What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
As with all the fruit of the Spirit, God Himself is the model we must study for examples of faithfulness to encourage us to trust and to emulate Him. The faithfulness of God is a familiar phrase to those of a religious mind, but its depth and scope are probably not as familiar. God's faithfulness seems to have been a favorite subject of Paul's. He writes of it in his first epistle (I Thessalonians) and again in what may have been his last (II Timothy). Paul had proved it in a thousand dangers and struggles; he found that, when all was said and done, God had never failed him.
Other New Testament writers are equally expressive on this subject. Peter writes, "Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4:19). "Commit" is the word Greeks would use for making a deposit with a trusted friend as we would to a bank. Christ committed His life to God all the way to death, and we are to follow His steps (I Peter 2:21). Paul responds with a similar statement in II Timothy 1:12:
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
Paul adds in II Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself."
When we speak of one another as faithful, we mean that we adhere to our word, that we keep faith with men, and that we discharge the obligations of our office or position. Because of these things, we are trustworthy. It is much the same when we think and speak of God's faithfulness.
Usually, the first idea that comes to mind when God is called faithful is that He keeps His promises. This, of course, is included in the concept of God's faithfulness, but it is interesting that it appears only twice in the New Testament. In Hebrews 10:23, Paul exhorts, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." Later, he writes that Sarah "judged Him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
It is good to first consider that God's faithfulness covers animal life as well as human life. He upholds "all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). He does not simply create and then leave His creations to their own devices. His obligation to all life and its care and sustenance continues unabated.
Though the words of this verse are few and simple, to those who feel lost in the depth of an ongoing trial a world of meaning lies here: We are not lost to God. Noah, his family, and the animals were virtually imprisoned in the ark for months, pitching about alone on an endless sea. Nothing broke the skyline. Noah could have easily thought himself as forgotten. Though he could remind himself that God had promised him protection, where was God now—now when the gray days and black nights dragged by and wherever he looked he saw only empty waters and a sky that seemed to hold no hope?
Have we ever found ourselves seemingly cut loose from all moorings, adrift in a sea of problems from which, as far as we could tell, God has vanished? Have we ever begun on what seemed like a great adventure only to be swept away in a flood of sorrow, loneliness, perplexity, and disappointment that seems as though it will end only in despair? Perhaps we have felt as Asaph did in Psalm 77:4, 8: "You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore?"
God, however, did not lose track of Noah, and He will not lose track of us! The story of the Flood does not end on a note of hopelessness. The Flood abated. Mountaintops appeared, and the ark came to rest. Their physical survival assured, Noah and his family resumed life on an earth revived and cleansed of sin.
We may never have to face a trial of this magnitude, but God's faithfulness promises another great assurance: It guarantees that all our trials will be in proportion to our strength. God pledges through 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.
David writes in Psalm 103:13-14, "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."
God will never lay on us anything beyond our power to overcome. He knows how much pressure our hearts can stand. Do teachers give college-level assignments to a first grader and expect them to perform? Men are careful not to overload a truck, horse, mule, or ox. Will God be any less merciful and faithful to us, His children He is creating in His image? He clearly recognizes His obligation to the work of His own hands to supply our needs and shape the burdens needed to prepare us for His Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
The first time the Bible uses a word or concept frequently sets the stage for how God inspired the human writers to use it throughout the rest of His Word, and clouds are no exception. We find clouds first described immediately after the Flood, where they are linked to the sign of the rainbow and God's everlasting promise that He will never again flood the earth.
Today, we are far removed from the events of the Flood, so it may be difficult to grasp what it and its aftermath were like—every man, woman, and child dead, except Noah and his family. From the genealogies, we know that humanity had been on the earth about a millennia and a half, and before the Flood, people lived much longer lives and produced numerous children. Only God, and perhaps the angelic host, knows how many millions or billions of people that cataclysm destroyed.
God forcefully and deliberately ended that age. Yet, lest we think that all is hopeless and that another worldwide catastrophe could wipe out all life on the planet, God gives us this promise, repeating it several times: He will not destroy all flesh again.
Of course, we know from many verses that the destruction at the end of this age will involve fire rather than another worldwide flood. But this does not nullify God's promise. The point remains that God will not destroy all flesh by any means, whether by flood or by fire.
Genesis 9:12-17 indicates that the rainbow is the sign of that promise, but they also show that the setting and the context of that promise is the clouds. In the promise we see elements of God's faithfulness, but the backdrop is God's mercy in not destroying all of mankind.
An interesting parallel to this appears in the book of Revelation. Genesis and Revelation mirror each other in many ways; frequently, when a matter is introduced in Genesis, it is resolved or concluded in some way in Revelation. As bookends of the Bible, they contain many of the same themes. Notice what John describes in Revelation 10:1:
I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on [H]is head, [H]is face was like the sun, and [H]is feet like pillars of fire.
Studying into this chapter makes plain that this Being is no mere angel, but it is in fact Jesus Christ. In the sequence of events, this chapter might be called “the beginning of the end” because it shows the mystery of God being finished and the point at which there would be no more delay in everything reaching its conclusion.
Here at the end, John's vision pictures Jesus with a rainbow, showing that He has not forgotten His promise to mankind. Even as He is about to unleash tremendous destruction on rebellious humanity, the sign of His promise not to destroy everyone is literally at the top of His head. Notice that He is also clothed with a cloud. It is covering Him, allowing only the brightness of His face and the fiery brilliance of His feet to show.
To understand the significance of this cloud, consider what a cloud is and does. By way of definition, a cloud is “a visible mass of droplets of water or frozen crystals, suspended in the atmosphere.” Sometimes clouds bring rain, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances, but other times they pass by without sharing a drop. Nevertheless, there is one thing a cloud will always do, if it has any size at all: It will impede light, such as the light of the sun or the moon. Since it is clothing Jesus Christ, this cloud filters some of His breathtaking glorious radiance. This covering is critical because the undimmed brightness of a God-being is lethal to mankind. Jesus Christ will be returning in glory, and that awesome glory has a terrible, lethal effect on sinful flesh.
