What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Though Esau himself was full of bitter hatred, and Ishmael is described as a wild man, Amalek seems to have been the worst of the Edomite-related peoples. The Bible records that even God has a special enmity for Amalek, saying in Exodus 17:16, "Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." What is it about the Amalekites that turns God against them?
The story begins as the Israelites are fleeing from Egypt, having just crossed the Red Sea, as Exodus 17:8 chronicles, "Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim." Evidently, the Amalekites had heard of Egypt's total defeat at the Red Sea and decided to take advantage of its usually more powerful neighbor's weakness. Between them and their prize, however, walked a strung out line of Israelite wanderers, who seemed to be, not only laden with Egyptian loot, but also easy pickings.
Deuteronomy 25:17-18 fills out the story: "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God." The Amalekites, not daring to take on the main host of Israel, attacked the tail end of the line, where the slow and weak plodded along. Yet, as Moses notes, the Amalekites did not include God in their calculations.
Moses commanded Joshua to select men to fight, and the Israelites met the Amalekites in battle. The result of this seesaw fight appears in Exodus 17:13-16. Forty years later, when Israel is about to cross over Jordan, God reminds Israel of Amalek's perfidious act and charges them:
Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:19)
The Amalekites appear again in the well-known episode in which God instructed King Saul to carry out this command:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: "I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (I Samuel 15:2-3)
However, despite winning the battle, Saul did not follow God's instructions completely: "But Saul and the people spared Agag [king of the Amalekites] and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed" (verse 9). God sent the prophet Samuel to tell Saul that He had rejected him as king, as well as to execute Agag.
Obviously, some Amalekites escaped Saul's army. Five centuries later, as recorded in the story of Esther, an evil man named Haman plotted genocide against the Jews in Persia during the reign of Xerxes. Haman was "the son of Hammedatha the Agagite" (Esther 3:1), probably directly descended from the Amalekite king Samuel killed.
These accounts relate the sort of trickery, terrorism, and underhandedness that the Amalekites seem to use perpetually. One can only conclude that these tactics are passed from generation to generation, becoming a hereditary trait. God has recorded these episodes to indicate to us how Amalek historically treats Israel. If a confederacy is formed against Israel, the Amalekites will be a part of it, and they will be eager to use any means to bring her down.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Two)
This describes the bitterness of exile into which God forced Judah. Have we ever felt this way? Have we sighed and cried for the abominations of the church? That is what the Judeans who really learned the lesson of the exile did. It absolutely broke them down. They had to sit down and weep.
There is something to exile, to scattering, that God finds very good. It is not all grief. We know that God does nothing that is not for our good - either immediately or ultimately. One of the results of exile, if a person responds to it, is repentance, which is what God is looking for.
He wants our grief to be turned, as Paul says (II Corinthians 7:8-11), into zeal, into putting our whole hearts into our sorrow and then into the fruit that can be built from it. He wants us to get angry that we allowed things to go so far and to clear it out. Anger can be used to scour away sin, to be righteously indignant. We can use it like Drano® to clear the pipes and then direct that zeal to become righteous and holy once again, to do the things that God commands.
God will do whatever it takes to get us on the same page with Him, and if it means turning our lives upside down, turning us inside out, He will do it because He loves us. He still has us in the palm of His hand. We are still the apple of His eye, but He is not like a modern liberal who will not punish. He is a God who knows how to produce sons and daughters, and sometimes the worst punishments produce the best results. If He thinks the punished person will cooperate and learn the lesson, God is willing to take it that far.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How to Survive Exile
For "makes the bones fat," the marginal reference reads, "makes the bones healthy."
"The light of the eyes" - One might think that the psalmist refers the light in one's own eyes, but in this case, it is not. It is the light in another's eyes. What would we consider to be the light in another person's eyes within the context of this verse? It has to be something that the person is joyous, happy, enthused, encouraged about. He loves whatever they heard, and when he brings this news, one can see the light in his eyes. What does it do to the observer? It picks him up, and it is good for a person to be in such a situation. This verse illustrates how an environment can produce positive effects.
