Snapshots: Day 161

Snapshots: Day 161

The Snapshot: That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20) As Ruth shares with Naomi, the older woman shares something more of her culture. In the families in Israel under the Law, when the husband died, the responsibility for the widow fell on the next of kin, (Deut 25:5) though he had the right not to marry her (see 25:7-10). There are the signs here of a possibility but not a guarantee. The circumstances may look favorable sometimes but we can never force the will of God. Holding our futures lightly before the Lord is wisdom. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.” (Psa 37:5 Living Bible). It may look right and good, but ask His guidance and, having taken it, leave it with Him to bring the best for us.

Further Consideration: The Law of the Redeemer is first seen in Lev 25:23-29 and applied specifically to God’s people in the Promised Land, for when someone fell on hard times, and was all about redeeming the land which was to be kept in the family. Much of the rest of that chapter was about making that happen, including when a family had to sell themselves into service.

As we have noted above, in Deut 25 that was extended to cover the situation involving widows. This picture was extended in New Testament times to explain what Christ has done for us (see 1 Peter 1:17-21 and Gal 3:13,14).

There is a recognition in this provision of God in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that in this fallen world, things can go wrong: businesses can fail, husbands can die. In order to make sure that the Land remained in the hands of His chosen people, the law of redemption was instituted and so any would-be purchaser of the land of another – who is selling it because he has fallen on hard times – had to realize he is merely a temporary steward of the land until the Year of Jubilee when it is to be returned to the original family (Lev 25:10).

When it came to a widow, to ensure both her protection and her provision, there was instituted in the Law this opportunity for a brother to marry her. With no government financial net to catch her, she could easily find herself without any means of support and become destitute and thus starve. The role of the Law was to say to the family of the husband who has died, the responsibility for caring for her for the rest of her life is now on you, and the only way that can be guaranteed is if one of you marries her. Arranged marriages may not go down well with many today, but they have a remarkable success rate sometimes.

This protective net of the Law was now there to protect and provide for Ruth and therefore also Naomi.

Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.

Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

14. Ruth

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 14.  Ruth

Ruth 1:16,17   But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

These words spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, are perhaps some of the greatest declarations of loyalty and faithfulness spoken in the Bible. In the Gospels, at one point, the apostle Peter said to Jesus when all others were abandoning him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68,69)  He had heard Jesus and recognized something special in Jesus and that was in no one else, so he was not going to leave it. But what was it that made Ruth reply as she had. Let’s note their circumstances.

Naomi and her husband had fled Israel when a famine struck. They went looking for food elsewhere and found it in Moab, a people who lived to the east of the Dead Sea. The record has it that they were descendants of one of Lot’s daughters (Gen 19:37).It had been the Moabites who hired Balaam to curse Israel, and for that reason Moses banned them for ten generations from entering ‘the assembly of the Lord’ (Deut 23:3,4).

Now there hangs the question mark. It doesn’t appear to prohibit marriage to a Moabite but if one did, then you would be excluded from participating in the rites and ceremonies of Israel, at least for ten generations after Moses. It would appear they are still in that period of prohibition which adds more to the significance of some of the things that happened. While living in Moab, where they appear to have settled, first Naomi’s husband dies, then Naomi’s two sons marry two Moabite women. Tragedy strikes the family and the two sons die. Is this judgment on the unfaithfulness of these three Israelite men for having abandoned Israel? We aren’t told, but Naomi is left with two daughters-in-law. When she hears that the famine is over in Israel she prepares to return to her homeland and tries to get the two daughters-in-law to remain in their own land. Perhaps she has in mind the probation we have already referred two. The first daughter agrees and remains, but the other, Ruth, makes this amazing declaration of loyalty.

Again we ask, what was it that made Ruth make such a declaration? A similar declaration was later made by Ittai the Gittite to king David when Absalom revolted and David had to flee. When David encouraged him to remain behind Ittai replied, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” (2 Sam 15:21)  It is the same loyalty. Indeed David’s words, that provoked this response, show an even greater similarity to this present situation: “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you.” (2 Sam 15:19,20) The previous verses shows that the Gittites were a contingent from the Philistines who had collaborated with David (v.18).  The Philistines had long had dealings with David and I believe it is fair to suggest that Ittai recognized greatness in David,  hence his declaration.

So back to Ruth, what was it that made her make this declaration? Now there is something strange about the book of Ruth and, although it explains how Ruth came to be part of the Messianic line (see Matt 1:5) and become the great grandmother of King David, there is no mention of God’s activity in Ruth and yet the multiple activities that bring this about, we have to say, are a demonstration of what theologians call the Providence of God (the behind-the-scenes working of God). What we don’t know because it is not said, and perhaps because Ruth the Moabitess probably would not recognize it anyway, is if the Lord spoke directly to Ruth to prompt her to feel as she did. It is a possibility, but we just don’t know.

Another possibility comes to the fore when we note her actual words: “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”   Your God, my God? Using the covenant name, LORD, Yahweh, the I AM?  All this suggests that Naomi had talked about her home life, or at the very least the reputation of Israel was well known in Moab. Either way, Israel appeared to be doing what they were designed to do and attract the world. Clearly, in our above examples, Jesus attracted Peter and David attracted the foreigner, Ittai. It is just possible that that something about Naomi attracted Ruth’s heart, for it is very much a heart declaration.

