Study of Psalm 131 (Part Two)

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me (131:1 CSB).

We continue to examine the attitude of childlike trust set forth in this verse.

When David says that both heart and eyes are not proud or haughty, he is not saying that both the inner and outer man are humble. “Haughty eyes” is an idiom for a proud attitude (Psalm 18:27; Proverbs 6:17; 21:4; Isaiah 10:12), though certainly pride does show itself in the eyes (Isaiah 2:11; 5:15; Psalm 101:5). The way to change from pride to humility is to gain a better, richer acquaintance of the majesty of God and the Lord’s evaluation of our sinfulness. The Psalms have much to say on both topics. Read a psalm the way you would look at beautiful scenery. You would not take a brief glance and move on. You would allow your soul to “drink in” the view. You would want to share it with those you love. You would take photos of it, so that you could remember the view. On the other hand, no normal person likes to look long at ugliness and oppression and suffering. But there are times we must. Allow the Psalms to grip your heart in both directions, and humility will be the outcome the Holy Spirit produces.

I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me. The word for “get involved” (“exercise” in the KJV and “concern” NIV) is the word “walk”. This verb is “the verb most frequently employed to describe the act or process of living” (Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis). David is talking about his habitual way of life. Matters that are too difficult (Deuteronomy 17:8) or too amazing (Proverbs 30:18) for him to comprehend, he allows to be resolved by God.

We need to recognize that life is filled with complex situations. We are tempted to try to explain God’s providence, in order that we can rest. Religious people want to know why such a horrible event has occurred. A childlike trust demands that we stop trying and allow God to “tie up the loose ends”.

The text is not saying to avoid life’s challenges, but to submit one’s view of them to God’s revelation. An important verse is Deuteronomy 29:29. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (NIV). We must follow two guiding principles:

  • Strive to know all that God has revealed in the Scriptures. This requires time and work. It is more than quick “devotional” Bible reading. Racing through the Bible on a reading plan will not allow you to stop and ponder. But to make progress you must do this.
  • Stay away from demands to know what God has not revealed. This includes both theological issues and the interpretation of life’s events. Who can perfectly say “I know for certain that this is why that happened”? One event may be used by God to accomplish many purposes. Stop with what God says. If the Lord wanted us to know more about some people and events recorded in the Bible, he would have told us.

Our “theological boxes” must be as big as the infinite God, or he will break them apart every time we try to put him and his providence in the box we have carefully constructed. We must learn to say, “I don’t know, but I know God knows what he is doing” (cf. Romans 8:28-30).

Consider chess problems: “White to move and checkmate in 2 moves”. Many strange moves are the “key” to the problem. When the key move is made by White, no matter how Black replies, Black will be checkmated by White’s next move. We must calmly watch God make his “strange moves” that are the key to glorifying his name. He is the great Master of the world. Stand back and watch what grace and judgments he will bring forth through Covid-19.

Grace and peace,

Study of Psalm 131 (Part One)

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me (131:1 CSB)

Psalm 131 is a short, little-known song of David. Some dispute that he wrote it (some dispute everything!), but there is nothing to indicate that he was not the author. In fact, what we know of David, the man after God’s heart, agrees well with this writing. Consider his attitude in 2 Samuel 6:20-22. He was very willing to humble himself before the Lord, even if others might despise him. “In general David is the model of the state of mind which the poet expresses here. He did not push himself forward, but suffered himself to be drawn forth out of seclusion. He did not take possession of the throne violently; but after Samuel has anointed him, he willingly and patiently traverses the long, thorny, circuitous way of deep abasement, until he receives from God’s hand that which God’s promise had assured to him. The persecution by Saul lasted about ten years, and his kingship in Hebron, at first only incipient, seven years and a half. He left it entirely to God to remove Saul and Ishbosheth. He let Shimei curse. He left Jerusalem before Absalom. Submission to God’s guidance, resignation to his dispensations, contentment with what was allotted to him, are the distinguishing traits of his noble character.” (Delitzsch)

The psalm is a song about childlike trust and humility before God. A practical use of it would be to teach this godly virtue (like there are songs for children about the fruit of the Spirit). The New Testament Scriptures teach this same attitude in passages like Matthew 18:3; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5. (Also read Lloyd-Jones’ sermon “The Approach to the Gospel” in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, pp. 33-43.)

