Charles Whitaker, focusing on Paul's admonition to the Ephesians that there be unity in the Body of Christ, suggests that, in the interests of preserving unity, God judges and then surgically separates hypocrites from real believers. This judgment-resulting-in-division model appears throughout Scripture in the episodes of the ones taken and the ones left behind, the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents separating the productive from the indolent, and the good figs and bad figs in Jeremiah 24. In each of these cases, God divides the entire group into two parts, one blessed and one cursed. The archetype for this judgment-resulting-in-division pattern appears in Deuteronomy 27, where Moses directs that representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel publicly chant the Blessings from Mount Gerazim, a site without an altar, and the Curses from Mount Ebal, a site with an altar of rough stones and the Law written on plastered stones. The two venues prefigure future congregations, all of which acknowledge God's Law. The critical difference is that while the Gerizim group represents those who allow the law to be written on their hearts, the Ebal group represents those who, while giving lip service to the letter of the law, hypocritically practice sin secretly. Virtually all the curses focus on hidden sin. The hidden leavening of hypocrisy practiced by the Pharisees, using piety as a cloak for disgusting covert sins, has found its way into the Church of God. If God's Law has not been written in our hearts, completely altering our thoughts and behavior, the corporate entity in which we find ourselves will not save us from the wrong side of the judgmental cut.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
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.
David C. Grabbe: As explained previously, God gives His people time to repent, but He is in no way idle during that time. Because He desires sons and daughters in His image, He is always working (John 5:17) to bring about ...
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.
David C. Grabbe: In Jesus Christ's letter to the congregation in Thyatira, one small statement illustrates an aspect of God's nature that is crucial for us to understand: "And I gave her time to repent of her ...
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon Deuteronomy 29:4, where God reveals that He had not given the ancient Israelites an understanding mind "until that very day," discusses His revelation in Deuteronomy 29 and 30. These chapters have four salient themes: 1.) Today, with its counterpart "tomorrow," the future generations of Israelites; 2.) The land—"this land," referring to the land of promise, and "that land," referring to the land of exile of future Israelites; 3.) The "Covenant," with its attendant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and 4.) the concept of "revelation," that God reveals hidden matters to the end that people may obey His law. Historically, when Israel obeyed God, she received blessings; when Israel disobeyed God, she was cursed. This axiomatic truth is so evident to the gentiles that they will marvel that the hapless descendants of Jacob could not understand the cause-effect relationships of obedience and disobedience. Sadly, we live in a time when Abraham's offspring have rebelled mightily, waxing just as evil and perverted as ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. If modern Israel (including the Israel of God) disobeys the terms of the covenant, the fact that God made a covenant with them will not deflect the full impact of God's judgment. As God's called-out ones, having additional revealed knowledge and the gift of God's Holly Spirit, we are instructed to choose life "right now, this very day," just as were our ancient forbears.
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.
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.
Martin Collins, cautioning us to properly value the infinite blessings that God has given us, warns that underestimating God's gifts can lead us to undervalue the spiritual or overvalue the physical. Esau, despised his birthright, preferring a bowl of lentils to placate his stomach; Lot's wife, preferring material prosperity, became a pillar of salt; Achan chose the spoils of battle; Saul allowed the people to persuade him to amass the spoils of battle, disobeying God's command by sparing King Agag; Judas betrayed his Savior for 30 pieces of silver. God commands us to set our minds on things above and not on the earthly, seeking the eternal Kingdom of God rather than perishable treasures of this world. As we prepare our offerings, we must discern the countless spiritual gifts God has given us, realizing that God's gifts are priceless. Only God can measure what is in our hearts.
David Grabbe warns us that the Day of the Lord will be a fearful time of judgement, darkness, and horror. The Scriptures provide no grounds for anyone to assume that God is on his side during this time; misguided self-assurance is the sole basis for the presumption that God will provide His people protection from every evil of this period. The ancient Israelites, as described by Amos, smugly believed that God was on their side because He was, in their minds, their birthright. They were blind to the fact that they practiced vast social and religious sins. Like the mainstream Protestants, they inculcated the doctrine of Eternal Security based on a fallacious belief in an unlimited credit line of grace. Many assume they have incurred God's favor because they have prospered, not realizing that God often blesses both the good and evil. Others think they have God's favor only because God has not yet punished them for their sins. Every passing day, these peoples' false sense of security and self-satisfaction grows. But God will not favor those who defile His covenant. The lack of immediate punishment springs from God's longsuffering and from His desire that we repent. Paul warns all of us not to assume that we stand, lest we fall. For that reason, God's called-out ones should not look eagerly for the Day of the Lord, but should instead humbly cultivate humility, perseverance, having poverty of spirit, beseeching God to protect us from the hour of trial.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent solar eclipse, reminds us that in the peoples of past cultures believed that solar and lunar eclipses were omens of impending tragedy, leading to rituals to combat their influence. Although the Bible uses the imagery of the eclipse to portend the confusion at the end of the age, neither eclipses nor the warnings of the prophets caught Judah's attention. The only major event which got their undivided attention was the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the subsequent captivity of Jerusalem, an event sonorously described in Lamentations, a Megillah chanted on the 9th of Av, in the summer season, focusing on summer fruit, having the themes of affliction, God's judgment, correction, cursing, trials, with a hope in God's redemption and restoration. The most likely author is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, but it also could have been composed by Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary. The Book's five acrostic songs (chapters) answer the question, "Why did this happen?" God brought the punishment on Judah, explaining that the basket of bad figs was destroyed (that is, the population of Jerusalem decimated) because Judah embraced idolatry, indulged in perverse sexual sins, failed to take care of the needy, and meted out corrupt judgments, forsaking the only support that would sustain them—Almighty God. Sadly, these deplorable characteristics describe the nations of modern Israel today. As God's called-out ones, we need to take to heart the warnings of Lamentations.
Several times in both testaments, the Bible mentions a book or books that God uses to record the names and perhaps additional information about each person who has lived. This book is called the "Book of Life" or "the book of the living." Martin Collins examines the few scriptures that mention this intriguing book to find out what God's Word reveals about it.
