Naboth’s Vineyard (Part One)

1 Kings 21:1-16

Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors” (21:2-3 NIV).

This is a well-known Bible story, or I ought to say it was when I was young, when parents took their children to Sunday School and read them Bible stories at home. Perhaps you can remember it from their childhood. Its purpose is to present an ongoing question in God’s story: Will people make choices about living for the glory of God and pleasing God rather than to please themselves? Both the main characters had to make this choice.

Life in this present time is filled with suffering (Romans 8:18-27). We do not like to hear this. It is much easier to play to the desire for pleasure that people have and tell people that God wants them to be happy and prosperous now. Such teaching destroys and perverts God’s message as much as teaching salvation by good works.  God speaks to all in the setting of a fallen world, handed over to bondage. And in that situation, evil people do run over the righteous and harm them. God wants us to understand the world in which he works out his glory. Here it is King Ahab’s greed (21:1-2, 4) that will harm a godly man. A powerful and already rich man was about to oppress a common person. In the plan of salvation, God permits evil events. He allows people to commit sins, even monstrous sins. Our view of God and his world must be correct, so that we are not misled with false ideas like “God will bless me and make we happy, healthy, and prosperous, if I have enough faith.” How did this evil event happen? Ahab wanted something that was close to him but that did not belong to him. The desire to have a field was not wrong in itself (cf. Proverbs 31:16), but Ahab desired something that God’s law had forbidden him to have. There can be a very thin line between legitimate desire and greed. When we wrongly want something forbidden that is nearby, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to covet, since the object constantly attracts us. Think of David and Bathsheba, Herod and Herodias, Judas and money.

Ahab continued to covet, even when his offer was refused (21:4). He plainly transgressed the tenth command of the law covenant. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17). To paraphrase Matthew Henry, Paul was content in a prison, but Ahab was discontent in a palace. Contrary to popular opinion, comfortable circumstances cannot produce happiness and satisfaction. Think of Amnon’s illicit desire for his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-4). In an affluent culture, such as the one in which I live, it is too easy to fall into greed. Everything around cries out, “Purchase me, indulge yourself, and you will enjoy comfort!” But the whole world cannot satisfy the human heart.

Grace and peace, David

An Alternative to Start the Year

img_0014Matthew 6:34

Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (HCSB).

A new year is thought to be an opportunity for people to change their lives. Most of us want to lose weight, to simplify our lives, to improve our financial situation, to succeed in our careers, to have better family relationships, to break bad habits, etc. “Resolved, this year I will ____________!” It all sounds plausible. “How hard can it be to lose ten pounds this year? I have twelve months to do it.”

Yes, it sounds doable, if the goal is realistic. Yet, so many fail to change. I suppose a book could be written about the reasons for failure. I will simply say that part of the problem is that our lives are primarily made up of seconds, minutes, and hours. We live in the present, not in the unknown future of “this year”. We might make ambitious goals for a year or even longer, but these have a way of getting consumed in the demands of everyday life. We can want to lose ten pounds or more, but there is the party this weekend and there will be desserts. “I have to be sociable, don’t I?” The choices we make in smaller units of time affect what happens to longer range goals or resolutions.

My point is not to abandon long-term planning. It is to keep it real. In Matthew six, Jesus tells us to have the long-term plan to collect for yourselves treasures in heaven (6:20 HCSB). But he also understood our strong tendency to worry rather than to trust God. The long-term goal too easily becomes consumed by short-term worries about tomorrow, this week, next month, the rest of the year, and so on. This means that I must trust God to supply my needs for today and tomorrow, so that I can get involved in his long-term goal for me today. I cannot suppose, “I will worry today and trust God tomorrow.” I must trust him today about today and tomorrow.

This holds true about the resolutions we make, hopefully godly resolutions. We accomplish them in the events of the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives. For example, it is unrealistic to have the nebulous goal of more fellowship with other believers or outreach to unbelievers this year, and not devote time in our everyday lives for it. We need to choose to trust God with our years and invest time in days in doing what is godly, right, and loving. This is more helpful than making resolutions for a year, supposing that in a year we will get them done.

