Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the devastating results of natural disasters, serious illnesses and accidents as well as violent crimes, anticipates the chorus of "why" questions engendered by these apparently random incidents: Why did God allow this to happen? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper? People ask these kind of questions to bring rationality and order into the seemingly helter-skelter events of life. Most answers proffered by counselors are mere platitudes. Those who attribute their own sins or the sins of others to such incidents are at cross-purposes to Jesus Christ, who pointed out that the victims of a collapsing tower (Luke 13:4) were no more sinful than any of us. Such tragic incidents, instead of inspiring blame, should inspire repentance. God does not want us to get stuck on "why" (as was echoed in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"), but instead to move toward His sovereign goal, realizing as did Job (who lost everything but his life and wife in a deluge of disasters), "The Lord gives and the Lord takes; blessed is the name of the Lord." Everything God does stems from a motive of love.
Martin Collins, examining Jesus' purposeful delay in going to Lazarus' side as His friend succumbed to death, reminds us that 1) God's delays are always motivated by love, 2) His delayed help always comes at the right time, and 3) God's best help is never delayed. We dare not project the human traits of obstinacy and pre-occupation on God's delay. If God delays in answering a sincere prayer, His purpose is to increase faith, as in the case of His delay in providing Abraham with a son through Sarah. Similarly, our faith grows when God forces us to wait. We should never judge God's use of time against our uses of it, since God has not equipped us to know the beginning from the end. Like our Elder Brother, God gives all of us a certain amount of time and will not cut it short until we have fulfilled His purpose for us. Even though we have sufficient time, we cannot afford to waste a minute. Because time is precious and our life-span determined by God, we must walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, using this window of opportunity to do good. The lesson of the resurrection of Lazarus teaches us that, because Christ has the power to regenerate life, physical death is no terror to the believer, but is only a temporary rest before eternity. Paul assures us that, for God's called-out ones, death will never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
David Maas, focusing on Psalm 90:12, an admonition to number our days in order to get a heart of wisdom, launches the fourth installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reflecting on the stark contrast between God's robust eternity and mankind's fragile mortality. Meditating on the perils of our transitory existence paradoxically leads to a longer, happier life now as well as in the future, as our portion of God's Spirit grows within us, satisfying our craving for something permanent and eternal- namely becoming a member of God's family. The scriptures are replete with metaphors describing the brevity of life, including a shadow, a sigh, a breath, smoke, withering grass, a vapor, a weaver's shuttle, a hand-breath, etc. The antidote to despairing about the brevity of life is to live in day-tight compartments, redeeming the time by yielding to God's Spirit, becoming firmly grafted into the vine (Jesus Christ) in order to enable ample bearing of spiritual fruit, overcoming carnality, building Godly character, and ultimately becoming a member of God's family.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that these laments contain little that is jovial or uplifting, but instead are saturated in despair, sorrow, mourning, and even recrimination against God on the part of a personified Jerusalem, whom God depicts as a grieving widow, blaming others for her troubles while overlooking her own sins as the real cause of her sorrows. Solomon instructs us that the house of mourning contains more insight and serves as a better cathartic than the house of mirth. The reality of death imparts to us a sense of sobriety and wisdom about how to conduct our lives. We need to take the time to think about somber things and how they relate to the purpose of life. Godly sorrow, as opposed to worldly sorrow, leads to repentance, cleansing, change, and salvation. The proper effect of the Book of Lamentations is to motivate us to change. When we realize that God's punishment of Jerusalem was justified, we can apply the same godly standards to ourselves to determine if we are as culpable as ancient Judah. In Lamentations, following the Narrator's dire description of Judah's demise, Lady Jerusalem, in a self-centered protest, blames everybody (including her lovers and God Almighty) but herself. Even though God has left her there to think about the consequences of her sins, she does not properly introspect, but, rather, blames others, excusing herself. As God's called-out ones, we must carefully compare our own self-deceptions with her self-deceptions, lest we suffer the same fate. Like ancient Judah, if we embrace sin, God will craft a yoke made of our transgressions, bringing unfathomable burden and grief.
