John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that sometimes the pace of the Feast of Tabernacles can be wearying, reminds us that God has commanded His people to rejoice and to develop a beneficial fear and respect for Him. Enjoying the feast to the hilt physically does not necessarily mean we had a good feast. If we do nothing to make a fine feast for someone else, we probably will not have a good feast. God commanded the Israelites to offer more sacrifices at the Feast of Tabernacles than at all the other Holy Days combined. We attain spiritual regeneration by participation. After the Babylonian captivity, people felt more inclined to serve than before, having cultivated a new appreciation for what they had lost—namely, God's precious law. Just because we are keeping God's festivals does not necessarily mean we are in sync with God's Law or His purpose for our lives. God commissioned Amos to write a powerful, stirring message to the ten northern tribes, warning them to prepare to meet their God and to change the attitudes which were polluting God's feasts. Israel, in the time of Amos, had drifted into the same moral cesspool as the modern Israelitish nations have today, laden down with corruption and bloodshed, just as America's Supreme Court has made sodomy and murder the law of the land. Amos warned against exalting symbolism over substance, clinging to Bethel as a religious shrine, while neglecting the fact that Bethel was the location where God renamed Jacob to Israel. God wants each of us individually to go through the same transformation as our father Jacob—from conniving schemer to a totally converted and submissive servant.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that I and II Chronicles (the last books to be canonized in the Old Testament) were post-exilic documents, created for the sole purpose of analyzing the cumulative thematic lessons Judah and Israel had experienced, namely that God has clearly declared what He would do, and that He has proved true to His Word in every circumstance. There is a high probability that Ezra penned the Chronicles, but also some indication that Nehemiah (who had amassed a sizable library of historical records) or other assistants to Ezra or Nehemiah could have carried the work to completion. Perhaps the most righteous of Judah's kings was Josiah, having fewer personal foibles than David, but having equivalent leadership skills to David, coupled with an ardent love for God's law and a single -minded purpose to walk in the Law of God—all this supporting a fervor and energy to carry out reforms which ultimately extirpated the trappings of idolatry which had accumulated during the tenures of Josiah's predecessors for several generations. Beginning his rule at the age of 8-years old, he ruled successfully for 31 years, turning neither to the right or the left, doggedly conforming to God's Law. During his tenure, Judah and Israel were purged of the scourge of idolatry brought about by his reprobate forbears; Josiah destroyed altars, shrines, carvings, wooden images, and high places of pagan gods, and executed the priests and mediums of these pagan religions, spearheading the attack himself. When the book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was discovered in the temple, Josiah led his people into implementing its commands. Though Josiah's heart was tender (with God's Law written on it), his people sadly did not share their King's total commitment to his reforms. Josiah was like a good fig in a basket of rotten figs. Josiah's reforms, though significant, did not enjoy the widespread support of his subjects. For that, they did delay for a little while the consequences of Judah's transgressions against God's covenant. Thou
Kim Myers, reflecting on Amos’s prophecy to ancient Israel in Amos 5:11, castigating the leaders for their shabby treatment to the poor and destitute in society, draws a parallel to America’s leaders today, allowing or creating situations in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, leading to record numbers of our citizenry succumbing to homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including America) takes advantage of the poor, using the illegal immigration tidal wave for profit and political power. When a nation loses its morals, people feel free to take advantage of one another, especially the poor. God hates governments which take advantage of the poor, a segment of the population people find easy to take advantage of because they are trusting, helpless, and dependent. In God’s Church, we also have poor, meek, and handicapped individuals. We are mandated to love the brethren, treating them as we would a blood relative. All of us could improve our sensitivity to people’s needs, especially when we have the financial means at the Feast of Tabernacles, sharing our time, treasure, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not have to be wealthy to be hospitable, but we should not be stingy or cheap when we have the means to serve one another. We have a mandate from Almighty God to let brotherly love continue through our hospitality and generosity.
