What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
At this point, the Israelites wanted to make the covenant and to be married to God. But when the reality hit them—the reality of what it was going to cost them in the conduct of their lives—they no longer wanted it except on their terms. Thus, when food became scarce, they wanted to back out. When water was in short supply, they grumbled. Then what did they do? They started accusing Moses and Aaron and God because, after all, they were their leaders.
Unfortunately, this is what happens in many marriages. Two people start off in love. Then the realities of the marriage begin to arise, and one or both of them are unwilling to make the sacrifices to continue the relationship and grow in unity. They begin to want the marriage on their own terms: "Well, I'll continue this IF...."
There are many examples of the Israelites wanting to back out. So God, in a sense, offered them concessions. He gave them meat for their lust. He caused water to gush out of the rock. He gave them manna. He bent over backward to meet their demands. But later on, when their descendants were in the Land of Promise, they too were unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to make the marriage successful. We know what happened then.
Conclusion: We do not want to repeat the same mistakes that they made. We have to learn to accept and adapt to what God provides, both as individuals, and as a body (i.e., the church).
The hardships of their pilgrimage in the wilderness were a consequence of a choice that they made to enter into the agreement with God. They did not have to agree with it; they could have returned to Egypt right away. Yet, they chose to enter into the agreement, and thus committed themselves to God's leadership. So running out of food and water, being attacked, enduring the sun above and the sand beneath—all those things represent the hardships of their entering into this agreement. They were consequences.
For this reason, before someone is baptized, he is advised to count the cost. The ministry has this responsibility, not to try to stop the person from being baptized, but to help clarify that he will have to bear the consequences of his decision. Neither the ministry nor the candidate for baptism can know all that lies ahead. In principle, he declares himself willing to accept the consequences of his decision, just as Israel agreed to the covenant before knowing every detail of what would come.
The consequences of our choices are all too frequently things that we do not want to consider. In regard to sin, we either ignore the consequences and take our chances, or we simply go into denial that the consequences are a reality that we must deal with. If we are that way, it reveals quite a lack of faith and a great deal of immaturity.
Kids are like this. Children, the immature, often do not think about the consequences of an act. They just do it. They act or react, thinking that parents are "old fogies" because we say, "No, you can't do that." They say, "Why not?" "Because," we often reply. "You can't do it because I'm the parent, and that's good enough." It should be, but kids do not consider their parents' wisdom, honed by years of experience, to be valuable. When they are sixteen years old, they do not consider that what they are doing might affect them when they are 55 or 60 years old. They are just passionate about the things that they do, but they rarely stop to think of consequences.
When we do not stop to consider spiritual consequences of the things that we do, it indicates that we are spiritually immature. God just is not real to us, or we would be taking His Fatherly advice about what to do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 3)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
Consider where this covenant appears. It is in the book of Exodus, but after chapter 20, where God gives the commandments. From this we see that God proposes a special covenant, which He places in the midst of all of the instructions for building the Tabernacle. It means that, even though these people were employed to construct such an important edifice for the worship of God, they were not to desecrate the Sabbath by working on it. Even the construction of the Tabernacle had to take second place to the keeping of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a sign. It is not a mark. Bible usage shows that a sign is voluntarily accepted, whereas a mark is put on against a person's will. The Sabbath is a special sign. It is a special covenant between God and His people. Who are His people?
A sign can identify an occupation. One might read, "Joe Smith, Dentist"—or plumber or electrician. A sign can also give purpose for a thing; it tells us why something is being used or done in the way that it is. A sign can give directions: "This way to River City."
A sign can also bring people together with shared interests and common purposes. Some fraternal organizations have special signs that they pass to one another to identify what lodge, or organization, it is that they belong to. A sign can unify; it can bring people together. A sign can be a pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment. Signs are used by organizations to designate membership. People wear a little badge on their lapel that says that they belong to such-and-such organization, and by it members recognize one another.
This is part of the way that the Sabbath is also used. The Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that unites and sanctifies us [sets us apart] from everyone else. Here in the United States and Canada, almost everybody else who is religious keeps Sunday or nothing. If a person keeps the Sabbath, he is being cut away from, separated from, sanctified by the very fact that he is keeping it. Though these people do not realize it yet, it becomes a sign to them that he is in the process of being sanctified. We ought to be very much aware of this sign because we are keeping it.
