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.
Ted Bowling, reeling from the blasphemous portrayal of Noah in the 2014 movie, reports that it is a Satanically inspired advertising of a vastly skewed view of God. The movie portrays Noah as a person both anti-God and anti-family. The movie, by assassinating the character of a just man who walked with God, joins company with the mockers, trashing God for the sake of mammon. Some of the biblically-unsupportable lies the movie tells include: (1.) Rock people, representing fallen angels, help Noah build and protect the ark, earning a redemption into heaven; (2.) Methuselah, a mentally deranged witch doctor, heals Shem's wife of barrenness; (3.) Noah is a psychopath who entertains finishing off the human race by murdering his grandchild. The movie quickly becomes a revolting distortion of the Scriptural account, highlighting instead Satan's wish-list for the destruction of mankind, the dissolution of marriage, the disintegration of the family, the worship of the environment and the universal perception of God as distant and uncaring. Sadly, world events have come full circle to Noah's time when the thoughts of mankind have become evil continually. God's called out ones will be standing alone, like the Patriarch Noah, forced to endure endless scoffing, awaiting the intervention of Almighty God to destroy evil and bring us through the horrendous flood of Satan's lies, establishing His Kingdom under the rulership of Jesus Christ.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that God has chosen the weak and base things of the world to confound the wise, analyzes the commonalities of heroes who have emerged from common people and who sacrifice their personal concerns for the greater good. We recognize first responders (policemen, firemen, and soldiers) who routinely risk their lives to help others. Irena Sendler, the brave woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Henry Erwin, scalded by a flare he pulled out of the failed bomber hatch, and Arland Williams Jr, who assisted in the saving of the survivors of a downed aircraft but who drowned before rescuers could reach him, all exemplify heroes. The Roman historian Plutarch identified compassion for others as the common link for all acts of heroism. Sympathetic compassion for others motivated Winston Churchill, Joseph, Jephthah, and most significantly, Our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life to redeem humanity. We need to emulate our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, making the exercise of sacrificial compassion a daily activity.
Ted Bowling, reflecting that God admonishes His People to become peacemakers, marvels that most of the world's leaders are clueless as to what constitutes peacemaking. The prevailing wisdom is that one must impose peace upon others by force—sometimes translated as peace through strength. Six shooters, bombers, and guided missiles have been misnamed "peacemakers." An example of a genuine peacemaker was the Patriarch Isaac, often identified as a type of Christ. When King Abimelech ordered him and his family to move, Isaac trusted God to find his family another home. After painstakingly digging wells at three separate locations, only to find local interlopers forcing them out, Isaac patiently yielded, trusting the Lord to find him better provisions. When King Abimelech had the chutzpah to ask Isaac to sign a non-aggression pact to protect himself from 'Isaac's wrath', the meek patriarch prepared a banquet for these dubious allies. In all his actions, Isaac exemplified going way beyond what is required to be a peacemaker. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to emulate Jesus Christ and forefather Isaac's example.
Christians living at the time of the end would do well to consider the character and behavior of Noah, a paragon of virtue and devotion to God. John Ritenbaugh explains that God and Noah worked side by side to deliver the small remnant of humanity through the waters of the Flood, God supplying the sanctification and grace and Noah obeying in faith. This is the kind of relationship God desires with us.
Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that the civil Festival of Purim in the Jewish community, commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in ancient Persia, explains that this festival is celebrated with a notable spirit of merriment because it depicts a miraculous rescue from a hopelessly impossible situation brought about by a perennial, anti-Semitism. In terms of plot of the Book of Esther, the writer uses a chiastic X-like pattern, in which a situation grows grave and hopeless in the first half of a narrative, leading up to a peripeteia (that is, the axis point or the center of the X), in which a sudden reversal takes place, turning everything around from hopelessness to joy. This ubiquitous pattern of a sudden reversal recurs throughout scripture, demonstrating how God deals with the children of Israel, humbling them into repentance in order that He may bring them good in the end. This pattern of reversal-of-fortune provides an insight as to how God deals with us individually. God allows each of us to experience trials and tests to humble us, leading us to repent, obey and trust. Going through this process we learn to be steadfast and to endure. The axial moment in the Book of Esther seems to be a series of mundane events beginning with the king's inability to sleep—- mundane, yet leading to Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai's advancement and the salvation of the Jewish people. These seeming coincidences (a powerful "unseen hand" reveals God's sovereign protection over His godly seed, which ultimately produced Our Savior Jesus Christ, who currently protects the godly spiritual seed (comprising the Church or the Israel of God, the Bride of Christ), descendants of Abraham through God's Holy Spirit.