What kind of trust does God expect his people to demonstrate in perplexing situations? Are you in a perplexing situation now? Are you becoming anxious or frustrated?

This psalm outlines easily:

  • The attitude of childlike trust (131:1)
  • The action of childlike trust (131:2)
  • The invitation to childlike trust (131:3)

The psalm begins with the stance we must take before the living God. David says that we must put off an attitude of being “big” enough to handle life on our own. We must not say that we are able to start from ourselves and understand or that we can unravel life’s mysteries. David immediately directs us to a different kind of approach to God, which, when you think on it, shows the true meaning of trusting God. It is to bow before God and say, “You speak, you explain, and I will listen.”

The text, then, deals with a common human attitude. We want to search, to investigate, and to analyze starting from ourselves. But to start that way is not to trust God, but it is to think ourselves capable of understanding life and the world apart from God. The way of faith is to bow before the Lord and say, “Lord, I need your help. I need you to teach me.” Most people are unwilling to so humble themselves before God.

Here is an amazing profession in prayer before the living God! “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty….” We want to ask, “How can you say that, David?” Is not that statement itself some underhanded way of expressing pride? Cf. Luke 18:11-12.

  • We must remember that David is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who both knew David’s heart and wanted him to write this. We know from the Scriptures that David had to struggle with pride as the rest of us do. (Read 2 Samuel 24.) But that is not the point of the psalm. It is presenting the general attitude that trust must have, especially in relation to the mind.
  • Notice that David is speaking to God — “O LORD” — and not to people. So, he is not trying to exalt himself before people. It is the saint speaking to his God. But how can we make this kind of statement before the Holy and All-knowing God? We can do it only by the Spirit, as he searches and examines our hearts.

Too often, any of us can have a “know-it-all” attitude. We might despise this when we encounter it in others, but we can be blind to our own pride. Lord, help us learn from this psalm! How refreshing it would be to hear a whole congregation of believers singing this psalm from the core of their hearts!

Grace and peace,

Developing a Gospel Attitude (Part One)

Luke 9:46-56

An argument started among them about who was the greatest of them. But Jesus, knowing their inner thoughts, took a little child and had him stand next to him. He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. For whoever is least among you—this one is great” (9:46-48 CSB).

In recent posts, we have read of Jesus’s transfiguration, in which something of his divine glory was revealed to Peter, James, and John. Following that picture of his majesty, they went down the mountain to rejoin the other apostles. There they encountered human misery. What a contrast! It remains true at this moment. God is seated in his glorious majesty over all, and we live in the misery of sin, suffering, and death. Do not blame God; we humans have brought and continue to bring this on ourselves by our rebellion against God. If you understand, weep over people without God and without hope in this world.

We come now to a practical test that followed Christ’s instruction. Sadly, what the apostles learned was not changing how they thought and acted. Their attitudes needed to be reworked. In this section (9:46-56), we will consider three hindrances to a gospel attitude and what should we do about them.

The first hindrance is pride (9:46-48).

The apostles exhibited an incredible circumstance of idolatrous zeal. Their behavior was way out of line. Who would think that grown men would act like this? Did you ever collect milk weed pods when you were a kid? It was lots of fun, right? My wife and I have done it with our granddaughter. To watch her joy was a pleasure. Do any of you adults long to do it again without children around? You put away that childish activity and many more. You don’t say to your adult friends, “Let’s go find some milk weed pods, break them open, and watch their seeds scatter!” Followers of Christ should have a holy disinterest in pride. “That was part of our old way of life! We don’t want to do that any longer.”

Christ’s perception of the apostles was correct. He knew their thoughts. He knows our thoughts. The Lord knows when we fail to humble ourselves before God and others. He sees our self-reliance in our abilities; he knows our arrogant opinions, when we refuse to submit to the teaching of God’s word (cf. Psalm 139:1-6).

Jesus provided a searching illustration. Here it was like an object lesson. He didn’t tell a story this time. He welcomed a little child. That child, and every child, has eternal significance. Made in God’s image, he or she will exist somewhere forever. Jesus loves children. Woe to those who do not!

