Is your view of life upside-down? – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 3

27 Nov
Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Have you ever been in a situation where you were convinced you were right, but ultimately found out you were wrong? It can be shocking when that happens. We tend to go about life trusting our intuition, our viewpoint, and when we are believing something we think is so obvious, only to discover that we are wrong, it rattles us. One way this can happen is when we limit our view, though we have no idea that our view is limited. I’ve had this happen to me too many times to count. It could be a new piece of knowledge, a new theory, or something about which I was just simply wrong. As we continue the story of David versus Goliath, we’re going to see how some people in the story were completely wrong in their way of looking at the world, but they had no clue.

Yesterday we saw that David was aghast that the enemy Philistine giant Goliath was defying the armies of God, and no one was standing up to him. Teenage David’s outburst got him nowhere with his older brothers. So in 1 Samuel 17, verse 30 we learn that David brings up the matter to other people standing nearby.  He is persistent.  And eventually, in verse 31, other people report this to King Saul.  For the first time in 40 days, Saul gets a report that someone is willing to fight Goliath.  Of course Saul calls for this person to be brought before him, mostly likely because this will get Saul off the hook for having fight. 

Look at what David says to Saul in verse 32.  It is straight up bold: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”  What?  A 16 year old shepherd poet versus a battle-hardened trained, armored giant?  It’s ridiculous.

And that’s exactly how Saul responds in verse 33.  “Come on, David.  You’re just a boy.”  Saul’s first line in that response shows you where his heart and mind is at, and perhaps why not only he, but the whole army is gripped in fear.  Saul leads with, “You are not able to go out and fight against this Philistine.”  That shows you how small, how limited is Saul’s vision, how weak is his trust in God in the midst of what appears to be an impossible situation.  Saul limits himself to a human evaluation of the situation.  God is nowhere to be found in Saul’s vision. 

David, though?  Totally different viewpoint.

David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

How about that?  “The Lord will deliver me!”  In the midst of crippling fear from what looks like insurmountable odds, David is laser-focused on God, and he alone is able to view the situation with truth.

Saul’s human response in verses 38-39, however, is to have David put on the king’s armor before he faces Goliath.  Saul is viewing the solution within his limited view.  The Israelite army also seems to be putting their faith in human means, as they see no way to overcome Goliath, and yet they were the people of God with a super clear history of God’s intervention in their lives.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  They had the wonderful stories of God’s amazing miraculous work.  They could even remember Samson’s wild victories over Philistia, who likely was a judge in Israel only decades before. But they don’t remember any of that.  They each look at their size, their armor, their weapons, and they conclude they are no match for Goliath. 

And when one man does step forward with no armor, Saul, still thinking humanly, even though his vision is that David is no match for Goliath, believes maybe David will have a little more chance wearing armor.

David obediently tries on the armor, but knows immediately it will be counterproductive, slow him down, get in the way, and he says, “This can’t work,” takes off the armor, and heads out to face Goliath.

My guess is that for the most part, you have been tracking with this story, and so far it has sounded pretty much familiar to what you remembered.  The classic underdog story.  As David walks from the Israelite battle line, heading in Goliath’s direction, I would like to suggest, however, that this is not an underdog story at all. 

You might be thinking, “Well, of course, Joel.  David has God on his side, and therefore he is not really an underdog.”  True.  I agree with that.  But that’s not what I’m getting at.  We will certainly be talking about God’s involvement in this story, but there is something else important going on here. And we’ll reveal that in the next post in this series.

Distraction from the main thing – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 2

26 Nov
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Have you ever had this happen: you’re in the office drafting an email about an rather tricky interpersonal relationship in your company, and you have a flash of brilliance. You’re about to solve the problem. As you’re typing your thoughts, the phone rings. You answer it, and the call lasts for a few minutes. That’s not very long, but long enough to divert your attention. You hang up the phone, turn your eyes back to the email, remember that you were on to something good, but you have no recollection of that thought. It’s gone. The phone call distracted you.

Distraction is rampant in our world. In our examination of David and Goliath, we’re going to see how distraction rears its ugly head. Watch David, though, and perhaps we might learn a thing or two about how to deal with distraction in the middle of important or tense situations.

