John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh asks us to reflect soberly upon what we have accepted as our authority for permitting ourselves to do or behave as we do— our value system, our code of ethics or code of morality. All law is nothing more than codified morality. Alarmingly, if one willingly rejects God's statutes and judgments, turning instead to his own ideas (or his political institution's ideas) about what constitutes right and wrong- he has become an idolater, subjecting himself to an alien body of law and morality, influenced by Satan, the god of this world. Whatever we choose to obey becomes automatically our sovereign lord. Throughout the relatively brief history of modern Israel, the source of law (or system of morality) has steadily and dramatically shifted away from biblical principles to human moralistic relativism — plunging our entire culture into reprobate debased idolatry- designating good as evil and evil as good. Displacing God's standards for morality with man's standards of morality is the root cause of idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the god of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the reprobate mind God consigned to nonbelievers (a mind incapable of moral judgment) constitutes the basis for the world's dubious standards of morality and idolatry. Discernment of right and wrong comes exclusively from doing the will of God. Idolatry derives from worshiping the work of our own hands or our own mental fabrications (imposing our own will against God's) rather than the true God (to be worshiped only in spirit and truth). Whatever consumes our thoughts and behavior (motivated by lust or covetousness for something forbidden by God's law) has become our god or our idol.
Addressing the problem of our supposed anonymity and insignificance, John Ritenbaugh asserts that the little things we do make big impacts in the grand scheme of things; little things make a big difference. Corollaries of this "little things count" principle include: 1) In the reproductive process, there is a powerful tendency toward increase. 2) Every action has a corresponding reaction. 3) We reap what we sow. 4) The fruit produced will be more than what was sown. Sin produces increase (the leavening effect) just as righteousness does. In carnal human nature, there is no impediment to sin. Sin has an addictive, drug-like quality that requires more and more to satisfy. Degeneracy (as a consequence of natural law) is exponentially incremental. Like Achan's "hidden" transgression, what we do in secret eventually comes to light, making an impact on the whole body.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only a converted person humbles himself before the truth, making a conscientious, unflagging effort to follow the light of evidence, even to the most unwelcome conclusions, resisting desire, passion, and prejudices acquired through our culture. Human nature is hostile to God's truth, but rejecting truth leads to idolatry and a debased mind (Romans 1:28). We have been redeemed from the traditions and philosophies produced by corrupt men, inspired by demons, the patterns of thinking and conduct that are at odds with the truth of God. We have to desperately fight the perverse downward pull of human nature (inspired by the culture into which we are immersed) to ignore the truth.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that taking God's name in vain is far more serious than swearing or profanity. To appropriate the name of God means to represent His attributes, character and nature. God's names are the signposts or revelators of His nature and descriptors of His activities. The glory of God was revealed through Christ by what He said and did- His entire repertoire of behavior. Our daily behavior, likewise, must imitate Christ just as Christ's behavior revealed God the Father. Behaving in a Godly manner enables us to know God and live a quality life. The third commandment has to do with the quality of our personal witness to everything the name we bear implies. Profaning or blaspheming God's name implies living in a manner inconsistent with God's name.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
John Ritenbaugh insists that understanding Elohim teaches us a great deal about the nature of the Godhead, determining the direction of our personal lives. The trinity doctrine, admitted by the Catholic Encyclopedia as unsupportable by either the Old Testament or New Testament, but only through "Christological speculation" severely corrupts the truth of the scriptures. Elohim, used 2,570 times throughout the scriptures refers to a plural family unit in the process of expanding. God considers individuals with His Spirit to be part of the Godhead already, in unity of purpose and ultimately in composition. Like the term "United States of America," considered as one unit or institution, the family of God or the kingdom of God is a singular unit ' consisting of many family members growing into the fullness of God.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
In this Pentecost message, John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
The Ten Commandments open with the most important, the one puts our relationship with God in its proper perspective. John Ritenbaugh explains this simple but vital command.