Grace and peace, David

Where Do You Want to Walk?

img_4274Ephesians 4:1

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received… (HCSB)

Almost every time Sharon and I go for a walk, one of us asks, “Where do you want to walk?” It is a valuable question for friendship. It is good to listen the other’s ideas, moods, and desires. To teach the Christian way of life to his readers, Paul often used the metaphor “walk”. As we live in friendship with the Lord, we ought to listen to his preferences about the places where he wants to walk with us. Every follower of Christ knows that we make rather poor choices about where to walk. Because of his greatness, holiness, and wisdom and our deficiencies in these qualities, we need to listen to his good choices about where we should walk.

As we approach the year 2017, it is worthwhile to ponder where we must walk to please the Lord. In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle presents much of his ethical teaching through this illustration. Let’s glance at the “trail map” to find out where the Lord wants us to walk in him and through him and by him.

  • Walk worthy of your calling (4:1). The first trail leads up to a lofty place, the calling to hope (confident expectation) of our glorious inheritance (1:18). Our Lord wants us to walk near to heaven, confident and our eyes set on the prize. We should aspire for eternal glory. When you read the Gospels attentively, you will discover the importance of this idea in the teachings of our Lord.
  • Walk no longer as the nations walk (4:17). The second trail leads away from where the peoples of the nations of this world like to walk. It seems a poor choice to them, but those in the Messiah know that their trails are destructive and futile (4:17-19). To walk with the Lord Jesus requires that we deliberately turn from the paths of the nations.
  • Walk in love (5:2). The third trail leads to the imitation of God. It is the trail of love, of setting your affections on God and others, so that you give yourself sacrificially for their good. To walk this trail is costly to self-love; for that reason, it is despised. Think and feel the description of love’s actions (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 HCSB): Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The only way to love this way is to pick up your cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34).
  • Walk as children of light (5:8). Light involves knowing the truth and acting the truth. As we genuinely shine for the Lord, we will expose the evil in others. Yet, we will also produce the pleasant-to-the-Lord fruit of goodness, righteousness, and truth. There is also the pleasant by-product of being unashamed.
  • Walk as wise, not as unwise (5:15). Wisdom is skill in godly wisdom. It is knowing how to practice the truth in fellowship with the truth. This necessitates being filled with the Spirit.

The practical question for each of us is “This coming year, do I want to walk where the Lord wants me to walk?” There really is no value, in fact, it is harmful, to continue to make our poor choices where we are not walking with the Lord. Sit down with the “trail map”, alone and with some friends, and think through the places that the Lord wants to go with us. Choose his paths in 2017.

Grace and peace, David

Road Closed

img_19572 Chronicles 18:8-27

Recently, we have encountered many “road closed” signs in our area. If we’re honest, we all feel ambivalent about these signs. On the one hand, we want the roads we travel to be in good repair. Admittedly, we even complain when they are not! On the other hand, a closed road can be an inconvenience, at times involving frustrating, time-consuming detours. And so we complain about the detours. Recently, the road we live off of was being repaired, which sent us onto detours. I reminded myself that I had very much desired to have the road fixed. The potholes had to go!

God our Father can wisely put “road closed” signs in our paths to develop godly character in us and/or to prevent sinful activity by us. He metaphorically puts roadblocks in our ways in order to help us to live with his ways and to speak with his tone. So, the Lord gave a final warning to both kings, Jehoshaphat and Ahab.

Micaiah the prophet entered an unpleasant situation with the deck stacked against him (18:9-15). God calls his people to walk through fiery trials, but praise his name, he walks through them with us (Isaiah 43:2-3). When nobody likes you, you might be in the exact place the Lord wants you to be for his glory.

  • Micaiah entered a situation where the kings were dressed in royal splendor rather than in sackcloth. This was intimidating.
  • Micaiah entered a situation where four hundred other prophets were saying what Ahab and Jehoshaphat wanted to hear. They even used drama! Zedekiah played his line skillfully, running around with iron horns.
  • Micaiah entered a situation where he was advised to agree with the false prophets. He was being pressured to say what the kings wanted to hear. People like to tell preachers what to say! Watch out that you don’t destroy your soul by seeking those who will tell you what you want to hear. You might hear lies from the pit of hell!
  • Micaiah spoke sarcastically in that situation, and Ahab could tell that it was not the truth. Do you see this? Both Micaiah and Ahab knew that it was sarcastic. Micaiah could only speak the message of the Lord (18:13).