Everybody who has ever kept both Sunday and Saturday knows this: Sunday sets almost no one apart because everybody who is "religious" is already doing it. Big deal! What is so different about that? They are only sanctified from the people who keep no day at all. For those who are "religious," it does not sanctify them because the Baptists are keeping the day, and the Catholics are keeping the day, as well as the Mormons, the Pentecostals, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Congregationalists. All those people are keeping Sunday, and it is not separating, or sanctifying, anybody.
But once a person begins to keep the Sabbath, it immediately begins to sanctify him, to separate him from everyone else. God has a purpose that He is working out. He has made a tremendous investment in the Creation and in the death of His Son. The Sabbath is a means by which He protects His investment.
If the only reason He created the Sabbath was because we need rest, then any old time would do. Ultimately, how and why one keeps the Sabbath are the real sign. Other religious groups "keep" the Sabbath, but are they keeping it as God desires? It is how and why we keep it that makes us different—they do the sanctifying. "Sanctify them through Your truth," Jesus says in John 17:17. God's Word is truth. If people accept it and use it, they will be using the Sabbath for different purposes than others are.
God created the Sabbath to educate His people in His way. It prepares them for their witness. Suppose that a basketball coach says to his players, "Come to the gym and meet with me at such-and-such a time." But some of the players decide that they will go to a different gym, at a different time, and with a different coach. Players on a team begin to take on the qualities and the philosophy of their coach. Anybody who is familiar with athletics understands this. Those who are intimately involved in athletics say that they can always tell whether a certain player has been coached by a certain coach, say John Wooden or John Thompson. What has happened is the player has taken on the sign of the coach, and it has sanctified him from other players who are not coached by that particular coach.
The same principle is at work with God and us. He is our Coach. He has made an appointment with us to meet at a certain place, at a certain time. And if we choose not to go to where He is going to be, then we are not going to begin to take on the image of our Coach. The Sabbath was created because it both enhances and protects our relationship with God. And it provides the witness—to God, to the individual, and to the world—of who is keeping it. This is how it becomes the sign. It provides a witness.
The Sabbath exists to keep us in a proper frame of mind and to provide us with the right material to negotiate the way to God's Kingdom. We live in a grubby, grasping material world. Every day has a built-in bias towards material things, and it is very difficult to keep our minds focused on things that are spiritual. But the Sabbath, if a person is keeping it as God desires, will almost put a person into a spiritual mode, point him toward God, and force him to acknowledge Him as Creator.
The Sabbath presents us with the opportunity to consider the whys of life, to get our head on straight with the right orientation so that we can properly use the other six days. The Sabbath is the kernel, the nucleus, from which the proper worship—our response to God—grows.
Existentialist philosophers tell us that life is absurd, that all of life is nothing but a prelude to death. But keeping the Sabbath is a celebration of life! It tells us that God's creative process is continuing, that He is creating us in His spiritual image so that we might live with Him forever. For the great God, the Sabbath is a day of creation. The Sabbath ensures us that life is not absurd, but rather, it is a prelude to life on an infinitely higher and greater level. The more we become like Him, the more sanctified we are from the world. It is in experiencing the refreshing elevation of the mind that we get a tiny foretaste of what is to come.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)
God will remember His covenant because He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). Because He does not want His name to be profaned in any way, He is very concerned about those who bear it (Exodus 20:7). The covenant people, Israel, had profaned His name by their conduct among the other nations. Because God is holy and righteous, what He proclaimed to do against the heathen in the first chapter of Amos, He will also do to Israel—a people who had forsaken their covenant with Him.
Isaiah writes that Jerusalem, symbolizing all the tribes of Israel, will receive double for her sins because of her privileged position under the covenant (Isaiah 40:2). God will punish Israel for her failure to live up to her responsibilities within the covenant.
God's punishment, though, is never an end in itself, nor does He punish in wild anger or frustration. Rather, He punishes in the best way and at the best time to bring individuals to repentance. He has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He will correct their descendants so that He can eventually save His people and give them the promises. The process will be painful but also effective; Israel will come to repentance (Romans 11:25-29).
Reflecting on the history of the British Commonwealth and America in the last two hundred years, we see two nations quickly rising to prominence along with unparalleled accomplishments. The British produced a great empire far out of proportion to their population, native wealth, and abilities. Through her commercial power, the United States became the single richest nation that has ever existed. American influence has since exceeded even that of Britain, making English the universal language of business and politics.
