Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Psalm 83:4-8, which describes the hideous character traits of Israel's ancient enemies, identifies descendants of Amalek, a particularly proud and hate-filled man, assembling a confederacy of vengeful peoples having ties to the lineage of Ishmael and Esau, all bearing an ever-burning hatred for the descendants of Jacob. The descendants of Esau (the Edomites) have perpetually hated the descendants of Jacob, pursuing them with a sword, cowardly attacking the weakest, showing no pity, constantly nurturing their wrath in supercilious satanic pride. As a result of Saul's failure to follow God's instruction to eliminate all the Amalekites, their remnants later re-emerged in Persia, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Haman was the treacherous and deceitful offspring of King Agag, and Mordecai was the godly descendant of King Saul. Their pairing in the Book of Esther provides a sequel to the unfinished story of I Samuel 15. Haman, like a 5th century Hitler plotting a 5th century holocaust, hated Mordecai so much (because he would not bow down to him) that he wanted to destroy his entire people. Tricking the gullible and inept King Ahasuerus to execute a genocidal order against the Jews, promising a sizeable cash bounty for the execution of the so-called "enemies to the state," Haman cast lots to determine the day this would be carried out. God, controlling the outcome of the fall, sovereignly, allowed enough time for Mordecai and Esther to foil the plan. As a sort of poetic justice, God brought about the execution of Haman and evil sons on the very pole the deceitful schemer has created for the purpose of slaying Mordecai. The Israel of God still lives in perilous times when the descendants of Amalek are ready to decapitate God's people. For their implacable hatred -put into-action, God will blot out the name of Amalek and descendants forever.
Richard Ritenbaugh, marveling about biblical scholars' tying themselves into knots as they consider the proper genre for the book of the Esther— parable, comedy (in the classical sense), chronicle, morality play or fictional drama —reminds us that God wants us to study the Bible in depth, including the symbolic connections, but especially the plot and characterization, integral parts of the book of Esther. Mordecai, identified as a Benjamite (the tribe with a checkered past), lives and behaves as a man of God should, both an ideal Jew and a typical Jew, exiled as an aristocrat, an ethnic Jew related to King Saul, with special abilities from God, adopting his orphaned cousin Hadassah as his own daughter. Mordecai's sterling character does not change, but remains the standard against which all the other characters are judged, serving as a type of God, an invisible guiding force, concealing and protecting Hadassah from danger. Haman the Agagite is an evil, power-hungry schemer, a Satan-like being, the nemesis of the Jews, including Mordecai and Esther and King Ahasuerus. Esther is a Jewess living in a pagan culture, with a name referring to the goddess of love. Her Hebrew name represents a white flower with a perfume more exquisite than the rose. Just as Mordecai conceals Esther, God conceals His people in secret places under the shadow of His wings, in the sanctuary—the fellowship of the Church. Like Esther, we are pawns at the beginning of our conversion, but we must change dramatically to love God with all our hearts, actively doing His commandments, growing spiritually in responsibility as did Esther, who grew from her initial passive role to taking one of leadership, and that in sharp contrast to King Xerxes, an alcoholic whose advisers easily manipulate.
Josh Montgomery, drawing on his experiences in internet marketing, describes how some have manipulated the search engines, using key word saturation to give unscrupulous bloggers and 'experts' the ability to distort the truth and create an alternate reality totally at variance with the truth. Satan has successfully deceived the whole world, conditioning nominal Christianity to appropriate pagan festivals as 'Christian' celebrations and creating an alternate perspective of God that is not true. With this false, impotent picture of God that Satan has created, other lies, such as evolution and false toxic doctrines, can be substituted by godless teachers and institutions. Our only antidote to this barrage of lies and distortion is to stay close to God's Word, trusting continually in His providence and His promises to protect us as we obey Him and stay close to Him.
