John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the adjective preternatural refers to 1.) something beyond nature and to 2.) something well-planned in advance, maintains that God intended the majority of human beings to be saved. When we measure the ripple effect of all the sins committed from the time of Adam and Eve until now, we realize how greatly the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is needed. The promise given to Abraham that his descendants would number more than the sands of the seashore certainly points to the requirement of a preternatural intervention. Indeed, the majority of Abraham's descendants, along with the Gentiles, have polluted themselves with lawlessness, incurring the wrath of God. Simeon recognized the uniqueness of the infant Jesus—a human whom God would prepare unlike any before Him to bring about reconciliation of mankind with God the Father, achieved through an unnatural crucifixion of a sinless Being. Jesus was the only individual equipped to carry out the project God the Father had sent Him to accomplish—equipped though His birth as a fleshly human being and through His position as the only begotten of God, having the Holy Spirit without measure. From His birth in a stable to His agonizing and unnatural crucifixion, Jesus faced persecution His entire life. Destined for the fall and rising of many, His words would pierce many, repelling as well as drawing. Because of His sinless life, Jesus' death was unnatural, abnormal, unreasonable, but all that was God's preternatural solution for the salvation of mankind.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
Martin Collins, returning to the annoying questions asked by the priests in the book of Malachi as to God's alleged tardiness of justice, declares that their call for justice was unwise, considering that they would be fried to a crisp when they received what they deserved. The same applies to us: we need to be careful when we ask for justice, for our request might very well come back to bite us.. Those relentlessly begging for justice will indeed get what they ask for. Their presumptuous questions are all answered by Malachi, indicting both ancient and modern Judah and Israel. God's coming in judgment will be against those who are critical of His judgments. God, like a refiner of precious metals, will skim off the dross until He can see His face. Before the day of vengeance, a lengthy time of grace will precede, including 400 years from the time of Malachi to Christ's reading from Isaiah about bringing liberty and sight to the blind. Another 2,000 years have been added, and the same national sins, such as defiling God's Sabbath and robbing His tithes and offerings (both given before the Mosaic law), still dog our society today. Even though it is axiomatic, according to surveys conducted by Christianity Today and the Barna Group, that individuals who give 10% or more are generally better off than those who do not, the majority of modern Israel have cursed themselves by withholding tithes and offering, mirroring the days of Malachi and Haggai. All we have belongs to God, yet paradoxically if we give back 10%, we are incredibly blessed. Tithing provides for preaching the Gospel, Feast expenses, and helping the needy. Robbing God of His tithes brings curses on the created order, interpersonal relationships, and the covenental relationship. In the matter of tithing, God (1) calls for obedience to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, (2) issues a challenge to test Him, (3) accompanies His challenge with bountiful promises, and (4) reminds us of the ultimate blessing of being an example to the world.
Richard Ritenbaugh posits that the thesis of the books of Chronicles is that, if one follows the terms of God's Covenant, blessings will accrue, and that, if one does not, curses will ensue. God sternly warned ancient Israel never to make covenants with the people whom He had dispossessed, nor to have anything to do with their sensual gods, but instead they were to destroy and tear down their idols and remove their high places. If Israel would honor the covenant, the people could be absolutely assured that God would richly bless them. God desires to bless and prosper His people. Decidedly, the worst king Judah ever had was Manasseh, the restorer of all the pagan religions, erecting altars to Baal, all the gods of the Zodiac, making groves to Ashera, worshiping the sun, moon, and stars, sacrificing several of his sons to Milchom, seducing Judah to compromise for the sake of political advantage to make alliances with the enemies of God. Traditionally, he is the person responsible for the death of Isaiah. Even though Manasseh was absolutely the worst king ever to lead Judah, shedding more innocent blood than any of his predecessors, leading to the captivity of his people, and of his own humiliating capture, being led around by hooks in his nose, Manasseh finally got the message that God only is God, and sincerely repented. As a result of this repentance, God restored him to his place on the throne of David. Manasseh is testimony that God's grace is astounding in magnanimity; even the worst of sinners can repent and receive God's forgiveness.
Kim Myers, reflecting on Amos’s prophecy to ancient Israel in Amos 5:11, castigating the leaders for their shabby treatment to the poor and destitute in society, draws a parallel to America’s leaders today, allowing or creating situations in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, leading to record numbers of our citizenry succumbing to homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including America) takes advantage of the poor, using the illegal immigration tidal wave for profit and political power. When a nation loses its morals, people feel free to take advantage of one another, especially the poor. God hates governments which take advantage of the poor, a segment of the population people find easy to take advantage of because they are trusting, helpless, and dependent. In God’s Church, we also have poor, meek, and handicapped individuals. We are mandated to love the brethren, treating them as we would a blood relative. All of us could improve our sensitivity to people’s needs, especially when we have the financial means at the Feast of Tabernacles, sharing our time, treasure, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not have to be wealthy to be hospitable, but we should not be stingy or cheap when we have the means to serve one another. We have a mandate from Almighty God to let brotherly love continue through our hospitality and generosity.