Mike Ford, reflecting on the inordinately high casualties of the American Civil War, far more extensive than all of the other wars combined, compares the devastation to another civil war between Judah and Israel, recorded in 1 Kings 14 and II Chronicles 11, a tragic war where more than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives because the leadership turned away from God, embracing disgusting forms of idolatry. After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam, after seeking unwise counsel, provoked a split or secession of the northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promoted the worship of golden calves in a counterfeit Feast of Tabernacles in Bethel and Dan and appointing his own unscrupulous priests to administer the pagan services, which promoted sodomy and male temple prostitutes. When King Abijah earnestly appealed to God at the beginning of a devastating siege, repenting of the foolish God-rejecting policies of his father's administration, God heard his intercessory prayer; Rehoboam's army was soundly routed, suffering 500,000 casualties, and Judah basked in a short-lived peace. Abijah had three good years but was suddenly cut off because the victory went to his head, and he didn't move forward, removing the idols and outlawing the disgusting pagan religious practices. One successful act of faith is only something to build on, not merely a motivation to rest on laurels. We need to make sure that we move forward in our spiritual battles, extirpating any idol that comes into our lives, separating us from God.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
An entire chapter of Genesis is devoted to the sexual violation of Jacob's daughter Dinah and its consequences. Many commentators pin the blame on Dinah herself. Mike Ford analyzes the details of this unfortunate incident and reaches some broad conclusions about who was responsible for this grievous crime and its aftermath.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Garden of Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Temple Mount, and Mount Moriah were all names of God's house on this earth. In the Holy of Holies, within the Ark of the Covenant, Aaron's almond rod that budded symbolizes God's power over the tribes and salvation by grace through the sacrifice of Christ. The golden lamp stand, a seven bowled menorah, symbolized an almond tree in full bloom. Jesus crucifixion took place outside the camp of Israel, just outside the border of the Garden of Eden, the general area where the Miphkad Altar stood, where He was evidently nailed to a cross piece on a living tree, a tree of light. Perhaps the Tree of Life located in the middle of the Garden of Eden was an almond tree. The golden pot containing manna in the ark symbolized Jesus as the Bread of Life. The tablets of stone are found right under the mercy seat of the ark, representing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, perhaps symbolized by a fig tree, forming the basis from what we are judged. The law of God should be a perpetual source of delight for us. The testimony represents the entire Holy of Holies. The Miphkad Altar located outside of Jerusalem's east gate in the region of the Mount of Olives where Jesus had begun His triumphal march into Jerusalem and where he was arrested (in direct line of sight from the eastern side of the Temple), a place of public execution, where the red heifer was sacrificed, where Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac, was the most probable location of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the real cradle of civilization is not Mesopotamia, but Jerusalem, a venue where God started His physical creation and where He will bring it to spiritual fruition. The world's corrupt civilization did begin in Mesopotamia, between the rivers, but God called Abraham and his descendents out of this corruption back to the region of the promised land - probably within the geographical region of the Garden of Eden, the location of Abraham's abortive sacrifice of Isaac (renamed Yahweh Yirah) Mount Moriah - the site of Solomon's Temple, the Lord's Mount, and the most probable site of the Garden of Eden) in the current Jerusalem area - the Temple Mount, Mount Zion, and the Mount of Olives. Both Moses in his instructions for building of the tabernacle and David in his instructions for building the temple were obligated to follow the pattern that God explicitly gave them. Like the temple and tabernacle, the Garden of Eden was probably an enclosed place with a single entrance on the east side, all replicas of heavenly originals, designed specifically to give us understanding and faith. The sacrifice of the red heifer on the Miphkad Altar displayed many differences from the sacrifices on the Brazen Altar. The midst of the Garden of Eden and the Holy of Holies (typifying God's throne room in Heaven - surrounded by Cherubim) were evidently in the same location. When Cain sinned, God admonished him to provide a sacrifice on what would be the location of the Miphad Altar.
How can we evaluate whether our Feast is 'good' or not? Using God's criticism of Israel's feasts in Amos 5, John Ritenbaugh shows that the pilgrimage locations of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal provide instruction about what God wants us to learn from His feasts.
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.
The search for the descendants of ancient Israel continues with the look at the blessings God promises the patriarchs. Charles Whitaker examines the blessings granted to Jacob's sons as well as Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh warns that it is possible to have an enjoyable feast, but not keep the feast properly, failing to derive any spiritual profit. God expects the Feast of Tabernacles to be the spiritual high of the year. Paradoxically, if we go to the Feast with the goal of physically enjoying, we may lose out on both the spiritual and physical benefits. The attitude and purpose for keeping the Feast should focus upon the spiritual: serving, growing, overcoming, transforming, and producing spiritual fruit. The lesson of Amos 5 indicates that going through the motions, perhaps superstitiously acknowledging the historical ambience of the event, but in a smug, carnal, self-indulgent mode - without including the spiritual component - makes the entire event an abomination.
