We all have stories of people we know or have known who experienced separation from friends and family due to their beliefs. ...
Mike Ford, asking us to thoughtfully calculate the cost of our discipleship, warns us about the perils of looking, using the metaphor of plowing a furrow with a plow behind an animal. Looking back is dangerous because we may plow a crooked furrow and get hopelessly off course. Consequently, we must soberly count the cost before we embark on plowing our spiritual furrow: are we willing to give up our job, our family, or even our own life to follow God's plan for us? Can we really say that God's requirements are far too difficult? Sometimes, our family members may turn against us. The survey of Genesis reveals multiple instances of loss, forcing each biblical character to count the cost. Examples include Adam and Eve (losing two sons and a daughter), Noah (losing all but a few members of his family), Abraham (separating from his father, his nephew Lot, from Ishmael, and in his mind losing Isaac), Isaac and Rebecca (losing the companionship of both their sons, Jacob (losing the companionship of Joseph, Joseph (losing his family for an extended period of time. All these were willing to pay a high price in anticipation of something exceedingly greater. Many of us, after our calling, have had to give up the intimacy of our extended and often our immediate family. Our calling has been exceedingly expensive by the death of our Elder Brother, who had to endure a brief separation from God the Father. Our role as kings and priests and members of God's family will enable us to renew relationships with friends and family which have temporarily become estranged but not permanently lost.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that religious and cultural differences, especially the raging Western-Islamic conflict, will become the fault lines of dangerous conflicts and clashes of civilizations. The King of the South (Daniel 11:40) might be a confederation of Arab nations continually at war with the people of Israel. Psalm 83 identifies such a confederation that continually harasses Israel'events that appear in today‚s headlines. The Bible's characterization of Ishmael, Esau, Amalek, Moab, and Ammon fit the national traits of present-day, anti-Western Arab peoples. Numerous prophecies (including Nahum, Zephaniah, and Amos) predict the eventual demise of their evil efforts. Throughout history, the Kings of the North and the South, always reckoned from the viewpoint of Jerusalem, have changed identities, but the principal players of the conflict exist today in the bitter conflict between militant Islam fundamentalism and the West.
John Ritenbaugh examines the life and accomplishments of perhaps the most under-appreciated patriarch in scripture. Having lived longer than any of the other noted patriarchs, Isaac's longevity provides a clue about God's favor toward him. The etymology of his given name ("laughter") suggests his optimistic happy disposition, someone not afflicted by fear and doubt. As Abraham serves as a type of God the Father, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. In contrast to sons of great, overshadowing men (who often turn out to be disappointments) Isaac did not bring disgrace to his father's name, but actually brought honor and respect to his father. In the middle of a famine, Isaac also trusted and feared God in the face of apparent dwindling prosperity, in the face of intense peer pressure, refusing to go to the world for his needs. Isaac's source of strength was his fear, respect, and submission to both his physical and Spiritual Father. Isaac was gentle and peace-seeking, avoiding conflict and quarrel (even when his own power and strength exceeded that of his adversaries), resembling the temperament of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the biblical instructions (found in both the Old and new Testaments) pertaining to Sabbath keeping apply far more to the Israel of God, the church, than to the physical descendents of Israel, who did not have the fullness of scriptural counsel. Because the Bible has both a physical/national and a spiritual/church level, certain truths, remaining invariant under transformation, will become increasingly and uniquely relevant to God's spiritual children. The Sabbath, a major tenet of the Royal Law, kept faithfully by the prophets, apostles, and our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, is a commanded period of time to develop an intimate relationship with God, allowing us to incrementally transform into His image.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing from his own experiences at taking care of sheep and from Philip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, points out that animal metaphors are better understood if one has had real-life experiences with them. Of all the animals, sheep need the most care and are extremely vulnerable to predators, pests, and fear, leading to an extremely dependent and trustful behavior. From the viewpoint of a sheep, the narrator of Psalm 23 expresses gratitude and contentment for the shepherd's watchful care and continuous providence. Occasionally a sheep may not show contentment, "worrying a fence" to look for greener pastures, leading other sheep astray in the process. Shepherds have to deal decisively with this potential hazard. A shepherd realizes that a flock may be made to lie down only if they are free from fear, friction in the flock, pests and insects, and hunger.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that understanding comes through sacrifice and that our lives alternate between light (understanding) and darkness (confusion). Abraham's experiences teach us not to try to force God's will by contrivances of the flesh. When any sin or self- will is involved, the fruits of such an endeavor will be bitter and disappointing (as was the incident involving Abraham and Hagar). Abraham's righteousness equated with his acquired humble unflinching trust in God rather than his skill at law keeping. The gift of grace comes only to those who yield to God by faith, establishing a warm working relationship with Him, performing righteousness through the power of His Holy Spirit.
Taking issue with misguided notions of the primitiveness of Abraham, John Ritenbaugh contends that the patriarch was an extremely learned man, a product of a highly advanced civilization. Far from being "an ignorant donkey caravaneer," Abraham was a gifted, wealthy and influential man, who instructed the Chaldean priesthood on the reality of God, demonstrating the foolishness of worshipping created objects rather than the Creator. In terms of prestige, honor, and wealth, he perhaps sacrificed more than anyone else, including Moses, to obey God's command to follow Him. For his faithfulness, Abraham's offspring were richly repaid and blessed for his sacrifice.
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