God's Promises Are Sure!
by John W. Ritenbaugh
Forerunner, "Personal," August 1995
If there is one holy day that ought to fill us with an exhilarating sense of anticipation, it is the Feast of Trumpets. In Solomon's porch Peter tells the gathered crowd in Acts 3:19-21:
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
What exciting, inspiring and hope filled events to anticipate! We can look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, the restoration of the government of God, and an earth released from the oppression of Satan and sin. From other scriptures, we know we also eagerly await our resurrection and birth into the Kingdom of God!
One of the memories that I have about this day is that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong preached his last sermon on Trumpets in 1985. Interestingly, he died exactly four months to the day later, on January 16, 1986. It is intriguing that Mr. Armstrong, to whom God disclosed so much about prophecy and the Kingdom of God, would give his final sermon on that day. Even more interesting is that a major portion of the sermon was "Are You Listening?"
Are we listening to what God says about this day?
Trumpets is the central, pivotal holy day. It celebrates the most important event in the history of this creation to that time. Surely, when we compare prophecies about this day with what is happening in the world, we can be confident that its fulfillment cannot be far off! But God shows in His Word that, as we approach its fulfillment, some in His church will become weary, some impatient and lax and some entangled in this world.
Mr. Armstrong said in that sermon, "This life, our calling, is a time of qualifying to be a part of the restoration of God's government and beauty to all creation. It is now in a state of decay and God did not create it in vain." In other words, God's purpose will go on regardless of our attitude. So why not jump in and become enthusiastically involved in something wonderfully good that is certain to occur?
We sometimes let this world's tragic events "get us down." At other times our own personal and family problems depress us, and we cry out, "How long, O Lord?" But what about God's waiting and longing for the fulfillment of this Day? By comparison, we have been waiting only a few years. We impatient humans so often think that He is asleep and does not care, but as Acts 3:21 says, He has been waiting "since the world began"!
Psalm 78:65-66 gives us a sense of His feeling after patiently waiting for necessary developments to occur: "Then the Lord awoke as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man who shouts because of wine. And He beat back His enemies; He put them to a perpetual reproach." The psalmist pictures God waiting, seemingly asleep and unaware. But suddenly He roars into action, releasing a pent-up, emotional shout like a mighty warrior exhilarated by anger and the effects of alcohol. Things happen quickly and dramatically when God decides to act!
Isaiah 42:13-15 also has a definite end-time application:
The LORD shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once. I will lay waste the mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will make the rivers coastlands, and I will dry up the pools.
God's feelings about the fulfillment of Trumpets are not hidden; He speaks of it often in emotional terms. Do our feelings imitate His?
Prophecy Is Sure
The holy days are prophecies. They are also called "a shadow of things to come" (Colossians 2:17) because they prophesy of a real, future event. They are not now the reality, but the shadow. For a shadow to be cast, a reality must exist, and a shadow, if followed, leads to the reality. If God prophesies of something, IT IS SURE!
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. . . (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.
The promises to Abraham included that he would be heir of the world. Jesus Christ confirmed those promises and became heir of them. "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29)! From the time of Abraham, God has been working to establish, preserve and expand Abraham's family and fulfill His purpose.
So confident is God of His ability and power that He speaks of future events with as much certainty as though they had already occurred! He calls into existence things that do not exist—for example, Isaac (Genesis 17:19). Who can stop Him?
The most cruel and implacable enemy we have is death, yet God says—and has already demonstrated—that He can overcome it by a resurrection (I Corinthians 15:51-54). Our resurrection has not yet occurred, but do we believe it will happen? This is very important to each of us personally because the resurrection from the dead is the hope of a Christian (Acts 23:6; I Peter 1:3), and it is partly what the Feast of Trumpets foreshadows.
II Peter 1:16-21 adds strength to the reliability of prophecy:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Every commentary agrees that Peter is probably referring here to the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses to that event, and it confirmed to them the prophecies made of old. He then urges us to press forward in faith knowing that the guarantee of the prophecies in God's Word is that they originated in God, not in men. The prophets spoke or wrote as God motivated them by His Holy Spirit. God's very words came through them to us. The Scriptures are not the invention of creative and imaginative men. They are not fairy tales, and we can trust them right on up to the return of Christ and our resurrection because the reputation and power of God are their surety.
Trumpets in Genesis
Peter said in Acts 3:21 that God has been prophesying of the events of the Day of Trumpets "since the world began." The beginning of the Bible and the beginning of the world are in Genesis. Where is Trumpets mentioned in it? It is not mentioned directly, but Moses alludes to it strongly.
