Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that technology has given modern culture some marked advantages over ancient societies, laments that the fields of psychology (with its propensity to deny sin) and mental health have not kept up with advances in the "hard" sciences. Instead of resolving basic interior problems, modern psychology treats the symptoms rather than the ailment by masking the consequences of sin with drugs. A notable exception to the general defect of psychology are recent developments in crisis and grief counseling. It is altogether feasible to see the Book of Lamentations as a form of crisis counseling, facilitating stricken Israel's coming to grips with waves of grief. The crisis itself—Jerusalem's fall to the pagan Babylonians—represented an intervention from God, as He tried to turn Israel away from her sins. The Book of Lamentations provides strategies to cope while moving toward repentance, including (1.) creating awareness, delving into possible causes, (2.) allowing catharsis, that is, expressing emotions, (3.) providing support, assuring Israel that her responses are natural, (4.) increasing expansion, that is, helping Israel overcome tunnel vision, (5.) focusing upon the specific cause of the crisis, (6.) providing guidance in overcome hurdles, (7.) providing mobilization, that is, pointing out peripheral support, (8.) implementing order, that is, putting Israel on a manageable routine, providing her with a sense of control, and (9.) providing protection from self-inflicted injury. In chapter 2, the narrator (speaking as the voice of Godly reason), uses some of these strategies. Sadly, however, at the chapter's end, Lady Jerusalem sidesteps godly repentance, opting instead for self-centered recrimination against Almighty God. Though God has actively brought about Judah's tribulations, the root cause of her troubles lay with her breaking her covenant with God.
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.
Austin Del Castillo reminds us that the end of the Feast of Tabernacles represents the last century and one half of God's Millennial rule, a time when entirety of earth's population will be living under God's Law. At the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan from the Bottomless Pit. He will immediately set about deceiving, with the aim of destroying God's people. How is it that Satan can deceive people living at peace and prosperity under God's perfect Law? As God's called-out ones, we must make sure that we are well rooted in God's Word so that we never again fall for Satan's lies. When the grand deception came on the Worldwide Church of God, we became alarmed when we witnessed people who we thought were absolute pillars swallow the poisonous apostasy the new leadership taught. Apparently, not everyone had believed the true Gospel, but instead held some reservations about the Truth Mr. Armstrong taught. God grew tired of the lack of commitment of our previous fellowship; some of us, no doubt, were part of the problem. Today, Jesus Christ is observing us to see what kind of bride we are becoming. Many of us have been conditioned not to trust anyone, extending these trust issues to our brethren, and eventually to God Himself. When we take counsel only in ourselves, we run the risk of giving ourselves over to the one who influences our human nature, the prince of the power of the air, who is adept at convincing us that God is withholding something from us. Satan totally supports our feelings of resentment. Satan wants us to think we have been cheated. In this state of mind, we develop paper-thin skin when it comes to accepting counsel from our brethren, leading us to sever friendships with them. Our priority must be the restoration of our relationship with God, putting to death the idea that God is cheating us.
Clyde Finklea: In Part One, we saw that Satan, the covering cherub who rebelled against God (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-17), does not want to be revealed for what he is and how he operates. ...
Martin Collins, returning to the annoying questions asked by the priests in the book of Malachi as to God's alleged tardiness of justice, declares that their call for justice was unwise, considering that they would be fried to a crisp when they received what they deserved. The same applies to us: we need to be careful when we ask for justice, for our request might very well come back to bite us.. Those relentlessly begging for justice will indeed get what they ask for. Their presumptuous questions are all answered by Malachi, indicting both ancient and modern Judah and Israel. God's coming in judgment will be against those who are critical of His judgments. God, like a refiner of precious metals, will skim off the dross until He can see His face. Before the day of vengeance, a lengthy time of grace will precede, including 400 years from the time of Malachi to Christ's reading from Isaiah about bringing liberty and sight to the blind. Another 2,000 years have been added, and the same national sins, such as defiling God's Sabbath and robbing His tithes and offerings (both given before the Mosaic law), still dog our society today. Even though it is axiomatic, according to surveys conducted by Christianity Today and the Barna Group, that individuals who give 10% or more are generally better off than those who do not, the majority of modern Israel have cursed themselves by withholding tithes and offering, mirroring the days of Malachi and Haggai. All we have belongs to God, yet paradoxically if we give back 10%, we are incredibly blessed. Tithing provides for preaching the Gospel, Feast expenses, and helping the needy. Robbing God of His tithes brings curses on the created order, interpersonal relationships, and the covenental relationship. In the matter of tithing, God (1) calls for obedience to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, (2) issues a challenge to test Him, (3) accompanies His challenge with bountiful promises, and (4) reminds us of the ultimate blessing of being an example to the world.
