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(From Forerunner Commentary)
God was working things out in Abraham's and Sarah's lives, and He had His own schedule for bringing them to the point of development where He could use them the way He wanted to.
Is this unusual? No, it is not unusual at all. We all operate according to time schedules; we all set priorities about things. A teacher has 180 days in which to get across that year's knowledge to the student for him to advance to the next grade. Teachers operate in a similar way to God.
God may have said to Himself, "It will take Me so long to bring Abraham and Sarah through a series of training programs until their faith, convictions, and character are to the point that I can really use them. Then, at the appointed time, Sarah will have the child."
Abraham and Sarah had to cooperate with this. They had to yield to God's way and to exercise the faith that they had. If they were really tuned into God, if God was the center of their life, they would see in this process of time and experience through which God was putting them (what we call tests, discipline, or chastening) that positive and good progress or change was taking place in their lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction, Moses and Us
Many times, as we go about our lives, it seems as though this powerful Sovereign is nowhere around. Job 23:10-14; 24:1 records an interesting complaint of the perplexed Job, who represents anyone whom God has led through a trial.
On the one hand, Job perceives by faith that God is almighty and is involved in the events of his life. He is also confident that he is obedient to God. On the other hand, he cannot understand why God is being so hard on him, where He is, or how He can be persuaded to change His course of action. Job feels God is treating him unfairly. He also questions why those who know God still sin despite realizing He will judge those sins. The piper must be paid. We know that whatever a man sows, he reaps—and still we sin!
Many of us who have undergone a heavy trial have taken this course of thought. We may not use the same words, but they will have the same sense. We might say, "I am God's child, and I know I am not perfect, but I am not out there sinning a lot or terribly. Why is God so overbearing? Why does He seem so far away? Why does He not answer when I pray to Him? When am I ever going to get relief from this? Others seem to be doing things a great deal worse than I. Why are they getting away with it?"
It is humbling to grasp that we are not completely in control of our destinies. A great, overriding Power sees life and its purpose far differently and with much greater clarity than we can even grasp. His every thought is righteous, and as our Creator He has every right to move us about as He wills. He is in charge, and nobody keeps Him from carrying out His ultimate purpose, to create a Family in His image. Psalm 33:14-15 provides an interesting insight into His work among men: "From the place of His habitation He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works."
Isaiah 10:5-19 is on a much larger scale—involving an entire nation and millions of people. It predicts God's intention to use Assyria to punish Israel and His response when Assyria boasts of "its" accomplishment. This yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy is a clear example of how God intervenes in man's affairs to complete His purpose. In verse 7, He even prophesies that Assyria will not want to cooperate with Him, but He makes them. After Israel is punished (verses 12-15), Assyria takes undue credit, and God's judgment begins in verse 16. The lesson to all is that we are empowered to do only what God wills or permits. There is no room for pride when God enables us.
Like Job when he understood more fully, we as sons of God should be rightly humbled—and at the same time, greatly encouraged—by the awesome knowledge that His creative efforts focus on us (Job 42:1-6). Paul writes, "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (II Corinthians 4:6-7). God is doing something very special in us, but all the praise and glory belong to Him.
Even though His path for us may sometimes seem very rough, and He often appears distant and deaf, who is better in directing our lives toward a glorious end? Were we or some other human to choose our way, the result would surely be ignoble and shameful. To comprehend these truths and yield ourselves to searching for His path for us are among life's greatest accomplishments. Submitting to Him produces the abundant life Jesus so graciously wants us to have (John 10:10).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
This is one place among several where God calls Israel His son. This is an unfulfilled prophecy of the "second exodus," when God re-gathers the nations of Israel and Judah. Notice that God will bring back a remnant—all that remains of decimated Israel. They return with weeping and supplication to God. These are the ones who have survived the sword (verse 2). They have been humbled and returned to God, who returns them to His land.
Why will God humble His son in such a way? The answer is in Proverbs 3:12 (NET): "For the Lord disciplines [corrects, chastens, punishes, scourges] those He loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights." God confirms this in Jeremiah 46:28 (NET): "Though I completely destroy all the nations where I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will indeed discipline you, but only in due measure. I will not allow you to go entirely unpunished."
In Jeremiah's day (and before), God loved the Judeans so much that He would not allow them to continue on their path of self-destruction. They resisted Him strongly, but He loved them far too much to allow them to continue without a course correction that they could not ignore. It was painful and bloody. Yet, it resulted in their being humbled enough that the survivors were at least somewhat more inclined to listen to God.
The same thing is playing out in the nations of Israel and Judah today. God loves His people, and He plans a bright future for them. But He does not love their disregard of Him. He loves them too much to allow them to self-destruct fully. He will allow them to make terrible decisions and reap the wretched consequences. He will also intervene to get their attention with pain that will only get worse when they try to ignore it.
Either way, conditions will continue to deteriorate as we approach Christ's return because they must. If God allowed the nations of Israel to turn away from Him without consequence, their hearts would be fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Rather than allow that to happen, God will cause many to die, knowing they can be resurrected and given a new heart. He loves them too much to allow them to become incorrigible.
