Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
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.
Mike Ford cues in on the narrative about the religious hobbyist, Micah, in Judges 17, who practiced his own self-devised hybrid of religion, amalgamating some orthodox truth with abundant noxious, pagan admixtures, bringing a curse on himself and his community. Heretofore, when strong leadership existed, idolatry was held in check, but by chapter 17, the train (of undefiled worship) begins to go off the track. We cannot take anything from paganism and use it to worship God. Micah was a thief, having stolen the life savings from his mother, but returned it when she cursed the thief. Upon the return of the silver, Micah's mother blessed him profusely and then she had an idol made of the silver. Micah had procured an ephod and presumptuously consecrated his son a priest. Adam Clarke gives him a pass, claiming he was only replicating the temple in Shiloh and was merely worshiping the true God. But the preponderance of the evidence does not support Adam Clarke's faulty assumption that the ephod was connected only to the worship of the true God. Gideon's ephod, for example, became an idol. Some contemporaries of Gideon and Micah liked to dress idols in ephods, attempting to give them religious legitimacy. Micah and his household had abundant teraphim (or household idols like the ones possessed by Laban), negating the pure intentions ascribed to Micah by Adam Clarke. Albert Barnes makes the absurd assumption that the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges were illiterate. Micah certainly knew the laws of God, but he was enamored of the pagan rites, and tried to blend them into the worship of God. When Micah drafted the young, itinerant Levite, a grandson of Moses, he persuaded him to continue in the syncretized pagan rites. These presumptuous actions of Micah were disgusting in the eyes of God; it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from paganism to worship God just because we personally feel good about it.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Deuteronomy 28:63, suggests there is a context in which God rejoices in cursing or judgment. God's rejoicing does not always have to be attending to good or positive events, but sometimes in painful judgments. God can take satisfaction that He is doing the right thing. In the early days of the Radio Church of God, people seemed to exercise extraordinary diligence and resourcefulness in keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, with virtually none of the perks we have today. A well-planned Feast can be a downer if we do not participate in serving or fellowship. If we do not give of ourselves, we will receive nothing in return. The Feast is not intended to be "one big blast," but a time of spiritual growth, which may take some helpful course correction. Their result, ultimately will be rejoicing. When we keep God's Holy Days just to please our materialistic appetites, we will be keeping the Feast in an unworthy manner, and are flirting with God's harsh judgment. Rejoicing is a choice; we have the power over our attitudes. If we seek God's direction, God will reciprocate by directing our paths. It is our obligation to make sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles, an event which requires more sacrifice than any other time of the year. Sacrificing and rejoicing are linked, although today the emphasis should be more on the spiritual rather than the physical aspect. We are expected to bring our harvest of spiritual fruits, also known as good works, bearing one another's burdens, uplifting one another. The Feast of Tabernacles is not expected to be problem- or trouble-free, nor will the Millennium be trouble-free, but it will be the most opportune time to produce the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a time to rebuild the ruined and desolate places. When we begin to act like God, we will know that He is the Lord. The very fact that He has commanded us to rejoice means that it does not come naturally. Let us give of ourselves in service.
David C. Grabbe: ...The book's purpose appears in verses 3-4, where Jude states that he is writing to exhort his readers to fight for "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints," because of "certain men," as the apostle calls them, who had slipped in among the brethren, and were using the grace of God as license for evil. ...
Martin Collins, citing a Protestant commentator's article about the problem with Christmas, an article which admits pagan origin of this holiday and its contribution to religious confusion, marvels that the author wants to salvage the holiday anyway, even though it totally scuttles the truth. Human nature would rather indulge in pagan lies and idolatry, taking pleasure in unrighteousness, rather than be corrected or guided by truth. Christmas thrives in this syncretistic culture, having adopted the Roman Brumalia-Saturnalia festival, celebrating the birth of the invincible sun. The Roman Catholic Church carefully blended a little truth with a lot of falsehood in order to have the birthday of the Son of God coincide with the birth of the invincible sun. This shameless syncretism does not have God's endorsement. God does not approve of false ministers who try to appropriate God's words to promote their selfish ends, turning peoples' hearts away from Him. Pagan customs cannot be assimilated into the truth, as our forebears learned that worshipping a golden calf does not coincide with worshipping God. Christians need to extricate themselves from the worshiping of Satan. Regarding our beliefs, we must always start with God, not man, and that we regard the Bible, not human reason as our ultimate authority. Christmas seems to thrive on covetousness and the way of get, while God's holy days encourage the way of give.
