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(From Forerunner Commentary)
The difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians became very pronounced at this point, helping the children of Israel to understand that God indeed was working for them. God works even to make sure that His people have the faith they need! God supplies everything except one's decision—and even in the decision a person makes, He keeps poking us in the ribs, shoving us in the back, to move us in the right direction. He does not give up easily once He sets his mind to do something.
To this point, the Israelites had been required to make few decisions concerning their salvation, yet everything was proceeding along quite nicely. In actuality, they were doing little except observing what was happening, almost like the audience of a grand stage play. Despite their lives being dramatically affected, they had done little themselves to effect their freedom. God had done virtually everything, but as the tenth plague approached, the Israelites were finally having to decide whether or not they would be active participants in God's purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unleavened Bread and Pentecost
Again, the donkey proves herself wiser than Balaam.
God frequently does this: First, He gets us in a wide place and allows us to make our decisions. It soon becomes apparent which direction we are going, which path we are taking. Then God begins to narrow the way, especially if He sees us going in the wrong direction. He catches us in a place where we can turn around and gives us an opportunity to make a right decision. If we do not do what He wants us to do, He will go a little further down the path—a little bit later in our life—to catch us in a place where the answer is obvious, and we can do nothing except stop, and say, "God help me! I've gone the wrong way, and I need You to open the path for me."
He does this to Balaam. He gets him to the point where there is only plunging on to destruction on one hand, and on the other, stopping and retracing his steps to where he can head in the right direction.
This is the point where Balaam is in these two verses. The donkey simply lies down, as that is all she can do. Proverbs 22:3 says, "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished." The donkey is the "prudent man" here, and blind Balaam is "the simple." He is so without any spiritual acumen that he is just like a foolish simpleton. He cannot see wisdom; he cannot make a wise choice. However, the dumb donkey can!
As a last resort, God takes matters one more step. He is always full of mercy, willing to give us that one more chance to make the right choice. But now He has to do something drastic!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)
God Almighty has given man the power to make choices regarding his ultimate destiny. As a free moral agent, man has the awesome responsibility to choose between a hapless, physio-chemical existence with a dead end or a rich and rewarding eternity as a member of God's Family. Though the choice appears easy, the challenging road to the Kingdom of God dismays many because they are unwilling to undergo the rigors of the journey.
God has set before us the choice to obey or disobey, hoping we will choose obedience and giving us reasons and promises that persuade us to that end, but He wants us to make sure that it is our intention, without coercion or brainwashing on His part. It takes a free moral agent, making the right choices, to create the mind of Christ in us. Though He has a good idea how we will choose, God ultimately does not know what we will decide when given the choice. He will do all He can—short of rescinding our freedom to choose—to convince us to choose Him.
David F. Maas
Fasting: Building Spiritual Muscle
Consider this scenario: A person spends the entire day walking from Point A to Point B with his best friend. However, he speaks to his friend only a little in the morning and mumbles a few words at night before falling to sleep, ignoring him for the rest of the day. What would be his friend's likely assessment of the state of their friendship? Even two extremely introverted friends would share interests and converse on them to some extent.
Is there a better friend than God? We have a great deal to discuss with Him every day, for every day is filled with decisions: what to eat or not to eat, what to purchase or not purchase, what to spend time doing or thinking about. We must also decide how to respond to other people and how to respond to our own emotions and attitudes.
Every significant choice should be brought to God. If we do not, we are making decisions based on human nature and declaring ourselves to be Laodiceans, self-sufficient and needing nothing, directly contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ (John 15:5). These do not have to be on-your-knees prayers, but we should at least silently ask God to bring His light to bear on the situation and to supply our needs, whether we need wisdom, discernment, strength, courage, understanding, patience, etc.
Notice the command in Galatians 5:16, 25: "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." If we are walking in the Spirit, made possible by praying always, we cannot be sinning (verse 16). They are mutually exclusive.
Praying always is a major component of walking with God and one of the two tickets to avoiding tribulation and gaining entrance to God's Kingdom. As such, Enoch's life contains a point worthy of note that may apply to those living at the end time. God says of Enoch in Genesis 5:24: "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him." If we walk with God as Enoch did, will God, true to His patterns, likewise take us away from the trouble on the horizon? Luke 21:36 indicates the answer could be, "Yes."
Praying Always (Part Five)
Given insight into what God would soon do, Amos was distressed over whether Israel could survive. God relented both times, probably as a result of Amos' prayer. But because of His earlier pronouncements and the people's lack of repentance, there is a sense that God would not postpone Israel's punishment much longer.
