David Grabbe points out the cause-effect relationship between sin and "madness, blindness, and confusion of heart." Sin automatically causes blindness, and blindness begets more sin. Romans 1:18-28 explains that individuals enslave themselves to a reprobate mind by following their perverted desires. God gives those hapless individuals up to their choices, as well as to the deadly consequences of their lusts. As they embark on their deadly downward spiral, God takes His hand off from them, allowing them to experience the consequences. As we make the choice to follow any course which is opposed to God's purpose(defined Scripturally as Mammon), our spiritual understanding begins to darken until we become blissfully unaware of danger. The Scriptures plainly show us areas of potential blindness, as with the warning that he who hates is brother is blind (I John 2:1) or with the connection between blindness and lacking faith, self-control, perseverance and other godly character traits (II Peter 1:5-9). God wants us to overcome blindness, but we must make the choice to obey Him and eschew sin before He restores our spiritual visual acuity.
Richard Ritenbaugh detects a massive inconsistency in the persistently saccharine assessment of Jesus as meek and mild, ignoring His wrath, while at the same time teaching the concept of an ever-burning Hell. God's wrath is measured and just, not excessive and cruel. The breakaway Protestant daughters of the Roman Catholic Church have faithfully carried on the heretical error of their mother, promulgating the fantasies of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, while ignoring or twisting the clear meaning of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word transliterated "sheol" is simply the grave or pit—the inevitable destination of every human being. In this context, everyone who has ever lived will "go to hell." The Greek word transliterated "hades" is a synonym of sheol. The Greek word transliterated "tartaroo" applies to the place of restraint for Satan and his demons, but not for humans. The term "Gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, made vile by the ancient pagan custom of infant sacrifice. Because it was the city dump, a fire burned there constantly, consuming a steady stream of refuge and garbage feasted upon by maggot. The maggots eventually turned to flies, which, reproducing, yielded more maggots, a cycle which informs the image of "their worm" never dying. Gehenna is not a metaphor for an ever-burning fire, but rather for the Lake of Fire into which God consigns the incorrigibly wicked, whose unquenchable flames will cease only after all the fuel is consumed. Oblivion, not eternal torment, is the merciful end for the wicked. God is both good and severe, but His mercy endures forever.
David Grabbe, citing numerous scriptures that show God has the power to give sight to the blind, and conversely, to inflict spiritual blindness on others as a consequence of sin (Deuteronomy 28), argues that the Church's current understanding of II Corinthians 4:4 is incorrect. Translators use a lowercase "g" in "god of this age," yet it is the true God who does the blinding; He alone opens and closes eyes. Satan, on the other hand, deceives; he blurs the vision that God has made available. While Satan is opposed to truth, God embodies truth, yet does not reveal all truth all at once. There is no second witness of the Greek noun theos (rendered "god" in II Corinthians 4:4) denoting Satan. The New Testament writers refer to Satan as a ruler, but never as a god. Satan is certainly the prince of the power of the air and a major world ruler, but only in his wildest dreams is he a god capable of blinding.
John Ritenbaugh states that every nation has its privileged—whether they are royalty, wealthy oligarchs, politicians, athletes, or entertainers. Surprisingly though, the masses have privileges which they do not recognize as such, namely the privileges of sight, hearing, walking and speech. God has provided in His Holiness Code proscriptions against taking advantage of those who are handicapped. Additionally, those God has blessed with material wealth have obligations to help the poor, as is seen in the command to avoid gleaning the corners of the fields. Our welfare programs have scriptural principles as their general inspiration, but unfortunately, politicians have abused these programs, encouraging on the part of recipients a toxic dependency which God never intended. Living in a land occupied by the children of the Patriarchs, to whom God revealed His Covenant, is a great privilege. Sadly, the majority of physical Israelites have rejected God's Covenant. God has healed the spiritual blindness and deafness of the members of the true Church, the Israel of God, at the same time calling them to become members of the God Family. As we contemplate our offerings, we should factor this insight into our sense of gratitude and responsibility.