David C. Grabbe
'Behold, He is Coming with Clouds'
Critics assert that Israel's history demonstrates the weakness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in that their God could not keep His promises. Is that so? We need to set the record straight.
The Old Testament is a chronicle of Israel's repeated failure to obey God, of its refusal to keep His commandments and statutes. In Psalm 78:10-11, 40-42, 56-57, the psalmist mentions that Ephraim (meaning Israel at large)
did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. . . . 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. . . . Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God, and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers.
II Kings 17:7-8 speaks of the sins of the Kingdom of Israel, up north:
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, . . . and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel.
The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 32:30, quotes God's scathing indictment of the people of both Kingdoms: "[T]he children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth."
Because of their sins, as II Kings 17:18-20 indicates, God
was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight. . . . Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunders, until He had cast them from His sight.
In Psalm 78:59-62, the psalmist Asaph relates that God, when He became aware of the idols of Israel,
was furious, and greatly abhorred Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, . . . and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand. He also gave His people over to the sword, and was furious with His inheritance.
As early as the days of the founder of the Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam I, God understood the direction Israel was taking. In I Kings 14:15, God warns that He will ultimately
strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the LORD to anger.
Much later, Amos warned Israel, "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8).
The patriarchs were, as God attests again and again, faithful. However, the people of Israel failed to observe the terms of God's conditional promises to them. Israel exhibited again and again its refusal to obey God. As a result, it has yet to enter into the peace, prosperity, and eternal possession of the land He promised the patriarchs. Hebrews 3:8-11 summarizes the matter: "In the day of trial in the wilderness, [the children of Israel] . . . tested Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation. . . . So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"
Because of the peoples' recalcitrance, God withheld His blessings, ultimately separating Himself from them by casting them out of the land He had promised the patriarchs. God punished Israel for its disobedience by deferring the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs. This deferment did not make Him unfaithful to the people, because His promises to them were conditional, based on their obedience to His revelation.
In fact, it is not perverse to assert that God was completely faithful to the children of Israel, doing to them exactly what He promised He would do if they persistently sinned against Him. At the right time and for the right people, God will honor His unconditional promises to the patriarchs. Israel's sad history is the consequence of peoples' faithlessness, not of their God's weakness.
Searching for Israel (Part Eight): The Scattering of Ten-Tribed Israel
This is a direct promise of not only Abraham's children's owning of the land, but also of Abraham's personal ownership of it. Yet the only land he ever truly owned was Sarah's burial plot—certainly not all the land he could see! For him to receive this promise, and for him to receive it “forever,” means that he and his descendants will live forever.
Now eternal life has entered the picture. Eternal life includes a spirit body that will not decay and a nature that is appropriate or fitting for endless life, one that is sinless and not continually incurring the death penalty. Only in the resurrection of the dead at Christ's return will the called of God—including Abraham—be raised incorruptible and given immortality, such that death is swallowed up in victory (see I Corinthians 15:42-54). Then, Abraham and his spiritual descendants will inherit the Promised Land, retaining it forever.
Romans 4:13 expounds on the promise of the land: “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” God's promise to Abraham was not based on perfect obedience to the law, but on the imputed righteousness that comes by faith, which happened when Abraham “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This took place well before the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). Abraham's faith produced good works, as true faith always will; in Genesis 26:5, God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” But his righteousness in God's eyes was shown in his belief in God's faithfulness, not in anything he did or did not do.
Clearly, God's promise of the land to Abraham goes far beyond physical inheritance—it is, rather, an eternal inheritance, bestowed on those who have become his spiritual descendants through receiving the faith of Abraham. The patriarch, though, was among those who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them” (Hebrews 11:13). So significant are these promises that God confirmed them with a covenant that condemned Him to destruction if He failed to fulfill the terms. Not only that, the timing of Christ's sacrifice coincided with the preparations for God's covenant with Abraham, for it is His sacrifice that allows us—Abraham's spiritual seed, his “great nation”—to begin to receive these promises.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
Genesis 15:10 and 17 show us a small portion of the ancient practice of making serious covenants. Those making the covenant prepared a sacrifice by dividing animals or fowl in two, then both parties passed between the divided carcasses. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions in that the divided carcasses represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oath! They placed their lives at risk. The carcasses were then burned, symbolizing their acceptance.
The smoking oven and burning torch symbolize God. In many instances in the Bible, God represents Himself through the image of fire (i.e., the burning bush and the pillar of fire). The sacrifice in Genesis 15 is interesting in that only God passes between the divided carcasses because, in reality, this is an oath of only one party, God, to keep His promise. In this specific case, Abraham has agreed to nothing, but God has bound Himself with utmost seriousness to meet the requirements of His promise in full. This promise will be fulfilled only because of God's character and grace.
The 14th thus signifies the ratification of the promise by sacrifice, and the 15th, what it accomplishes by providing visible evidence of God's faithfulness (e.g., the Israelites go free).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
God desires faithfulness in meeting our responsibilities as disciples of Jesus Christ. If we could fulfill our responsibilities sinlessly, it would glorify Him tremendously, but given the record we have already shown by our lives, that is unrealistic. Deuteronomy 7:9-11 draws attention to this vital trait by showing us God's character in reference to a covenant.
God, who cannot lie, states His record to be one of faithfulness, and He will certainly continue to be so. However, our record is questionable at best. We need to show God in our pattern of living that we believe Him and love Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Five)
God connects the basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:2) with its lesson of remembrance in Deuteronomy 26:1-10. We should note several factors.
The Setting: The Israelites, having endured decades of Egyptian slavery and wilderness wanderings, are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses instructs them: "And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground . . . and put it in a basket" (verses 1-2).
The Symbol: a basket of the woven, wicker sort, filled with summer produce. We might visualize a cornucopia. God instructs the Israelite to bring the basket "to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide" (verse 2b), and there he is to make two declarations, the first to the priest, the second to God.
The Ritual: To the priest, the offerer briefly declares, "I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us" (verse 3). The declaration succinctly affirms that God has honored His promise to the patriarchs. After handing the basket to the priest, who places it before the altar (verse 4), the offerer makes his second declaration, this one to God. This affirmation recognizes God's faithfulness to carry out what He has promised: "My father was a Syrian about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous" (verse 5).