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.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the quality of leadership makes a difference in the morality and well-being of a nation. That insight explains why the quality of family leadership trickles up to civic and governmental leadership. Noah, while not a warrior or king, was nevertheless a stellar model of parental leadership, teaching by example (rather than authoritarian bluster) obedience to, and faith in, God. This blue-collar worker doggedly assembled a boat during persistent ridicule from his sophisticated, 'progressive' neighbors. God placed Noah in the same league with Job and Daniel in terms of character, decidedly elite company. Although not the most charismatic figure in the Bible, Noah demonstrated steadfast faith as God bounced him and his family around like ping-pong balls in a dramatic, terrifying ark ride. Noah, the first man with whom He made a covenant, was also the first man to personally witness God's judgment, as he came to realize there was no dickering games with God. The purpose of God's covenants has never altered from the beginning (Adamic or Edenic covenants); mankind's responsibility toward these covenants has never altered from the beginning. Salvation has never been a matter of works, but always a matter of grace, which should promote good works rather than license to commit more sin. The covenant God made with Noah reaffirmed the Adamic and Edenic covenants (sealed with the sign of the rainbow) and therefore applies to every human being and to all creatures.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We live in a self-indulgent age. Advertisers tell us to pamper ourselves and get all that we can as soon as we can. Politicians promise high-cost "freebies" that only a few years ago required ...
When a society falls into chaos and blatant immorality, as the Western world seems to be on the verge of doing, it is evident that there is a crisis in leadership. While warning us of the times just ahead, John Ritenbaugh turns the focus of leadership toward the church, exhorting us to learn the lessons of godly leadership now because our positions in the Kingdom of God will require their use.
John Reiss: This past Wednesday, Veterans Day, was the 96th anniversary of what was originally known as Armistice Day, proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the cessation of hostilities ...
The quality of human life on this earth has in large part been determined by the character of its leaders. In the Bible we have a record of both good and bad leaders, and it provides a repetitive principle that "as go the leadership, so goes the nation." John Ritenbaugh begins a new series that links leadership to the various scriptural covenants and their success or lack thereof.
Affliction seems to be an integral part of Christianity. Our Savior Jesus Christ and His apostles suffered a great deal during their ministries, and though modern Christians' burdens cannot compare to theirs, they are still significant enough to cause great pain. Pat Higgins demonstrates the relative nature of Christian affliction, urging believers to take the Bible's long view of their suffering.
Ted Bowling, reflecting that parents serve as better role models than do entertainers and professional athletes, focuses on the hero characteristics of the stepfather of Jesus and the husband of Mary. Joseph exemplified the qualities of fairness, kindness, and humility, giving Jesus a solid moral and ethical foundation, coupled with an exemplary work ethic. Joseph endured the stigma, humiliation, and scorn of the Jews who believed the gossip that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock. Joseph was a provider, skilled craftsman, and a competent teacher of his trade, providing Jesus with the many construction and building metaphors He used later in His ministry. Joseph's willingness to work hard, sacrificing everything for the family while demonstrating godly kindness and love, makes him a matchless hero.
In thinking about David son of Jesse, we immediately bring to mind that he was King of Israel, a shepherd, a warrior, a psalmist, and a man after God's own heart. But we often fail to realize that, among his many other accomplishments, he was a significant prophet. Richard Ritenbaugh examines Psalm 22, a most clearly recognizable prophecy of Christ's suffering among the many psalms of David.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Proverbs 15:21 makes an interesting comment on the subject of foolishness: "Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, but a man of understanding walks uprightly." ...