The first vision of Amos 7 may be a natural calamity of locusts rising out of the earth and destroying the crops and the grasslands "after the king's mowings," a practice akin to our income tax. Without the late crop, the first cutting for the king would be sparse, and without produce for their personal needs, the people would starve. God decided that Israel would be protected from natural calamity in the main, but a few people may suffer very badly and may even die.
The second vision, a divine fire, could literally be fire on the earth. "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 4:24; see 29:20). Fire, in biblical symbolism, is a purging and purifying punishment against sin (Malachi 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:29). To save and turn the people back to morality and obedience, God decrees a purifying fire to come upon Israel, probably in the form of a divinely inspired war. Again, God relents, giving the nation another chance to repent.
This exchange between Amos and God illustrates a wonderful method He uses to teach us what we need. God sometimes leads us into situations that force us to decide what we really need. We ask Him for it, and then He gives it to us. We think He answered our prayer—and He did—but He also led us to pray the prayer (see Romans 8:26)! He guides these situations so that we come to think like Him! When He wants to produce character in us, He will work in whatever way is necessary to build it.
We can learn much from this technique. In our earnest prayers, we cry out to Him, believing we truly need what we have requested. We should also pray to understand how God is working, molding, shaping, and leading us to grow and overcome. When we finally see things from His perspective and pray that prayer, He will respond.
That is what He wanted from Israel: He desired the Israelites to understand that they should return to Him. However, Amos 7:9; 8:3, 10; and 9:1 indicate their destruction would be total because the people did not respond.
The example of ancient Israel's shortsightedness has present-day implications for spiritual Israel—God wants His people to look through the coming crisis and see that He brings it to pass, controls it, and sets its limits. He will use it to bring about His purpose in individual lives or in the life of the nation. In the near future, conditions will become so difficult that, if possible, even the elect will be deceived—"but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:24, 22).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
An honest evaluation of what Jesus teaches will show that He gives very few rules, if any, for keeping the Sabbath (or for that matter, for anything). There is a reason for that. For one thing, the rules were already laid down in the Old Testament. Also what He came to do was to magnify the spiritual application of that law, that is, teach and expound the spirit of the law, the intention for the law.
There is hardly a law that He paid more attention to than the Sabbath, magnifying its use. There are at least seven different occasions in the four Gospels in which the Sabbath is the issue, when Jesus magnified its use for us. Every one of them has a theme of redemption in it.
What He teaches us are principles for applying the rules that have already been given in the Old Testament. For some of us, that is kind of disconcerting. We would like to have something like a bus or an airline timetable to take us through life in which every possible avenue is detailed as to exactly how we should go, where we should do something, when we should do it in every possible situation that might arise.
God allowed the Jews to try that. They eventually came up with 1,521 rules concerning the Sabbath, which they felt would cover every situation that one might possibly get into. What God is showing us through Jesus Christ is that this is unnecessary. In short, it does not work, or God would have done it. A person is not free when he is bound to those kinds of regulations.
Living in the twentieth century is not quite the same as living in the first or second centuries. Besides, that approach does negative things to a person's character; it produces an extremely narrow, intolerant, and critical casuist. What Christ did in giving us principles is that He gave us things that will last unalterable to the end of time and allow us to be free. They allow a person not always to do exactly the same thing each time. Every situation has to be judged on its own merit.
What does God want to do with our lives? What is He trying to form? He is creating in us an ability—an expertise—to judge. We are going to be kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). What does a king do? A king judges in civil matters, things that pertain to the community. What does a priest do? A priest also judges, but he judges in things spiritual. God is teaching us how to judge.
How we use the Sabbath is an integral part of His training program, and so He has purposely left out all kinds of details. But what He did through Jesus is magnify things so that we can see the intent. What we are seeing is that the intent for the Sabbath is to free. It is to liberate. It is not to bind people with rules.
There is a risk involved in what God is doing. In one sense, it puts a person at very grave risk. Blundering, foolish, and self-centered as we are, there is a grave danger of taking our liberty and turning it into license to do virtually anything we want. Or, on the other hand, to take our liberty and do as the Jews did, becoming so restrictive that we turn the Sabbath into bondage.
But God has to do that! If we are going to become judges, trained in the purpose that He wants, He has to allow us this liberty to make the judgments. So it is a risk that must be taken if a person is going to grow in judgment and character, so one will be prepared to be a king and a priest, knowing when to act and when not to act. God offers to us His Holy Spirit to give us counsel and to guide. But we must apply the principles in the circumstances of our lives.