The declaration also rehearses Israel's "affliction and our labor and our oppression" (verse 7) in Egypt, and mentions God's deliverance "with great terror and with signs and wonders" (verse 8). Then comes that timeless characterization of the Promised Land:
"He has brought us to this place and has given us this land,'a land flowing with milk and honey': and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me." Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God. (verse 9-10)
The basket of summer fruit served as tangible evidence of God's faithfulness to deliver them. Its existence stood firm proof that He was "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Remember, God promised the patriarchs land (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8). But what He actually gave His people was so special, so grand, that only "a land flowing with milk and honey" could properly describe it.
The "worship" mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:10 was praise and thanksgiving to God for His works "exceedingly abundantly above all that [Israel could] ask or think." Yesterday or today, the basket of summer fruit teaches the same lesson: Remember your God in the midst of His blessings to you. Do not neglect Him.
A Basket of Summer Fruit
This description of God is exactly the opposite of that of America's national character. Our God is a God of truth, meaning He is unswervingly faithful. He is the Rock, implying One who is impervious to change. He is our Foundation, indicating One who provides firm footing in a way of life. He is our Fountain, the Source of a refreshing, productive way of life that He intends His people to use.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment
Moses' life was full of lessons and instruction, and at the end of his life, he left Israel and us a song that encapsulates much of what he learned about godly living. This is not apparent at first because it seems to be a prophecy of Israel's future, but Moses himself tells us in Deuteronomy 32:2 that his song concerns "doctrine" (KJV) or "teaching" (NKJV).
What is the doctrine he is trying to explain to us? The doctrine of God Himself! In this song, Moses is "proclaim[ing] the name of the LORD" (see also Exodus 33:12-23; 34:1-9)! He summarizes in Deuteronomy 32:4 exactly what he means: "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He." An accurate conception of God is a Christian's first concern, for if we truly understand God, we will respond properly to Him and live in a godly manner.
Moses' song breaks down into five sections:
1) Introduction (verses 1-4);
2) God's faithfulness versus Israel's faithlessness (verses 5-18);
3) God's just chastisement of Israel (verses 19-33);
4) God's eventual compassion on Israel (verses 34-42);
5) Conclusion (verse 43).
From this simple summary of the song, we can see the main themes Moses is attempting to expound. First, God is always faithful, right, just, provident, and merciful in all His dealings with Israel. God Himself "found" Israel, and nurtured, protected, and instructed its people "as the apple of His eye" (verse 10). He gave them the best and "choicest" of the earth (verse 14).
Second, the Israelites always forsook Him and turned to other gods, even to the point of sacrificing to demons (verses 15-18). It is the height of irony that Moses uses the term "Jeshurun" to name Israel, as it means "upright one"! Whether this means that God saw Israel in this idealistic way or this is how the Israelites saw themselves is not known, but their actions certainly show them not to be worthy of the name.
Third, God's reaction to their idolatry—various deadly disasters ending in scattering (verses 23-26)—is justified by their faithlessness to the covenant (verses 19-20). Even so, God restrains His wrath, "fearing" (that is, "worried" or "concerned") that Israel's enemies would misunderstand His actions against Israel and take credit for its downfall themselves (verse 27). Moses concludes this section by saying that this happened to Israel because they failed in two areas: 1) foreseeing the consequences of their behavior, and 2) failing to understand God's character.
Fourth, though God takes vengeance and inflicts punishment, He is also a God of compassion and mercy (verses 35-36). Once He sees that the remnant of Israel learns its lesson—that the gods they worshipped are nothing compared to the true God (verses 37-39)—He will pardon them so they can resume their relationship. Maybe then they will understand that what God says He will do—and does in abundance (verses 40-42)!
To conclude the song, Moses brings in a New Covenant image of the Gentiles rejoicing with Israel because God is faithful to His promises and will provide atonement for His people (verse 43). As Paul shows in Romans 15:8-12, it is through the atoning work of Jesus Christ that salvation has come to both Israelite and Gentile, and they can now sing praises together as His people, spiritual Israel.
After the song was sung, Moses gives Israel a final bit of advice: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today. . . . For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days . . ." (Deuteronomy 32:46-47). Because of our calling, we have an even greater reason to take this advice from God's servant Moses, a psalmist.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Moses, Psalmist (Part 4)
The psalm begins with a question. The psalmist has evidently been observing something in life, and he is quite bothered about it. Perhaps he has been praying and thinking about it for quite a long time. What has been bothering him is: Why do proud, evil people prosper? Why does not God take action? Why do they seem to receive the good things of life? The benefit we get from the psalmist's musings and meditations is instruction on the way the proud act.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Six)
We should acknowledge and thank God for His lovingkindness and faithfulness toward us. In His love and faithfulness, He had endowed us with so much. We should constantly think about the following blessings and thank God for them, and be careful not to take them for granted:
» His truth, which He continues to reveal to us.
» His gifts, spiritual and physical, that He continually pours out to us.
» His church and our part in it.
» His ministry and their unstinting service to us.
» Our brethren and the opportunities for fellowship with and service to them.
» Our families and their health and prosperity.
» Our nations and all the blessings that accrue from our citizenship.
» And myriads of other gifts and good things He bestows so freely.
Since God is God, who can dare challenge His prerogative? Who can dare call Him into account for the way in which He deals with us or those we feel close to? Do we, in our limited perception, frequently become critical or frustrated with the way God is handling affairs? When this happens, we are in reality leaving God out of the picture. Where is our faith in His character or His lovingkindness? To murmur against Him is rank rebellion. To question His ways in the wrong attitude is to impugn His power, wisdom, and rights. We should never forget what Isaiah 40:17-18 says of Him whom we serve: "All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?"
We can see that God has created all of nature with great diversity. The laws of nature, also set in motion by God, operate and keep everything under control. Is it really necessary for Him to manage or govern His creation actively? Psalm 22:28 reminds us, "For the kingdom is the LORD'S, and He rules over the nations." The King James version reads, "He is the governor over the nations," but rule is what a governor does. He rules, manages, keeps under control, or directs according to His own purpose.
