Richard Ritenbaugh begins by recapping the first three chapters of the Book of Lamentation: "Woe is me" (Chapter 1), "God did it" (Chapter 2), and "If God is behind it, it must have been good" (Chapter 3). He then focuses on the themes of the chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is a summation of how low God had brought the people of Judah, prompting the theme, "How low can you go?" In Chapter 5, the community bewails what it has suffered, prompting the plaintive theme, "Have You utterly rejected us?" A close reading of the text reveals that, as terrible as this ordeal was, only a few people repented, a reality which justifies Christ powerful rebuke to their descendants, the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them vipers for persecuting and killing the prophets, warning them that their sins would culminate in yet another great destruction. The people suffering under the Babylonians had blindly basked in the privilege of being God's chosen people, while at the same time the blatantly trashed the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem could not make a clear cause-and-effect connection between their own sins and what was happening to them. Because the people of Judah demonstrated no fruits of Godly repentance, they failed to achieve anything like a personal relationship 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.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God has been totally involved in establishing the Holy Seed and the Holy line to preserve and protect this seed, reminds us that, in His supreme sovereignty, He has also determined the boundaries for all the peoples on the earth as well as the immigration patterns leading to the placement of the Israelite people on the choicest portions of the earth as part of the "I will" promises to Abraham, recorded at Genesis 13:14-18. The founding of the American republic was also under God's control, as was demonstrated by the sense of morality brought by the Puritans seeking religious liberty and by the system of British common law based upon Biblical principles, principles which spilled over into the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Although America was never founded as a "Christian" nation, it was designed to accommodate a sense of morality and justice based on Judean-Christian principles, enabling a safe home for the church—the Israel of God—and a base from which the Gospel could be preached without muzzling from a church-state complex. The Founding Fathers were unified in their belief that religious instruction should be allowed in the public schools, but were adamant that no one sect dominate the instruction. God's purpose for the United States and the other Israelitish nations has not derived from its claim to be a "Christian" nation, but from God's promises to the covenant He made with Abraham, sadly, a covenant Abraham's offspring have abandoned
David Grabbe, cuing in on Genesis 1:1 and the Hebrew word translated "in the beginning," informs us that this is also the word for "firstfruits." God takes greater delight in a first fruit than those coming in a later harvest. Wisdom is a first-fruit, and has, itself, first-fruits, including the fear of Lord. The first-fruits were set aside for the priests who served the temple. The firstborn of a man's family is designated as first-fruits, receiving double honor. The physical nation of Israel was God's first fruits, planted to bear fruit, but sadly, like the cursed fig tree, it failed to produce much more than weeds. As Christ's called-out ones, we are the current crop of First Fruits, given a new spiritual birth. God has ordained that we bear spiritual fruit, in a totally different dimension from the first fruits of physical Israel.
John Ritenbaugh somewhat modifies his amazement at individuals who made gigantic sacrifices in the fledgling days of the Radio Church of God, concluding that it is in fact God who expends the lion's share of the energy, putting us all through flip flops in our sanctification process. Our yielding to God's will is a relatively minor sacrifice compared to what He does continually on our behalf. In no way are we interfacing with a passive God, but instead with One extremely active in our lives from before the foundation of the world. As the destinies of the major biblical luminaries were predestined, so are all the lives of God's called-out ones. God does the choosing; God does the moving, micro-managing the lives of those He has called as His servants (such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, etc.), protecting us from the hatred of the Gentiles (emanating from the spirit of Satan), who are jealous of the hedge of protection and prosperity (both resulting from grace) God has given Jacob's descendants, the current custodians of the prosperous western world. God set apart (that is, made holy, sanctified, and metaphorically married) the entire physical nation in order to model His Laws and way of life to the rest of the world. Physical Israel failed in its responsibility, squandering its precious blessing. God destroyed the physical Temple, national Israel's "security blanket," but concomitantly began building, under Christ, another temple, this one made up of called-out believers. (In a supplemental metaphor, these believers represent Christ's Body, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells.) Whether seen as a body or a temple, these called-out believers represent a new institution, an entity distinct from the previously set-apart nation of Israel. This new institution will eventually have a holiness on a vastly highly plane than that of physical Israel, as it will come to possess the very holiness of God Himself. No one can come to this level of rel