Thousands of academic, scientific, and engineering breakthroughs and inventions have sprung from British and American individuals, discoveries which greatly affected the rest of this world. Such power and influence have made both nations feel they have an unlimited reservoir of natural ability and wealth. They even feel a kind of invincibility.
Amos warns ancient Israel and her modern descendants, however, that no nation is so great that it can stand without God. He makes and unmakes nations (II Chronicles 20:6; Daniel 4:17; Acts 17:26). Their rise or fall is largely dependent upon His purpose for them and their significance in prophecy (e.g. Jeremiah 12:14-17; 25:15-32). If their moral and ethical foundation has eroded, the natural process of strong nations displacing weaker ones will take place (Leviticus 18:28; 20:22). It is this process that God often uses to punish His people for apostasy and immorality.
But though God punishes, there is always the hope of repentance and restitution:
"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:13-15)
Central to both the punishment and the restitution is loving and living the truth of God. This is the responsibility of those who have made a covenant with Him, whether the Old or the New Covenant. It is our part of the deal—a small part really but a difficult one that must be kept (Matthew 7:13-14). If we do not keep it, God must correct us.
But if we keep our part of the agreement, we will reap the benefits that flow with God keeping His. He promises good health (Exodus 15:26), prosperity (Malachi 3:8-12), children (Psalm 127:3-5), security (Psalm 46), and many other blessings besides His greatest gift, eternal life in His Kingdom (John 17:1-3; Romans 6:23)!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
God chose ancient Israel out of all the nations of the earth and determined that they would be a holy nation. He ordained that they would be a people set apart from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant was intended not only to be a schoolmaster to teach Israel how to live in such a way that they would recognize the Messiah when He came (Galatians 3:24), but it was also intended to set Israel apart—to make them holy. In so doing, He intended the entire nation to be a witness of Him. This passage demonstrates this.
God proposed the Old Covenant to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Israel accepted the terms of the agreement and thereby signed up to be a light to the rest of the world. God had given them the most superior set of laws that mankind had ever encountered, which would leave the rest of the world in awe due to the beneficial effects that would come from it.
We know from the New Testament that the only problem with this covenant was the heart of the people entering into it (Hebrews 3:10-12; 8:7-8). The God-given terms of the agreement were absolutely perfect for what He wanted to accomplish. One of His main purposes was for Israel to be an example, a witness, to the rest of the world of the right way to live. Incidentally, the Tabernacle that Israel carried with them in the wilderness was even called "the Tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44).
If Israel had been faithful to the covenant, they would have received blessings beyond belief. In the blessings portion of Deuteronomy 28, God was prepared to set Israel high above all the nations of the earth. Their cities and farms would be prosperous; their children would be healthy and strong; their herds and flocks would be numerous; they would have an abundance of food; and they would have protection from their enemies. They would have rain in due season, and everything they put their hands to would be blessed. They would have enough that they could lend to other nations and not borrow. God intended them to be a holy people whose behavior and prosperity would make it obvious to the rest of the world that God had set them apart. The effect would be so dramatic that Israel would be feared!
However, as we know, Israel failed. The accounts of the Old Testament prophets show the great lengths to which God went for Israel in cleaning her up and taking her under His wing. Yet, once she caught a glimpse of her God-given beauty and wealth, all she did was play the harlot with the surrounding nations, rather than being a witness to them (see Ezekiel 16).
Today, the United States is the richest nation on earth, which seems to coincide with God's promise of blessing until we realize that America is also the greatest debtor nation. Parts of the nation suffer drought, and other parts are practically floating away. Much of our food is either imported or grown from genetically mutated seed. Our cities are filthy, crowded, and corrupt, and our family farms are dying through environmental regulation and corporate buyouts. We live in abundance yet cannot afford our lifestyles, plunging further into personal debt. The nation's churches are pathetically weak, barely standing to fight the onslaught of secular culture—and, in fact, accepting much of it in a misguided spirit of tolerance. In short, America is the farthest thing from being a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Our entertainment industry shows, like nothing else, what sort of "witness" we are making to the world.
Israel failed because her heart was not right. Biblically, the word "heart" is synonymous with "mind" and "spirit." We know that God desires that all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26; II Peter 3:9) and that in the future He will replace Israel's heart of stone by pouring out His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, for a few—known as the remnant, the church, the Body of Christ, spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, or the firstfruits—God decided to do this ahead of time.