Did God create all things and then step away from what He had made, allowing it to operate on its own? Are we now subject to uniform, impersonal law rather than a sovereign God actively controlling the operations of His creation? Everywhere the Bible confirms that God is actively involved in managing His creation—and no part of His creation receives more attention than the supreme, ongoing creation He is working in our lives, the creation of His image in us. This almighty, sovereign God has His attention focused on His church, and we can have faith in that. There is nothing in its existence of which He is not aware and that is not subject to His sovereign dictates.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Three
The solution to the Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 conundrum involves the converted person's faith in God. At the same time, it also heavily involves his fear of God and applying thoughtful wisdom to ensure he analyzes the situation accurately. Two of these spiritual qualities are directly named in Ecclesiastes 7, while faith, which is not directly named, is critical to the right solution. Influencing all three qualities is knowing God well enough from within the relationship to activate them all correctly. Consider II Corinthians 5:4-7:
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
God is preparing us for entrance into His Kingdom in a similar way a human instructor prepares a school student for graduation and service. There are two major differences though: We must matriculate our lessons by faith, and in our case, the purpose—to be clothed with glory and eternal life—is huge by comparison.
These verses assure us that God has made a contract with us—the New Covenant—in which we are responsible for carrying out assigned duties. He is preparing us to fulfill those responsibilities to a far greater extent in His Kingdom. As He is preparing us, we must live by faith.
Luke 14:26-27 reminds us of the seriousness of the pledge we made to Jesus Christ at baptism, to live by faith while carrying out our responsibilities. This serious commitment works in our favor. Knowing God's character from the midst of this close relationship, we can always confidently be reassured that God is in control despite how difficult events look to us. This truth became the foundation for the psalmist's victory in his situation (Psalm 73). Our responsibility is to trust Him as the psalmist did, to walk by faith, not by appearance or physical observation. God is faithful!
Paul, then, clearly establishes what our aim should be no matter the circumstances in our lives. We should desire to please God by being faithful to Him in return as demonstrated by trusting Him. He reinforces this by stating that we must be ready to answer for our choices.
Romans and Ephesians make it clear that God accepts us in His presence at conversion and at all times during conversion only upon the meritorious sinless works of Jesus Christ. This is because, as Paul shows in Romans 7, sin stains all our works no matter how meritorious they may seem to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion
The righteous seem to receive all of the bad things, and the wicked seem to go through life unscathed, untouched. They have the big cars and the nice houses on the hill. They can take fancy vacations. Nothing bad ever seems to happen to them.
A main reason that I Peter 2:18-24 was written is to warn us that sometimes the innocent are caught in God's justice. They will have to suffer for something that they have not caused. The test for us is whether we will be able to accept God's justice, His judgment, and take it in the same spirit that Christ did. If anyone could ever cry out, "Unfair! Unfair!" Jesus Christ would have to be the One.
How about us? What trials have we gone through, in which we did not cause the trial but became caught in somebody else's sin? It is very easy in such cases to cry out to God, "Unfair! Unfair! God, why are You allowing this to happen to me?" The implication of our complaint is, "After all the good things that I've done for You, God, You treat me like this." We are, in effect, trying to vindicate ourselves. We become frustrated and accusative, never even stopping to think that, if we received truly fair treatment, we would get what happened to Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira!
God wants to see if we have faith in His judgment, in Him as an absolutely perfect Judge. Do we trust Him, or do we only trust Him when the going is good?
John W. Ritenbaugh
These three verses contain a general principle in which God challenges us to consider, to compare, all of the material idols, which are so easily seen, to Him. There is, really, no comparison.
Joshua says at the end of his life:
Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; and not one word of them has failed. (Joshua 23:14)
"Remember" is an important word within true, spiritual religion. Remembering brings back to mind what has happened in the past as evidence of what God can and will do. These verses in Isaiah say we must remember that God's counsel stands; when He says something, it is so. It happens. God gives plenty of evidence to demonstrate that He can be trusted. Seeing God and having faith is the result of recalling that God has demonstrated both Himself and His purpose in "the former things."
Isaiah 46:9 says, "Remember the former things." This is what David did. This is what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did. We too have to remember. However, our focus, our spiritual insight, is greatly built and reinforced through obedience to His counsel in the present and by seeing from one's own experience that His will and purpose truly do stand. Once that occurs, we can see God!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part Two)
God continues His response to the prophet with a stunning rebuke, one which contains more than a veiled threat.
This translation masks the moment—the import—of God's words. He is warning Jeremiah that he must return, that is, repent, abandoning “this mistaken tone of distrust and despair,” as The Amplified Bible glosses verse 19. God promises He will restore him as His prophet, the “mouth” of God, only if he comes to understand the difference between the precious way of God and that vile way of the wicked.
The Living Bible better conveys the import of God's comments to Jeremiah with this paraphrase of verse 19:
Stop this foolishness and talk some sense! Only if you return to trusting me will I let you continue as my spokesman.
The Message handles the same passage this way:
Take back those words, and I'll take you back.
Then you'll stand tall before me.
Use words truly and well. Don't stoop to cheap whining.
Then, but only then, you'll speak for me.
The Good News Translation presents this paraphrase:
If you return, I will take you back, and you will be my servant again. If instead of talking nonsense you proclaim a worthwhile message, you will be my prophet again.
It is clear that God is not mincing His words. In this time of crisis for Judah, God demands a servant in whom He can have confidence, one who will fearlessly warn in the face of persecution and who will remain committed to carrying out His work to its conclusion—no matter where that work may take him. God needs an individual of resolute and indefatigable faith.
Actually, God is telling Jeremiah that his office of prophet is on the line. He absolutely must overcome his doubts of God's fidelity. He must not fall back into the ways of the people of Judah. He can only continue to be separate from them by believing God.
