Scripture frequently employs pairs of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. Another of these pairs is gathering and scattering, mutually exclusive actions that, though they cannot be done at the same time, can be accomplished at different times. Charles Whitaker contemplates the gathering God does to reverse the effects of calamity.
David Grabbe cues in on Matthew 12:39 in which Jesus Christ told the Pharisees that an evil generation looks for a sign from heaven (perhaps like fire or manna). Christ said the sign of Jonah, specifying His time in the tomb, was all He would give them. Jesus was not against signs; the Gospel of John is structured around eight signs. The Old Testament is full of signs, which the Pharisees missed because they failed to keep the Covenant properly. Ancient Israel witnessed numerous signs on the Sinai, but because of the hardness of their hearts, the signs profited them nothing. When God gives a sign, He intends it should be taken seriously. God links a disbelief in His signs as a rejection of Him. Forgetting God's signs leads to forgetting Him. A sign serves as a symbol of divine communication. God desires His Word to be bound as signs in our forehead (our will) and in our hands (our actions and behavior), impressed in our hearts and in our lives. When we behave according to God's Word, it truly is a sign to others, most of whom do not see the value and practicality of following God's Commandments. Obedience is a testimony that there is a God who wants us to live a certain way, modeling our behavior after Jesus Christ, who kept Our Father's Law in the spirit and letter. Obedience to God's Law constitutes a sign to others that we are different, in a positive sense, from the ways of the world, enabling us to demonstrate by our behavior the superiority of God's plan for us. As well, obedience to His Law constitutes a sign to God that we are loyal to Him and will respond to anything He says, including keeping His Sabbath. Sadly, only a fraction of the religious community on the earth take God's Law seriously. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (including the command to eat unleavened bread daily during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread) are also signs we dare not take lightly. If we forget the signs of God, we forget our identity, as has most of Israel, and will bring curses upon ourselves, as has our nation
The lives of the Minor Prophets span the latter part of the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and extend into the post-Exilic period. As witnesses to the decline and fall of these two unrepentant nations, the prophets report the conditions and attitudes that led to their defeat, captivity, and exile. In Part Three, Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai.
At creation, God sanctified only one day, the seventh, as a day of rest. At Sinai, He once again sanctified it as a holy day, connecting it with creation and freedom. John Ritenbaugh expands on these concepts, showing that God wants us to keep the Sabbath to support our continuing spiritual creation and freedom.
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.
For being such a religious book, the Bible contains an unusual number of references to harlotry! John Ritenbaugh uses this information to provide understanding of the motivations of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
The northern tribes of Israel, having rejected Davidic rule, chose Jeroboam as their king, and he soon led the Northern Kingdom into apostasy. Charles Whitaker shows that after just over 200 years, Israel fell to Assyria, and it people were taken captive and transported to Media. Judah lasted about a century and a half longer, falling to Babylon in 585 BC.
Today's society is becoming increasingly insensitive and calloused to the base and profane words. This article examines this issue and gives suggestions for eliminating obscenities from our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that being reared in a democratic nation sometimes complicates our relationship with God. The type of liberty we have in this form of government is different from our liberty granted by God, a condition of our slavery to righteousness. God's government is actually a sovereign, benevolent dictatorship. Our entrance into the Kingdom of God requires total submission ' to the spirit, letter, and intent of His law. The scriptures are replete with examples of the consequences of murmuring or rebellion- including exile and scattering. If someone rejects a servant of God, who speaks the truth,he also rejects God the Father and Jesus Christ. Both submission and rebellion are totally voluntary, but the consequences are different. God has both a good and a severe side.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the biblical instructions (found in both the Old and new Testaments) pertaining to Sabbath keeping apply far more to the Israel of God, the church, than to the physical descendents of Israel, who did not have the fullness of scriptural counsel. Because the Bible has both a physical/national and a spiritual/church level, certain truths, remaining invariant under transformation, will become increasingly and uniquely relevant to God's spiritual children. The Sabbath, a major tenet of the Royal Law, kept faithfully by the prophets, apostles, and our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, is a commanded period of time to develop an intimate relationship with God, allowing us to incrementally transform into His image.
John Ritenbaugh warns that keeping the right days on the calendar is no guarantee of attaining a right relationship with God. How and why a person keeps the Sabbath determines whether this test commandment is really a sign between God and His people or an idolatrous act of futility. The Sabbath could metaphorically represent a date between God and His affianced bride, a special 24-hour time to become more intimately acquainted, the actual courtship stage before marriage. Letting worldly concerns enter the Sabbath is like committing adultery or flirting with other lovers. When we take time to know God, we become refreshed, strengthened, and actually liberated from worldly entanglements.