Between the creation of man and the Flood, 1,656 years passed. Another 800 years passed until Moses and the Exodus. A great amount of history occurs in about 2,500 years! Think about how much history has occurred in this nation in just over 200 years! Moses summarized 2,500 years of history—from Creation to the Exodus—in fifty chapters. Undoubtedly, he could have written much more, but under God's inspiration, he chose to record the most significant events pertaining to God's purpose.
In Genesis, God provides a foundation and background for what follows in the rest of the Bible. Are the days God chose as festivals for His people significant to Israel's history before the Exodus?
Notice some interesting dates that appear early in Genesis:
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. . . . Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. . . . And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. (Genesis 7:11; 8:4, 13)
Why is Moses so specific about the dates of the Flood? Israel obviously had a calendar in use. Otherwise, how would they have been able to keep track of and calculate such data? Their calendar eventually came to have two distinct starting points. Originally, the first day of Tishri was the first day of the year on the Hebrew calendar. At the time of the Exodus, however, God changed the beginning of the sacred year to the first day of Abib or Nisan, as Exodus 12:2 shows. Even so, the civil authorities continued to use Tishri 1 as the new year's first day. Thus, the civil year begins six months after the sacred year, which is why after Exodus 12, Tishri is called "the seventh month."
By the civil calendar, the only one in use before Exodus 12, the dates given in Genesis 8:4 bring us to Abib 17. What happened on Abib 17 that might be important? Abib 14 is Passover and on it the Lamb of God was slain. Three days and three nights later near sunset of the seventeenth, He was resurrected! Our salvation, our deliverance from this body of death, our eternal safety, was absolutely demonstrated by Christ's resurrection! Likewise, but of far less importance, the ark coming to rest on that day confirmed that the eight in the ark were safe, and the continuance of mankind through Noah and his family was assured.
About six months later, Noah opened the covering of the ark and found the earth to be dry. What day was that? Genesis 8:13 says it was the first day of the first month. By the civil calendar that brings us to Tishri 1, the Feast of Trumpets! On that day the inhabitants of the ark were freed from its confinement to start a new life. That, magnified countless times, will occur to the sons of God when we are freed from the confinement of our physical bodies and changed into spirit in the twinkling of an eye!
Now, compare Genesis 17:23; Exodus 12:41 and Galatians 3:16-18. Here again we have evidence of a significant Genesis event that later became a festival date, and thus it is important to Christianity. Exodus 12:2-6 dates the Passover on the fourteenth of Abib. Israel left Egypt on the next day, the fifteenth. Verse 41 strongly suggests that the Exodus was 430 years to the very day from when Abraham made the covenant with God which was sealed by the patriarch's circumcision. Galatians 3 reinforces the link between the events of the Exodus (Paul sums them up in the term "the law," which was given about two months after leaving Egypt), the 430 years and God's covenant with Abraham. These verses confirm that the Abrahamic covenant, the introduction of circumcision and Israel's going out of Egypt took place on Abib 15, the First Day of Unleavened Bread.
Joseph's Major Role
We tend to associate Genesis with Creation, the Flood and the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But most of us do not realize that over one-quarter of Genesis is devoted to Joseph! Moses devotes about fourteen chapters to Abraham; about three to Isaac and twelve to Jacob. But he gives Joseph thirteen chapters. This is significant in light of the types these men represent. Abraham is a type of the Father. Jacob is a type of the overcoming Christian. Moses himself is the archetype of a prophet.
What is Joseph? He is the type of the wise ruler, the greatest of which is Jesus Christ. Joseph shows a pure and high morality, simplicity, gentleness, fidelity, patience, perseverance, an iron will and indomitable energy.
Genesis 41 begins with Joseph in prison, having been falsely accused. Two full years have passed from the events of chapter 40, when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's butler and baker (Genesis 41:1). Now the Pharaoh himself has had a very disturbing dream (verses 2-7), and in the morning he takes immediate action to understand it (verse 8).
"Morning" is the Hebrew boqer which Strong, Gesenius and the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament all more precisely define as "daybreak," "dawn" or "the breaking forth of light." The Old Testament writers also use it to mean "early" or "promptly," but is more frequently used to indicate the light part of the day as opposed to the dark. As we will see later, it is highly likely that God intended it to mean daybreak.
After shaving and changing his clothing so he would be presentable to the king, Joseph is hurriedly brought from prison to Pharaoh (verse 14). The Egyptian king tells Joseph the dream, and the young man, with God's inspiration, gives its interpretation (verses 15-31). He explains that the dream was repeated as an indication from God that the outcome was certain and would be fulfilled shortly (verse 32). He adds that the Pharaoh should appoint "a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt" to supervise the gathering of food for the coming famine (verses 33-36).