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
As God so often does, He attaches encouragement to His rebukes. God is in fact reminding the prophet of his original commission, as recorded in Jeremiah 1:18-19:
Today I have made you an armed city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the entire land—the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and all its people. They will attack you, but they won't defeat you, because I am with you and will rescue you. (Common English Bible)
It was the worst of times back then, yet not so bad as the coming Tribulation that we face today. God demands that His people be faithful. Should we come to doubt God's reliability and His faithfulness—should we come to feel He has abandoned us, His people—we may want to think hard about God's words to Jeremiah: “If you change your heart and return to me, I will take you back. Then you may serve me” (Jeremiah 15:19, New Century Version).
The ever-faithful God will not forget His plans for us, even though we may come to forget His promises to us.
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
In all of God's dealings with Israel and Judah, and especially regarding the Second Exodus, we see His perfect application of justice and mercy. He is just, because He does not allow their sin to go unpunished. We could not trust God if He did not hold to His promises of blessing and cursing (Numbers 23:19; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). If He allowed Israel and Judah to sin with impunity, His laws would have no authority, and His words would be of no consequence. However, for the sake of what is best for Jacob, God has to show him that He is serious about what He says. So His justice will be upheld as Israel and Judah are brought to the painful realization that they have forsaken Him and have been living the wrong way.
Yet, we can also see God's mercy in His dealings with His people. Today's Western culture—a product of the nations of Israel—is not so very different from Sodom and Gomorrah. The same sins are committed in the same brazen manner. Our regard for humanity is so low that in America alone during the last three decades, an estimated 40-50 million pre-born children have been killed for the sake of convenience. Further, God has been systematically removed from schools, from government, and from public life. Post-Christian Europe has transgressed even further. Even Jerusalem—the "Holy City"—has an annual "Gay Pride" parade, and is essentially secular.
Despite these atrocious sins, God will not utterly destroy Israel as He did to Sodom and Gomorrah. A number of latter-day prophecies of various peoples—the Edomites, for example—foretell that God will make a complete end of them (Jeremiah 46:28). However, He has chosen not to do this with Israel and Judah, though not because they are righteous in any way.
He will show them mercy because of the promises He made, not because they deserve it. Ezekiel 36 shows this clearly. God repeats several times that He is bringing Israel back for His name's sake, and not for Israel's sake:
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do this [restoring Israel and blessing the land; verses 6-15] for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD," says the Lord GOD, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. . . . Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. Not for your sake do I do this," says the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!" (Ezekiel 36:22-24, 31-32)
God would be unfaithful to His own promises if He annihilated Jacob's descendants—even though, by all accounts, it is exactly what they deserve.
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Two)
They could see the rage in Nebuchadnezzar's face, but they also saw God. Where did their powerful conviction come? This kind of conviction does not arise "on command," at the spur of the moment. It is the product of the demonstration of God in the lives of these three young men before this time, before their lives were on the line. Their faith had grown and matured over a period of time.
God is always the same. What God says through Paul in I Corinthians 10:13 applied to them just as it applies to us. God knew what they could endure. They also knew that He would provide a "way of escape." Because of this, they told the king, despite his threats, "Even if God does not choose to protect us, we still are not going to bow down to your image."
Have we ever considered why more "mighty deliverances" do not occur to us? It is because we spend so little time fellowshipping with God that we do not see Him as an immediate and vitally important part of our lives. As a result, the physical "evidence" we see around us overwhelms us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part Two)
When Daniel prayed this, Judah had been scattered for about 70 years, and they were just about ready to go back to the Promised Land. God was just about ready to release them. Daniel was concerned due to what he saw in Babylon; it discomforted him. He likely saw some of the same conditions existing in Babylon that had caused the Jews to go into captivity in the first place almost 70 years before. His fears were justified because, when Ezra and Nehemiah went back to rebuild the Temple and then the wall around Jerusalem, very few Jews went back. In fact, it was such a small number by Ezra's count that he called a fast about it. He wanted to make sure that the people would be hidden on the way so that nobody would see them making the trip back to Judea and consider them "easy pickings."
When the church was finally begun in AD 31, Peter went to preach in Babylon because there was still such a large colony of Jews there. Indeed, they stayed in the world—in Babylon—and continued to multiply.
We can read between the lines of Daniel's prayer and understand that he was anxious over their return. Quite a number of commentators feel that this cannot be all Daniel prayed. Really, all that we have here is an outline of what he said, the high points. After praying it, Daniel went back to his office or to his home and jotted these things down so that they would be remembered. God undoubtedly inspired that. So we are actually seeing only the essence of what he said. He certainly went into a great deal more detail with God.
When we pray for repentance, we go into detail about things that we personally know about—especially those things that happen in our lives and perhaps those things that happen within God's work, of which we were aware. We do nothing about them then, but we certainly can ask God to forgive them.
Daniel begins by establishing between him and God that he, Daniel, understood that God is faithful. He keeps His covenant. He stands by Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. When something goes out of God's mouth, it does not come back to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). There are no "hollow threats" with God! Do we understand that? His faithfulness is one of the things that makes Him God. He can always be depended upon. He is Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). "For I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The prophet's subject is famine, but he finds joy even in that! Does this not apply to today (Amos 8:11-12)? Though a famine of true Christianity stalks the land, though everything seems to be gone, we can rejoice in God. Though circumstances reach their lowest ebb, and things seem to be so out of kilter to the way that we think they should go, we can have joy because He has promised to save us—and He will. He has assured us many times, "Just endure this period of trial. Trust in Me."
Verse 19 returns to imagery of the herald, the runner. A deer is known for its fleetness of foot and its ability to bound over any obstacle in its way. For us, running the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1), God is our strength. He enables us to overcome. He helps us to climb the high hills, an image of our reward in the Kingdom of God. God is our strength. He enables us to run and to leap over our obstacles. He is the One that will bring us our reward.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Verses 13-15 contain a complaint of the people about the difficulty of God's way. They see things within the nation that are unfair. Those who are really assertive and aggressive, those with a lot of carnal drive and energy, are getting ahead. "What good is it to be godly?" they ask. God replies to them with a promise in verses 16-17. He does not say that He would end the injustice right then.
God shows that His ear is on our conversations. Psalm 139 tells us that His Spirit goes everywhere! He is aware. He is not really judgmental, but He is aware of what is happening, and He wants to encourage us to grow.