My friends, be aware that unbelievers will try to gang up on you. But keep a firm hold on the word of the Lord.

Micaiah responded with two prophetic messages (18:16-27). The first pronounced doom on Ahab; if he went to war at Ramoth Gilead, he would surely die there. Notice that Ahab did not repent because of this message; he merely complained. Having “roast preacher” for Sunday dinner can be fatal; we’re not a good meal.

The second explained why the four hundred prophets were giving their message. The Lord had sent a lying spirit to entice Ahab to destruction. Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). His lies are easy to listen to. But the devil pats you on the back with a knife in his hand. Satan says, “Don’t listen to that crazy preacher! He doesn’t want you to have fun, because he doesn’t like you. Listen to me; I want you to succeed; really, I do. In fact, I want you to be like God. Go ahead; prove yourself. Make your own choices! Show everyone that you’re a man (or woman). You don’t need to listen to God. Go ahead; reach for the stars! You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. You can have anything you want! Visualize it and its yours. Take the fruit off that tree. You won’t really die.”

Now surely, Jehoshaphat listened to the Lord and abandoned his alliance with Ahab, right? He had heard the word from the Lord that he claimed to long for! So then he would listen to it, believe and obey, wouldn’t he? My brothers and sisters, this is where we should weep! If it were only so simple: share God’s word and people will change. Absolutely not! Apart from grace, no sinner, saved or unsaved, is able to change. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing!”

God brought the consequences (18:28-34). You can choose unbelief and disobedience, but you cannot choose the consequences of your choice. God controls consequences. The Lord rescued Jehoshaphat, though he permitted him to suffer the scare of his life. When Jehoshaphat chose to go into battle, he found himself in deadly peril. He only escaped with his life, because the Lord helped him and drew the enemy away. But the Lord refused to help Ahab. Someone drew his bow at random, but God’s judgment guided the arrow to its fatal mark.

Do not play games with God! He will always win and you will always lose. Listen to the word of the Lord. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7). And remember: wrong desires wreak havoc, with our character and our lives.

Grace and peace, David

Boaz Acts on His Promise

IMG_1021Ruth 4:1-12

What means more to us—people or possessions? Oh, I know what we’re supposed to say – “people”. Yes, we all do quite well in theory. We give the proper answer and congratulate ourselves on our knowledge. However, life isn’t about theory. Life concerns practice; it demands hard, costly choices that stretch us and our faith. When an unnamed law expert heard the story we call the parable of the Good Samaritan, he was able to give the right answer! But Christ did not commend him for having such keen theoretical knowledge. He pointed him to a new practical way of life that would demand faith and love. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). In the same way, the story of Ruth is about costly love, and in the start of the fourth chapter of Ruth, we see two men confronted with the need for costly, redeeming love. Let us listen, not to learn more facts, but to live by faith in Christ.

Boaz set up the process for redemption (4:1-2). As he did what he promised to do, God assisted Boaz by his providence. Boaz went to the right place to be able to function as the redeemer. The city gate was where legal matters were transacted. Boaz needed to be there to be able to redeem Ruth. God wants us to be in places to fulfill his will. For example, Christ has sent us “into the world” (John 17:18). We will not reach the world by keeping our distance from people that are part of it. We must always carry Christ’s missional perspective with us, wherever we may go. In our passage, the Hebrew text carries the idea of surprise. Boaz waited at the gate, “and just then” the other kinsman redeemer walked by. Yes, this was a small providence, but the Lord often helps his people in little ways as they do his will. Do what you’re supposed to do (the commands that Christ has given to his people in the New Testament Scriptures). Then wait on the Lord for his help in the details.