We have tremendous hope, but our hope is not in the brotherhood of man becoming less dysfunctional on its own. Our hope is in the Creator God who is making man in His image (Genesis 1:26), despite that effort involving pain, death, resurrection, and thousands of years in between. Our hope is in the One who will cut short the days ahead, for the sake of—for the love of—the elect. He loves His creation more than we can comprehend, but that love is sometimes demonstrated in ways that we also do not comprehend.
David C. Grabbe
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
Christ came to this earth as THE BRANCH and fulfilled all righteousness, qualifying to replace Satan and rule as King over all the earth. He proved His worthiness by remaining in full accord with His heavenly Father, and bearing the spiritual fruit that makes redemption and salvation possible.
Likewise, we - whether natural or grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) - are also branches attached to the solid trunk of the tree, Christ. It is only by our abiding in Him - our attachment to Him - our close relationship with Him - that we produce any growth or godly works. As Paul writes in Romans 11:16, "If the root is holy, so are the branches." Our righteousness, works, and holiness come to us only because of our connection to Him.
Jesus says that God, in love, prunes us, chastens us, tries us, so that we become more profitable (see also Hebrews 12:3-11). He will do what He must to make us yield. But if we resist and eventually sever our connection with Him, we are fit only to be burned. God has no use for dead wood.
God wants us to use this connection to His Son to "bear much fruit," just as Jesus Christ did. Doing so proves to Him, to ourselves, and to everyone else that we are true Christians, disciples of His Son, the Branch. By this, we will glorify God and secure our place in His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Paul's statement assumes the people to whom he is writing know better than they are doing, and therefore, they had better repent. But whether we repent in ignorance or in knowledge, it is God's goodness, a gift of God, the grace of God, that leads to repentance. Whether it happens at our initial conversion, or whether we are later brought to repentance over some specific fault of which we need to repent to continue growing, God is on the job. He is leading, guiding, showing us where we need to change. He is probably even affecting our feelings about what we are doing so that there will be the motivation, the empowerment, and therefore the responsibility, the right, and the power to repent. God is the Great Educator, and at the same time, He is a parent chastening, disciplining, training His children.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 5)
1 Corinthians 11:31-32
Verse 31 teaches that God allows us the opportunity to exercise self-discipline and avoid His judgment by watching—searchingly examining ourselves, detecting our shortcomings, and recognizing our own condition. Yet, if we fail to exercise discipline, He will not. As in the example of Jonah, He is faithful and will complete His purpose (Philippians 1:6). If we fall short, He will discipline and chasten us because He does not want to see us destroyed. God's purpose—our salvation—does not change. Again, the only variable is how much we choose to suffer before He accomplishes His purpose. We choose whether we will be humble or be humbled.
In many cases, not necessarily all, we choose our trials. It is the same in any family. If one son is dutiful and obedient, and the other is rebellious, pushing the envelope at every opportunity, it would come as no surprise which son suffers the greater trials (or receives the most discipline) in both number and severity. Each child has a choice. We also have a choice—to exercise the discipline now, or to receive it from God at some time in the future.
So, how do we searchingly examine ourselves, detect our shortcomings, and recognize our own condition? How do we find the path we should be taking? God promises us in Proverbs 3:6, "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." The Message, a paraphrase, renders this verse as, "Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track."
When we acknowledge His presence—which striving to pray always does—He shines His light on the decision or thought. Consciously including God in the process makes the right choice more obvious. It also makes the choice a conscious one of obeying or disobeying God, rather than relegating it to habit or impulse.
Too often, we are not exercising self-control because we are hiding from God's presence, just as Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3:8). We may hear that "still small voice" (I Kings 19:12), but we turn off our minds and just go with the flow, unresistingly following the dictates of our human nature, which has been under Satan's influence since our births.
This tendency makes striving to pray always, being in constant contact with God, the best way to accomplish effective self-examination. By communicating with God before every decision, even before every thought (II Corinthians 10:5), we invite God into the situation, putting the spotlight of truth on our thinking and motivations—human nature's worst nightmare.
With God's presence through His Holy Spirit, we are able to recognize our shame and our helplessness before God, helping to create a stronger awareness of sin that we cannot easily evade by rationalizing it. When face to face with the holy God, we cannot easily say that our sin is only a little thing. Nor can we use others as examples, saying, "They are doing it, so what is the big deal?" With God there, right in front of us, all our excuses fail.
Once we bring God into the picture, the right way is more obvious, removing the many excuses our human nature concocts to allow disobedience. Then, the stark choice of obedience or blatant rejection of God faces us. When this occurs, it is a good time to pray for the will and power to do the right thing (Philippians 2:13).
Praying Always (Part Five)
2 Timothy 2:10-13
The apostle gives this warning directly to God's children. Despite how we may personally relate to Him in how we live, God cannot deny what He truly is. We may be highly variable in our attitude and conduct because we are lackadaisical and tolerate human nature having its way. We may yield to this world's influence on us and backslide into the same careless way of life that dominated us before God called us into His church (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, our God and Savior is constant and faithful to what He is. His character and purpose never change. God loves, and because He does, He also judges. Does not Proverbs 13:24 instruct, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly"? Our Savior will not overlook this need in us.
