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.
John Ritenbaugh, emphasizing that God continually uses perennial types, patterns, and examples, indicates that humankind, nature, and Satan (including his demonic legions) have been mortally impacted by sin, and that the entirety of nature awaits redemption through the appearance of God's offspring. Nature has become a slave of death and decay after the sin of Adam and Eve, whose offspring have been forced to share a prison cell with demonic forces, subject to a death penalty imposed as a consequence of sin. Neither Satan nor his demons cause us to sin; we chose to sin, and we die as the result of our own sins. We were created upright, but bring on judgments by ourselves; the judgments reveal we are still accountable. The same Creator God who placed judgment on Adam and Eve is still on His throne. Thankfully, as offspring of Adam and Eve, we reap the benefit of the curse placed on the serpent, but we must also endure hardship of pain and suffering in our sanctification process. We learn that as we sin, we impact all people; sin is never committed in a vacuum. Thankfully, God has given us gifts, skills, and abilities to enable us to accomplish our responsibilities. Ironically, the original sin revolved around food; all of the Holy Days focus on food, including the Day of Atonement where fasting automatically carries our minds to food. We live in our ancestors, in the sense that Levi paid tithes through Abraham while still in his loins.. We are all subject to the consequences of sin brought about by our first parents. The Edenic covenant was a radiant picture of joy and hope; we are all subject to the consequences of the failure of our parents to keep their part of the agreement. Like Adam and Eve, we are responsible for our part of the covenant. Everything, including ourselves, wears down by God's design, but those whom God has called out have been given a glimpse and hope of a glorious pain-free future.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Solomon's ruminations about life being seemingly futile and purposeless, reiterates that a relationship with God is the only factor which prevents life from becoming useless. As many celebrities and public figures withdraw to spend more time with families, so must we withdraw from the rat race of the world to seek a relationship with God. Most people on this earth are not spending quality time at seeking a relationship with Him, but are living "under the sun" lives. God gave us the gift of His Spirit, enabling us to attain a sound mind, empowering us to choose the way that will bring satisfaction in life. At our calling we receive a gift of spiritual life enabling us to make good use of our physical lives. God has never given any physical object to us that can bring a sustained satisfaction in life, but His Holy Spirit can enable us to enhance our life with Him. The fruit of the Spirit (attained by walking in the Spirit) does bring a sustaining satisfaction within us. Humility attracts us to God; conceit and pride repels us from God. When we commit our works to Him, He will enable us to succeed by directing our steps, giving us maximum enjoyment and contentment, as well as softening the effects of any calamity that afflicts us. Conversely, a life without God will never bring us satisfaction spiritually, psychologically, or physically.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that a life lived apart from God, under the sun, amounts to vanity and a fist full of wind. As we become aware of God's involvement in our lives, we begin to stand in awe of God, developing an appreciation for the proper investment of our time. 780 references to time recur through Scripture. Thousands of aphorisms occur in our culture emphasizing the preciousness and transitory nature of time. Solomon warns against bad choices in our investment of time. Our knowledge that we will ultimately die should motivate us to use our time circumspectly. God's universe runs on His time, not on ours. God has placed the concept of eternity in our hearts, giving us the ability to bind time backwards and forwards. Life and time are inextricably related in our lives; as time slips away from us, life does too. The 14 pairs or merismus patterns (gathering/ throwing away/ being born/ dying, etc) occur to very human being and are God-given for the purpose of testing His children, meticulously guiding and directing our lives. We are not an insignificant afterthought. Everything in life matters. Consequently, our wisest investment in life is to fear God and keep His commandments, for it is God who orders life. Everything in Scripture is precisely timed and ordered for a specific purpose. Consequently, we should never miss any opportunity to submit ourselves to the perfect immutable will of God.
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 T. Ritenbaugh: Ecclesiastes 2 records what Solomon experienced when he was a young man in the prime of his wealth and power. ...
