoori from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As founder of the Crossroads of Civilization Museum, Al Mansoori talked about the “Abrahamic Family House” the UAE is building to recognize the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The innovative structure will enclose a church, synagogue, and mosque under one roof. It was amazing to hear that it will also include a Holocaust gallery. Yousef Hadad, an Israeli Arab, commented that while there are “no perfect societies,” he was astonished that “some Arabs didn’t know about Arab Israelis until the Abraham Accords. They did not even know Arabs served in the Knesset. Now they know more.”  

Several Christian leaders also offered perspectives, including American Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders. He described Christian media as “a firewall against anti-Semitism” and said that Jewish- Christian relationships are a “match made in heaven.” Pastor Richard H. Liverance, former western regional marketing director USA for the Ministry of Tourism, made an excellent suggestion: “Seminaries should require students to go to Israel” as part of their education. 

Pastors Glenn Plummer, Church of God in Christ Bishop of Israel, and Dumisani Washington, founder and CEO of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, offered insightful comments about Martin Luther King’s outlook on Israel. “The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has the right to exist” and “Jewish history and culture are a part of everyone’s heritage, whether he be Jewish, Christian or Muslim,” said Plummer. Both pastors announced exciting, Israel-focused educational efforts including Plummer’s future Israel Media Institute and Washington’s 16-week study course for blacks to become peace ambassadors. 

Toward the end of the summit, my good friend Ari Bussel offered a vision for the future based on the five years of excellent summits. Ari and his wonderful associate Norma Zager, also a good friend, co-host a weekly radio program on KBRT 740 AM, the largest Christian station in southern California. Their program is called Conversations Eye to Eye, The Jewish Voice on Christian Radio. Ari is a foreign correspondent and Norma is an award-winning journalist. Ari opened, saying, “What an extraordinary gathering. Some of us waited an entire year for this very moment.” In a just-right verse Ari quoted Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Ari reported that the GPO asked for input about what they could do next regarding Christian media. I consider Ari and Norma not only as Team LA but as Team Israel USA. Ari and Norma collaborated on some excellent ideas that grew into a program to recruit millions of ambassadors to join Nitzan Chen.

Here are their ideas for the future: 

Israel can recognize each Christian pilgrim and visitor as a “Special Ambassador” to the Christian world—particularly their local church community. Give a certificate to each Christian tourist on arrival to Israel (or before departure). Create a plaque for churches coming to Israel, calling each church a “Special Friend of Israel” to commemorate the visit and the relationship. The plaque could then be displayed as a reminder in their home churches.

The pair blue-skied other ideas, as well—hold a lottery where a church wins an all-expenses-paid trip; award churches who hold the most tours; set up a shared website for Christian friends to post their photos, comments, and memories. Ari and Norma suggested the name Israel Christian Network (ICN), noting that a new approach requires the participation of all Israeli government ministries and agencies in an ongoing commitment. Ari compared the project to marriage, wherein continuous commitments come from both sides to raise the level of ambassadors to new heights. He concluded with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Let us create together the ICN!”

Turning the last page of another successful summit, an announcement from Nitzan Chen and Hadassah Schwartz, Senior Coordinator of International Religious Journalism, came as a wonderful and welcome hope—the next CMS, slated for June 2022, will be held in Jerusalem! 

I close mentioning CBN Israel’s own Chris Mitchell, 20-year bureau chief in Jerusalem, and Julie Stahl, CBN News correspondent. They capably represent us in Christian media and to the world. Many thanks to them for their outstanding work, especially considering the challenges of COVID-19. 

As always, excellence permeated the entire summit. To learn more, readers are invited to log in to the CMS link: https://www.cms-israel.com.

Join CBN Israel in prayer this week for Israel and the global media:

  • Pray for truth and context to increase in the media’s reporting about Israel. 
  • Pray for Israel’s Government Press Office staff for strength and wisdom.
  • Pray for remembrance of Proverbs 12:22 that “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.”
  • Pray for protection and endurance for the CBN News Middle East Bureau in Jerusalem. 
  • Pray that all journalists reporting in the area will experience protection, since they are often in dangerous situations. 

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

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Single Mother: Makdes’ Story

Life was already hard for Makdes, a single mother with three kids, living in Jerusalem. She had no contact with her children’s father, who abandoned them long ago—and she struggled alone just to survive. And then, she suffered a cerebral stroke that left her disabled. Now, she has to walk with crutches, and mostly stays at home. Her outlook for the future seemed bleak. 

But after years of waiting, Makdes finally received approval for government housing due to her disability. This was a positive breakthrough, since private rentals are expensive, and it was difficult to find long-term affordable housing that accommodated her medical needs. 

However, she still needed special furniture suitable for her disability—including a bed, sofa, and aid equipment. These necessities are very costly in Israel. Seeing no other option, she took out a large loan—plunging her and her family into deep debt, and economic danger. 

But CBN Israel came to her rescue. Our team helped Makdes renegotiate her debt, put together a financial plan—and even paid off one of her debts with a special grant! She says, “Thank you so much… I felt so overwhelmed, and did not know where else to turn.” We offered her emergency relief and encouragement—as well as guidance to become self-sufficient.

And your gift to CBN Israel can extend hope and aid to many others in need, including Holocaust survivors, immigrant families, aging veterans, and more. The cries for help are growing in Israel—but your support can supply groceries, housing, essentials, and financial help to those in need. 

Please join us in making a difference in the Holy Land!

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