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.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
John Ritenbaugh, comparing two social movements for which we did not volunteer, namely (1) our calling into the Kingdom of God and (2) our birth into our socio-cultural milieu, asks us if we really want to continue with the one we were born into. Former President Jimmy Carter and Former Undersecretary of the Treasury under the Reagan Administration, Paul Craig Roberts, adamantly warn that we are no longer a representative democracy, but an oligarchy taken over by thugs, whose evil economic policies have put us into serfdom in our own country. Very few politicians have maintained their integrity under the vile corruption which has eroded and all but destroyed our Constitution, leaving in its place the pathetic conditions, described by Isaiah, in which children are our oppressors and women rule over us. This deplorable situation apparently cannot be corrected by the voting booth, but only through revolution. The President and the Supreme Court know they can roll roughshod over the Constitution because they have gotten away with it before. What neither one of them knows is that God has the ultimate word about everything, always sovereign over time, and will allow the consequences to befall our people for breaking His Holy Law. God is taking away our liberties because of immorality.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on an article in Christianity Today which suggests that American Christians are becoming increasingly confused about whether abortion is equivalent to murder, concludes that we live in a moral garbage dump, every bit as vile as Sodom and Gomorrah. America (and the other Israelitish nations), like mother-like daughter, disgustingly has eclipsed the sins of Sodom and Egypt and is the primary target of Ezekiel's prophecies, words which were written after the captivity of Judah and Israel. Ezekiel's prophecies are unfolding right now, before our eyes, describing contemporary news events—real end-time material. Sadly, the haughtiness with which modern Judah and Israel embraces immorality makes the people of Sodom appear moral in comparison.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that I and II Chronicles (the last books to be canonized in the Old Testament) were post-exilic documents, created for the sole purpose of analyzing the cumulative thematic lessons Judah and Israel had experienced, namely that God has clearly declared what He would do, and that He has proved true to His Word in every circumstance. There is a high probability that Ezra penned the Chronicles, but also some indication that Nehemiah (who had amassed a sizable library of historical records) or other assistants to Ezra or Nehemiah could have carried the work to completion. Perhaps the most righteous of Judah's kings was Josiah, having fewer personal foibles than David, but having equivalent leadership skills to David, coupled with an ardent love for God's law and a single -minded purpose to walk in the Law of God—all this supporting a fervor and energy to carry out reforms which ultimately extirpated the trappings of idolatry which had accumulated during the tenures of Josiah's predecessors for several generations. Beginning his rule at the age of 8-years old, he ruled successfully for 31 years, turning neither to the right or the left, doggedly conforming to God's Law. During his tenure, Judah and Israel were purged of the scourge of idolatry brought about by his reprobate forbears; Josiah destroyed altars, shrines, carvings, wooden images, and high places of pagan gods, and executed the priests and mediums of these pagan religions, spearheading the attack himself. When the book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was discovered in the temple, Josiah led his people into implementing its commands. Though Josiah's heart was tender (with God's Law written on it), his people sadly did not share their King's total commitment to his reforms. Josiah was like a good fig in a basket of rotten figs. Josiah's reforms, though significant, did not enjoy the widespread support of his subjects. For that, they did delay for a little while the consequences of Judah's transgressions against God's covenant. Thou
When a society falls into chaos and blatant immorality, as the Western world seems to be on the verge of doing, it is evident that there is a crisis in leadership. While warning us of the times just ahead, John Ritenbaugh turns the focus of leadership toward the church, exhorting us to learn the lessons of godly leadership now because our positions in the Kingdom of God will require their use.
Mike Fuhrer: For some inexplicable reason, some mainstream Christians—and even some true ones—will read a verse of Scripture and assume that it applies to them personally. ...
