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Biblical Israel: Chorazin

By Marc Turnage

Located two and a half miles north of Capernaum, Chorazin sits in the hills overlooking the lake of Galilee at 45-46 meters above sea level and 267-273 meters above the lake. Although only mentioned once in the Gospels (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:13-16), Jesus cursed the village for not repenting when seeing the miracles he worked in its midst. He cursed Chorazin, along with Capernaum and Bethsaida. Incidentally, the land between these three villages, on the north shore of the lake of Galilee, covers much of the territory of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels.

The distance of Chorazin from the lake meant that it did not participate directly in the fishing industry on the lake. We learn from rabbinic literature that Chorazin produced exceptional wheat. Excavations of the site reveal that the village, which began in the first century A.D., was a Jewish village.

The majority of the ruins one sees when visiting Chorazin today date from after the first century, but they reflect Jewish village life in the Galilee. The central structure from the later village is the synagogue. Built perhaps as early as the third century A.D., the basalt structure resembles the Galilean style synagogues excavated at places like Capernaum, Bar’am, Meiron, and Arbel.

The synagogue sits in the center of the village. Worshippers entered the hall through three entrances from a large staircase on the south, which faces towards Jerusalem. Two tiers of benches line the two long aisles and the short wall opposite the entrance in a “U” shape. Inside the synagogue, the basalt stone, which is hard to fashion, bears carvings and decorations.

Excavators uncovered pieces of what appears to be a Torah Ark, where biblical scrolls read in the synagogue were kept. They also discovered a basalt stone seat, which was known as the Seat of Moses (see Matthew 23:1-2; Luke 4:20). The chair bears a dedicatory inscription in Aramaic, which reads, “Remember for good Yudan son of Ishmael, who made (or donated) this stoa, and its steps from his property. May he have a portion with the righteous.” Recent excavations in the floor of this synagogue indicate that it may stand on an earlier public building, perhaps the first century synagogue.

Although the ruins of Chorazin that one sees today date to after the first century, the site contains a number of features in the homes, installations, like a covered Jewish ritual immersion bath, and details within the synagogue that help to illustrate stories from the Gospels and the life and ministry of Jesus.

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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Out of the Depths

“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. … I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6 NKJV).

Have you ever been there? In the depths? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by life and its circumstances that you felt as if you were in the deepest, darkest pit? The psalmist did. And he cried out to the Lord. 

This is actually an amazing statement by the psalmist, because when you find yourself in the depths, one of the hardest things to do is cry out to God. You may think that sounds strange. Perhaps you think that the natural cry should be to God. And it should. The problem, however, is that when we find ourselves in the depths, we stand on the edge of despair. 

Circumstances overwhelm us like violent waves of the ocean. At first, we may find the strength to face the challenges and hardships, but eventually, even inside of us, we begin to faint, wear down, and despair. 

Faith is not just believing God in the good times or even the mildly bad times; faith is crying out to God from the deepest depths of despair, when everything outside of us and inside of us feels like things are hopeless. When we can cry out to God in that moment, pleading with Him to hear our cry, that is the genuine test of our faith. 

Everyone faces hardships and overwhelming circumstances, many of which we cannot control. The challenge of faith is this: that even though we find ourselves in deep despair due to circumstances and the doubts that arise in us, we continue facing toward God. No matter our circumstances, we cry out to Him and know that He will answer us. He will not abandon us. 

The psalmist didn’t allow his circumstances to consume him, nor did he buy into the thought that his circumstances separated him from God’s being able to hear him. From the depths, he called out to the Lord because the God of the Bible is near to the cry of His people. 

When you find yourself in the depths of despair, turn toward God, not toward your circumstances. That doesn’t mean that the hardship, difficulty, or pain will subside. It does mean that the God of the universe will hear your cry, and the deepest depths are not too deep for Him.

PRAYER

Father, hear our cry. Give ear to our plea today. Amen.

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Raising Up the Humble

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. 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 1:50-55 NKJV).

We tend to focus on the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ coming and overlook that within the New Testament, including the Gospels, His coming—which was connected to God’s redemption—had spiritual, political, and social consequences. The Magnificat, Mary’s song, articulates her excitement and expectations: God is showing His mercy to those who fear Him, He scatters the proud, He brings the mighty low and raises up the humble, and He fulfills His promises to Israel’s fathers. The coming of God’s redemption meant a reversal of the current order of things, especially for those of low state.

This same message echoes in the teaching of Mary’s son, who saw His movement as bringing about God’s redemption and the dawning of God’s reign. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25 NIV). 

Jesus’ message embodied the hopes of His birth. God’s redemption and His reign dawns. God draws near, especially to the poor, hungry, and those who mourn. And, because of their downtrodden status, Jesus viewed them as blessed. Moreover, He called upon those who would follow Him to care for and be mindful of the weak (see Matthew 19:16-22; 25:34-46). The obedience of His followers to caring for the hurting, poor, hungry, and suffering visibly demonstrates the breaking forth of God’s redemptive reign. 

God’s message of hope in the advent of Jesus is that He is near, especially to the poor, the hungry, the weak, and those who mourn. How do we embody this reality in our daily lives? Celebrating Christmas is not only about Nativity scenes or pageants, or choir cantatas, or even Handel’s Messiah. Christmas means the realization and incarnation of Mary’s song and her son’s message: God is near, especially to the poor, hungry, and weak. 

PRAYER

O, Lord, You are King. You raise up and bring low. You rule the universe, and yet You are near to the poor, the hurting, and the suffering. And so was Your Son. Father, in this season when we remember His coming, may we proclaim Your kingship by being near to those who are near to You. Amen.  

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The Proclamation of Good News

“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news”’ (Luke 1:18-19 NIV).

Luke repeatedly speaks about the “proclamation of good news” within his Gospel and Acts. He uses the phrase “to proclaim good news” as opposed to the noun “gospel.” His language reflects a more Hebraic form of expression and goes back to biblical passages from Isaiah (40:9; 41:27; 52:7; and 61:1), which ancient Judaism understood as part of God’s promised redemption for His people. 

When the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, John’s father, that he came to announce good news to Zechariah (Luke 1:19), he doesn’t merely mean the birth of a son (although that was certainly tremendous news for the aged couple). Rather, Gabriel’s language hints at the role Zechariah’s son will play in God’s redemptive actions for His people (1:15-17). And Zechariah would have understood that. 

The angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (2:10 NIV). Their jubilant message to the shepherds—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (2:14 NKJV)—articulated the essence of the good news they proclaimed: God is fulfilling His promises to His people; the hope of redemption has come! And He does so and draws near through the birth of these babies. 

The worldview of the Bible focuses primarily on the community and collective, as opposed to the individual as we do within Western society. The angelic proclamation to Zechariah and the shepherds announced God’s redemption for His people. It was not for a few. And the individual was not the center of God’s proclamation of good news; it was meant for all people. 

We often personalize our faith: What does the Bible say to me? What has God done for me? And, at Christmas, what is God’s gift of salvation to me? If that is our primary focus, we miss the angelic proclamation—which was about God, His fulfillment of His promises to His people, and the hope of redemption for all the people. 

PRAYER

Father, thank You for the fulfillment of Your good news by sending Jesus. May Your good news of hope and redemption be shown through our lives to the world, and may they know that it is Your good news for all people. Amen.

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