Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Church of God should be at the forefront encouraging the reading of good literature. Faithfully translated, God's Word is the foremost example of good literature—containing examples of high-quality poetry, biography, history and even drama. Its frequent use of a large variety of multi-levelled figurative language is just one indicator of the quality of God's Word. Christ's description of His Words as Spirit and Life assure us that His Words (spoken or in print) have a quality that no other human words have because they have God, who by definition is Spirit, as their Source. Further, these words, if ingested, lead to eternal life. Seven sets of metaphors picture the uniqueness of the Holy Scripture. God's Word serves as: (1) A lamp and a light, identifying two aspects—an internal map or guidebook inside of us, and an external beacon illuminating the dangers around us (Psalm 119:105); (2) A health tonic for our spiritual body (Proverbs 4:20-22); (3) Rain and snow, initiating growth and fecundity (Isaiah 55:10-11); (4) A hammer and a fire, destroying evil and purifying us from sin (Jeremiah 23:8-9); (5) Food that nourishes our emerging spiritual bodies at every point on the sanctification process (Matthew 4:4, Hebrews 5:12); (6) A sword which can repel God's enemies with truth and an instrument to mortify our own carnal natures (Hebrews 4:12); and (7) Incorruptible seed which bears spiritual fruit (James 1:21, I Peter 1:22-23). God plants His Word and, as it interacts with His Spirit dwelling in us, expects a return on His investment (James 4:5), namely a high yield of Fruit (Galatians 5:22, John 15:4-5).
David C. Grabbe: In Psalm 92:4-5, the psalmist proclaims: For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O LORD, how great are Your works! ...
Martin Collins, acknowledging that because we still have human nature, selfishness dominates our prayer, in contrast to Christ, who devoted 5 petitions on His own behalf and 21 petitions on behalf of His disciples entrusted to Him by the Father to help Him bring glory to God. Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples, including the instructions to regard the Father as a loving parent. The disciples preserved this relationship in their prayers and in their relationship with one another as siblings with Christ. God has planned our way, doing the lion's share of the work, continually keeping us on track if we maintain a teachable attitude. If we observe Christ's words, there must be a demonstrable difference in our behavior and a commitment to obey His teachings in order to bear good spiritual fruit, adopting a lifestyle which the people of this world hate. Christ prays for us as He did for His original disciples because we too have been called by the Father and entrusted to Him. Christ values us because the Father values us.We glorify Christ when we obey Him, carrying His example of holiness to the world through our behavior and actions. As Christ intercedes in prayer for us, we must intercede in prayer for our brethren, realizing we are all in this together.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Charles Hughes Smith's pronouncement that the entire status quo is a fraud, emphasizes that the entire western society seems to be invested in corruption and fraud, even as society as a whole is plunging off a precipitous cliff. Gary Sturgeon insists that 90% of everything is garbage, with only 10% possibly salvageable, but Satan has a grip on the entire cosmos and has the capability of damaging everything unless God miraculously intervenes. God's called out ones have been given the priceless gift of God's Word of sincerity and truth which has the power to sanctify (set apart and make holy). We must guard it as a life preserver, never letting it out of our sight. God the Father and Jesus Christ intended to leave us in the middle of all this fraud, providing a protective hedge against the worst Satan can do, sanctifying us with His truth in order that we rise above the deceit and fraud, learning to exercise godly discernment. In this worldly environment, we appear strange, odd, and even alien to society. In the Festival of Unleavened Bread, we recognize that God had to do something extraordinary ("flexing His muscles") to free our ancestors and us from the ruler of this world, redeeming us to be His people. God literally had to pull us out of our worldly prison, a way of life leading to certain death. As a symbol, unleavened bread emphasizes that the ancient Israelites had to leave in haste, totally unprepared for the trek ahead of them, and that they were totally dependent upon God for everything. God fed them manna (something unworldly and a type of the Bread of Life) to them for 40 years to test them, whether they would walk in His Torah. Abundant life comes to those who live by every word of God, ingesting it continuously. Unleavened Bread symbolizes Christ's body, His Words of sincerity and truth, and most importantly His Spirit, our portal to an eternal relationship with God, transforming us into what God is.