Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
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, creating a hypothetical scenario in which God sends the Russians- to devastate America and reduce it to a vassal state, suggests that such a catastrophe would resemble the conditions described by the Book of Lamentations. The Scriptures describe the Chaldeans as a bitter and hasty nation, ruthless and tempestuous, riding roughshod over everyone in their relentless thirst for power and plunder, often compared to wolves, leopards and other predators. When God chose to punish Judah and Israel, He sent the absolute worst of the heathen. The Lamentations show poignant before-and-after vignettes of former happy times contrasted with the horror of the present. Because of Judah's harlotry, God exposes the lewdness of her faithlessness and the cruelty of the lovers she whored after. Judah has become abhorred, as was Hosea's Gomer, who symbolized the faithlessness of God's people. The Day of the Lord unfolds nothing but disaster, darkness, and stark terror, with each trial worse than the one before. God is longsuffering, but He will not allow multitudes of infidelities. Like ancient Judah, the current offspring of Jacob have squandered the blessings given to Abraham. It appears that, just as Judah did not repent until it had hit bottom, modern Israelites will not repent until the fruits of their own sins nauseates and gags them. God is a merciful God, but His justice must be satisfied sooner or later.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent solar eclipse, reminds us that in the peoples of past cultures believed that solar and lunar eclipses were omens of impending tragedy, leading to rituals to combat their influence. Although the Bible uses the imagery of the eclipse to portend the confusion at the end of the age, neither eclipses nor the warnings of the prophets caught Judah's attention. The only major event which got their undivided attention was the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the subsequent captivity of Jerusalem, an event sonorously described in Lamentations, a Megillah chanted on the 9th of Av, in the summer season, focusing on summer fruit, having the themes of affliction, God's judgment, correction, cursing, trials, with a hope in God's redemption and restoration. The most likely author is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, but it also could have been composed by Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary. The Book's five acrostic songs (chapters) answer the question, "Why did this happen?" God brought the punishment on Judah, explaining that the basket of bad figs was destroyed (that is, the population of Jerusalem decimated) because Judah embraced idolatry, indulged in perverse sexual sins, failed to take care of the needy, and meted out corrupt judgments, forsaking the only support that would sustain them—Almighty God. Sadly, these deplorable characteristics describe the nations of modern Israel today. As God's called-out ones, we need to take to heart the warnings of Lamentations.
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.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the poetic prayer-song at the end of Habakkuk 3, concludes that this passage is one of the most inspiring parts of God's Word. The moving prayer-song, asking God to revive His work in the midst of years, and to temper judgment with mercy, provides a model of an effective prayer. Though the prophet began his dialogue with God with distressful angst and bitter complaints, expressing incredulity that God would allow a vile nation to be His corrective instrument, the prayer-song of Chapter 3 demonstrates that the prophet has calmly acquiesced to God's righteous judgment, remembering His sterling record of faithfulness, humbly asking God to remember to have mercy.Our time is like that of Habakkuk , when horrendous and pandemic sin invite God's wrath. We may initially find the means God uses to correct our people horrifying and discouraging, but when we place His actions in context with His overall plan and purpose for mankind, we will find peace in God's absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. Humility and repentance are absolute prerequisites for answered prayer. After repentance, adoration and reflection on God's attributes and on the history of His providence should make up the contents of our prayers. Finally, our specific petitions should be exclusively within the context of God's will, remembering that God's work of fashioning a new creation takes precedence over our petty concerns; like Habakkuk, we need to subordinate our work to God's overall plan, asking God for renewal in the midst of bad times, remembering that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness. Knowledge of God, as recorded in His Word, (that is , bearing in mind His promises, previous interventions, and characteristic providence) gives us fortitude in horrific times, enabling us to know that God will save His people and stand by His promises. As Habakkuk lived up to the etymology of his name habaq, meaning to embrace or cling, we must cling tenaciously to God as we enter the disastrous times
