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, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, creating a hypothetical scenario in which God sends the Russians- to devastate America and reduce it to a vassal state, suggests that such a catastrophe would resemble the conditions described by the Book of Lamentations. The Scriptures describe the Chaldeans as a bitter and hasty nation, ruthless and tempestuous, riding roughshod over everyone in their relentless thirst for power and plunder, often compared to wolves, leopards and other predators. When God chose to punish Judah and Israel, He sent the absolute worst of the heathen. The Lamentations show poignant before-and-after vignettes of former happy times contrasted with the horror of the present. Because of Judah's harlotry, God exposes the lewdness of her faithlessness and the cruelty of the lovers she whored after. Judah has become abhorred, as was Hosea's Gomer, who symbolized the faithlessness of God's people. The Day of the Lord unfolds nothing but disaster, darkness, and stark terror, with each trial worse than the one before. God is longsuffering, but He will not allow multitudes of infidelities. Like ancient Judah, the current offspring of Jacob have squandered the blessings given to Abraham. It appears that, just as Judah did not repent until it had hit bottom, modern Israelites will not repent until the fruits of their own sins nauseates and gags them. God is a merciful God, but His justice must be satisfied sooner or later.
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.
The Bible records at least two complaints uttered by the prophet Jeremiah to God during the chaotic decline and fall of Judah. Charles Whitaker evaluates the first of these two grievances, explaining that it concentrates on the injustice of the prosperity of evil men and on the prophet's dismay at the abuse of the land.
Jeremiah and his scribe and companion, Baruch, lived during a time of great upheaval—in fact, during the decline and destruction of the Kingdom of Judah. In so many words, Baruch complained that God's plans against Judah and its people were crimping his own lofty ambitions. Charles Whitaker elucidates how God replied to Baruch's complaint and provides a lesson for us today.
Charles Whitaker: ... To Baruch, who served as the prophet Jeremiah's scribe at the time of Judah's fall to the Babylonians, God had something far different to say: "But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking!" ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
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.
Is Matthew 27:25 a Jewish admission of deicide? Charles Whitaker shows that, properly understood, the statement is absolutely not a curse. Moreover, God has nowhere bound Himself to chastise Jewry as a whole for the actions of a relatively few people in Pilate's judgment hall that morning.
In this Feast of Trumpets message, Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing parallels to present concerns, shows Habakkuk's remarkable transformation from pessimism to ironclad faith in the midst of seemingly disastrous circumstances. To the plaintive question, "Why does a loving God allow evil people to seem to get away with murder while the righteous suffer?" Habakkuk learns to look, watch, wait, then respond, realizing that God is sovereign and will send a Savior (Habakkuk 2:3; Hebrew 10:35), accompanied by judgment, terror, the Tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the establishment of His Kingdom forever, rectifying all the injustices, destroying all evil, and flooding the earth with His life-saving knowledge. Like Habakkuk, we need to exercise patience, living by faith, sighing and crying for the abominations, silently trusting in God's righteous character.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that faithfulness on the part of a human being ultimately rests on his trust in God, and if a person is going to be faithful, its because he believes what God says and he is motivated then to have a genuine commitment to righteousness. Such an iron-clad trust motivated the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. Faith is to spiritual what eyesight is to physical.
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