Last time, we saw that the lessons of Abel, Enoch, and Noah are sequential—they must be learned and applied in order if a person or organization is to make a faithful witness of God. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seemingly innocent but subtle and pernicious doctrine of Dispensationalism, attacks the assumed yet unbiblical adversarial relationship between law and grace. Modern "Christianity" totally rejects the Bible in its eclectic, pick-and-choose religious hybrids, instead following Gnostic Docetism, which leads to vile, fleshly perversions. Hatred for Yahweh (Jesus Christ), the law, Israel, and the Sabbath, along with endorsing lawlessness, serves as common denominators for all Gnostic practitioners. Modern "Christianity," twisting Paul's writings to turn the grace of God into license to sin (by blurring the distinction between justification and sanctification) is totally derived from Gnosticism.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
In this keynote address of the 1997 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh warns that people are not going to understand the significance of prophecies until the prophecies are being fulfilled or have been completely fulfilled. Understanding prophecy is secondary in importance to overcoming, growing, developing character, and being in the image of God. One significant event, the scattering of the greater church of God, reflects a more general trend on the world scene—the disintegration of the major religions into millions of pieces (reflecting a general world wide disdain for hierarchical structure), making possible a post-modern syncretistic reconstruction of millions of personal private religions, incorporating feel-good palliatives and allowing for moral laxity. In the wake of this pernicious self-expression, we must desperately hold fast, contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh explores the topic of visions and dreams from the biblical point of view. Visions and dreams, used very rarely by God to communicate to people (God does not play around with people's minds), must be corroborated by scripture or God's law to establish their veracity. The second chapter of Lamentations, preceding the first chapter in time sequence, describes the stunning and disorienting shock of seeing the total systematic devastation and utter destruction of something formerly considered indestructible, and realizing that God was responsible for the devastation. The prophets and the religious leaders bear the greatest blame for this destruction by providing a quasi-religion (with smooth and feel-good teachings condoning sin) and not teaching the Law of God.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the rulerd of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh warns the greater Church of God that since we constitute the Israel of God, the book of Amos directly applies to us. The pilgrimages to Gilgal made by the people of ancient Israel were repulsive to God because no permanent change (in terms of justice ' hating evil and loving good or righteous behavior) occurred in their lives as a result of these pilgrimages. In terms of human relationships, instead of God's Commandments and instead of the Golden Rule, Israel zealously practiced self-centered, pragmatic situation ethics- liberally mixed or syncretized with pagan religion. Unlike ceremonial religion, true religion reaches out and touches every aspect of life, making a permanent transformation or change in thought and behavior. Ceremony and sincerity cannot be considered mutually exclusive components of religion. God, totally impartial in His dealings with all people, demands a higher standard of righteous behavior from those who have consciously made a covenant with Him and are acquainted with His Law.
John Ritenbaugh observed that ancient Israel had regarded Bethel (as well as Gilgal and Beer Sheba) as a sacred shrine (a place where Jacob had been transformed —his name changed to Israel) but were not becoming spiritually transformed as a result of pilgrimages to these locations. One example of their residual carnality was the corruption of their court system- a striking parallel to modern Israel. We need to remember that Amos is written to the end-time church, urging that true religion is not a way to God but from God, emphasizing that (1) we must have a real love for God's truth, (2) submit to God as our part of the relationship, (3) be concerned about earning God's approval, (4) have moral integrity, and (5) exercise social responsibility. Amos warned ancient and modern Israel not to exalt symbolism over substance- a condition leading to Jacob's trouble or the Great tribulation. We need to secure our relationship with God (and our quest for holiness-involving action, emotion, and thought), not taking His grace for granted realizing that God will not budge one inch with his law.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the limited window of opportunity recipients of a dire prophecy have to take action. The one who hears the warnings does not have an abundance of time to repent and return to God. A lion's threat is not idle. If no action is taken, the stalking roar will turn into a growl of contentment, the lion having consumed its prey. At the time of Amos's message, Israel was: 1) threatened by the imminent displeasure of God; 2) lacking repentance and true spirituality; 3) full of corruption; 4) departing from the truth; 5) proud, complacent, and self-satisfied; 6) setting itself on a pedestal; and 7) smugly prejudiced against the world. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including the Israel of God) cannot see the connection between its own faithlessness to her covenant with God and the violence and tumult of society that mirror her spiritual condition.
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.
John Ritenbaugh begins by explaining that Amos means "burden bearer," characterizing the message he delivered. Like a hawk circling around in tightening circles, Amos gives a series of dire warnings beginning with Israel's arch-enemies but concluding with a blistering indictment on Israel herself—appearing religious, prosperous, and formidable on the outside but rotting from self-pleasing idolatry and cancerous moral decay on the inside. This situation parallels modern Israel and the current situation in the church of God. Privilege (God's calling) brings grave responsibility, and judgment (God's plumb line) begins at the house of God. Amos is speaking to us.
[Editors Note: Audio quality improves at the 4 minute mark.]
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