Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that technology has given modern culture some marked advantages over ancient societies, laments that the fields of psychology (with its propensity to deny sin) and mental health have not kept up with advances in the "hard" sciences. Instead of resolving basic interior problems, modern psychology treats the symptoms rather than the ailment by masking the consequences of sin with drugs. A notable exception to the general defect of psychology are recent developments in crisis and grief counseling. It is altogether feasible to see the Book of Lamentations as a form of crisis counseling, facilitating stricken Israel's coming to grips with waves of grief. The crisis itself—Jerusalem's fall to the pagan Babylonians—represented an intervention from God, as He tried to turn Israel away from her sins. The Book of Lamentations provides strategies to cope while moving toward repentance, including (1.) creating awareness, delving into possible causes, (2.) allowing catharsis, that is, expressing emotions, (3.) providing support, assuring Israel that her responses are natural, (4.) increasing expansion, that is, helping Israel overcome tunnel vision, (5.) focusing upon the specific cause of the crisis, (6.) providing guidance in overcome hurdles, (7.) providing mobilization, that is, pointing out peripheral support, (8.) implementing order, that is, putting Israel on a manageable routine, providing her with a sense of control, and (9.) providing protection from self-inflicted injury. In chapter 2, the narrator (speaking as the voice of Godly reason), uses some of these strategies. Sadly, however, at the chapter's end, Lady Jerusalem sidesteps godly repentance, opting instead for self-centered recrimination against Almighty God. Though God has actively brought about Judah's tribulations, the root cause of her troubles lay with her breaking her covenant with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that these laments contain little that is jovial or uplifting, but instead are saturated in despair, sorrow, mourning, and even recrimination against God on the part of a personified Jerusalem, whom God depicts as a grieving widow, blaming others for her troubles while overlooking her own sins as the real cause of her sorrows. Solomon instructs us that the house of mourning contains more insight and serves as a better cathartic than the house of mirth. The reality of death imparts to us a sense of sobriety and wisdom about how to conduct our lives. We need to take the time to think about somber things and how they relate to the purpose of life. Godly sorrow, as opposed to worldly sorrow, leads to repentance, cleansing, change, and salvation. The proper effect of the Book of Lamentations is to motivate us to change. When we realize that God's punishment of Jerusalem was justified, we can apply the same godly standards to ourselves to determine if we are as culpable as ancient Judah. In Lamentations, following the Narrator's dire description of Judah's demise, Lady Jerusalem, in a self-centered protest, blames everybody (including her lovers and God Almighty) but herself. Even though God has left her there to think about the consequences of her sins, she does not properly introspect, but, rather, blames others, excusing herself. As God's called-out ones, we must carefully compare our own self-deceptions with her self-deceptions, lest we suffer the same fate. Like ancient Judah, if we embrace sin, God will craft a yoke made of our transgressions, bringing unfathomable burden and grief.
