Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
Ted Bowling, reflecting that God admonishes His People to become peacemakers, marvels that most of the world's leaders are clueless as to what constitutes peacemaking. The prevailing wisdom is that one must impose peace upon others by force—sometimes translated as peace through strength. Six shooters, bombers, and guided missiles have been misnamed "peacemakers." An example of a genuine peacemaker was the Patriarch Isaac, often identified as a type of Christ. When King Abimelech ordered him and his family to move, Isaac trusted God to find his family another home. After painstakingly digging wells at three separate locations, only to find local interlopers forcing them out, Isaac patiently yielded, trusting the Lord to find him better provisions. When King Abimelech had the chutzpah to ask Isaac to sign a non-aggression pact to protect himself from 'Isaac's wrath', the meek patriarch prepared a banquet for these dubious allies. In all his actions, Isaac exemplified going way beyond what is required to be a peacemaker. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to emulate Jesus Christ and forefather Isaac's example.
Richard Ritenbaugh, comparing the vitriol exhibited between supporters of the current two presidential candidates, makes the case that the acrimony between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was far worse, leading to a bitter estrangement between two of America's Founding Fathers—an estrangement that lasted for ten long, bitter years. After being encouraged by another Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, the two estranged statesmen reluctantly began corresponding with each other, ultimately dying close friends on the same day, July 4, 1826. Jesus Christ placed a high priority on reconciliation, warning us that before we engage God at the altar, we had better make peace with our brother. Jesus also warned us that name-calling, belittling, slander, and undermining reputation is equivalent to murder-a capital offense making one subject to the fires of Gehenna. A dispute over anything should not be allowed to simmer until it leads to a seething grudge or a litigious minefield. In a legal dispute, reconciliation or conciliation may require a great deal of submission and downright groveling, but the outcome is generally better than what a judge would mete out. Likewise, a dispute in the body of Christ is best worked out between the two offended parties, rather than bringing it before the ministry or congregation, a tactic which makes for a great deal of unpleasantness. The Bible gives us three sterling examples of reconciliation among Abraham's offspring, including Isaac's reconciliation with Abimelech, Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, and Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. The apostle John assures us we cannot claim to love God if we hate our brother, and, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses upon an inspiring incident in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, in which a runner, Derek Redmond, who had previously dropped out of competition because of an injured Achilles tendon, had another setback, a pulled hamstring, causing him to suddenly fall to the ground after having been in a commanding lead. Writhing in pain, with dogged determination, he managed, with some help from his devoted father, to finish the race. His inspiring example provides a spiritual analogy to all of God's called-out ones who must continually battle external obstacles (as well as the inner obstacles of carnal human nature), erecting a formidable barrier of resistance. The elite athlete, not always the one with the superior skills, nevertheless is the one with the gritty persistence to fight on regardless of the obstacles, wanting nothing to do with mediocrity. Persistence is the key attribute, having the attending synonyms endurance, steadfastness, or staying the course. Jesus counseled the value of this trait in the examples of the persistent neighbor asking for a loaf of bread in the middle of the night and the importunate widow who wore out the judge. Isaac provided a wonderful example of this tenacity, as he trusted God, repeatedly moving away from quarrelsome situations, trusting God to provide. Isaac, as a type of Christ, prefigured Jesus' returning to God the Father for sustenance and strength. Similarly, we are to return to the well of God's Spirit if we are to move forward. To develop Godly persistence, we should (1) have a clearly defined goal we desire with all our heart, (2) have a clearly established plan we can work on immediately, (3) make an irrevocable decision to reject all negative suggestions, and (4) accept encouragement and help from those on the same path.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on his changing attitudes toward conspiracy theories, investigates the establishment of the Federal Reserve System, a nefarious institution bent on legal thievery. The break-up of the Worldwide Church of God was but a faint preview of what will happen to the United States. The Bible has recorded a number of events in which conspiracies within families hopelessly fractured long-established dynasties. Satan successfully conspired to draw one-third of the angels into fighting against God. This same ruler of the world still motivates sinister conspiracies working in our very midst right before our eyes.