Martin Collins, reiterating that the devastating locust plague in Joel prefigures the devastating Day of the Lord, following a great tribulation and frightful heavenly cataclysms engineered by the prince and power of the air, asserts that God will judge with fury the heathen nations who have aligned themselves against His people. God will regather the remnant of Jacob's offspring, returning the land and wealth their enemies have stolen, restoring their inheritance. The plowshares and pruning hooks that God's enemies converted into weapons will prove futile against God's Army; they will soon rapidly unlearn war and the useless 'skills' of combat. Going to war with the Creator of the universe will prove an effort of utter futility, as the winepress of God's fury will spill an inordinate amount of rebel blood in this harvest of carnage. The Day of the Lord will certainly not be a pleasant time, but God's called-out ones are admonished to trust in God's sovereignty and His ability to protect those He has sealed with His Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, God will pour His spirit on all peoples, including the misguided Gentiles who had formerly directed their hostility on God and His chosen people. In the meantime, it behooves God's called-out ones to cry out in order to be worthy to escape the horrid plagues to be poured out on the earth.
While the subject of the demons' ultimate fate is not a salvation issue, many people wonder how God will deal with them at the end of the Millennium. John Ritenbaugh tackles four assumptions that Bible students and scholars tend to make when dealing with this issue, showing that none of them holds up under biblical scrutiny.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
We carry an "old friend" around with us wherever we go, one whom we cherish and protect even though it frequently influences us to think, say, and do the wrong things. Referring to our human nature, our carnal or fleshly mind, John Ritenbaugh argues that, deceived or not, our sinful nature drives us to disobey God's laws, just as Adam and Eve transgressed by choosing the way of death. Such choices by all humanity have fashioned this present, evil world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the symbolism of the two goats on this solemn holy day—the sacrificial goat (representing Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins) was slain, while the Azazel goat (which we have assumed to be Satan), with the sins of the entire nation pronounced on its head, was led into the wilderness to die a natural death—suggests that some aspects of our previous understanding may have been wrong. Not one human being, from our parents, Adam and Eve, to ourselves, can escape the responsibility of his own sins; Satan did not make us do anything, unless we willingly cooperated with his temptations. We cannot blame anyone else, including our physical parents, for our shortcomings. Because the Azazel goat in the ceremony was allowed to escape, we concluded that Satan (as well as the demonic spirits who followed him) would not die, but would be driven into a perpetual abode of restraint, symbolized by the term "outer darkness." Angels were created to serve as ministering spirits, assisting the Creator well before mankind came on the scene. To be sure, we have no scriptural evidence that an angel has died, but we cannot assume that angels are immortal and share the same kind of spirit God Almighty has. Though angelic beings are currently superior to human beings in intelligence and volition, we cannot assume they are indestructible. Speculation among the splinters of the greater church of God ranges from the thesis that Satan and his demons will live forever in a remote location to its antithesis that Satan and his demons will be utterly annihilated. We need to process four troublesome assumptions: (1) that all spirit is ever living and impossible to destroy, (2) that God was guilty of lack of judgment in creating something He could not take apart, (3) that angels are not subject to the same principles of judgment with which God judges men, and (4) that the new heavens and earth will not be of the purity God promised.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the poetic prayer-song at the end of Habakkuk 3, concludes that this passage is one of the most inspiring parts of God's Word. The moving prayer-song, asking God to revive His work in the midst of years, and to temper judgment with mercy, provides a model of an effective prayer. Though the prophet began his dialogue with God with distressful angst and bitter complaints, expressing incredulity that God would allow a vile nation to be His corrective instrument, the prayer-song of Chapter 3 demonstrates that the prophet has calmly acquiesced to God's righteous judgment, remembering His sterling record of faithfulness, humbly asking God to remember to have mercy.Our time is like that of Habakkuk , when horrendous and pandemic sin invite God's wrath. We may initially find the means God uses to correct our people horrifying and discouraging, but when we place His actions in context with His overall plan and purpose for mankind, we will find peace in God's absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. Humility and repentance are absolute prerequisites for answered prayer. After repentance, adoration and reflection on God's attributes and on the history of His providence should make up the contents of our prayers. Finally, our specific petitions should be exclusively within the context of God's will, remembering that God's work of fashioning a new creation takes precedence over our petty concerns; like Habakkuk, we need to subordinate our work to God's overall plan, asking God for renewal in the midst of bad times, remembering that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness. Knowledge of God, as recorded in His Word, (that is , bearing in mind His promises, previous interventions, and characteristic providence) gives us fortitude in horrific times, enabling us to know that God will save His people and stand by His promises. As Habakkuk lived up to the etymology of his name habaq, meaning to embrace or cling, we must cling tenaciously to God as we enter the disastrous times
Martin Collins, reviewing the episode of Habakkuk's frustration that God would use an evil people to punish Israel, points us to the prophet's resolve to cease being a fretful worrier and to become a responsible watcher, determined to understand the purpose of God's dealing with His people. Only a faithful believer will ever stand acquitted before God's fearful judgment. While the taunt-song, dealing with the five woes, certainly applies to Babylon, it applies doubly to God's people Israel, who should have known better, but chose to become ignorant. The first two woes in Habakkuk 2:6-8 concerns the woe against greed, avarice, covetousness (a virulent form of idolatry), and selfish ambition, leading to the crime of usury, charging excessive interest on loans, making the debtor a virtual slave, totally against God's instructions in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The earth metaphorically cries out against the oppressor who garners wealth by stealing from others and amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor. The third woe focuses on a nation's tyrannical oppression of captive peoples, building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by violence, denuding forests, wantonly slaughtering animals in order to subjugate other defenseless peoples. The fourth woe results from a people corrupting others with drunkenness and lust, having both literal and metaphorical implications; today the intoxicating Babylonian system embraced by Jacob's descendants has caused our nation to resemble, both figuratively and literally, a drunk vomiting over itself, exposing its sins and folly to the entire world, after adamantly refusing to be governed by God's laws. The fifth woe leveled against the Chaldeans, and by extension to the modern descendants of Jacob, results from idolatry, the sin of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, applying to literal idols of stone and wood as well as to pagan new age religious practices and including anything we might exalt over God Almighty, including our physical possessions, talents, abilities,
Ryan McClure, reflecting on his recent experience preparing for a pesky jury summons, reviews the major reasons a Christian should not serve on a jury. Our Elder Brother Jesus Christ has counseled us that we should not judge lest we be judged, or that we should not condemn lest we be condemned. Jesus Christ came to save the world, not to condemn it. Only God has the ability to look on the hearts; as mortal human beings, we do not yet have this capability. That is why we should not judge those who are in the world. Our current responsibility consists of discerning godly versus worldly conduct, applying those standards to our own conduct—not to assess somebody else's spirituality or turpitude. What if we judge or condemn when Jesus Christ has given forgiveness? Ultimate judgment is reserved for Jesus Christ. God Himself gave Christ that responsibility.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
