Ronny Graham, reviewing the fifth and sixth days of Creation, when God created the sea-and land-animals, points out the symbolic traits many have come to associate with some animals: Snakes trigger fear; the sloth connotes laziness, and the ant represents industry. We are familiar with the clean and unclean distinction in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, where God commands His People to shun eating unclean meat or touching the carcasses of dead animals, this last being a wise health precaution as exampled by people contracting leprosy via contact with armadillos. Historically, in Middle Eastern cultures, the dog has a bad reputation. As people began to domesticate animals, they removed many disparaging stigmas, even to the point that, today, they promote some animals to the status of family members, sometimes according them equal legal footing with humans. Some have even dared to domesticate Pit Bulls, only to have loved ones mauled to death. All this points to the lack of balance exhibited by many in Western society.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Middle East connotations casting disdain upon dogs, points out that the grounds of comparison may be their inclination to be sneaky, groveling scavengers feeding on the refuse of humanity, including human flesh. God's Word describes the ritual harlot and the sodomite as disgusting, vile dogs on the lowest echelon of humanity. The wages of a harlot or sodomite would defile any offering. God expects offering to Him to be undefiled, meeting His standards. An example is the Passover lamb, which was to be without blemish. The Israelites were not allowed to use livestock or produce from Gentiles or foreigners as offerings because they were contaminated. The very land metaphorically vomited them out. Consequently, the offerings we produce should emanate from the work of our own hands and not from any ill-gotten gains. When we give an offering, it should come from pure unsullied motives.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
How often have we wished we could live some part of our lives over again to correct a wrong? In discussing second chances, David Maas reveals that God gives us not only second chances but multiple chances to change our character for the better in preparation for His Kingdom.
Who or what is the new man? Charles Whitaker explains that the new man is Jesus Christ Himself, living in us by His Spirit!
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that Matthew, a former publican, wrote an orderly account of the Gospel easily outlined and analyzed. This account included Christ's genealogy, the circumstances of His birth, John the Baptist's introduction of Christ, Christ's presentation to the local congregation, the sermon on the mount (a collection of sayings that Matthew had collected over 30 years), the rising of the opposition (Pharisees, Sadducees, and local synagogue leaders), the installation of Jesus' personal staff (the twelve apostles), ordinary men ranging from a hated publican to a revolutionary zealot to a plain blue collar contractor, and working men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, called not so much for their current abilities, but as to what they would become by yielding to God, much the same as it is for all of us. The commission to the disciples evolves from their preliminary marching orders to go to the House of Israel to their ultimate commission of going to the Gentiles. The observation is made that the disciples seem to appear in groups of four, with one disciple assuming the leadership position of each group. Jesus warns His disciples then and now to be aware of persecution from inside the church, the government (incited by slander and libel) and our own families. Jesus cautions us never to fear or show timidity because our lives are entirely in God's hands and He will provide us whatever resources we need to overcome and build character in our brief 70 to 80 years we are allotted to live in mortal flesh. If we remain steadfastly loyal to God, we will experience abundant life in His family and Kingdom. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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