David Grabbe focuses on a facile but errant slogan reflecting a Protestant heresy: "The Sabbath is the sign of the Old Covenant; the Holy Spirit is the sign of the New Covenant." The intended implication is that the Holy Spirit replaces the Sabbath. We should bear in mind that Pentecost—celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit—requires the meticulous counting of Sabbaths, and is itself an annual Sabbath. Those who subscribe to this catchphrase ignore the truth that God made the seventh-day holy during creation week; it occupies a central location amid God's Ten Commandments, in effect until Heaven and Earth pass away. Peter, at Pentecost assured his audience that repentance would be given to those who repent of breaking God's law (which of course includes His Commandments). Millennial prophecies make it clear that the Sabbath will remain in effect in perpetuity. Those false teachers who claim God has done away with or changed the Sabbath are implying that God is inconsistent, blessing "New Testament" Christians for violating the Sabbath, while destroying their ancient forefathers for doing the same thing. It is wrong to call the Sabbath the sign of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath is a reminder of God's creative power, a sign of identification in both physical and spiritual Israel, and a sign of sanctification. If we cast off this sign of sanctification, we will return to the way of life from which we have been freed. God's called-out ones must be cautious about clever one-liners spouted by liars dedicated to deceiving God's elect.
Kim Myers maintains that, while many people in the world likes some of God's laws, such as the proscriptions against murder and theft, they like to pick and choose when it comes to the rest, preferring a blend of their own preferences with some of God's laws added in. The penalties that result from breaking God's laws are sure and exacting, as we witness in homes in which adultery or fornication has taken place. Breaking any of God's laws is the height of stupidity. The experiences of those who have once committed to God's ways and then started to compromise have not been pleasant or successful. Young people, unfortunately, seem to be oblivious to painful cause-and-effect relationships. One does not conceal his foolishness in a vacuum, but it is on display for everyone to see. Our nation has felt the incremental effect of God's curses as it systematically replaces tenets of God's Law with foolish laws concocted from human reason. God's called-ones must not follow suit, deciding which of God's laws we keep, and which to discard. We must embrace the full counsel of God, trembling before His every Word. We want to have joy by living by every word that comes from His Mouth.
Having laid extensive groundwork for the Bible's covenants, John Ritenbaugh begins to explore the first of these, the Edenic Covenant. Universal in scope, this covenant introduces God to mankind as his Creator and establishes the rules by which human beings are to relate to Him and to the earth and its human and non-human inhabitants. It is simultaneously a covenant of blessing and responsibility.
David C. Grabbe: As we saw in Part Two, the biblical words translated as “repentance” indicate a thorough moral adjustment of an individual’s thoughts, words, and deeds. While the word itself focuses on the change ...
Ronny Graham, reflecting upon mankind’s propensity to selectively filter events, forgetting the bad and remembering the good when assessing “the good old days,” asserts that our civilization has undergone a terrifying free-fall of morality and ethics for multiple decades. Some feel the good old days are a myth, while others claim that we do not realize how good we have had things until they are gone. French novelist Marcel Proust proclaims that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily remembrance of the way things really were.” We have myriads of memories of the way things used to be in the church, including multiple choices of feast sites, social and athletic activities, abundant TV and print media, as well as full-fledged educational institutions. Many of the splinter groups in the greater Church of God are trying to reproduce this elusive bygone milieu and nostalgically return to those times. When our forebears on the Sinai faced frustrating challenges, they longed to return to the good old days, when there were plenty of pots of meat with garlic and leeks to go around, forgetting, of course, the bitterness of bondage. To be sure, there was a time when the children of Israel did enjoy prosperity in the land of Egypt, as Jacob’s offspring began to multiply, rivaling the Egyptian population, a time they genuinely feared God. When Jacob’s offspring began to assimilate into Egyptian culture, practicing idolatry, their foolish apostasy cost them God’s protection. Israel’s greatest problem was their failure to remember the terms of God’s Covenant, including His Sabbaths. God put Israel into slavery because they profaned His Sabbaths and statutes. Our previous fellowship was likewise blown apart because of apostasy from God’s Covenant; we need to solemnly remember that fact and purpose to get back to the old faith once delivered.