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that the two principle themes of Book One of the Psalms are the Torah, or the instruction of God, and the Messiah, or God's Anointed, set apart for a particular purpose—His Son whom He has sent to rule and judge the world. The Messiah is the perfect model of all that instruction. We need to absorb God's instruction and develop a personal relationship with the Son, understanding His character and personality. We have to know the word of God—His instruction—and the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Part of Psalm 19 is a precursor to Psalm 119, honoring the Law, while the opening portion focuses on the creative power of the Son. The creation, as we witness with the naked eye, shows design, order, and precision, enabling mankind to calculate years, seasons, and times, allowing us an insight into the mind of Almighty God. The Creator is infinitely greater than the whole galaxy and the whole universe. Man foolishly worships things that God created, but ignores the Creator. The Law of the Lord has been given to us personally by Yahweh (Jesus Christ), to guard us against making mistakes and presumptuous sins. The words He gives us in His written Word makes the creation more real. Jesus Christ cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word. The third prominent theme in Book One of the Psalms is trust and faith in God. We must live by faith, especially now when harassment and hatred is leveled at Christianity. David, in the midst of Absalom's rebellion, expressed confidence that God still heard him in the midst of what appears to be temporary disaster. David knew that God was his shield and would ultimately deliver the victory to him. Psalm 37 is an instructive psalm, counseling us not to be agitated or unduly concerned about the wicked, reminding us that God will cut off the wicked and will give us salvation. Nothing good will ever come of envious, burning wrath. If we trust in the Lord, doing something positive, He will give us the desires of our heart.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Book One of the Psalms, focusing on themes pertinent to the spring holy days, demonstrates that God orchestrated all of the events of the Exodus, making Pharaoh's pitiful plans irrelevant. God led Israel to the spot they felt they were trapped in order to demonstrate His absolute sovereignty, His ability to save, and His ability to totally annihilate all opposition. The Song of Moses, recorded in Exodus 15, indicates that ancient Israel finally got the point—at least momentarily. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 amplify the themes of the Song of Moses, with the first Psalm concentrating on the Torah, or instruction itself, but the second focusing on the Son; we must come to know both His instruction and Him personally. The Son will have the final say; only a fool would attempt to test His sovereignty. The first stanza of Psalm 1 expresses astonishment that anyone would try to plot against God. Because God controls the whole universe, He laughs in mockery and derision at anyone who would even contemplate rebellion. Because Jesus Christ is God's begotten Son, we can avoid the rod of His anger by paying respect with worshipful fear and awe.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Richard Ritenbaugh, commenting on the dry and hard clay in South Carolina, a real challenge to cultivate, identifies some grounds of comparison Christ cites between ourselves and clay (soil). In the Parable of the Sower, Christ describes 1.0) hard, impenetrable soil of the wayside, vulnerable to birds, symbolizing the devil and his demons, snatching the seed away, 2.) shallow stony soil, offering little or no anchorage for the seed,3.) thorny, choked soil, symbolizing the cares and lures of the world, and 4.) good soil, providing a fertile venue for growth. In each case, the quality of the reaction of the soil is highlighted. God freely supplies the rain and the sunshine to all varieties of soil, just as He makes His Word freely available, but the soil, symbolizing us, has to respond to the implantation of the seed, an invitation to have a relationship with God. Whether we are metaphorized as soil or building materials, we have an obligation to respond to God with deep respect and yieldedness, trembling at His Word.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the double standards of the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, at once insisting that we treat the Bible like every other literary document while insisting the New Testament jump through extra hoops. Looking at the extant number of the ancient texts available to corroborate the authenticity of the Scriptures, more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament have been found than for any other classic text. If every New Testament were destroyed tomorrow, the text could be reconstructed by going to the writings of the church fathers. There are also more corroborating manuscripts of the New Testament in languages other than Greek. The veracity of the Scriptures is something we can take to the bank, in essence our only protection against the torrent of deception we face today, giving us the strength to endure and overcome. God's Word points out profound and necessary truths, prompting us to change our thinking and behavior. As we change, God instills His character in us, allowing us to begin living as He does. As we read God's Word, we must remember that assent is not acceptance. We must accept what God says, obeying and yielding to Him unconditionally, even though human nature stiffens in rebellion at the prospect. We must develop a proper sense of proportion in our relationship to God. We must mortify sin and give ourselves as a living sacrifice. We then must have no doubt that God is capable of giving us whatever we need to finish our course, transforming us into His image.