Joe Baity reports on a recent UCLA study on human aging in which scientists declared that, regardless of lifestyle or environmental factors, each human being has a built-in biological clock with its own unique expiration date, corroborating the insight Moses revealed to us in Psalm 90, that we are allotted a finite number of days and should consider counting and evaluating our days responsibly. Realizing we cannot extend our lives beyond this predetermined fixed expiration date, we need to seriously evaluate our current priorities in our spiritual walk, likening it to attending a school, where we will be given assignments, exercises and tests, and deadline dates for completion. We are obligated to walk a kind of tightrope, balancing crippling anxiety and deadly complacency and Laodicean lethargy. If we knew the exact date of Christ's return, we would adjust our sense of urgency accordingly. The closer the interval to Christ's return, the more focused we would be on our spiritual priorities—and we would finally determine what really matters. Because anxiety and complacency are equally dangerous extremes, we should ask for peace from Almighty God as we push toward the deadline, using the spiritual gifts He has given us to vigorously accomplish the goal God has placed before us.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket-firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in Western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the United Nations (in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. We accept most of our opinions, prejudices, and beliefs unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Scriptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
It is amazing to consider that, despite the fact that every human being will face death, so very few take the time to contemplate it, much less prepare for it. In covering the comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, John Ritenbaugh surveys the Bible's attitude toward death, particularly its insistence that we should allow the reality of death to change our approach to life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of the parallels between the divisions of the books of the Psalms with the Torah, Megilloth, and seasons, focuses again on Book II of the Psalms (written largely by David and showing how he reacts to some gruesome trials by surrendering to God's redemption). He points out that some of the emergent themes in this work consist of redemption and deliverance (paralleled by the book of Ruth with Boaz as a Christ figure, as well as the great grandfather and Ruth as the great grandmother of David and a progenitor of our Savior Jesus. The Psalms David wrote in this section describe his humbling experience caused by his own sin (Psalm 51), betrayal by Doeg the Edomite (Psalm 52), feigning madness to escape from the Gathites (Psalm 56), hiding from Saul (Psalm 57) metaphorized as escaping from lions (Psalm 58), the betrayal by Ahitophel , and the helpless feeling experienced by a tired and spent senior citizen (Psalm 71). His experiences, as well as our experiences in our symbolic 50-day walk through our spiritual journey to sanctification, is symbolized by the Israelites' baking of two loafs to be offered to God on Pentecost. This journey to sanctification is the focus of Book II of the Psalms, the Books of Exodus and Ruth, as well as the Feast of Weeks.
Joseph Baity observes that God's thought patterns demonstrate perfection, while man's thought patterns are seriously flawed and corrupted by sin. One of the most egregious of man's twisted thought patterns has two parts: (1) We seek to elevate ourselves above God, and (2) we lie to ourselves in relation to the first pattern. The human mind is the most deceitful of all things. The deadly pattern was followed by Eve, the builders of the Tower of Babel, Nadab and Abihu, Miriam, Korah, Moses as he struck the rock in anger, the mob who crucified our Creator, and Gnostic infiltrators. This pernicious thought pattern can be found within all of us. We must recognize our own limitations and submit to God, realizing that God has the correct pattern to life and salvation.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
Richard Ritenbaugh, revealing that more space was devoted to the reign of Hezekiah in II Chronicles, II Kings, and Isaiah than any other king, states that one of the reasons for this exposure was his example of repentance after the news of his impending death. In an assurance to Hezekiah that he would be healed and given fifteen more years to live, God worked a miracle, making a shadow appear to go backward on the sundial. Isaiah records a song or poem that Hezekiah wrote about this experience of gratitude for God's intervention, intending it to be a legacy to posterity. J.W. Thirtle speculates that ten of the Song of Ascents or Degrees (Psalms 120-134) were composed by Hezekiah, indicated by the degrees of the sundial. A second theory posits that a choir of Levites would stand on the temple steps during the Feast of Tabernacles. A third speculation is that the Songs of Ascent refers to a musical style, perhaps moving from lower to higher pitch or from pianissimo to forte. A fourth theory is that the subsequent psalms (following Psalm 120) expand the magnitude of the theme of the preceding psalm. A fifth theory is that these psalms were composed by exiles returning from Babylon. The sixth theory is that these psalms represented pilgrim songs the faithful sang on the journey to Jerusalem to keep God's holy days or festivals. The internal organizational pattern of these Psalms indicate a seven-one-seven pattern, with Hezekiah writing ten, David writing four, and Solomon writing the center psalm. There are 51 recurrences of the name Jaweh and 2 of Jah, distributed equally in both halves. The 15 psalms could be broken into five groups of three, in which the first psalm in each section would describe a condition of stress, trial, or tribulation. The second psalm would admonish trust in God, and the third psalm in each section expresses praise. The true pilgrimage in life is a journey upward to God, a pilgrimage we take with many others, a journey requiring God's continual grace and protectio
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Having faced the perils of life with disturbing regularity, Paul was intimately acquainted with the certainty of death, but being better spiritually educated and experienced than most of us are, he can provide us a positive example ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: As we begin our study, we need to consider the perspectives of death of two righteous individuals. These viewpoints are included in the Word of God for our admonition ...