Kim Myers, drawing some analogies from how the world keeps New Year's resolutions, cautions God's called-out ones not to approach God's Holy Days with the same level of non-commitment. Though we know that righteousness exalts a nation, we also know that America is no longer exceptional because of she has come to embrace post-modernism rather than righteousness. America's cities have become bastions of sexual perversion, murder and thievery. God's Church, because it co-exists with the unrighteousness of the world, is in danger of becoming corrupted or leavened by the world's example. Assimilation with the ways of the world inexorably imperils our spiritual lives. God always blesses for righteousness and curses for unrighteousness. Current curses include America's bizarre weather patterns and her pandemic of debilitating diseases. In Galatians 5, Paul draws a sharp line between the destructive works of the flesh and the fruits of God's Spirit. If we cultivate the works of the flesh, we will find ourselves robbed of peace, joy, and a sense of well-being. Thankfully, the world's governments generally do not arrest people for displaying the Fruits of God's Spirit. To grow and become like Christ, we must first know what righteousness is.
Charles Whitaker, focusing on Paul's admonition to the Ephesians that there be unity in the Body of Christ, suggests that, in the interests of preserving unity, God judges and then surgically separates hypocrites from real believers. This judgment-resulting-in-division model appears throughout Scripture in the episodes of the ones taken and the ones left behind, the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents separating the productive from the indolent, and the good figs and bad figs in Jeremiah 24. In each of these cases, God divides the entire group into two parts, one blessed and one cursed. The archetype for this judgment-resulting-in-division pattern appears in Deuteronomy 27, where Moses directs that representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel publicly chant the Blessings from Mount Gerazim, a site without an altar, and the Curses from Mount Ebal, a site with an altar of rough stones and the Law written on plastered stones. The two venues prefigure future congregations, all of which acknowledge God's Law. The critical difference is that while the Gerizim group represents those who allow the law to be written on their hearts, the Ebal group represents those who, while giving lip service to the letter of the law, hypocritically practice sin secretly. Virtually all the curses focus on hidden sin. The hidden leavening of hypocrisy practiced by the Pharisees, using piety as a cloak for disgusting covert sins, has found its way into the Church of God. If God's Law has not been written in our hearts, completely altering our thoughts and behavior, the corporate entity in which we find ourselves will not save us from the wrong side of the judgmental cut.
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."
Martin Collins, relating a message from a member in Cape Town, South Africa, that the entire city could run out of water by April, alerts us that other cities, such as San Paulo, Lima, Mexico City, Melbourne, and Kabul could soon experience the same curse. As a result of sustained drought in these diverse areas, potable water is disappearing. Concomitantly, peoples' self-centered, carnal attitudes have begun to surface as stress mounts from the stringent enforcement of rigorous rationing regulations. Drought has perennially been evidence of God's displeasure toward people who have blatantly forsaken Him for false gods. If we have God's Holy Spirit flowing in us, we can take heart that the curse of drought will end as God accomplishes His purpose and people forsake their sins.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon Deuteronomy 29:4, where God reveals that He had not given the ancient Israelites an understanding mind "until that very day," discusses His revelation in Deuteronomy 29 and 30. These chapters have four salient themes: 1.) Today, with its counterpart "tomorrow," the future generations of Israelites; 2.) The land—"this land," referring to the land of promise, and "that land," referring to the land of exile of future Israelites; 3.) The "Covenant," with its attendant blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and 4.) the concept of "revelation," that God reveals hidden matters to the end that people may obey His law. Historically, when Israel obeyed God, she received blessings; when Israel disobeyed God, she was cursed. This axiomatic truth is so evident to the gentiles that they will marvel that the hapless descendants of Jacob could not understand the cause-effect relationships of obedience and disobedience. Sadly, we live in a time when Abraham's offspring have rebelled mightily, waxing just as evil and perverted as ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. If modern Israel (including the Israel of God) disobeys the terms of the covenant, the fact that God made a covenant with them will not deflect the full impact of God's judgment. As God's called-out ones, having additional revealed knowledge and the gift of God's Holly Spirit, we are instructed to choose life "right now, this very day," just as were our ancient forbears.