The significance of the child in this example is not in his personal humility but in the child’s relative insignificance to people, especially in the opinion of adult men. Jesus did not tell them to have the child’s attitude but to accept the child’s place. They were focused on who had the best credentials. The boy had no claim to fame in their eyes. He had no proud position. People not absorbed with the child’s greatness. Were those disciples willing to be insignificant?

However, we must not stop with humility. If we do, we are still focused on self. It is possible to read this passage and come out of it as a moralist instead of a Christian. Listen carefully to Jesus’ emphasis (9:48). Do we welcome even children in Jesus’ name? Or do we ignore them?

The important fact is to view the child in relation to Jesus. Would they be content to serve the child for Christ’s sake? Would they welcome him in the name of the Lord? To do so is to extend a welcome to Jesus. But to pass by a child in a quest for greatness is to miss an opportunity to honor the Lord!

Joined with this truth is the relation of Jesus to God the Father, the one who sent Jesus. If you welcome Jesus, you also welcome the living God. Christ is leading them to focus on the significance of the One that they confessed to be the Christ of God.

 Whatever temporary lesson the disciples may have learned is obscured by John’s statement in the next verse. But however they benefited, we are wise to ask ourselves, “Do we get the point?”

Ask yourself sometime today, “How much do I really care about children? Do I view them as unimportant, especially compared to how great ‘we adults’ are? How much am I doing to bring children into a saving relationship with Jesus? Do I pray for them? Am I stirred to have compassion on them?”

Grace and peace

Bragging or Praying? (Part Two)

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get” (18:11-12 CSB).

A person that lacks true humility is not truly right with God. Yes, he or she might be very religious, but that is different from being right with God (18:9, 14). Consider God’s desire. For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed (Isaiah 57:15 CSB). Contrast this with 1 Peter 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV, my emphasis).

People should evaluate themselves properly. We need to ask, “How does God view me? What is my true position before him?” To help, let’s look at the Pharisee’s mistake. He compared himself with sinners worse than he assumed he was. He did not compare himself with Samuel or Daniel or Noah. Worse, he did not compare himself with God, like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) and Peter (Luke 5:8) did. He failed to consider that God is completely holy and righteous. The core issue is that the saved person has had a change of mind about themselves in relation to God. He is holy (set apart for his glory), while we are not (we’re glory thieves, trying to make ourselves look good or great).

When you have an eye exam and need to have prescription glasses, the eye doctor will try out various lenses to find out which combination helps you to see most clearly. To see ourselves properly, we need to see ourselves through three Biblical lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of the fall, and, in addition, the Christian must add the lens of redemption. The unsaved person has a distorted view of reality because they don’t want to see themselves as created by God and ruined by sin. They distort or refuse to wear the first two lenses. For this reason, when we witness, we must explain a text like Romans 3:23 (for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God) and not just quote it. Make sure a person understands and kindly press it home to their conscience. What about you? Have you ever compared yourself with God?

The folly of self-trust happens when a person does not realize his or her true, desperate condition before God. One of the key happenings in a genuine revival is the humbling of people before God. “Lord, you are true and righteous; we are false and sinful!” In our day, we have Christians who run around and call themselves “Reformed” and toss around the Ten Commandments as “the moral law” and “the believer’s rule of life” as if they were some kind of test of true holiness. The Pharisee in this parable would have agreed with all that and it did him no good. And where is the burning concern and zeal for the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24)?

Think also of the inability of works to obtain salvation and God’s approval. The Pharisee’s reliance on works failed him. He was not right with God though he was outwardly pure (18:11). Though he did “extra works”, like fasting far beyond what God had commanded in the law (18:12). He did not understand that works fail because they cannot save. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11 NIV; cf.  Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:14-16). Are you right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or are you under God’s curse?

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part Two)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (19:9b-11a NIV).

We continue to look at the great contrast in Elijah as recorded 1 Kings 18 and 19. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel. What caused this? We can discern four reasons. The first was that he gave way to fear, and the second was physical and spiritual fatigue. He was worn out from the events. Now, let’s think on two other reasons.