Martin Collins, cuing in on an article which poses the question, "Why does not mainstream Christianity attract more men?" affirms that most mainstream churches have become feminized, with many men who may call themselves "Christian" feeling bored and disengaged from the component they really need—namely, real masculine leadership. Their malaise is a result of suave metro-sexual pastors who are "ripping women off" by making the church too much about nurturing and caring and relationships. Every nation which has descended from Israel has experienced a steady decline of lack of masculinity in leaders. Biblical examples reveal that even our patriarchs, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had serious deficits in masculine leadership regarding child-rearing practices. David, a man after God's own heart, for the most part, was a flop at child-rearing, being far too lenient and indulgent, but finally coming to his senses when he gave Solomon instructions for leading Israel. Masculine leadership has little to do with marriage and fathering children. Rather it is most clearly demonstrated by men who embrace God's commandments, love and protect their wives rather than abnegating authority to them and, finally, point their children to a love of God's truth. David's final words to Solomon, mirroring Moses' final words to Joshua, were to be strong and courageous, walking perpetually in God's laws and statutes, promising that, if he would do so, there would never lack a man on the throne of Israel. Manhood is defined by God, not by some kind of macho rite of passage established by man's culture. If men in God's church cannot love their wives and take charge of the education of their offspring, instructing them to fear and respect God, leading by example rather than mere words, they are not qualified to be leaders or overseers in the church nor kings and priests in God's Kingdom. As the world degenerates, true masculine leadership as defined by God will be increasingly needed.
Martin Collins, suggesting that, while society has rejected religious principles and faith, it has glommed onto superficial feelingséwhatever feels good to us. Today's Christianity is more theatrics than theological; feelings have become the replacement for faith. When we stifle the truth of God's word to accommodate feelings, we destroy spiritual growth and character. Satan works on our feelings continually, causing us to worry about the past and be anxious about the future. There is a right place for emotions. No one can have a right balance in emotions without God's Holy Spirit. Too many submerge their feeling into their subconscious, causing aberrant social behaviors such as injustice collectors (that is, martyrs), pleasers, control freaks, and compulsive talkers, all of whom are out of sync with harmonic natural laws. As Christians, we need to thoroughly examine the causes of our damaged emotions, asking God how we may repair the damage. Our feelings should be channeled on obeying God from the heart, rejoicing in our calling or rescue. We cannot create feelings; the more we try the more miserable we become. Feelings, as well as temperament, dependent upon many variables, cannot be successfully controlled without help from God's Holy Spirit. Truth is primarily an intellectual stimulus rather than an emotional illness. It is important for us to regularly engage in self-examination, judging our own sins, and turning ourselves over to God, allowing Him to test the quality and strength of our faith. The fruits of God's Holy Spirit transcend feelings. Stirring up God's Spirit will enable us to control and channel our feelings. We need to seek righteousness instead of thrills. Happiness is a by-product of seeking righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, relating four Scriptures pertaining to Pentecost (comprising 700 years in fulfillment), suggests that God does not regard time the same way as we do. Spiritual entities, such as word and ideas, are powerful and potentially dangerous if used for evil purposes. We can be easily manipulated if we do not guard our minds. Politicians and advertisers unscrupulously use the prevailing Zeitgeist to manipulate, trap, and control gullible people. Spirit is an invisible force, the effects of which are abundantly clear by its manifestations. Spirit can be discerned by carefully thinking through and taking stock of its multiple effects. The Holy Spirit can be described as the mind and creative power of Almighty God. The spirit in man is an immaterial quality that empowers, giving the power of intellect, controlling the sensory modalities, giving us the ability to be self-aware. Spirit gives humans the power to think spatially, use language, invent, and plan for the future. We have never seen this spirit, but we use it every day. Words have the invisible power to encode thoughts, motivating people to feel or accomplish something. Words can inspire or defile, motivate or depress. The source of all sin is in the spirit or thought processes. Satan and his demonic forces use words to corrupt the vast majority of humankind, including ourselves. The only antidote to these vile thought processes is the Word of God. We have been mandated to choose to either follow God's pure, liberating, and clean Holy Spirit rather than to choose to yield to Satan's unholy, vile, enslaving, and dirty spirit. We absorb God's Holy Spirit by imbibing in His Word, spending as much time with God as possible.