In Part 1, we set the stage for our famous story. David vs. Goliath. But so far we’ve only met Goliath, this hulk of a man who struck fear in the hearts and minds of the armies of Israel. Now, as we continue the story as told in 1st Samuel, chapter 17, verse 12-24, the scene shifts from the battlefront back to the town of Bethlehem, which is where David’s family lives.

We learn that David’s father, Jesse, is well-advanced in years, and David’s three oldest brothers were serving in the army. Jesse gives David some food to take to his brothers who were in the army with Saul.  David takes the food from Bethlehem to the battle ground, and he gives the food to the keeper of supplies.

Then David runs to the battle lines and greets his brothers. At the same time, Goliath steps out from the Philistine side and calls for an Israelite to fight him, like Goliath has been doing each day, morning and evening, for 40 days.  As they have done every one of those 40 days, the army of Israel runs from Goliath in great fear. 

There is David watching all this.  We think David is in the vicinity of 16 years old at this time.  I’m guessing he is wide-eyed, as this situation plays out in front of him.  We don’t know if this was all new for David.  Maybe he had observed the army before, but maybe this was his first time with his brothers and the army.

In verses 25-27 it seems that, though Goliath had been defying the army of Israel for 40 days, this was the first that David is learning about it.  Look at what David says in verse 26:

“What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Hear that?  From David’s mouth, a beacon of trust in God in the middle of what had been nothing but fear for 40 days.  David is incredulous that anyone, even a massive giant like Goliath, has been allowed to defy God.  It is a glimmer of righteous anger, of a new day. 

Before we get too excited about David, though, we need to remember that David’s three oldest brothers are right there too.  Imagine how they felt when their little teenager brother starts in with his righteous anger!  David’s questions, whether he meant it this way or not, are essentially confronting his brothers too for not stepping forward to fight Goliath!  And if you have siblings, you know how that could go over.  You think his oldest brother, Eliab, is going to look at David and say, “Thank you, little brother.  Thank you for asking those hard questions.  Thank you for pointing out our weakness and our failings.  I needed that.  I will go fight Goliath.”  Ha!

Not a chance.  Here’s what Eliab says in verse 28:

“Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

Oh man, Eliab is hot. It is entirely possible that he is not just making stuff up to get at David because he was embarrassed that his little brother called him out.  It could be that Eliab had watched David for years and knew this was a tendency in David.  Maybe David was nosy, maybe he was annoying to his older brothers.  We don’t know.  It could be that Eliab is just angry that David confronted him, and so he is playing it off by accusing David of being irresponsible with the sheep, and just coming to the battle to be entertained.  Eliab has a point. David could have left the food with the keeper of supplies and returned to Bethlehem.  But he didn’t.  He ran to the battle lines.  His brothers know this.  They probably saw David do this kind of thing back in Bethlehem many times.  This is such normal sibling drama. 

How will David respond?  Look at verse 29.  At first he responds exactly like you would expect in a sibling fight: “Now what have I done?”  That line is loaded with history.  You only say that if you’ve been confronted many times before.  So this was clearly a repeat issue between David and his brothers.  Then he says, “Can’t I even speak?”  Also a loaded statement, right?  My guess is that David had opened his mouth in front of his brothers many times, and they didn’t appreciate it.  We are on the brink of a full-blown fight between brothers, which is kinda crazy when you consider that the setting is a battle between two armies, and Goliath is out there in the middle calling for someone to fight him.  But just as quickly as the fight between David and Eliab flares up, it is done, because David makes a very interesting choice at this point. 

Look at verse 30.  David turns away.  It seems he knows nothing productive will happen in a spat with Eliab, so he shuts it down and moves on.  Wise move.  Siblings, are you paying attention to David?  Most sibling fights are totally unproductive and unnecessary. So David chooses to disengage, to turn away. But David is far from done.  He could just take Eliab’s words as a verbal spanking and return to Bethlehem in frustration.  Instead, he moves away from the distraction of his brothers because there is a much more important matter at hand: the defiant enemy giant, Goliath.  And David is incredulous that no one is stepping up.