Many fail to perceive the difference between the first and second commandments. John Ritenbaugh explains that the second defines the way we are to worship the true God.
A Bible study on idolatry, concentrating on the subject of the second commandment: the way we worship.
Many people think the third commandment deals only with euphemisms and swearing, but it actually goes much deeper than that! John Ritenbaugh explains that this commandment regulates the quality of our worship and involves glorifying God in every aspect of life.
The fourth commandment is the one that most people think is least important, but in reality it may be one of the most important! John Ritenbaugh explains the Sabbath commandment and its vital teaching.
John Ritenbaugh points out the impossibility of serving two masters equally (Matthew 6:24), especially if each master's goals, objectives, or interests are antithetical to one another. If we try to serve both equally, we run the risk of losing both. Eventually one wil love the other and disrespect the other. Trusting mammon (any worldly treasure inspired by Satan) will erode faith, eventually turning us to idolatry and eternal death. We need to emulate the lives of Moses (who gave up power and massive worldly goods) and Paul (who gave up pedigree and prestigious religious credentials) to yield to and follow God's direction. The best way to attain true wealth and the abundant eternal life is to loosen our grip on worldly rewards and single-mindedly follow Christ.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
It seems that some sins should be worse than others in God's eyes. Is this so? Martin Collins explains that, though all sin merits the death penalty, some sins carry greater consequences and penalties.
Have the animal rights groups gone too far? Mike Ford argues that their movement borders on—if not transgresses—the line between concern and idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh warns that keeping the right days on the calendar is no guarantee of attaining a right relationship with God. How and why a person keeps the Sabbath determines whether this test commandment is really a sign between God and His people or an idolatrous act of futility. The Sabbath could metaphorically represent a date between God and His affianced bride, a special 24-hour time to become more intimately acquainted, the actual courtship stage before marriage. Letting worldly concerns enter the Sabbath is like committing adultery or flirting with other lovers. When we take time to know God, we become refreshed, strengthened, and actually liberated from worldly entanglements.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the Sabbath constitutes a recurring appointment with the Deity, a special time for developing and building our relationship with God. It is from the proper use of this day—in fellowshipping with Him and getting to know Him—that we derive true spiritual rest and refreshment. Keeping the Sabbath properly, as a special date with God, will restore our energy, renew our strength, and liberate us from bondage to sin and worldly entanglements. We need to vigilantly guard our minds from any unlawful desire which detracts from the Sabbath, taking the place of God. This idol will destroy our relationship from God. We desperately need this vital seventh of our lives to rehearse and experience what we are to become.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting or spiritual dismantling of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked so diligently to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systmatically and surreptitiously started to undermine the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the real issue in the calendar controversy is not mathematical or astronomical computations, but faith in God's sovereignty, His providence, His right to assign responsibility, and His capability of maintaining an oversight over this responsibility. God has been faithful in providing a reliable calendar for over 1600 years. God remains consistent with His purpose, maintaining oversight and control. Like our ancient forbears, we dare not stray from things given or entrusted to us. We must hold fast, guarding the truth, honoring our father in the faith, refusing to forage after pernicious false doctrine. The preservation of the calendar was entrusted to the Jews, and specifically the Levites. No church group or private individual should presumptuously arrogate this responsibility to himself or herself.
Many of us believe and attend church services without really answering this most fundamental of questions. John Ritenbaugh gives three reasons for worshipping our great and almighty God.
Three of the seven churches of Revelation 2 receive warnings from Christ to beware Nicolaitanism. What is it? Richard Ritenbaugh shows how Nicolaitanism—a form of Gnosticism—still plagues the church today.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Two Witnesses seem to have carte blanche authority from God to annihilate those who interfere with their work as well as power over weather patterns and natural elements in the spirit, power, and manner of Elijah and Moses. These miracles dramatize just how far mankind has turned from God. The lack or pollution of water signifies the lack or the defilement of God's Holy Spirit. The pattern of two witnesses (God often works in pairs) was established as a precedent from the very beginning (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 19:15), and is repeated many times throughout the scriptures.
