Clyde Finklea shares an insight from Tom Kerry about an overlooked prophecy in Matthew 3:7-9, referring to the stones placed in the Jordan River by the priests in Joshua's time inscribed with the Law of God in some form—the book of Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments, or perhaps the Blessings and the Curses—which would have resided near Bethabara (meaning, House of Crossing Over or House of Passing Over), the locale in which John baptized. Bethabara would have been the location where the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River, leading the people into the Promised Land, directly adjacent to the two famous mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, where the Blessings and Curses were recited. Joshua had commanded that twelve stones be brought to construct an altar in the dry Jordan River bed, stones which would serve as a memorial for the twelve tribes of Israel, upon which would be inscribed the words of the law. Bethabara would also have also been the venue John baptized Jesus, providing the means through which those whom God has chosen would become living stones joined to the Corner Stone which the builders mistakenly rejected. We, as God's called-out ones, are the living stones God would rise for Abraham, that is, in fulfilment of His promises to Abraham.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that most people living in modern, Western culture better identify with flawed heroes, rather than perfect heroes. King David, for example, made huge errors in judgment and committed colossal sins. Ezekiel 18:19-20 indicates that guilt for sin is not transferable, but the consequences can often touch several generations. Saul, after having disqualified himself from being king, sought to ingratiate himself with God by killing Canaanites, including an unrecorded massacre of Gibeonites. Later, during a wasting famine, David, attempting a political rather than a righteous solution, yielded to the Gibeonites' request that descendants of Saul be hanged to avenge the slaughter. That the famine continued indicates God displeasure with David's decision and inner motives. As Christians living amidst spiritual famine, we dare not compromise with the culture around us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh links inextricably the time frame for the covenant with Abraham (the Selfsame Day), the events of the Passover, the Exodus, the Night to be Much Observed, and the events of Christ's Passover meal with his disciples leading to his crucifixion. Clear connections relating to the bread and wine symbols, the ratification of the covenant, and the sacrifices are convincingly drawn. The mistaken inference made by some about a wavesheaf offering in Joshua 5 ignores the prohibition against a foreigner's grain (Leviticus 22:25), a blemished offering (Leviticus 23:12) and against animal sacrifices until peace could be established (Deuteronomy 12:11). The wavesheaf offering (Leviticus 23:15) is reckoned from the weekly sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread and not immediately before when an annual sabbath follows immediately.
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 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.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
The book of Amos is an astounding prophecy, closely paralleling the conditions in modern Israel today. This first part deals with introductory materials, Israel's covenant responsibilities, God's judgment and how unrighteousness affects society.
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 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 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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