He gave His Spirit on the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day of Pentecost, AD 31, so that a remnant of Israel would have a heart of flesh and not of stone. God gave His Spirit so that spiritual Israel could obey God both in the letter and in the intent of His law. In addition, just as He gave Israel His law so she would be a witness, God gave the church His Spirit so that Christ's disciples would be witnesses. By receiving a portion of the Spirit that proceeds from the divine Lawgiver, the firstfruits are able to understand the intent behind God's laws. More than this, by yielding to the promptings and motivations of God's Spirit, they can begin to take on His character and actively do good rather than merely avoid sin.
David C. Grabbe
The Pentecost Witness
This particular point of obedience is especially interesting because it is the first thing mentioned about our faithfulness to Him. This passage bans Israel from making covenants with the people of the land. Among covenants are marriage unions. A marriage is a covenant to be special treasures to each other and therefore faithful to each other. As we continue in the chapter, verses 4 and 6 begin with the conjunction "for," which tells us why something is to be done or is forbidden.
Here, unlike some other situations, He provides a brief reason or two why this is forbidden. In short, in verse 4, covenants—including marriages with the heathen—are banned because it is too spiritually dangerous. It is similar to playing with fire—the Lake of Fire. Interreligious marriages will work to destroy the special faithfulness to each other.
In verse 6, God's reason is that they—and we—are a special, set apart people for God's uses only. Entering covenants with the heathen, including marriage and honoring their gods, will work to destroy the special relationship. In other words, it will work to destroy our faithfulness to God and therefore our ability to proclaim God's praises.
Do we love God enough that we are willing to heed His commands, or do we love ourselves more than Him, making us willing to risk what He says not to do? Marrying outside the faith is a matter of idolatry.
The perspective through which we look at these things in the course of daily life makes all the difference in the world. A common way of illustrating this is to ask whether we consider the glass half-full or half-empty. Do we think of God's calling as a blessing that has opened a door to a fabulous eternity? Or, do we feel it bars us from areas of fulfillment, excitement, adventure, and fun in life, excluding us from those who have access to all the pleasure and glory this world can produce?
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
That Israel was a holy nation is far more important than is generally realized, and it affects our understanding of wavesheaf requirements. As a prelude to better understanding and properly appreciating many aspects of waving the sheaf, it is helpful to know that God specifically designated Israel a sanctified people. He set the entire nation apart as distinctive from the rest of the world's nations. As such, He gave them responsibilities to perform before the rest of the world as a testimony of their obedient service to God.
God's declaration of certain things as "clean" and others as "unclean" helped to define this holiness to them. Some things declared unclean could not even be touched without making a person ceremonially defiled until he performed the prescribed rituals. Among the things declared polluted or unclean were the Gentiles, whose uncleanness was not inherent but lay in their idolatry: They did not worship the God of Creation who set the Israelites apart. As such, even a marriage between an Israelite and a Gentile was forbidden except within very narrow parameters.
The ceremonial aspects of the Israelites' responsibilities are quite detailed, and God expected them to be followed exactly as instructed because each detail fits precisely within His purposes for His relationship with His sanctified people. Are we wiser than He is? God is not the author of meaningless regulations. Waving the sheaf of grain is one of these ceremonial duties, containing explicit instructions with spiritual ramifications.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost Revisited (Part Two): Joshua 5
1 Samuel 8:7-9
Shortly after the marriage took place on Mount Sinai, even while they were yet in the wilderness, Israel was already deviating from faithfulness. Recorded here is an especially significant event following the marriage, and in it Israel formally rejected God as her ruler, thus taking a major step to being a worldly nation. This occurred somewhere between 1100 BC and 1000 BC, or roughly about 350 to 450 years after the making of the covenant. Except for brief periods when Israel had a judge or a king who did right in the eyes of God, the spiritual harlotry continued unabated, as God testifies here, until He divorced her (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8) and sent Israel and Judah into captivity.
The truly important part of this is largely glossed over as we read through this, but it helps to point out the real problem in Israel's relationship with God. Having a king is not the real issue, because God had already anticipated Israel having a king (Genesis 17:7; Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Every organization needs or requires a leader. What he is called—what his title is, whether it be judge or king—is of virtually no importance.