In the next post, David faces even more distraction!

Do you have crippling fear? – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 1

24 Nov

What seemingly impossible situations are you facing?  What is causing you fear?  What keeps you up at night?  What gives you an upset stomach?  Fear is a powerful force that affects so many of us.  Fear of losing our health.  Fear of losing control.  Fear of poverty.  Fear of death.

In our Characters series, we come to a famous story of David who was confronted by a soldier named Goliath who drove fear into the hearts of the whole Israelite army. Their story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 17.  We actually met David last week.  Very briefly.  Last week we studied the amazing story of David’s great-grandmother, Ruth

Ruth lived in the period of the nation of Israel when judges ruled the land of Israel.  The very last judge was a man named Samuel, who was also a great prophet.  During his years he led Israel in victory over the Philistines, and he eventually anointed the first king of Israel, a man named Saul.  As king, Saul had some victories, but he also disobeyed God, and so in 1 Samuel chapter 16, we read that God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king to take over after Saul.

In nearly every nation in the history of the world that has a monarchy, they almost always use the same system for picking the next king or queen.  Do you know what it is called?  Primogeniture. 

My wife, Michelle, and I have been watching The Crown on Netflix, all about the life of Queen Elizabeth of England, and in one episode they show a flashback when Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret are girls, and they are discussing how Elizabeth will someday take over for her father.  They both agree that with Elizabeth’s personality which was more quiet and reserved and Margaret being more the people person, Margaret, the younger sister, should be queen.  So Margaret goes to an official to make this request thinking it is for the best.  The official has to break the news that primogeniture is the way it is, and Elizabeth will be queen.  Margaret is crushed.

Primogeniture means simply that the first born child takes over as the next monarch. 

Interestingly God instructs Samuel not to follow primogeniture.  Saul’s son Jonathan would not be the next king.  In fact, no one from Saul’s family would be king.  Instead God directs Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, whose grandmother was a Moabite (a non-Israelite) lady named Ruth, and Samuel anoints not the oldest of Jesse’s sons, but the youngest, a shepherd poet named David.  Then we read that the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power.  1 Samuel 16 concludes with David traveling to Saul’s house from time to time to play the harp for Saul, because Saul was regularly afflicted with what seemed to be a combination of spiritual and psychological oppression, and David’s music would calm him.  That brings us to 1 Samuel 17, and the famous story of David and a man, named Goliath.

How do we normally understand the story of David and Goliath?  It is perhaps the classic underdog story, right?  In sports, in war, in a political election, and in just about any arena where one weaker, smaller person or group is pitted against an opponent that seems bigger, wealthier, more experienced, or more famous, we say that it is David vs. Goliath situation.  A famous example is from a few years ago when the Eagles were considered underdogs in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. 

But what we’re going to find is that the original David vs. Goliath story is almost certainly not an underdog story. 

1st Samuel 17, verses 1-3 tells us that two armies, the Philistines and Israel, are facing each other from opposing hillsides.  These two nations had been at war with one another for many years.  But this particular battle is unique. Why? Keep reading…

The Philistines have a secret weapon.  Well, a man.  A giant of a man.  Goliath.  And he is decked out in armor, armed with a javelin, and we later learn he also has a sword. He also has a shield bearer going ahead of him.  In other words, Goliath is an imposing soldier.  Intimidating.  Fearsome. 

Furthermore, as we keep reading, we learn that the Philistines use Goliath in a unique method of ancient warfare.  In verses 8-11, we learn that each side is to send out a single champion soldier to represent their army.  Whichever soldier wins the one-on-one fight, they will have won the battle for their whole army.  It is, in a way, a good idea to avoid loss of life.  But King Saul of Israel and his army are terrified.  Who wouldn’t be, right?  Goliath was a freak of nature!  Who would want to go fight him?