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, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that incidents of terrorism are on the rise, occurring two to three times a day, many of which are not reported by the Mainstream media. These gruesome incidents, perpetrated within the Israelitish nations by foreign immigrants with a Satanic, insane, Jihadist agenda, are exponentially on the increase. Many have blamed the spike in terrorism on religious fervor or tolerant left-wing politics, but the most compelling explanation of all is that God is allowing these acts of terrorism as punishment for our peoples' forsaking the Covenant with Him and despising His holy law. Part of the curses listed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy identifies terrorism and harassment from the strangers in Israel's midst. If our minds are continually seeking God and trusting His providence, He will provide protection, allowing us to dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
Scripture frequently employs pairs of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. Another of these pairs is gathering and scattering, mutually exclusive actions that, though they cannot be done at the same time, can be accomplished at different times. Charles Whitaker contemplates the gathering God does to reverse the effects of calamity.
Mike Ford, exposing one of the most colossal frauds that ever existed, the global warming hoax perpetrated by pseudo-science, warns us that it has morphed into the fastest growing religion in the world. Proponents of this bogus religion claim that, if we can control our output of carbon dioxide, regulate bovine flatulence, and drive electric cars, we can prevent the oceans from rising, the polar ice-caps from melting, hurricanes from forming, and drought from spreading. President Obama, the Alarmer-in-chief, has proclaimed climate change the biggest danger on the earth, far greater than ISIS and the threat of nuclear war. Michael Bloomberg blamed climate change for Hurricane Sandy while Hillary Clinton attributes Hurricane Matthew to climate change. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and failed Presidential candidate Al Gore have called for stiff fines and imprisonments for climate change deniers, using techniques of harassment and intimidation not unlike the Spanish Inquisition. None of the dire warnings made by Al Gore have ever materialized; as a matter of fact, a large segment of the scientific community fear Global cooling and a new ice age. Climate always changes over time, but human contribution to this change is negligible. Being good stewards of the earth should not lead to the imbalanced practice of making mother-earth our goddess. God, the inventor of climate and weather patterns, is sovereign over the climate and weather; He knows a few more things about it than Al Gore, Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg. The nation that obeys God will have favorable weather and climate; the nations that disobeys God will not. Worshiping the earth and rejecting its Creator will bring about disappointing results.
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.
With both the United States and Europe dealing with an impending financial disaster, the world today is full of economic news. Economic terms and philosophies are common knowledge to many. While many doubters think that the Bible is not sophisticated enough to comment on such modern ideas, Richard Ritenbaugh explains that God's Word does indeed factor economics into the end-time equation in its prophecies.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing with his exposé of the world's "original sin" doctrine, asserts that it demonstrates the hopelessly deceitful nature of the human heart. God did not create this vile human nature. God gave Adam and Eve a neutral spirit and free moral agency; our parents presumptuously chose the toxic Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, negatively predisposing their offspring to sin. Human nature is the product of mankind's neutral spirit contaminated with Satan's evil prompts. The apostle Paul realized this prompt or force (another law warring in his members Romans 7:23) ravaging and captivating his mental processes. Everyone is individually responsible for sin. The spirit God initially placed within Adam was very good; Satan contaminated man's heart, but encouraged him to blame God. As God calls us, we are to strive to be holy, or to be like God. Conversely, sin is the departure from God's revealed will (commission or omission). God gives us a new heart and the ability to repent; we must respond to God's efforts to change us. It is a life and death matter. We need to cling intimately to God, earnestly seeking God's forgiveness and guidance to continually make the right choices.
John Ritenbaugh reflects that this week's headlines indicate that America's leaders have lost their moral compass. God has replaced wise adults with foolish children mocking and scoffing at wisdom and moral standards (Isaiah 3). The Islam murderer was shielded by the national liberal media (including the New York Times and NPR) who tried to make him a victim rather than a murderer. President Obama foolishly allowed the perpetrator of the 9-11 massacre to have a civil trial (rather than a military trial) in ultra left New York City. Our leaders have lost their moral bearings and have caused us to fear the wrong things, have made us reap the curses of Leviticus 26:16 and Deuteronomy 28:28-29, have forced us to behave like mad men and stagger like blind men.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unflagging zeal of the militant Muslims, suggests that Europe is rapidly being taken over by the Islam culture and religion. The term Islam means submission, referring to the absolute subjection to Allah and the Koran. The nations which are being taken over by the Muslims are England, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. The devotion to the Koran and Sharia Law leads them to not assimilate, but to loathe the host (Israelite) country, so much so that the head will become the tail and the tail will become the head, fulfilling the curse in Deuteronomy 28:44. The King of the South is already pushing at the King of the North. Ironically, the kind of zeal the Muslims espouse for a sinister and harmful purpose we need to use for a holy and helpful purpose.
Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when the preacher speaks on prophecy, everyone listens. Studying prophecy is good, argues Richard Ritenbaugh, but doctrine and Christian living are far more necessary and helpful to our practicing and growing in God's way of life right now.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Israel's version of the valiant 300 under the leadership of Gideon, states that God did not promise Israel deliverance at the time of their idolatry and disobedience because they knew better. God first encounters Gideon cowering in a winepress, ironically calling him a "mighty man of valor," prophetically forecasting Gideon's role as a savior of Israel, rescuing them from the Midianites. Gideon incrementally moved from a position of weakness and fear to a position of strength and valor as he started to trust increasingly in God. Gideon's army had to be whittled down from 32,000 to 300 by a series of tests designed to weed out the fearful, leaving a 450 to 1 ratio in favor of the Midianites, ensuring that God would get the credit for the victory. Gideon's 300 men seemed like a million men to the Midianites, throwing them into utter confusion, fighting one another in the darkness. Gideon's army did not have to fight.
Large areas of the American Southeast are suffering under hundred-year drought conditions, and particularly hard hit is northern Georgia. Richard Ritenbaugh shows that God often used the lack of rain as a warning to Israel that they had strayed from Him.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God's promise to heal (spiritually or physically) is inextricably coupled with the obligation to exercise responsibility, demonstrating physical and spiritual works in accordance with existing laws, while trusting in God throughout the healing process. The Bible is replete with individuals applying physical remedies (balms, poultices, as well as a competent physician's counsel) in tandem with trusting God. We cannot (in the manner of Asa and Ahaziah) leave God out of any process in our lives. As we pursue healing, we must 1) first seek God, 2) begin working on the solution, seeking wise counsel, 3) repent from the sin that has caused the malady, and 4) ardently obey God's laws, requiring works. Complying with these conditions, all who trust God will be healed in His time and His manner. Exercising faith in healing is in no way passive. God is creating problem solvers—not problem continuers.
Focusing upon II Corinthians 13:5, John Ritenbaugh cautions us of the futility of assenting to a code of standards we do not intend to apply. Belief without conduct equals a dead faith leading to death. Works give evidence that we really do believe and have the Holy Spirit in us. What we believe (correctly or incorrectly) will inevitably produce works. According to a survey conducted by Barna, a large segment of professing Christians have rejected major tenets of the Bible (in effect, calling Jesus Christ a liar) fashioning their own subjective, private religions, giving themselves license to sin in selected areas and fostering a tolerance for hideous societal perversions. Rejecting a biblical world-view, unfaithful modern Israel has degenerated into a habitation of demons. As God's called out ones, we are admonished not to conform or follow suit, but to yield to God's purification.
Martin Collins concludes that this nation has cast off all restraint regarding self-control and regulation of appetite. Self-absorbed and self-indulgent national leaders, through their disgusting lack of self-control, coupled with their influence on others, are bringing down hideous curses down on our people. According to the apostle Paul, lack of self-control, as well as the cultivation of self-indulgent perversions, would characterize large segments of our society living at the end times. Self-control caps off the list of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. It may be strengthened by (1) overcoming evil with good (2) loving others (3) putting on Christ and mortifying the flesh, bringing every thought into captivity to God's Commandments, through God's Holy Spirit.
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.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh discusses the importance of mastering self-control and a true Christian's necessity of seeking truth by which to live his life.