John Ritenbaugh, warning that, as culture deteriorates, the church will be 'exposed' as the enemy, encourages us to make sure that the foundations of what we believe are secure. Consequently, we need to take notice of the law of first mention in Genesis to pick up the pattern of God's dealing with His creation. The great worldwide Flood has to be looked at through God's perspective, a merciful intervention preventing humankind from becoming hopelessly conditioned by Satanic orientation, to the point of no return. At the time of the Flood, all of mankind's thoughts were continuously evil. We are reaching that point again. Sin in exponentially compounding and every intent of the heart is evil continually, contaminating the outer behavior, fashioning millions and millions of beings in Satan's image. With the Flood, God rescued these hapless beings from becoming irretrievably depraved. There will be no more floods to wipe out the entire population of the earth, but the future cleansing and purging will be by unquenchable fire, when all evil will be dissolved to make way for new heavens and a new earth. The first use of the word grace in Scripture is in context with the rescuing of Noah, a preacher of righteousness from the line of Seth, including Lamech and Methuselah (whose name means "when he is gone, then he will come"). None of the line of preachers of righteousness (all converted people) perished in the flood. After Methuselah had died, Noah, the tenth in the line of the preachers of righteousness, whose name means comfort, provided physical deliverance for mankind, enabling it to survive the flood. When we realize that everything God has done from the creation of the earth (with its habitable environment and its resources) to the present time is a demonstration of His grace, we realize that salvation is His ultimate gift. As Noah's family was saved from the destruction of water, those living in the post-flood epoch, when they receive and answer God's calling, can escape the horrible holocaust (that is
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.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that the conclusion of the Old Testament as we have inherited from the Latin Vulgate does not have an upbeat ending, but instead ends with a threat of a curse, reviews the seven feeble queries made by the priests, questioning God's providence and His faithfulness, asking what good it does to be godly, keeping His commandments. Those who fear the Lord and esteem His name will be kept in God's Book of Remembrance, the Book of Life. Jesus Christ will acknowledge who is in the Book of Life, enabled to enter the Eternal City. David, in Psalm 139, reveals that all the days of his life were recorded in God's book before he was even born. God's moral standards are unchangeable and will not be altered by the wishful thinking of moral relativists. Delay in judgment should not be construed as God's abandonment of judgment. God desires that all people receive salvation, but He is not about to remove our free will by forcing it upon us. The wicked burned up as ashes certainly precludes the notion of universal salvation. As John the Baptist (in the Spirit of Elijah) made preparations for Christ's ministry, imploring people to repent and change, we must prepare for the Passover season through mental acts of praying, studying, and meditating on the Scriptures, especially on those passages in which God addresses us in the first person. We must continually examine ourselves to see if we are indeed walking according to our calling.
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.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that human nature has to be continually reminded of God's providence even when people are undeserving of the bountiful blessings. Sadly, our forebears often forgot the frequency of God's merciful intervention and declared that it was useless to serve God. Satan loves to manipulate our nervous systems, leading us to believe that injustices are continually perpetrated against us. Human nature loves to feel downtrodden, abandoned, unloved, and taken advantage of, wallowing in self-pity. The Feast of Tabernacles serves as an antidote to incessant injustice collecting. To the ancient Israelites, the harvest testified to God's providence; to the Israel of God, the produce of the fruits of Spirit testifies to God's providence in our spiritual growth. All of the Holy Days are reminders of God's supervision and oversight of His masterplan for the Israel of God. In the context of God's spiritual blessings, it takes some thought and consideration to put a dollar value on something that is priceless. God never said that Christian life would be easy; Jesus Christ warned us to count the cost. God never promised that life would be fair; Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Elijah all suffered unjustly. Facing trials is a part of God's way of life because we are being trained and prepared for something beyond this life, requiring a thorough regimen of necessary proving and testing to know what is in our hearts. God never loses track of anybody. David's decision to grant the spoils of victory against the Amalekites to both the stouthearted and weary fall behinds alike indicated God's care and providence to all. This is the way God looks at each and every person in the Israel of God. Nobody is favored above another regardless of what they have done. Everybody is treated equally. God doesn't deal in favoritism. Every little cell in the Body of Christ is equally important. To whom much is given, more is required.
Martin Collins discusses the apostle Paul's epistle to the Thessalonians, a group of dispirited, despairing Christians who had been bombarded by false teachings that the Day of the Lord had already come, prompting many to quit their employment, rest on their laurels, and become busy-bodies, as well as leading the leaders to express doubt and fear that the congregation would ever make the grade. Paul encourages the bewildered Thessalonians, suggesting that the purposes for the suffering they were now enduring consists of (1) growing in spiritual character, providing examples to the other congregations, (2) being prepared for future glory, and (3) glorifying Christ today. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to thank God for their salvation, surrender without complaint, ask God to give wisdom, and to watch for opportunities to serve, waiting patiently for God to work His purpose. We cannot be so excited about Christ's return that we neglect our own overcoming and character development. Because God's Church is under judgement now, we cannot rest on our laurels, but we must submit to God's summons to a life of purity and sacrifice. God can and will supply strength and power to all those who have been called, but our aspiration and goal of conforming to His image has to motivate our current performance. If we humbly trust in God, all of our works will bear fruit. In order for God to grow a church, the faith of its members must be strengthened through trials, love must increase, and hope must persevere, enduring under trial. Tribulation produces perseverance, which in turn leads to reciprocal glory with Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that it is tough to be a Christian, especially during a time when the United States Supreme Court, staffed by a majority of justices who have been given over to a reprobate mind, have deemed murder) the law of the land, caving into radical Feminist and Homosexual lobbies, while removing God from the equation. In so doing, the Court has attempted a de facto annulment of the Fifth Commandment in the name of women's rights by authorizing the death, through abortion, of some 58 million babies—to date. This death toll is higher than that of all the 20th Century holocaust, pogroms and gulags combined. Furthermore, the Court has perpetrated a frontal assault on God's sacred institution of marriage by sanctioning "same-sex marriage," in effecting putting its stamp of approval on (homosexual) sodomy, thereby attempting to abrogate the Seventh Commandment. When the Supreme Court so totally perverts justice, pushing a toxic liberal progressive agenda, it demonstrates the hopelessly debased state of this nation's ethics. What compounds the gravity of the matter is that these justices should have known better. Psalm 75 reveals that God both promotes and removes individuals from positions of power and He has the final say as to how power will be administrated. If an aggregate of 'justices' continue their collision course with the will of God, these evil men and women will bring a curse on our nation. As God's called-out ones, let us show gratitude to Almighty God for our calling, and for our understanding of His purpose for us (especially, since this knowledge seems to be out of grasp for 7 billion others). God promises to have our right hand; He has given us an iron-clad promise never to leave us as along as we remain true to His Covenant. God is the only one who decides the fates of mankind and He will ultimately bring true justice to the entirety of mankind.