Boaz made sure all was done legally. He invited the other man to talk with him. “My friend” is too generous a translation. Better is “Mr. So and So.” The Holy Spirit does not name the man, though Boaz surely knew who he was. The significance of this will become clearer in the rest of the chapter. But the phrase used is not complimentary. Think of how you can refer to someone as “so and so” either not to reveal their identity or to imply that he or she is a “mean old so and so.” Boaz got ten of the elders of Bethlehem to function as legal witnesses for this discussion. Their job was to make sure that all was done in a legal manner and to testify to the result, if that would prove necessary. Jesus relied on witnesses about his saving work: the Father (John 8:12-18), John the Baptist (John 1:29-34), and the apostles (Acts 1:8). Our ongoing mission is to be a witness for Jesus.

Next, Boaz negotiated with the other kinsman-redeemer. From the manner in which he presented the matter, we find out that Boaz was a clever or shrewd businessman. Boaz presented the need to act as a kinsman redeemer (4:3-4). He told his relative about the land that Naomi wanted to sell. Clearly, she had the right to do this, since none of the elders objected (cf. Leviticus 25:8-28). She needed to sell the land to support both Ruth and her. This probably looked like an excellent real estate deal, since Elimelech and his sons had not left any heirs. If he purchased it, at the year of Jubilee, it would permanently become his, since he was the closest relative. The unnamed relative jumped at the deal. He could look good in town by helping out Naomi and keeping the property in the clan, which meant much to the people of Israel. And when Naomi was gone, the property would be his, since she was past childbearing. Do you catch the suspense of the story at this point? It seemed that Ruth would not be able to marry Boaz and that the family of Elimelech might disappear from Israel. Will the story end in this sad way?

The greater subject is the accomplishment of God’s plan, which involves Ruth and Boaz. All seems to hang on the choice of “Mr. So and So”. What did this unnamed man value more – people or possessions. Did he care enough about Naomi to do all that was necessary to redeem her? It would require costly love, sacrificial love.

You and I will not reach people with the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ unless God’s kind of love motivates us. It requires turning from the enjoyment of our possessions to the good of other people. It is too easy to disguise our love of possessions with the excuse of “I’m too tired” (or stressed or busy) to avoid getting involved with people who need the Lord. Examine yourself. Which do you actually love more: people or possessions?

Grace and peace, David

Naomi’s Bitter Words

Ruth 1:20-21

Naomi became the wet blanket at her homecoming. She returned their joyful welcome with a downer. IMG_0855This was not a “pleasant” scene. Yes, I can understand the emotions that were undoubtedly swelling in her heart when she walked into town. The memories of her exit with her husband and two sons would rush back. She had a full family and the prospect of a full, prosperous life in Moab. But now she was very empty, and it smacked her hard. Naomi was not a cardboard cut-out doll. She was a woman with deep feelings. And her misguided feelings ruled the hour!

What was Naomi up to? Let’s begin with this. Naomi overvalued her circumstances and undervalued God and a person, Ruth. Naomi misevaluated God’s actions, and underestimated the value of her daughter-in-law. We often misinterpret what God has placed in our lives. It is rather easy to brood about our troubles and to ignore people that God has given us. In addition, Naomi did not even sense that her true treasure was the Lord, but she focused on him as the one making her life bitter. Naomi looked at the Lord as a witness against her in a court of law (1:21), even as she returned to the Lord and his people.

Is this not how you and I act? We are flawed in every area, including our faith and repentance. God, the object of saving repentance and faith, justifies us by grace and not by the purity of our actions. Listen to the message of grace: Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).

Naomi suddenly decided to change her name. “I can’t stand to be called ‘Pleasant’ one more time! This is going to change right now! Yes, I’m back, but I’m not ‘Pleasant’; I’m ‘Bitter’!” Ouch, Naomi is like a woman that Anne of Green Gables described this way: “all prickles and stings”. Oh my friend, please let me ask you this. Do you sense a “Naomi attitude” in your heart? Is there a simmering pot of bitterness on the stove in your mind? Are you just waiting for the opportunity to give anyone who will listen to an earful of your bitterness?