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Deuteronomy 29:29 which teaches that the secret things belong to God, but that God reveals things needful to those He has called, suggests that this principle resonated throughout the entirety of Scripture. Clearly, God's purpose for mankind for the most part is a mystery, and has been revealed only in a fragmentary part to those He has been calling and shaping through the ages. The book of Deuteronomy, given to ancient Israel as very specific instruction for those being prepared to enter the Promised Land, was intended for all of God's people for all time until His purposes have been fulfilled. The book of Deuteronomy was to be thoroughly reviewed every seven years at the conclusion of Shemitah (the year of release) at the Feast of Tabernacles. In retrospect, highly significant events, both in our previous fellowship and in the Church of the Great God, have occurred during or aligned with the year of release (Shemitah). Deuteronomy receives special honor, given to no other book of the law, having been placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant, as a perpetual commentary on the Tablets of the Law inside the ark intended by God as instruction well into the future. Because physical Israel rejected His covenant, God made a New Covenant with the Israel of God (His called-out Church), body committed to obeying His Laws with the prompt of the Holy Spirit. One Israel is converted; the other Israel, who has brazenly played the harlot, is not yet. The book of Deuteronomy, quoted by Jesus Christ more than any other source as bedrock doctrine, is addressed to the Israel of God, a group of God's called out ones who have been convicted that the Law has not been done away.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 8:31-39, cautions us that the study of Ecclesiastes, a work composed by a highly gifted man, was intended for those mature in the faith. Even those with God's Spirit find the book to be difficult, and discover that life must be lived soberly, with orientation above the sun, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Along with Solomon, we must realize, amidst all the confusion under the sun, that everything matters, but that wisdom does not yield its fruit easily. Every day mankind is assailed by temptations to do evil, an assault depicted throughout Scripture as the siren call of a prostitute or temptress, symbolizing any overwhelming addiction and predilection to sin. To a Christian, the most dangerous prostitute is the world's philosophy, extremely enticing to the senses, but endangering our relationship to God, as Solomon's wives turned his heart from the Lord. To keep us secure from the temptations of the world, we must embrace our metaphorical sister, Wisdom, keeping us focused on our relationship with God. To be sure, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but sadly man actively chooses to sin, polluting everything he touches. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that original sin has been passed along through sexual intercourse, creating a need for Mary to be 'conceived immaculately'. Sin does not enter us through this means, but is a spiritual matter, originating in the heart and in the mind. Sin enters us from contact with a sinful source, mainly from Satan, the prince and power of the air, and his demonic influence, broadcasting his spirit, attitudes, and thoughts. Collectively, we have been swimming in the influence of Satan's mind. Evil communication invariably corrupts character. Because Satan's spirit permeates everything in this world, we must be alert and on guard against temptations.
David Grabbe, reminding us that the trek through the Red Sea occurred on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, points out that other historical events also occurred on that day, including the toppling of the walls of Jericho and the healing of the lame man near the Pool of Bethsaida, after his having endured his infirmity 38 years. The ancient Israelites moved in the desert but had made no progress in getting Egypt out of their hearts. When God restored Israel through Joshua, He gave them credit for the time that had walked, indicating that in all cases, He was doing virtually all the heavy lifting, but was demanding that the Israelites exercise faith, doing something concrete to indicate their willingness to participate in the covenant. The walls of Jericho were, in effect, already history when Joshua's men began their march around the city. When we make our covenant with God, we must move forward exercising faith, doing our part in the overcoming/ sanctification process, realizing God is in charge of the entire process.
Clyde Finklea reflects that, as Hosea's wife Gomer was unfaithful, so has Israel been unfaithful to Almighty God, practicing idolatry, sexual immorality, child sacrifice, and other abominations. These transgressions led God to scatter Israel, making them slaves of the Assyrians, one of the cruelest of peoples. Even though Gomer proved unfaithful, Hosea still loved her, buying her back from captivity, restoring her as his wife, an act which depicts the loving forgiveness of God. Christians are to love one another as God has loved us and forgive one another as God has forgiven us.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the times we are about to go through will be unparalleled history, suggests that we need to keep our vision before us. We have the obligation to be loyal to Jesus Christ. We cannot, as our forebears did on the Sinai, harden our necks in disbelief and disobedience as a result of flagging faith. Our forebears were charged with enthusiasm as they left Egypt, but their faith ultimately waned. Our current day fellowship faced a similar attenuation of faith, leading to a precarious decline in membership. We have an obligation to place our faith in a Living Being. Christ is not going to draw back from us, but we might allow something to come between us and our High Priest. The people of Hebrews, like us, were living in an end time, prior to the destruction of the temple. For the recipients of Hebrews and for us, faith is a use it or lose it proposition. God sought us out; we didn't find Him by our seeking. What God has given us He has given to very few people. Humility must be at the foundation in the relationship between us and Jesus Christ. The church exists solely because what God has purposed and done, not because anything we have done. When pride exists within us, God can do nothing with us. God dwells with those who exhibit contrite and humble hearts. In His spiritual creation, God has demonstrated extraordinary planning and foresight, planning and caring for the destinations of billions of individuals. With God, nothing happens randomly; even mistakes we have made can work for our ultimate good. As God's called-out ones, we are special.