Such good advice pleases the Pharaoh. As Joseph had shown himself to be "discerning and wise," Pharaoh appoints him as vice-regent over all Egypt, gives him a ring and golden necklace to authenticate his authority and clothes him in fine linen (verses 39-44). The Egyptian King also gives him a new name to match his function as he saw it, and finally Joseph is married to Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On (verse 45).
From verse 1 to verse 45, the context contains no break, giving the impression that it all occurred in one day! Which day?
The Evidence of Psalm 81
Psalm 81:1-3 offers a few clues:
Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
The commentaries are about equally divided as to which festival or festivals are intended here. Is it speaking of the spring or the fall feasts? Passover and Tabernacles both fall on a full moon, and obviously, both are preceded on the first day of the month by a new moon. However, two things tend to throw the weight toward the fall festivals.
First, the superscription of the psalm is gittith. Gittith, though it is the term for a musical instrument, literally means "winepress." It is associated with the fall harvest of grapes because of its customary use by the vintners then.
Second, and more authoritative, is the word "trumpet." All the commentators duly report that this refers to the ram's horn. Instructions for the use of trumpets are given in Numbers 10, but it makes no distinction as to which trumpet (ram's horn or silver) should sound at the beginning of each month. However, Jewish tradition emphasizes that the silver horns were blown at the beginning of each month except Tishri 1, the Feast of Trumpets. The weight of evidence at this point inclines toward Trumpets and Tabernacles. As we will see as we collect evidence, the Trumpets-Tabernacles position becomes stronger and stronger.
Continuing in Psalm 81:4-6:
For this is a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when he went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand. I removed his shoulder from the burden; his hands were free from the baskets.
Verse 4 explains that God established a law in Joseph as a testimony witnessing to a historical fact: his release from prison and elevation to prime minister. Thus, this psalm gives us the time setting for Joseph's experiences in Genesis 41: Tishri 1, which is now the Feast of Trumpets! On this feast day, Joseph was removed from his hard labor, as Psalm 81:6 relates. The psalmist shows an encouraging parallel between God and Joseph. Both are saviors, and we can take encouragement from what happened to Joseph. God did not forget him!
Darkness and Light
Genesis 41:8 shows Pharaoh dreamed at night, and verse 14 records that Joseph was released from prison in the morning. This interesting contrast implies that while Joseph was in prison, he was in darkness. Metaphorically, the biblical writers use darkness to describe being ignorant of the right way, living in unbelief and being dangerously subject to wandering, falling, injury, pain and even death. Proverbs 4:19 says, "The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble."
Paul adds more to our understanding of this darkness.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. (Romans 13:11-13)
Spiritually, darkness is brought on by sin. Darkness gratifies the sinful nature, lulls a person to sleep spiritually and provides a cover for evil.
But his darkness is so thick, man cannot find his way around it, through it or out of it. The solution to this dilemma will come at "daybreak," "in the morning," "when the day dawns." Even as nothing can prevent the coming of dawn, neither can anything prevent the coming of Christ!
Isaiah 60:1-3 clarifies the picture even further:
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
The metaphor is drawn from the rising of the sun and being able to get to work and produce solutions. God pictures the whole earth covered by a thick cloud of darkness that dissolves in the light. The terms "arise," "shine," "glory of the LORD" and "brightness of your rising" give every indication of our resurrection to glory to meet the returning Christ. Because of the "rising" of Zion, mankind will be prospered in every way, morally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically.
Malachi adds, "But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves" (Malachi 4:2; see Matthew 24:27; II Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). As Joseph went forth from his prison to become a savior to Egypt and the surrounding peoples, we will rise from our confinement and go forth with Jesus Christ to bring spiritual salvation and true prosperity to all of mankind. This will happen when the Feast of Trumpets is fulfilled.
A New Name
When Joseph was promoted, the king gave him a new name (Genesis 41:45). Biblically, a new name usually indicates a significant change of relationship with God. Clear examples are Jacob ("supplanter"), whose name God changed to Israel ("God prevails"), and Saul ("desired"), who became Paul ("little").
Joseph's new name is so difficult to translate that scholars have suggested a number of variations. The most common variations of Zaphnath-Paaneah are "says the God, he will live"; "the God spoke and he came to life"; or "the Living One has spoken." A secondary group of variations are "preserver of the age"; "revealer of the secret"; "abundance of life"; or "sustainer of life." Unger's Bible Dictionary defines it as "savior of the world."
