Richard Ritenbaugh, realizing that although some people regard approaching the Bible as literature to be demeaning or perhaps even heretical, contends that the literary approach can be a powerful tool to understanding and appreciating it more fully. A good story does not lay itself, but it takes a lot of work on the part of the narrator to make it impelling, memorable, or riveting. A successful play, a short story, a novel, or a poem unfolds as a three-part formula of (1) setting up the structure, (2) providing an intense complication, escalating the conflict between hero and villain until the situation appears hopeless, and (3) resolving the tensions, a process called the denouement. The book of Esther can certainly be dissected into these three elements, but because it follows the Oriental tradition rather than the Western tradition, the chiastic "X" structure provides a better paradigm of the plot. This structure can be seen in Psalm 64, in which the first five verses set the situation, reaching a massively disturbing complication at the middle, only to be overturned by the last five verses, which provide a corresponding set of positive circumstances cancelling out all the negative circumstances in the first five verses. Each verse in the second set of five verses systematically annuls a corresponding verse in the first set of five verses—6 overturns 1, 7 overturns 2, etc. The structure in the Book of Esther shows a similar pattern, with the negative events moving to a high point of tension when Esther decides to enter the King's presence uninvited, followed by a turning around and cancellation of all Haman's evil plans for the Jews and the restoration of Mordecai's honor, a truly dramatic reversal. The invisible God evidently loves a cliff-hanger.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
Bill Onisick, reflecting on the shrewdness and deceptiveness of con schemes, citing many examples from Soapy Jefferson wrapping worthless soap in one hundred dollar bills, George Parker selling the toll privileges for the Brooklyn Bridge, Victor Lustig 'selling' the Eifel Tower, Charles Ponzi, selling worthless investment coupons, to pop-up screens enticing people into giving private financial data, suggests that these crooked schemes are hopelessly amateurish when compared to the master traveling salesman Satan the devil, who sold Eve a phony bill of goods by appealing to her innate desire to be self-sufficient, to be like God, and to get something for nothing. All individuals who have been duped into con schemes have the same perennial weakness—to be self-sufficient and to get something for nothing. In order to avoid being taken advantage of, we have to become poor in spirit, trusting in God rather than ourselves and trusting God for all of our provisions. Only the poor in spirit will inherit God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the warning of the apostle Paul that evil company corrupts good habits, warns us that the desire to sin is highly contagious and is a deadly, communicable disease. Because the world we inhabit swims in sin, we have the obligation to become a thinking people, voluntarily choosing God's purpose for ourselves rather than Satan's shameless appeal to self-centeredness, as demonstrated with Satan's enticement of mother Eve. Like mother Eve, we also contend against spiritual principalities for which we need the whole armor of guard and to be guided by God's Holy Spirit to defeat our deadly, carnal nature. The best defense a newborn, minimally contaminated by Satanic nature, has against the influence of sin are parents who ardently love God and His commandments. Solomon had to learn that wisdom, in its purest human form, does not give us complete understanding into the ultimate purposes of God, but wisdom, accompanied with unconditional faith in God, will actually brighten an individual's countenance, as was seen in the example of Daniel and his friends; godly wisdom has the power to change a person's appearance and brings about personal transformation. In a difficult situation, especially when dealing with tyrannical human governments, trusting God is the ultimate wisdom.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
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.
As he closes the seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes a confession about the search for wisdom, saying that, even to him, true wisdom remained beyond his grasp. Acknowledging this truth, John Ritenbaugh explains that, while wisdom will ultimately elude us too, we must continue to seek it because pursuing it is itself a great reward.
In this Bible Study, John Ritenbaugh profiles the narcissistic personality, characterized by a highly self-absorbed and manipulative individual who, on one hand, has abused his God-given gifts and, on the other hand, neglected the responsibility of using them properly. Probably the biblical character best exemplifying the narcissistic personality is David's son, Absalom, clearly a spoiled son in a dysfunctional family. David was not noted for his childrearing skills, rarely calling any of his children into account for their behavior, but pampered them and indulged their multiple transgressions. Moreover, in both David's and Jacob's polygamous marital situations (tolerated but not condoned by God), fairness would have been next to impossible. Absalom developed a highly deceitful charm, able to "sweet-talk a bird out of a tree" with his disarming verbal eloquence, learning to be a controller par excellent. Using his scheming manipulative skills, he stealthily (taking the law in his own hands) arranged the murder of his older brother, a competitive contender for the throne. Absalom, using his manipulative charm and unctuous verbal skills, won the hearts of the common people, undercutting his father's honor and authority. For his vanity, his self-aggrandizement, and super-inflated ego, he became a "pin cushion" at the order of Joab. Absalom used his gifts and talents only for himself. With Absalom's negative example in mind, we need to make sure we do not use our spiritual gifts for self-service or self-aggrandizement, or worse yet, not to use them at all. Our children are gifts from God; we as parents must pass on to our children the sense of responsibility that has been given to us. We have to make ourselves answerable and responsible for their behavior, disciplining them for their carelessness and reinforcing their thoughtfulness. If Absalom would have been reared with these principles, much of David's bitterness and heartache would have been alleviated.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the controversial topics of conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizenship and the New World Order. These, for too many, burn up countless hours of precious time in vain speculation and useless anxiety. The drive toward one world government is a transparent reality having several biblical prototypes (Genesis 10:8-13; Daniel 2:36-44), all inspired by demonic opposition to God's rule (Ephesians 6:12; II Corinthians 4:4: Jude 6; etc.) There is nothing new in this game-plan; conspiracy seems to be a part of our human nature. Satan, manipulating self-interest and pride in various groups and individuals, will only be able to hold his inharmonious confederation together for a short while. If our fear is not in God, this conspiracy will distract, immobilize, and paradoxically tempt us to compromise with it. Our fear ought to be in God who has sovereignty and the final say over all things (Isaiah 8:11-13).
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the meaning of Matthew 24:40-41, contends that the separation that occurs does not apply to a secret rapture but, more probably, to a separation suggested by Revelation 13:10-16, in which a portion of the church is preserved in a place of safety and another portion is designated to endure the persecution of Satan. Lamentations 3 and 4 show the stark contrast of a once proud people (secure in their wealth, technology, and cleverness) suffering bitter persecution and humiliation at the hands of a people considered by them to be their moral inferiors. In the midst of this suffering, in which the ravages of famine have brought about a degradation of compassion and moral sensibility in Israel, the narrator (presumably Jeremiah) stresses that vindication and ultimate restoration will come only from God.