In no case did Jesus give any indication of doing away with the Sabbath. Always the examples show Him magnifying the Sabbath's intent by doing an act of freeing someone.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)
Jesus Christ does not need to see us in action administering a great city to know how we will govern in His Kingdom. He can see how we solve our problems in our own little life, whether we humble ourselves to be faithful by submitting to His way. Or do we "solve" our relationship problems with others by shouting, punching, hating, crawling into a shell, refusing to fellowship, going on strike, spreading gossip, seeking others to take our side, or running down another's reputation?
He can tell by the way we manage our own or our company's money; how we maintain our property; and how we dress. Christ can even judge our abilities by how we drive our car! Some people turn into aggressive, lead-footed monsters behind the wheel. Are we so vain to think the road belongs to us? Would He entrust a city to such an obnoxious person?
A woman once asked Mr. Armstrong what she had to do to worship God and prepare for the Kingdom. Who knows what she expected, but he advised her to begin in her bedroom! No one knows whether he meant that she should work on her prayers, keep the room neat and clean, or improve her relationship with her husband—maybe all three. The principle is that preparation for the Kingdom is achieved by working on the little things of life God's way.
Matthew 25:21 illustrates this clearly. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" In this parable, the servant who misused his position was disqualified because the lord could not trust him to use what was given him in a godly way.
Can we see this, brethren? The very elements involved in the process of sanctification are the ones that prepare and qualify us to rule!
What kind of decisions do we make in the everyday things of life? The choices required to live God's way are really very simple. Basically, they are a matter of saying, "Yes" or "No" to God's law. It does not have to be complicated for God to judge where we stand. He did not give Adam and Eve some long, complex mathematical, engineering, or political test. It was a simple test of obedience involving one of the most basic areas of life—food. You can eat this but not that.
We do not have to be an Adolf Hitler to prove ourselves unsuitable to rule over others. How we treat our spouse, children, or friends will provide ample evidence. Do we carefully think through what we say? Do we keep our word? Are we short-tempered, hard to get along with, stubborn, and uncooperative unless things are done our way? Are we quick to judge, impatient, malicious, foul-mouthed, or rebellious? Do we seek preferential treatment or position?
Christ needs to know if we will live His way now, before He entrusts us with the power of office in His Kingdom. The leaders of this world are not interested in the Way (see Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25-26; 19:9). They consider it foolish, unrealistic, impractical, and simplistic. So they make treaties and break them, and the wonderful advances of technology continue to prove useless in things that matter. The Kingdom of God, however, will produce all the good things written in the prophecies because the government itself reflects them. They are in its character, and they have already manifested themselves in each ruler's life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Rule!
1 Corinthians 2:9-16
The verb Paul uses in verse 10, translated "revealed" (Greek apokalupto), is a strong term, usually used in the New Testament to indicate divine revelation of certain supernatural secrets or with the resurrection and judgment of certain people and events. These verses in I Corinthians 2 stress the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing the wisdom of God.
In verse 14, the verb anakrino, translated "discerned," is the same verb translated "judges" and "judged" in verse 15. The idea in each case is to make intelligent, spiritual decisions. Anakrino, though meaning "examine," includes the decision following the examination.
Members of God's church are to examine all things ,including our own lives, with the help of God's Spirit, and then we are to make an evaluation as to what our strengths and weaknesses are. Then we decide what we are going to do about them. No one in the world has a right to examine and evaluate us on spiritual matters because, without the Holy Spirit, they canno rightly and justly understand or evaluate. There is no need to feel slighted or put down by anyone in the world who disagrees with God's truth or with your obedience to God's truth. The same holds true in all judgments and criticisms from the world - that is, those without God's Holy Spirit - who try to tell us our doctrines are wrong.
This is a major reason the Worldwide Church of God went into apostasy, because the leaders believed and accepted the criticisms of the worldly churches. They accepted judgment from people without God's Holy Spirit and from organizations without a spiritual foundation of truth.
The mainstream Christian churches are worldly, are not led by people with the Holy Spirit, and they do not base their doctrines on truth. Two cases in point: neither the Sunday Sabbath nor the being that is called the Holy Spirit of the Trinity can be proven honestly and truthfully with God's written Word. Do not be fooled by mainstream Christianity's false piety! They are not God's people. They are not baptized members of God's church. They do not have God's Holy Spirit. This is not to say that there are not wonderful people in some of these churches in the world. In addition, when they do follow some of God's laws, blessings will automatically accrue to them.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
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