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.
David Grabbe, reminding us that God's thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts, focuses on the danger of committing the unpardonable sin, attributing God's Holy Power to Beelzebub or Satan the devil. The Pharisees in Matthew 12 were sternly warned that attributing God's power to something profane, when one was aware he was doing it, is unpardonable. To commit the unpardonable sin, one has to become enlightened or called. If he willfully commit sin, sustaining opposition to God's Law, committing his heart against God in bitterness or resentment, he is courting mortal peril. Some individuals have sorely grieved God's Holy Spirit through neglect, weakness of the flesh, or some other circuitous detour without quenching God's Spirit. There is a point of no return in which rejection of God is so complete that repentance is impossible. In God's scattering of the Church, we are unable to know where and how God is working with individuals throughout the greater church of God. We dare not presumptuously and pompously try to speak for God in determining who is a tare and who is not. Injuriously speaking (judging the state of other peoples' conversion) is a fast track to committing the unpardonable sin. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His plans are way beyond our scrutiny.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh explores the negative symbolism of wine (as representing intoxication and addiction) in Revelation17 and 18. The entire Babylonian system (highly appealing to carnal human nature) has an enslaving addicting, and inebriating quality, producing a pernicious unfaithfulness and Laodicean temperament. As in Solomon's time, each dramatic increase in technology and knowledge does not bring a corresponding improvement in inherently corrupt human nature or morality. In evaluating the influence or teaching skills of Babylon, we must evaluate (1) the character and conduct of the teacher (2) whether the teaching is true, and (3) the kind of fruit it produces. Poisonous weeds cannot produce good fruit. Babylon's (the Great Whore's) anti-God, anti-revelation, man-devised cultural and educational system(the cosmos) is poisoning the entire world. What was crooked from the very beginning cannot be made straight. In order to attain eternal life, we must consciously reject the Babylonian system and consciously conform to God's will.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that individuals arrogating to themselves the authority to change doctrine are on extremely dangerous ground, presumptuously or boldly setting up idols in place of God. We dare not put words into God's mouth. The work of God in the latter days is to turn the people from their sin and back to God. Any other work is either window dressing or directly contrary to God. The consequences of presumptuous (intentional) sins are far more deadly and permanent than for sins committed in ignorance (unintentional). Presumptuousness equates to competition with God, following in the footsteps of Satan. The antidote to presumption is to 1) submit to God, 2) remain humble, and 3) wait for Him to exalt us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh begins to summarize the attitudes that we should develop toward this vital subject. Five things or insights understanding sovereignty should produce are: (1) a fear of God, (2) implicit and unquestioned obedience, (3) resignation to His will,(4) thankfulness and praise, and (5) an adoring worship of Him. Like Job, we need to mature into the resignation to God's will and purpose for our lives,realizing that both pleasant and horrendous times work for our ultimate spiritual growth and development.