How many of us go through life with our noses to the grindstone, as it were, always trying to get ahead and never really appreciating what God has given us? Using Mitch Albom's book, Tuesdays With Morrie, Bill Onisick focuses on a major lesson of Christianity: Real life comes as a result of giving our own.
Hebrews 9:27 informs us of the unhappy fact that we are all going to die. Even in death, we should show godly love toward our survivors, which we can do by taking certain legal and organizational steps now to cover this eventuality.
John Ritenbaugh gives statistics from an army quartermaster who calculated the logistics of supplying food, shelter, and water for 2-3 million Israelites on their 40 year trek across the Red Sea and the wilderness—a task only an omnipotent God could fulfill. As was true in the physical journey of ancient Israel and the spiritual journey of the Israel of God, we have the powerful assurance that God will never leave nor forsake us. When God parted the Red Sea, the problems did not disappear. On our spiritual journey, once we have the benefits of Christ's Passover sacrifice applied to us, our problems do not instantly disappear. Our position is just as precarious as ancient Israel, if not more precarious. As ancient Israel was called out of Egypt, we are called out of spiritual Egypt. We have been in abject bondage to the world's corrupt systems and our own carnal desires, having lived our entire lives under Satan's dominion. Christ stated His intention in Luke 4 to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to recover the sight to the blind, and to set them at liberty. Jesus explains that the truth is the only thing that will set us free. A major player in our lives or spiritual journey is the truth and how we use it. Though Christ does not do our overcoming for us, He gives us abundant resources to accomplish this daunting task. He gives us in addition to the assurance that He will never abandon us as we struggle in our journey to the Promised Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the big lie ('you will not surely die'—Genesis 3:4) of inherent immortal life (an immortal soul). This dangerous false belief, held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations, has led to an acceleration of sin and the danger of eternal oblivion. Sin kills, and we are not immortal. Contrary to Socrates and Plato's misconceptions about inherent immortality, only God can give eternal life, and it has specific conditions (overcoming sin and growing spiritually). Death is not a friend or a liberator, but as Jesus understood at the time of his crucifixion, a bitter enemy, a tool of Satan, and a cruel instrument of separation. Only through God's divine act of resurrection can we hope to attain eternal life. We desperately need to do a thorough self-examination, properly discerning Christ's sacrifice, and strive mightily to overcome sin, the destroyer of life.
Martin G. Collins: The reality of death is that we can rarely predict when it will occur. Many factors affect longevity—some we have control over and some we do not. ...
Since the church no longer keeps the Passover with the slaughter of a lamb, we miss important and poignant details that could enhance our observance. The author uses a personal experience with two ewes as a springboard to explain greater, spiritual lessons.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
The way men and God look at time and life are very different. But if we come to understand God's perspective, we have a greater chance of living His way!
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of John was unique, designed for individuals predominantly educated in the Greek culture. One commentary organizes this 21-chapter book around nuances of believing, including proposals for, presentations for, reactions of, crystallization of, assurance for, rejection of, and vindication of belief, as well as a dedication of those who believe to the work of God. John, a physical first cousin of Jesus, emphasizes the truth, genuineness, or reality of Jesus as the Logos (a word revealing hidden thought) the manifestation of God in the flesh, emphasizing His pre-existence, His fellowship with God the Father, His divinity, His omniscience,and His creative power. Jesus is portrayed as the fountainhead of everlasting life, demonstrating how to live abundantly as God lives, exercising instinctively the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. As the Light of the world, Jesus Christ reveals our character flaws and illuminates the pathway to quality eternal life, displacing the darkness and ignorance of this world. John focuses upon the multiple ways that Christ bore witness to the scriptures and to the people with whom He came in contact, providing iron - clad evidence that God is reproducing Himself.
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