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the "What is truth?" episode in John 18:32-37, suggests that John wants us to ask that question of ourselves. Pilate seemed to believe that all the charges against Jesus were built up on lies and trumped-up charges. Jesus, conversely, was the perfect witness and embodiment of the truth—the truth and the way to eternal life. Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect, probably involved in intrigue and shady backroom deals. The reason behind Pilate's question—- the tone of voice he used when he asked "What is truth?", has been a matter of perennial speculation: Did he ask it sincerely, sarcastically, wistfully, curiously, or impatiently? Pilate realized that Jesus did not have a political motive. Perhaps, Pilate asked the question in a skeptical, world-weary, futile manner, despairing of ever finding a true legitimate answer, feeling that everybody shades their own realities to suit themselves and their preconceptions. Deceit is our most grave problem as we continue in the world and in the church. Post-modern standards deny the existence of truth. Some secular humanists, who control much of higher education, feel that some truths (as practiced by Christians) should not be tolerated. The Olivet Prophecy places deceit at the top of the dangers confronting Christians, who, at the end-times, will be living in the deluge of information age or the disinformation age, powerful enough to deceive the very elect. Satan wants to flood the environment of our minds with a deluge of lies. If a person practices what he preaches, he is likely to tell the truth; we judge by the fruit produced. We have to analyze everything we see and hear, filtering it through the standards and principles of the Holy Scripture, realizing that we have generally not been taught to do this. False teachers tend to chip away at truth one little piece at a time, trying to find an angle to cast doubt on the integrity of the entirety of our belief system. God's Word is the only pure thing in which we
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is almost impossible for a Christian to have a meeting of minds with an atheist on any subject anywhere in the neighborhood of religion. ...
Martin Collins, reflecting that the human conscience can be incrementally conditioned to tolerate sin, decommissioned, and ultimately put to sleep, asserts that God can restore it to usefulness as He did in the lives of Joseph's brothers, by forcing them to go to the location to which they had sold their brother. God sometimes allows the consequences of sin to take effect (i.e. plague, famine, or other form of deprivation) in order to stir the conscience. Anxiety of deprivation drove the prodigal son to repentance and reconciliation with his father. It took Joseph's brothers a harsher measure than physical deprivation, including imprisonment, punitive treatment, and harsh words. God chose the means to force Joseph's brothers into repentance by carefully crafted words and enforced solitude, all designed to refresh their memories and expose their sin. Calamity is sometimes used to bring forgotten transgressions to our minds, driving us to repentance of our secret failings and motives of our hearts. A good conscience (the judgment of the mind concerning right and wrong—an attendant witness of a person's conduct) can only be formed or enlightened by yielding to God and having it cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Martin Collins, referring to the complex prophecies of Daniel 11 and 12, suggests that much of the interpretation of many parts of this prophetic passage, except for the fulfilled prophecy in Daniel 11:2-39, has not emerged clearly, and has been subject to speculative distortion. The exploits of Alexander the Great, his four generals, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Judas Maccabees are recorded in this narrative, providing types for future events. The detailed fulfillment of prophecy indicates that the Bible is God's Book and that He is able to keep His promises in perpetuity. The prophecies yet to be fulfilled do not contain enough geopolitical data to make clear distinctions possible at this time, but the context of the prophesied events provides instructions how the end-time saints should live their lives, in order to make their calling and election sure. God gives the saints wisdom because they fear and keep His commandments. Several types of the abomination of desolation have occurred in history, including the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Roman legions. The latter fulfillment has not yet occurred, but the responsibility of God's called-out ones is purification in the backdrop of a hopelessly corrupt society, having abundant knowledge but virtually no understanding. Without the knowledge of God, civilization automatically spirals downward, given over to reprobate and debased minds. Thankfully, the over-riding theme of Daniel is the replacement of these debased systems of mankind with God's righteous government. The prophecies of Daniel should motivate God's saints to a life of purification and overcoming, glorifying God in the process, reflecting God as the moon reflects the sun, enabling the world to see a clear reflection of God.