Regardless of how it would most accurately translate into modern English, enough of its meaning is available to see its sense. The circumstance forced the pagan Egyptians to admit before all mankind for all time that a miracle had occurred in their presence—from a God they did not even know—through a humble but very capable Hebrew prisoner.
We, too, will be given new names when God releases us from our earthly prison.
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. (Revelation 3:12)
No matter what a person's name means, it identifies him. Our new names will identify us with a person ("God"), a place ("New Jerusalem") and very likely a function or responsibility in God's government ("My new name"). Obadiah 17, 21 gives us an insight of what our function may be:
But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. . . . Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.
The book of Isaiah is especially full of glorious and rich previews of what is coming on the horizon when God sets His hand to save mankind. We need to review these insights regularly to feed and sharpen our vision of what God is preparing us to do in the World Tomorrow. If we do not remind ourselves of our future role in God's Kingdom, we may fall victim to the principle shown in Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint [run wild, Living Bible]." Without vision, a person wanders, goes off the path or becomes lost altogether! These prophecies help us head in the right direction.
God writes through Isaiah:
For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah ["My delight in her"], and your land Beulah ["married"]; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
Think of these verses in relation to Joseph's experiences. He was a stranger and sojourner in a land that was not his. He was persecuted and despised for his faithfulness to God. Yet he was raised from the depths of his trials to become a powerful force to deliver not only his own family, but also the nation that despised and persecuted him. What parallels there are to us in this end-time generation!
We can learn much from Joseph's example:
1. He labored as a slave, but was faithful despite that hardship.
2. He was physically attractive, but it never became a snare to him.
3. He resisted temptation and fled youthful lusts.
4. He did not complain in the face of false accusation, the appearance of guilt and unjust punishment.
5. He manifested wisdom and forgiveness in dealing with his guilty brothers.
6. He continually acknowledged his dependence on God.
God Is in Control
So much seems out of control these days, and we may feel as though we are completely forgotten and totally inconsequential in the mighty flow of events. Hebrews 11:3 has encouraging and faith-building instruction for us in this critical time of mankind's history. "By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible."
We have generally understood this verse to mean that the material creation, which we can clearly see, was produced from invisible spirit. It is certainly a possible meaning, but it is probably not its primary one. In his book, Great Cloud of Witnesses (pp. 12-14), E. W. Bullinger provides an alternative that appears more accurate and fitting within the context of Hebrews 11.
The word "worlds" is translated from the Greek aion, meaning "age," in the sense of a period of time or a dispensation. It derives from a root that means "continued," and it is used as "world" only when "world" gives a better sense of a period of time, not the physical creation. It could be used if one said "the world that then was" or "the world to come."
"Framed" also appears in Hebrews 10:5, where it is more clearly and accurately translated "prepared." It means "to complete thoroughly," "to rule" (even "over-rule") or "to order" (by God in this case). "Word" is not logos, but rhema, meaning "revealed words." Finally, "made" is ginomai, which means "to generate," "to cause to be," "to happen or "to come to pass." It is not the word normally used to indicate God is creating.
Using these definitions, we could translate the verse as, "By faith we perceive by the revealed words of God that the ages were prepared, so that the things we see, come to pass not from things that appear." Those of us who walk by faith know that a great Unseen Hand guides, indeed overrules, events on this earth. This verse means that the historical events we read of in God's Word were not chance occurrences, but God was working behind the scenes to bring His purpose to the conclusion He has foreordained. In short, it says, "God controls the march of history." The great men and women listed in Hebrews 11 lived their lives firmly knowing this truth. That is why they could live in faith.
God did not forget Joseph, though at times his faith in God must have been stretched nearly to its breaking point. He was, after all, as human as we are and encompassed by the same nature. This should encourage us that God will not forget us either. We may seem like only a speck in the vastness of this universe, but we are the apple of His eye! And we know and are assured that He can bring His purpose in this age to its right conclusion.
We can be greatly encouraged by Hebrews 6:9-20:
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply you." And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Meat in Due Season
As we approach the Feast of Trumpets, think about Joseph and how God miraculously trained him, preserved him and virtually resurrected him to be a savior to his world. I have not pursued several other parallels between Joseph and Trumpets—for example, his being cleaned up, appearing before the king, being given a change of clothing and marrying the daughter of a priest. They would make good study topics in this season.
God allowed Joseph to be seemingly forgotten, but the man's faith held fast. In time, God helped Joseph to "forget" (Manasseh) his hardship, and better still, even enabled him to be "fruitful" (Ephraim). Here is yet another parallel to us! From it, we can derive encouragement and vision for what we must continue to face until God resurrects us to serve under and with our Lord Christ.
Hang in there! The cloud is still moving—follow it to salvation!