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.
For several centuries, the Philistines were a constant menace on Israel's southwestern flank. Richard Ritenbaugh summarizes what the Bible, history, and archeology have to say about this little-known yet biblically significant people.
How can we evaluate whether our Feast is 'good' or not? Using God's criticism of Israel's feasts in Amos 5, John Ritenbaugh shows that the pilgrimage locations of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal provide instruction about what God wants us to learn from His feasts.
John Ritenbaugh examines the life and accomplishments of perhaps the most under-appreciated patriarch in scripture. Having lived longer than any of the other noted patriarchs, Isaac's longevity provides a clue about God's favor toward him. The etymology of his given name ("laughter") suggests his optimistic happy disposition, someone not afflicted by fear and doubt. As Abraham serves as a type of God the Father, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. In contrast to sons of great, overshadowing men (who often turn out to be disappointments) Isaac did not bring disgrace to his father's name, but actually brought honor and respect to his father. In the middle of a famine, Isaac also trusted and feared God in the face of apparent dwindling prosperity, in the face of intense peer pressure, refusing to go to the world for his needs. Isaac's source of strength was his fear, respect, and submission to both his physical and Spiritual Father. Isaac was gentle and peace-seeking, avoiding conflict and quarrel (even when his own power and strength exceeded that of his adversaries), resembling the temperament of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh explores what the Bible teaches on the function of the prophet. Through Biblical contexts, we learn that a prophet is one who speaks for God, expressing His will and purpose in words and signs. The office of a prophet is to forth-tell God's purpose through His Law and tell people God's words. A true prophet, never losing sight of the law of God, deals with local situations, events of the Messiah, events of the future, and events that are dual in application. The prophet, described as coming from outside the system (who brings new truth building it upon the foundation of old truth) is contrasted with the priest who conserves old truth (given to them by a prophet). A prophet goads people to urgently commit themselves to a righteous course of action, forcing them to make clear and often painful choices. Elijah and John the Baptist clearly fulfilled the role of prophet.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon problems understanding the W.C.G. 1974 doctrinal decision on Divorce and Remarriage, contends that any given doctrine must be built layer by layer, combining and comparing scriptures rather than allowing one scripture (such as Romans 7:1-3) to determine the doctrine. Jesus Christ initially appears to side with the position of Rabbi Shamei (divorce for adultery or marital unfaithfulness only) rather than Rabbi Hillel (who more liberally allowed divorce for any reason). When we understand that porneia includes all the hideous perverted sexual sins that go beyond ordinary adultery- including bestiality, pedophilia, homosexuality, incest, and every other imaginable sexual perversion, we understand that Jesus gave a greater latitude and flexibility in these divorce decisions than we had earlier assumed (based exclusively upon adulterous 'fraud'). Any violence against the marriage contract (stemming from unconversion) would constitute grounds for divorce, and would permit the converted partner to remarry. Mutual access to the tree of life (God's Holy Spirit) gives marriage the best (actually the only) chance to succeed.
John Ritenbaugh points out 700 references to the act of eating, all providing contexts or vehicles of serious spiritual instruction. Banquets invariably provide springboards for instruction, from Abraham's entertaining of angels, to Joseph's banquet for his brothers, to Esther's banquet for Haman to Belshazzar's feast featuring the handwriting on the wall to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Banquets- eating or refraining from eating- not only display God's faithful provisions and human righteousness, but eating (or refraining from eating) displays tests of a person's morality such as Adam and Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, the sign of keeping the covenant (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and Christ's refusal to be tempted by food (Matthew 4). Eating reminds us that God's provision and human need also apply on a spiritual level.
Is God sovereign over angels? mankind? John Ritenbaugh explains that God's sovereignty is absolute as He directs events toward the culmination of His plan.