David Grabbe cues in on Matthew 12:39 in which Jesus Christ told the Pharisees that an evil generation looks for a sign from heaven (perhaps like fire or manna). Christ said the sign of Jonah, specifying His time in the tomb, was all He would give them. Jesus was not against signs; the Gospel of John is structured around eight signs. The Old Testament is full of signs, which the Pharisees missed because they failed to keep the Covenant properly. Ancient Israel witnessed numerous signs on the Sinai, but because of the hardness of their hearts, the signs profited them nothing. When God gives a sign, He intends it should be taken seriously. God links a disbelief in His signs as a rejection of Him. Forgetting God's signs leads to forgetting Him. A sign serves as a symbol of divine communication. God desires His Word to be bound as signs in our forehead (our will) and in our hands (our actions and behavior), impressed in our hearts and in our lives. When we behave according to God's Word, it truly is a sign to others, most of whom do not see the value and practicality of following God's Commandments. Obedience is a testimony that there is a God who wants us to live a certain way, modeling our behavior after Jesus Christ, who kept Our Father's Law in the spirit and letter. Obedience to God's Law constitutes a sign to others that we are different, in a positive sense, from the ways of the world, enabling us to demonstrate by our behavior the superiority of God's plan for us. As well, obedience to His Law constitutes a sign to God that we are loyal to Him and will respond to anything He says, including keeping His Sabbath. Sadly, only a fraction of the religious community on the earth take God's Law seriously. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (including the command to eat unleavened bread daily during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread) are also signs we dare not take lightly. If we forget the signs of God, we forget our identity, as has most of Israel, and will bring curses upon ourselves, as has our nation
David C. Grabbe: While lunar eclipses are not necessarily rare events, what is unusual is for them to occur on God’s holy days. Understanding those days is key to finding the right significance to these blood moons. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
Kim Myers, focusing on Jude 3-4, which cautions us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, warns that there are many false teachers who would attempt to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. Most of us in this fellowship were brought in under the tutelage of Herbert W. Armstrong, instructed in the proper keeping of the Holy Days, clean and unclean meats, divorce and remarriage, and dating outside the faith. After the breakup of our previous fellowship, some of the splinter groups have experimented with sacred names, new moons, and interactive studies rather than sermons, and adopting a very casual form of dress, not even appropriate for a swap meet. The Sabbath is a holy convocation called by God; we are to respond to God's invitation with respect rather than sloppiness. We are to cease from our worldly concerns on the Sabbath and devote extra time to study, prayer, and getting to know our Heavenly Father, calling the Sabbath a delight. Compromising with little things leads to compromising with big things and could take us right out of the Way. God has given us all the tools we need. He gave us His Son, His Holy Spirit, and our calling. We need to reciprocate by keeping the faith once delivered from the Saints.
Over the past year and a half, the "Arab Spring" that swept through the Middle East and North Africa has been an enduring source of worry for the state of Israel. David Grabbe argues that, despite the instability of its neighbors, Egypt and Syria in particular, Israel's greatest threat is an internal problem: its relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the propensity of people to break the Sabbath, explains that the carnal mind is enmity against God. Human nature is hopelessly perverse. In a book review of Steven Miller's book The Peculiar Life of Sundays, appearing in the Charlotte Observer, the reviewer suggests that even the worldly 'Sunday keeping" has become a virtual joke. To human nature, following Christ or keeping the Sabbath is such a big obstacle that all kinds of twisted reasoning to avoid keeping God's commands. We have to battle the perversity of human nature the same as those not yet called, but are held to a much higher standard.
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.
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.
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.
Though the search criteria for the whereabouts of Israel point to only one conclusion, most Israelites are blind to their origins. In this final installment of the series, Charles Whitaker deals with the question of why Israel has forgotten its identity.
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?