We know from our own life experiences that this is so. If we step into a room charged with anger, depression, bitterness, envy, jealousy, prideful gossip, or suspicion, what happens to us? We sense it or discern it immediately. We may become defensive and want to leave just as fast as we can.
Conversely, instead of entering a room charged with a negative attitude, perhaps we encounter a positive one. It pulls us toward it and makes us want to join and enjoy the benefits of such a positive, uplifting, and good spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Four)
A juicy tale seems so sweet on the tongue, yet as it works its way deeper, it becomes bitter and harmful. We often have the mistaken notion that if we emphasize something bad about another, it will make us look better. Scripturally, the opposite is true. I Corinthians 12:26 teaches us that if one member suffers, all the parts share the suffering. Like a boomerang, our weapon against our brother will eventually return to smack us.
The trader in gossip suffers as much as the victim. Trading in gossip appears analogous to contracting a severe communicable disease, like pulmonary tuberculosis, which, if not arrested, could cost us our eternal life. The effects upon the gossiper's character are initially unnoticeable, but the symptoms gradually worsen until the talebearer becomes engulfed in the paroxysms of bitterness and hatred.
David F. Maas
Purging the Rumor Bug from the Body of Christ
Probably all of us have thought that we know better than those in charge. Watch out! Thinking like this is not wrong in itself, but it is something that lodged itself in the mind of Helel (the name of the "covering cherub" before he became Satan): "I know better than the one in charge," and in this case, it was God.
We can begin to see how his pride was beginning to exalt itself against God. It was moving to break the relationship between them. It was coming between Helel and God so that their relationship could not continue. Helel could not continue to serve God.
Most have felt that we have been overlooked, neglected, or abused. Most of us have felt rejected a time or two. Of and by themselves, these feelings are not wrong. But, again, we must beware, because these feelings can begin to generate pride. Such a thing fed Helel's feelings about himself. They simmered in him and made him angry, and he desired to assert his will to control the governance of all that was happening. "I will ascend to heaven," he said, and he tried to. We see the pattern here; we can see the process involved from beginning to end.
It ends in warfare against God, which is why a person of pride cannot have a good relationship with Him. A proud person cannot have faith in God, at least not very much. A small amount of faith can be there, but pride will definitely be a hindrance. This is why the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14 follows immediately after of the Parable of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18:1-8), which Jesus ends with, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?"—because humility is essential to faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)
When Ezekiel was finally back among the captives, he felt a great bitterness. He calls it, "the heat of my spirit." The New King James margin has at this point, "the anger of my spirit."
This heated or angry bitterness equates to a kind of zeal. God's revelation is actually its basis because what went down into his stomach and revealed or opened up a great deal of truth to him was from God. It has given him a perspective that no one else has—a unique view on the world, on the way things should be, and on all the truth of God. It brings him sadness, a kind of mourning, because of the crooked way of humanity.
Remember that the angel went about looking for those who sighed and cried over the abominations of the earth (Ezekiel 9:3-4). That is a deep sadness, a grieving over what is going on—along with a realization of one's powerlessness to change it. The people who sigh and cry see so many people going the wrong way and making their lives a total waste, and they find themselves unable to make any sort of beneficial change for them.
This zeal also contains a kind of astonishment, as verse 15 attests. Ezekiel was astonished for an entire seven days—a whole week! Trying to figure out just what was going on, he was dumbfounded. Probably part of it was that he had been given this commission, and he was asking, "Why me, Lord?" But he was also astonished by the understanding that he had been given and at what God was doing.
Finally, there is his anger. Somebody like Ezekiel would be angry because nothing was being done. It is the flipside of his sadness. He was angry that his people would not repent. He was likely thinking, "Come on, people. Listen! If you would only listen to God, things would turn around for you."
So the prophet shows a zeal to help people to change, but also a sadness that they probably will not. He also exhibits a total amazement over the fact that God is actually going to work all this out.
What Ezekiel displays is a weird emotion, but it is understandable why all of its facets are brought down to the one word: bitterness. There is little, if any, happiness and joy involved. It is the kind of mood where we say today, with a shake of the head, "Man, this is bad." It is an emotion on the very edge of downright pessimism.