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
John Ritenbaugh explores the negative symbolism of wine (as representing intoxication and addiction) in Revelation17 and 18. The entire Babylonian system (highly appealing to carnal human nature) has an enslaving addicting, and inebriating quality, producing a pernicious unfaithfulness and Laodicean temperament. As in Solomon's time, each dramatic increase in technology and knowledge does not bring a corresponding improvement in inherently corrupt human nature or morality. In evaluating the influence or teaching skills of Babylon, we must evaluate (1) the character and conduct of the teacher (2) whether the teaching is true, and (3) the kind of fruit it produces. Poisonous weeds cannot produce good fruit. Babylon's (the Great Whore's) anti-God, anti-revelation, man-devised cultural and educational system(the cosmos) is poisoning the entire world. What was crooked from the very beginning cannot be made straight. In order to attain eternal life, we must consciously reject the Babylonian system and consciously conform to God's will.
John Ritenbaugh again warns that anxiety and fretting (symptoms of coveting, lusting, and idolatry) in addition to cutting life short, erode and destroy faith, destroying today's serenity by borrowing tomorrow's troubles, bartering away eternity for cheap, perishible items. Jesus uses the argument from the lesser to the greater (because God meticulously takes care of the smaller forms of life (birds, flowers, etc.) He will also take care of humans. In order to avoid yielding to Satan or the world, we must place as top priority seeking God's kingdom today (Matthew 6:33). As we use faith, God increases the supply for upcoming trials. God provides both the will and the power to grow toward spiritual maturity and sanctification (Phillipians 2:12)
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a phenomenon described by Alvin Toffler as Future Shock, a stressful malady caused by an inability to accommodate or adjust to rapid change. Over-stimulation and rapid change (accompanied by the death of permanence) eventually produces apathy and future shock. The antidote to future shock (or attaining the way back to permanence) includes (1) becoming goal oriented toward permanent things (Matthew 6:33), (2) making sure of permanent values (Deuteronomy 4:40; Hebrews 13:8) (3) working to build wholesome habit, custom or routine (Exodus 31:13), and (4) building quality human relationships (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24; 27:10; Ecclesiastes 4:9)
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God emphasizes the rather pessimistic theme of Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles to show the consequences of doing whatever our human heart has led us to do. Without incorporating God's purpose (Ecclesiastes 12:14), our lives, even with all the creature comforts satisfied to the maximum, are absolutely meaningless. Solomon, by continuously evaluating the causes and effects of his calculated pleasure- or meaning-seeking experiment, records many shrewd, commonsense observations about the meaning of life. Even with vast materialistic, artistic, or academic accomplishments, life without the purpose of God is depressingly hollow, disappointing, meaningless, and vain. These disillusionments force God's called-out ones to live by faith. Consequently, God can turn something formerly disappointing and meaningless into something meaningful, purposeful, and profitable for those who fear and trust Him (Roman 8:28).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon a generally pessimistic treatise, read in the annual cyclical Jewish tradition, during the Feast of Tabernacles, illustrates the disillusionment that love for this world will inevitably bring (I John 2:17). Realizing that the world is passing away, our priorities should be on fearing God and keeping his commandments. The temporary booths (short lived and quickly deteriorating) at the Feast depicts our temporary and impermanent, often unpleasant and disappointing (Hebrews 2:10) earthly pilgrimage or sojourn, contrasted with the permanence of Christ's rule and our future eternal life. (Romans 8:17-18). Without living for God's purpose for us, this life is absolutely meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 12:14, Hebrews 1:10-12)
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that we, like the crowds who rejected Jesus' message, have unconsciously absorbed a whole pre-packaged set of behaviors or attitudes (human traditions) from our culture, sometimes dangerously inhibiting the assimilation of the precious truths of God's Word. One cardinal lesson we glean from the feeding of the five thousand is that when God calls us, He not only realizes our present limitations, but also has a vision of what we can become when we combine our meager capabilities with His infinite power. Unlike the crowds in John 6 who tried to get Jesus to serve their own selfish purposes, our relationship to God should be one of total submission to His will, patterning our lives according to His purpose. The storm the disciples encounter on the Sea of Galilee instructs us that when we are in the midst of a trial getting nowhere, if we invite Christ into the situation (having faith He is near), we will immediately have peace. We glean from Jesus' counsel to the crowd at Capernaum that any attempt to fulfill a deeply felt spiritual need with a physical solution will never give satisfaction, but will instead lead to addiction, perversion, frustration and despair. Our orientation should always be on the spiritual.
Men have searched for centuries for the keys to success in life. Many have found rules to live by to bring them physical wealth and well-being, but all of them have neglected the most important factor: God!
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