What is the connection between the prayers that ascend to God and the angel hurling the censer down to earth, initiating the seven trumpets? Further, what sort of prayers would be a pleasing aroma to God at this juncture? ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the ninth of Av, occurring at sundown tonight, July 25,2015, a time when the Jewish community will commence the fast of Tisha b'Av, recounts the horrific disasters which have embroiled Judah/Levi over the years, including the destruction of both Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple, the first Crusade, in which Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by "Christians," Germany's declaration of war on Russia, unleashing a virulent strain of anti-Semitism there, and the mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Book Three of the Psalms addresses the compulsion to fast and to mourn. In Zechariah 7, God reminds Judah that their faithlessness and disobedience brought about the horrific destruction of Jerusalem, and if they would get with the program He has outlined for them, curtailing their pity parties, their fasts would be more productive and actually would transform into periods of rejoicing and praising God. If we keep God's Commandments, He promises to help us. If we sin, having the knowledge of His Commandments, we are asking to be crushed more than anyone else, because we should have known better. We should fast for the right reason-to get closer to God—and not to "get Him to do something for us." If we seek God's Kingdom first (life is more than the fulfilment of physical things which will not last for eternity), we will have no need to weep and mourn. If we repent and draw close to God, all of these fasts could be turned into periods of thanksgiving. After we beseech God, we must discipline ourselves to wait for Him to act.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
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.
How often have we heard—or cried ourselves—"How long, O Lord?" Our great hope is in Christ's return, but despite His assurances that He is coming quickly, it seems as if that time is delayed. David Grabbe, keying in on II Peter 3, cautions us not to be distracted by scoffers or cunning arguments, but trust that Christ will return at exactly the best time.
Martin Collins, characterizing the scoffer as a dangerous mixture of pride, malice, ignorance, and shallowness with a high degree of combativeness, suggests that scoffers will increase exponentially as we approach the time of Jacob's trouble, the dreadful day of the Lord, the return of Jesus Christ and the judgment upon mankind when evil will be utterly expunged forever. Peter warned of scoffers in the church, apostate tares, devoid of God's spirit, ridiculing the doctrine that Christ would return or doctrines of judgment, treating lightly those things we should take seriously. Apostates want to be able to live comfortably in their own sins. Peter assures us that God's Word is true, God's Word is consistent (the world is being reserved for fire as it was previously reserved for a cataclysmic flood following creation), and God's Word is consistent all the way through, focusing on a future day of judgment. God's good creation has been turned into a groaning creation, polluted and desecrated by man's horrific sins. The only reason God has not brought the destructive antics of mankind to an end earlier is that He is merciful and longsuffering, desiring all to repent and embrace salvation. In Peter's sermon on Pentecost, he explains Joel's prophecy of God's Spirit poured out on His saints, given to those who repent, with the expectation that this spiritual gift would be used to edify the Body of Christ—the Church. Peter encourages us with the assurance that, though the elements will burn with fervent heat, we will be given protection if we yield to God, allowing Him to carry out His will for our lives.
This world is a horrible place. The planet on which we live along with more than seven billion other human begins is an evil, scary, terrible place. The facts are clear and obvious....
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that the two principle themes of Book One of the Psalms are the Torah, or the instruction of God, and the Messiah, or God's Anointed, set apart for a particular purpose—His Son whom He has sent to rule and judge the world. The Messiah is the perfect model of all that instruction. We need to absorb God's instruction and develop a personal relationship with the Son, understanding His character and personality. We have to know the word of God—His instruction—and the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Part of Psalm 19 is a precursor to Psalm 119, honoring the Law, while the opening portion focuses on the creative power of the Son. The creation, as we witness with the naked eye, shows design, order, and precision, enabling mankind to calculate years, seasons, and times, allowing us an insight into the mind of Almighty God. The Creator is infinitely greater than the whole galaxy and the whole universe. Man foolishly worships things that God created, but ignores the Creator. The Law of the Lord has been given to us personally by Yahweh (Jesus Christ), to guard us against making mistakes and presumptuous sins. The words He gives us in His written Word makes the creation more real. Jesus Christ cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word. The third prominent theme in Book One of the Psalms is trust and faith in God. We must live by faith, especially now when harassment and hatred is leveled at Christianity. David, in the midst of Absalom's rebellion, expressed confidence that God still heard him in the midst of what appears to be temporary disaster. David knew that God was his shield and would ultimately deliver the victory to him. Psalm 37 is an instructive psalm, counseling us not to be agitated or unduly concerned about the wicked, reminding us that God will cut off the wicked and will give us salvation. Nothing good will ever come of envious, burning wrath. If we trust in the Lord, doing something positive, He will give us the desires of our heart.
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.