Richard Ritenbaugh, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the devastating locust plagues described in Joel, marvels that the prophet, instead of promising a silver lining on a very black cloud, affirmed that things were going to get intensely worse before they got better. Nevertheless, Joel, whose name means Yahve is God, in the middle of his prophecy, promised a marvelous blessing which would satisfy His people. This prophesied blessing, which became Peter's first words of his Pentecost sermon on Pentecost in 31 AD, was that God would pour out His Spirit, prompting young men to prophesy and old men to dream before the awesome Day of the Lord. Only a type of Joel's prophecy was fulfilled in 31AD and much more is yet to be fulfilled. Joel described a gruesome locust infestation that totally ruined the economy of the nation, placing the citizenry in a state of hopeless, panicked despair. Because Judah had taken God's blessings for granted, He removed His hand of protection, something we see happening in our morally bankrupt culture today. God, in His sovereignty, is guiding His creation to its ultimate purpose, including the devastating plagues and afflictions, designed to motivate repentance and obedience. God represents both mercy and justice. When sin becomes a dominant condition of God's people, God's judgment is not far away, either in the form of political oppression or natural disaster. For a repentant people, there will be restored fellowship and tranquility. The 1915 AD locust plague in Palestine had all the biblical proportions, including the sky darkened with adult locusts, eating everything in their paths. The locust plague Joel described is only a foretaste, symbolic of a more devastating judgment to befall the earth in the future Day of the Lord. Both disaster and grace are tools God uses to motivate repentance, and the wise will act accordingly, turning to God in sincere, contrite, humble, heartfelt repentance, rending their hearts rather than their garments, leading to total conversion and change of mind.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the apostle Paul had to caution the Thessalonian congregation against jumping to conclusions about the return of Christ, asserts the scattered Church of God has a similar penchant for jumping to conclusions, some identifying Joseph W. Tkach (a man who hardly demonstrated any wondrous miracles) as the man of sin, occupying the holy place. While biblical types come in all colors and flavors, the stark reality of II Thessalonians 2 is far more grave than any parochial upheaval. Like the Thessalonian congregation, we cannot afford to let anyone deceive us. The scope of this event is obviously international, affecting the entire world, involving a dramatic global rejection of God's truth. Our culture has been witness to this international apostasy, in viewing the acceptance of godless evolution over creation. A decrepit nominal Christianity has been challenged by a virulent radical Islam, which teaches that the notion that God has a son is blasphemous. Shockingly, for all its moral decline, America is the most 'Christian' country of any Israelitish nation on the globe; in Britain far, far more attend mosques than churches. Meanwhile, in 'Christian' America, Wicca and New Age earth worship surges in popularity, while a full one-fifth of the population has abandoned previous beliefs. In the mainstream religions, belief has become so anemic with such shallow ideas of righteousness that the truth of God cannot be translated into real life experience. We must realize that the falling way will be universal; every 'tribe' will be dismayed. Because this on-going apostasy has not occurred overnight, we must safeguard ourselves against the danger of adapting ourselves to the new normal of evil and wickedness, compromising ourselves into mortal danger by gradual neglect, allowing the plague of secularism to infect us little by little.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the ninth of Av, occurring at sundown tonight, July 25,2015, a time when the Jewish community will commence the fast of Tisha b'Av, recounts the horrific disasters which have embroiled Judah/Levi over the years, including the destruction of both Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple, the first Crusade, in which Jews and Muslims were slaughtered by "Christians," Germany's declaration of war on Russia, unleashing a virulent strain of anti-Semitism there, and the mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Book Three of the Psalms addresses the compulsion to fast and to mourn. In Zechariah 7, God reminds Judah that their faithlessness and disobedience brought about the horrific destruction of Jerusalem, and if they would get with the program He has outlined for them, curtailing their pity parties, their fasts would be more productive and actually would transform into periods of rejoicing and praising God. If we keep God's Commandments, He promises to help us. If we sin, having the knowledge of His Commandments, we are asking to be crushed more than anyone else, because we should have known better. We should fast for the right reason-to get closer to God—and not to "get Him to do something for us." If we seek God's Kingdom first (life is more than the fulfilment of physical things which will not last for eternity), we will have no need to weep and mourn. If we repent and draw close to God, all of these fasts could be turned into periods of thanksgiving. After we beseech God, we must discipline ourselves to wait for Him to act.
