David Grabbe, focusing on the unsearchable judgments of God described in Romans 11:33, points out that sometimes human nature sees God's decisions as unfair, as in the slaying of Uzzah, the favoring of Isaac over Ishmael, the favoring of Jacob over Esau, or the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. When we internalize the fact that all of us have sinned and are worthy of death, we come to recognize that God has demonstrated far more mercy than harshness. God is not obligated to love anybody; we were all vessels of wrath before our calling. Romans 9 classifies mankind into two groups: vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. Anyone who is not a vessel of mercy is a vessel of wrath. God's will is the only thing that matters; we must accept the impeccable timing of all His judgments. Whether Jew or Gentile, we dare not be haughty about our calling, realizing that the favor God has given us is undeserved. As vulnerable lumps of clay on the potter's wheel, we cannot question God's divine purpose but must trust both the goodness and severity of God's.
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Dr. Dobson's warning about the deleterious effects of permissive child-rearing, affirms that the horrendous results we see today, including out-of-control ADHD, defiance of all authority, and rampant narcissism, is a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that children will become the oppressors of Israel (Isaiah 3:4-5). Israelites have always rejected God's common-sense child-rearing principles, adopting permissive practices from their own carnal impulses or the cultures surrounding them. They never wanted to hear what was good for them, preferring instead to heed Egyptians or Assyrians. Consequently, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, the Lord will make a quick end of this rebellion in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. God does not like to inflict punishment on people, but because of sin, He is obligated to correct. But as quickly as God punishes, God restores and heals. When God has made rebellious Israel thoroughly jealous through the blessings He was bestowed on the Gentiles (that is, giving them access to the New Covenant), He will graft them back to their natural juncture in the vine. God wants a Kingdom full of His children doing godly things. All He asks is that they humble themselves and conform their ways to His.
Richard Ritenbaugh detects a massive inconsistency in the persistently saccharine assessment of Jesus as meek and mild, ignoring His wrath, while at the same time teaching the concept of an ever-burning Hell. God's wrath is measured and just, not excessive and cruel. The breakaway Protestant daughters of the Roman Catholic Church have faithfully carried on the heretical error of their mother, promulgating the fantasies of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, while ignoring or twisting the clear meaning of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word transliterated "sheol" is simply the grave or pit—the inevitable destination of every human being. In this context, everyone who has ever lived will "go to hell." The Greek word transliterated "hades" is a synonym of sheol. The Greek word transliterated "tartaroo" applies to the place of restraint for Satan and his demons, but not for humans. The term "Gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, made vile by the ancient pagan custom of infant sacrifice. Because it was the city dump, a fire burned there constantly, consuming a steady stream of refuge and garbage feasted upon by maggot. The maggots eventually turned to flies, which, reproducing, yielded more maggots, a cycle which informs the image of "their worm" never dying. Gehenna is not a metaphor for an ever-burning fire, but rather for the Lake of Fire into which God consigns the incorrigibly wicked, whose unquenchable flames will cease only after all the fuel is consumed. Oblivion, not eternal torment, is the merciful end for the wicked. God is both good and severe, but His mercy endures forever.
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 T. Ritenbaugh: Perhaps the most critical question in every nation and every era is "Who is the true God?" In his final book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong titled the chapter explaining the first mystery ...
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, 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, focusing on Psalm 83:4-8, which describes the hideous character traits of Israel's ancient enemies, identifies descendants of Amalek, a particularly proud and hate-filled man, assembling a confederacy of vengeful peoples having ties to the lineage of Ishmael and Esau, all bearing an ever-burning hatred for the descendants of Jacob. The descendants of Esau (the Edomites) have perpetually hated the descendants of Jacob, pursuing them with a sword, cowardly attacking the weakest, showing no pity, constantly nurturing their wrath in supercilious satanic pride. As a result of Saul's failure to follow God's instruction to eliminate all the Amalekites, their remnants later re-emerged in Persia, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Haman was the treacherous and deceitful offspring of King Agag, and Mordecai was the godly descendant of King Saul. Their pairing in the Book of Esther provides a sequel to the unfinished story of I Samuel 15. Haman, like a 5th century Hitler plotting a 5th century holocaust, hated Mordecai so much (because he would not bow down to him) that he wanted to destroy his entire people. Tricking the gullible and inept King Ahasuerus to execute a genocidal order against the Jews, promising a sizeable cash bounty for the execution of the so-called "enemies to the state," Haman cast lots to determine the day this would be carried out. God, controlling the outcome of the fall, sovereignly, allowed enough time for Mordecai and Esther to foil the plan. As a sort of poetic justice, God brought about the execution of Haman and evil sons on the very pole the deceitful schemer has created for the purpose of slaying Mordecai. The Israel of God still lives in perilous times when the descendants of Amalek are ready to decapitate God's people. For their implacable hatred -put into-action, God will blot out the name of Amalek and descendants forever.