God the Father has summoned us to a unique position among all the other people of the earth. As saints, we have the responsibility to work toward the Kingdom of God and become holy—things only we can do! This should motivate us to please God by doing all that He requires of us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
The Catholic Church places great importance on Mary—to the point that many Catholics, both lay and clergy, are pushing for Mary to be recognized as "Co-Redemptrix"! David Grabbe points out that the Bible makes no such claims for her. She may be "blessed among women," but she is in no way to be deified!
We live in a society that is increasingly concerned about ownership. We have a proclivity to assume ownership over things we find in our grasp. David Grabbe considers this principle in relation to the Sabbath. Who owns it—and how does the answer to this question affect our keeping of it?
The first commandment sets the stage for Mike Ford's review of Genesis 22, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. He suggests that God wanted to know one thing: Would Abraham put Him first and have no other god?
Many longtime students of the Bible have trouble accepting that the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 could be God's people, Israel. However, John Ritenbaugh shows that God's Word frequently paints unfaithful Israel in this light because she has consistently played the harlot in her relationship with God.
The northern tribes of Israel, having rejected Davidic rule, chose Jeroboam as their king, and he soon led the Northern Kingdom into apostasy. Charles Whitaker shows that after just over 200 years, Israel fell to Assyria, and it people were taken captive and transported to Media. Judah lasted about a century and a half longer, falling to Babylon in 585 BC.
God's children may look no different on the outside than others do, but God has given them something inside, something spiritual, that makes them different from others and special to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that this specialness obligates us to be faithful.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
In the church, the argument over evolution was settled long ago, but such is not the case in the wider world. David Grabbe goes beyond the science to what embracing evolution actually says about a person's—and a society's—relationship with God.
Though God provided the descendants of Abraham with every physical advantage, Israel still failed to keep the terms of the covenant they made with Him. However, as Richard Ritenbaugh brings out, God withheld one necessary, spiritual ingredient—the key dimension that makes the New Covenant work.
It is a wonderful thing that God has called us out of this world and paid the penalty for our sins, but what happens next? After making the covenant with God, how does a person avoid backsliding as so many biblical examples show? John Ritenbaugh answers these questions by explaining what seeking God is really all about.
At creation, God sanctified only one day, the seventh, as a day of rest. At Sinai, He once again sanctified it as a holy day, connecting it with creation and freedom. John Ritenbaugh expands on these concepts, showing that God wants us to keep the Sabbath to support our continuing spiritual creation and freedom.
Idolatry is probably the sin that the Bible most often warns us against. John Ritenbaugh explains the first commandment, showing that we worship the source of our values and standards. God, of course, wants our values and standards to come from Him and Him only, for there is no higher Source in all the universe!