Naomi told her story from her point of view. But she told a confused story, though a law covenant daughter of Abraham, returning to God. Yet she blamed the Lord instead of blessed him. She used two names for God, Shaddai and Yahweh, in a chiastic manner: Shaddai, Yahweh, and then Yahweh and Shaddai. Yahweh, as we have seen, means, “I am who I am”. But what is the meaning and significance of Shaddai? It seems that Shaddai means “Almighty”, though this cannot be proved beyond question. The significance of this name for God is clearer in the OTS. It speaks of God’s rule over the universe (Psalm 68:14; Job 42:2). As he rules over all things, Shaddai dispenses blessings (Genesis 17:1; 35:11; Psalm 91:1-2), but he also maintains justice (Job 24:1; 27:2) and people appeal to him for justice (Job 13:3; 31:35). This also means that Shaddai executes judgment (Job 27:14-23; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 10:5, 18; Joel 1:15). It is in this sense that Naomi now viewed her covenant Lord. She was thinking of Shaddai as Job did (Job 6:4; 27:2).

Naomi rightly saw God in control of human life. She refused to look at “second causes”. She left Bethlehem full, but Yahweh brought her back empty. Notice how she puts this! She did not simply return, but the Lord brought her back. She did not lose her husband and sons because of chance, disease or some other calamity, but God emptied her arms of her family. She was upset with the Lord and what he had done, but she still acknowledged his control over her life. Yes, this is a tough path to walk.

Someone might ask, “How can you trust a God like that?” To which I reply, “How can you trust a god who isn’t in control? Why bother to trust a weakling that fate or sinful people can frustrate?” In addition, we must remember that sovereign power is not the only characteristic of the true God. He is also holy, wise, all-knowing, everywhere-present, eternal, unchangeable, good, merciful, patient and love. Before you complain about his will, I advise you to read about what he has told us his will is for all who trust him. Naomi’s serious problem is that she evaluated God on the basis of how she felt about her current circumstances. Do you commit the same error? When you’re enjoying a week at the shore, do you sing, “God is so good, he’s so good to me?” But what song do you sing when your car breaks down, you’re in physical pain, you feel no one cares, there’s trouble in your family, the bill collectors are calling, and the “wrong” candidate will the fall election? Where did God ever promise to work out everything according to the purpose of your ill-considered, short-sighted, self-serving, sinful will? The answer is not to deny that God is sovereign. Neither is the answer to deny that he is holy, wise and good.

I learn a couple truths from this text. One is the shocking kindness and compassion of God in putting up with this kind of talk from his people, who act like spoiled brats. I discover that his mercy is always new, even when I lose control and talk like Naomi. Do you? We all should shut up, get down on our knees, and confess our arrogant pride that we have dared to contend with the Almighty (Job 40:1-2). Another is that we need to wait and see what God is doing. We are so anxious about our story! We want heaven now. But God is writing another story, the story of his glory, in the pages of our lives. Faith is the confidence that God’s story will be wonderful.

If you could choose, which words would you prefer to be remembered for speaking? Would you choose Ruth’s words (1:16-17) or Naomi’s (1:20-21)? Read both about ten times, think about them for ten hours, and then evaluate which one you sound like as you tell the story of your life, even if it is only to your closest friends.

Grace and peace, David

Lessons from Ruth’s Conversion

IMG_0855Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth had chosen to follow the Lord, instead of making the choice for her former gods, as her sister-in-law had. Along with that choice came other immediate consequences that produced a new identity for her. Ruth knew this and was ready to accept it, though she could not realize the dramatic changes would follow. It is only when we begin to experience the reality of following the Lord that we start to understand the radical, new life that results from being part of the family of God.

When we become a believer in the true and living God, the way we look at ourselves changes. As a believer who lived before Christ’s death and resurrection, Ruth became part of the old covenant nation of Israel. She was joined to Yahweh and his people. This meant that she would from that time on live as one of the Lord’s people, keeping the law’s commands and regulations. What she ate, how she dressed, her thoughts, attitudes, words and actions were now within the boundaries of old covenant life. For example, she could longer have a ham sandwich for lunch! She had to keep the Sabbath. She had to keep the laws of ritual cleanliness. Yes, even the basic desire of her heart had to change.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As new covenant people, we become part of Christ’s body or church (assembly or gathering). We are united to Christ by faith. Everything in our way of life must change. When we wake up every morning, we must remember we are in Christ and part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have a new mission statement and a way of life that agrees with it (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:1-4:1; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; etc.)