Elijah had a false view of himself, an aggravated sense of importance (19:9b-10). He justified himself. “I have been very zealous….” Do we really know ourselves well enough to ever say this? We need the evaluation of the Spirit of God. Search me, God, and know my heart;     test me and know my concerns (Psalm 139:23 CSB). Who can measure up to all that God requires? Luke 17:7-10. For example, remember the rich young man (Mark 10:20).

With a high view of himself, Elijah blamed others. “The Israelites have….” These two actions usually go together. When we think too highly of ourselves, we look down on others. Let us not imagine ourselves better than Elijah.  There are various ways we can do this. “If only brother ________ or sister ________ would _________.” “If only the pastor would ___________.” And even pastors say, “If only the people would ________.” And so Elijah exalted himself rather than humbled himself. He assumed that he was the only one left to stand for God. It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that we are indispensable to God. The Lord corrected Elijah on this point later.

Elijah failed to work out his theology personally and practically (19:11). This was his basic problem. Too often we concentrate on the effects and not the cause. Too many incompetent doctors treat the symptoms instead of the disease. (At this point, we could talk about how to talk with your physician, but that is another subject.) Sadly, Christians do the same thing when they talk with one another or evaluate themselves. For example, we might talk with somebody battling depression or discontentment. A quick answer fails to solve the problem, such as saying, “Get more involved” or “Come (to church) expecting a blessing”. I’ve heard such shallow “cures” offered to people. We need to ask questions and seek Biblical answers. We are too impatient and too lazy. Or think of those struggling with a lack of assurance of salvation. Some want a quick answer, such as “read the verses on assurance and believe them” or “pull out your decision card”. But we should examine ourselves. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB).

This is where God begins to correct Elijah. Sometimes we need to return to square one. Remember how God corrected Job in his trials (Job 38:1ff). We need to remember what we are: “the best of people are but people at their best.” No one is invulnerable, including those who are most in prayer.

It is easy to get four “F’s” on your spiritual report card. Exercise fear instead of faith; overexert your body; become puffed up, and put your theology on the shelf. However, it is better to trust, to take care of our bodies, to see ourselves in the light of God’s word, and to realize that sound teaching produces healthy living. What can you learn from Elijah today?

Grace and peace, David

The Tarnished Silver Spoon (Part Two)

Genesis 37:1-11

Joseph’s problems originated in his family. People have family problems because families are made up of sinners. It can very be easy to write on this theme. In our day of hyper-individualism, people don’t feel the need to work through issues with their family, and strife accelerates. As we look at these verses, we will see how the conflict originated and developed. However, let us not forget that the Lord would use these problems to bring about a much greater good. If you’re in family conflict today, put your hope in what God can still do for you and your family.

Three circumstances aggravated hostility toward Joseph.

The first circumstance was his Father’s preference for him. Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:3-4 CSB). How many problems can develop between siblings, because of their parents unwise attitudes and actions!

Two phrases are unclear, but the consequences of them are. The first is born to him in his old age. This doesn’t mean that Joseph was his youngest son, because Benjamin, his full brother was. The idea probably is that after all the trials that Jacob’s beloved wife went through to have a son, Jacob specially favored Joseph. Much ink has been spilled about a robe of many colors. Whatever it was, it loudly proclaimed that dad liked Joseph best.

It is fearful the harm that can come to children through the foolishness of their parents. Parents ought never to show favoritism for one child over the others. All should be equal objects of parental love. Exploring this situation would make this article book length; therefore, I can’t dive deeper into it. Please don’t do it. Instead, notice that children often have to bear the consequences of their parents’ sins. Again, the hope is that God’s grace is greater than our sins. Yet, Joseph bore the brunt of his brothers’ anger. Proud human hearts cannot stand to have someone else preferred before one’s self. We only have to say, “Teacher’s pet” or “boss’ son” to bring numerous examples to mind. Hatred in the heart will eventually work its way out through the tongue (Matthew 12:34). Then, many complicating problems arise.

The second circumstance arose from the report Joseph made about his brothers. At 17 years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father (Genesis 37:2 CSB). This was a complex situation to be in, and for us to understand thousands of years later. We are not told many things:

  • Jacob’s intent in sending Joseph to work with his brothers. Was he sent to learn, to spy, or simply to help?
  • Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers.
  • Joseph’s skill level in interacting with his brothers. Did he complicate the problem? Is there something he could have done?