Richard Ritenbaugh posits that the thesis of the books of Chronicles is that, if one follows the terms of God's Covenant, blessings will accrue, and that, if one does not, curses will ensue. God sternly warned ancient Israel never to make covenants with the people whom He had dispossessed, nor to have anything to do with their sensual gods, but instead they were to destroy and tear down their idols and remove their high places. If Israel would honor the covenant, the people could be absolutely assured that God would richly bless them. God desires to bless and prosper His people. Decidedly, the worst king Judah ever had was Manasseh, the restorer of all the pagan religions, erecting altars to Baal, all the gods of the Zodiac, making groves to Ashera, worshiping the sun, moon, and stars, sacrificing several of his sons to Milchom, seducing Judah to compromise for the sake of political advantage to make alliances with the enemies of God. Traditionally, he is the person responsible for the death of Isaiah. Even though Manasseh was absolutely the worst king ever to lead Judah, shedding more innocent blood than any of his predecessors, leading to the captivity of his people, and of his own humiliating capture, being led around by hooks in his nose, Manasseh finally got the message that God only is God, and sincerely repented. As a result of this repentance, God restored him to his place on the throne of David. Manasseh is testimony that God's grace is astounding in magnanimity; even the worst of sinners can repent and receive God's forgiveness.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
Richard Ritenbaugh, aligning Book Three of the Psalms with the hot summer months, the Book of Leviticus in the Torah, the Book of Lamentations in the Megilloth, and Summary Psalm 148, indicates that this portion of Scripture deals with the somber theme of judgment on a people who have rejected their God and have produced a plethora of rotten spiritual fruit. Summer suggests military campaigns that have switched into high gear, a time when plowshares have been reshaped into implements of war, bringing on God's judgment on a faithless, rebellious people who should have known better. The 9th of Av, occurring this year the eve of July 25 and the day of July 26, constitutes the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second temples, bringing captivity for Israel and Judah for their overweening pride and vile sins. The major theme of Book Three of Psalms is that God wants repentance; He absolutely cannot tolerate sin. The keynote psalm, Psalm 73, describes the reaction of discouragement of a faithful person witnessing the prosperity and ease of the wicked person, while the righteous seem to be facing endless trials and harassments. When we finally see God's perspective from the tranquility of His sanctuary, we realize that the respective ends of the righteous and the wicked will be vastly different. We come to understand that not all who are in Israel are Israel, but only the ones with which God is working. The evil are currently in slippery places, destined for destruction, while God's chosen people, the Israel of God, are being groomed for a priceless inheritance. If we stick with God, we will acquire our inheritance in the fullness of time.
John Ritenbaugh declares that God has carefully called each individual member, gifting each one differently, but with the ultimate function of edifying the body. We are mandated to live by faith, being given trials of faith in order to chisel our character. We must totally and unreservedly accept God's sovereignty. We must place Jesus Christ above everything else in our life. Seeing God's influence provided the motivation for our forebears to reach the Promised Land. Unlike Satan and his demons, will we be loyal to God as God crafts out our place personally? Jesus Christ is concerned about us and is overseeing every aspect of our lives. Our Savior is a person, not an abstract idea; He is personally involved in our lives. What God is doing with each of us will fit perfectly. Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing, shaping our lives according to His purpose? We have our ways of doing things, demanding our comfort, but our Creator may have different ideas. God directs everything in our life according to the counsel of His will. If we are living by faith, we will allow Him to mold us into what He intends. Jesus Christ is personally involved with us, doing what He absolutely pleases. We need to trust Him that He is there and that He knows what is going on in our lives, and that He cares- in the big and the little things in our lives. Do we trust His judgment? Everything He does is according to His pleasure with our welfare at heart, even when we are put through calamity. Jesus Christ blew the Worldwide Church of God apart, scattering it all over the world, in order to ultimately rescue the saints from fatal error. Our goal is to believe Jesus Christ, trusting Him unconditionally, enabling us not to disappoint Him in any way.
The lives of the Minor Prophets span the latter part of the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and extend into the post-Exilic period. As witnesses to the decline and fall of these two unrepentant nations, the prophets report the conditions and attitudes that led to their defeat, captivity, and exile. In Part Three, Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai.
Just about half of the continental United States suffers under severe drought conditions. And lack of water is not the only thing we need to worry about. Richard Ritenbaugh warns that such "acts of God" should make us take note.
Richard Ritenbaugh, addressing our current scattered state as a form of exile, asserts that exile has been a form of punishment God has used from the very beginning, with our original parents through the patriarchs, through the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, right up to the present time. God exiles to punish for sin, separating individuals and groups from Him in order to spur repentance. There is something to exile that God finds very good. God has scattered the greater church of God (keeping the bad figs from contaminating the salvageable ones) because He loves us and wants us to begin rebuilding as much as lies within us, getting our relationships right with God and our fellow exiled brethren, bearing fruit and seeking peace.
The Bible commands us to glorify God in all we do, but sometimes we are not sure just how we can do that as sinful human beings. Martin Collins shows that the key is righteous character.
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.
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