With this union with Christ to God the Father’s family, we gain a new passion for life. We stop wandering aimlessly through life and begin to live for the kingdom of God. Ruth’s passion showed up in the strong promise and oath she made (1:17), probably made with a fitting gesture, such as slashing one’s throat. (Remember that when people speak with emotion, we tend to use gestures!) She was very willing to join the people of God and to worship the true and living God the rest of her life.

True Christianity involves living with passion for the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The good news has forever changed us, and we want others to hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! And so we gladly make sacrifices of wealth, health, leisure, honor, and perhaps even our lives for the Lord Christ.

Our daughter Sarah once attended at a meeting for managers, where the founder of the company told the story of the start of that company and the sacrifices many had made to launch it. Christ’s church grows in the same way. People make sacrifices for the benefit of others and to extend the spread of the good news. Are you passionate about what the mission of the church, the new covenant people? Are you glad that you’re part of the people that follow Jesus Christ?

Our hardships can become the doorway to faith in the Lord for others. What must have Naomi been thinking as she listened to Ruth’s confession of faith? We are not told! The writer allows us to ponder the scene in solitude. In any case, to the praise of God’s glory, all of Naomi’s complaints failed to have a detrimental influence on Ruth. But clearly, Naomi was not filled with joy at the moment, as this “pest” of a daughter-in-law walked by her side, because Naomi’s words were filled with her bitterness when she arrived in Bethlehem. However, God has told us the rest of the story that neither Naomi nor Ruth knew at that moment. God wants us to share his smile, as his sovereign grace as provided a kind, loving, believing sister-in-the-Lord to walk beside struggling Naomi. For at that time, the story of God’s glory was very much wrapped up in Ruth, and through her, Naomi’s life is about to change from bitter sorrow to sweet joy.

My friend, why not trade in your bitterness, sorrows, frustration, disappointment, and anger for the opportunity to serve the Lord with gladness, because he delights in joy and offers to share joy with you? Life is short. Don’t waste your life being peeved and pouting.

Think on the words of the last stanza of “The Master Has Called Us” by Sarah Doudney, 1871.

“The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.”

Grace and peace, David

Ruth’s Surprising Conversion

IMG_1100Ruth 1:16-18

Last time we saw that Naomi’s words forced Ruth and Orpah to face the real consequences that their intended return to Israel could lead to. Naomi painted her situation in bleak terms; there was no hope of her providing husbands for them, which was very important in the ancient world. In addition, Naomi said that God was strongly against her. As Orpah heard all this, she made the sensible, but ungodly choice of returning to Moab and forfeited the spiritual blessings that could have been hers. Ruth, however, made the godly and kind choice by deciding to stay with Naomi. But Naomi did not seem pleased with Ruth’s choice. Now what will Ruth do?

In this section, we hear Ruth speak for the first time, and her words are majestic and poetic. Naomi had been telling Ruth to return to Moab. Ruth responded with a command of her own. She told Naomi to stop pressuring her to leave her. Ruth had become a believer in the true and living God, and she wanted Naomi to realize that great change.

What were the basic parts of Ruth’s conversion?

First, Yahweh (the Lord), the true and living God, became her God. Ruth words referred back to God’s promise that forms the basis of his covenant with his people (Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 6:6-7; Leviticus 26:12; cf. Jeremiah 11:4). When God is your God, he is your boss, your rescuer, your provider, and your confident expectation. You trust and depend on God alone. You acknowledge God’s right to direct the world and your life in conformity with his goals and purposes (Job 2:10). Ruth’s confession showed that she had the same spirit of faith that Abraham had, and in some ways, hers was more remarkable. She left her native land for the Promised Land, but without any promise of land or assurance of God’s blessing that led Abraham out. She went to Israel without spouse or possessions or servants (which Abraham had) toward an unclear future as a widow in a foreign land with another widow. What was the core of Ruth’s faith? She had tasted and seen that the Lord is good; she knew that a person is blessed if he or she takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8). She delighted in the Lord, not in his gifts.