One lesson is to avoid “psychologizing the text”. Lacking more information, we cannot suppose that we can say what was actually happening. By the way, don’t give psychological evaluations about people when you lack skill and information. It only mucks up the situation.

So then, we can make a couple observations that should be transparent.

  • While Joseph worked with his brothers, he observed some disagreeable practices by his brothers. What these were has not been recorded. A person can imagine many things, but that brings us to another lesson: Avoid speculation. One evil that recurs among Bible teachers is when a teacher speculates about a situation and then draws countless applications from their own speculations. You can see this in the paucity of Biblical references in many “Christian” books.
  • Since we don’t know what his brothers did, it is impossible to blame or to vindicate Joseph. No wise parent wants to encourage a tattle-tale, for such talk leads to more strife. On the other hand, wise parents need to know if their children are involved in serious sin.
  • The problem was that the sin of Joseph’s brothers was exposed, and they did not like it (cf. John 3:20)

The third circumstance that aggravated their hostility was Joseph’s dreams. God willing, we will consider it in our next article. But as we think about hostility problems in physical or spiritual families, it is important for us to consider if we ourselves have aggravated situations that have happened in this fallen world. We will have conflicts with those we love the most. But are we ready to follow God’s way out, when we are tempted to escalate the problems (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). May God help you this weekend!

Grace and peace, David

Restore Truthfulness

dscn0099Psalm 12:3-4

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things; Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (NASB)

In our previous article on Psalm 12, we heard the Psalmist David’s cry to the Lord because of the steep decline of godly people in his land. Notice that the focus is on people and not merely the actions of people. Godliness and ungodliness, truthfulness and lying are not mystical characteristics floating around in society. All these manifest themselves in the thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions of people. True Christianity does not dwell in the realm of abstract concepts. It looks at people and desires to see people change. It also knows that only the Spirit of God can produce real, spiritual change in the hearts and lives of people. Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NASB).

In verses three and four, David prayed that the Lord would act against those were evil communicators. We hear such people speak evil constantly. David mentioned “empty talk, smooth talk, and double talk” in verse two (Kidner, Psalms 1-72), and in verse three, flatterers again. Lies, slander, malice, and oppressive pride abound among our people. How often have we heard of verbal abuse or been targets of the same? Our political process is poisoned by those who sin with their tongues. They speak “great things” in their minds, but it is only great evil flowing out of corrupt hearts. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart (Matthew 12:34 HCSB).

The Psalmist’s request might make us shudder. He prayed that the Lord would cut off all flattering lips. This is a prayer, not for grace, but for judgment. David, who lived under the law covenant, prayed according to the penalty of that covenant for those who broke it. We can easily adopt that same attitude. However, we must remember that our time is the day of grace. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2 HCSB). If people do not repent, God will cut them off, but we ought to pray that he will pour out his grace and mercy on the people of our land. Abusive, malicious, lying words are destroying our people.

Verse four exposes the root of their problem: It is their pride. They assume that no one rules over them. They imagine that they can achieve their goals by their words, and that they can say what they please without consequences. We all can fall into this trap. We imagine that we can say and do what we want, and if we should run into problems because of what we’ve done, we will be able to talk ourselves out of it. How many marriages have been ruined by this twisted idea! How many people oppress their coworkers with cruel or arrogant talk, confident that they have the right to injure others! But the Lord knows, and he will act in his time. Let us pray that he acts in grace before it is his time for judgment.

What people say matters to the Lord. This includes you and me. While we may become upset and angry over the abusive, malicious language around us, let us not add to it. Lord, please help us to speak words of love, kindness, and peace. Begin to restore truthfulness by changing the words we say.