Martin Collins, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the concept of justice, asserts that real justice with fairness and equity (at least in the human sphere) is becoming rare. Divine justice, on the other hand, because Christ died for our sins, leans toward kindness and mercy. The Founding Fathers of the United States used biblical principles in the judicial system of the colonies, deriving 34% of their quotations and allusions from the Bible for their documents. The Puritans studied the scriptures assiduously, believing that if their principles would be incorporated into our laws, government would function smoothly and effectively. Sadly, those principles which were once implemented into our laws are being corrosively eroded and destroyed, as is manifest by the Supreme Court's endorsement of Roe vs. Wade, ushering in legalized murder on a massive scale. God created the universe, giving laws that would sustain life and promote happiness. All authority for law and justice resides in God; when God is taken out of the picture, darkness and chaos dominate. God clearly delineates good from bad and right from wrong. What He commands is good. The things which God forbids are bad for us. If God says something, it should never be thrown aside. Laws have penalties when they are transgressed. God, not a hanging judge, prefers that a sinner repents and gives them time to change and repent. God's laws, designed to create a better life and more perfect life and character, are not an end in themselves, but should become integrally a part of us. When sin becomes woven into our character, life becomes complicated; sin or crime has domino consequences, rippling through many generations. We never commit sin in a vacuum, but inevitably involve our family and ultimately bring curses to the rest of the entire human family. Sin destroys life. Execution of judgment is relegated to constituted authority, not presumptuous vigilantes or those who become involved in blood-feuds. The law should be executed with equity, with no partiality, favoritism, or
David Grabbe, cuing in on II Peter 3, asserts that there are good reasons why Christ has not yet returned, reminding us that scoffers and false teachers will test the faith of those who once accepted the truth. Some will yield to their natural desires, finding an excuse to forget about their commitment to God. In their desire to live for the moment, the warnings of the prophets will fade into ineffectiveness. We are in danger of becoming desensitized to righteousness. We need to keep a long-term perspective, suffering long while our Elder Brother Jesus Christ tends to our process of repentance until we finally become fully in His image. Jesus Christ will not wrap things up until we have completed our process of salvation. All material things will dissolve, to be replaced with a new Heaven and Earth in which righteousness will dwell. This world is passing away; we must focus on permanent spiritual priorities, reflecting God's righteousness in our lives. When Christ returns, we cannot be at odds with Him in any manner, but must have been following through on the salvation process, putting our spiritual houses in order.
Jesus Christ's Olivet Prophecy provides a handful of specific signs of His return, one of which seems particularly obscure. David Grabbe analyzes His saying, "Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together," in Matthew 24:28, explaining that it is a warning that Jesus will come back in judgment against those who resist Him.
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.
Martin Collins, maintaining that America culture prides itself on rugged individualism and independence, cautions that in spiritual matters, dependence upon God gives us the resolve, firmness, and tenacity for our spiritual journey. None of the heroes are heroines of faith faced their challenges by themselves, but were aware of God's protection and power, a power much greater than themselves. Without God, we are incomplete. We do not stand alone; furthermore we stand on the shoulders of all the faithful people who came before us, passing the baton to us, running a race that will last through eternity. We stand with the patriarchs who have come before us. We will fall if we don't learn from their examples. If they can do it, we can too. Our race is a long, long, marathon, not a quick sprint. Consequently, we must discard the weight of useless emotional baggage, leaving behind old resentments and frustrations. We can't afford to look only after number one, but must consider ourselves cooperating with a great cloud of witnesses, who had to jettison the weights that encumbered them, making them less vulnerable to sin which clings like vines around us. Our temptations bubble up from the interior of our minds. Even though the race seems to go on endlessly, the model set for us by our Elder Brother and the motivation of God's Holy Spirit will help us finish the race.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Book IV of the Psalms, corresponding with the fall festivals, singles out the Feast of Trumpets for its themes and imagery, as well as the Summary Psalm 149. Trumpets could be considered the opening salvo of the fall feasts, beginning with a blast of the trumpet or shofar, reminiscent of the event on Mount Sinai in which God visited His people, brought the Law, and brought righteous judgment—an event which depicts another judgment coming upon the earth following the Seventh Trumpet and the seven trumpet plagues or bowls of judgment in which God will shake the earth and destroy those whose goal has been to destroy the earth, and a time when Christ will claim His Bride and the Marriage of the Lamb will commence. Psalm 91 anticipates the Day of the Lord, the return of Christ coming for judgment, and destruction, but also putting a protective hedge around His people. Psalm 90, written by Moses, wistfully asks how long it will be before this condition of temporariness can be turned to eternal life. Psalm 91, perhaps also written by Moses, discusses a kind of place of refuge in which the protected saints can view the destruction of Satan's evil system. Psalm 94 seems to reflect the point of view of saints not in a place of safety, anxiously waiting for the end of times of tribulation. The key to weathering these fearful times is drawing close to God with a view of emulating His life and getting to know Him, preparing for rulership in His Kingdom.
David Grabbe, cuing in on verses in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, referring to the sign of eagles or vultures gathering together in the wake of God's impending judgment, corrects some misapplications of these verses, wherein people believe it refers to the Rapture. These pictures refer to the judgment against sin, providing a banquet for the vultures feasting upon those who have rebelled against God. As God's called-out ones, our biggest concern is not the Great Tribulation or the Beast, but instead it is being unprepared for Christ's return, and hence becoming food for the physical vultures or the symbolic demonic carrion. We dare not push off the time we seek God; we must not be like the foolish virgins who thought they had more time to get ready. Judgment is coming on the world, but it is coming on the church of God right now; let us be sure the vultures do not mistake us for the nearly dead.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, referring to himself as an armchair conservationist, maintains that conservationists and environmentalists do not have the same goals or objectives. Conservationists want to manage the environment for people; environmentalists want to maintain the environment at the expense of people, looking at humans as the "enemy" of the earth. We have been commissioned by Almighty God to tend and keep the environment. Mankind has severely damaged the earth through industrial pollution, wrong methods of agriculture, genetic modification, and poisonous chemicals. Tending our garden is fraught with complications and difficulties. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's was caused by irresponsible farming methods, tearing up virgin prairie soil, formerly verdant with buffalo grass covering the High Plains. This mismanagement caused much of the topsoil to blow across the nation into the Atlantic Ocean. Farmers had to be retrained to think of their land as part of a greater whole, requiring rotation, land Sabbaths, and natural symbiosis of nature's components. God does things in a sequential order, establishing a hierarchy of order in the family, the church, the entirety of nature, as well as the entire universe. Men and women (converted husbands and wives) are in this symbiotic process together as parts of an interdependent single entity working toward the same goals. If we make the same mistakes as our original parents, trusting our own senses, blaming others, and glomming onto Satan's deception, we will reap similar consequences. Adam sinned willfully, having abdicated his leadership position. Sin is failure to do what God has commanded us. Because of this sin, posterity has been cursed with overwhelming toil just to stay ahead, paradoxically for our ultimate benefit. We are perfected in trials, suffering, privations, hardship, and hard work, all of which we can consider a blessing and gift from God.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 constitutes a useful roadmap for the confusing labyrinth of life. God's ways are inscrutable to most people; grasping these revelations requires a special gift. Unless God calls us and gifts us with this insight, we will have absolutely no clue as to our eventual purpose, explaining why eternity has been planted in our hearts. God has given gifts to all men. He has revealed to all of mankind knowledge of His existence through public observation of the creation (Romans 1:18-20). It takes greater 'faith' to believe in evolution. God also gave mankind a conscience as a kind of wired-in moral law (Romans 2:14-15) establishing a basic standard of morality. God has given the entire human race a grasp of the concept of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Only those called by God are given further detailed instructions of God's grand design, making living by faith possible. God will add understanding as we are able to make use of it. Fear of God, the beginning of understanding, holds us on track, keeping us in alignment with God. We must learn that the time and the events God has set are unchangeable; whatever God does endures forever. We must trust God's timing on everything. Compared to our fallible or haphazard timing, God "runs a tight ship." What God has purposed will be done. We are obligated to submit to His creativity, trusting that He will bring to fruition what He has purposed; we are His workmanship, fashioned to perform good works—our permanent assignment regardless of the circumstances. Past, present, and future are inextricably bound together as a continuous stream; God alone controls the historical segments, giving us practical experience as to what works and what does not. The circularity of history provides instructive correction and guidance, enabling us multiple opportunities to repent and overcome. In the life of the called, everything matters. The work of God endures forever. We are known by God; He is in control. Judgment is a prominent t
Sometimes, in reading through various parts of the Bible, we come across phrases and ideas that do not make much sense to us—or on closer reading do not mean what we have always thought them to mean. Charles Whitaker looks at Revelation's sixth seal in more detail, particularly the reaction of certain people to the amazing heavenly signs they witness.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
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.
