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: Most of us have watched a baseball game. Chances are we have all seen a batter about to enter the batter's box make the sign of the cross. Or perhaps we are basketball fans. We have seen it there too ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Paul's declaration that he would become all things to all men, suggests that Paul had the capability of seeing the truths of the Bible from several different cultural paradigms, namely an honor-shame continuum and a power-fear continuum, familiar to Hebrew and Middle-Eastern cultures, and an innocence-guilt continuum, familiar to those of us in the Western world, influenced by an admixture of Judeo-Christian ethic, Roman law, and Greek philosophy. Without a working knowledge of all three cultural paradigms, we have major blind-spots in interpreting and understanding the scriptures, culturally insulated like a fish out of water. Those of us in the Western world, steeped in the guilt-innocent paradigm, have a keen focus on right and wrong and tend to be highly individualistic, abhorring group-think and collectivist behavior. The language of this paradigm includes justice, pardon, works, wrath, mercy, right actions, doing what is right as measured against an abstract law. Those at home with the honor and shame paradigm define right and wrong in terms of group relationships. Whatever behavior brings shame on the group is to be shunned, as exampled by the shame the older brother felt as a result of the actions of "the prodigal son." In this parable, Christ enlightens us about the paradox that suffering shame for the sake of righteousness is in honor. A profoundly ingrained "pecking order" characterizes a power-fear culture, which is by definition fiercely hierarchical, with a strong man at the top. Each person below must either cower or put himself under the power of a protector. The language of Ephesians 1:15-23, combat language describing Satan as the adversary and Christ putting everything under His feet, resonates with individuals living in a power-fear culture. As we read the Bible, we find that God employs a blend of all three cultural paradigms, encouraging us to free ourselves from the bondage of cultural myopia and ethnocentrism in order to get more out the scriptures.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the ubiquitous symbol of 'Christendom,' namely the cross, adorning steeples and altars, worn as religious jewelry, reminds us that this symbol flourished centuries before Christ came on the scene, serving as an initial for Tammuz, the son of Semiramis, the prototype for the virgin Mary, worshiped and honored throughout the Middle East under various monikers. The pagan goddess Diana is depicted as having a cross over her head; the god Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, is adorned with crosses. The king of Nineveh also appears in pictures with the Maltese Cross. The cross did not enter 'Christendom' until the time of the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD, when he convened the Council of Nicaea, enforcing the display of the cross at all churches and private homes throughout the Empire. One finds it bizarre that an instrument of torture should receive worship. If Jesus had been killed by a shotgun, electric chair, gallows, or guillotine, would we feel compelled to wear these miniatures of these gruesome objects around our necks? There is much confusion as to the exact method of execution Jesus endured, whether on an upright stake (staros) or a plank across a tree, or something else. Hence, venerating the cross is totally unwarranted. Jesus Christ, not the instrument of His torture and death, should be the proper focus of our worship. God's true church has never used the cross as a symbol.
The narrative of King Saul of Israel visiting a medium at En Dor on the night before his final battle is an anomaly in Scripture, relating the story of a "successful" seance. Richard Ritenbaugh dissects the text of I Samuel 28 to expose several common misconceptions about the events of that night.
II Corinthians 6:14-16 contains a warning that good and evil do not mix, so as Christians, we must be careful to avoid having anything to do with what is wrong. Highlighting Proverbs 8:13, David Grabbe reveals that the fear of God plays a significant role in ridding evil from our lives.
The name of God is important—so important that He included its proper use among His Ten Commandments. What is His name? Martin Collins shows how God's names reveal His character to us. Includes the inset, "A Sampling of the Names of God."
John Ritenbaugh explains the origins of our foremost adversary, Satan the Devil, and his host of fallen angels or demons (Revelation 12:3-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19). In our precarious situation of sharing a prison cell with these formidable wicked spirits, we need to take heart in: 1) the tremendous numerical advantage of the good over the evil angels; 2) the hopeless division in the demon world, preventing them from "getting their act together"; 3) as with Job, God has set limits on Satan's ability to harass us (Job 2:6); and 4) God has provided us with adequate spiritual armor to withstand the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-12). Even though with our own limited strength, we could be easily annihilated, God has promised us protection if we yield to Him and keep His commandments.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Abraham did not live out his days in the land of promise, insists that it is not where one is, but the relationship with God that is more important. Abraham's offspring had to realize that they could not receive God's favor on Abraham's coattails, as in the largely superstitious behavior of erecting shrines and making pilgrimages to Beersheba, Gilgal, and Bethel. Based on his long friendship with God, Abraham could systematically calculate the reliability of God's promises even in the lack of visual evidence. Having sterling faith, he knew that God would never "play dirty" and consequently remained unswerving in his commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the woman at the well in John 4 could easily represent the church, initially called out of the world in an immoral state, having a confrontation with Christ leading to an insight into ones own sins, ultimately bringing about total repentance or change in behavior, resulting in going out and leading others to Christ. The second sign in the book of John, the healing of the nobleman's son reveals that God will heal those who demonstrate ardent desire, humility, submission, and trust. The healing of the man at Bethesda also indicated an intensity of desire, a determined effort to obey Christ's command, and a cooperative effort on the part of the person being healed. With healing automatically comes the responsibility to change behavior and repent. Jesus takes the opportunity to impress upon the Pharisees the difference between works that cause burdens (work that profanes the Sabbath) and works that relieve burdens or extend mercy. God the Father and Jesus Christ never cease working for the well being of creation.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 9:2-9 recounts an event in which an evangelist criticized Herbert W. Armstrong for suggesting that healing constitutes a forgiveness of sin. The effects of sin on successive generations are clearly seen in Exodus 20:5. Sin causes disease, but the person who becomes sick does not necessarily commit the sin. Because God alone can forgive sin, God alone can heal. Matthew, a former publican, was nevertheless made an apostle by Jesus Christ. Matthew's need to overcome stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees smug condemnatory righteousness. Christianity is a joyous experience we share with Christ. The reactionary Pharisees, bogged down with manmade traditions, were extremely resistant to new truth and change. Human nature is passionately attached to the status quo. Consequently, the new teachings of Christ are incompatible with the teachings we learned from our parents or society. Even with our inadequacies, Jesus will nevertheless grant us our requests if they are according to God's will. We should remember that the best teaching is always done through example. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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