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 begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
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 warns that these laments contain little that is jovial or uplifting, but instead are saturated in despair, sorrow, mourning, and even recrimination against God on the part of a personified Jerusalem, whom God depicts as a grieving widow, blaming others for her troubles while overlooking her own sins as the real cause of her sorrows. Solomon instructs us that the house of mourning contains more insight and serves as a better cathartic than the house of mirth. The reality of death imparts to us a sense of sobriety and wisdom about how to conduct our lives. We need to take the time to think about somber things and how they relate to the purpose of life. Godly sorrow, as opposed to worldly sorrow, leads to repentance, cleansing, change, and salvation. The proper effect of the Book of Lamentations is to motivate us to change. When we realize that God's punishment of Jerusalem was justified, we can apply the same godly standards to ourselves to determine if we are as culpable as ancient Judah. In Lamentations, following the Narrator's dire description of Judah's demise, Lady Jerusalem, in a self-centered protest, blames everybody (including her lovers and God Almighty) but herself. Even though God has left her there to think about the consequences of her sins, she does not properly introspect, but, rather, blames others, excusing herself. As God's called-out ones, we must carefully compare our own self-deceptions with her self-deceptions, lest we suffer the same fate. Like ancient Judah, if we embrace sin, God will craft a yoke made of our transgressions, bringing unfathomable burden and grief.
Richard Ritenbaugh, creating a hypothetical scenario in which God sends the Russians- to devastate America and reduce it to a vassal state, suggests that such a catastrophe would resemble the conditions described by the Book of Lamentations. The Scriptures describe the Chaldeans as a bitter and hasty nation, ruthless and tempestuous, riding roughshod over everyone in their relentless thirst for power and plunder, often compared to wolves, leopards and other predators. When God chose to punish Judah and Israel, He sent the absolute worst of the heathen. The Lamentations show poignant before-and-after vignettes of former happy times contrasted with the horror of the present. Because of Judah's harlotry, God exposes the lewdness of her faithlessness and the cruelty of the lovers she whored after. Judah has become abhorred, as was Hosea's Gomer, who symbolized the faithlessness of God's people. The Day of the Lord unfolds nothing but disaster, darkness, and stark terror, with each trial worse than the one before. God is longsuffering, but He will not allow multitudes of infidelities. Like ancient Judah, the current offspring of Jacob have squandered the blessings given to Abraham. It appears that, just as Judah did not repent until it had hit bottom, modern Israelites will not repent until the fruits of their own sins nauseates and gags them. God is a merciful God, but His justice must be satisfied sooner or later.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent solar eclipse, reminds us that in the peoples of past cultures believed that solar and lunar eclipses were omens of impending tragedy, leading to rituals to combat their influence. Although the Bible uses the imagery of the eclipse to portend the confusion at the end of the age, neither eclipses nor the warnings of the prophets caught Judah's attention. The only major event which got their undivided attention was the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the subsequent captivity of Jerusalem, an event sonorously described in Lamentations, a Megillah chanted on the 9th of Av, in the summer season, focusing on summer fruit, having the themes of affliction, God's judgment, correction, cursing, trials, with a hope in God's redemption and restoration. The most likely author is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, but it also could have been composed by Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary. The Book's five acrostic songs (chapters) answer the question, "Why did this happen?" God brought the punishment on Judah, explaining that the basket of bad figs was destroyed (that is, the population of Jerusalem decimated) because Judah embraced idolatry, indulged in perverse sexual sins, failed to take care of the needy, and meted out corrupt judgments, forsaking the only support that would sustain them—Almighty God. Sadly, these deplorable characteristics describe the nations of modern Israel today. As God's called-out ones, we need to take to heart the warnings of Lamentations.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
John Reiss: If anything epitomizes the futility of trusting in this world, it is pictured by the bankruptcy filing by Detroit last year. The city was once America's manufacturing hub ...
John Ritenbaugh declares that God has carefully called each individual member, gifting each one differently, but with the ultimate function of edifying the body. We are mandated to live by faith, being given trials of faith in order to chisel our character. We must totally and unreservedly accept God's sovereignty. We must place Jesus Christ above everything else in our life. Seeing God's influence provided the motivation for our forebears to reach the Promised Land. Unlike Satan and his demons, will we be loyal to God as God crafts out our place personally? Jesus Christ is concerned about us and is overseeing every aspect of our lives. Our Savior is a person, not an abstract idea; He is personally involved in our lives. What God is doing with each of us will fit perfectly. Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing, shaping our lives according to His purpose? We have our ways of doing things, demanding our comfort, but our Creator may have different ideas. God directs everything in our life according to the counsel of His will. If we are living by faith, we will allow Him to mold us into what He intends. Jesus Christ is personally involved with us, doing what He absolutely pleases. We need to trust Him that He is there and that He knows what is going on in our lives, and that He cares- in the big and the little things in our lives. Do we trust His judgment? Everything He does is according to His pleasure with our welfare at heart, even when we are put through calamity. Jesus Christ blew the Worldwide Church of God apart, scattering it all over the world, in order to ultimately rescue the saints from fatal error. Our goal is to believe Jesus Christ, trusting Him unconditionally, enabling us not to disappoint Him in any way.