This instruction is intended for the church at the time of the end, to encourage those who are genuinely trying to be faithful to God yet who feel frustrated and doubtful because of what they see going on around them. So God replies with this encouragement to those who speak on His name. This refers to those who have the Word of God in their minds and hearts and are speaking to one another about the wonderful fellowship with God we have been drawn into. They are tying God into all aspects of their lives.
God says He is making a book of remembrance, and He will reward these people for their faithfulness. It is obvious that what these people are meditating on and talking about is God's name and what is contained within their hearts, and it is good. This reveals a major purpose for the Sabbath: to get God's Word into our hearts, minds, and consciences. He is a part of our lives, and we need to think about Him being a part of them. Do we see God? That is what this is about. Do we see Him as a part of our lives? Do we see Him as a part of our futures? When we do, then we find ourselves talking about it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
Luke 18:1-8 contains the Parable of the Persistent Widow. Luke prefaces Jesus' narration of the story of the widow's pestering of the unjust judge with the comment that our Lord gave this parable specifically to encourage people "to pray and not lose heart." The basic subject of this passage of Scripture deals with the question: Will a person ultimately cave in, downcast and discouraged, because of the difficulties and trials he faces throughout his Christian life, forsaking all the truth and opportunities God has given him?
Christ's parable teaches us that we are to continue to pray and not falter or become dejected if our prayers do not seem to be answered right away. We are to come to understand that if a request is not granted immediately, God may be testing us, teaching us patience, or working out a purpose we cannot see. We must understand that He works on His timetable—not ours—and that He always works out what is best for us and for our particular situation (Romans 8:28). Our job, then, is to persevere in our faith in God, always trusting Him in what we ask of Him.
In the parable, we see the widow coming before the unrighteous judge with her complaint, though Christ never informs us about its specifics. We do not need to know the details; it could be any grievance. The callous judge has no pity in him, but the widow is so persistent that the judge reasons within himself that he had better avenge her lest she wear him out with her incessant visits. The phrase "weary me" literally implies striking blows and giving the recipient a pair of black eyes! This was one persistent woman!
If a reader of this parable is not careful, he could judge God as being comparable to the unjust judge, that is, that He will not answer our requests promptly unless we bother Him with constant pleas for help. Actually, Jesus is contrasting the faithfulness of our loving God to the cynical, self-serving, unrighteous judge. The latter is not in any way a good man, but a godless one who is just trying to shield himself from being annoyed.
Jesus is trying to get us to realize God's never-ending love and faithfulness to His children. We are to see that all that God is, the judge is not. God is always willing to hear us and to answer our prayers if according to His will. He always hears the cries of His own elect or chosen ones. Indeed, God will avenge or vindicate His people.
The point is that, if the unjust judge—who could not have cared less for the widow—at length responded to her cry merely to rid himself of her aggravating requests, then shall not God—who loves His chosen people and gave His Son for us—answer our prayers when we are under trial or in need?
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Will Christ Find Faith?
Jesus ends verse 7 with the phrase "though He bears long with them." This seems to imply that God bears long with His people's cries for help. But this is not the sense. The pronoun "them" refers, not to God's elect, but to their oppressors, whom God endures far longer than we do. The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary states: "[T]he meaning is, that although He tolerates these oppressions for a long time, He will at length interpose in behalf of His own elect."
Then, Jesus states emphatically in verse 8, "I tell you that He will avenge them speedily"! "Speedily" is probably another poor choice of words; it is better rendered "suddenly" or "unexpectedly." When God's tolerance of these oppressors has run its course, He will promptly act at the right time—"out of the blue," as it were—to deliver His people.
Then at the end of verse 8 comes the question that pertains to each one of us now, today. Jesus asks it at the conclusion of the Parable of the Persistent Widow, a parable promising God's faithfulness: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
The implication seems to be that very few will have the strength of faith that Jesus is talking about. As the God of the Old Testament, Jesus, having looked into man's heart from Creation and seeing humanity's trajectory to our day, had every reason to ask if there would be faith at the end time! Even the Jews of His lifetime, full of Messianic fervor, did not have the faith He is seeking! Would even His chosen people—Christians, the followers of Christ—have saving faith?
Do we have this faith? What, then, is the evidence Jesus is looking for that will establish that we have the faith He is looking for? Some might view this "faith" as a powerful individual faith to move mountains or to perform some other great miracle. Yet, what Jesus is looking for are those who completely trust Him as God, and based on that trust, are living by faith according to God's revealed truth despite all of the pulls and pressures from the world.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Will Christ Find Faith?
This sobering scripture aims directly at anyone who is left standing, so to speak, at His coming. Christ looked down through the millennia, and saw us—looked into our hearts—and wondered, "Where is the faith?"
What faith is Jesus talking about? It cannot be in His existence because even the demons believe that (James 2:19). Demons also have a great deal of respect for God's power and sovereignty. What the demons do not believe in is God's love and all that springs from it. For instance, how could Satan have rebelled if he really believed in God's love for him? Perhaps the original iniquity found in Satan, the start of all trouble, was his lack of faith in God's love for him—"for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). That faithlessness led to pride and vanity and ultimately to rebellion.
When Christ returns, will He find a people who believe how much God loves them and therefore will trust in Him no matter what the physical evidence looks like? That is the faith Christ is talking about in verse 8.
In the preceding verses, Christ contrasts the unjust judge, who could not care less, to the true God, who could not care or love more. The underlying subject of the parable is God's faithfulness and love, and Jesus gave it to encourage our faith in the Father's love.
Then, in verse 8, Christ says, "I tell you that [the Father] will avenge [the elect] speedily," followed immediately by, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" A definition for nevertheless is "in spite of that." God will act speedily in His great love for us, yet in spite of that fact, people in the end time will still have difficulty believing in the depth of His love.
Our salvation depends on believing how special we are to God—how much He loves us. Jesus says in verse 1, "Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart." Along with prayer, this parable teaches us about not losing heart—enduring to the end. Knowing how much God loves us can give us the courage and hope we need to face and endure what is ahead.
Lamentations 3:21-23 (RSV) tells us what we have to remember and believe if we are to have the right kind of hope: "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness."