In ancient Israel’s saga of rebellion against her Creator, one incident stands out due to its brazenness. ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 14:10-12, suggests that the Days of Unleavened Bread depict a period of intense judgment on the collective body, the church, or the Israel of God. We are being actively judged by God individually and collectively right now. As God's called- out ones, we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth, with our citizenship in heaven. Our pilgrimage to our Promised Land (the Kingdom of God), like our ancient forbears, may not go in a direct straight line, but in many circuitous routes. We are obligated to trust God in spite of all these apparent detours, following His lead, traversing through a spiritual wilderness with no familiar signposts. We walk by faith, not by sight, to the beat of a different drummer, requiring an intense reserve of faith. We could use the book of Numbers and the summary in I Corinthians 10 as a kind of roadmap, pointing out particular pitfalls. As God kept our forbears perpetually on edge, He does the same thing with us, continually leading us and correcting us, promoting our growth in order to save us. We have to be on guard against lusting, distorting the truth, infidelity, cowardice or fearfulness, peer pressure, presumptuous rebellion, rejecting God by rejecting God's representatives, grumbling, murmuring, complaining, and acting impulsively or rashly. Most of the people making the covenant in the wilderness church did not reach the Promised Land.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Matthew 23 and 24, suggests that Matthew is in the habit of presenting Jesus' teachings on a given topic all in one place in the Bible, presenting the teachings from a decidedly Jewish point of view, demonstrating the ability of Jesus to thwart the insidious challenges of the Pharisees, as well as offering proofs of His Messiahship. The parables of the two sons, the wedding feast, and the wicked vine dressers all castigate Israel for rejecting God's messengers and the Messiah, calling for eight woes, rendering physical Israel and the Temple (symbol of Israel's splendor) totally desolate and uninhabited. In short, the nation of Israel would fall. We must be sure, as Christians and members of the Israel of God, not to miss the object lesson to us. God is no respecter of persons; He is a God of equity and fairness. God is not a soft-headed pushover who will accept us, sins and all; He does not budge one inch for sin. As God dealt with our disobedient forbears, He will deal with us in the exact same way if we stray from the truth, breaking His commandments. God is not mocked; what we sow is what we will reap. God's patience is long, but He will reach a boiling point when He will clean the slate, including disobedient members of His own church. God is a God of mercy, but He has a stiff core of justice which will not be placated unless we repent. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
God's prophets have a difficult job. They see the world around them through God's eyes, and they are tormented by the rising tide of sin and the coming destruction it will bring. Charles Whitaker focuses on a few of Ezekiel's visions to reveal what is really happening behind the scenes and how God's people should respond to it.
Richard Ritenbaugh, contrasting Noah's optimistic reaction with Coleridge's despondent ancient mariner upon seeing endless bodies of water, suggests that Noah's optimism stemmed exclusively from his faith in God. Most skeptic scientists attempt to relegate Noah's flood as a biblical fairy tale. As much as the flood was a natural occurrence, it was also a supernatural occurrence, in which a loving God brought a hopelessly wicked world to an end. In Genesis 6:1-4, the conundrum about angels marrying people could be explained by demon possessed people cohabiting with other human beings, resulting in virtual "sons of Satan," otherwise known as Nephilim, a totally degenerate aggressive evil people, bred to dominate. This period of degeneracy was contemporaneous with the time of Enoch and Lamech, in the sixth generation from Adam, lasting approximately 1000 years, ending with the life of Noah. At the end of this degenerate time, Noah was commissioned to build an ark, a period in which time he intermittently preached to a people dead in their sins, a time perilously similar to current times, when every impulse is inclined to evil-doing, with no constraint whatsoever, having a totally seared conscience. Noah, like us, was called out of a sinful world at the end time-the most degenerate and violent time ever-but had to continue living in the world, walking with God. As the sinful society was destroyed by water in Noah's time, it will be destroyed by fire in our time.
The fact of a Second Exodus that will far eclipse the Exodus from Egypt is generally understood by Bible students. The timing of this great migration, however, is more elusive. David Grabbe points out the Scriptural markers that narrow the time frame to a specific, significant prophetic event.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the account of Simeon in Luke 2:25-30, speculates about the specific things Simeon did to sustain his hope. Simeon's life serves as a precursor to that of God's called-out ones, demonstrating the elements necessary to bring a person to spiritual maturity. The first is hope in God's law. Like Moses, we as firstfruits stand as a kind of mediator, meticulously digesting God's law in order to teach it to the rest of mankind. The second is hope in God's Holy Spirit, which enables us to overcome, produce fruit, and provide witness. The third is hope in God's judgment of the Pentecost offering, representing us, presented to God for inspection, evaluation, and acceptance. The fourth is hope in being God"s firstfruits, the wave loaves that are totally consumed by the Priest in His service, giving us hope that we will indeed be in His Kingdom.
The penultimate parable of Matthew 13 uses the illustration with which Christ's disciples were very familiar: fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Martin Collins explains that this parable focuses on the equity of God's judgment.
