Bill Onisick, expanding on the "Being Unequally Yoked" youth Bible Study he delivered at the 2017 Feast of Tabernacles, explores the results of joining "mismatched" beings together. Examples range from an ox yoked to a donkey, struggling and pulling against each other, to ill-advised mixed marriages with pagan or gentile partners. When Israel ignored God's warning about assimilating Gentile ways, a yoke of bondage was the consequence. Compromise axiomatically leads to snare and abject bondage. When the Corinthian church tried to syncretize God's truth with the pagan culture around it, horrible enslaving consequences ensued. We are in the same position as the Corinthians, being immersed in a godless, evil world. We are greatly influenced by whomever we spend the most time. We become like those with whom we associate. God's way is not compatible with the world's way. Unfortunately, it is easy to become attached to worldly things. The antidote to being unequally yoked with the world is to take on Jesus Christ's gentle yoke—harnessing ourselves into His great plan. God earnestly wants us to be holy as He is holy because that is the only way He can dwell in us.
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.
Most Bible students are not familiar with the prophet Hananiah—or perhaps he should be called a false prophet. In his interactions with Jeremiah, a true prophet of God, Hananiah made a significant mistake: prophesying good when God had called for destruction. David Grabbe explains that, while God's will is to do good—eventually—the timing of matters makes all the difference.
The Bible makes frequent use of the yoke as a symbol of work, servitude, and union, but we moderns are unfamiliar with yokes due to our non-agrarian lifestyles. Ronny Graham describes the various kinds of yokes—including human yokes—and shows how they are relevant to our Christian lives.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the meaning of Matthew 24:40-41, contends that the separation that occurs does not apply to a secret rapture but, more probably, to a separation suggested by Revelation 13:10-16, in which a portion of the church is preserved in a place of safety and another portion is designated to endure the persecution of Satan. Lamentations 3 and 4 show the stark contrast of a once proud people (secure in their wealth, technology, and cleverness) suffering bitter persecution and humiliation at the hands of a people considered by them to be their moral inferiors. In the midst of this suffering, in which the ravages of famine have brought about a degradation of compassion and moral sensibility in Israel, the narrator (presumably Jeremiah) stresses that vindication and ultimate restoration will come only from God.
John Ritenbaugh, prior to the study of Lamentations, explains the significance of the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5:25, referring to a systematic calculation of time. The key is to convert the monetary measures into units of time, employing the day-for-a year principle established elsewhere. This calculation provides a clue for the resurrection of Babylon. In Lamentations 3, the narrator looks at the horrible affliction of his people and sees ultimate good coming from this tribulation, realizing that it has been God's tool of correction. Our responsibility in such a context is to submit to the yoke God has prepared for us, and to be willing to follow God's will, realizing that chastening has been for our ultimate good.
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]