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, 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,
We worship a God, who, though all-powerful and loving, seems to display irreconcilable contradictions, such as His great wrath and His deep compassion. Charles Whitaker explains that these are not contradictory traits but rigorous responses to sin and its consequences. Though His wrath burns hot "for a little while," His compassion follows quickly after, bringing restoration.
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.
Martin Collins, noting that the Book of Malachi is a post-exilic transition, link, and bridge book between the Old and New Testaments, indicates the dating of the book can be determined contextually, namely that the temple had been rebuilt, and the Jews were under a civil ruler before the death of Nehemiah. Malachi, one of last Old Testament prophets, is oriented to the future. John the Baptist arrived 400 years later. The same attitudes existing at that time are prevalent today. The offenses mentioned are 1) arrogance—-mankind's thinking man thinks that he knows better than God, 2) mixed marriages, and 3) neglect of tithes. We can see these attitudes by noting the use of the words "wherein," "in what way," and "how." The Priests, asking "How?" seven times in the wrong way in Malachi. In Genesis 18:23-33, Abraham asked God "how?" with respect. Malachi lists four personal failures of the Priests in Malachi 1:6-14. The Priests 1) offered defiled sacrifices on God's altar, 2) harmed the people, 3) were responsible for disparaging the Priest's office, and 4) demonstrated a brazen defiance of God. True ministers must: 1) show a proper relationship to God—fear equals reverence; 2) exhibit a personal commitment to the truth of God's Word; 3) demonstrate of integrity characterized by Godly character and devotion, faithful and Godly, in submission and obedience; and 4) guard the truth and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them.
The "God of the Old Testament" receives a great deal of criticism from some quarters because, allegedly, He makes statements that contradict New Testament teaching, and He also seems cruel, especially toward non-Israelites. Examining a question that brings both of these criticisms into play, David Grabbe argues that God's command for Israel to execute total war on the Canaanites has a rational—and yes, Christian—explanation.
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.
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
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
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.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
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.
In nominal Christianity, God's saving grace is placed at the center of the message of the gospel and is often emphasized to the point of overshadowing many of Christ's other teachings. Agreeing that grace is vital to a Christian's walk with God, John Ritenbaugh defines the term, showing that God gives grace from start to finish in a person's relationship with Him. It cannot be limited merely to justification and His forgiveness of our sins.
The twelve books of the Minor Prophets are often overlooked, squeezed between the "important" books of the Major Prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—and the "vital" four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Richard Ritenbaugh summarizes four more of these brief but intriguing and helpful books: Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah.
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.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
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.
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 observes that most people living in modern, Western culture better identify with flawed heroes, rather than perfect heroes. King David, for example, made huge errors in judgment and committed colossal sins. Ezekiel 18:19-20 indicates that guilt for sin is not transferable, but the consequences can often touch several generations. Saul, after having disqualified himself from being king, sought to ingratiate himself with God by killing Canaanites, including an unrecorded massacre of Gibeonites. Later, during a wasting famine, David, attempting a political rather than a righteous solution, yielded to the Gibeonites' request that descendants of Saul be hanged to avenge the slaughter. That the famine continued indicates God displeasure with David's decision and inner motives. As Christians living amidst spiritual famine, we dare not compromise with the culture around us.
John Ritenbaugh claims that the harshest criticism we receive is for our position opposing the doctrine of eternal security, having the audacity to suggest that works are required for salvation. I Timothy 1:8 indicates that the Law is good only if we use it lawfully. Philippians 2:12 indicates that work is required. Romans 13:11 indicates that salvation is not yet a done deal. Satan, having a perennial pattern to his deceptiveness, first proposes this deadly eternal security doctrine in the Garden of Eden, assuring Adam and Eve that they need not fear death (evidently because they had immortal souls). To one having God's Holy Spirit, committing sin is more dangerous because there is far more on the line. The Firstfruits will not get a free pass into God's kingdom. As the past history of creation unfolded, God demanded that choices indicating willingness to obey be made within the family of angels. When human beings were created, they had to pass a similar test, making life and death choices whether to obey or not to obey God's Government. We have a reciprocal responsibility in the wake of Christ's sacrifice to love God and keep His Commandments, living by every word of God. The God of the Bible is a working God never running out of useful and exciting projects, overseeing His works and creating dynasties, progressively working salvation in the midst of the earth, providing us an example and a mandate to participate in His endless creative work.
