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, cuing in Psalm 118, the sixth and final halal or pilgrimage psalm, proclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad," emphasizes that this prophetic psalm, demonstrating God's sovereignty over all events, motivates us to have optimism, realizing that God can make lemonade out of any lemon. The miracle of our calling demonstrates God can take something weak and base and transform it into something strong and mighty. The late Norman Vincent Peale in his runaway best—seller The Power of Positive Thinking stressed that optimism provides multiple physiological and psychological benefits over pessimism, enhancing a person's quality of life. Dr. Suzanne Segerstrom added that optimistic people have better control of their emotions, are better communicators, get more done, are more resilient during hardship, and are focused on their goals. The spiritual benefits of optimism transcend the physical benefits, enabling us to see the big picture, the trek to eternal life. When adversity strikes, we can see its context in God's eternal plan, enabling us to see that with grounded optimism, effort, and God's help, we can conquer any obstacle. When the Lord lifts His countenance upon us, it serves as a counterweight to any doom and gloom we may currently experience. The entire creation groans in futility anticipating the arrival of the sons of God, following the pattern of Jesus Christ's transformation from flesh to spirit. The apostle Paul wrote some of his most optimistic and buoyant letters from prison, anticipating the possibility of execution, but absolutely convinced that ultimate victory was imminent. We need to have that same assurance in our current trials, exercising the same optimism, confidence, patience, joy, and a hope that will not fade away.
"Fairness" is a major buzzword in these times. Special interest groups complain and sometimes agitate because they feel that society is not treating them fairly. Geoff Preston approaches the subject more personally, showing that our discontent over perceived mistreatment pales in comparison to what others have endured.
Clyde Finklea, acknowledging that life is full of good and bad times, directs us to learn the lesson of Ecclesiastes 7:13-14, to rejoice when times are good and to reflect soberly when times are bad, realizing that adversity or suffering is a tool that God uses to create something beautiful in us. Suffering always hurts, just as renovation on an old building involves tearing out something undesirable to transform it into something pleasant and useful.. The apostle Paul developed incredible spiritual strength by being tested to his limits in what he described as a trial or affliction beyond his capability of handling. Later he developed confidence to shake off a poisonous serpent, trusting in God to heal him. What he had earlier described as “burdened beyond our capacity” he later characterized as a momentary light affliction. To mature us, God uses trials to (1) render us capable of comforting others in their affliction, (2) prevent us from trusting in ourselves, but to motivate us to trust unconditionally in God, and (3) enable us to thank God for our newly acquired strength to endure greater trials and challenges. Whatever we face, God is able to provide us the strength to endure, enabling us to exponentially grow spiritually.
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, continuing his exposition on Ecclesiastes, focuses on three interrelated terms: paradox (something contrary to expectation), conundrum (a riddle), and wisdom (skill in arts, such as Bezalel and Oholiab who were gifted in a specific skill—or spiritual insight). We are called into the body of Christ gifted with specific skills and abilities to work with Christ edifying and serving His body, equipping the saints. Metaphorically, we are building or constructing the church of Christ using the wisdom or skill with which we have been endowed. Biblical wisdom (a special sagacity of quickness of perception, soundness of judgment, and far-sightedness needed for resolving spiritual problems pertaining to life as it is lived day by day) is achievable by anyone called of God because God is the source of this wisdom. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is directed to those who have been called; it is not an easy book for most people. In Ecclesiastes 7, paradoxes appear in the statements that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth, mourning is better than rejoicing, sorrow is better than laughter, rebuke is better than a song, and the end is better than the beginning. Carnally speaking, when viewing the relative fates of the righteous (who seem to suffer) and the wicked (who seem to prosper), the unrighteous often seem to have it better. Many Bible commentators are stumped with this apparent difficultly and are not helped with multiple translations of these paradoxes and conundrums. The solutions to these difficulties are solved in other locations in the Bible. When the righteous are going through grievous trials, they are not being punished, but tested. God will never forsake the righteous. We dare not judge the fairness of God; He is fully aware of what we (and all others) are going through. God has carefully orchestrated all life's experiences, including the destruction of our previous fellowship, in order to protect us from error and to see how all of us will stand individually.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Book IV of the Psalms, corresponding with the fall festivals, singles out the Feast of Trumpets for its themes and imagery, as well as the Summary Psalm 149. Trumpets could be considered the opening salvo of the fall feasts, beginning with a blast of the trumpet or shofar, reminiscent of the event on Mount Sinai in which God visited His people, brought the Law, and brought righteous judgment—an event which depicts another judgment coming upon the earth following the Seventh Trumpet and the seven trumpet plagues or bowls of judgment in which God will shake the earth and destroy those whose goal has been to destroy the earth, and a time when Christ will claim His Bride and the Marriage of the Lamb will commence. Psalm 91 anticipates the Day of the Lord, the return of Christ coming for judgment, and destruction, but also putting a protective hedge around His people. Psalm 90, written by Moses, wistfully asks how long it will be before this condition of temporariness can be turned to eternal life. Psalm 91, perhaps also written by Moses, discusses a kind of place of refuge in which the protected saints can view the destruction of Satan's evil system. Psalm 94 seems to reflect the point of view of saints not in a place of safety, anxiously waiting for the end of times of tribulation. The key to weathering these fearful times is drawing close to God with a view of emulating His life and getting to know Him, preparing for rulership in His Kingdom.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, moves to the climactic point of the narrative in Genesis 45, in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph knew and recognized his brothers before they knew him. God knows our guiltiest secret sins which we think we have effectively hid. All things are open before God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph loved his brothers before they loved him, using tough love to bring them to repentance. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his brothers before they realized they were being saved. Actually the brothers thought they were lost. Sin cannot be hidden; we cannot escape its consequences. Like Jesus, Joseph called his brothers when they would have preferred to run from those. Joseph treated them with compassion as a loving brother; Christ calls us in the same manner. As a type of Christ, Joseph was more concerned about God's will than anything else, giving him a stable perspective, seeing God's providence. God prospered Joseph, making him governor of all Egypt. God saved the lives of Joseph's brothers, indicating that He plans well in advance. God saved other lives in the process of saving Joseph's household. God can use our errors to further His ultimate good; God's purpose will be done, and He is sovereign. Joseph, as a type of Christ, had the ability to forgive, in contrast to the anger and vindictiveness of Simeon and Levi, assuring them that he held no bitterness. Forgiveness is love fused to grace.
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
The apostle Peter provides valuable insight on the place of Christian suffering: "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. . . ."
During the spring and summer of 1980, Terry Fox pursued his "Marathon of Hope" to raise money for cancer research, running in effect 143 consecutive marathons. His experience contains similarities to a Christian's life, and we can extract lessons that apply to our long journey to God's Kingdom.
How involved in man's affairs is God? Is He merely reactive, or does He actively participate—even cause events and circumstances? John Ritenbaugh argues that God is the Prime Mover in our lives and in world events.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the trials of Joseph are a clear exposition of the principle of Romans 8:28 that "all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Even allowing for mankind's free moral agency, propensity to sin, stumbling, and getting into difficulties, God continues to work out His purpose (making lemons into lemonade) even when people do not know it is for their good (Genesis 50:20). The key to Joseph's greatness is that he allowed his affliction and hardship to humble him, giving him a Christ-like character.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
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