Most people consider the second commandment to deal with making or falling down before a pagan idol, but it has far greater scope. John Ritenbaugh shows that it covers all aspects of the way we worship, including setting ourselves up in God's place by becoming enslaved to our own desires.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Deuteronomy is the only book commanded to be read at regular intervals. Deuteronomy covers the final 70 days of Moses' tumultuous life. The rulers of Israel were to write a copy of the Law and read it on a daily basis. As members of the Israel of God, kings and priests in waiting, we need to read it continually, learning to rule others by learning to rule ourselves. The book of Deuteronomy is the heart and pulse of the Old Testament, with its words throughout the New Testament (quoted 86 times), excoriating idolatry, providing a foundation of Christian doctrine, exposing human nature, and providing an outline preparing us to enter God's Kingdom. The spiritual concepts in Deuteronomy serve as a template for the ruler's instruction book. Unlike Leviticus, Deuteronomy is not a cold, codified law, but a heart-felt appeal from Almighty God for His children to remain faithful to Him. As God Almighty skillfully engineered a massive number of our forebears, He will similarly engineer the end-time exodus for the Israel of God. Likewise we have a responsibility to remain faithful, instructing our children in God's instruction, insuring the success of God's family operation. We are to fear, love, and serve God, walking in and keeping His Commandments with all our might.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the scripture commanding the saving of second tithe, focuses on the admonition that we learn to fear God, having awe, respect, with a certain measure of dread. We are admonished to internalize the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for our future leadership roles. In one sense, Deuteronomy serves as the Reader's Digest Condensed Book or the Cliff Notes, outlining the details for our salvation, providing us instructions for our relationship to God and our guidebook to the Promised Land. Deviating from this set of instructions leads to apostasy, idolatry or spiritual adultery, a situation in which physical Israel perennially found itself, having become repeatedly immersed in degenerate heathen religious practices. Ezekiel 16 is directed to modern Israel, a people who have outstripped their ancestors in their zeal to defile themselves in a moral and spiritual cesspool. Unfortunately, all of us have been tainted by this degenerate culture. Modern Israel's major sin is idolatry. Once the First Commandment is broken, the others topple like a house of cards. Most of the world worships pictures or sculptures of gods and lords. Those who trust these false entities are as good as dead. There is no alternative to worshipping the one true God. Israel's propensity for idolatry is deeply ingrained in them, impatiently and emotionally clamoring for something they could see—a malleable idol. Unfortunately, this propensity toward idolatry is part of human nature, a natural extension of self-centered coveting; transforming ourselves into the god we serve. God will not brook competition under any circumstances, demanding total destruction of all alternative forms and methods of worship—no form of syncretism with anything pagan whatsoever.
Believe it or not, we are all affected by slavery, as human servitude comes in many forms: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, economic, political, etc. Martin Collins exposes modern slavery in its many guises, comparing it to the Bible's depiction of Babylon the Great and its enslaving system.
As God promised in Leviticus 26:30, the pagan high places of Israel and Judah were destroyed long ago. Their gods have essentially passed into history ...
"Abomination" is a word that is quickly becoming archaic in modern usage because so few things are considered abominable anymore. Martin Collins provides both secular and religious meanings for the term, as well as a survey of biblical Hebrew and Greek words that convey a similar idea.
Martin Collins, examining the scriptures proclaiming Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, rehearses the horrible trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a mockery of both Jewish and Roman justice, a trial which acquitted an innocent man, only to have Him executed because of the squeamishness and fearfulness of Pontius Pilate encountering a blood-thirsty mob. Jesus was declared innocent multiple times, including by the thief on the cross, the centurion who speared Him, and others, but Pilate could not muster the courage to acquit Him. He did, however, write a caption above Him in three languages, Hebraistic Aramaic (implying that He was the King over all religious law), Greek (implying He was the King over culture), and Latin (implying He was King over all civil law). Jesus' sinless and faithful life qualifies Him to assume the role of King of Kings , as contrasted by some of the prominent kings of Israel (including Solomon) who seriously fell short of the requirements God established for kings in Deuteronomy 17:17. As an inset in this message, we are reminded that Jesus did not go to Paradise immediately after His death, but instead into the grave. The thief on the cross, as well as the rest of us, will have to wait for Jesus Christ's establishment of His Kingdom before we can join Him, ruling with Him as kings and priests. As aspiring rulers, we dare not compromise with God's Law.