God was planning that Israel would have a king, so He laid down regulations in Deuteronomy 17 to show how He expected that the king should conduct himself within the office. These regulations are designed to ensure that the king does not overly elevate himself above the people and rule as an autocratic despot. Instead, he is to be thoroughly familiar with and guided by the attitudes and laws of God. He must comprehensively know that his own nature is just like those he serves and be humbled.
But the key to understanding the significance of what Israel has done in I Samuel 8 is that they wanted a king just like the other nations, not that they should merely have a king. They wanted, not a king as God detailed in Deuteronomy 7, but an autocratic, despotic king like Babylon, Assyria, or Egypt. They thought that, with such a powerful man in control, everything would be great. This is why God has Samuel spell out what will happen as a result of having such a king: The sum and substance is that he would enslave them. What this of course does is confirm Israel's whorish behavior. They wanted to do things just like all the other nations, even to the point of having a ruler like them.
This occasion here in I Samuel 8 is, on Israel's part, a complete rejection of her marriage vow. She wants her benefactor and husband—God—to have no say in her life. She wants be in control (she thinks), and thus she has declared herself "free" of Him, completely and totally a nation of this world and no longer the type of the Kingdom of God on earth.
The issue between God and man is simply a matter of government. This is shown no later than Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve reject God's rule over them and choose Satan. Once God reveals Himself through His calling, this issue of government clearly comes to the fore in our life, and thus it is what we are confronting in decision-making. As the Bible has recorded in great detail, man has shown that he wants to retain this authority to himself. But the naked truth is that we cannot retain sovereignty to ourselves and still have what God offers: entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God. We cannot have it both ways. Either we will be submissive to God and His will, or we will be submissive to our own fickle drives.
It is a simple thing. It is a matter of government. Who is going to rule: God or us? Israel rejected God's rule. God makes that very plain. Will we? That is the issue.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)
God commands in Psalm 50:5, 22, "Gather My saints together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice. . . . Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." Especially interesting is that Psalm 50 is directly addressed to those who have made a covenant with God, yet some, perhaps many, suffer from forgetfulness regarding His importance to their well-being.
Could we be guilty of such a thing?
Psalm 78:39-42 reveals ancient Israel's forgetfulness:
For He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again. How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power; the day when He redeemed them from the enemy.
This serves as a warning. Notice the contrast between God, who remembers and keeps His part of the covenant, and men, who so easily forget Him. Our forgetting triggers neglect of the responsibilities that we acquired in making the New Covenant, as Hebrews shows. The next step in the decline of responsibility is to forsake all accountability. However, to seek God diligently by faith is the opposite of Israel's destructive process. When we come to God, the process of forsaking the world begins. Forgetting God ultimately draws us right back into what we originally came out of!
In what way must we come to God? In Proverbs 8:17, personified wisdom reminds us, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me." The Hebrew word translated as diligently means "busily; with persistent, persevering effort; industriously." In Psalm 119:10, the psalmist declares, "With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!" He pursued God wholeheartedly and steadfastly. In Psalm 27:4, David adds that he did this "all the days of my life."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Note something of considerable importance to church members: Both Isaiah and Amos addressed their counsel to people who had already made a covenant with God. Why? Because these Israelites were in serious spiritual trouble within the relationship that the covenant created. These are stern exhortations for them to get on the ball.
A second but not readily apparent reason why these warnings are important to us is that seeking after God truly does not begin until after He reveals Himself to us and we make the covenant with Him. Many do not realize that seeking God is the main occupation for a Christian during the sanctification process. Amos is clear regarding this.
God warns how devastating the coming perilous times will be, then He counsels us to seek the help of One far greater - our Creator and Ruler. Finally, He urges us to turn our everyday conduct to seeking to do good, showing care for God and His people.
Amos is not charging the Israelites to seek God in order to find Him because, at the very least, they were acquainted with Him, having already made the covenant with Him. However, that He charges them with seeking Him reveals that despite making the covenant, what they knew about Him had not been translated into everyday living or being like Him. This indicates that they were just drifting along with the times.
