What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Notice the spies' timidity even at the beginning of their report, and they become increasingly fearful. If, because of God's promises in Exodus 23, they did not expect confrontation, why do they show so much trepidation? Even Joshua and Caleb expected confrontation. They most certainly did not understand that God's promises in Exodus 23 would be fulfilled without them having to lift so much as a finger to gain the land. They knew they would have to make war against the people of the land.
The underlying problem was that they did not trust that the warfare would be a cooperative effort. In effect, they believed that God could not do it. They did not trust that God would be with them, cooperating with them and fighting on their side against the common enemy, the people of the land. Joshua and Caleb knew there would be combat, but the difference was that they were confident that God would fight for Israel and against the Canaanites.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
This passage relates various works of the Most High's providence, but it carries a negative tone because of the people's unbelief and distrust. God blessed Israel with water in the desert, manna every day for forty years, and everything else that they needed. This was after He had delivered them from Egypt, led them between walls of water, and destroyed the might of the world's greatest empire. The people, though, would not believe that the Possessor of heaven and earth would govern His creation favorably for them! They would not believe because He was not real enough to them.
Do we believe? Do we trust in the salvation process that the Most High is leading us through? Do we believe in His deliverance? Do we believe in His ability and willingness to bless us with whatever we need to be a part of His Family—even to the point of providing a perfect sacrifice to take away our sins? Is there any righteous work that He will not perform or any good thing He will not provide for His people?
Do we trust in His nature and His unassailable character? Israel did not, and as a result, provoked the Most High to wrath. They created their own self-fulfilling prophecy. Because they did not believe God, they believed that things would turn out badly, and in not believing Him, things turned out badly!
In the same way, those who tend toward pessimism usually prove themselves right because the pessimism clouds their view of God and thus their belief of and trust in Him. When that happens, as with Israel, they run the great risk of provoking Him to wrath. People see either God or the negatives, and whichever one they see determines their trajectory.
David C. Grabbe
Passover of the Most High God
God keeps the "natural" cycles recurring (in the weather, for instance, as well as other cyclical events mentioned in chapter 1). There is security in knowing that a steady Hand rests on the helm—one that can be absolutely relied upon. It is likely that Paul derived the major part of the principle in Romans 8:28—that all things work together for good—in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Life, then, is not out of control. Do we believe this? We have a desire to know the future but cannot know it—not completely. God has not given anyone that much insight into what is happening. Thus, Solomon's conclusion is that we should make the most we can of our life right now. (He is not talking about being imbalanced or hedonistic. He means doing things properly, successfully, with dedication.) We can give it our all knowing that there is a steady Hand at the helm and things are not out of control. Our part in this is to trust God. Are we willing to do that?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
These verses build on the preceding ones on wisdom being a defense. Yet as good a shelter as God's wisdom is, it cannot shield us from every possible event we might consider a calamity. Everybody faces such situations. Wisdom will aid us to resign ourselves to the circumstances of those times. “Resignation” is too often understood to have the sense of throwing up our hands and giving up, thus quitting under fire. It indeed can have that connotation, but not always, and such is not the implication here. The wisdom in this case is that we are to submit to the fact that there are times that nothing can be done to avoid certain situations.
This verse marks the third time such counsel is dealt with, and this is just the seventh chapter. It is important because we are dealing with the Sovereign of this entire creation. There are things He is doing that He absolutely will not change for us. Similar instruction appears in chapter 3.
Therefore, we have to discern those times, resign ourselves to them, and gracefully and humbly accept them, allowing Him to work out His purpose without constant complaining from us. Job 12:13-16 makes this point clearly:
With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding. If He breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; if He imprisons a man, there can be no release. If He withholds the waters, they dry up; if He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth. With Him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are His.
If one tries to fight God, there is no possibility of winning. To do so is stupid beyond the bounds of reason, but mankind constantly attempts it. This concerns us on a daily basis because we live in this world too. What is going on in the world is not pleasant to experience or even to contemplate, so our becoming angry, depressed, and weary with the entire matter is a likely possibility. Nevertheless, the situation will not go away because God has willed it for the present.