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the proclamations of two Gentile kings (Cyrus and Artaxerxes) in the book of Ezra, examines the impact they had on the remnant of Israel- as well as the lessons we may derive from their lack luster behavior. Those who returned to Jerusalem did not completely fulfill their commission, failing to completely rebuild the walls and failing to totally rebuild the temple. These people lacked resolve and stamina. Sadly the re-establishment of the God's law, educational system, and civil system- (a theocracy governed by God's laws) was embarked upon with less than optimal results because they refused to expunge the Babylonian system from their culture and separate themselves from the pagan customs around them- assimilating (through intermarriage) the religious culture around them, including the Sabbath defying business practices, and sports events. The wall serves a symbol of the separation of God's people from pagan culture ' a partition between sin and righteousness ' a special sanctification. Unfortunately the lack-luster effort aborted this sanctification process. We dare not emulate their foolishness.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's people must exercise correct judgment as to what is permitted on the Sabbath and what is not. God's law is not so inflexible that He will not allow alteration for special circumstances. Sometimes higher laws of extending mercy overrule a normal situation. The intensity of work or energy expended is not the issue, but rather the motivation behind the work. We need to develop righteous judgment about what constitutes a genuine Sabbath emergency and what may be a deceptive rationalization of our human nature.
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.
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.
Observing the Sabbath day is a vital key that this world's Christianity has lost. It opens up whole vistas of God's way and purpose!
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
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 warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the two major purposes for the Sabbath are to (1) remind us that God is Creator and (2) to remind us that we were once in abject bondage and slavery to sin. Christ, in His role of Law magnifier (Isaiah 42:21) magnified the spiritual intent of the Sabbath as a time of blessing, deliverance, liberty, and redemption. From the beginning of His ministry Luke 4:16 to His death, Jesus used the Sabbath to set people free from physical and spiritual bondage. If we reject the Sabbath or keep it carelessly, we are begging to be put back in bondage to Satan and sin.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which God protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh again emphasizes the burden-relieving, liberating and redemptive aspect of the Sabbath, suggesting that the seemingly provocative healings that Jesus performed on the Sabbath stood in stark contrast to the oppressive bondage of the Pharisees' elaborate regulations.The ministry of Christ was a manifestation of the redemptive work of the Father. Some work ordinarily profane is permissible for priests in the temple in order to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. The many physical healings Christ performed served as a type of a future spiritual healing. The work required on the Sabbath is to prepare for the Kingdom of God, fellowshipping with our brethren, doing charitable works of service to those in need, and relieving their burdens.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God gave the Sabbath (a sanctified, set-apart period of recurring time) to His people in order that they come to know Him intimately, learning to live as He lives. Idolatry, scattering, and captivity have always been the natural consequences of Sabbath breaking. Freedom from bondage and liberty are the natural consequences of Sabbath keeping. God gives relatively few broad principles concerning how the Sabbath is to be kept. Our Elder Brother has given us specific examples of how to use Sabbath time properly, having begun His redemptive liberating ministry on the Sabbath and ending it on a preparation day. Christ emphasized the liberating or redemptive intent (or burden-relieving aspect) of the Sabbath. Acts of liberation or release from bondage occur frequently on the Sabbath Day. We need to follow our Elder Brother's example of relieving burdens.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the woman at the well in John 4 could easily represent the church, initially called out of the world in an immoral state, having a confrontation with Christ leading to an insight into ones own sins, ultimately bringing about total repentance or change in behavior, resulting in going out and leading others to Christ. The second sign in the book of John, the healing of the nobleman's son reveals that God will heal those who demonstrate ardent desire, humility, submission, and trust. The healing of the man at Bethesda also indicated an intensity of desire, a determined effort to obey Christ's command, and a cooperative effort on the part of the person being healed. With healing automatically comes the responsibility to change behavior and repent. Jesus takes the opportunity to impress upon the Pharisees the difference between works that cause burdens (work that profanes the Sabbath) and works that relieve burdens or extend mercy. God the Father and Jesus Christ never cease working for the well being of creation.
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