John Ritenbaugh warns about conforming to the world by realizing that Satan fine tunes and customizes his deception. Like he had done with the apostle Peter, Satan also wants to sift us as wheat Thankfully, God will not let us be tempted above what we are able. The apostle Paul warns us to be vigilant about the world, not loving its attitudes, mindsets, and frame of mind. Loving (or setting our hearts upon) the world (as opposed to loving the LORD our God or our neighbor as ourselves) and being attached to the world (governed by the spirit and power of the air) is bad business. Loving the world and loving God the Father cannot transpire side by side; we cannot serve two masters. John is referring to spiritual things that have powerful influences on the fleshly appetites. Sin usually begins in the eye because it triggers desire. Pride disengages us from realizing that we are created beings and did not give ourselves abilities, gifts, materials, and tools we have nothing we did not receive. Pride leads to idolatry, the horrible sin which separated Israel from God. The called of God do not fit anywhere in the world; the church is unique—separate from anything in the world; we march to the beat of a different drummer. It is human nature (which is anti-God) to absorb the ways of the world. To the world, we are the 'enemy.' Our focus should be on treasuring our calling, preparing to become teachers in God's Kingdom.
David Grabbe, citing a commentary referring to envy as the most precious daughter, makes a distinction between covetousness (desire for things) and envy ( emanating from a hatred for another person's success). Envy led Cain to kill Abel, and the Jewish leaders to crucify Jesus Christ. Satan was envious of a Superior Being. James links human wisdom with envy and self-seeking, attended with confusion and unease. Envy will separate the body of Christ if she (Satan's most precious daughter) can get her hooks into us. Envy led Joseph's brothers to plot to kill him for what they perceived as favoritism. Joseph, on the other hand, worked for the betterment of those above him. Retaining God in our knowledge is the key to keeping envy at bay. Any success or prosperity is because of what God has done; who are we to disagree with Him. Envy is the result of pushing God from our knowledge. It is easy to follow in Satan's footsteps, courting his daughter Envy, reaping the disquiet which accompanies envy.
Bill Onisick suggests that if we inculcate the mission statement found in Deuteronomy 6:1-5 (known as the Shema), we will have a high certainty of life and a huge chance at success. If we get this one thing right (loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind) we will succeed at our objectives. Jesus Christ pointed out that the commandment to love God with all our being was the Great Commandment, teaching us that nothing is more important than our relationship with God. Anything else that competes for our attention is an idol, which we need to immediately scuttle. Our core purpose is to become like our Creator, morphing into His image as we dispose of our carnal nature. This process will take a great deal of time, but it is not impossible if we allow our Creator to mold us into His image.
Mike Ford cues in on the narrative about the religious hobbyist, Micah, in Judges 17, who practiced his own self-devised hybrid of religion, amalgamating some orthodox truth with abundant noxious, pagan admixtures, bringing a curse on himself and his community. Heretofore, when strong leadership existed, idolatry was held in check, but by chapter 17, the train (of undefiled worship) begins to go off the track. We cannot take anything from paganism and use it to worship God. Micah was a thief, having stolen the life savings from his mother, but returned it when she cursed the thief. Upon the return of the silver, Micah's mother blessed him profusely and then she had an idol made of the silver. Micah had procured an ephod and presumptuously consecrated his son a priest. Adam Clarke gives him a pass, claiming he was only replicating the temple in Shiloh and was merely worshiping the true God. But the preponderance of the evidence does not support Adam Clarke's faulty assumption that the ephod was connected only to the worship of the true God. Gideon's ephod, for example, became an idol. Some contemporaries of Gideon and Micah liked to dress idols in ephods, attempting to give them religious legitimacy. Micah and his household had abundant teraphim (or household idols like the ones possessed by Laban), negating the pure intentions ascribed to Micah by Adam Clarke. Albert Barnes makes the absurd assumption that the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges were illiterate. Micah certainly knew the laws of God, but he was enamored of the pagan rites, and tried to blend them into the worship of God. When Micah drafted the young, itinerant Levite, a grandson of Moses, he persuaded him to continue in the syncretized pagan rites. These presumptuous actions of Micah were disgusting in the eyes of God; it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from paganism to worship God just because we personally feel good about it.