Wisdom, in this case, is to be resigned to it. We must think this reality through and accept what is impossible for us to change. All too often, though, we allow it to depress us and dominate our lives to such an extent that we do virtually nothing positive about the things we can change. That is when Satan wins because, having put ourselves into a weakened attitude, we more readily cave to his devices.
Verse 14 contains further wisdom to defend against those difficult times when it seems that nothing can be changed. Solomon essentially counsels us to learn to “roll with the punches.” We must make careful efforts to make the best of the situation, understanding that God has seemingly withdrawn Himself for our good. God is love; He is neither forgetful nor a harsh taskmaster. We have a hard time seeing that the level of difficulty we are experiencing is good for our growth. He is not doing it to smother us but to benefit us in the end.
The last phrase of verse 14 tells us that God, from His sovereign height, has determined to keep man somewhat off-balance for His purposes. God has commanded that we must live by faith. So trying to figure out the precise reasons for a situation is not only often impossible, but also a huge waste of time and energy. This counsel may not satisfy some people because of its simplicity, but it is right: Trust Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense
If one misjudges in the manner of the paradox described here and therefore reacts wrongly, the effect could lead to one of two possible spiritual extremes. Thus, Solomon gives his cautions.
Perhaps these possible alternatives can be illustrated this way: Imagine a horizontal line drawn across a blank sheet of paper. Both the beginning of the line on the left and the end of the line on the right represent extreme reactions as well as the results produced should a person make wrong choices within the trial.
One can react radically to the left, becoming completely liberal, by choosing simply to give up. The result would be spiritual death. The other extreme reaction would be to choose to turn sharply right, becoming righteous over much, and the bad fruit also produces spiritual death.
Why? Because either extreme is rebellion against God's grace. In Psalm 73, Asaph neither gave up nor attempted to become super-righteous so that God would be impressed and owe him the blessing of relieving the pressures of his suffering. He chose a path right down the middle, to trust God.
Turning to the right to become over-righteous is the choice we should be more concerned about. Why? Because most of the truly converted will not simply give up. They may become weary and confused, but they will not walk away from God's mercy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion
The solution to the Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 conundrum involves the converted person's faith in God. At the same time, it also heavily involves his fear of God and applying thoughtful wisdom to ensure he analyzes the situation accurately. Two of these spiritual qualities are directly named in Ecclesiastes 7, while faith, which is not directly named, is critical to the right solution. Influencing all three qualities is knowing God well enough from within the relationship to activate them all correctly. Consider II Corinthians 5:4-7:
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
God is preparing us for entrance into His Kingdom in a similar way a human instructor prepares a school student for graduation and service. There are two major differences though: We must matriculate our lessons by faith, and in our case, the purpose—to be clothed with glory and eternal life—is huge by comparison.
These verses assure us that God has made a contract with us—the New Covenant—in which we are responsible for carrying out assigned duties. He is preparing us to fulfill those responsibilities to a far greater extent in His Kingdom. As He is preparing us, we must live by faith.
Luke 14:26-27 reminds us of the seriousness of the pledge we made to Jesus Christ at baptism, to live by faith while carrying out our responsibilities. This serious commitment works in our favor. Knowing God's character from the midst of this close relationship, we can always confidently be reassured that God is in control despite how difficult events look to us. This truth became the foundation for the psalmist's victory in his situation (Psalm 73). Our responsibility is to trust Him as the psalmist did, to walk by faith, not by appearance or physical observation. God is faithful!
Paul, then, clearly establishes what our aim should be no matter the circumstances in our lives. We should desire to please God by being faithful to Him in return as demonstrated by trusting Him. He reinforces this by stating that we must be ready to answer for our choices.
Romans and Ephesians make it clear that God accepts us in His presence at conversion and at all times during conversion only upon the meritorious sinless works of Jesus Christ. This is because, as Paul shows in Romans 7, sin stains all our works no matter how meritorious they may seem to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion
Since we are not infallible—we are ignorant of a great deal—and we do not know the outcome of every event, the best thing, Solomon says, is to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the responsibilities of life and trust God.
He is encouraging us to be unremittingly diligent. The second occurrence of "in" is not properly translated—"until" is better: "In the morning sow your seed, and until the evening do not withhold your hand." He means, "Keep on working." We should not allow ourselves to be discouraged because, if our faith is in God, He will follow through and make things work for good. That is His promise, which Solomon emphasizes here.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
God continues His response to the prophet with a stunning rebuke, one which contains more than a veiled threat.