Second, Yahweh’s people became her people. Ruth changed her “people group” from Moabite to Israelite. When you trust God, you become part of his people. It’s a package deal (cf. 1 John 4:7-8). In Ruth’s day, God’s people were Israel; in our day, it’s the church, Christ’s new assembly, his body and his bride. So Ruth threw in her lot with people whom her native people had formerly opposed. This has happened throughout history when anyone puts his or her faith in the true God. That might turn your former people against you. Depending on the time period, you could be called such hated names as Christian, Anabaptist, Reformed, fanatic, schismatic, Holy Roller, Bible thumper, fundamentalist, born again, etc. You see, people hate real change—a change of worldview and way of life—and so they despise anyone who stands for real change. Ruth had to “count the cost”. She faced an uncertain future as a widow with no apparent way of support among a people that she did not know. She is an example of the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 8:21; 10:37; 19:29).

Too often, God’s people prove to be a disappointment. Some witty Christian put it this way. “To live above, with saints in love, that will indeed by glory! But to live below, with some saints I know—well, that’s a different story!” Or as another wrote more seriously, “So too we may often find the Lord’s people to be a disappointing bunch, exhibiting fewer of the fruits of the Spirit than we would like… Yet flawed as the people of God are, if the Lord is to be our God then his people must be our people, too” (Duguid). When you hang around any true Christian long enough, you are going to see the sad, disgusting work of remaining sin (the flesh), as well as the better fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Yahweh’s promises became her hope. It is easy to pass over Ruth’s reference to burial, until we remember burial customs of that time. (Consider the burial customs of the patriarchs in Genesis.) People were buried with their people, in whatever hope they had of an afterlife. “Given the intimate connection between land and deity in the ancient Near East, and the importance of proper burial for a restful afterlife, this was the ultimate commitment in the ancient world” (Duguid). So then, Ruth cut all ties with her past, including death and burial. She illustrates the kind of commitment Christ requires of his followers (Luke 9:57-62).

In summary, Ruth’s conversion touched all the dimensions of her life: in regard to geography, all locations; in chronology, from the present to the future; in theology, from idols to the living God; and in genealogy, from the Moabites to the Israelites. She committed herself to a new way of life. Though Ruth did not know it, her conversion would result in her becoming part of the line of David and of Jesus Christ. Her conversion was part of a much bigger story than her own.

Grace and peace, David

Two Choices Contrasted

IMG_1105Ruth 1:14-15

Two young women had to make a choice one day, a choice that affected their eternal destiny. Orpah made the sensible choice according to the wisdom of this world and turned back to Moab. Naomi’s arguments convinced Orpah. In Moab there was hope for a new life with a new husband, and probably children to love and care for. Wanting a husband and children is very normal and a good, God-given desire for women. But there is more to see in her situation than that! Orpah saw two alternatives: (Ferguson)

  • Yahweh plus nothing in Bethlehem
  • Everything minus Yahweh in Moab

And so, Orpah made her choice according to human sight and opinion. Orpah looked at her situation in life in exactly the same way that Elimelech had used earlier. The fields of Moab looked greener than the land of Israel, at least from the standpoint of marriage and family. And so with a sensible choice, she walked off the pages of the Bible and into the oblivion of countless others. The living God was missing from all her sensible calculations. “She rejected the road to emptiness, but at the same time unknowingly turned aside from the one road that could have led to a life of lasting significance and meaning. The world’s wise choice to avoid emptiness leads in the end to a different kind of oblivion.” [Duguid]

Someone might object, “Poor Orpah, she didn’t know what God could do!” I’m sorry; that is simply not true. She had only to look at creation to tell her about the God who is there (cf. Romans 1:18-25). But not only is that so, but she had also heard a good word of testimony about the living God. Don’t forget the message of verse six, which is the reason Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah decided to return to Israel! My friend, God is under no obligation to give you overwhelming testimony of his love and kindness. If you only hear once of how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed the life of one of his people, you have a treasure that millions never received. Don’t play games with the goodness of God to you!

Ruth made the godly choice and clung to Naomi. The Holy Spirit choose a word (“clung”) that he used other places in the Old Testament Scriptures to indicate a deep, personal relationship (Genesis 2:24; Deuteronomy 10:20). God then used the words of troubled Naomi to test Ruth’s faith; that is, to draw out from Ruth the reality of her trust in God. God uses this way in the lives of his people (cf. Abraham, Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17).

