The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 4 of 4)
As we close out the introductory points about the Book of Ruth, we find that it teaches about God’s redemptive plan for man. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times. Boaz took the responsibility of being the family redeemer. A family redeemer was a relative who volunteered to take responsibility for the extended family. When a woman’s husband died, the law (Deut. 25:5-10) provided that she could marry a brother of her dead husband. However, Naomi had no more sons. In such a case, the nearest relative of the deceased husband could become a family redeemer and marry the widow. The nearest relative did not have to marry the widow. If you chose not to, the next nearest relative could take his place. In no one chose to help the widow, she would probably live in poverty the rest of her life as, in Israelite and most ancient Middle Eastern cultures, inheritance was passed on to a son or nearest male relative not to the wife. The laws for gleaning and family redeemers helped take the sting out of these inheritance rules.

That Boaz went to all the trouble he did to redeem Ruth and take her as his bride is symbolic of what Jesus Christ did for us. He did not have to do what He did for us. He could have easily stayed in heaven and just allowed us to be judged and it would have been just and right for Him to do so. However, Jesus set aside His glory and came down to earth to redeem us from our poverty caused by our desperate state of sin. As John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In the absence of Boaz’s redemption, Ruth would have faced a bleak future and may have had to resort to sinful behaviors such as prostitution to simply survive. It would have been a hellish existence. That is no less what Jesus does for us. He redeems us from our prostitution to sin. He redeems us from the penalty of sin. He redeems us from our bleak existence. He cleans us up. He took the penalty of our sin through his taking His Father’s wrath against sin on the cross. His blood shed on the cross is what makes us pure again in the sight of God as Jesus took the punishment for our sin instead of us having to do that ourselves. Therefore, we are made pure in the sight of God when we realize that Jesus died for our sins, that we were destined for hell in the absence of his sacrifice on our behalf, and that Jesus was the only one who could do that for us. He was the only one who could redeem us because He is God in the flesh and He was without sin. When we realize that He was God in the flesh and that He arose from the dead as victory over our sin and death, we are made His bride and we are presented to God as unblemished and spotless. We gain our right to new life through Him.

Boaz similarly redeems Ruth who was destined for hopelessness just as we are destined for the hopelessness of hell without intervention from Jesus. Boaz gave Ruth new life as His bride. Boaz gives her access to all his riches through his redemption act. Boaz gives her access to a new life that she would not have had otherwise. He did so willingly because of his love for Ruth. He gave her a new lease on life through His love for her. Jesus loves us that much too. He willingly made the trip to the cross for us because of His desire that we not spend eternity separated from God in hell. We are locked into a life destined for eternal misery without His redemptive love just as Ruth was destined for an earthly life of desperate poverty in the absence of Boaz’s redemptive love. Be sure that it was not lost on Ruth exactly what Boaz did for her. She knew what he was saving her from – a life of horrible poverty that could have led her to do things that poverty will cause a woman to do. She knew that Boaz’s love for her saved her from a horrid life. Jesus does the same thing for us. His love for us saves us from a life locked in the results and consequences of sin and has us sentenced to hell. Ruth most likely celebrated her husband in Boaz and was thankful every day for what He had done for her. As redeemed Christ followers, we should be thankful every day for Jesus, our bridegroom, has done for us. He has redeemed us from hell. He has redeemed us from our sin. He has redeemed us from our old life. He has redeemed us from our old sin self and has placed us in our spotless bride’s dress, all white and pure before God. He gives us a new life from the inside out. We should never forget and always celebrate the redemption by our bridegroom in Jesus Christ. As Christ followers, we should be the most joyous people on the planet. We know the eternal life that we were destined for and by all rights deserved. We know that hell is real and it is not a pretty place. We know that it is a place of eternal torment and anguish. We know that it is what we deserve for our sins as our just punishment before a sinless, pure and righteous God. That Jesus would redeem us from our deserved destiny should be a source of constant joy and contentment. No matter what we face on this side of eternity, it pales in comparison to the eternity of hell. No matter how bad our life gets, we know that Jesus has given us the keys to the eternal glory of heaven with God. Why then are we often the most morose people on the planet. We have joy unspeakable through Jesus Christ. We must celebrate it everyday. We must let it permeate our being every day. We must ooze out joy from the overflow in our soul. We must tell people the source of our inexplicable joy! We have been redeemed by Jesus Christ!

