David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
Martin Collins, continuing his exposition on the Post-Resurrection Last Words of Christ, focuses on the statements Jesus made to Thomas, the disciple who demanded empirical proof of His resurrection, reminding us, who also did not witness the Resurrection, to particularly heed Christ's comments to him. Jesus admonishes us "do not be unbelieving, but believing," and "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:27-28). When Jesus invited Thomas to put his hands into the wounds, Thomas not only refrained, but gave the most powerful testimonial ever recorded in scripture. We would be presumptuous to cast aspersions on Thomas, using the world's cliché "Doubting Thomas," as he was a man more brave than most of us would have been confronted with similar circumstances. Nor should we presume to ask of our Lord any more assuring signs and miracles than He has already provided through the systematic testimonials provided by the scriptures. Jesus assures us that the cultivation of the type of faith documented in the Gospel accounts accrues abundant and incredible blessings, including knowledge that by faith, we (1) become children of God, (2) have eternal life, (3) are delivered from judgment, (4) receive spiritual satisfaction now, (5) are equipped with the means for entering the final resurrection, (6) become blessings to others, (7) see the glory of God, (8) abide in darkness no longer, (9) are blessed with a fruitful life, and (10) receive the benefits of Christ's prayers on our behalf.
David Maas, anticipating the forthcoming Passover, and the stern warning from the apostle Paul that we thoroughly examine ourselves, cautions us to be very careful how we undertake this self-examination. We must realize that (1) taking the Passover in an unworthy manner can result in serious physical or spiritual hazards, (2) trying to use our own resources without a dialogue with our Creator is a hopeless exercise in futility, (3) substituting normal remorse or worldly sorrow instead of conviction from God's Holy Spirit will bring about a downward spiral to despair and death, and (4) conducting a superficial, general self-examination will yield less than optimal fruit. Rather, self-examination should be specific, referencing personal failings God has exposed. It should also focus on a sober and realistic comparison between our personal, fledgling fruit and the maximally mature fruit demonstrated by our Savior Jesus Christ. Tares and noxious weeds exist both in the Church and our own divided (that is, carnal versus and spiritual) minds. As we are mandated to put out the leaven, we are also obligated to pull out by the roots the poisonous weeds which threaten to strangle our access to God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the people everywhere seem frazzled, distressed, and terrified as a dark, evil, sinister force seems to be engulfing the world. The continued angst from dealing with this continual pathogenic zeitgeist threatens to render all of us, including God's called-out ones, into a state of hopelessness, apathy, depression, with absolutely no reason to ever expect a positive outcome. The church must forcefully deal with this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness or it too will succumb to this terrifying vortex of despair. We live in the same kind of cultural milieu as Noah before the world perished in the Great Flood. Over the past few centuries, and especially the last 70 or 80 years, the 'liberal', 'progressive' humanist philosophers and educators have successfully hi-jacked the minds of our populace, steering them totally clear from any reliance upon God by poisoning their minds with the patently illogical theory of evolution, forced upon unwary, naïve minds as fact and truth. The Day of Trumpets militates against this foolishness by restoring hope for the establishment of God's Kingdom which will permanently terminate decay, sin, and death. As God's called-out ones, we are fish swimming against a violent current, compelled to turn to God and keep His Commandments when the rest of the world rejects Him. As God gave the original Promised Land to Jacob's children, He also gave the North American continent (largely virgin territory) to the descendants of Jacob. In 240 years, we have indulged in affluence, but forgetting its Provider.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the Roman Catholic Church's teaching that suicide constitutes a mortal sin, demanding punishment in eternal hell fire, focuses on a poignant movie in which Denzel Washington portrays a man, desirous to commit suicide, who sacrificed his life for a noble cause of enabling someone else to live. In America today, suicide is the leading cause of death, surpassing automobile collisions, and this insidious plague shows no signs of abating in the immediate future. A major contributory factor of suicide is the liberal progressive education in the public schools, brainwashing young people into thinking their lives are of no more importance than that of an insect. The politically correct mindset, making it a federal crime to harbor orthodox biblical beliefs without being branded a homophobe or bigot, plagues many God-fearing people. If we have become tainted by this progressivist poison, we can attain the antidote through the healing pages of the Scripture, which affirm that God crafted all of us uniquely to serve a purpose in His divine plan. Contrary to liberal progressive propaganda, we are neither mindless insects nor yellow pencils, but uniquely fashioned and set apart for a godly purpose. No two human beings are alike; all have a unique (albeit often unknown or forgotten function. If our lives are in sync with God's purposes, when we are in harmony with God, we will never want to commit suicide.
