John Ritenbaugh states that every nation has its privileged—whether they are royalty, wealthy oligarchs, politicians, athletes, or entertainers. Surprisingly though, the masses have privileges which they do not recognize as such, namely the privileges of sight, hearing, walking and speech. God has provided in His Holiness Code proscriptions against taking advantage of those who are handicapped. Additionally, those God has blessed with material wealth have obligations to help the poor, as is seen in the command to avoid gleaning the corners of the fields. Our welfare programs have scriptural principles as their general inspiration, but unfortunately, politicians have abused these programs, encouraging on the part of recipients a toxic dependency which God never intended. Living in a land occupied by the children of the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed His Covenant, is a great privilege. Sadly, the majority of physical Israelites have rejected God's Covenant. God has healed the spiritual blindness and deafness of the members of the true Church, the Israel of God, at the same time calling them to become members of the God Family. As we contemplate our offerings, we should factor this insight into our sense of gratitude and responsibility.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
With great privilege comes great responsibility. The nation of Israel was clearly privileged, for God tells her, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). God says that because of His blessing and favor, Israel was to be a living testimony to Him and His sovereign power--a great responsibility indeed...
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.
Even the beginning Bible student knows that Israel plays a prominant part in Scripture. Why? Richard Ritenbaugh explores God's stated purposes for choosing and using the children of Israel throughout His Word—and beyond.
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
Prophecy has many purposes, but it is never intended to open the future to mere idle curiosity. Its much higher purpose is to furnish guidance to the heirs of salvation. John Ritenbaugh explains how the tumultuous sixth-century BC prepares us for the time of the end.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Matthew 17:13 and clearing up some misconceptions about the resurrected Elijah coming before the arrival of Christ (a mission fulfilled totally by John the Baptist in Christ's time), cautions us to apply duality of prophecy carefully and cautiously rather than indiscriminately. With this admonition in mind, the sermon focuses upon a major world event even secular historians have termed a dramatic axial period, occurring within the sixth century B.C. -a time faithfully described by the prophets beginning with Jeremiah- a time sometimes referred to as the time of the Gentiles- reckoned to be the origin of the present Babylonic system or world order. Paradoxically, this system has been embraced and perpetuated by the modern house of Jacob. A new axial period, beginning with the testimony of the two witnesses, will again turn this world upside down, replacing the present decadent Babylonian system with God's government.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
The book of Amos is an astounding prophecy, closely paralleling the conditions in modern Israel today. This first part deals with introductory materials, Israel's covenant responsibilities, God's judgment and how unrighteousness affects society.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
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 reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Gentile nations without God's revelation were held accountable for basic principles of humanity. Amon's barbarity, Tyre's faithlessness, and Moab's propensity for sustained anger (exemplified by burning the bones of Edom to lime) and the desire to take revenge - God punishes with severity. God warns us that vengeance is His exclusively and will not tolerate our taking the law into our own hands. God reserves the severest penalty for Judah and Israel because they had spurned the covenant God had made with them. To whom much is given, much is required. God is no respecter of persons. As the Israel of God, we need to take these admonitory words personally- making sure that we do not syncretistically mix pagan and Christian elements (lies and truth) together. If we cultivate a love for the truth and guard the truth, the truth will guard us.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that the book of Amos is specifically addressed to us- the end time church (the Israel of God) - the ones who have actually made the new covenant with God. Having made the covenant, we must remember that (1) privilege brings peril- the closer one draws to God, the closer will be the scrutiny, (2) we can't rest on past history or laurels, and (3) we (the ones who have consciously made the covenant with God) must take this message personally. Absolutely fair in His judgment, God judges Gentile and Israelite according to the level of moral understanding He has given them. No human being can escape the obligation to be human, as God has intended — treating other fellow human beings humanely (not as things or objects of profit). Edom's perpetual nursing of anger (harboring bitterness and hatred continually) against Israel is especially abhorrent to Almighty God- a candidate for the unpardonable sin.
John Ritenbaugh begins by explaining that Amos means "burden bearer," characterizing the message he delivered. Like a hawk circling around in tightening circles, Amos gives a series of dire warnings beginning with Israel's arch-enemies but concluding with a blistering indictment on Israel herself—appearing religious, prosperous, and formidable on the outside but rotting from self-pleasing idolatry and cancerous moral decay on the inside. This situation parallels modern Israel and the current situation in the church of God. Privilege (God's calling) brings grave responsibility, and judgment (God's plumb line) begins at the house of God. Amos is speaking to us.
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