Richard Ritenbaugh asks us to consider how we would discipline a recalcitrant, obstinate child, examining a repertoire of techniques from harsh to indulgent, reminding us that good parents should have a whole quiver of solutions, not just a carrot or a stick. The children of Jacob have throughout history behaved like spoiled brats, perennially earning God's wrath and discipline. Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets, pictures a shout of warning, a time of gloominess and dread, the Day of the Lord in the valley of decision, the great tribulation when God's wrath will be poured upon mankind, a curse they bring on themselves. Sadly many in God's Church will also ignore the warning, reaping the consequences of their lack of submission. God is full of grief that it has come to this sad state of apostasy. Our worship on the Day of Trumpets should constitute praise and worship, extolling the attributes, blessings, and promises of God. The Feasts of God establish God's statutes, laws, testimonies, ordinances, and rulings. If we would keep God's Feasts properly, we would be in sync with God's noble purpose for us, defending us from falling into apostasy and idolatry. God tested physical Israel and is continuing to test spiritual Israel, the Israel of God. We dare not imitate the rebellion of our forebears on the Sinai who fell into idolatry, but rather must hallow God and keep His Commandments.
Mike Ford, reflecting on the inordinately high casualties of the American Civil War, far more extensive than all of the other wars combined, compares the devastation to another civil war between Judah and Israel, recorded in 1 Kings 14 and II Chronicles 11, a tragic war where more than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives because the leadership turned away from God, embracing disgusting forms of idolatry. After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam, after seeking unwise counsel, provoked a split or secession of the northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promoted the worship of golden calves in a counterfeit Feast of Tabernacles in Bethel and Dan and appointing his own unscrupulous priests to administer the pagan services, which promoted sodomy and male temple prostitutes. When King Abijah earnestly appealed to God at the beginning of a devastating siege, repenting of the foolish God-rejecting policies of his father's administration, God heard his intercessory prayer; Rehoboam's army was soundly routed, suffering 500,000 casualties, and Judah basked in a short-lived peace. Abijah had three good years but was suddenly cut off because the victory went to his head, and he didn't move forward, removing the idols and outlawing the disgusting pagan religious practices. One successful act of faith is only something to build on, not merely a motivation to rest on laurels. We need to make sure that we move forward in our spiritual battles, extirpating any idol that comes into our lives, separating us from God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the book of Chronicles, written around 420 BC, after Israel had returned from captivity, was not intended to be so much as a historical record as a sermon, drawing lessons from the historical record, showing what happens when the nation and its kings conform to God's covenants and what happens when the nation and its kings depart from God's covenants. We can trust God's reaction to be consistent. The majority of leaders in Judah and Israel proved wicked, bringing enslavement and death to their subjects. A handful were fairly good kings, such as Jehoshaphat and Asa. The tenure of Asa started off well, with his judgments faithfully executed on behalf of the good and right, but as he continued his reign, his faults began to emerge as well. Asa initially banished cultic prostitutes, homosexuals, idols, and high places, even having the courage to displace his powerful grandmother Maachah for erecting an obscene image of the goddess Ashera, an idol which Asa boldly destroyed. Asa's reforms gave Judah a ten year respite, time which he wisely used to fortify his country, building up garrisons and protective walls. Sadly, Asa left a few things undone, losing a lot of steam in his later years, trying to play it safe. Idolatry was so engrained in Judah and Israel that Asa felt a sense of weariness in well-doing. Similarly, if we leave things undone in our personal revival, our secret sins morph into idols. Paul warns us to flee from all forms of idolatry. The things that our forebears experienced apply to us. When the million man army of Zerah the Ethiopian outnumbered Asa's forces two to one, Asa relied on God and prevailed. Later, on the prophet Azariah's counsel, Asa led his people to rededicate the Covenant of the Lord, making an oath of death if they disobeyed. Sadly, Asa in his later years made a treaty with Syria against Israel, leading to a period of perpetual war and a premature death by his own curse. We must learn to be steadfast all our days.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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