Martin Collins, noting that the Book of Malachi is a post-exilic transition, link, and bridge book between the Old and New Testaments, indicates the dating of the book can be determined contextually, namely that the temple had been rebuilt, and the Jews were under a civil ruler before the death of Nehemiah. Malachi, one of last Old Testament prophets, is oriented to the future. John the Baptist arrived 400 years later. The same attitudes existing at that time are prevalent today. The offenses mentioned are 1) arrogance—-mankind's thinking man thinks that he knows better than God, 2) mixed marriages, and 3) neglect of tithes. We can see these attitudes by noting the use of the words "wherein," "in what way," and "how." The Priests, asking "How?" seven times in the wrong way in Malachi. In Genesis 18:23-33, Abraham asked God "how?" with respect. Malachi lists four personal failures of the Priests in Malachi 1:6-14. The Priests 1) offered defiled sacrifices on God's altar, 2) harmed the people, 3) were responsible for disparaging the Priest's office, and 4) demonstrated a brazen defiance of God. True ministers must: 1) show a proper relationship to God—fear equals reverence; 2) exhibit a personal commitment to the truth of God's Word; 3) demonstrate of integrity characterized by Godly character and devotion, faithful and Godly, in submission and obedience; and 4) guard the truth and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that reading holds a child's attention because of the gripping stories with riveting plots. Some educators maintain that morals are shaped more by stories than by any other factor. Stories enable them to grasp the essential moral, filing it away in the mental storage cabinet, accessible for the rest of their lives. Stories ignite the imaginations of children, allowing them to think about people, places, and situations they have never experienced before, learning the rudiments of how to handle themselves. Good stories should contain positive moral lessons. The story children learn the best is the one we parents act out in our daily lives. God uses many stories in His written Word, teaching us deep spiritual lessons. Jesus Christ taught using parables, stoking the minds of the listener with sharp and vivid images. The temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their subsequent transgression led to three prophecies or judgments, a kind of protevangelium or "first gospel," a glimpse of God's plan to remedy this grim situation. The conflict ends with the protagonist, Christ (the Seed of the woman), destroying the antagonist, Satan. The redemption of man involves a new nature, given through God's grace and totally at enmity with Satan's nature. The process of redemption will involve the gathering of a small elect group in perpetual conflict with the seed of the serpent. Here is the true beginning of the gospel.
Korah and his ilk make common cause with their fellowman as a means to achieve their own ends. Theirs was a message of equality and populism, but all they were really concerned about was their own positions. ...
God grants His chosen people many gifts through His Holy Spirit, one of which is the gift of discerning spirits, the ability to determine the source of a spiritual manifestation. David Maas explains that this gift must be used in conjunction with a thorough knowledge and understanding of God's Word.
Because we are human—and want to be seen in a good light by others—we try to project an image of ourselves that people will like and respect. John Ritenbaugh explains that, unfortunately, the image we project is often based in pride. The Old Testament story of Job provides us an example of a man whom God forced to see himself as he really was, and his true self-image paved the way to a spectacular leap forward in spiritual growth.
David C. Grabbe: For decades now, the debate over the place of Christianity—and specifically the Bible—in public life has raged without any sign of abating. ...
A vital understanding we can reach from the many articles that appeared in the media following the recent devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia is the appalling ignorance of God's involvement in the minds of the inhabitants of Western-world cultures. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon several sports events, in which several athletes were reprimanded for seemingly insignificant actions or for situations totally out of their control, suggests that any one of us can be unfairly victimized. We may be tempted to lay the blame at God's feet. The children of Israel swerved into that "victim" mindset only one week after their joyous liberation. Aaron, whose sons brought about their demise through foolishness, was instructed not to even think about complaining about God's decision or way of dealing with the problem. Both David and Job provided sterling examples for us responding to calamities and seemingly 'unfair' situations, keeping within the bounds of what is acceptable to God. It is God's desire to see how we respond to trials that we may deem unfair.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on I John 4:17, marvels at the depth of love God the Father has for us as unique, special components of His creation, loving each of us as much as He loved Christ. The Father and the Son have worked cooperatively, harmoniously submitting to one another, in the planning and creation of this vast awesome universe- right down to the last tiny, minute detail. Our faith should have progressed far beyond the rudimentary question of whether God exists to the more mature iron-clad trust that God loves us, and would not put us through anything He didn't consider necessary for our spiritual growth and development. God freely gave us His Son, His calling, His Spirit (giving us the enduring love as well as the will and power to do His will), and trials to shape and fashion our character. For God's called out children, there is no such thing as time and chance. The events which seen random to us are totally purposeful to God, having artfully designed them for our ultimate good.