John Ritenbaugh, while concurring that New Orleans is unquestionably one of the most dysfunctional venues in North America, with the murder rate 10% above the national average, the home of numerous perverted sex, immorality and perverted lifestyles, we must exercise caution at jumping to conclusions, making the inference that the suffering of people involved in the wake of the storm was a judgment from God. For one thing, the French Quarter (and Bourbon Street) was relatively unscathed. Even though generally speaking, disobedience automatically brings punishment while obedience brings blessing, the entirety of physical Israel has enough guilt from sin to pass around. We need to be sobered by these disasters, realizing our culpability for this wrath of God (Dies Ire). The devastations (Katrina and Rita) are displays of His wrath. If God really wanted to get rid of New Orleans, it would have looked like Sodom and Gomorrah. God actually exercised incredible restraint and mercy considering the magnitude of our national sins. These natural disasters should lead us all to reflect and repent.
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the sixth seal foretells of the sun turning black and the moon turning red, stars falling, the sky rolling back, and a terrible earthquake moving mountains and islands. Richard Ritenbaugh examines this final judgment that announces the imminent Day of the Lord.
Persecution and martyrdom are not popular topics among Christians today, but they are facts of Christian life. Richard Ritenbaugh explains the fifth seal's cry of the martyrs and God's response.
The last of the Four Horsemen, named Death, rides a ghastly pale horse and is accompanied by Hades. In this concluding installment, Richard Ritenbaugh explains these symbols, reiterating that the horsemen picture God's judgment due to man's rejection of His way of life.
At God's command, the white horse and its rider gallop over the earth 'conquering and to conquer.' Richard Ritenbaugh analyzes the symbolism of this horseman, a precursor of the destruction that is wrought by its fellows.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Matthew 17:13 and clearing up some misconceptions about the resurrected Elijah coming before the arrival of Christ (a mission fulfilled totally by John the Baptist in Christ's time), cautions us to apply duality of prophecy carefully and cautiously rather than indiscriminately. With this admonition in mind, the sermon focuses upon a major world event even secular historians have termed a dramatic axial period, occurring within the sixth century B.C. -a time faithfully described by the prophets beginning with Jeremiah- a time sometimes referred to as the time of the Gentiles- reckoned to be the origin of the present Babylonic system or world order. Paradoxically, this system has been embraced and perpetuated by the modern house of Jacob. A new axial period, beginning with the testimony of the two witnesses, will again turn this world upside down, replacing the present decadent Babylonian system with God's government.
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the pivotal holy day, the Feast of Trumpets, a day looking back to three holy days in which God deals with individuals and looks forward to three holy days in which God works with progressively larger groups. This day is a memorial of shouting or blowing of trumpets. Teruw'ah (the shout of the shofar) is often associated with the sound of war, symbolizing the Day of the Lord, the real war to end all wars, the time Christ will subdue and render judgment to all the evil hostile forces (governments under Satan's influence) on the earth, bringing rewards to His called out ones. Although these events will take place with relative quickness and speed, the whole time sequence will take some time to completely unfold. If we remain faithful, this day will have a positive outcome.
The first six element of motivation were positive, but the last in negative. John Ritenbaugh explains that our fear of being judged negatively by our Judge should spur us to greater obedience and growth toward godliness.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
The Bible shows Christ, at the end, measuring the church with a plumbline, testing for uprightness and determining standards of justice and righteousness. The seven eyes seem to refer to the messengers of the seven churches having a worldwide influence. The olive trees in Zechariah 4:11 refer to the Two Witnesses who pour oil (spiritual instruction) into a golden bowl (a receptacle for this teaching), supplying the churches with spiritual nourishment during their period of testimony before the whole world. They will have power to kill those who would harm them, following the pattern of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10), a kind of carte blanche authority to destroy in order to do their work (Revelation 11:5)
The September 11 bombings were certainly tragic and terrible. Some have since asked, "Was God involved? Is He to blame?" John Ritenbaugh soberly answers some of these tough questions, concluding that God certainly allowed them to occur for our ultimate and eternal benefit.
In this sermon on Judgment, John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the actual process of handing down a decision. In this aspect of judgment, sanctification and purification bring about a restoration or refreshing in which liberty and reconciliation is restored. The seven reconciliations, or regatherings include: (1) Judah and Jesus Christ, (2) Israel and Judah, (3) Israel, Assyria, and Egypt, (4) All nations, (5) Man and nature, (6) Families, and (7) Ultimately God and mankind. We can accelerate this process by fearing God and keeping his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
Most people think they are moral. They make this judgment based on a comparison between themselves and their peers. Martin Collins shows that we will only begin to grow in character once we compare ourselves to the true standard: Christ and His Word.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that both the time element and the significance of the Great White Throne has been lost on most of the Catholic and Protestant world because they refuse to keep God's Holy Days. Far from being the dreadful Dies Irae, not only does judgment proceed from the throne of God, but also salvation and eternal life. There is a good, perfect balance of His severity and goodness, something a perfect judge should have. Because of His perfect holiness and righteousness, every individual will receive a "fair shake."
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 the real issue in the calendar controversy is not mathematical or astronomical computations, but faith in God's sovereignty, His providence, His right to assign responsibility, and His capability of maintaining an oversight over this responsibility. God has been faithful in providing a reliable calendar for over 1600 years. God remains consistent with His purpose, maintaining oversight and control. Like our ancient forbears, we dare not stray from things given or entrusted to us. We must hold fast, guarding the truth, honoring our father in the faith, refusing to forage after pernicious false doctrine. The preservation of the calendar was entrusted to the Jews, and specifically the Levites. No church group or private individual should presumptuously arrogate this responsibility to himself or herself.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Peter's Pentecost sermon, suggests that the accompanying signs attracted attention, confirmed God's Word through His servants, and provided symbolic meaning to the unseen effects of the Holy Spirit. Both wind and fire have destructive potential, providing threat or negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement or motivating power of the Holy Spirit consists of God's Word—or the still small voice, preached through His messengers. If we continue undergoing the sanctifying process and exercising righteous judgment, we will not have to worry about the negative reinforcement (the Day of the Lord). We have the choice of falling under God's wrath or calling out to the Savior for protection, yielding to His Holy Spirit, preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
Mercy is a virtue that has gone out of vogue lately, though it is much admired. Jesus, however, places it among the most vital His followers should possess. John Ritenbaugh explains this often misunderstood beatitude.
It seems that some sins should be worse than others in God's eyes. Is this so? Martin Collins explains that, though all sin merits the death penalty, some sins carry greater consequences and penalties.