Grace and peace, David

The People of the Uncertain Journey

IMG_0949Ruth 1:1-5

Last time in Ruth, we learned of a family that decided to make a journey to leave the Promised Land and the covenant people of God. They assumed that they were making a good choice. (Don’t we all assume that our choices are good and wise when we make them? Even when our choices turn out to be poor, we thought they were good at the time.) What can we learn about these people? (1:1b-2)

The story begins with the family of Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King”. He was married to Naomi, whose name means “Pleasant”. This couple had two sons: Mahlon and Kilion, but the meaning of their names is very unclear. In ancient times, names were important. Their names should make us think. Did Naomi have a pleasant life? Did Elimelech live like God was his king? If I call myself a Christian, does Jesus Christ significantly influence my life?

Their family was from the clan of Ephrath in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”. So we encounter our first ironic contrast. There is a famine in the “house of bread”. What will Elimelech do to provide for his family during this famine? He has a couple of options.

  • He can stay put on the land God had given him and depend on the Lord to see them through the hunger and poverty that the famine would bring.
  • He can trust his own judgment and seek a better situation, where they will not have to struggle and may in fact prosper. At this point we must ask, “Did anything clearly point to the result that Elimelech and his family would suffer lasting hardship if they remained in Bethlehem?” The answer is clearly no, since as the rest of the story shows, most stayed and prospered in the long run. We are too quick to run from difficulties that might be God’s pathway into greater blessing.

Elimelech heard that Moab was not suffering through a famine, as Israel was, and so he decided to leave the Promised Land, and go to another nation, to a people that were committed to idolatry and wickedness. We are not told what input Naomi had in this decision. She might have been willing or reluctant or had mixed feelings. But a few facts about Moab will indicate that this was not a wise decision.

  • A former king, Balak, had hired Balaam to curse Israel, when Israel was nearing the Promised Land (Numbers 22-24). So then, there were deep roots of hostility between the two people groups.
  • The women of Moab had been a stumbling stone to Israel, having seduced them to sexual immorality and the worship of false gods (Numbers 25).
  • In the early days of the Judges, Eglon, the king of Moab cruelly oppressed Israel (Judges 3). This would have been recent history for Elimelech.
  • From Israel’s earliest encounters with the Moabites, the people of Moab were called the “people of Chemosh”, the cruel, vile false god (Numbers 21:29).

Yet Elimelech decided to take his family on an uncertain journey, which might offer short-term relief, but which could also involve them in long-term tragedy. Instead of keeping them among the visible people of God, he took them to live among worshipers of false gods. People usually ignore what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it again. Before you move, be very certain you have a faithful gathering of God’s people with whom you can worship!

Elimelech and his family evidently planned to move to Moab “to live for a while” in that place. Here we encounter the principle that you can make your choices but you cannot choose the consequences of your choices.

  • No human can really discern where even insignificant choices will end. Many people have chosen to get in a car to go to the grocery store or the movies, and that was their last journey! The point is not to live in fear, because you can die in your house in your favorite chair also. Instead, the point is to avoid pride, as if you are in control of your life.
  • Though we make significant choices, God does, too (Proverbs 16:1, 4, 9). He has a plan that he is working out, and he has chosen to make our choices a part of his plan, usually in unexpected ways. For example, have you ever been in a situation where one choice seemed to require you to make another choice and then a whole series of choices that you had no intention of making when you made your first choice? More is involved than circumstances. God guides the smallest events (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:29).
  • What happens to Elimelech and his family? Do they stay in Moab for just a while? “Verse 2 literally says, ‘They went to the fields of Moab, and they were there.’” [Duguid] That is what happens in life. We reach a particular place, and we sort of get stuck there. For example, when our family moved to Rural Grove, I thought we might stay there four years. My reasoning was, “If a missionary can live in a foreign country for four years, then I can serve God in the country that long!” Before I knew it, the four years became ten, and then twelve and finally fifteen. Even if we have plans, God has a way of altering them drastically.

We all like to evaluate our decisions quickly. A short-term evaluation would say that Elimelech and Naomi were doing all right. That is a constant problem with our evaluations. Present circumstances can easily mislead us. “Everything is fine!” Or, “my life stinks!” This is why we need the word of God as our basis of evaluation. It is an objective standard far more accurate than how “good” our lives seem to be. What then is the good news? As noted, God’s gracious providence is not hindered by human foolishness, as we shall see from the rest of the story. God is able to act to bring good, even when we make wrong choices that produce many problems in our lives. God’s grace is greater than our situations.

Grace and peace, David