"Deference" is a word that receives scant support in these days of individual rights and equality. Solomon, however, makes the subject of deference—that is, being properly respectful and submissive to an authority figure—a major part of Ecclesiastes 8. John Ritenbaugh urges Christians always to see God behind those in power over us, which will help in giving proper deference.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Ecclesiastes as he focuses on a paradox which initially provides a measure of grief and anguish to believers, the paradox which shows an unrighteous man flourishing and a righteous man suffering, points us to the solution of this conundrum in Psalm 73. There is grave, ever-growing danger when one combines envy and discontent, calling God into question for allowing evil circumstances to occur. People react to this 'disappointing' paradox in opposite ways, both leading to eternal death. One may be tempted to give up on God's laws totally, living according to the lusts of the flesh. But the opposite extreme is just as deadly because it arrogantly accuses God of having a deficiency in His regimen for mankind, and attempts to make 'improvements' in God's plan by establishing stringent regulations and strict asceticism, trying to impress God with 'over-righteousness.' When we are vexed with the apparent ease of the unrighteous, we should (1) resolve to continue in faith despite our suffering, (2) pray fervently for God's solution to take effect, (3) firmly reject the idea to solve the problem by self-administered shortcuts, (4) quit misjudging the circumstance any further, and (5) realize that God will guide us through the valley of the shadow of death. We have the responsibility to stir up the gift of God's Holy Spirit, giving us some sound-minded perspective of judging our life circumstances. Veering to either the left or to the right is not a viable solution because both extremes militate against God's grace and any chances of a relationship with God. Super-righteousness arrogantly puffs us up, making us odious to God, but humility and the willingness to serve makes us desirable to God. Super-righteousness divides people because the narcissism that motivates it can never be satisfied. The solution is to fear God, know God, and maintain faith in God.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Psalm 73:1-9, describing the despair of someone seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer, affirms that it is a delusion that people in the world are leading comfortable lives. Christian living, while not comfortable, has a restorative faith in God. If our focus is on comfort, we cannot glorify God. Ecclesiastes, written for the spiritual well-being of God's children, teaches that the world is living in vanity and uselessness, producing nothing of quality. To this end, God has put a protective hedge about us in order to separate us from what is happening in the world. God knows where He is leading our life; we only vaguely know, unaware of the ultimate purpose of the trials we go through, not as punishment, but in shaping and molding us to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. The difficulties we experience after our calling have an educative purpose, leading us to a closer relationship with God, giving us a quality life. A test should be considered a positive learning experience, preparing us for more growth and for more solid, stable, sound-mindedness based in good judgment, controlling and disciplining our thinking though God's Holy Spirit. Since God arranges the trials for us, we should take comfort in His presence. We must, however, assiduously avoid the extreme of straining for perfection or obsessing on righteousness, presumptuously 'improving' on God's plan, blinding us to our own sinfulness and carnality. Self-righteousness leads to a life of desperation. Even righteousness done through obedience to God is still tainted with sin. The righteousness of Christ is given to us when we exercise faith in Him, realizing we are still sinners.
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.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
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.
“Why is each day such a struggle?” We have all likely asked such a question during those times when it seems nothing is going right for us. And we probably already know its answer ...
The apostle Peter provides valuable insight on the place of Christian suffering: "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. . . ."
Martin Collins, observing how a child fixates on a wound, continually worrying a bandage or a scab, suggests that sometimes Christians do the same thing with past sins or spiritual deficits, making themselves unhappy. Our spiritual trek indeed is a demanding flight of faith. All of us have been tormented by some past wrong, held in the grip of self-condemnation, subject to Satan's perpetual accusations. We cannot experience the joy of salvation while we are obsessing on past sins. While repenting of sins frees us from the grip of both lesser and greater sins, we will feel proportionately greater penalties for some sins than for others. The sin leading to death (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) occurs when one actively defies God or when one, through apathy or lethargy, refuses to repent. When we are tempted to sin, we need to consider the consequences on our relationship with God. Every sin that has been committed has been committed by someone else at some other time; Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for all of them. We can rejoice in God's extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.
David C. Grabbe: The story of Job has long been a place of inquiry for those enduring severe trials. ...
During His ministry, Jesus Christ was frequently asked to cast demons out of people. Martin Collins dissects the exorcism Jesus performed in the synagogue in Capernaum, revealing both the authority and the mercy of God.
John Ritenbaugh, recounting incidents from the movie Jeremiah Johnson, indicates that conflict and pressure in life's journey are the norm. We may try to run, but we cannot hide from life's troubles, stresses, or tribulations. Sin cannot be contained or isolated, but its effect spreads like leavening—to the guilty and innocent alike. The way that one lives provides testimony and witness. To witness and endure these trials, we must have faith in what we are. By submitting to God, we bring honor to our name. We are required by God to fulfill the uniqueness of what our biblical names and titles suggest, including the called, the Chosen, the Redeemed, the Bride of Christ, the Sons of God, and many others. Fortified with these acquired names and titles, we can have the strength to endure the inevitable trials we face.
From the Bible's perspective, patience is far more than simple endurance or longsuffering. The patience that God has shown man collectively and individually gives us an example of what true, godly patience is. It is this kind of patience that Paul urges us to put on as part of the new man.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
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