Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that counting Pentecost should not be a thoughtless, mechanical act, but should involve deep reflection as to how God has steered our lives and as to how we are managing the spiritual resources He has graciously given each of us. The fifty days towards Pentecost likely symbolize the fifty years (on average) from the day of our baptism to the day we fall asleep. The Megilloth which we examine each Pentecost contains a fascinating narrative of a strong, enduring woman who outlived a relatively fearful husband and two sons. Naomi's attractive personality, selflessness, Godly conviction and common sense characterize her relationship with her Gentile daughters-in-law. She won the heart of her daughter-in law, Ruth. Despite her godly qualities, Naomi had a negative attribute: Her inability to believe that, through all her trials, God was working for the good of her and her family. Her request to be called Mara (or bitterness), rooted in her conviction that God had abandoned her, anticipates attitudes that many of God's called-out ones feel when overwhelmed by an experience we cannot understand. God, who knows the end from the beginning, realizes that we need a measure of affliction to stay on the trajectory that He has prepared for us. We need to emulate Naomi's godly behaviors, while shunning her inability to faithfully see God's hand at work in our lives.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were truly "big deal" foundational promises impacting the lives of multiple billions of lives up to the present day and that Abraham and that Abraham could fathom them only by calculating within his limited nervous system. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel, advice which all God's called-out ones are obliged to follow. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works automatically follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham (as well as Abel and others before him, and David and others after him) realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring (Abraham's spiritual seed, which included the Gentiles) who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
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 focuses upon vision - an especially vivid picture in the mind's eye (undergirded by faith, scriptural revelation, and prompted by God's Holy Spirit) to anticipate and plan for events and results which have not yet occurred. This foresight or revelation, strengthened by analyzing, comparing, and applying scriptural principles, produces a common (or uncommon) sensical prudence of conduct, insuring that a person's life (temporal or eternal) is preserved and plans fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
In this study, John Ritenbaugh teaches us that Abraham's iron clad faith was developed incrementally as a result of calculating or "adding it all up," matching the promises of God (perceiving His overall intent) with the current situation, realizing from his ongoing relationship with God, that it was impossible for Him to lie. We learn from Abraham's experience to trust God even when we have incomplete data. We learn from Abraham's experience, that when we attempt to take the expedient way out (embracing a carnal or worldly solution), we will run into grave difficulties- forcing us back to the fundamentals of faith. As descendents of Abraham, we must learn to trust God, forming an on-going relationship with Him, realizing that God's ways and the world's ways do not mix.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh examines the three levels of faith exercised by the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11: (1) Faith that motivates (2) Faith that provides vision, and (3) Faith that brings understanding- accumulated incrementally by calculating or adding up the evidence God has provided for us. Abraham, the father of the faithful, did not have a 'blind faith,' but it was based upon observation of God's proven track record of faithfulness. Like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, or Moses, we are also called upon to give up a relatively stable life (the seeming 'rock solid' certainty of world) and embrace the tenuous life of a pilgrim, soberly calculating or adding up the certainty of God's promises- based upon God's proven faithfulness in our life- relying on the motivation, vision, and understanding of an incrementally developed mature faith.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
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