What it does, though, is drive the prophet to do his work—because he is the only one, it seems, who can do it. Truly, he is, because God has chosen him in particular to do it. He may have picked somebody else, but He had prepared this particular individual for the job. And given a dose of that bitterness, the prophet is glavanized to get the job done.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Two)
What the Beast is doing now (and he must be alive and climbing the political ladder today) is working his subtlety wherever he happens to be, using people to create loyalty to himself and to his cause. At the same time, he is gradually undermining—introducing leaven, as it were—to the present governments, causing disloyalty to them, while simultaneously stirring up social trouble through political, justice, educational, religious, and social systems.
There is nothing new about any of this. This is what Adolph Hitler did to subvert Germany to his cause. It is what Lenin and his cabal in Russia did to subvert the Czar and his government in Russia. This is what happened in the Cold War, as nation after nation fell to communism: infiltration through fifth column efforts, which took advantage of internal conditions, bitterness, and dissatisfaction with whoever was in power.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What I Believe About Conspiracy Theories
These are subtle signs of a "ripe" society. When an earthquake strikes, one feels very unstable because he is not sure if the building will collapse and kill him. A similar type of instability occurs when society is rocked by crime, violence, immorality, and injustice. Amos describes the insecurity, bitterness, and death that result from failing to hold to the absolute standards of God.
One of the first signs of ripeness that society shows is instability. Just a few decades ago, most of us could leave our houses unlocked, but when society began to become unstable, we had to start locking our doors. In the recent past, we did not read a great deal about violence on the streets. Now society is so unstable that violence fills our news reports, and this constant source of worry produces more instability.
Within such a nation, all kinds of unstable factors constantly increase because everyone is running here and there in confusion. The confusion results from the lack of absolute standards of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical. Thus, everybody does his own thing. Violence, divorce, suicide, and mental illness increase. We see this in our societies every day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
First, God allays some of the prophet's fears by implying that what He has told him is not necessarily a revelation of doom and despair. It may seem that way, but ultimately, the vision is encouraging, hopeful, and glorious. This is why He instructs him to write it down plainly so people will understand it and be encouraged by it—and thus run.
Hebrews 12 contains a similar metaphor of running. Perhaps Paul had Habakkuk in mind as he wrote it, since he quotes Habakkuk in Hebrews 10:37-38. The apostle explains in Hebrews 12:1 that the race we run is our Christian lives. We can take the words of Habakkuk and run because we know that it all works out right in the end (Romans 8:28). Our Savior has already done His work, so if we finish our race, we will be saved. There is no doubt about this because He is not only the beginner of our faith, but He is also the finisher of our faith. So we can run with patience, just as God told Habakkuk to do. Even if it seems to tarry, patiently wait for it, because it will happen just as He has promised. His will will be done.
In Hebrews 12:5-11, Paul goes through a section on discipline, chastening, correction. This is what Habakkuk had just heard—that God would discipline, chasten, correct His people by the wicked hand of Babylon. Paul says in Hebrews that if God does not chasten us, we are bastard children! The chastening, though unpleasant, is for our good. We may not like the humiliation of it, but we can patiently endure it because it is for the best.
Our chastening is not a time to lag or worry but to strengthen ourselves through God and move forward because it is important that we endure and finish (Hebrews 12:12-13). When things get tough, the tough get going. Do not be like Esau (Hebrews 12:15-17), who had a great promise and inheritance and threw it all away for some temporary relief. We should never settle for temporary relief if it will knock us off the path! It is not worth it because it will end in bitterness, tears, disappointment, and failure.
Paul shows in Hebrews 12:28 how we should approach God, even when things do not seem to be going the right way. We must serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear, just as Habakkuk did. Yes, he questioned Him, but he said, "You are God, and You know something that I do not understand, so I will wait patiently. I will see this through, and then I will respond." If we do not approach God properly, we may find ourselves caught under the heel of the Chaldean with the sinners.