Knowing God is vital to our salvation and eternal life, and it is not just knowing that He exists. Truly knowing God is a specific and detailed knowledge of His attributes and attitudes. John Ritenbaugh reveals that fully accepting God's sovereignty should drive us to seek Him so that we can come to know Him as completely and personally as possible.
Martin Collins, warning us to take our priestly responsibilities seriously, draws some parallels from the biblical examples demonstrating the purification of Levitical priests. Purification is an ongoing process in which we must put out the influences of the world. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, compels us to sacrifice ourselves through our reasonable service. The book of Malachi, with its emphasis on declining spiritual conditions, demonstrates some parallels to the state of today's scattered and damaged church, preoccupied with internal difficulties. We are being trained as a holy priesthood, called to offer unblemished sacrifices, reverently honoring our Heavenly Father's name, forcefully putting down pride, presumptuousness, and arrogance. Priests must continually demonstrate obedience to God, motivated by an attitude of service, and unhindered by laziness. A priest must focus on magnifying God's name, offering prayer as incense, and having a burning zeal for worship with no weariness and no deception. It is an honor and privilege to be called to the office of priest to assist our Elder Brother, the High Priest, and the Epitome of perfection. We must accept this office in humility, having accepted Christ's sacrifice, having pure thoughts, faithfully submitting to God, and benefitting one another.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that competition is the root cause of all war, business takeovers, and marital discord. Carl Von Clausewitz observed that war is nothing more than politics brought to the battlefield. Evolution has glorified competition, enshrining the survival of the fittest. Historically, the competitive nature has its roots in the mind of Satan, who had the audacity to take on the leadership of Almighty God. Man's rivalry with one another has been described by Solomon as a striving after wind. Abraham literally "took the high ground," separating himself from strife with his ambitious nephew who wanted to seek gain on the plains of Sodom. The apostle Paul showed willingness to forgo his well-deserved wages, willing to work privately, avoiding conflict and strife. Christianity should be service- oriented rather than profit- oriented, should reward the worker for his labor, and should replace competition with cooperation. Biblical history records the tortured chronicle of people striving against God. The Gentiles cut themselves off from God by rejecting God's teachings through the patriarchs. We must replace the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, willing to yield and submit rather than to strive, quarrel, and compete. Satan has successfully deceived the entire world by mixing a little truth with much error, appealing to our pride and tissue needs. On the Day of Atonement, we (as God's called-out remnant) are commanded to afflict our souls, putting down the striving competitive, pride-filled drives of human nature, with its intense appetites, mortifying our flesh, controlling ourselves by submitting to God in humility, taking the cue from our Elder Brother.
At some point in the near future, the modern descendants of Israel will learn of their true identity—and have to face the consequences of that knowledge. Using the prophecies of the Second Exodus, David Grabbe reveals that God will do what is necessary to bring Israel to the spiritual condition and the physical location that He has purposed for her.
Though God provided the descendants of Abraham with every physical advantage, Israel still failed to keep the terms of the covenant they made with Him. However, as Richard Ritenbaugh brings out, God withheld one necessary, spiritual ingredient—the key dimension that makes the New Covenant work.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
For being such a religious book, the Bible contains an unusual number of references to harlotry! John Ritenbaugh uses this information to provide understanding of the motivations of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
Though she transgressed every commandment in multiple ways, the spiritual sin through which Israel's unfaithfulness is most frequently demonstrated is gross idolatry. John Ritenbaugh explains that this and other identifying marks—even her persecution of the saints—prove that Israel is the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
Many longtime students of the Bible have trouble accepting that the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 could be God's people, Israel. However, John Ritenbaugh shows that God's Word frequently paints unfaithful Israel in this light because she has consistently played the harlot in her relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
Most of us are living in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We can resist its influence if we understand what makes it so attractive to human nature. John Ritenbaugh explains what makes the Mystery Woman tick and why God judges her so severely.