Four times in Amos 5, he urges them to seek God, and two of those times, he adds, "that you may live." This thought ties directly into John 17:3, which indicates that, more than being just endless existence, eternal life is a quality of life. As we proceed, we will see that they were being exhorted to seek God because, despite having made the covenant, they had stopped seeking Him, and the effect of stopping was their poor spiritual condition and subsequently, their imminent destruction at the hand of the Assyrians.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part One): Our Biggest Problem
It is obvious that He lays the choices—the decisions, the judgments to do these things—not on Satan's shoulders, but on man's—that man should know enough to resist any Satanic impulse to do these things. So, who does God hold responsible for obeying Him? Truly, we learn from Revelation 12:9 that the Devil has deceived the whole world, but when we add these other factors, we find that God holds each person responsible for what he or she has done. He holds Satan responsible for his part, and He holds each person responsible for his or her part. It has to be this way, otherwise what consequence is free moral agency? It would be no consequence at all.
So God, from His position, does not view us as being free from blame because we have been duped by Satan. We can see this in a simple example of God's judgment concerning Adam and Eve. He dispersed a portion of blame to each exactly where it belongs: on all three participants.
This is especially important for us to understand because the Bible is written for those who have made the covenant with God. It is only written indirectly for the world. It is given to those who have had their eyes opened—to those to whom God has revealed Himself. God has put Christians into a position very similar to Adam and Eve's. God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve from the very beginning, and they were in a position where they knew God and could make a choice that others may not have been in the same position to make because they did not have that initial contact with God. However, God has revealed Himself to us, and thus, we are in much the same position as Adam and Eve.
By far, these verses apply to us more directly than they do to anybody in the world. We have to face our responsibility squarely concerning whom we will choose to serve. Will it be the sovereign Lord Creator or Satan, a fallen angel? Who is sovereign in our lives?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God (Part 1)
If we see things happening within the body of Christ, the Old Testament is a great reservoir of instruction regarding God's relationship with those who have made a covenant with Him.
God faithfully recorded the way the Israelites acted and reacted to Him, as well as the way He reacted to them. He had people like Moses, Samuel, David, and Ezra to write these things down. When the time came for His Son to come, die for the sins of the world, and start the church, His people had at their fingertips all the instruction they needed to find out what was happening, why, and what to do about it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
The Old Covenant was not added to the Abrahamic Covenant-it was an additional covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant was one covenant, and the Old Covenant was a separate and additional covenant of its own.
These two covenants stand in relation to each other much as the special Sabbath Covenant (Exodus 31:12-17, showing it to be a separate covenant) stands in relation to the Old Covenant. The Sabbath Covenant establishes that the Sabbath is the sign of God's people. It is a separate covenant in addition to the Old Covenant.
This verse explains why the Old Covenant is not added to the Abrahamic Covenant. One cannot add to a contract that has already been signed, sealed, and delivered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 27)
Notice two important factors he links to hope in Ephesians 2:12. First, in the time before God called the Ephesian Gentiles into a relationship with Him, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise."
The commonwealth of Israel could be either the nation or the church because under the Old Covenant ancient Israel established a relationship with God, received a small measure of His promises, and possessed the hope of the Messiah. However, the primary meaning here is the church; those who have made the New Covenant with God are the Israel of God and a holy nation (Galatians 6:16; I Peter 2:9). The New Covenant contains God's confirmed promises—confirmed in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.
Being part of ancient Israel under the Old Covenant did not give a person access to many promises that would have given him reason to hope. The Old Covenant promised no forgiveness of sin, no access to God, no promise of the Holy Spirit, and no promise of eternal and everlasting life, all of which we have. We have continuing, never-ending hopes because the New Covenant ensures a continuous relationship. Our relationship necessarily involves the other part of Ephesians 2:12: Before our calling, we were also without God in the world. Our hope is not merely in the fact that we have made a covenant, but more importantly, with whom we made it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope
Christ, by inheritance, has obtained the promises. Are we not co-heirs with Christ? Will we inherit the same things that He did? Verse 4 says, ". . . by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they [angels]." Is He greater than angels? There is no comparison between what He is now and an angel! He is their great Creator.