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.
The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet
What is a parable? How are we to understand them? John Ritenbaugh uses the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price to explain how they apply to the church.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on God's meticulous management of all living creatures, including insects, animals, humans, angelic and demonic beings. All conform to His ultimate spiritual purpose-which overrides all other concerns. A converted person, accepting God's sovereignty, accepting that He takes specific care with His children, realizes that both blessings and curses, prosperity and deprivation, should be considered tools in the Creator's workshop, crafting out a magnificent spiritual purpose. This insight, not available to everyone, should instill a deep profound peace, trust, and faith.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Abraham did not live out his days in the land of promise, insists that it is not where one is, but the relationship with God that is more important. Abraham's offspring had to realize that they could not receive God's favor on Abraham's coattails, as in the largely superstitious behavior of erecting shrines and making pilgrimages to Beersheba, Gilgal, and Bethel. Based on his long friendship with God, Abraham could systematically calculate the reliability of God's promises even in the lack of visual evidence. Having sterling faith, he knew that God would never "play dirty" and consequently remained unswerving in his commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the typology suggested by Abraham's concealing from Abimelech his true relationship with Sarah. The incident symbolizes Abraham's temptation to compromise his spiritual principles to acquire worldly knowledge (typified by the uncircumcised Philistines). If we hold fast to principles, though it may seem initially uncomfortable and fearful, we will eventually receive respect and even admiration. If we compromise, we will ultimately receive scorn and rebuke from unprincipled people. We also learn from Abraham how to evaluate circumstances as we pray. Isaac's example teaches the positive fruits of living by faith and obedience to God. Ishmael and his descendants (as described by a "wild ass" metaphor) illustrate that persecution is often an intra-family affair, symbolizing our perennial conflict between flesh and spirit.
John Ritenbaugh ponders the qualifier "righteous" when applied to Lot. Unlike Abraham who separated himself from sinful society, Lot seemed to involve himself in the affairs of the perverted city, arrogating to himself the role of a judge, attempting to change the behavior of the people- but nevertheless, attempting to co-exist with sin. Evidently Lot's close proximity to the evil behavior, while not corrupting him personally, gave him a somewhat confused divided attention, compromising the safety and morality of his family, leading him to prostitute his principles to gain favor of the world. When communicating with God, Lot, unlike Abraham, equivocated with God's instructions, looking for conditions and escape clauses, showing him to be a very self-centered, worldly wise, carnal Christian, attached to or compromised by the values of the corrupt world.
John Ritenbaugh torpedoes some popular misconceptions about the father of the faithful, revealing that Abraham did not come from a primitive, but a highly advanced civilization, having huge multi-storied dwellings with running water and indoor lavatories. The size of Abraham's retinue indicates that, far from being an ignorant desert nomad, he was a highly influential man of incredible financial substance. It appears that God used Abraham's skills as an astronomer and mathematician and publisher to help build Egypt's infrastructure at a time when it was being unified under one dynasty, enabling Egypt to become a major power. This study also goes into Abram's and Sarai's name change, the deception of Abraham, claiming the half truth that Sarah was his sister, and Lot's fateful choice, leading to a dilution of the Assyrian power.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that the book of Amos is specifically addressed to us- the end time church (the Israel of God) - the ones who have actually made the new covenant with God. Having made the covenant, we must remember that (1) privilege brings peril- the closer one draws to God, the closer will be the scrutiny, (2) we can't rest on past history or laurels, and (3) we (the ones who have consciously made the covenant with God) must take this message personally. Absolutely fair in His judgment, God judges Gentile and Israelite according to the level of moral understanding He has given them. No human being can escape the obligation to be human, as God has intended — treating other fellow human beings humanely (not as things or objects of profit). Edom's perpetual nursing of anger (harboring bitterness and hatred continually) against Israel is especially abhorrent to Almighty God- a candidate for the unpardonable sin.
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