In this companion piece to his "Willingness to Believe" message, Richard Ritenbaugh provides an effective antidote to gullibility and simple-minded credulity. Both tendencies emerge from time to time in the greater church of God. Like advertising—which relies heavily on deception, hiding the down-side or defects and exaggerating the efficacy or desirability of a product—religious hucksters use deceptive tactics, using the bait or temptation of self-gratification, selling non-essential, twiggy or downright heretical positions. Like highly trained U.S. Treasury agents, the elect keep themselves undeceived by knowing the real article inside-out. If one knows the real article, the counterfeit will become readily apparent. Like a lamp rolling back the darkness (Psalm 119:105), the truth, revealed by God's Word, provides the best defense or antidote against deception and error.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God is not in the torturing business but in the creating business, using calamities as part of His creative process. As Jacob's spiritual descendants or the Israel of God, we possess some of the same faithless proclivities as Jacob had before the decisive wrestling match at which time God prevailed. The scattering of the greater church of God has been brought about by casual indifference, deceit, and ultimately spiritual adultery (idolatry), leading to a fatal deterioration of first love. Like Jacob, who initially succumbed to weak faith and fear, we, as Jacob's spiritual seed, have to do what he did and repent of our loss of devotion to God and His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh, defining providence as the protective care of God, suggests that the providence of God also touches on the pains and sufferings of persecution. To the elect whom God foreknew, all things- pleasant or unpleasant- happen for ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Tragic things, calamities, trials, anxiety, evil, and curses happen to Christians too, as well as blessings, in order to become fashioned and molded into the glory of God's image. As Christ learned from the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), we must also develop patience, refrain from murmuring, and realize that "time and chance" no longer apply to those whom God has called. Whatever it takes to bring God's purpose to pass, we need to develop the humility, obedience, and faith to accept.
What is in store for the nations of Israel? Is their future promising or bleak—or both? This article concludes a three-part series on the people of Israel.
The scarcity of potable water will become a factor as the end nears. Martin Collins shows how world consumption of water is setting us up for major conflict over this precious resource.
Prophecy tells us that one of the plagues of the end time concerns attacks by wild beasts. Ronny Graham, an avid sportsman, relates how this may be coming to pass.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the fifth commandment provides a bridge, connecting our relationships with God and the relationships with our fellow human beings. It is the pre-eminent commandment of the second set of commandments- serving as a twin center pillar with the Sabbath commandment. The honor and deferential respect accorded to Almighty God should transfer to our physical parents and ultimately to other authority figures in society. Because the family structure provides the basic building block or template for all government, including the Government of God, if the family is undermined, society and government is likewise undermined. Because parents stand in the place of God, parents (because they are the formulators of the child's character) must live a life worthy of reverence as well as taking a timely, active, " hands —on" approach to the child's education and upbringing. God demands that parents produce Godly seed.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Lamentations 3, the narrator looks at the horrible affliction of his people and sees ultimate good coming from this tribulation, realizing that it has been God's tool of correction. Our responsibility in such a context is to submit to the yoke God has prepared for us, and to be willing to follow God's will, realizing that chastening has been for our ultimate good.
John Ritenbaugh investigates the second chapter of Lamentations, which reflects the emotional state of a stunned observer, realizing that God had wreaked havoc and destruction upon His chosen people, making them the focus of scorn and ridicule of all of their enemies. Chapter three focuses on the abject terror and hopelessness (immense psychological damage) of someone who can find no escape from this imminent horror (famine, captivity, scorn, etc). Amidst this devastation, the narrator has hope that God would rescue his humbled people from these afflictions. Though He punishes, God (in supreme love) is still faithful and loyal to His people.
John Ritenbaugh, on the opening chapter of Lamentations, Jerusalem, personified as a widow who has had to endure watching the destruction of her family, must also endure the mocking, derisive scorn from the captors. Although the United States, like Jerusalem of old (indicted for committing spiritual harlotry), has piously presented itself as the guardian of righteousness, it has, through its perverted media, exported more sin around the world than any other culture. Its humiliation and sudden fall will ultimately be apparent to even the basest pagan and most degenerate heathen. Trusting in adulterous political alliances or technology instead of God will bring devastating humiliation.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh discusses the limited window of opportunity recipients of a dire prophecy have to take action. The one who hears the warnings does not have an abundance of time to repent and return to God. A lion's threat is not idle. If no action is taken, the stalking roar will turn into a growl of contentment, the lion having consumed its prey. At the time of Amos's message, Israel was: 1) threatened by the imminent displeasure of God; 2) lacking repentance and true spirituality; 3) full of corruption; 4) departing from the truth; 5) proud, complacent, and self-satisfied; 6) setting itself on a pedestal; and 7) smugly prejudiced against the world. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including the Israel of God) cannot see the connection between its own faithlessness to her covenant with God and the violence and tumult of society that mirror her spiritual condition.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
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