David Grabbe, examining the saying, "ignorance is bliss," implying that a measure of peace may come to us if we do not know something that might be disturbing, cautions us that this ignorance is dangerous when it comes to the spiritual preparation of self-examination before the Passover. Self-evaluation is foundational for observing the Passover in a worthy manner. Self-examination is painful, but productive, when we see the horrendous cost of Christ's sacrifice for us. In Dr. M. Scott Peck's book The People of the Lie, a malady called "malignant narcissism," caused by excessive pride, leads its victims to psychologically maim other people. The people of the lie are afraid of the light of truth, assiduously protecting their dysfunctional mindset. They are adept at shifting the blame for their hidden faults on someone else, keeping the bright light off themselves. The people of the lie do not believe they have any major defects and, consequently, do not have any need to change. Individuals with Laodicean attitudes, blind to their spiritual blindness (a double indictment), are prime examples of people of the lie, people whom God spews out of His mouth. Human nature has the proclivity of establishing its own standard of righteousness, using selective evidence, as is seen in the pompous behavior of the Pharisee exalting himself over the despondent tax collector. The Corinthians, rich in spiritual gifts, refused to examine the seamier side of their spiritual depravity. We must not assemble selective evidence as we examine ourselves in preparation for Passover, remembering that we had a major part in causing the scattering of our previous fellowship. We need Christ's mind to put things together accurately; Christ is the only One who can enable us to see our spiritual condition clearly. Our growth will stop without the continual reminder that we are not yet a finished product.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is a time to tear [or rend] and a time to sew [or mend], delves into the Middle Eastern cultural practice of tearing garments as an expression of grief or despair. When God became upset with Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two as a torn garment. In the Amos 9 millennial prophecy, God declares that He will ultimately mend the torn garment upon Israel's repentance. When Saul, in panic, seized Samuel's mantle tearing it, Samuel used the tearing as a symbol, indicating the kingdom would be torn from Saul. The practice of rending clothes symbolizes sorrow, agony, despair, and hopelessness, a realization that God alone can restore the profound loss. When Job lost his family to death, his natural reaction was to rend his garments. Joshua and Caleb, not high priests, tore their garments in despair at the testimony of the evil spies. Ezra tore his garments when he learned that his people had been desecrating and polluting God's Holy Law. Mordecai tore his clothes in despair for the imminent demise of his people. Hezekiah and Josiah tore their clothes as a sign of repentance in an effort to demonstrate to God that they felt profound disgrace at the collective sins of the people and were intending to make the crooked ways of their ancestors straight again. Paul tore his clothes in horror when people were attempting to worship him as a Greek god. Because the office of priest was to embody hope, priestly garments, under no circumstances, were to be torn. Aaron was forbidden to tear his priestly garments at the death of his sons for using profane fire. The high priest Caiaphas blasphemously defied God's prohibition against rending priestly garments. Because Christ, our High Priest, never gave into hopelessness, His garments were not torn. The prophet Joel, admonishing us to rend our hearts in repentance, rather than our garments, assures us the even in the fearful, dreadful Day of the Lord there is hope if we turn to God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket-firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in Western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the United Nations (in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. We accept most of our opinions, prejudices, and beliefs unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Scriptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
It is amazing to consider that, despite the fact that every human being will face death, so very few take the time to contemplate it, much less prepare for it. In covering the comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, John Ritenbaugh surveys the Bible's attitude toward death, particularly its insistence that we should allow the reality of death to change our approach to life.
At this time of year, religious people around the world look at their individual decisions and choices of the past. Some choose to go to special mid-day services ...
To be a prophet of God is no easy task, and it is one that tends to be mentally and emotionally burdensome to the prophet. As Charles Whitaker explains, God desires His people to have an emotional yet entirely rational response—to sigh and cry—to the lawlessness and idolatry increasing around them in the world.
The radio and television news broadcasts over the past six months have been so depressing that listeners and viewers have complained to the stations to look for something good and encouraging to report. ...
Using The Poseidon Adventure as an analogy, Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that just as it took one swimmer to go through the submerged vessel with a rope giving his life for his fellow passengers, Christ gave his life serving as our forerunner through life's trials. Paul encourages the Thessalonians by giving them the details of Christ's return including a shout and a trumpet blast. The saints then and now will be with Christ forevermore. Our hope is based on the fact that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul reveals that our hope is Christ's resurrection, witnessed by over 500 witnesses including Paul. If there is no resurrection, our faith is worthless. If Christ did not rise, we are still under condemnation. Paul believed that to put his own life in jeopardy for the sake of the gospel was stupid and useless if there were no resurrection. Death will be overcome when Christ appears on the Day of Trumpets.
