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.
Martin Collins, reviewing the episode of Habakkuk's frustration that God would use an evil people to punish Israel, points us to the prophet's resolve to cease being a fretful worrier and to become a responsible watcher, determined to understand the purpose of God's dealing with His people. Only a faithful believer will ever stand acquitted before God's fearful judgment. While the taunt-song, dealing with the five woes, certainly applies to Babylon, it applies doubly to God's people Israel, who should have known better, but chose to become ignorant. The first two woes in Habakkuk 2:6-8 concerns the woe against greed, avarice, covetousness (a virulent form of idolatry), and selfish ambition, leading to the crime of usury, charging excessive interest on loans, making the debtor a virtual slave, totally against God's instructions in Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The earth metaphorically cries out against the oppressor who garners wealth by stealing from others and amassing fortunes by exploiting the poor. The third woe focuses on a nation's tyrannical oppression of captive peoples, building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by violence, denuding forests, wantonly slaughtering animals in order to subjugate other defenseless peoples. The fourth woe results from a people corrupting others with drunkenness and lust, having both literal and metaphorical implications; today the intoxicating Babylonian system embraced by Jacob's descendants has caused our nation to resemble, both figuratively and literally, a drunk vomiting over itself, exposing its sins and folly to the entire world, after adamantly refusing to be governed by God's laws. The fifth woe leveled against the Chaldeans, and by extension to the modern descendants of Jacob, results from idolatry, the sin of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, applying to literal idols of stone and wood as well as to pagan new age religious practices and including anything we might exalt over God Almighty, including our physical possessions, talents, abilities,
Martin Collins observes that the book of Daniel at chapter 8 is recorded in Hebrew and refers more to prophetic events which occur at the end-times rather than the previous narrative recorded in the first half of the book. The ram and goat symbolize the events describing the succession of the Medo-Persian Empire and the Greco-Macedonian Empire, the latter ruled by Alexander's four generals. The vision of the little horn on the male goat is for the time of the end, in which a king or ruler with supernatural powers has the audacity to stand up to the returning Christ. Historically, Antiochus Epiphanes fulfilled this role as a type or forerunner of a later prophetic fulfillment, a time when a sanctuary will be trodden underfoot and must undergo cleansing. The unfolding of these prophecies in the future will substantiate God's giving of these prophecies. Whatever God has determined cannot and will not be altered by any human interpretation of prophecy. We need to emulate Daniel by assiduously studying the Scripture and praying for understanding, asking God for what He has promised and for His will to be done. We can pray with more confidence when we are in sync with God's will. Daniel's prayer, in Chapter 9, provides a model of how we can effectively pray for our sinful nation and the degenerate culture around us.
Martin Collins, reminding us that Daniel had received wisdom, influence, and health from God, also points out that God placed Daniel in a position of greater influence after He exposed Him to greater danger. God is sovereign over our lives in every circumstance, enabling us to cope with anything the world and Satan can throw at us, giving us the promise of the power to endure. The book of Daniel, written partially in Hebrew and part in Aramaic indicates that God intended the message to both the Hebrews and the Chaldeans, substantiating the authenticity of this document. The circumstances surrounding Nebuchadnezzar's fearful dream set the stage for God's revelation of His power, plan, and prophetic intentions (through His servants) as well as the foolishness of astrology. Daniel, despite the fearful events, kept his focus upon God and didn't arrogate any powers to himself, but humbly acknowledged and thanked God for the wisdom and power. Because of Daniel's faith and his fervent prayer, God revealed the contents of the dream, providing a witness to Nebuchadnezzar and his idolatrous nation that God is absolutely sovereign over time and ultimately controls the outcome of all worldly events, predicting the fate of Babylon (the prototype of all world empires), the Medo-Persian empire, the Graeco-Macedonian empire, and the Roman empire, partly strong and partly fragile. Because of the precarious colloidal mixture of iron and clay at the end of the age, it will be extremely difficult for things to hold together. Thankfully, God's everlasting Kingdom having Jesus Christ as the capstone or cornerstone) will bring an end to these competitive, fractious, arrogant, and evil worldly systems, which have degenerated over epochs of time, using technology to swap greatness and magnificence for raw power and control. God always plans ahead for the protection of His people.
As students of the Bible, we often come across certain words or phrases that appear to be absolutes. For instance, in several places, Scripture prophesies that the Beast's empire will subjugate "the whole earth." While this sounds as if the Beast will rule over the entire globe, David Grabbe reveals from Scripture that this phrase and others like it can describe a more limited area.
Most of the books of the Minor Prophets were written before the exile of the people of Judah to Babylon, but the final three—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—come from the years after their return to the land. Richard Ritenbaugh summarizes the final two books, showing how they create a bridge to the New Testament and the coming of the Son of Man.
The Bible tells us that the time is coming when God will regather His people Israel to the Land of Promise, a greater Exodus than that from the Land of Egypt. David Grabbe gathers the prophecies of this momentous future event, focusing on when it will occur.
When we think of messiah, we think of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Bible, however, has a much broader definition of the term. Richard Ritenbaugh shows that the pagan emperor Cyrus the Great was also a messiah!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that spirit in the vast majority of biblical contexts refers to the invisible, immaterial, internal activating dimension of the mind. It is repeatedly linked and used synonymously with heart, mind, and thoughts. Spirit (as activated by such things as cheer leading and marching bands) has the capacity to contagiously influence behavior. Satan's spirit as well as our own carnal minds (Ephesians 2:2, James 1:13) constitute compelling and impelling motivations to sin. Fortunately God has provided resources to His called-out ones, interfacing with their minds, predisposing them to hear His voice, to know what He is doing and to develop a relationship with Him, preventing temptation beyond what they can handle (I Corinthians 10:13)
In part two of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2, Richard Ritenbaugh shows how the Bible reveals the identity of this second great world empire.
Why is the world's best selling book held in awe by some, in passive discredit by others, and understood by virtually none? Why do the many churches of traditional Christianity disagree about what the Bible says? Have you ever PROVED whether, as the book itself purports, it is the authoritative Word of the Creator God?
John Ritenbaugh explains that Matthew is part of the synoptic ("seeing together") gospels, largely an embellishment of the more terse outline of basic events found in Mark. Both Matthew and Luke were evidently intended for different audiences, intended to expound or enlarge on specific tenets of doctrine. Matthew, a meticulous, well-educated, well-organized publican, appeared to be largely responsible for gathering and systematizing the specific sayings of Jesus. Matthew wrote his account with the Jewish people in mind, repeatedly saying, "This was done to fulfill the prophets," emphasizing the law and the Kingdom of God, as well as a detailed genealogy demonstrating his lineage from King David and Abraham, including Gentiles and women ancestors, legitimatizing the kingship of Jesus and His virgin birth, conceived of the Holy Spirit—the creative power of God. Jesus had at least seven siblings, half-brothers and -sisters. Luke, a Gentile, never included these details. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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