The quality of human life on this earth has in large part been determined by the character of its leaders. In the Bible we have a record of both good and bad leaders, and it provides a repetitive principle that "as go the leadership, so goes the nation." John Ritenbaugh begins a new series that links leadership to the various scriptural covenants and their success or lack thereof.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
Mike Ford, reflecting on the inordinately high casualties of the American Civil War, far more extensive than all of the other wars combined, compares the devastation to another civil war between Judah and Israel, recorded in 1 Kings 14 and II Chronicles 11, a tragic war where more than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives because the leadership turned away from God, embracing disgusting forms of idolatry. After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam, after seeking unwise counsel, provoked a split or secession of the northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promoted the worship of golden calves in a counterfeit Feast of Tabernacles in Bethel and Dan and appointing his own unscrupulous priests to administer the pagan services, which promoted sodomy and male temple prostitutes. When King Abijah earnestly appealed to God at the beginning of a devastating siege, repenting of the foolish God-rejecting policies of his father's administration, God heard his intercessory prayer; Rehoboam's army was soundly routed, suffering 500,000 casualties, and Judah basked in a short-lived peace. Abijah had three good years but was suddenly cut off because the victory went to his head, and he didn't move forward, removing the idols and outlawing the disgusting pagan religious practices. One successful act of faith is only something to build on, not merely a motivation to rest on laurels. We need to make sure that we move forward in our spiritual battles, extirpating any idol that comes into our lives, separating us from God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the term leadership appears nowhere in the King James Version of the Scripture, even though numerous examples of good and bad leadership abound, points out that the state of civic leadership in America is at a disastrous all-time, low from the President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress, all the way down to the community leaders (mayors, judges, etc.) overwhelmingly choked with despicable cowardice, corruption, and graft, emanating from base, immature, foolish, reprobate minds who have rejected God's leadership. Isaiah 1:4-15 well describes the governments misgoverned by Jacob's offspring, collapsing into chaos, hopelessly laden down with iniquity, having forsaken and defying Almighty God. The whole American body politic (as well as that of all of modern Israel) has become covered with putrefying sores, and stands in mortal danger of being devoured from strangers because of the lack of Godly leadership coming from anywhere. The principal cause of the demise of the entire society is lack of leadership within the family; the breakdown of society derives from the breakdown and destruction of the family beginning with the dysfunctional childrearing practices of our original parents and the deliberate actions by the 'leaders' currently in power. The shepherds castigated in Ezekiel 34 include every parent, as well as the religious, political, educational, and corporate shepherds. Parents have the solemn obligation to teach their offspring God's way of life while simultaneously submitting to His loving rule. As God's called-out ones, we dare not abdicate our part of the leadership responsibility, or the neglect will create an unwholesome ripple-effect throughout the church and eventually throughout the entire human community. None of us ever live or die to ourselves.
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 Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Ecclesiastes chapters 1-6 contains a sub-theme of materialism—specifically an indictment of the supposed satisfaction one receives from it suggests that materialism contains no lasting fulfillment. According to some studies, the higher a person is on the economic scale, the less altruistic he is inclined to become. The only lasting enjoyment comes from establishing a relationship with God, understanding that: (1) life is God's gift; (2) He desires us to spend our time preparing for an eternal relationship with Him; (3) the fruit of active involvement with God is eternal life; (4) by faith, seeking God will lead to an above-the-sun life; and finally, (5) if there is no kingdom of God, then nothing matters except what is going on in the here and now. We desperately need to seek Godly wisdom, a multi-faceted spiritual gift which helps us make practical use of all the other spiritual gifts. Wisdom is practical skill in living, coexistent with the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a whole collection or spectrum of skills for living God's way—something that takes a lifetime to learn.
The Bible records at least two complaints uttered by the prophet Jeremiah to God during the chaotic decline and fall of Judah. Charles Whitaker evaluates the first of these two grievances, explaining that it concentrates on the injustice of the prosperity of evil men and on the prophet's dismay at the abuse of the land.
The situation that faced God's prophet, Jeremiah, and his scribe and companion, Baruch, in the last days of Judah's monarchy was one of depravity and despair. Charles Whitaker explores the historical, cultural, and religious context of the months just before Jerusalem's fall to the Babylonians, putting Baruch's complaint (Jeremiah 45) in its proper setting.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: The latest abomination to come down the medical-ethics pike is the February 23, 2012, publication of "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" in the Journal of Medical Ethics. ...
II Corinthians 5:7 is clear that God wants us to walk—live our lives—by faith, but our pride and vanity, mirroring the attitude of Satan the Devil, frequently get in the way. John Ritenbaugh delves into the depths of pride and its tragic results for the individual and for all mankind, most of all because it causes us to reject God and His Word.
John Ritenbaugh asks the question, "How much leavening would God allow to infiltrate into the church, society, or the individual before He steps in to correct it?" Leaven can symbolically represent false teaching, as in the stifling traditions of the Pharisees, the skepticism of the Sadducees, and the secularism of Herod, all producing deadly cynicism and pessimism. With immense forbearance and patience, God carefully timed the cumulative wickedness of a people (when every thought would become saturated with evil) before He intervened. Likewise, we have no insight as to how much sin God will tolerate in the church or our own lives before He will sternly intervene. The tares and wheat (sin and righteousness, heresies and truth, or unconverted and converted) must coexist until the harvest when the fruit will become clearly seen, at which time a separation and judgment will take place, when the good will be contrasted from the evil. In the meantime, the persecution we receive now will show God definitively where our loyalties lie.