Most of the gospel accounts of Jesus casting out demons are impersonal, merely stating the fact that He did so. However, the exorcism in Matthew 8:28-34 is quite detailed. Martin Collins concentrates on the facts that the demon-possessed men were unclean and that God's Word is powerful and efficacious.
Amos 8:11 speaks of "a famine . . . of hearing the words of the LORD." Such a spiritual famine is occurring today: The words of God are readily available, but few are hearing them. David Grabbe explains this prophecy and its connection to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus' healing of the leper in Mark 1:40-45 exhibits His compassion for those suffering the repulsive effects of sin. Martin Collins examines how the cleansing of this horribly diseased man parallels the spiritual cleansing that prepares us for salvation.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Back in February, this column reacted to a statement made on the radio by a local preacher who said that what we do does not matter. ...
Many think keeping Christmas is fine because it honors Christ, yet God never tells us to celebrate the day of His Son's birth. John Ritenbaugh explains that it is presumptuous on many Christians' parts to believe that such a syncretized holiday could please God.
John 6 has always been a difficult chapter to explain. However, within his series on the physical/spiritual parallels in the Bible on eating, John Ritenbaugh shows how clear Jesus' teaching is and what it means to us.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
God provided physical Israel manna to eat every day for forty years. Now we, as spiritual Israel, have the Bible, God's Word, as our daily bread. Are we taking advantage every day of this wonderful blessing God gives us, or are we allowing God's Word to spoil through neglect?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's Spirit is the essence of God's mind rather than a third person of a trinity. With this Spirit, God opens our minds, dwells in us, and implants or transfers His Family characteristics into us through His Word (Romans 8:9-10; I Corinthians 2:10; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). Just as a family member can live on another continent and still literally be in a family, so can Christ, the Father, and His called-out ones be "in one another" (John 17:21-22) united by the same Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of the eye, clear vision, and light metaphors in Matthew 6:22-23, stating that the eye represents understanding (as the metaphorical eye of the heart) while the light represents truth. It is not enough to have knowledge of the right treasure; we also need to have the understanding of where all the pieces fit. Clear vision lightens the way spiritually, ethically, and morally. If the eye of the heart is aimed at spiritual treasure and the glory of God, it will remain singly focused. Using this spiritual vision or understanding, the best way to protect the heart is to saturate it with the word of God.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
After warning against literary junk food, John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the dominant emphasis of Matthew, an ex-government official, who concentrated upon the kingly qualities of Jesus as a descendant of the royal house of David, representing the Lion of Judah. Matthew highlights Jesus' authority over the deposed king (Satan), the Kingdom of Heaven (appearing 33 times) and righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
Christian freedom has nothing to do with location but how we think. Like Israel on the edge of the Red Sea, we are too willing to turn back to our enslavement. Like Christ, carrying the instrument of our death (the cross), we also carry with us the instrument of our own death (our carnal minds). By imbibing on God's Word (maturing from milk to meat), we will incrementally displace our carnality, responding to God's shaping of our character to attain the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
A summary of the reasons God uses symbols in the Bible, along with a few rules for understanding them.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
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