Yet a further possibility is that Ruth felt concern for Naomi, who had lost her husband and then her two sons in an alien environment. If that is so it suggests she is a young woman of compassion. Again, whatever it was, the Lord used it to draw her together with Boaz (later in the book) and become part of the Messianic blood line. Everything about this story says that Ruth is a woman of immense grace who finds a husband in Israel who is equally full of grace. From our vantage point in history, what is so incredible about this is that the Lord happily takes Ruth into the life of Israel and highlights her presence by a record in Matthew’s genealogy.

Perhaps this should not be so surprising when, in that same genealogy, we read immediately before, Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” Rahab of course was, at the best an innkeeper and, at the worst, a prostitute, and whichever, a Canaanite! She is another illustration of someone outside the chosen people who was drawn into them and is given a special place in the Messianic family tree. Perhaps that made it easier for Boaz to act as he did in wooing Ruth. Over both ‘transactions’ hangs the grace of God who has a chosen people but also a heart for the whole world. He will receive whoever will come to Him.

If the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had been around at both those times they would no doubt have rejected both Rahab and Ruth, and as for the thought that both these being foreign women, women from nations that practiced idol worship and did not know Yahweh…. well!  But God’s grace is bigger. If we look down on people who are obviously outside the kingdom (at the moment), “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12,13). I like the way the Message version puts it: It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.  Excellent! So be careful how you think of others!

In your own life, don’t be surprised if God uses the irreligious around you, people who do not seem to conform to your expectations. It may be they have a stronger heart for the Lord than you and me. The ‘Wise Men’ or Magi (Mt 2:1) fit into that category. Definitely not ‘proper’ people to be involved in the nativity story and as for being led by astrology and a star…well! But God is bigger than us. Rejoice in the wonder of that grace and pray that your may be enlarged to see His hand at work in those around you and the general affairs of the world.

Walk into Oblivion

WALKING WITH GOD. No.14

Ruth 1:2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

This is the start of a disastrous story and a glorious story, and as such it tells us many things about walking with God. The story starts with a famine in Israel, which suggests a time of low spirituality (in the Law God promises blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience [which includes famine] – Deut 28). The times of the judges had been a time when the nation drifted from God and had to be rescued by Him in the form of those judges. But there is something else about the times of famines, they are times of testing and times of opportunity. Abram hadn’t done very well when a famine occurred in his new country (Gen 12:10 -). Isaac fell into the same trap for the same reason; only the Lord intervened and stopped him going to Egypt (Gen 26:1-6).

So, there was a famine in Israel and an Israelite from Bethlehem takes his family to Moab. Historically Moab was to become an enemy of Israel, a frequent thorn in their side. Instead of seeking God, this man rationalises the situation and moves into the world to cope. How many of us get into difficulties and seek the world’s way out instead of the Lord. This walk from Bethlehem (which means ‘house of bread’) to Moab (which means ‘child of its father’ – and Moab‘s father was Lot who drifted right into the world – Sodom) is a walk of flight into the world.

In Moab the man dies and later on after they have married two Moabite women, their two sons also die. The only person left of the original family is Naomi, the wife. Then Naomi sets out on the walk of restoration back to Israel. At Naomi’s urging one daughter-in-law returns home but the other one will not be put off and so goes to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. For her, this is a walk into a new life and was to become a walk into the history books. For this family, the walk to Moab was a walk of death, and in what follows we might consider the walk back a walk of resurrection. God is going to do something very significant through this family. To cut a long story short, Naomi returns home with Ruth her daughter-in-law, and Ruth eventually marries Boaz and becomes part of the messianic family line (see Mt 1:5 for the place of honour that Ruth is given, being the mother of King David’s grandfather.)

So what again have we seen here? A man from Israel goes with the low spiritual level of the nation and when a famine comes, flees the land and goes to Moab. A poor response – a walk of unbelief. Then he and his sons die. It has turned out to be a walk into oblivion for this man, yet from it, Ruth is drawn into the nation of Israel and joins the family tree of King David, the family tree of the Messiah. There seems nothing spectacular about this story; it is the story of normal, if tragic, family events, yet somehow at the end of it we see how the family was used to draw a foreigner into God’s plans.

So what does it say? First of all, it warns us to hold firm to our faith in the face of difficult circumstances. In fact, the circumstances may indicate a low level of spirituality and the call is to rise up and return to God. Instead of fleeing into the world in a walk of unbelief, we are to stay where we are and seek the Lord.

Second, it shows us that the often invisible hand of God can yet bring about good, and He will take and use even those from the most unlikely backgrounds who will allow their hearts to be stirred by the Lord, to become part of His plans.

Perhaps we might consider are we an Elimelech, a Naomi or a Ruth? Elimelech baulked in the face of difficult circumstances and failed to seek God for provision. Are you in such a place? Seek Him. Naomi was faithful to her husband and was led into a bad place, but as soon as she had the chance, she returned to a place of blessing. Do you need to take steps to get back to the place of blessing? And then there was Ruth, an outsider who allowed her heart to be touched so that she joined the people of God and entered into God’s purposes. Are you someone who has been touched by what you have read, and something in you tells you that you want to have a sense of destiny, of being part of God’s plans?

A disastrous walk into oblivion, or walk of restoration, or a walk of destiny? Those are so often the options before us in our walk through life. The good news is that as long as we are alive, it doesn’t have to end as a walk into oblivion. The only trouble is that we don’t know how long we will live. If we have the courage to face the failure, it can turn into a walk into restoration and that so often becomes a walk into destiny. Make sure you make the right choice.