Sometimes His discipline can be very stressful (Hebrews 12:11), but that is the cost of following Him where He leads. He will act as He truly is regardless of what we personally think or fail to think or whether we allow Him to be closely or only marginally involved in how we live our lives.
This world's nominal Christianity has so wrongly overemphasized God's grace that it makes salvation assured if we will only accept Jesus Christ. However, it does so without equally teaching that we must meet the responsibilities that God also clearly reveals. We must faithfully walk to the Promised Land. To keep our part of the New Covenant, we must live His way of life to be prepared to live in the Promised Land.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)
1 John 4:8
Every thought, every word, every act of God is an expression of love. God is sovereign, and He has the right to do whatever He wants. This would be tyranny except for one simple fact: Everything God does, whether seemingly arbitrary or not, is motivated by love. Even our trials are supreme acts of love as Hebrews 12:5-11 and Job's experience show.
Herbert W. Armstrong once said about Job: "Job was one of the hardest men for God to ever bring down to repentance that has ever lived on the face of this earth." As terrible as the trial was, Job needed it for salvation. Psalm 84:11 says that God will withhold no good thing from us. To withhold that trial from Job would have been withholding a good thing, making God guilty of hating Job (Proverbs 13:24).
Only God is wise enough to allow us to go through a desperately needed trial while simultaneously using it to accomplish His other purposes as well. In the worsening times ahead, God will not use some of us as cannon fodder for His purposes, though He has the right to do it—He made us. Because of His love for us, He will allow us to face trials because we need them to perfect us. After all, "all things work together for good" to those called (Romans 8:28).
How will we survive spiritually if we are among those God chooses to be persecuted, possibly tortured, and killed? Only because we believe that God loves no one more than us, and for this reason, we will know that what we are enduring is for our good and will bring about His purpose.
As children, we were disciplined by our parents. As it happened, how often did we thank them for the love they were showing us? As parents, we have disciplined our children. How many times have they ever said, "Thank you"? Most likely, the answer to both is, "Never!"
Do we discipline our children out of love or hate? Love, of course. Then why do they not say, "Thank you"? At the moment it is happening, they cannot see—they do not believe—how much we love them. It is a hallmark of youth or immaturity to be blind to the big picture, to see only what is directly in front of them. Hopefully, in times of trial, we are not children in a spiritual sense.
Faith to Face Our Trials
1 John 4:18
If understanding how much God loves us and believing in it are so important, how can we tell where we stand in the strength of that belief? Verse 18 begins to answer that question. Fear and worry signal that we are not yet perfect in our belief in how much God loves us. If we believe that the God of infinite power and wisdom loves no one in the universe more than us, what do we have to fear or worry about?
What good parent does not use all the resources available to ensure the well being of his or her children? We are in the minute-by-minute care of the great God (Matthew 10:29-31). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Similarly, Isaiah 43:13 (CEV) records an important promise from God: "I am God now and forever. No one can snatch you from me or stand in my way."
Nothing outside of us can stand in His way of accomplishing His purpose to save except ourselves (John 6:39-40; 10:28; Philippians 1:6). As difficult as Job was, God knew exactly what trial was necessary—in his case, a quite painful one—to get the right result. He knows the buttons to push and the pressures to apply to set each of us straight. Job 36:15 (Today's English Version) tells us, "But God teaches men through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes."
A second sign of our lack of faith in His love is how we respond to trials. If we believe in how much He loves us, then we know the trial is for our good. Because of His love, we should know that a trial is not just an arbitrary act without rhyme or reason. Because He is God, it cannot be an accidental circumstance happening without His awareness or concern. It definitely cannot be an act just to make our lives more difficult. These might be the thoughts of a child while receiving a spanking, but they should not be ours.
A third way to measure the strength of our faith is to list the things that would make our lives better yet seem to be out of reach. For some, it is money; others, a job; and still others, a mate. Psalm 84:11 is a verse we can use to get the right perspective: "No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly."
If we are walking uprightly, our lack of a desired thing is in itself a good indication that at this time it is not good for us, no matter what we might think to the contrary. Otherwise, this verse cannot be true. Getting what we want rather than what we need can be spiritually lethal (Revelation 3:17).
A final way to measure our faith is to examine if we ever feel we love ourselves more than God does. A person with this attitude begins to take things into his own hands because he cannot trust God to do it—he does not believe how good God is and how much He loves him. To doubt the depth of God's love for us is to deny God and the very essence of who He is—love.
This describes Satan's attitude, one that could be considered insanity. Human nature, which mimics Satan's spirit (Ephesians 2:2) is suicidal, wanting to sin even though it knows the result is death. Thus, because human nature contains this spirit of self-destruction, God always loves us more than we love ourselves.
It is vital that we build our faith in God's love for us and realize just how special we are to Him. He loves no one else in the universe more. I John 4:17 promises that perfecting our faith in God's love for us gives us the power we need to face our trials, our day of judgment, boldly. In doing so, we will be imitating the faith Jesus Christ exercised in facing His trails, showing absolute faith in God's love for us.
Faith to Face Our Trials
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