The Bible shows Christ, at the end, measuring the church with a plumbline, testing for uprightness and determining standards of justice and righteousness. The seven eyes seem to refer to the messengers of the seven churches having a worldwide influence. The olive trees in Zechariah 4:11 refer to the Two Witnesses who pour oil (spiritual instruction) into a golden bowl (a receptacle for this teaching), supplying the churches with spiritual nourishment during their period of testimony before the whole world. They will have power to kill those who would harm them, following the pattern of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10), a kind of carte blanche authority to destroy in order to do their work (Revelation 11:5)
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh assures us that God is involved in the minute details of every converted person's life just as much as He is in the major historical world events. As a new creation of God (II Corinthians 5:17) we receive continuous, meticulous, detailed attention through the creative activity of His grace which never stops. God, as Creator, takes the initiative (as the potter over the clay) for the elect's salvation, enabling us to build the repertoire of habits called character. In this process, bringing certain things together in the lives of the called, both calamitous as well as positive, God fulfills His purpose. Even though we don't at times know where we are headed, we need to develop the faith or trust in God's vision for us.
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 contends that if our faith had been strong over the past 20 years, we would not have been scattered. Because we behave and make choices on what we believe, any affront to the belief system will alter our choices and behavior, placing us on a destructive trajectory. Satan's chief strategy is subtle deception, planting doubts by subtle little half-truths, equivocations, and deliberate lies. Among the lies Satan has foisted off on the world are: (1) God is weak and ineffectual (as seen in effeminate pictures of Jesus, crucifixes, etc.) (2) God is disinterested and has gone off somewhere. (3) God is so merciful that anything goes (we aren't obligated to keep His law).(4) Sin is pleasurable and leads to prosperity. (5) We deserve more than we have been given. By imbibing these deceptions, we shipwreck our faith and jeopardize our salvation.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon part of the festival scrolls (the Megilloth) read during Pentecost, reveals that although many of the lessons allude to Old Covenant teachings, Ruth prefigures New Covenant principles also, including (1) God's mercy and mankind's loyalty to the covenant (Boaz serves as a type of Christ and Ruth serves as a type of the church), (2) God's unilateral work on our behalf (typified by Boaz's proactive watchful care for Ruth), (3) the vessels of water (Ruth 2:9) as a type of God's Holy Spirit, and (4) Boaz's acceptance of Ruth despite her gentile status indicates God's extension of His covenant or family relationship beyond Israel by means of union with Christ.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Lamentations 4 contains a series of contrasts, showing the indignities suffered by a once proud and seemingly invincible people reduced to servitude and abject humiliation because of the sin of idolatry, entered into as a result of economic and political alliances - leading to the adoption of abominable pagan religious practices, violating the covenant made between God and His people. The climax to this extended hopeless lament comes in Lamentations 5:16, when a greatly belated admission of guilt and acknowledged responsibility leads to a recognition of God's sovereignty and hope for ultimate restoration.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the meaning of Matthew 24:40-41, contends that the separation that occurs does not apply to a secret rapture but, more probably, to a separation suggested by Revelation 13:10-16, in which a portion of the church is preserved in a place of safety and another portion is designated to endure the persecution of Satan. Lamentations 3 and 4 show the stark contrast of a once proud people (secure in their wealth, technology, and cleverness) suffering bitter persecution and humiliation at the hands of a people considered by them to be their moral inferiors. In the midst of this suffering, in which the ravages of famine have brought about a degradation of compassion and moral sensibility in Israel, the narrator (presumably Jeremiah) stresses that vindication and ultimate restoration will come only from God.
John Ritenbaugh, prior to the study of Lamentations, explains the significance of the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5:25, referring to a systematic calculation of time. The key is to convert the monetary measures into units of time, employing the day-for-a year principle established elsewhere. This calculation provides a clue for the resurrection of Babylon. In Lamentations 3, the narrator looks at the horrible affliction of his people and sees ultimate good coming from this tribulation, realizing that it has been God's tool of correction. Our responsibility in such a context is to submit to the yoke God has prepared for us, and to be willing to follow God's will, realizing that chastening has been for our ultimate good.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh probes the question as to why the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in the 144,000 (Revelation 7). Because of its intense involvement in willful apostasy and organized idolatry, the tribe of Dan disqualified itself from inclusion in the 144,000, and will have to wait until after the Tribulation to be repatriated. The second chapter of Lamentations reflects the emotional state of a stunned observer, realizing that God had wreaked havoc and destruction upon His chosen people, making them the focus of scorn and ridicule of all of their enemies. Chapter three focuses on the abject terror and hopelessness (immense psychological damage) of someone who can find no escape from this imminent horror (famine, captivity, scorn, etc). Amidst this devastation, the narrator has hope that God would rescue his humbled people from these afflictions. Though He punishes, God (in supreme love) is still faithful and loyal to His people.
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.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the subject of alleged out-of-body experiences, provides scriptural corroboration of their impossibility. In the opening chapter of Lamentations, Jerusalem, personified as a widow who has had to endure watching the destruction of her family, must also endure the mocking, derisive scorn from the captors. Although the United States, like Jerusalem of old (indicted for committing spiritual harlotry), has piously presented itself as the guardian of righteousness, it has, through its perverted media, exported more sin around the world than any other culture. Its humiliation and sudden fall will ultimately be apparent to even the basest pagan and most degenerate heathen. Trusting in adulterous political alliances or technology instead of God will bring devastating humiliation.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.