This translation masks the moment—the import—of God's words. He is warning Jeremiah that he must return, that is, repent, abandoning “this mistaken tone of distrust and despair,” as The Amplified Bible glosses verse 19. God promises He will restore him as His prophet, the “mouth” of God, only if he comes to understand the difference between the precious way of God and that vile way of the wicked.
The Living Bible better conveys the import of God's comments to Jeremiah with this paraphrase of verse 19:
Stop this foolishness and talk some sense! Only if you return to trusting me will I let you continue as my spokesman.
The Message handles the same passage this way:
Take back those words, and I'll take you back.
Then you'll stand tall before me.
Use words truly and well. Don't stoop to cheap whining.
Then, but only then, you'll speak for me.
The Good News Translation presents this paraphrase:
If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again.
It is clear that God is not mincing His words. In this time of crisis for Judah, God demands a servant in whom He can have confidence, one who will fearlessly warn in the face of persecution and who will remain committed to carrying out His work to its conclusion—no matter where that work may take him. God needs an individual of resolute and indefatigable faith.
Actually, God is telling Jeremiah that his office of prophet is on the line. He absolutely must overcome his doubts of God's fidelity. He must not fall back into the ways of the people of Judah. He can only continue to be separate from them by believing God.
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
"Written in the earth" - written in dust. What happens to anything written in the dust? The wind comes along, and it blows away. Those who do not trust God, who depart from the Lord, who allow their heart to deceive them into not properly responding to the truth of God—their names are just going to blow away like something written in the dust.
Do we really believe Him enough to live by faith? The person who lives by faith is one who believes God's truth and responds in obedience to it. The person who does not departs from His truth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sin of Self-Deception
Jesus asks the man to do what had seemed impossible a moment before. At His command, the man places himself in full view of the synagogue's audience so that everyone present can witness it, and without even touching him, Jesus immediately heals him. When the man stretches out his hand for all to see, the crowd witnesses positive proof of Christ's power and holiness.
Despite the shame of his withered hand, the man still attends Sabbath services at the synagogue. He places a higher priority on worshipping God than on his personal discomfort. The principle illustrated here is that people should not use physical problems as an excuse for not going to church. A person should attend services when able.
The downside of missing services is that, eventually, spiritual problems with far more serious consequences will develop. No one can do much in service to God if he allows physical problems or handicaps to impede his worship and service of his Creator. In a sense, many of us suffer from withered hands. Sin so paralyzes us that we cannot serve God as we would like. Yet, anyone in God's church can be empowered to do the needed things for our Healer.
The real issue is faith. Jesus fulfills God's intention for the Sabbath day by restoring this man to health and strength. In answering Christ's call to step forward, the man shows what a little faith and obedience can do. This tests his courage and faith as he rises above his human fears. He entirely trusts Christ, and his healing is God's response.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Withered Hand (Part Two)
The disciples were probably disappointed in His answer. It is somewhat of a disappointment even to us that God is purposely withholding the time of the Kingdom's establishment, of the second coming of Jesus Christ. He has a good reason for doing so. In His wisdom, He can see He can produce far more that is better and good in us if we do not know when Christ will return.
For starters, we would relax in a way that is not good if we knew when Christ is going to return. Not knowing gives us a much greater opportunity to use faith in trusting God.
Jesus' answer to them can seem somewhat enigmatic. However, even though He tells them, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons," which discouraged them, He continued with something that is very encouraging. He tells them that they would receive the Holy Spirit and power that would enable them to endure what faced them and complete their divine mission, which was of the highest priority at that time.
This principle still applies to us. We do not know when Christ will come. We do not know when God will establish His Kingdom, nor how much trouble we may have to experience before then. But He is saying to us just what He said to them: "You will be given power that will enable you to endure, overcome, and grow during the time I want you to serve Me." He has not left us alone. He has not left us without the resources to do what we have to do.
It is nice to know what was on the disciples' minds on this significant occasion. It is good to keep the same, important thought at the forefront of our minds too. In the model prayer—called the "Lord's Prayer"—Jesus says near the beginning, "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). It is a top priority that we ask God for that to occur.