Here’s what is sometimes missed in the story: Israel had a giant too.  It’s true.  Israel had a tall man.  He wasn’t as tall as Goliath, but they had a man who we are told was a head taller than all the rest.  You know who it was?  King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 9:2, we read that Saul was impressive too, without equal among all Israel, as he was a head taller than the others.  He should have been the one to go fight Goliath.  But he didn’t.  No one from Israel’s army would fight.  They were all terrified. 

Fear is crippling, isn’t it?  Fear can cause you to forget truth.  Fear can cause you to fixate on disaster.  Think about that in your own life.  Have you ever succumbed to fear, to assuming the worst of things?  Assuming that things are terrible and awful and insurmountable, as if there is no hope?  I’ve been there.  If I’m driving down the road, for example, and I hear what seems to be a new noise coming from the direction of the engine of the car, my mind can go lightning fast down a negative path thinking, “Oh man…our car is dying and it is going to cost a ton to fix and it is going to ruin us financially.”  Because I heard one little new noise?  Fear can do that, if we let it.  Hear that last bit of the sentence?  If we let it. How have you let fear cripple you?

Saul and Israel allowed Goliath to fill their hearts with fear.  Jump down to verse 16, and we read that this was going on for forty days.  Forty days!  Goliath would come out twice a day, challenging any Israelite soldier to fight him.  That’s forty days of fear.  Forty days of Saul and Israel crippled by their fear.  Maybe you’ve been there.  If we allow it, fear can linger, and it can ruin our lives.  We can’t sleep good.  We can’t eat.  We can be very difficult to be around.  Our friends and family try to help us out, but fear can get a stranglehold on us and lock down our lives.  Anyone know what I mean?  We know it is no way to live.  We hate the struggle, but we can get so stuck that we have no idea what to do.  That seems to have been happening to Saul and his army.

As we continue the story, we’re going to learn an amazing response to fear.

A possible key to unlock healing in your broken life – Characters: Ruth, Part 5

22 Nov
Photo by CMDR Shane on Unsplash

In Part 4 of our study through the ancient Hebrew story of Ruth, we watched as Ruth makes a most unusual proposal to Boaz. If you are just jumping into the story here at the end, I urge you to start at the beginning, as the drama has been building. This Part 5 will be much more meaningful, in my opinion, if you start at Part 1 and continue from there.

We concluded Part 4 with Ruth having just made a marriage proposal to Boaz. It was very risky, as it was uncommon for a woman to propose to a man, not to mention the way she did it was quite forward. Boaz could easily be offended and say, “Get away from me you inappropriate woman!”

But Boaz’ answer is a resounding “YES!”  From his comments in verse 10, we hear a hint of relief in his voice.  Apparently he is an older man, maybe wondering if a young woman would go for him.  He sees Ruth’s proposal as a great kindness, which brings us to what is possibly the most significant part of the story.

There is a word in the Hebrew that is used here.  It is hesed.  Kindness.  It is a word used often in the Old Testament, and it is often translated “love”.  So it is more than just being kind.  It is loving-kindness!

In 1:8, Naomi, when she is telling her daughters-in-law to return to Moab, says “May the Lord show hesed to you.”  So this is something God is capable of.  Or better, it can be said of God.

In 2:20, Naomi says it again when she realized that Boaz will be their kinsman-redeemer, and again, she attributes this to the hesed of God.  So twice now we have God showing loving-kindness.

But then Boaz says in 3:10 that Ruth had done a kindness to him.  This is a deep kindness. 

One commentator I read noted that nowhere in the book of Ruth do people say to God “I need help, I want you to be kind to me! Save me! Help me!” Instead, the main characters in the book go out and they themselves act with kindness.  They seem to have understood that their role in being faithful followers of God is by being like God himself. 

Do you want to experience the hesed, the loving-kindness of God in your life?  Then go share that same hesed with others.

This is the high point of the story, and from there it is all joy and wonder.  Boaz goes and pleads at the city gate because there is actually another kinsman-redeemer closer in lineage than himself.  That gentleman defers, and Ruth and Boaz are married. 

They have a son, and the son becomes grandfather to the most famous King of Israel, David.  Because Jesus was of the family of David, that means this Moabite lady, Ruth, is Jesus’ great, great, great….and many more greats grandmother. 

