John O. Reid: In a conversation with a friend sometime back, we could not help but notice the difference in people in both the world and church over the last forty or fifty years. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the book of Chronicles, written around 420 BC, after Israel had returned from captivity, was not intended to be so much as a historical record as a sermon, drawing lessons from the historical record, showing what happens when the nation and its kings conform to God's covenants and what happens when the nation and its kings depart from God's covenants. We can trust God's reaction to be consistent. The majority of leaders in Judah and Israel proved wicked, bringing enslavement and death to their subjects. A handful were fairly good kings, such as Jehoshaphat and Asa. The tenure of Asa started off well, with his judgments faithfully executed on behalf of the good and right, but as he continued his reign, his faults began to emerge as well. Asa initially banished cultic prostitutes, homosexuals, idols, and high places, even having the courage to displace his powerful grandmother Maachah for erecting an obscene image of the goddess Ashera, an idol which Asa boldly destroyed. Asa's reforms gave Judah a ten year respite, time which he wisely used to fortify his country, building up garrisons and protective walls. Sadly, Asa left a few things undone, losing a lot of steam in his later years, trying to play it safe. Idolatry was so engrained in Judah and Israel that Asa felt a sense of weariness in well-doing. Similarly, if we leave things undone in our personal revival, our secret sins morph into idols. Paul warns us to flee from all forms of idolatry. The things that our forebears experienced apply to us. When the million man army of Zerah the Ethiopian outnumbered Asa's forces two to one, Asa relied on God and prevailed. Later, on the prophet Azariah's counsel, Asa led his people to rededicate the Covenant of the Lord, making an oath of death if they disobeyed. Sadly, Asa in his later years made a treaty with Syria against Israel, leading to a period of perpetual war and a premature death by his own curse. We must learn to be steadfast all our days.
Richard Ritenbaugh, decrying the incredible dearth of leadership around the world (no Churchill's, no Bismarck's, or no Reagan's), avers that the state of affairs prophesied in Ezekiel 34:1-5, in which self-centered, narcissistic 'shepherds' feed off the flock rather than feed and protect it has now become the norm rather than the exception. The high water mark in statesmanship in leadership was King David, who not only served as a shepherd (protecting and nourishing the flock, giving it peace and rest) but also demonstrated leadership protecting the flock from danger and providing it justice, loving his neighbors and judging on behalf of God, qualities and commitments absent in the current corrupt political leaders of greater modern Israel. One of David's descendants, Jehoshaphat, had the potential of being # 2, receiving an "A" on his shepherding ability, but a "D" on his leadership ability. Although he was relatively mature and well-trained when he began his reign, he made a horrible blunder in judgment, making a political alliance with wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, becoming a weak junior partner in an alliance with Israel and Phoenicia, further complicating affairs by permitting the political wedding of his son Jehoram with Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), a union which later spawned multiple fratricides and filicides. Jehoshaphat foolishly was talked into a military alliance with Ahab, even though one of God's prophets predicted the gruesome outcome. Evidently, because of the outcome of this event, as well as some disastrous outcomes with trading alliances with Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat finally became convinced that any decision without God in the picture is patently stupid. When the wicked king of Moab threatened to destroy Judah, Jehoshaphat finally sought the Lord, who gave him the victory, enabling him to neutralize his earlier leadership blunders by making substantive reforms.
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.
Mike Ford, reflecting on the inordinately high casualties of the American Civil War, far more extensive than all of the other wars combined, compares the devastation to another civil war between Judah and Israel, recorded in 1 Kings 14 and II Chronicles 11, a tragic war where more than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives because the leadership turned away from God, embracing disgusting forms of idolatry. After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam, after seeking unwise counsel, provoked a split or secession of the northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promoted the worship of golden calves in a counterfeit Feast of Tabernacles in Bethel and Dan and appointing his own unscrupulous priests to administer the pagan services, which promoted sodomy and male temple prostitutes. When King Abijah earnestly appealed to God at the beginning of a devastating siege, repenting of the foolish God-rejecting policies of his father's administration, God heard his intercessory prayer; Rehoboam's army was soundly routed, suffering 500,000 casualties, and Judah basked in a short-lived peace. Abijah had three good years but was suddenly cut off because the victory went to his head, and he didn't move forward, removing the idols and outlawing the disgusting pagan religious practices. One successful act of faith is only something to build on, not merely a motivation to rest on laurels. We need to make sure that we move forward in our spiritual battles, extirpating any idol that comes into our lives, separating us from God.
David C. Grabbe: In the record of the kings of Israel and Judah, God typically inspired the writer to summarize in a sentence or two what He thought of the particular leader, such as “He walked in all the sins of his father,” or “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did his father David.” ...
John Ritenbaugh insists that God's promise to heal (spiritually or physically) is inextricably coupled with the obligation to exercise responsibility, demonstrating physical and spiritual works in accordance with existing laws, while trusting in God throughout the healing process. The Bible is replete with individuals applying physical remedies (balms, poultices, as well as a competent physician's counsel) in tandem with trusting God. We cannot (in the manner of Asa and Ahaziah) leave God out of any process in our lives. As we pursue healing, we must 1) first seek God, 2) begin working on the solution, seeking wise counsel, 3) repent from the sin that has caused the malady, and 4) ardently obey God's laws, requiring works. Complying with these conditions, all who trust God will be healed in His time and His manner. Exercising faith in healing is in no way passive. God is creating problem solvers—not problem continuers.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that mankind does not have (nor ever had) the prerogative to determine standards of righteousness, including whether war is justified. God clearly demonstrated that He was willing to fight Israel's battles for them. Neither ancient Israel nor modern Israel has been authorized to wage war. God's purpose (as well as His promises to our patriarchs) will stand regardless of whether Israel presumptuously chooses to go to war or not. Many biblical examples illustrate that when the leader put his faith in God and submitted himself to God's rule, God supernaturally protected His people. As Jesus lived as a human, He modeled for us a life of restraint and non-violence. Ambassadors of a foreign power do not become involved in another nations politics or wars. When the Kingdom of God becomes a kingdom of this earth, Jesus Christ (along with His resurrected saints) will permanently put an end to all rebellion and conflict.
John Ritenbaugh contends that while Scripture does allow for individuals to share their faults with one another for encouragement and brotherly advice, no man has the power to forgive sins or grant absolution, a prerogative retained by Christ and God the Father alone. Trusting human allies rather than God to also seems to be a main theme of Lamentations. An acrostic poem with highly structured multiple meters, Lamentations mimics the agitated talk of someone uncontrollably sobbing or crying. Personified as a grieved widow, Jerusalem recounts her sins as a nation, depending on her own strength or on her lovers (political alliances representing spiritual harlotry) rather than upon God, her Husband. Like Ezekiel, Lamentations also applies to modern Israel, which also has the faithless tendency to form adulterous political alliances with other nations rather than rely upon God, bringing the curse of captivity and mocking scorn.