The return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God was probably a far more compelling drive in their minds than ours because of their visible and audible firsthand, face-to-face relationship with Christ. The Kingdom of God held a major role in the Good News that He preached every day in their presence.
It was likely a while before they realized and came to grips with the fact that they had to revise their top priority. Christ told them that their new top priority was to preach the gospel. The preaching of the gospel must come first, then the Kingdom.
Did their hope wane because their foremost goal was delayed? Did the establishment of God's Kingdom seem ever more distant as time went on? Did they lose faith because they perceived it would not come in their lifetimes? We need to ask ourselves such questions.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope
In regard to faith, we must understand what the Bible means by its frequent admonitions to "hear." Paul writes in Hebrews 3:15, "Today, if you will hear His voice." He is not pressing us to hear the sound of His voice, but to understand what God wants us to learn through what Paul, the preacher, is expounding in his epistle. Paul is urging us to take the time now to "get" it, to "see" or "grasp" what God is teaching.
Hebrews 3:17-18; 4:2 will help us reach a conclusion about what God intends regarding hearing. Whether a person physically hears the actual voice of God Himself is of little importance. Whether "hearing" in our personal reading or "hearing" the preaching of a minister, what is critical is that we obey the godly instruction, because unless we actually obey, we have not yet truly heard. If a person continues to sin, he has not really heard, in the biblical sense, what God has taught.
Put in another way, if a person continues to sin because God's Word does not motivate him to obedience to what He teaches, then he, in a worst-case scenario, either does not believe God or at this point his belief is so weak that he cannot bring himself to trust Him. Such are the ones who died in the wilderness. The weakness is not that people do not believe that He exists, but that they do not trust what He says because, in reality, they do not know Him. Thus, in the biblical sense, they have not yet truly heard.
In Hebrews 4:2, Paul uses the Greek word pistis for the first time in his letter. He will use it 31 more times. Pistis is translated either as "faith" or as "faithfulness." I believe that "faithfulness" is better here because that is what the Israelites lacked. Faithfulness is trusting God in continuous fashion as shown by conduct. God has given us a great deal, but it is our responsibility to hold firmly to His instructions by living them. Living them engrains them into our characters as habits, and this is good. Through habitual use, they become so entrenched in our behavior that we do not even have to call them to mind.
The unbelief that Paul is speaking of here is that our weak trust results in weak Christian living because we do not know and "see" God with the clarity that we should have. It can be rectified, but that is not always easy and at times may seem costly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)
Fear, when not controlled, gives evidence that a person does not believe that God is telling the truth and that He cannot be trusted to have one's best interests at heart. This rejects Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." To leave no doubt, God reassures us that He wants the best for us, peace and a future with Him forever.
No matter what problems we face, God has a glorious end-game in mind for us. Christ points to it in Luke 12:32 as a reason not to fear: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The end-game for this physical life is only the beginning of the next—eternal life. Our God, with all the power at His command, is committed to getting us there, as I Thessalonians 5:23-24 reveals: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it" (emphasis ours).
Our God is not passive in His love for us but is actively looking for opportunities to do us good, assuring us in II Chronicles 16:9, "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." Not only is it God's will to be a present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1), this verse in II Chronicles also reveals that He takes it much further. God is with great effort, illustrated by running to and fro, actively looking for opportunities to help us. Kiel and Delitzsch says of this verse, "[He] looks forth over all the earth, uses every opportunity wonderfully to succour those who are piously devoted to Him."
So knowing that God is looking for every opportunity to help us, we should be able to relate to Psalm 121:
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.
With all these promises, why do we have fear? We will fear if we do not make God's promises part of our thinking or lack the faith to believe them.
The Sin of Fear (Part Two)
2 Peter 3:14-18
Verse 14 mentions peace, yet when Christ returns as the Captain of heaven's armies—as the chapter proclaims—there will be war. The iniquity of the world will be full, and He will fight against those opposed to Him. Peter counsels us to ensure that when He returns, He finds us at peace with Him rather than in opposition.
That may sound obvious, but consider how it might apply. If we are opposed to the requirements of God's law, then we are not at peace with the Lawgiver. If we are angry with God for some reason, we are not at peace. If we disagree with God's reaction or non-reaction or overall management of His creation, then we are not at peace with Him.