The writer of Hebrews is tracing the inheritance of the promises from the standpoint of Jesus, the Man, dying, being resurrected from the dead, and ascending to heaven. He is the inheritor of the promises that came to Him as the result of meeting the terms of the covenant given to Abraham. He became the heir, and what was His inheritance? This passage says that His inheritance was to become God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 13)
In Hebrews 3:12, the apostle Paul reports of Israel's "evil heart of unbelief," the fountain, the source, that gave birth to her irrational, erratic, unreliable spiritual and moral behavior. She could not be trusted to remain firm to her commitment to be faithful in keeping the commandments and thus God's way of life. Had the making of the covenant been a literal marriage between two humans, her conduct would have been as God called it, harlotry. However, this was an agreement between a holy, spiritual God and the human nation He chose.
Though she transgressed every commandment in multiple ways, collectively, the spiritual sin through which her unfaithfulness is most frequently demonstrated is gross idolatry. Israel simply serves herself, following the whim of the moment, so that she might "have fun." Her lack of belief grants her nature free rein to exhibit itself in the self-endowed liberty to follow the lust of her flesh, the lust of her eyes, and the pride of life. She rejects her divine Husband as her Ruler because she wants a king "just like" the other nations.
Except for the occasional times when Israel had good leadership, she conducted her affairs, whether personal, domestic, or international, in the Babylonian manner. Israel, despite her great advantages, became just another kingdom of this world. While God has remained faithful to His agreements and promises through the centuries, she has maintained a hypocritical "God's people" stance toward the world, palming herself off as a "Christian nation."
With the founding of the church following Christ's resurrection, God's spiritual focus turned to the church. Having made the New Covenant with God, our charge now is to be faithful while living surrounded by Babylon the Great. Though it is literally physically impossible, we have the responsibility to come out of her, and we can come out spiritually by being faithful to God and His commandments. We must not fail as Israel did, for the stakes for us are much greater. The New Covenant is a better covenant than Israel made; it contains better promises, enabling us a much better opportunity to be faithful and grow. However, those greater advantages also render us more responsible than even Israel, God's only chosen nation, because the church of God is God's only chosen church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible
God says through the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." God does not want to lose us. Yet, He is creating His holy, righteous character in us. For that to be done, He must put us through tests and, in a sense, take the risk that He will lose us in one of them. He also lets the leash out, as it were, little by little, increasing the intensity of the tests as years go by. In this way, we experience life together with Him.
Herein is exposed the weakness of the Old Covenant. Romans 8:3 tells us that the law "was weak through the flesh." The marriage covenant between God and Israel was entered into before the qualities necessary for a successful union were ever developed in the Israelites. God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, took them to Mount Sinai, and then He proposed to them. In three days, the marriage was entered into, and Israel became God's (see Exodus 19-24). It was a marriage doomed to divorce from the very beginning, illustrating that no person—even one as great as God—can create a successful marriage if the other party does not agree, refusing to walk with them or to conform to recognized standards. Despite God's lovingkindness and patience, Israel never trusted Him! That is what Hebrews 4:2 says.
However, the New Covenant solves this problem! These matters will be ironed out before the covenant is completed, which will not happen until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—not until the children of God are resurrected. Then two who are "on equal footing," let us say, will marry. They will have experienced life together over long periods of time and will have come to know and trust one another. They will know each other's actions and reactions—the other's mind and heart—and a trust will have been built that will enable the marriage to succeed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
It is interesting that God labeled this woman as a mystery. He goes on to say, through the angel, "I will show you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast." Revelation 17 and 18 contain many clues as to her identification.
Now the word mystery is Strong's #3466 in the combined Strong's Concordance and Vine's Expository Dictionary. The word is defined there as: "Mystery is that which denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit."
In other words, a "mystery"—in the biblical sense, in the Greek sense—is something that is unattainable by common human research but is revealed by God so that His children, His people, can understand.
This word then parallels Daniel 12:10, which says that at the end "the wise shall understand." Here we are, in the end-time, and God has revealed where Israel is. Israel is a mystery to those in the world. They do not believe, even though they are told. They do not believe that the people of Northwest Europe, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand are the descendants of Israel. It just does not sink in. They can be presented with proof, not from the Bible, but from the world—from historical researches and such—and they still do not believe it. It is something that has to be revealed.
This revelation is not something that is just contained in words, but it is something that God gives to the heart and mind of His children so that they are desirous to believe it. And they do. It does not take a lot of brain power, but it takes instead a gift from God to believe, which His children will do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 4)
Now what about this statement that this woman is the mother of harlots? In the past we have referred to her harlot children as being the Protestant churches that revolted from the Catholic church; however, there is a weakness in this concept found in the Bible's use of the terms "daughter," "son," "harlot," and other similar terms.
