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 reflects on two recent news items in which individuals foolishly initiated altercations with police and lost their lives in the process. As a matter of common sense, it seems the height of idiocy to challenge constituted authority. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 8:17 that we are not privy to God's operations under the sun, but we must nevertheless leave room for God's operations, realizing that He has the prerogative to impose both blessings and calamity, the latter as a response to man's disobedience. God wants us to witness difficulties and the natural consequences of sin. In these difficult times, we need to be mindful that God is carefully watching us. As we yield to God, and apply godly wisdom, analyzing, calculating, observing, etc., our knowledge increases and we add an extra dimension of character as we morph into God's offspring. One of the difficult lessons we must process is that God backs up constituted authority, regardless of the governmental structures that placed it into office. We must realize that whether we are dealing with federal representatives, city council members, the policeman on the beat, our employer, our teachers, or our parents, we owe them the same deference and respect we would give to God. The human family was given by God as the building blocks of all governmental structures. As the beginning of wisdom is fear of Almighty God, we humans learn to fear, giving deference and respect to our parents, and then transfer this deference to civil government and other governmental structures of society. We must continually remember that we are strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners in an alien land. Even if we consider ourselves ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, our latitude to participate in the governmental structures in this world has been greatly restricted. Nevertheless, we are obligated to render respect, deference, and honor to constituted authority as though we rendered it to God.
Martin Collins, focusing on the danger of pride of intellect and knowledge, affirms that knowledge of the truth is essential, but it must be God's knowledge, and not a syncretistic mixture of worldly philosophy or mystical Gnostic admixtures. Political correctness, a modern application of Gnosticism, can usher in some unacceptable consequences, such as occurred with the prideful 'tolerance' of incest as practiced in the Corinthian congregation. Like leavening, toleration of one offense would lead to toleration of other offenses. Progressives in American politics shamelessly call evil good and good evil, murdering fetuses in the name of 'women's rights and practicing sodomy in the name of marriage 'equality.' All of these progressive insights emanate from Satan, who has 'transformed' himself as an angel of light. Similarly, ditchism in religion (veering from one extreme or the other, such as overly strict or overly lenient) leads to unpleasant imbalances. Relying "solely" on human intellect is one such ditch when it is isolated from the heart and from practice. Proper knowledge must always be joined to the will of God. A person who is puffed up parades his knowledge either by exhibiting impatience, intolerance, or an obsequious false modesty, marginalizing what they consider to be the weak or uneducated. Some prideful people, caught up in their wealth of knowledge, are rendered totally useless in serving others. Conversely, the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge, putting us into proper humble and lowly perspective; to know and love God is to understand Him. Knowledge of God creates love for God as well as perfecting our relationships with others. The happiest people in the church are those who know His teachings and practice them 24 hours a day, growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord, actively practicing love as motivated by God's Holy Spirit, instilling in us the mind of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 constitutes a useful roadmap for the confusing labyrinth of life. God's ways are inscrutable to most people; grasping these revelations requires a special gift. Unless God calls us and gifts us with this insight, we will have absolutely no clue as to our eventual purpose, explaining why eternity has been planted in our hearts. God has given gifts to all men. He has revealed to all of mankind knowledge of His existence through public observation of the creation (Romans 1:18-20). It takes greater 'faith' to believe in evolution. God also gave mankind a conscience as a kind of wired-in moral law (Romans 2:14-15) establishing a basic standard of morality. God has given the entire human race a grasp of the concept of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Only those called by God are given further detailed instructions of God's grand design, making living by faith possible. God will add understanding as we are able to make use of it. Fear of God, the beginning of understanding, holds us on track, keeping us in alignment with God. We must learn that the time and the events God has set are unchangeable; whatever God does endures forever. We must trust God's timing on everything. Compared to our fallible or haphazard timing, God "runs a tight ship." What God has purposed will be done. We are obligated to submit to His creativity, trusting that He will bring to fruition what He has purposed; we are His workmanship, fashioned to perform good works—our permanent assignment regardless of the circumstances. Past, present, and future are inextricably bound together as a continuous stream; God alone controls the historical segments, giving us practical experience as to what works and what does not. The circularity of history provides instructive correction and guidance, enabling us multiple opportunities to repent and overcome. In the life of the called, everything matters. The work of God endures forever. We are known by God; He is in control. Judgment is a prominent t
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the significance of the Day of Trumpets, asserts that it is characterized by shouting or a memorial of blowing of trumpets (teruah), signifying alarm, joy, or excitement. Before the commandment to keep this feast, only one event involving trumpets had occurred to the Israelites, namely the giving of the Covenant on Mount Sinai, when God spoke audibly to Moses and the people, intentionally intimidating them to test their faithfulness, to instill the fear of the Lord in them, and to keep them from sin. Most Israelites soon forgot the magnitude of God's power. When the psalmist Asaph remembered God's power, he was motivated to worship Him properly. This fear enables us to learn to walk in God's ways, acquiring wisdom and understanding, avoiding and hating evil, loving and finding refuge in God, ultimately attaining the reward of eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the basic attitudinal setting for a Christian, called by Jesus "poor in spirit."
The Bible is full of symbols and types. The offerings of Leviticus, though they are no longer necessary under the New Covenant, are wonderful for teaching us about Christ in His roles as sacrifice, offerer, and priest. And they even instruct us in our roles before God too!
Once we accept God's sovereignty, it begins to produce certain virtues in us. John Ritenbaugh explains four of these byproducts of total submission to God.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Deuteronomy (the commentary of the Law placed along side of the Tablets of the Law), designed to be systematically reviewed every seven years, provides us vision and preparatory instruction for living in our new Promised Land as members of God's family. We need to learn (it doesn't come naturally) and acquire the fear of God- equated with hating evil and doing good, leading to faith and wisdom. If we fear God, we will be less inclined to fear people. The sermon explores the subject of grace, indicating that we have nothing that we didn't receive from God- including our calling, justification, skills, attributes, spiritual gifts, and our pending eternal life. The final theme in this sermon explores God's faithfulness (no variableness nor shadow of turning), symbolized by the image of the harvest- depicting God's faithfulness from the beginning to completion. Living in booths depicts transitory existence suggesting our total dependency upon God.
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