There can be as many applications as there are individuals, because wherever carnality exists, a measure of enmity remains (Romans 8:7). Peace with God depends on our trusting Him absolutely with our lives. Only then will we not take His words and actions as being hostile toward us, and we will not be hostile toward Him because we trust Him to have our best interests in mind. If our faith—trust—slips, then peace with God begins to fracture.
Peter observes that some of the things Paul writes are hard to understand and that people tend to use Paul's writings in particular in a destructive way. Even today, Paul is falsely known as a champion of a no-works theology, and his writings are cited to say that God's law has been abolished. Twisting Paul's writings in that way is what will cause destruction, because when the Judge returns, He will use His law as the basis of judgment.
Peter leaves us with these final thoughts:
You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:17-18)
The apostle warns against being deceived by all the things he talks about in this chapter, and his warning probably includes the previous chapter. As the saying goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Paul prophesies, though, that some are going to depart from the faith (I Timothy 4:1). We have seen that happen. To keep it from happening to us, Peter counsels us to focus on growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. He refers to the completion of the repentance or conversion process and our pursuit of salvation to its conclusion.
Jesus is not delaying His coming. He is giving us time to put our houses in order so that we can respond correctly to the work He has begun in us. As Peter says, “To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”
David C. Grabbe
How Much Longer Do We Have?
What causes the sin of fear? The second item listed in Revelation 21:8 points to the answer—unbelief. Psalm 78:13-16 gives an example of how this works:
For he divided the sea before them and led them through! The water stood up like walls beside them! In the daytime he led them by a cloud, and at night by a pillar of fire. He split open the rocks in the wilderness to give them plenty of water, as from a gushing spring. He made streams pour from the rock, making the waters flow down like a river! (New Living Translation [NLT])
Listed are miracles God performed to provide for the needs of His people. Continuing in Psalm 78:17-21, we see Israel's response to God's clear display of His love and care for them:
Yet they kept on with their sin, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They willfully tested God in their hearts, demanding the foods they craved. They even spoke against God himself, saying, "God can't give us food in the desert. Yes, he can strike a rock so water gushes out, but he can't give his people bread and meat." When the Lord heard them, he was angry. The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob. Yes, his anger rose against Israel. . . . (NLT)
Even though God had provided water in abundance, they were afraid that He would not provide bread and meat. What was the basis, the cause, for this fear? The answer follows in Psalm 78:22 (NLT): ". . . for they did not believe God or trust him to care for them." Amazing! After all God did for them, they still could not muster the necessary faith and trust in God and His love for them (Hebrews 4:2). When push comes to shove, do we believe God's promises? Do we trust in the extent of His care and love for us (John 17:23) and that He will come to our aid (Psalm 34:19)?
What was God's response to the Israelites' display of fear? "The fire of his wrath burned against Jacob" (Psalm 78:21, NLT), foreshadowing Revelation 21:8. Fire is the response to fear from the God who does not change (Malachi 3:6).
Fear, then, is the result of a lack of faith, not believing in God's power and especially His love and willingness to act on our behalf. The fearful are that way because they lack faith. Christ reveals this connection in Mark 4:40: "But He said to them, 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?'"
When Christ saw fear, His immediate response was to question that person's faith. Fear is a very human reaction. As Christ indicates, how we respond depends on our degree of faith. When faith is weak or non-existent, fear becomes the controlling factor rather than faith. We begin to live by sight and not by faith (II Corinthians 5:7), and without faith, we cannot be saved: "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:18-19).
Our rest is God's Kingdom. Just as a lack of faith—unbelief—barred ancient Israel from entering their rest, a lack of faith can bar us from entering ours, keeping us out of the Family of God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We are seeing that sin is not the result of weakness as we normally think of it, as in we are "weak in the flesh." Yes, there is weakness, but what is the root of sin—its cause? When looked at closely, the root of sin is "unbelief," as Israel's example illustrates. Unbelief—a lack of faith—causes and leads to producing sin in our lives, pointing to our real foundational weakness: a lack of faith. This is Paul's message in Romans 14:23: " . . . for whatever is not from faith is sin."
The Sin of Fear (Part One)
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