Martin Collins, citing statistics from the World Health Organization, identifies suicide as the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds, immediately following homicide and accidents. It is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages, snuffing out 105 lives each day and 300,000 per year. Contributory factors for this evil include depression, deteriorating family life, media glorification, and the pervasive drug culture. The progressive liberal culture, promoting early sexuality, self-esteem, and self-love since the early 1950’s, have not factored in the inconvenient truth that the brain development of a young adult often does not coalesce until the age of 25. The perverse self-absorption promoted by our current culture is a major contributory cause of suicide because individuals feel they are responsible only to themselves, forgetting that God is the giver of all life and owns us totally. We are not our own; we belong to God. Suicide is a direct breaking of the Sixth Commandment. The antidote to suicide is to replace the twisted, skewed, self-absorbed mindset with a determination to serve others, taking upon ourselves the yoke of Jesus Christ, who alone is able to heal a broken heart.
John Ritenbaugh, in this installment of his exposé of the philosophers who have drastically changed the course of world history through their writings, delves into the life of Karl Marx, the angry, rage-filled, madman from Trier, who is responsible for the mass murder of upwards to 200 million people—perpetrated by his dutiful disciples Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. Marx, born into a Jewish family, but baptized a Lutheran in his youth, wrote poems encouraging people to turn to Christ, but later turned his back on any semblance of religion, following instead the mindset of Satan in Isaiah 14, clenching his fist at the Creator, whom Marx claimed had put him in a state of despair. With demonic fury, this dark fellow from Trier, uttered the malediction, “I have the power to crush you with tempestuous force.” One acquaintance of Marx characterized him as an insane man, raging as if “10,000 demons had him by the hair.” Though he never was in a position to evoke a revolution on his own, he has cultivated millions of sycophantic followers around the globe.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that we live in a changing, uncertain world, reminds us that human nature dislikes and resists change. The blatantly evil changes brought about by secular progressive legislation and federal judges declaring that sin is righteousness and righteousness is sin threaten to upend even the most stalwart. If it weren't for our calling and God's special revelation, we would all have ulcers and nervous breakdowns. The fact that God has handpicked us from the billions that live and have lived on the earth should give us a quiet confidence that God Almighty is providentially caring for us. The key to our abiding sanity is to dwell on God's plan for us and humanity, following Jesus Christ's example to focus on the future when God's Kingdom will bring to an end the foolishness of man's rule. In the meantime, we are instructed to be strong, bold, and of good cheer because Christ has already overcome the world and has promised to never leave us in our perilous but highly rewarding spiritual journey. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ .The forces that are with us are greater than the combined strength of the world's forces. It would be more profitable to ruminate on our blessings rather than the world's problems.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that the two principle themes of Book One of the Psalms are the Torah, or the instruction of God, and the Messiah, or God's Anointed, set apart for a particular purpose—His Son whom He has sent to rule and judge the world. The Messiah is the perfect model of all that instruction. We need to absorb God's instruction and develop a personal relationship with the Son, understanding His character and personality. We have to know the word of God—His instruction—and the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Part of Psalm 19 is a precursor to Psalm 119, honoring the Law, while the opening portion focuses on the creative power of the Son. The creation, as we witness with the naked eye, shows design, order, and precision, enabling mankind to calculate years, seasons, and times, allowing us an insight into the mind of Almighty God. The Creator is infinitely greater than the whole galaxy and the whole universe. Man foolishly worships things that God created, but ignores the Creator. The Law of the Lord has been given to us personally by Yahweh (Jesus Christ), to guard us against making mistakes and presumptuous sins. The words He gives us in His written Word makes the creation more real. Jesus Christ cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word. The third prominent theme in Book One of the Psalms is trust and faith in God. We must live by faith, especially now when harassment and hatred is leveled at Christianity. David, in the midst of Absalom's rebellion, expressed confidence that God still heard him in the midst of what appears to be temporary disaster. David knew that God was his shield and would ultimately deliver the victory to him. Psalm 37 is an instructive psalm, counseling us not to be agitated or unduly concerned about the wicked, reminding us that God will cut off the wicked and will give us salvation. Nothing good will ever come of envious, burning wrath. If we trust in the Lord, doing something positive, He will give us the desires of our heart.