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
From the Bible's perspective, patience is far more than simple endurance or longsuffering. The patience that God has shown man collectively and individually gives us an example of what true, godly patience is. It is this kind of patience that Paul urges us to put on as part of the new man.
Richard Ritenbaugh, echoing a radio commentator's observation, "we wear our bones too tight" suggests that we are much too sensitive and litigious, greatly lacking in forbearance, tolerance and patience. A major part of God's character is forbearance, patiently putting up with over 700 years of covenant breaking by our ancestors, patiently refraining from giving them what they deserved. God put up with the foibles of Abraham, Samson, David, Job, and many others, allowing them space to repent and build character. We need to develop the godly trait of forbearance, having the capacity to have mercy on others while we wait for them to change. Forbearance when applied to our brethren leads to unity; lack of forbearance leads to scattering.
Richard Ritenbaugh presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. The Pearl of Great Price depicts a rich merchant (Christ), the only one who had the means to redeem His church. The Dragnet symbolizes the scope of God's calling while the separation process indicates God's high standards of selection, indicating a time of righteous and impartial judgment. The Householder parable shows the responsibility of the ministry to be authoritative interpreters of scripture, using what they have learned and experienced to instruct the people.
Summertime reminds us of "those lazy, hazy, crazy days" of our youth. Charles Whitaker shows that biblically summertime sounds a warning to us to prepare for the fall harvest.
Jesus lists judgment as the first of the weightier matters in Matthew 23, verse. This article explains this term and shows why judgment is a major part of Christianity.
In this Last Great Day sermon Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the Lake of Fire (Second Death or Third Resurrection), dreadful as it initially appears, produces both immediate as well as ultimate benefits or good. As a deterrent against sin, the Lake of Fire has an immediate benefit for those who, after having accepted Christ's sacrifice, might be tempted to sin (Hebrews 10:26-27, 12:26-29, II Peter 3:10-11). The future benefit of the Lake of Fire will be a thorough scouring of all evil, perversion and filth from the universe, ushering in an eternity without the pain or misery of sin (Zephaniah 3: 14-15,Revelation 21: 8, 27). As God's called out ones, our time of judgment (our Great White Throne Judgment) begins right now (I Peter 4:17, II Peter 1:3-11)
Are the unconverted dead lost? John Ritenbaugh answers that there is hope for them! This part of God's plan is typified in the meaning of the Last Great Day.
Protestantism is based on Luther's insistance that Christians are saved by faith alone. But is the really true? Earl Henn explains that the Bible says this of justification, not salvation.
In this keynote address of the 1995 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh asserts that because cultural restraints which once held human nature in check have been removed, vile human nature has waxed increasingly more corrupt and depraved, approaching conditions described in Genesis 6:5-7. Skyrocketing statistics on social spending, abortion, violent crime, illegitimate births, divorce, teenage suicides etc. indicate a worsening cancerous degeneracy (Isaiah 1:6). Paradoxically, increased social spending, by creating dependency, has actually worsened the problems. God has indicted our people (Hosea 4:1-3, Ezekiel 7:23-27) for its bloody violence and disregard for the preciousness of life. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures a refreshing time when these problems will be dealt with from the just and equitable mind of God.
One of God's roles is as Judge, and His judgments are eternally binding. But what does this mean? Who is judged? How? When? For what?
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
A common mantra, even among Christians, is "You shouldn't judge." Is this a biblical concept? John Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacy of this belief and explains how righteous judgment should be done.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God has commanded the book of Deuteronomy to be reviewed every seven years, at the time of release. Deuteronomy, the reiteration of God's Law given in preparation for entering the Promised Land contains the testimony written in stone by the finger of God, serving as the basis for both justice and mercy. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was placed along side the Tablets of the Law as a perpetual testimony and a witness. Deuteronomy could be considered the New Testament of the Old Testament, serving as an elaborate commentary on the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy gives vision (a summary) for critical times (the narrow difficult path ahead involving a multitude of choices), preparing us for living (eternally as God lives) in the Promised Land (Kingdom of God).
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the world will learn that God judges- that He has had perpetual hands on contact with His creation, having the ultimate decision over everything. After Satan is bound and confined, God proceeds to bring about seven reconcilements: (1) Judah reconciled with Christ (2) Judah and Israel reconciled (3) Israel, Assyria, and Egypt reconciled (4) all nations reconciled to each other (5) Man and nature reconciled (6) Families reconciled to each other (7) God and man reconciled despite all we have done to trash His property.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
Some of us may have been disturbed, maybe angered, because our sense of fairness is disrupted by what God did in the past. We have difficulty with this because we do not understand holiness, justice, sin, and grace. All four of these interact, and it is important that we understand the relationship between them. However, one thing is certain. None of us has ever received the slightest injustice from the hand of God. As we grow in understanding and humility, we begin to see that we have received an overwhelming abundance of grace.
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of making preparations, gathering our thoughts, and turning our lives around while there is still time, rather than squander our opportunities like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:3) and the timid Shulamite (Song of Solomon 5:3). The Apostle Paul gives two significant warnings, signaling the impending Tribulation: (1) The falling away or Apostasy and (2) the appearance of the man of sin who exalts himself above God, ultimately setting up headquarters in the temple in Jerusalem (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). Because of the immense international geopolitical significance of this personage, it is unlikely that an errant leader of a small church, as speculated by some, could remotely fulfill this role.
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 focuses on the final instructions Jesus gave to His disciples following the Passover meal preceding His death. Jesus provided sober warnings in order to prepare the disciples for unpleasant eventualities, including being ostracized from the religious and cultural community. Jesus warned that in the future sincere religious zealots, not knowing God, will consider it an act of worship to kill people who obey God. It was to the disciples' advantage that Christ returned to His Father because: (1) they would not learn anything until they did it themselves; (2) they would learn to live by faith; (3) and, they, by means of God's Holy Spirit, would receive continual spiritual guidance, becoming convicted and convinced that all problems stem from sin, leading or inspiring them to repent and practice righteous behavior, modeled after Jesus Christ, and guiding them into all truth required for salvation and into insights into God's purpose, allowing them to glorify Christ as Christ glorified His Father. Christ told the disciples about his imminent crucifixion and resurrection, but they were unable to comprehend until after the events had happened. Though Christ knows that we will inevitably fail, He knows He can pull us through as long as we yield to Him. Chapter 17 constitutes the prayer of our High Priest, asking that we would take on the Divine Nature and name of God, determining our future destiny.