Faith to Face Our Trials
We like to think of ourselves as rising to the occasion when a time of great crisis arises. We all hope to emulate what the heroes of faith did. But as great as they were, Jesus says here, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you." It is very easy to think of the sacrifice implied in "lay[ing] down one's life" as dying for another in one moment of time. Though that may occasionally occur, the context shows this sacrifice within the framework of friendship. Friendship occurs over months and years, not just in one moment in time.
In true friendships, because we are eager to help, we willingly spend ourselves ungrudgingly, without tallying the cost. Friends open their hearts and minds to each other without secrecy, which one would not do for a mere acquaintance. True friends allow the other to see right in and know them as they really are. Friends share what they have learned. Finally, and most importantly for this article, a friend trusts the one who believes in him, and risks that the other will never doubt his loyalty but look upon him with proven confidence.
Though the principle given by Christ is applicable to all friendships, He has one specific friendship as His primary focus: ours with Him, or more generally, ours with God. Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." That friend is Jesus of Nazareth, but He made it very clear that if we are His friends, we will show it in our obedience to His commands. But before we can obey, we must trust Him.
Take a moment to evaluate yourself. Are you as open and frank with Him as He is with us through His Word? Often our prayers are stiff and formal, not truly honest. Besides that, sometimes we become bored in His presence and soon have nothing to say to Him. Is it not true that we do not trust Him as fully as we should? That we are often quick to doubt Him? That we easily grow suspicious of Him? That we lose heart or fear that He has forgotten us? That He is not really trying or is unequal to the task of shepherding us into His Kingdom? Though He has never failed us, we are so quick to suspect and blame Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Wandering the Wilderness in Faith
One can justifiably say that this expression of God's faithfulness is the pivot upon which turns His whole purpose for humanity. God calls and then through His goodness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). I John 1:9 then adds, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Since Christ has come and died that we might be pardoned and cleansed, God's faithfulness is part of His grace. He would not be faithful to His promises, His past acts in Christ's works, or His calling that has sounded in our ears unless, when we obeyed the call and confessed, He allowed us to enter into the full possession of His pardoning grace. In other words, our forgiveness and cleansing, the receiving of favor from Him, is a product of His faithfulness.
God's faithfulness in these areas has far-reaching, practical ramifications for us. That God is faithful means that His character is unchangingly consistent. The unalterable structure of the universe consists of both justice and forgiveness. God never acts in contradiction of Himself, and in all experiences we may depend on Him to be unalterably just and forgiving toward us. Because He is faithful, He can be the central and most important object of our faith. Could we trust a god if we were never sure what he would do?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
"Hope" appears three times in these verses, and it is tied to justification and the doors that open to us. In verse 2, hope motivates us to rejoice that we can look forward in positive expectation of God's glory! What an awesome opening that is to us! It is not the glory of a perfect human or even of angels, but of God! This is so hard for us to imagine because it almost sounds blasphemous. Is it any wonder that Christians can be optimistic about life in the face of all the evil we are aware of? The goal is so great that it is worth more than all the burden of being human, dealing with our sins and the repercussions of others' sins.
Our hope does not disappoint or bring us to shame because it is based in the reality of God and His promises. The common hopes of man may or may not come to pass because they are fragile and frail at best and in many cases utterly false. Yet, the believer's hope is no fantasy because it is firmly anchored in the person and promises of the Creator God.
As mentioned earlier, the activity of God among us produces hope. This is drawn in part from verses 3-4, where Paul says that trials, borne while God is part of our lives, produces perseverance, character, and hope. Because of this hope a person is never embarrassed through failure because God, who is our hope, never fails. God loves us, and He communicates His love to us through His instruction, fellowship, and discipline. Through these, we come to know Him and His faithfulness. As our admiration for Him grows, these things motivate us to purify ourselves to be like Him (I John 3:1-2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope
2 Corinthians 1:17-19
Does God speak and not act? Even Balaam understood that when God's Word goes forth, it accomplishes what He sent it to do. There is no ambiguity on this matter; God's promises are sure. He never deceives, and there is never inconsistency or fickleness in Him. He is always true. Jesus called Himself "the truth" (John 14:6), and in Revelation 3:14 His title is "the faithful and true witness."
Similarly, Paul states that his, Silvanus' and Timothy's declarations, their preaching about God, were also faithful, unvarnished, unexaggerated, and uncolored. They did not change the truth or shade it in any way. Jesus says He came into this world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). Paul felt he was under sacred obligation to do the same and maintain a character of the strictest veracity in every respect. Perhaps our greatest obligation on earth is for us to imitate our Redeemer's faithfulness. It does not become an individual who professes to trust in the faithful God to be shifty and unreliable in word and deed.
This is a very high pinnacle for us to strive for, but we must try, though we know we will not be saved as a result. Perhaps because we know our salvation does not depend on our works, there is a subtle persuasion not to be as careful as we should.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
An inheritance is something that is given by a parent to a child. It is not something that is earned—a man does not inherit his father's estate because of his own character, but because the estate passes from father to son. While it is certainly possible for a father to intervene and exclude a son from inheritance because of the life he is living, as a general rule the inheritance is not earned but is freely given.
Likewise, if the inheritance of this earth and eternal life came simply by obeying the law, the covenant with Abraham would have been very different. God would have told Abraham, "If you are perfect in all of your ways and never sin, then I will give you these things." While the agreement with Abraham was conditional—there was a part that Abraham had to play—it was not because of Abraham's strict obedience to a moral code that Christ came to confirm the promises.
Christ came for precisely the opposite reason: Because of the human heart, human nature, and sin, we cannot have access to God. His sacrifice allows us to be justified before God, not because of works, but because God has decided to justify us. After justification and the receipt of the Holy Spirit, then we are able to follow the intent of God's instructions through a process of sanctification. If we make it through this process of God recreating Himself in us, we will be resurrected and given the promises that were made to Abraham and his spiritual children—not because we were perfect in this life, but because God is faithful to His word.
David C. Grabbe
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
This is a prayer of Paul's in which he makes a bold request on behalf of that congregation. It contains great encouragement for us. Paul requests their complete sanctification and preservation as holy until they die or God finishes His activities on behalf of the church at Christ's coming.