When you practice the Hesed, the loving-kindness of God in your family’s life, you can change the destiny of your family.

In his commentary, my OT professor, the late Dave Dorsey says, “In Ruth’s loyalty, diligence, and determination to support her again mother-in-law, combined with Boaz’s kindness and generosity, the audience is left with the central moral to the story: the admirable qualities exhibited by Ruth and Boaz can be used by God to reverse the fortunes of a whole family; or even the fortunes of a whole nation, as shown by the final outcome of this story—the Davidic dynasty.”

The same can happen in our families.  What is the tragedy, the brokenness in your family?  Will you see yourself as the one who can be used by God for renewal and healing?

How can you practice loving-kindness to the people in your family this holiday season?  The process of healing what is broken can take time, and that is normal.  Can you practice hesed at least in some way big or small this season?

Ruth chose loving-kindness when she could have easily responded to her loss and pain in a self-focused way.  She could have been bitter and angry at God.  Instead Ruth responded to her pain in a selfless way, reaching out, serving, and helping.  She decided to trust that God was at work and she reached out to her mother-in-law, Naomi. How can you reach out?  By giving selflessly, you just might launch your family on a whole new trajectory.

So where is the pain in your family that needs to be healed?  Where is the brokenness?  Ruth ran toward the broken with loving-kindness.  She could have easily stayed with her family in Moab and let Naomi go back to Israel alone.  I think most people would understand if Ruth had stayed in Moab, and we would not have faulted her.  If she had stayed in Moab, of course there still would have been healing to do in her life.  She just lost her husband.  But Ruth didn’t stay. She took an even riskier path.  She gave herself to care for her mother-in-law Naomi, who was of a different nationality, thus taking Ruth away from her support network, her family, her country!

What do you need to do to practice that kind of loving kindness in your family?

A most unusual marriage proposal – Characters: Ruth, Part 4

21 Nov

Do you remember your marriage proposal? Or if you aren’t married or engaged, do you have a hope or dream for what your proposal will be like? In our culture proposals have become more and more elaborate. Today we learn about a very unusual one!

The ancient Hebrew story of Ruth has been unfolding, moving from tragedy to hope. If you want to catch up, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. At the end of Part 3, we learned that Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, has gotten over her bitterness at losing her husband and two sons when she observes the Lord’s blessing on her life through Ruth, who not only stuck with Naomi, but also goes to work for their relative Boaz and he cares for them with food. So Naomi concocts a plan.  It might sound bizarre.  Look at Ruth chapter 3, verses 1-4 where you can read Naomi’s plan.

What Naomi suggests amounts to a marriage proposal, but it sounds totally unfamiliar to what we would consider a marriage proposal. Naomi says Ruth should go to Boaz’ barn at nighttime, because it was harvest and Boaz and his workers would be working late to bring in the harvest, so they wouldn’t go home but would sleep in the barn. Naomi instructs Ruth to find Boaz asleep, uncover his feet and lay down there!

Are you thinking, “Huh? How is that a marriage proposal?”

Imagine people a couple thousand years from now trying to explain the significance of our engagement rituals.  Men spend lots of money buying a rock, usually a very shiny one, and they pay to have that rock fastened to a ring, and then they super nervously get down one knee and ask a woman to accept the rock.  She starts crying tears of joy. Assuming she says yes, he then puts the rock on her finger, and that starts a process whereby they will be together for the rest of their lives.  Totally normal and romantic and even emotionally joyful to us, right?  But imagine people from another culture looking at that. They might think our ritual is weird.  That’s very similar to what we just felt reading what Naomi says Ruth should do.  Uncover his feet while he is sleeping! 

And yet we need to know that what Noami suggests is not totally normal for their culture.  In their culture, Naomi and Ruth are being forward.  

Even here in the USA in previous generations, a girl never approached a guy to ask him out.  You would be considered a floozy.  Parents would be very suspicious about a girl who just called a guy on the phone to talk.

What about a Sadie Hawkins Dance?  That is a dance, usually once/year, where the girl asks a guy to be her date to the dance.  But it is the exception that proves the rule. 