"That he may run who reads it" suggests a herald, like in medieval times, who went from place to place with a message from one person to another. God is instructing Habakkuk to put the revelation down clearly so that someone in the future can take it and deliver it into the right hands, those who need to hear it. Anyone in the end time who is speaking God's words fulfills this.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What can we learn from the father in this story? After all, if anyone was wronged in this parable, it was the two young men's loving father. Instead of reacting with the bitter hatred, envy, and self-centeredness of his elder son, he handled the situation with love, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His wise words to his elder son in verses 31-32 help to put everything in its proper perspective.
In essence, the father tells his offended son, “Don't be so short-sighted, lest you become as greedy and foolish as your little brother. All that we have here is yours, so keep your eyes on the bigger picture and the greater reward.”
We all long to feel appreciated—to receive our “fatted calf”—particularly if we strive to sacrifice and work hard in service to others. But we should never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our faithful service is not for a pat on the back or the approval of others. Otherwise, we are no different from the Pharisees who did their works before men and thus, as Christ declared, “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:2).
In summation, the Parable of the Prodigal Son contains two important stories and a handful of invaluable lessons for practicing Christians:
» God is our only Judge, and He looks on the heart.
» Our sins have consequences.
» We should always be ready and willing to forgive any grievance as God does—unconditionally—and to seek reconciliation.
» Our walk should be defined by the spirit, not just the letter, of the law.
While both sons' sinful attitudes and actions brought dishonor upon the father, his willingness to forgive them both provided hope for all, just as our merciful Father in heaven provides for each of us. While the narrative ends without revealing what happened to the two brothers, it is worthwhile to imagine that they reconciled—that they healed their relationship and restored honor to the family name.
Because there is hope for reconciliation, we should pray for it—even expect it! Never give up on God. Those who are loyal and faithful and endure to the end will, one day, receive the greatest thanks and exaltation that measure far beyond our ability to envision. For Jesus Christ Himself will welcome those into His Kingdom with a resounding, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother
Attitude is an important factor in our Christian lives. The frame of mind from which we approach situations is a major dynamic in how we react to them. Our attitude could easily mean the difference between solving a problem and making it worse, and this has obvious ramifications to our growth in the image of God.
Man's natural state seems to lean toward pessimism. This springs from the fact that human nature and the flesh that clothes us are never satisfied; they always want more. Solomon notes, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing" (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Our desire for more of even good things is like an addiction to drugs or alcohol. An addict will use a small amount at first, but soon, he needs more to give him the same feeling of euphoria or mellowness because the body and brain compensate to manage it. Before long, he is taking far greater amounts of the drug, and ultimately, the dose is lethal.
Because we are never truly satisfied, then, we tend to think that our best days are behind us and things can only get worse. Notice that, in literature, the Golden Age is almost always in the remote past, and though the author may express hope for the future, a lingering feeling of nostalgia remains for a time that can never be recovered. Even among Americans, known worldwide as a most optimistic people, many recall some era of our past as the "glory days" or "happy days." Some yearn to turn the country back to the principles generally followed by the nation's founders because they are what made America truly great, and this yearning is fed by dissatisfaction with present-day America and little hope for a more-principled tomorrow.
If one dwells on his dissatisfaction long and deeply enough, he will not only be pessimistic, he will soon become downright bitter. The author of Hebrews tells us that this was among Esau's problems. He allowed a root of bitterness, a constant gnawing of dissatisfaction, an empty feeling of deserving better, to drag him down (Hebrews 12:15-17). He reached a point where his bitterness was so much a part of his nature that he could not change for the better.
The story of Job instructs us more positively. We could call Job the "anti-Esau." God allowed Satan to take everything of value from him short of his own life: his children, his wealth, his health. Even his wife told him, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). To make matters worse, his three friends—supposedly there to encourage him—sat around and lectured him on how he must be some kind of sinner to have attracted such stupendous curses on himself!
Sure, Job was depressed. Who would not be? He says, "May the day perish on which I was born. . . . Why did I not die at birth?" (Job 3:3, 11). Yet, as we progress through the story, we find that Job is not really a pessimistic man. Though he loathes what has happened to him, he maintains his integrity with feisty arguments and a keen desire to know why God has dealt with him in this way. As soon as God reveals His sovereignty to Job, the man humbly submits to it and repents (Job 42:1-6). Unlike Esau, Job does not let his sorry state drag him down. Instead, he optimistically chooses to do something positive to change his situation for the better.