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable accomplishments and honor bestowed on God's servant Moses, who sacrificed immense worldly honor and fame to become a servant of God, demonstrating real servant leadership in action. The greatness of a nation depends on its responsiveness to God's preachers. If a preacher fails in his responsibility, the nation goes down the drain. Although Moses was highly educated, he was very humble and meek, driving him continually to God for sustenance and power. God commends Moses for his trustworthiness and faithfulness, comparing him favorably with Jesus Christ, who always did things to please His Father. We need to emulate Moses, being faithful in using the gifts God has parceled out to us. After he was cast out of Egypt, he learned to be humble, reflective, and wise as he tended sheep in Midian. The combination of his life experience made him ready to lead a rebellious, complaining slave people. As God knew Moses, David and Jeremiah from the womb, God has also predestined us for a unique calling. As can be seen in the intricacies of a blueprint or schematic diagram, no part of God's creation escapes His mind. We must emulate Moses in his faithfulness, doing our best with what God has given us, remembering that the road to leadership commences with humility and submissiveness, a virtual bond-slave to God. As God continually enabled Moses, God will always provide us what we need to succeed as long as we are faithful.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that most people living in modern, Western culture better identify with flawed heroes, rather than perfect heroes. King David, for example, made huge errors in judgment and committed colossal sins. Ezekiel 18:19-20 indicates that guilt for sin is not transferable, but the consequences can often touch several generations. Saul, after having disqualified himself from being king, sought to ingratiate himself with God by killing Canaanites, including an unrecorded massacre of Gibeonites. Later, during a wasting famine, David, attempting a political rather than a righteous solution, yielded to the Gibeonites' request that descendants of Saul be hanged to avenge the slaughter. That the famine continued indicates God displeasure with David's decision and inner motives. As Christians living amidst spiritual famine, we dare not compromise with the culture around us.
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.
Despite the greatness of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus declares that none was greater than His cousin, John, known as "the Baptist." John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus clearly says that John fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6 as the prophesied Elijah to come.
Joseph of Arimathea has always been a shadowy figure among the well-known personages of the Bible. Mike Ford helps to dispel the shadows with this sketch of this disciple's life.
Luke, the writer of the gospel of that name and the book of Acts, is more significant to the New Testament than it may first appear. Though he cast the spotlight on others like Christ and Paul, what we know of his life contains lessons we can use.
The apostle Andrew is a sterling example of humble service. Martin Collins takes what little we know about this early Christian and shows how Andrew's character should encourage the average Christian.
Barnabas tends to be one of the forgotten apostles. However, Martin Collins illustrates how this Christian's life can teach us important lessons.
Mordecai, a Jew living in the Persia capital, faithfully guided Esther through a time of potentially great trouble. Mark Schindler uses his example to show that such character is not out of our reach!
Queen Esther, faced with the destruction of her people in Persia, put her life on the line. Ronny Graham describes how her example should be an inspiration to us. Also contains the inset article, God—Absent from Esther?
When we think of messiah, we think of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Bible, however, has a much broader definition of the term. Richard Ritenbaugh shows that the pagan emperor Cyrus the Great was also a messiah!
The life of Moses, one of the top-five religious figures in history, is even more remarkable when all the facts are known. Richard Ritenbaugh compares the film Prince of Egypt with what the Bible and secular history can tell us about him and his times. In this case, the truth is more incredible than fiction!
Ezra faced a dilemma: Should he ask the king for military protection or trust God for the Jews' safety? Ted Bowling takes us through his decision-making process as an example to us during our trials.
The apostle Thomas has been called "doubting Thomas" for centuries. But was he really doubting? In Martin Collins' sketch of his character, we find there is more to Thomas than we may have known!
Over the centuries, God has been disappointed by mankind over and over again. One man who did not disappoint was the deacon Stephen. Find out why he was so special.
John Ritenbaugh concludes that of all the biblical patriarchs, Joseph receives the least criticism and the most approbation, a sterling record of character and human accomplishment surpassed only by Jesus Christ. Considering the the competitive, polygamous family structure into which he was born, it was truly a miracle he turned out so well. A major factor in Joseph's integrity was the receiving of Jacob's distilled wisdom after the death of Rachel, a time when Jacob, in his grief and reflection, transferred his affection to Joseph, spending quality time with him, teaching about his experiences (both disappointments and successes) at overcoming and growing.
Jephthah's vow has been a bone of contention for centuries. Did he really sacrifice his daughter? What kind of man was Jephthah?
A hockey puck changes direction almost constantly, and a hockey player has to move with it. Charles Whitaker uses this analogy to explain how we must follow God when He changes the focus of His work.
Sometimes, we get down because we think that all our labors for God have gone unnoticed. Elijah did, and his story points out a major lesson we all would do well to heed today.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
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.