In America, however, things have been changing to the point where little by little women are taking the initiative to ask men out.  Though it is still most common, in my observation, that males make the first move.

Back to our story.  What is going on here?  Like I said above, the harvest has to get in, so Boaz is up late into the night working, and he crashes in the barn for a few hours.  Like sleeping in your the office when things are so jammed up at work, you can’t come home. 

If any of you noticed a sexual connotation to what happens next, you are right!  Ruth is very daring.  She doesn’t actually do anything sexual, but when she finds him there sleeping in the barn, and she uncovers his feet, this is a proposal for marriage.

The imagery is fascinating. Look at verse 7.  This uncovering of the feet essentially says, “Open your bed for me to come in.” 

It could go very wrong, and she could be shamed if he wakes up to a woman sleeping next to him and says, “What the heck are you doing…get out of here you inappropriate women.” 

But Ruth is not inappropriate at all.  Instead I want you to notice a beautiful wordplay that Ruth uses.  Look at verse 9.  As Boaz groggily rubs the sleep out of his eyes, not even sure who this is and what is happening, Ruth says to him, “I am your servant Ruth, spread the corner of your garment over me.”  In the original language, Hebrew, this is literally the phrase “spread your wings” over me.

If you’ve been following along with the story, do you remember where we have heard that phrase before?  Look at Ruth chapter 2, verse 12. There Boaz had said the same thing to Ruth when he first met her. It was essentially a prayer of blessing: “May God bless you as you have taken refuge under his wings.” 

It very well could be, and I would say likely, that Ruth is remembering these words that Boaz said to her, and basically is saying to him, “You are a kinsman-redeemer (which we talked about in Part 3), you are part of Naomi’s husband’s extended family, and you could be the means by which God provides refuge for us.”

In no uncertain terms, Ruth is saying, “You desire God’s blessing for me? Will you be that blessing, and thus will you marry me?”  Do you see the boldness in that? It’s so risky.

Though contemporary America is far more egalitarian than ancient Israel, it is still in our culture very uncommon for a woman to propose marriage to a man.  How much more in her culture, then, was Ruth making a bold, rare move! Because of that, the gap between verse 9 and 10 is interesting.  I wonder how long it took Boaz to answer Ruth.  Maybe it was quick.  Sometimes the answer is obvious.  Perhaps he had been thinking about this for some time and just didn’t know how to go about it.  But as in our culture when people get engaged, the guy is usually a nervous wreck, wondering “What is she going to say when I pop the question?” Ruth was probably very nervous.

How long did Boaz wait to answer? What will Boaz say? Check back in to the next post!

A healthy way to face bitterness and loss – Characters: Ruth, Part 3

20 Nov
Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash

Have you ever been bitter and angry about the pain that life has brought your way. If so, you’re not alone. So often we are dealt a horrible hand, and at no fault of our own, we are faced with loss, ruin, or sickness. In those moments, bitterness can take root. Maybe its not you. Maybe you are close to someone who is struggling with bitterness. Whether it is you or a friend, is there anything you can do to move in a healthy direction? As we continue the story of Ruth, there is something we can do, and Ruth will show us.

In the previous post we observed Ruth’s amazing reaction to tragedy. In our world we see many different reactions to tragedy.  We have felt them within ourselves.  In this post let’s discover Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi’s reaction to the tragedy when she and Ruth return to Bethlehem. If you want to read for yourselves, open a Bible to Ruth chapter 1, verse 19 and following.

Some of your Bibles will have text notes connected to some of the words in this section because Naomi, in her reaction to tragedy, uses some creative wordplay regarding the meaning of her names.  Naomi means “pleasant”, but she says, “Don’t call me that.  Instead call me ‘Mara’,” which means “bitterness.”  Why? Naomi is upset at God.  When she left Israel with a husband and two sons, a full family, now ten years later, she has returned to Israel, empty. 

If you’ve been through loss, you get what Naomi is saying. Just the loss of one person is deeply painful. But Naomi has just had her husband and two sons taken from her. If you were walking with Naomi through this, what would you say to her? How would you counsel her? Many of us get extremely angry or bitter at God for lesser things. When we hear Naomi pouring out the pain in our soul, then, we don’t blame her.

