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.
Clyde Finklea revisits the interpretation of John 15:2 , which reads in most translations, "every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes way." This is assumed by many to mean "get rid of." Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book, The Secrets of the Vine, explains that "takes away" should be more properly rendered "take up," deriving from the tendency of new grape vines to bend down and become covered with dirt. Vineyard owners in northern California explained to Wilkinson that a branch is too valuable to simply discard, but would be washed off and lifted up, tied to a trellis to enable exposure to sunlight. If a vinedresser lifts up a vine, securing it to a trellis or pole, it is because it is fruitless. Once it begins to bear fruit, it is then pruned for the purpose of bearing more fruit. As God's called out ones, we need to be able to distinguish between punishment for wrong-doing and pruning for greater growth, something which Job's 'friends' had to learn the hard way. As products of God's workmanship, we endure His discipline, producing quality fruit to glorify Him.
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.
David C. Grabbe: ... Another aspect of reality, then, is that God puts people where He wants them and gives them the responsibilities that He desires them to fulfill. That was true for Israel, just as it is true for the Body of Christ. ...
David C. Grabbe: Moses was perhaps the greatest leader of Israel, yet the Pentateuch clearly perceives no contradiction between great leadership and humility. In fact, they go hand in hand; the best human leaders will be those who recognize that they are not the ones running things. ...
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.
The Bible oftentimes speaks in polar opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and earth. A pair of opposites like these, called a merism by theologians, is destruction and restoration. Citing many prophecies, Charles Whitaker points out that restoration often follows swiftly on the heels of God's wrath, providing us with hope that God's blessing will come sooner rather than later.
Charles Whitaker observes that modern Israel, instead of expressing righteous indignation at the breaking of God's Covenant expresses a juvenile anger about the consequences of what their sins brought about. Sighing and crying involves far more than wallowing in worldly sorrow. As God's called-out ones, we must realize that on the heels of destruction will come the forces of reconciliation. The forces of destruction and construction will be virtually simultaneous. The knowledge of the Lord will cover the world as the waters of the seas, bringing physical as well as spiritual refreshment to the parched desert, restoring strength to those returning to the Promised Land. In the Day of the Lord, the haughty pride of man (symbolized by his lofty towers, high hills, or mountains) will be promptly leveled or destroyed. After this massive destruction, streams of crystal, restorative water will quickly heal all the broken lives resulting from man's misrule and his false religions. The curative act of restoration will follow quickly on the act of destruction during the Day of the Lord, unlike the unrelieved distress of the Great Tribulation. God's rod of correction is foundational, instrumental in building character, as every parent knows. The blow that God delivers to the Babylonian system will be foundational, laying the groundwork for a better civilization. The old has to go before the new can come. The destruction of the failed evil system ought to come with rejoicing. God's nature has a balance of goodness and severity.
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.
Most converted Christians realize that God is sovereign, or they at least recognize His sovereignty over all things intellectually. But sometimes the Bible reveals something about God that makes them uncomfortable. John Ritenbaugh asks if we truly accept His sovereignty without reservation despite our lack of complete understanding.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the tendency of society to prescribe drugs for every social malady, indicates that we often fail to see that the chastening we receive may be what God uses to sanctify us, preparing us as His spiritual children. When God starts a project, He finishes it; we must assiduously emulate that trait. If we are not receiving God's correction or chastisement, we should be alarmed. As Job was chastised by God, he learned submission and acquiescence, humility, silence, repentance, and that he had not seen the omnipotence of God. Chastisement focuses more on discipline and training than punishment. God uses circumstances such as financial loss or illness to steer us toward sanctification. Without godly chastisement, we may succumb to spiritual pride, self-confidence, self-satisfaction or smugness, but with godly chastisement, we attain humility, meekness, strength under control, and patience.
There is an aspect of God's goodness that is rarely associated with goodness. As surprising as it may seem, God's goodness can be feared! Martin Collins explains why this is so.
Of all people, one might think, Christians should be the most blessed, yet they often fall under heavy trials. However, the reality is that God is putting us through the paces, correcting us and refining us, to bring us to salvation.
John Ritenbaugh, cautioning against the danger of presumption, warns against assigning biblical types (like Joshua and Zerubbabel) to any contemporary ministers, pointing out that, except for a few superficial similarities, there are not enough parallels or grounds of comparison to make such an inferential leap. Two major assumptions made by calendar changers are that: (1) the calendar is too complicated and (2) the Jews are guilty of deliberate manipulation in order to create a calendar that is more convenient in actual usage. The Bible nowhere says that the calendar should be simple; everything God has created, including life Bible, the calendar, as well as life itself, is complex. God, totally faithful and reliable, gave us a calendar, assigning the responsibility for its maintenance to the nation of Israel, not to the church or private individuals, guaranteeing order, stability, and unity within the culture. The Anti-Christ inspires tampering with times.
In this sermon on the significance of the Day of Atonement, Richard Ritenbaugh teaches that on this day we do no work because most of the work of atonement is done by God Almighty. We fast, afflicting our souls, reminding us how much we depend upon God both physically and spiritually, enabling us to lighten our loads and other people's loads. Fasting puts us in a proper humble and contrite frame of mind, allowing God to respond to us, freeing us from our burdens and guiding us into His Kingdom and His family.
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.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
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.
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.
Jesus Christ, our Savior, commands Christians as His disciples to participate in the annual Passover memorial of His work on our behalf. The service consists of three parts: 1) Mutual footwashing; 2) Drinking of the wine; 3) Eating of the bread.