Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, affirming that God's Word is a discerner of the innermost thoughts of the heart, assures us that God, in His supreme sovereignty, has an awareness of each and every one of us. In our natural, carnal state, we are full of pride, wearing it almost as an ornament around our neck. Sadly, humility does not come naturally; it must be put on as a garment. Sometimes we grab a counterfeit garment, displaying cringing obsequiousness rather than true humility. There is a huge chasm between pride and humility—the latter a created attribute of character. To humble ourselves is not to put ourselves down like the excessively obedient, groveling Wormtongue in the movie Lord of the Rings. Instead, we need to place our total dependence on Almighty God, deferring to His will, as is demonstrated in the behavior of the repentant tax collector, the prodigal son, Solomon's humble request for wisdom and understanding, and Isaiah's declaration of his unworthiness. Paradoxically, God stoops to us when we humble ourselves. Humility produces honor from God; if we humble ourselves, He will hear us. Because we are spiritually broke, we need Him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that without the proper emphasis on thanksgiving and praise, our prayers degenerate into the "gimmes" with the emphasis exclusively on self. We need to learn to give God thoughtful thanks in every circumstance, including sickness, health, prosperity, and adversity, all having a useful niche in our spiritual growth if we cultivate the right perspective. While gratitude is a major support of faith, pride is a major exponent of vanity and uselessness. Gratitude is the natural reaction to what God has done. Thanksgiving supports true faith because it helps us to focus on the Creator rather than the created. If we see, hear, taste, and feel God in our lives, we should experience a torrent of praise and thanksgiving in our lives.
As God's children, we have no need to become discouraged for long. God has given and done so much for us that we have no reason to get down.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
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