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.
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?
In Galatians 6, verse 16, the apostle Paul refers to the church as "the Israel of God." Why? Why not "the Judah of God," or "the Ephraim of God" or "the Galilee of God?" Why did God not inspire Paul to call the church by Israel's original name, Jacob—"the Jacob of God?" Charles Whitaker explains.
Sometimes, we get down because we think that all our labors for God have gone unnoticed. Elijah did, and his story points out a major lesson we all would do well to heed today.
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
Using the story of God's prophet in I Kings 13, John Reid derives several lessons we can apply in this time of doctrinal confusion.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in our relationship with God, we must emphasize principle over pragmatism, because pragmatism inevitably leads to idolatry. Jeroboam, in setting idolatrous shrines and festivals at Dan and Bethel, appealed to the carnal desire for practical convenience (I Kings 12:26-33). These practical compromises eventually led to the desecration of the Sabbath and the holy days, ending in the captivity of Israel. When doctrine is diluted, it turns into outright idolatry. Like ancient Israel, we have to guard against the tendency to gravitate toward ministers speaking smooth and pleasant things at the expense of turning from the truth. If we are led into deception, it is because our carnal nature wanted it that way (Jeremiah 17:9).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
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 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 warns the greater Church of God that since we constitute the Israel of God, the book of Amos directly applies to us. The pilgrimages to Gilgal made by the people of ancient Israel were repulsive to God because no permanent change (in terms of justice ' hating evil and loving good or righteous behavior) occurred in their lives as a result of these pilgrimages. In terms of human relationships, instead of God's Commandments and instead of the Golden Rule, Israel zealously practiced self-centered, pragmatic situation ethics- liberally mixed or syncretized with pagan religion. Unlike ceremonial religion, true religion reaches out and touches every aspect of life, making a permanent transformation or change in thought and behavior. Ceremony and sincerity cannot be considered mutually exclusive components of religion. God, totally impartial in His dealings with all people, demands a higher standard of righteous behavior from those who have consciously made a covenant with Him and are acquainted with His Law.
John Ritenbaugh observed that ancient Israel had regarded Bethel (as well as Gilgal and Beer Sheba) as a sacred shrine (a place where Jacob had been transformed —his name changed to Israel) but were not becoming spiritually transformed as a result of pilgrimages to these locations. One example of their residual carnality was the corruption of their court system- a striking parallel to modern Israel. We need to remember that Amos is written to the end-time church, urging that true religion is not a way to God but from God, emphasizing that (1) we must have a real love for God's truth, (2) submit to God as our part of the relationship, (3) be concerned about earning God's approval, (4) have moral integrity, and (5) exercise social responsibility. Amos warned ancient and modern Israel not to exalt symbolism over substance- a condition leading to Jacob's trouble or the Great tribulation. We need to secure our relationship with God (and our quest for holiness-involving action, emotion, and thought), not taking His grace for granted realizing that God will not budge one inch with his law.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Amos severely chides Israel for exalting symbolism over substance, superstitiously trusting in locations where significant historical events occurred: Bethel- the location of Jacob's pillar stone and Jacob's conversion; Gilgal- the location where the manna ceased and the Israelites partook of the produce of the land; and Beersheeba —the location from where Jacob journeyed to become reunited with his family. Consequently, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheeba became associated with hope, possession, and fellowship. Amos seems to suggest, "it's not where you are, but what you are — or what you become." Instead of superstitiously regarding these locations like the shrines of Lourdes or Fatima, God's called out ones need to make permanent internal transformations in their lives. Likewise, going to a particular site for the Feast of Tabernacles is worthless if our lives are not permanently transformed by a close relationship with God, motivating us to keep His laws, and reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the limited window of opportunity recipients of a dire prophecy have to take action. The one who hears the warnings does not have an abundance of time to repent and return to God. A lion's threat is not idle. If no action is taken, the stalking roar will turn into a growl of contentment, the lion having consumed its prey. At the time of Amos's message, Israel was: 1) threatened by the imminent displeasure of God; 2) lacking repentance and true spirituality; 3) full of corruption; 4) departing from the truth; 5) proud, complacent, and self-satisfied; 6) setting itself on a pedestal; and 7) smugly prejudiced against the world. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including the Israel of God) cannot see the connection between its own faithlessness to her covenant with God and the violence and tumult of society that mirror her spiritual condition.
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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