Martin Collins asserts that presumptuous self-justification is one of mankind's most deceptive or blinding sins. Glibly stating, "God will understand," we practice a dangerous and foolish form of situation ethics. God pays close attention to the small or insignificant things we may overlook or excuse in ourselves, sins we commit in weakness. God's patience does not constitute approval of our sin. God's truth penetrates and exposes our secret sins. Nothing can be concealed from Almighty God. The reverence and fear of God leads to hating evil and obeying God in both public and private contexts. Regarding our presumptuous thoughts and behaviors, God will certainly understand (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
How involved in man's affairs is God? Is He merely reactive, or does He actively participate—even cause events and circumstances? John Ritenbaugh argues that God is the Prime Mover in our lives and in world events.
God's sense of justice comes into question in the minds of men when they read of His judgments in the Bible and see His acts in history. His judgments seem unfair because man can never please God on his own since God's standards are higher than he can achieve. Yet He has made it clear that even the smallest infraction of His law merits the death penalty. Everyone is guilty! God, then, is absolutely justified in what He decides regarding the judgment and punishment of us all (conversely, He always rewards righteousness). Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances and reasons for His judgments, so our opinions of God's decisions are at best ill-informed. Of all judges, only God is absolutely fair and incorruptible. And when He shows mercy it manifests His lovingkindness and grace.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the reason Jacob succeeded and Esau failed had nothing to do with personality, but Jacob was elected from the womb (Romans 9:7-11). God gave Jacob the edge. Likewise, we can do nothing to gain the favor of God before our calling, but we are empowered by God to carry out a particular part of His plan to edify the body. We need to guard our appetites, preventing any kind of over-stimulation which would produce an apathetic worldly Laodicean temperament. Paul suggests that with the level of gifting God has blessed us, there is virtually no reason to fail (Ephesians 1:3). God has chosen, elected, predestined us, forgiven us, given us wisdom, an insight into the future, and has empowered us with His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that if God had accepted the calendar for 1600 years, it would be presumptuous for one living at the end of days to call it flawed. This calendar issue had surfaced during the tenure of Herbert W. Armstrong's apostleship and was thoroughly studied and systematically resolved. God assigned the tribe of Judah to be the caretakers of the calendar (as part of the oracles; Romans 3:2) The real issue in this controversy is faith in God's sovereignty and His faithfulness. The church does not exist in a vacuum, but as a subset of, subject to the ordinances of the Commonwealth of Israel (and Judah), with whom the Covenants were made. The need for precision, consistency and predictability censures any misguided attempts at establishing home made calendars.
The story of Ebed-Melech goes far beyond a historical vignette. Concluding his series, Charles Whitaker shows how the story is an allegory of God's grace to the Gentiles.
During times of unrest and confusion, it is easy to blame others for our problems. Yet finger-pointing is contrary to everything God teaches, as it shows a self-exalting, judgmental attitude. Now is the time to break this ingrained habit!
John Ritenbaugh insists that God must be considered in a class apart. Incomparable, and unapproachable in the sense that there is nobody anywhere that even comes close to being like Him (Exodus 15:11). Our responsibility as the Israel of God is to reveal to the people of Israel (primarily) the holiness of God and the direction of life God requires of them for being chosen. Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. In contrast, low views of God will destroy those who hold them because these idolatrous thoughts are unworthy of Him. Holy things are cut apart from the rest, consecrated, sanctified, and transcendentally separate. God wants to transform us into that very image.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Abraham's example of going to war. Even though God does not glorify war, there are spiritual parallels we can learn from it, including discipline and self-sacrifice. Abraham was willing to lay down his life to rescue his nephew Lot. His sacrifice shows us what kind of effort and sacrifice is needed to wage spiritual war, getting the Gospel out despite the militant resistance of Satan and his demons. They are masters of keeping us off balance, keeping the pressure on us, dogging our heels, trying to make us miss the mark, and preventing us from rescuing others held captive. Anyone involved in the work of God is in a spiritual war, often experiencing enervation and temptation to compromise. God provides faith and energy in those occasions to overcome and endure.
Millions lack faith to receive answers to their prayers—to free their minds from fears and worries. To a large extent this is due to lack of understanding what faith is. Read this simple but thorough explanation of the subject.