How can we evaluate whether our Feast is 'good' or not? Using God's criticism of Israel's feasts in Amos 5, John Ritenbaugh shows that the pilgrimage locations of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal provide instruction about what God wants us to learn from His feasts.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that one perennial theme of the major and minor prophets is the deplorable faithlessness of Israel, depicted as a fickle, spoiled, pampered, well-dressed streetwalker, suggests that the day of Israel's calamity is right upon the horizon. To the remnants of this decadent civilization of modern Israel, God's begotten children, God provides the book of Proverbs as an antidote. Wisdom is inextricably linked with fear and reverence for God. Without wisdom, genius and brilliance is useless at best and dangerous at worst. Wisdom warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have rejected wisdom in favor of foolishness, bringing about major devastating calamities: famines, pestilence, earthquakes, cosmic disturbances (graphically depicted in Deuteronomy 32, Jeremiah 4, and Ezekiel 2-3,6-7) upon our apostate faithless people after the prior devastation of Gentile nations who didn't have a relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the imagery in Revelation 12:16 of the torrent or flood spewed out from Satan's mouth, depicts the torrent of misinformation and lies, causing anxiety and confusion. Like the scattering of the church, the greater nation of Israel will be compromised with Satan's torrent of misinformation. In the wake of this misinformation barrage and the corruption of doctrine, we in the diaspora or scattering, after the manner of Ezra and Nehemiah, must commence rebuilding the collapsed walls of doctrine and truth, providing protection for God's church. God and His ministering angels provide a wall of protection for us, but we must assist in the building of our wall of holiness by yielding to and obeying God. Like Jeremiah, we must become a part of that wall.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that unless the splinters of the greater church of God repair their mangled relationships with the Almighty, recoupling will be impossible. A major contributory factor in the scattering is the deceitful heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9) and carnal nature (Romans 8:7) which attempts to substitute charm and social skills (passing it off as conversion) for sincerity and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:3). Because God's scrutiny penetrates right through to the inner heart (I Samuel 16:7), it is foolish and pointless to use the same duplicity toward Him as we use to deceive others and sadly, even ourselves.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
John Ritenbaugh explores the source or origin of sin. God gave us a nature oriented to the physical, having a heavy pull toward self-centeredness, totally ignorant of moral responsibility, but capable of being enlightened. Because of this blindness and ignorance, our human nature has a predisposition toward sin - leading to a continuous indwelling struggle, something God intended us to endure, enabling us to build character by resisting its powerful pull. Though influenced by Satan and the world, sin is still a personal choice rooted in pride and vanity (originated by Satan). Christ's sacrifice and God's Holy Spirit provide our only defense against its deadly pulls.
Before continuing with the book of Matthew, John Ritenbaugh answers four questions from church members. The first question is whether Micah 7:14 refers to a place of safety. In this prayer, Micah, after describing his current discouragement at the moral stage of Judah and their impending captivity, requests that God intervene and feed His people solitarily, protecting them with His rod of protection. This prayer has duality for our current times and the protection of God's church. The wooded region of Carmel becomes a symbol of protection, a refuge from invading armies. This wooded refuge, as well as Gilead, also could apply in type to the church in current times. The second question applies to the identity of Eliachim in Isaiah 22:25. Because of his apparent gradual corruption, Eliachim could not have been a Christ figure. A third question applies to the physical resurrection of the people who were resurrected at the time of Jesus' first resurrection, who served as witnesses proving the reality of the resurrection, and a type of the future resurrection. A fourth question concerns the context in I Corinthians 7 in which separation between married couple is permitted. The study concludes in Matthew 23 with the loss of proportion among the Pharisees, spending their entire lives in a negative attitude, avoiding sin, but not lightening the burdens of their flocks by applying justice, mercy, and faith. The Pharisees did not understand their own carnal nature and could not, with their blinded mindset, have prevented their impending hostility to Jesus and the saints. Avoiding sin does not necessarily equate with "doing good"; if we do good, we do not have time to sin. [Editors note: the Matthew portion of the Bible Study begins at the 49min-10sec mark] [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]