  • Naomi’s words revealed the true nature of Orpah’s choice. By leaving Naomi, she was “going back to her people and her gods”. Orpah might have made the “sensible choice” in the world’s opinion, but it was also an ungodly, unkind choice! Why unkind? It was unkind because she left her mother-in-law, who could have used her help.
  • Naomi urged Ruth to go back with Orpah. This is not the preferred way to try to win people to the Lord! But it tested the reality of Ruth’s faith.

What would Ruth do? Her peer in the world said by example, “There’s no hope in the Lord! Let’s grab what we can of the good life now.” And her only friend in God’s people told her “to go back to the world, because the Lord’s hand might make your life as bitter as mine!” But more importantly for those reading this article, what will you do? Will you follow the Lord Jesus Christ, if all you can be sure of in this life is suffering? Will you trust Christ that eternal glory will far outweigh all that you might suffer in this world? Please, please let the challenge of Christ ring in your heart!  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38).

Grace and peace, David

The Tragic Outcome of the Uncertain Journey

IMG_1017Ruth 1:3-5

We again look at a small family, who left the Promised Land of God’s old covenant people to seek an easier life. It wasn’t a far departure, but it was unnecessary and away from the people and worship of the true and living God. (Remember that under the old covenant, worship of God was closely connected with the place God had chosen for the tabernacle or temple.) What happened to that family?

First, Elimelech died. We must be cautious here, because the Holy Spirit does not say that his death was due to being in Moab or because he failed to return to the Promised Land. Physical suffering and death may come for a variety of reasons. You can be living for God’s glory and still suffer or die. But for Naomi, this was a great tragedy, regardless of its cause. For a woman in ancient times, like Naomi, the death of her husband had serious financial consequences. Most women had no job they could fall back on, and there was no insurance or social security or welfare system. A widow basically had three options: to return to her parent’s home (if she could), to beg, or to become a prostitute. In addition, Naomi and her sons are resident aliens, away from family and the people of God. All that Naomi can depend on, in a worldly sense, is support from her two sons.

Second, Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. This is to be expected in the circumstances. Young people tend to make friends and fall in love with available companions of the opposite sex. If there are not godly people available, they will be guided by mere physical and emotional attraction. Marriage to anyone from a Canaanite people group was forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Although Moabites were not Canaanites, the Lord restricted them from entering the congregation of his people, even for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Later in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, intermarriage with Moabites was considered to be a cause of guilt before the Lord (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-3). The Lord wanted his people separate from those who worshiped idols.  How much influence Naomi had over her sons at this point is unclear. Please do not blame either parents or children for the choices that the other generation makes! Parents and children are alike responsible to God for their choices. And do not expect God to bail you out of unwise marital choices! For every Ruth, there is also an Orpah. Now Naomi has to deal with the complications of having Moabite daughters-in-law. Seemingly, they got along well, and everything appears to be viable for Naomi.

Third, Naomi’s sons die by the time they had been in Moab for ten years. Again, the text does not say that her sons were being punished for sin. But it is a reminder that death can strike younger adults. Two of my best friends died around the age of thirty. Seek the Lord while you are young! Now Naomi is left without any provision in a foreign country. Picture her grief and fear as she stands beside three graves. Her hopelessness is accentuated in the story by not mentioning her name. In the Hebrew text (cf. ESV, NASV), she is now simply “the woman”; she has lost her family and with it her identity.

What hope was there for Naomi at this point? Was there any? She was living as a resident alien among an ungodly people and without the protection that God and his law covenant provided for the widow. Had this rushing river of tragedy proved that God has abandoned her? Before you rush to give a “spiritual sounding answer”, please stop and feel the horror of her situation! The Bible seems too good to some people, because they fail to read it as a story of real life. However, the story is filled with many stories of suffering and hardship for even the best of believers. Stop and read thoughtfully. Yet, the good news is that God calls wandering people back to him, regardless of the reasons and ways of their wandering. If you feel “alone in Moab” like Naomi, God welcomes you back home through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He says, “Come home! Find friendship and joy with me and my people!” This good news can be yours today. Don’t let pride hinder you. Return to the true and living God today.

Grace and peace, David