Sanctification is the part of salvation that deals with our progressive growth in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ—or put another way, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ—or in yet another way, into God's image. God is faithful in carrying out His part in the building of Christian character. God's faithfulness guarantees the progressive perfection of a Christian's life. He is not like men who begin a project, lose interest, run into difficulties, consider it too hard to overcome, or become impatient and quit. He does not begin a work and then get disgusted with it and turn to something else. He does not begin and, finding He lacks the resources to finish, give up. Men do this, but God never stops until He is finished. He does not finish until He is satisfied.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
The apostle Paul points out the fountain that disgorged all the fickle-minded disloyalties of the people of Israel: an evil heart of unbelief. Like an inexperienced and immature teenager, Israel usually believed she knew better than the Creator.
Her sinful, unbelieving heart stands in marked contrast to the faithfulness of Jesus and Moses as noted in verse 2, ". . . who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house." Additionally, "departing from" in verse 12 is a rather weak translation; "rebelling against" is more appropriate. Israel did not merely depart from an obscure set of doctrines, but she rebelled against a living, dynamic Being whom she in her blindness did not really "see" as part of the Exodus and pilgrimage.
Paul's entire exhortation is tied directly to verse 6, ". . . but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." Whose house we are is a solemn reminder of our responsibilities to Christ in this deceptively perilous time. We are the people of God, and it is our responsibility to glorify Him by being tenaciously faithful in every circumstance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Seven): How Can Israel Be the Great Whore?
The first thing to note in Hebrews 10:26-27 is the word "sin." Paul is not speaking of sin in general but the specific sin of apostasy from the faith that was once known and professed. The apostasy he has in mind is not so much an act but a state brought on by many individual attitudes and sins, reproducing the original, carnal antagonism a person has toward God before conversion.
Some commentaries insist that the Authorized Version is not quite correct in translating the term in verse 26 as "willfully." These argue that the Greek word, hekousios, will not permit this translation. It appears only one other time, in I Peter 5:2, where it is translated as "willingly." The commentators insist that it should be rendered "willingly" in Hebrews 10:26.
The American Heritage College Dictionary supports their conclusion. To do something willfully is to do it purposely or deliberately. The commentators say all sin is done purposely because human nature is set up to do so, even though weakness, ignorance, or deception may be involved as well. To do a thing willingly is to be disposed, inclined, or prepared to do it. Its synonyms are "readily," "eagerly," "compliantly," "ungrudgingly," "voluntarily," and "volitionally." This sense is contained in the context because, by the time a person reaches the apostate stage in his backward slide, where he has forsaken God and His way, he has no resistance to sin.
The sinner is deliberately, even eagerly, determined to abandon Christ, to turn away from God and His way, having completely become an enemy once again. He sins with barely a second thought, if with any thought at all. He sins automatically, as there is none of God's Spirit left to constrain him. His conscience is totally defiled; he has forsaken God.
Who is in danger of committing this sin? All who have made a profession of faith in Christ but are now neglecting their salvation.
The message of Hebrews is that it does not have to be this way. If the person takes heed and stirs himself awake, if he truly seeks to overcome and grow once again, if he returns to being a living sacrifice and seeking to glorify God, if he truly denies himself and takes up his cross, if he keeps God's commandments to live life as a Christian, he will not apostatize.
He may fall back from time to time, but as long as he repents and honestly seeks God when sin occurs in his life, the sin is readily forgiven. I John 1:9 confidently proclaims, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." John 14:23 assures us that as long as we are keeping His Word, we are safe.
Hebrews 12:5-10 explains that God is faithfully working in our behalf, even chastening us if He sees fit, to get us turned around and headed again in the right direction and attitude. He does this faithfully because He does not want to lose us. Christ died for each child of God, thus each child He loves - and He loves them all - represents a substantial investment. Christ did not die in vain for anybody. In Hebrews 13:5, He charges us with the task of putting to work His promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy
This plaintive cry, "How long . . .?" is a New Testament echo of the Old Testament prophets, many of whom were persecuted and slain for their testimony. The psalmists use it most frequently: from David in Psalm 13:1 ("How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?") to Asaph in Psalm 74:10 ("O God, how long will the adversary reproach?") to Moses in Psalm 90:13 ("Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants"). Even Ethan the Ezrahite gets in on the act: "How long, LORD? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?" (Psalm 89:46; see also Psalm 6:3; 35:17; 79:5; 80:4; 94:3).
This question continues in both the major and minor prophets. Isaiah writes, "Then I said, 'Lord, how long?' And He answered: 'Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate. . .'" (Isaiah 6:11). Later, Habakkuk asks, "O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, 'Violence!' and You will not save" (Habakkuk 1:2; see also Daniel 12:6; Zechariah 1:12). "How long?" has been a constant prayer to God through the ages, especially during times of great distress, particularly when God's servants are under intense persecution, when the surrounding culture has reached its nadir and the nation is ripe for judgment, or as it often works out, when both are happening simultaneously.
The intent of the request in Revelation 6:10 is for an indication from God of how long the saints have to endure the worst that Satan-inspired humanity can throw at them before He acts on their behalf as He has promised. As early as Deuteronomy 32:43, the conclusion of the Song of Moses, it is promised, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries." Jesus Himself promises, "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18:7-8). Paul later expands this considerably:
. . . it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. (II Thessalonians 1:6-10)
There is never a doubt about God's eventual intervention to avenge the deaths of His saints. God's promises are sure (Isaiah 46:11; 55:11; Matthew 24:35; John 10:35). Obviously, "How long, O Lord . . .?" is a query about the duration of events until God intervenes, and the souls under the altar ask it, not in impatience or exasperation, but in anticipation of the end of the saints' tribulations and of the receipt of their reward.
In reading this, however, we must not forget that these martyred saints are dead, resting in their graves, as Revelation 6:11 confirms. Thus, the answer to their question is not for them—they know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5), their testimony having finished in death (Acts 20:24; II Timothy 4:7; Revelation 11:7)—but for living saints, who will undergo persecution and eventual martyrdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Seal (Part Two)
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