The Sermon on the Mount is as vitally important to us today as it was when Christ preached it. It contains within it the very way we are to conduct our lives as God's representatives on this earth. How well are we following what Christ taught?
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
In this keynote address of the 1995 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh asserts that because cultural restraints which once held human nature in check have been removed, vile human nature has waxed increasingly more corrupt and depraved, approaching conditions described in Genesis 6:5-7. Skyrocketing statistics on social spending, abortion, violent crime, illegitimate births, divorce, teenage suicides etc. indicate a worsening cancerous degeneracy (Isaiah 1:6). Paradoxically, increased social spending, by creating dependency, has actually worsened the problems. God has indicted our people (Hosea 4:1-3, Ezekiel 7:23-27) for its bloody violence and disregard for the preciousness of life. The Feast of Tabernacles pictures a refreshing time when these problems will be dealt with from the just and equitable mind of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the dual purpose for the Sabbath consists of (1) a memorial of God's physical creation and (2) a memorial of our redemption from bondage. Bondage is the consequence of rejecting or neglecting the Sabbath. Far from doing away with the Sabbath, Jesus magnified the Sabbath, giving us principles enabling us to judge our activities. On the seven occasions where the Sabbath is the issue, Jesus emphasized some form of redemption, indicating that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free. While God rested from physical creation, spiritual creation continued, creating sons in His image. The Messiah's lawful work consisted of healing, redeeming, forgiving, and doing good. Our lawful Sabbath work consists of emulating Christ and committing ourselves to God's purpose.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the two major purposes for the Sabbath are to (1) remind us that God is Creator and (2) to remind us that we were once in abject bondage and slavery to sin. Christ, in His role of Law magnifier (Isaiah 42:21) magnified the spiritual intent of the Sabbath as a time of blessing, deliverance, liberty, and redemption. From the beginning of His ministry Luke 4:16 to His death, Jesus used the Sabbath to set people free from physical and spiritual bondage. If we reject the Sabbath or keep it carelessly, we are begging to be put back in bondage to Satan and sin.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that taking God's name in vain is far more serious than swearing or profanity. To appropriate the name of God means to represent His attributes, character and nature. God's names are the signposts or revelators of His nature and descriptors of His activities. The glory of God was revealed through Christ by what He said and did- His entire repertoire of behavior. Our daily behavior, likewise, must imitate Christ just as Christ's behavior revealed God the Father. Behaving in a Godly manner enables us to know God and live a quality life. The third commandment has to do with the quality of our personal witness to everything the name we bear implies. Profaning or blaspheming God's name implies living in a manner inconsistent with God's name.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon a singular disaster to befall modern Israel, involving captivity-largely as a result of its shameless toleration of rising violent crime. God ordained capital punishment, but because of the flawed legal system, with the exceptions for insanity, youth, and police mistakes, the deterrent value has been rendered ineffective in modern Israel. The prison system, actually producing academies for learning crime, is pitifully inferior to God's system of justice. Nevertheless, resisting civil governmental authority (a buffer against chaos) is tantamount to resisting God's authority. People who reinforce in themselves the habit of rebellion (resisting God's as well as man's authority) will be mercifully terminated in a lake of fire. Jesus, by emphasizing the spirit of the law, places deterrents on the motive- preventing the actual murderous deed from ever taking place. Brooding anger, bitterness, resentment, revenge, and scorn constitute the activating motives for actual murder. We need to develop the maturity and faith to allow God to take vengeance rather than presumptuously taking this prerogative upon ourselves. Christ teaches that we also need to learn to (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) proactively promote peace by attending to the physical needs of our 'enemies,' responding as Christ would respond.
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 reiterates that God gave the Sabbath (a sanctified, set-apart period of recurring time) to His people in order that they come to know Him intimately, learning to live as He lives. Idolatry, scattering, and captivity have always been the natural consequences of Sabbath breaking. Freedom from bondage and liberty are the natural consequences of Sabbath keeping. God gives relatively few broad principles concerning how the Sabbath is to be kept. Our Elder Brother has given us specific examples of how to use Sabbath time properly, having begun His redemptive liberating ministry on the Sabbath and ending it on a preparation day. Christ emphasized the liberating or redemptive intent (or burden-relieving aspect) of the Sabbath. Acts of liberation or release from bondage occur frequently on the Sabbath Day. We need to follow our Elder Brother's example of relieving burdens.
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 reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.