Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of Book One of the Psalms, focusing on themes pertinent to the spring holy days, demonstrates that God orchestrated all of the events of the Exodus, making Pharaoh's pitiful plans irrelevant. God led Israel to the spot they felt they were trapped in order to demonstrate His absolute sovereignty, His ability to save, and His ability to totally annihilate all opposition. The Song of Moses, recorded in Exodus 15, indicates that ancient Israel finally got the point—at least momentarily. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 amplify the themes of the Song of Moses, with the first Psalm concentrating on the Torah, or instruction itself, but the second focusing on the Son; we must come to know both His instruction and Him personally. The Son will have the final say; only a fool would attempt to test His sovereignty. The first stanza of Psalm 1 expresses astonishment that anyone would try to plot against God. Because God controls the whole universe, He laughs in mockery and derision at anyone who would even contemplate rebellion. Because Jesus Christ is God's begotten Son, we can avoid the rod of His anger by paying respect with worshipful fear and awe.
Ted Bowling, cuing in on Philippians 2:12, which states that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remembers an incident of an earthquake he had experienced in San Bernardino, an incident fraught with terror and feelings of helplessness as the concrete under his feet rolled like waves. The fear and trembling before God is more like reverence and awe instead of abject terror. The fear and terror we experience leads us to total dependence upon God with a desire to repudiate sin, which is loathsome to God. We cannot do this on our own, but must ask God for the will and desire to overcome our carnal human nature. We bring honor to God by keeping His commandments. Paul asks members of the Philippian congregation to take stock of themselves, making sure they were solicitous of the needs of the congregation, esteeming others before self, emulating the example of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. As we emulate Christ, growing in His character, and when we serve our brethren with selflessness, we bring glory to God the Father.
As Christians, we have a desire to please God, and we want Him to protect and deliver us when the times ahead get tough. John Ritenbaugh illustrates four qualities of character that our full acceptance of God's sovereignty will build and that will prepare us for whatever work God may choose for us in these last days.
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
The fifth commandment stands at the head of the second tablet of the Decalogue, the section defining our relationships with other people. John Ritenbaugh examines why this commandment is so necessary for our families, for our societies, and even ultimately for our and our children's relationships with God Himself.
At creation, God sanctified only one day, the seventh, as a day of rest. At Sinai, He once again sanctified it as a holy day, connecting it with creation and freedom. John Ritenbaugh expands on these concepts, showing that God wants us to keep the Sabbath to support our continuing spiritual creation and freedom.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the scripture commanding the saving of second tithe, focuses on the admonition that we learn to fear God, having awe, respect, with a certain measure of dread. We are admonished to internalize the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for our future leadership roles. In one sense, Deuteronomy serves as the Reader's Digest Condensed Book or the Cliff Notes, outlining the details for our salvation, providing us instructions for our relationship to God and our guidebook to the Promised Land. Deviating from this set of instructions leads to apostasy, idolatry or spiritual adultery, a situation in which physical Israel perennially found itself, having become repeatedly immersed in degenerate heathen religious practices. Ezekiel 16 is directed to modern Israel, a people who have outstripped their ancestors in their zeal to defile themselves in a moral and spiritual cesspool. Unfortunately, all of us have been tainted by this degenerate culture. Modern Israel's major sin is idolatry. Once the First Commandment is broken, the others topple like a house of cards. Most of the world worships pictures or sculptures of gods and lords. Those who trust these false entities are as good as dead. There is no alternative to worshipping the one true God. Israel's propensity for idolatry is deeply ingrained in them, impatiently and emotionally clamoring for something they could see—a malleable idol. Unfortunately, this propensity toward idolatry is part of human nature, a natural extension of self-centered coveting; transforming ourselves into the god we serve. God will not brook competition under any circumstances, demanding total destruction of all alternative forms and methods of worship—no form of syncretism with anything pagan whatsoever.
John Ritenbaugh debunks the foolish notion that it does not matter what we wear if our heart is right on the inside. Our clothing as well as our outward conduct must match what is going on in our inner heart or being. Our clothing, often symbolizing righteousness, ought to reflect or symbolize our inward character. We are admonished to dress up to the standards that God finds acceptable. Old Testament examples of the importance of dressing up before God or when we enter His presence include Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's sons. When God entered into a marriage covenant with Israel, He dressed her up in quality clothing, but when Israel played the harlot, her seductive clothing became a symbol of defiance against God. As Aaron and his priestly sons were commanded to wear special clothing symbolizing purity and righteousness, we as a forming kingdom of priests, must give attention to our clothing as it symbolizes our inward spiritual character and submissiveness to God.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that we must continually upgrade our decorum and formality in our approach to God, striving to emulate Him in all that we do. Our culture (paralleling the second law of thermo-dynamics) has seriously degenerated in decorum and standards, pulling everyone down into casual, slovenly and disrespectful behavior. Morally and socially, we must resist the ever-present antagonism toward law, rules, and decorum, choosing instead to submit ourselves to God's standards of order enabling the whole body to be organized, training to become a holy priesthood before God. We must exercise temperance concerning food and drink, dress and demeanor. The non-negotiable rules or instructions given for the organization and administration of the tabernacle were clear, unambiguous and served to enforce strict decorum and formality. What is practiced on the outside reinforces what is on the inside.
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that even before we acquire the necessary motivational building blocks of faith, hope, and love, we must acquire the fear of God (spanning the emotions of stark terror to reverential awe) providing a key, unlocking the treasures of God. The process of acquiring this fear comes through a perennial sequential pattern of chaos or disorder followed by Divine order, revealing God's glory, followed by judgment in some form. The cycle takes place in our lives just as assuredly as it did in the biblical examples. Judgment is now upon the Church of God. Learning from biblical examples, we dare not treat what is holy as common, but must (with the metaphorical hills and valleys of our character leveled) maintain a steady reverential fear of God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that in matters of submission, God wants us to think things through rather than merely comply through blind obedience. The bitter fruit of multiculturalism (without God's guidance) has demonstrated that unless someone is willing to submit, we have the makings of conflict and chaos. In order to have peace, order, and unity, both Israelite and Gentile have to subordinate their traditions, submitting to the traditions of Christ (Ephesians 2:19). Conflict between all cultural traditions will never end until they are all brought into submission to the traditions of Christ. We have to overcome our cultural mis-education and our desires to gratify the self. Liberty without guidelines will turn into chaos. We will be free only if we submit to the truth (John 8:32). All authority, even incompetent and stupid authority, ultimately derives from God's sanction (John 19:11).
What is the proper balance between respecting someone and showing respect of persons? Is formality among church members necessary? Desirable? How should Christians treat each other in this area?
John Ritenbaugh warns us that where our eyes are fixed upon (looking to for guidance and direction) determines how we will conduct our lives. Like our forebears in Ezekiel 20, we have also been influenced by our father's idols, placing us (ignorantly perhaps) in opposition to God's laws and judgments. Immorality is the natural cause-effect consequence of rejecting God's counsel, forcing one to embrace evil as good and reject good as evil, totally perverting standards of morality. Rejecting the true God automatically leads to idolatry, worshipping the god of this world, a being bent on our destruction. Idolatry constitutes the fountainhead from which all other sins flow, all of which amplify obsessive self-centeredness and self-indulgence. We need to educate our conscience to worship (cultivate a relationship with) the true God rather than misconceptions manufactured by our misguided imaginations.