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the pivotal holy day, the Feast of Trumpets, a day looking back to three holy days in which God deals with individuals and looks forward to three holy days in which God works with progressively larger groups. This day is a memorial of shouting or blowing of trumpets. Teruw'ah (the shout of the shofar) is often associated with the sound of war, symbolizing the Day of the Lord, the real war to end all wars, the time Christ will subdue and render judgment to all the evil hostile forces (governments under Satan's influence) on the earth, bringing rewards to His called out ones. Although these events will take place with relative quickness and speed, the whole time sequence will take some time to completely unfold. If we remain faithful, this day will have a positive outcome.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the first major concern of the Two Witnesses will be directed to the church rather than to the world at large, expunging worldliness out of the church. Their work to the world will last 1260 days, 42 months, or three and one half years (Revelation 11: 2-3, 13:5). Christ will endow them with power to do miracles, to communicate or give testimony (evidence) to what they have seen about the Creator God, testifying against the evil of the world and the necessity for Christ's coming. The symbolism of the olive trees, lampstands and golden bowl in Zechariah 4:1-5 is connected to Revelation 1:20 and 2:1.
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?
Blessedness and mourning seem contradictory to our way of thinking, but obviously Jesus saw spiritual benefits to sorrow. John Ritenbaugh shows why true, godly mourning gets such high marks from God.
Meekness is not a virtue that people consider valuable or even desirable. But Jesus lists it as a primary virtue of one who will inherit His Kingdom, and Paul numbers it among the fruits of God's Spirit. Is there something to meekness that we have failed to grasp?
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the false religions embraced by the descendants of Jacob are not preparing God's people for the harsh punishment God will surely bring to modern Israel. Amos indicts rampant dishonest practices in modern Israel, placing dishonest gain above honesty, morality, or ethics, and arrogantly and covetously exploiting the needy for profit. Competition-eat or be eaten- becomes the dominant business ethic in modern Israel. Amos suggests that a major contributory cause of natural disasters (earthquakes, drought, famines, and floods) is the epidemic of immorality omnipresent in the land of Jacob (totally neutralizing the otherwise positive effects of prosperity and technology)Prophecy should serve as a prod or motivation to prepare appropriately for the future, zealously guarding the truth against a counterfeit (politically active or influential) syncretistic pagan religion [patterned after the manner of Jeroboam I], safeguarding against an impending famine of the word. God will demolish this satanic religious-political system, re-gathering a repentant bruised and battered remnant of His people.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.
John Ritenbaugh distinguishes a temple from a synagogue, indicating that there was but one temple in Jerusalem, a monument to God, having very little preaching, but many synagogues in each town. Jesus taught in their synagogues in services which contained formalized prayers and readings from the scripture. Following the readings, a sermon was given either by the ruler of the synagogue or someone he deemed worthy, even though the person may not have had formalized ecclesiastical training. Except for the ruler of the synagogue, there didn't seem to be a formal minister. Preaching was intended to be general, providing overview, while the teaching was intended to be specific, providing details. Matthew provides systematic order and structure to his Gospel. Matthew's encapsulation of the Beatitudes, the essence (perhaps the distillation or compendium of many sermons) of Jesus Christ's teaching, contains the foundation of His teaching through the entirety of His ministry. It would be entirely possible to make a sermon from each one of the verses from Matthew 5-7. The various themes are presented in different contexts in Luke's account, indicating a perennial theme. Luke set things down in chronological order; Matthew set things down in topical or thematic order. The seriousness of the teaching can be illustrated by Jesus sitting down to teach. The beatitudes, attitudes directed way from self are intended to provide an antidote for depression and sorrow now and in the future, bringing a state of happiness and bliss, totally unattached from physical things or circumstances, but bubbles up from within deriving from divine favor- a gift from God. Poor in spirit connotes more absolute trust in and submission to God rather than abject poverty or financially impoverished. Mourning or sadness is good to make us see cause and effect and make the heart better; when things go wrong, we are driven to think and look for solutions. Godly pain
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