God had Hosea physically act out what had happened to God in God's relationship with Israel. He says, "Plead with your mother" (Hosea 2:2). Who would be the mother of Hosea and all the people of Jerusalem? It would be Jerusalem, or in a larger context, Israel.
"Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife." This makes it clear that He is talking about all of Israel. God did not marry just Jerusalem; He married all of Israel. Does Israel only consist of men or women? No, both. We are beginning to see that the term "wife" can include both male and female people, depending on the context in which it appears. And, obviously, so does the word "children" indicate both male and female.
The word "daughter" also includes men, the word "son" also includes women, and the word "harlot" means both men and women. It does not mean just women, because Israel was made up of men and women. Children are made up of men and women. The Bible uses these terms interchangeably, and one gender almost always includes the other.
Consider Hosea 2:2-4 and Hosea 4:11-13. Were women the only ones who committed whoredom? No. The men committed whoredom too. And spouses? Was it only women who were committing whoredom? No. "Spouses" includes men and women who were sinning. Hosea 7:4 says they were all adulterers—male and female.
Daughters, in Ezekiel 16:44-48, includes everybody within the city.
Ezekiel 16:53-55 describes the Jews coming back to their former estate in Jerusalem. Was it only women who came back? Can we see the way "daughters" is used? It is being used in a collective sense.
In Lamentations 3:51, God also refers to all of Jerusalem's inhabitants, male and female, as "daughters." Why is this true? The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, page 194, speaks about "daughters" or "daughters of":
The Hebrew idiom reflects a double metaphor common in the culture of the ancient Near East. A capitol city was personified as a woman, and the inhabitants of that city collectively as her daughter. Jerusalem remains distinct as she whose Husband is the One God, Yahweh. Thus her daughters, the collective inhabitants, depended on her for identity, but also shaped her future by their action.
Thus the terms "sons," "daughters," "children," "harlot," as well as other descriptive terms like "seed," "adulterers," and "liars" are used collectively without regard to specific gender when the sense of the term is "those showing the characteristics of." That is what a child does. A child shows the characteristics of its parents regardless if it is a male or female. And so the inhabitants of Jerusalem showed the characteristics of Jerusalem. That is why Hosea is told to write "they are all adulterers." Male and female.
Thus in Revelation 17, the city is Babylon (symbolically a woman) and is said to be the mother of harlots, which is used in the same way as "daughters"—that is, collectively, including the male gender; thus all of her offspring—male and female—are to be considered as harlots. It is not something limited to church denomination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 4)
In the past, we have been taught that this refers to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, does this truly refer only to a church, or is it something more politically, economically, and militarily powerful and influential? Notice her identification contains the name "Mystery." (I Corinthians 2:7-9 also uses this term.)
A biblical mystery is something that God must reveal for one to understand. It is not something right on the surface that anybody looking into Revelation can stumble across and quickly understand. This Woman's identification is not something easily seen. Of "mystery," William Barclay's The Letters to the Corinthians says: "The Greek word musterion means something whose meaning is hidden from those who have not been initiated, but crystal clear to those who have" (p. 26). Thus, commentaries are of virtually no help in identifying the Woman of these chapters.
Protestant biblical commentators pay little or no attention to the end-time twelve tribes of Israel. To them, that Israel does not exist! Conversely, evangelical writers and a few mainstream groups focus exclusively on the tiny nation of Israel in the Middle East. However, the Mystery Woman of Revelation 17 and 18 is much more than what that nation displays.
Commentators wholly disregard God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to make Israel into a populous, powerhouse nation both physically and spiritually—promises that affect both race and grace. Ignoring the race aspect altogether, they teach that the promises of grace were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
However, God, as a blessing to His church, revealed the knowledge of the end-time location of Israel to Herbert Armstrong through other men who were seeking to find the "lost ten tribes." God did this so the church can make better sense of what is happening regarding the fulfillment of prophecy as the return of Christ approaches. In Daniel 12:10, God promises that the wise would understand, and the wise are those who keep the ways of the Lord (Hosea 14:9).
Almost all Protestants claim, as Herbert Armstrong did, that the Woman is the Roman Catholic Church, against which they have a prejudice. But Revelation 17 and 18 are a continued revelation of the same Woman, Israel, who appears in chapter 12!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot
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