Who is the Woman of Revelation 17 and 18? John Ritenbaugh explains that this fallen Woman displays no religious characteristics but instead acts as a city or nation involved in the politics, economics, and culture of its time. What nation fits the symbolism?
Prophecy has many purposes, but it is never intended to open the future to mere idle curiosity. Its much higher purpose is to furnish guidance to the heirs of salvation. John Ritenbaugh explains how the tumultuous sixth-century BC prepares us for the time of the end.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon problems understanding the W.C.G. 1974 doctrinal decision on Divorce and Remarriage, contends that any given doctrine must be built layer by layer, combining and comparing scriptures rather than allowing one scripture (such as Romans 7:1-3) to determine the doctrine. Jesus Christ initially appears to side with the position of Rabbi Shamei (divorce for adultery or marital unfaithfulness only) rather than Rabbi Hillel (who more liberally allowed divorce for any reason). When we understand that porneia includes all the hideous perverted sexual sins that go beyond ordinary adultery- including bestiality, pedophilia, homosexuality, incest, and every other imaginable sexual perversion, we understand that Jesus gave a greater latitude and flexibility in these divorce decisions than we had earlier assumed (based exclusively upon adulterous 'fraud'). Any violence against the marriage contract (stemming from unconversion) would constitute grounds for divorce, and would permit the converted partner to remarry. Mutual access to the tree of life (God's Holy Spirit) gives marriage the best (actually the only) chance to succeed.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Several weeks ago, this column commented on the state of American "Christianity" ("A Christian Nation?", January 4, 2002). ...
John Ritenbaugh warns that keeping the right days on the calendar is no guarantee of attaining a right relationship with God. How and why a person keeps the Sabbath determines whether this test commandment is really a sign between God and His people or an idolatrous act of futility. The Sabbath could metaphorically represent a date between God and His affianced bride, a special 24-hour time to become more intimately acquainted, the actual courtship stage before marriage. Letting worldly concerns enter the Sabbath is like committing adultery or flirting with other lovers. When we take time to know God, we become refreshed, strengthened, and actually liberated from worldly entanglements.
John Ritenbaugh warns that it is possible to have an enjoyable feast, but not keep the feast properly, failing to derive any spiritual profit. God expects the Feast of Tabernacles to be the spiritual high of the year. Paradoxically, if we go to the Feast with the goal of physically enjoying, we may lose out on both the spiritual and physical benefits. The attitude and purpose for keeping the Feast should focus upon the spiritual: serving, growing, overcoming, transforming, and producing spiritual fruit. The lesson of Amos 5 indicates that going through the motions, perhaps superstitiously acknowledging the historical ambience of the event, but in a smug, carnal, self-indulgent mode - without including the spiritual component - makes the entire event an abomination.
For the past 40 years sexual sins have topped the list of social issues in America. Divorce is at an all-time high. John Ritenbaugh examines the seventh commandment, the penalties paid for breaking it and how to become faithful to God in the keeping of it.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant of Hebrews 8:8 was given to Israel and Judah, not to the Gentiles. God does not deviate from this pattern; Israel is still involved with the New Covenant. It is not the physical nation, but the spiritual remnant (partly composed of grafted-in Gentiles- Romans 11:17-25 and the church or Israel of God- Galatians 6:16) with whom God is working, circumcising their hearts and writing His laws in the recesses of their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16)
John Ritenbaugh counsels us not to have an apathetic relationship toward God (Revelation 3:15), but instead to ardently, earnestly, diligently, and fervently seek God in order to imitate His behavior in our lives. The fervency of a passionate courtship and marriage relationship provides the grounds for comparison of the kind of relationship God wants with us. Jesus, David, and Jacob exemplified the passionate fervor and heat (both to purify good and to destroy evil) God demands of us. If we search for God with all our hearts, looking for something which is a vital necessity for us (Deuteronomy 4:29; Jeremiah 29:12-13; Hebrews 11:6) God will reward us, giving us what we are seeking: a warm, ardent relationship, transforming us into what He is.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the subject of alleged out-of-body experiences, provides scriptural corroboration of their impossibility. In the opening chapter of Lamentations, Jerusalem, personified as a widow who has had to endure watching the destruction of her family, must also endure the mocking, derisive scorn from the captors. Although the United States, like Jerusalem of old (indicted for committing spiritual harlotry), has piously presented itself as the guardian of righteousness, it has, through its perverted media, exported more sin around the world than any other culture. Its humiliation and sudden fall will ultimately be apparent to even the basest pagan and most degenerate heathen. Trusting in adulterous political alliances or technology instead of God will bring devastating humiliation.