The epilogue to the story reveals a lesson we can take from this: "Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12). Job's "golden age" is before him, not behind, and the key to his optimism is his relationship with God. Because he knows that God is in control of events—from the spinning of the cosmos to the smallest detail of his life—things would only turn out for the best. Jesus certainly echoes this in Luke 12:32-33: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
So, are you optimistic or pessimistic? If we are confident that God is with us—and He tells us positively that He is not only with us but in us (John 14:20; 15:4; 17:21)—our glass should not be half-full but brim-full and running over!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Reasons for Optimism
2 Corinthians 2:6-8
When put together with II Corinthians 2:11, Paul is saying that a godly sorrow unto repentance can actually give Satan the opportunity to turn a person's feelings about his sin into an abnormal self-pity, which will destroy that despairing person's relationship with the church and with God. He can turn such a person into a bitter cynic. The Devil is that clever.
It does not end there. In addition, he can turn the righteous indignation of those who are offended by another's sin into bitter self-righteousness if they do not forgive and forget and move on. He gets people going and coming unless they are aware that he can turn something good into a ploy to destroy a person's relationship with God and the church.
These are not the only weapons that Satan has in his arsenal. Remember, we are involved in a war, and a general will employ every kind of ploy, device, tool, or contrivance to rout the enemy. He will use decoys, infiltration, subversion, propaganda, rumors, misleading leaks of information, and sometimes a frontal attack with diversions on the flanks.
Satan is no different. However, God makes sure to warn us of his subtlety. The Devil creates distractions and illusions to deflect us from reaching our goal. He has the ability to make things that are in God's purpose unimportant (for instance, material things or vanity) seem important, while eternal, spiritual things he makes seem unimportant, unnecessary, and unrealistic.
Knowledge of what he is like would be unnecessary if he could not affect us after baptism. Despite his earlier defeat at the hand of God as well as his defeat by our David, Jesus Christ, he is still seeking to destroy God. Even when he fails at that, he still wants to destroy God's purpose of having us inherit His Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
The trying of our faith seems to be happening a great deal. Our faith is being tested, but it produces patience or puts patience to work. This verse suggests that the trials, of and by themselves, do not produce spiritual maturity. In fact, they may turn people bitter or cause them to be envious, jealous of others who do not seem to have any trials, sailing right through life without problem. It can be difficult to see the contentment of others when we feel as if we have the weight of the world on our shoulders, or we are burdened with sorrows, we are perhaps sick, a family member is giving us problems, or we are about to lose our jobs. Under such a strain, it would be easy to become bitter.
Did Jonah's trial produce a great deal of patience in him? At least at first, he was angry with God. His is a good example of trials, of and by themselves, not producing good things, particularly spiritual maturity. It is faith plus the test plus patience that complete the process of coming to holiness, because that is what the trial is designed to do. The trial of our faith is to bring us to holiness, but if we lack patience, the process is going to be short circuited.
The natural reaction to trials is to want to escape them, and that is understandable. But God says, "No, don't do that. Patiently bear with Me. Let Me work out what I want to accomplish through this trial." Our job is to let our faith produce patience. While bearing with it, what are the patient expending their energies on? They are straining against the self, for that is where the real burden lies.
In humility and meekness, the faithful Christian does not feel it is incumbent upon him to change others, but rather he emphasizes his responsibility to change himself. He patiently works through the trial, working on himself, his attitude, his relationship with God and with other people, and the factors that have caused the problem. He cannot change the other person, but he can change himself. If he does, then patience has accomplished its perfect work or its complete work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 8): Ephesians 4 (E)
1 Peter 4:1-2
Looking at these scriptures in the light of I Peter 5:6-8, and understanding that Peter is writing with his thoughts on Satan in the background, our feelings are especially vulnerable because it is natural for us to feel that we are being taken advantage of or not being treated as we should be, and our emotions begin to run wild. Such a situation is tailor-made for Satan. He himself fell prey to such a circumstance. Either he will try to move us in that direction, or if it begins to happen even without him, then he will take advantage of it and move to affect our emotions even more.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)
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