Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
Martin Collins, reminding us that God has designed the human condition to be governed by a series of life-or-death choices, focuses on the life-choices of Gideon as a source of encouragement to us all. Gideon, whom the writer of the Book of Hebrews included in the "Faith Chapter," began his life as a coward, became a conqueror, and ended a compromiser, all the while needing continuous assurances from God to bolster his flagging faith. Gideon wondered 1.) whether God really cared about him, 2.) whether God knew what He was doing, 3.) whether God would take care of him and 4.) whether God would keep His promises. To this anxiety-laden man, God demonstrated His faithfulness and forbearance, in stark contrast to Gideon's continuous tests and childish demands, disturbing traits that some of us also display. We must learn that God always keeps His promises and cares for us so much that He is willing to chasten us to bring us to life-saving repentance. As His workmanship, we receive God's personal attention, guiding us through the baby steps needed as He strengthens our wobbly faith, giving us increasingly more abilities as the scope of our tasks increases. As God answered all four of Gideon's questions in the affirmative, He will do the same for those who are going through faith-testing trials. As God incrementally built Gideon's faith, allowing him to prove it privately before he would take a public stand, God will do the same for us, knowing that our frame is weak and frail, totally helpless without the power of His Holy Spirit.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
John Ritenbaugh, comparing the events of the day of Noah with today's society, suggests that the explosion of knowledge taking place has an enervating and wearying effect. While the world's never-ending news is distracting us, Satan has another scheme operating, diluting Israel's integrity and power by the illegal immigration schemes devised by liberal 'progressive' and 'humanistic' mindsets. Foreigners that European countries invited in to help with the labor shortage brought in the radical Islamic culture, destabilizing the host culture. Economically, the alien has enslaved modern Israel by becoming the lender, putting an iron yoke around the necks of the people in the host nations, as described by the curses in Deuteronomy 28. The Tower of Babel provides a record of what happens when people mass together, combining their skills for an evil purpose. God set the Israelitish people in the choice parts of the world, giving them instructions to dress and keep it, giving the Gentiles other portions of the world, distributing the population in an orderly manner. Barack Obama has proved himself a Gentile leader, not qualified to serve as king over modern Israel, a leader loyal to Muslim principles, hostile to America, hostile to biblical principles and the covenant made between Israel and God. By voting in this regime, we have laid the groundwork for Israel's destruction. If things continue the way they are, Americans will be prisoners in their own homes, as Gideon was in the face of the Midianites. A precursor already took place in Paris, with the Muslims rioting in France in 2005. ISIS is on our doorstep, attempting to make America a Muslim nation under Sharia law. There is a spirit, steeped in abject hatred for the 'host' country, influencing the Jihadist mind. The Muslims know who they are; secular Americans (who have glommed onto multi-culturalism) do not have a clue. Strangers who assimilate into God's way of life are considered as natives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, suggesting that nothing is more dramatic than the blast of a trumpet, notes that alarm or warning is a primary function of a horn. Israel, spread out over a huge area, used a complex system of trumpet blasts to convey lifesaving information. Silver trumpets were used to call assembly, to direct movement, to call to war, to signal days of gladness, Holy days, new moons, sacrifices and offerings, announcing Jubilee, worship, and the coronation of a king. One of the reasons for the blowing of trumpets is a memorial of a past significant event, Yom Teruah, depicting the covenant relationship with God, a time to glorify and praise God. The second reason was to give direction, to advance into battle, or to take refuge. The third reason to blow the trumpet was to make an announcement, announcing a significant event like the Jubilee or the first and second coming of Israel's king and Messiah. A fourth use of the trumpet blast is to provide warning, motivating us to repent and to protect us from cataclysmic upheaval and the dreadful Day of the Lord and God's wrath, a time no one can endure without God's supernatural protection.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Israel's version of the valiant 300 under the leadership of Gideon, states that God did not promise Israel deliverance at the time of their idolatry and disobedience because they knew better. God first encounters Gideon cowering in a winepress, ironically calling him a "mighty man of valor," prophetically forecasting Gideon's role as a savior of Israel, rescuing them from the Midianites. Gideon incrementally moved from a position of weakness and fear to a position of strength and valor as he started to trust increasingly in God. Gideon's army had to be whittled down from 32,000 to 300 by a series of tests designed to weed out the fearful, leaving a 450 to 1 ratio in favor of the Midianites, ensuring that God would get the credit for the victory. Gideon's 300 men seemed like a million men to the Midianites, throwing them into utter confusion, fighting one another in the darkness. Gideon's army did not have to fight.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that amidst the erosion of doctrine in truth from the Gentile culture of moral relativism, we must, after the manner of Jeremiah and Nehemiah, build a wall, be a wall, and summon the courage to stand in the gap. We must stay focused in our thinking, girding up the loins of our minds, submitting to the will of God, realizing that in these perilous times we will be hated by the many. Conforming to God will set us apart, sanctify us, separating us from the world, making us a virtual wall. Our determination will determine the strength or the durability of this wall. Building a wall requires standing, holding firm, showing alertness and a readiness for action- even if it requires self-denial and unpleasant dirty work, ultimately aspiring to know God, living as He lives, cleansing ourselves from filth and becoming holy.
In this lead-off sermon of the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh draws an instructive though disturbing parallel between the warning given to Belshazzar and the warning given to the greater church of God. A major contributory cause in the splitting of the church has been the wholesale rejection of the doctrines Herbert Armstrong, under God's inspiration, worked to restore. When the shepherd was smitten, false teachers systematically undermined the faith once delivered. We need to realize that if God were not with Herbert Armstrong in those formative years, then indeed the handwriting is on the wall for us. We desperately need to hold fast to those doctrines restored through Herbert Armstrong's ministry.
John Ritenbaugh poses the question of whether technology really improves our character or quality of life. Are we really better people because we ride around in cars rather than walk? Technology, because of the spin it puts on expectations, can be a great source of discouragement and disillusionment when applying this heightened sense of expectation to God's seemingly slow and deliberate performance. Technology makes us susceptible to the 'quick fix' mentality, expecting dramatic miraculous solutions to all problems, making us susceptible to frauds and even deceptive demonic influence (Matthew 24:24; II Thessalonians 2:9-10; Revelation 13:13). When it comes to developing character, a quick fix miracle will not substitute for patient overcoming. God only works miracles consistent with His purpose (bearing witness to truth), not for any selfish desires on our part.
Most of us would like God to respond and instantly gratify our desires. Consequently, because we desire instant gratification, we find operating by faith extremely difficult. We think that God does not seem in all that big of a hurry. We look at time differently than God does because, like Abraham, Moses, and Gideon, we do not trust that He has things under control. As we encounter our own Red Seas, our faith gets exercised and toughened. In His infinite patience, God, as the Master Teacher, uses His time to instruct us so that, despite frequent failure, we will eventually grow in faith and get turned around. Faith is the quality that a person exercises between the time he becomes aware of a need he hopes for and its actual attainment. Like a muscle, the more we exercise faith, the more it grows. God will manipulate our experiences to make both our weakness and His power clear.
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.
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