Unless we are employed in a maritime occupation or have a particular interest in sailboats, we probably do not know a great deal about sailing. Using Paul's analogy in Ephesians 4:14, Gary Montgomery teaches a handy nautical maneuver, discussing how the steady, contrary winds of this world's way of life can be overcome by adjusting our sails to make spiritual headway.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
In this Bible Study, John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon several abuses of one of God's gifts to mankind — eating and drinking. While drunkenness and gluttony indicate self-centeredness, lack of discipline, often leading to poverty and ill health, moderation in all things is the way to glorify God in our bodies. God's called out ones must exercise moderation in their approach to eating of food, imbibing of alcohol, and excesses of anything in which there might be a possibility of borderline conduct. God has provided the blessing of (1) family union, (2) food and drink, (3) clothing, and (4) work with the condition that we exercise responsible stewardship over these gifts practicing moderation in all things.
In the third part of this series, John Ritenbaugh uses the Beast power of Revelation 13 to compare with God's sovereignty. Who will we yield to in the coming years?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that a spiritual Israelite, following Jacob's example, undergoes a metamorphosis in which his own stubborn, self-centered will is broken so that God's creative work can be completed within him. Abraham, whose very name connotes faithfulness, learned to work through fearful catch-22 dilemmas, walking by faith rather than sight, carefully calculating on the basis of his previous and on-going relationship with God. Likewise, God today, as master teacher, carefully and methodically guides His students to higher levels of understanding and trust. We need to exercise devotion to God (faith, works, and worship) in every area of our life, from marriage, work, or human relationships- coupling iron clad faith with concrete works of obedience.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the maxim that 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree,' suggests that the nation of Israel and the Israel of God, having the same aggresive, controlling, and contentious spirit as their forefather Jacob, must learn to let God provide blessings rather than, through crafty scheming, grabbing them from others for themselves. As Jacob had to pay with a lame hip, his offspring may have to suffer privation, scattering, having their pride of their power broken, and eventual captivity until they learn that Israel means 'God prevails' and it is God who orders life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that to the called, nothing happens in a vacuum and "time and chance" no longer applies. Like a proactive, responsible parent, God restricts free moral agency to keep His children from getting hurt. Through His foresight and foreknowledge, God provides the perfect timing for what He wants to bring about. We have to exercise faith, realizing the timing will be right for us, enabling us to accept His provisions and decisions for us without fear or anxiety. We need to realize from the example of our forefather Jacob, that manipulation, deceit, and contentious struggle will not prevail against Almighty God. When properly translated Israel means "God prevails."
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 warns that those who have made a covenant with God can be seduced or corrupted unless they make a concerted effort to know God. Knowing God means to realize that God has the right and the power to do with any one of us as He pleases. John the Baptist, when he saw his influence waning, graciously and humbly acquiesced to God's desire, realizing who was in control. Like David and Christ in Psalm 22:6, metaphorically comparing themselves to worms, we must humbly acknowledge our insignificance as well as our gratitude for our calling.
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
John Ritenbaugh explains the context in which a tenant farmer would find a buried treasure after the original inhabitant had meticulously hid it fleeing from an invading army. Our calling resembles this parable and the Parable of the Pearl of great price; we seemingly stumble upon it accidentally and intuitively realize its priceless value. The parable of the Dragnet again describes the culling process God uses to separate the truly committed from those mildly interested. God brings forth people from every walk of life with a whole array of skills and talents- gifts that God intends His called-out ones to use for the good of the whole congregation. We need to make sure that a prejudice, 'experience', weakness, or blind-spot on our part does not become a barrier to God's truth. Regarding Jesus siblings, He had at least three sisters and four brothers. Chapter 14 begins with the lurid and grizzly details of the beheading of John the Baptist, caused in part by the blind ambition of Salome's mother as well as Herod's guilty conscience after John the Baptist exposed his blatant adultery and lust. The next part of the study delves into the incredible miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, an example of Christ multiplying the meager talents and capabilities of His disciples. If we yield our gifts and talents to God's work or service, He will multiply them, accomplishing more than we could possibly do by ourselves. The miracle demonstrates both God's principle of generosity as well as the responsible stewardship of physical resources. The last part of chapter 14 delves into Jesus walking on the water and Peter's well-meaning, but abortive exercise in faith. Like Peter, we must keep our focus upon Christ rather than the surrounding physical circumstances. Faith operates when we cannot see what we hope for. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]