Let’s not forget, Ruth, however. She is right there hearing Naomi say this. I wonder what was going through Ruth’s mind as she listened to her mother-in-law.

Ruth could potentially hear Naomi say, “Call me ‘bitter’ because I have returned empty,” and think to themselves, “Why is Naomi saying that?  What about me?  Am I worth nothing to her?  She shouldn’t say ’empty”! She has me!” 

It would be very easy for Ruth to join right in with Naomi’s bitterness but direct it back at Naomi.  How many times have you experienced something like that in your family relationships?  Have you ever thought, “I can’t believe they said that!”  Or “They are taking me for granted.”  Or “I’m not being treated right.”  Or “Look at all I have done for them, and this is the thanks I get?”  Ruth could easily have thought to herself “Wow, lady, I just lost my husband too, and yet I decided to leave my homeland, my people, and travel all this way to start a whole new life, just to support you…and you give me this.  You call yourself ’empty’?  I’ll show you ’empty’…I’m out of here.”  And Ruth could head back home.

But Ruth doesn’t do that!

No, her reaction shows no sign of bitterness.  Instead look at chapter 2, verse 1.  We meet a new character: Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. Into the pain and bitterness, Ruth says, “I’ll go to work.”  She decides to pick up grain to make ends meet for herself and Naomi.  When she goes to work, she ends up in Boaz’ fields.  Boaz shows up and does a double-take when he sees Ruth, saying “Who is that?”  He learns her story, and he is amazed. Here again, I urge you to read the story for yourself in Ruth chapter 2, starting at verse 8 and following. Ruth and Boaz have a very nice conversation. After the work day is over, Ruth returns to Naomi with a bundle full of food.  At home, when Naomi learns what happened, her mood shifts dramatically from bitterness to joy! The two widows have been in Bethlehem for only one day, and the Lord has provided. 

Did Ruth get noticed because she is beautiful?  Maybe.  We don’t know.  Did she get noticed because she was new?  Maybe, certainly Boaz realizes someone new is there, and if Ruth was beautiful, I’m sure that didn’t hurt.  But when Boaz hears her story, then his heart is warmed.  He learns about a foreign lady who has left her people to help her mother-in-law!  Through this we learn about the kind of person Boaz is, as he is willing to help a foreigner, which was something else that God put in the law.  God’s people were to welcome the foreigner into their land. 

So just as Ruth has gone out of her comfort zone, sticking her neck out for Naomi, Boaz decides to the do the same thing for Ruth!  Even though she is a foreigner and immigrant, he welcomes her and blesses her with loads of food.

Naomi also responds with joy because she has inside information about Boaz.  She knows who he is.  She tells Ruth, “Boaz is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” 

What is Naomi talking about?  What is a Kinsman Redeemer?  Remember the Levirate marriage I mentioned in Part 2?  Widowed girl marries her brother-in-law?  By the time of the era Ruth lives in, it seems that Levirate marriage had expanded to be even more generous than the specific law required.  That’s a good thing. That means the people of Israel got not only the Law, but the heart behind the law.  They got the principle that God was trying to teach them: help those in need!  Just because there wasn’t a brother-in-law available, that didn’t mean the other relatives were off the hook.  Instead, the levirate practice extended outward to other relatives.  Cousins and uncles could be counted upon to care for Naomi and Ruth.  They were kinsman, family, who could redeem or rescue her. 

For Naomi and Ruth, therefore, Boaz, as a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, was one of their kinsman-redeemer. 

At this point we learn that Ruth continues her job with Boaz.  As we continue reading in Ruth chapter 3, the author doesn’t tell us how much time passes.  It is enough time, though, that Naomi seems to have gotten over her bitterness, and she begins to play matchmaker for her daughter-in-law.  Naomi knows that Ruth is young enough to get remarried and start a family, and perhaps Naomi saw romantic sparks fly between Ruth and Boaz. So Naomi concocts a plan.  Get ready.  It might sound bizarre.  …And we’ll learn about the plan in the next post!