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is a time to tear [or rend] and a time to sew [or mend], delves into the Middle Eastern cultural practice of tearing garments as an expression of grief or despair. When God became upset with Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two as a torn garment. In the Amos 9 millennial prophecy, God declares that He will ultimately mend the torn garment upon Israel's repentance. When Saul, in panic, seized Samuel's mantle tearing it, Samuel used the tearing as a symbol, indicating the kingdom would be torn from Saul. The practice of rending clothes symbolizes sorrow, agony, despair, and hopelessness, a realization that God alone can restore the profound loss. When Job lost his family to death, his natural reaction was to rend his garments. Joshua and Caleb, not high priests, tore their garments in despair at the testimony of the evil spies. Ezra tore his garments when he learned that his people had been desecrating and polluting God's Holy Law. Mordecai tore his clothes in despair for the imminent demise of his people. Hezekiah and Josiah tore their clothes as a sign of repentance in an effort to demonstrate to God that they felt profound disgrace at the collective sins of the people and were intending to make the crooked ways of their ancestors straight again. Paul tore his clothes in horror when people were attempting to worship him as a Greek god. Because the office of priest was to embody hope, priestly garments, under no circumstances, were to be torn. Aaron was forbidden to tear his priestly garments at the death of his sons for using profane fire. The high priest Caiaphas blasphemously defied God's prohibition against rending priestly garments. Because Christ, our High Priest, never gave into hopelessness, His garments were not torn. The prophet Joel, admonishing us to rend our hearts in repentance, rather than our garments, assures us the even in the fearful, dreadful Day of the Lord there is hope if we turn to God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that a conundrum or paradox exists in Ecclesiastes 7:15, admonishes us that we do not leave God out of the picture when we evaluate the twists and turns of our uncertain lives. Because we realize God is involved, we should learn to roll with the punches, refraining from judging God's motives in a negative light. We will never see the entire picture (looking through a glass darkly) until the fullness of time. There is no complacency in God's involvement with His Creation, even though our human nature, prompted by bitterness and despair, might carelessly assume that God is not closely involved with His creation. For God's called-out ones, trials are the tools God uses to test our faith; we must learn to trust God in these situations, neither giving up nor striving to impress God with our super-righteousness, which paradoxically militates against our relationship with God, subjecting us to Satan's wiles. Christians are not immune from disease, injury, or horrendous times; we should not assume it is punishment from God for our sins. God did not allow Job to go through horrendous trials because of his sins, nor did Jesus go through His suffering and crucifixion because of His sins. Each and every one of us has our own trials; we are not being punished. Trials are a means to produce spiritual growth, unless we resort to super-righteousness, straining to please God by exalting our works.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
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.
The author of Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches us not to despise the rigors, the difficulties, that come from God, but to take them as evidence of God’s work with us: "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons ..."
Leviticus 4 and 5 contain the instructions for the sin and trespass offerings. John Ritenbaugh explains that sin and human nature affect everyone in society—from king to commoner—but God has covered sin from every angle in the sacrifice of His Son.
Martin Collins assures us that even loyal servants of God, the stalwart pioneers of faith, have had to contend with major depression and discouragement. Following the categorizing of several types of depressive conditions, he analyzes the major contributory spiritual and electro-chemical factors in these psychological states. Godly antidotes to depression include rest, refocus, right expectations, and obedient actions. If we 1) focus on the awesome Creator, 2) remember the spiritual goal, 3) pray and study daily, 4) be patient with self, others, and God, 5) be content, 6) be positive, making each day count, and 7) be faithful to God, we can overcome depression. Not eliminating stress but perceiving God's sovereign control will determine our success in this struggle.
We all have low days on occasion, but when our despondency turns to self-pity, we have a problem. The "woe is me" attitude can mire us in stagnation and severely hamper our growth because self-pity is just another form of self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the value of understanding sovereignty as a basic foundational doctrine, providing a link between knowledge and practice as well as providing motivation to yield and conform to God's purpose for us. Understanding sovereignty (1) exalts the supremacy of God and our veneration of Him, (2) destroys any possibility of salvation by works, (3) gives us a deep sense of humility, (4) provides a solid foundation for true religion, (5) provides absolute security, and (6) greatly aids us to be resigned to God's will.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable energizing capacity of hope. In the familiar triumvirate (faith, hope, and love) faith serves as the foundation, love serves as the goal, and hope serves as the great motivator or energizer. Unique among the religions, Christianity, with its expectation of a Messiah and the promise of a resurrection, looks expectantly to the future,embracing hope. Motivated by their calling into the new covenant (1 John 3:1-3) Christians anticipating a magnificent future glorification, are energized by this God-inspired hope to overcome the impossible and rejoice in temporary trials.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh explores the topic of visions and dreams from the biblical point of view. Visions and dreams, used very rarely by God to communicate to people (God does not play around with people's minds), must be corroborated by scripture or God's law to establish their veracity. The second chapter of Lamentations, preceding the first chapter in time sequence, describes the stunning and disorienting shock of seeing the total systematic devastation and utter destruction of something formerly considered indestructible, and realizing that God was responsible for the devastation. The prophets and the religious leaders bear the greatest blame for this destruction by providing a quasi-religion (with smooth and feel-good teachings condoning sin) and not teaching the Law of God.
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