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.
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.
Many Christians believe that we are allowed to take another's life in defense of our own, but is this what the Bible teaches? David Grabbe shows that God's Word distinguishes only between accidental and premeditated killing, meaning self-defense is not a biblical justification for murder!
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 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.
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."
God's sense of justice comes into question in the minds of men when they read of His judgments in the Bible and see His acts in history. His judgments seem unfair because man can never please God on his own since God's standards are higher than he can achieve. Yet He has made it clear that even the smallest infraction of His law merits the death penalty. Everyone is guilty! God, then, is absolutely justified in what He decides regarding the judgment and punishment of us all (conversely, He always rewards righteousness). Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances and reasons for His judgments, so our opinions of God's decisions are at best ill-informed. Of all judges, only God is absolutely fair and incorruptible. And when He shows mercy it manifests His lovingkindness and grace.
John Ritenbaugh contends that in this time of scattering, our faith in God has been put on trial. Our highest good is to know God (far beyond mere theoretical knowledge) and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him (experientially know), the better off we are. If we don't know God, we can't trust Him. A confused person, having no conviction or faith, cannot worship God.As bearers of His name, we must aspire to Holiness (transcendent and powerful purity). Only God is truly holy. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us (setting apart for a special purpose) to His use. By using God's Holy Spirit to yield to Him, humbly obeying Him, forming a relationship with Him, we become perfected in Holiness. Perfecting Holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God.
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.
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.
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)
Atonement, when we are commanded to afflict our souls through fasting, is a time of self-evaluation and repentance. This is the only way to have real unity with God.
For years, the church has taught that Christians should refuse jury duty. Why? What are the biblical reasons for this? This article explains why we should not judge the world at this time.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who have made a covenant with God can be seduced or corrupted unless they make a concerted effort to know God. Knowing God means to realize that God has the right and the power to do with any one of us as He pleases. John the Baptist, when he saw his influence waning, graciously and humbly acquiesced to God's desire, realizing who was in control. Like David and Christ in Psalm 22:6, metaphorically comparing themselves to worms, we must humbly acknowledge our insignificance as well as our gratitude for our calling.
We often hear of "innocent victims" dying in some tragic way, but are they truly innocent? John Ritenbaugh discusses God's perspective of the sinful, human condition.
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 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.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that forgiveness is only the beginning of the grace process, enabling us to grow or mature into the full stature of Christ. Grace eliminates the possibility of boasting or self-glory because all we have accomplished has been accomplished only because of what He gave. We are to follow the example of our Elder Brother, who although He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, nevertheless made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:6), becoming, as it were, a child. Jesus is not against greatness, but He wants it to be given by God and God is going to give it to those who are in harmony with His law and His way of life. Everybody is to build on the same foundation, using those gifts which God empowered them. Paul insists that the very fact you are under grace is what nails you to the floor, that you have got to obey the law.
In this message on the definition of grace, John Ritenbaugh insists that God has never acted unjustly to any one of us, even one time. It is utterly impossible for Him to do so. Through the parables, we learn that our forgiveness by God is directly linked to our forgiveness of other men. The entire life of Christ (God incarnate) was a manifestation of God's grace, a gift to us, revealing the nature of God by means of a life lived- a life intended to give us an example to follow. In Christ's life, God ceases to be an abstraction, but instead a concrete reality for God's called-out ones to emulate.
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.
In this admonitory sermon, John Ritenbaugh systematically examines the lives of three kings, included in the genealogies of Kings and Chronicles, but conspicuously absent in Matthew. The common denominator in all three cases (Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah) was that although they started out ostensibly well, they allowed weak character, pride, inordinate self-esteem, and presumptuousness to turn their hearts away from God (metaphorically transforming from butterflies to worms), refusing to repent, forcing God to blot their names from remembrance. God expects steadfast endurance in His servants (Matthew 10:22) II Chronicles 15:2 reveals the principle that faithfulness and loyalty is a two way street. God's mercy is perfectly balanced by His Justice.
God is a multidimensional personality who always acts in accordance with His perfect character. John Ritenbaugh explains that God is a whole Being whose wonderful, perfect attributes work together—and whose traits we are to come to know and reflect.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
If hell does exist, where is it—and can those who are there ever get out? Will those in hell leave hell at the time of the resurrection—or are they confined eternally to hell, so that they shall be unable to take part in the resurrection? It's about time we took this question out of hiding, and took a good look at it!