An amazing response to tragedy – Characters: Ruth, Part 2

19 Nov

Have you experienced tragedy and loss in your life? How have you responded to it? It’s not easy to respond well to the difficult situations in life. As we continue the story of Ruth, we will see an example of an amazing response to tragedy, a response we would do well to follow.

In our previous post, we met the family of Elimilech and Naomi as they fled famine-stricken Israel to find food in neighboring Moab. There Elimilech and Naomi’s two sons marry women from Moab. In the next ten years, we learn that Elimilech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law in a widowed state.

The book of Ruth, then, begins as a story of three ladies in the midst of great tragedy. Think about it from Naomi’s point of view. She is left in Moab, a country foreign to her. She also lost her husband and her two sons. Imagine the pain.

Some of you know that pain, because you too know what it is like to be a widow or widower. 

We have joked in my family about my wife Michelle being a “widow”… temporarily.  When I was in seminary, she was a “widow” because I was so often gone to class, or off in another room in our house studying.  When I was training for the marathon, she was a marathon widow, because every Saturday morning for 18 weeks I was out for hours on long runs. 

Now I am a Cambodia widower, because her work with Imagine Goods takes her to Cambodia or meetings and events multiple times a year! 

We joke about these kinds of “widows”, but it is nothing like the situation of being a true widow.  You who are widows and widowers know this. You know how hard tragedy and loss can be. You know the feeling of loneliness.

Widows in Ruth and Naomi’s day were at much higher risk than those today.  In the world of the Ancient Near East there was a very real threat that being a widow could mean that you were at risk of being out on the street, homeless, or worse, abused and taken advantage of.  To deal with this, the Lord created laws for his people; caring, loving laws to helps widows. 

In the Old Testament Law, for example, there was a practice called Levirate marriage.  If a man died, leaving behind a widow, his brother was to marry the widow.  Thus she would be cared for, and hopefully she would bear a son, symbolically sustaining the dead man’s line.  It might sound really odd to us, but in that day, it kept them alive, cared for.  This showed God’s heart of love!

In verse 11, we see there is a major problem though.  Naomi has no other sons for her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah!  Naomi remarks, humorously I think, that she herself would have to get married, bear and raise up a new son, and then have that son marry one of her daughter-in-laws. How long would that take? Naomi knows it is a ridiculous proposal. 

In Naomi’s eyes, the best situation for Ruth and Orpah is to stay with their own people, the Moabites.

Orpah agrees and stays.  But Ruth disagrees with her mother-in-law.  Any of you ever disagreed with your mother-in-law?  It can be a risky thing to do!  But Ruth’s is a disagreement of support! 

Look at Ruth chapter 1, verse 16.  In this we see an amazing statement from Ruth.  Though Ruth is in her homeland, once she realizes that Naomi will have to leave Moab and return to Israel, Ruth, with no more formal connection to Naomi, still says “I’m sticking with you.”

Here is what Ruth says, which is so wonderful:

“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.”

With that, Ruth convinces Naomi. Now think about this from Ruth’s perspective: she is a Moabite, traveling into what was, for her, enemy territory in Israel.  Thus she is making an astounding gesture to Naomi.  What is at the heart of her kindness?

Naomi had tried to convince Ruth in verse 15 when she said to Ruth: “Look at Orpah, she is staying in Moab with her family and her gods.” 

Ruth’s response gives us a glimpse into where she was at in her faith: “No, no…may your God be my God.  May the Lord (and here she uses the name of God, Yahweh, capital LORD) deal with me if we separate.”  Ruth is showing that her actions are rooted in her faith in God.  She has come to meet the one true God, knows his name, and is committed to him.  Now she wants to maintain this commitment by leaving her people, where she would have a much greater chance of remarriage, leaving her Moabite gods, and traveling to Israel to be a widow with her mother-in-law.  Amazing, isn’t it?  What a testimony of committed relationship.

It is refreshing to hear about Ruth’s reaction to tragedy.

What tragedy have you encountered in your life? How have you reacted? How can Ruth’s choice inform your future reactions to tragedy?