Boaz also made provision for her even before he married her through allowing her to glean the grain just as Jesus provides for us even before we come to salvation in Him. His death on the cross two millenia ago is the once and final sacrifice for all sin for all time. All we have to do is glean the grain. Jesus does not have to repeatedly be crucified. His act was the once and for all completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system for sin. Since Jesus was complete perfection and lived the perfect, sinless life there is no need for repeated sacrifices. There is no need for Jesus to do it over and over again. It was the ultimate one-and-done. He leaves the grain at the edge of the field. He leaves the grain on the threshing floor. All we have to do is pick it up and take the food that is necessary for our eternal salvation. It is there for the taking. All we must do is believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and proclaim it with our mouth that He died for our sins and that He arose from the dead to give us hope eternal. The grain has been left there for us to pick up and eat. It is up to us to reach for it.

The Book of Ruth is such a beautiful book and a real life example of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. So, let’s meet here at my next blog as we dive into the Book of Ruth.

Amen and Amen.

Advertisements

The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 3 of 4)
The third thing that we have to take notice of in the Book of Ruth is that it demonstrates faithful obedience to God leads us to God’s promises for our lives. It is ironic that this point comes to light right now this morning. I call it God’s synchronicity. God’s synchronicity to me is when I hear the message He has for me at the moment from multiple different sources. It could be a combination of words from friends or mentors, from something I read, from something I hear my wife say, from something I hear on Christian radio, you name it. It always happens close together in time. That’s when I say, “OK, God! I hear you!” Sometimes, I am a little slow on the uptake so God has to synchronize the message to me from multiple sources before I realize the a-ha moment.

On Tuesday, I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, as part of my reading assignments for this, my second semester in the doctoral program at North Greenville University. With each night’s reading assignment, we must journal our thoughts about the things that grabbed us as read the selected pages. Last night, this is what I journaled concerning one of the main points of the selected reading:

We are bound together by faith, not by experience, Bonhoeffer says at page 47 of his book. So often, we taint our spiritual growth because we want to experientially feel those spiritual mountaintop experiences as measures of our spiritual health. We want the mountaintop experiences to define our faith and our depth of spirituality. We become disillusioned in our faith if we expect to have those spiritual highs that we sometimes are granted by God all the time. We can then become negative toward the body of Christ to which we are attached, because we are not getting the experiential highs that we think define spirituality. We sometimes let our faith be defined by the number and frequency of mountaintop spiritual experiences that we have. Many immature Christians live in this desperate rollercoaster ride of spiritual existence. They damage their local bodies of Christ when they become negative toward the body and may end up leaving one church after another because of the ever-present need and desire for mountaintop experiences of worship or of other special moments. When they are not getting spiritual highs close enough together, they are like junkies seeking the next fix. Whey their highs are not close enough together, they blame the local body and move on to the next church. All along the way, they damage the body and disrespect God. I lived this type of existence in my early years of being a Christ follower. Although I was not a church shopper, I did seek to reclaim those spiritual high moments. When I did not sustain a spiritual high, I thought something was wrong with me. Little did I know that being a Christ follower does not eliminate life’s ebbs and flows, and ups and downs.

Life is not mountaintop experiences all the time. Even after salvation, life goes on. Life is full of ups and downs. Life is full of more small moments that big ones. And, it is in these small moments, the small things that Bonhoeffer describes, that true faith is lived out. Faith is believing in God when life is mundane and nothing seems to be changing for the better. Faith is trusting in God in the everyday aspects of life. When we are faithful in the small things in life, it is a sign of our trust in our Maker. We trust that He has the big picture of our life in hand and that He will guide and direct us to the big moments of our lives where we experience the glory of God. We have to trust Him in what He has assigned us to at the moment, even if it is not some mountaintop spiritual moment of life. One of the things that God has been pounding into my soul through the working of the Holy Spirit here lately is that I need “to keep plowing the field in front of me.” I need to enjoy and thrive in the small assignments that He has for me now. It is only through plowing the field to which He has assigned me now and being faithful and diligent in my plowing that I will be readied by Him for the next field that He has in store for me. God has made it clear that I cannot be trusted with the greater things that He has in store for me until I find contentment in obedience to Him in the non-flashy work that He has assigned to me now. When I can be faithful and humble in the little things, He will trust me with the next field that will require bigger plows and bigger faith and bigger tasks when I am faithful in this field. This quote also shows me that if I am complaining selfishly for my desires rather than God’s will, I will be a thorn in the body of Christ. I will create fractures in the body simply by not being humble, faithful and obedient.

We live by faith not by experience and being thankful for the little things that God places in our hands all require trust. Trust that God has a plan. This trust requires humility, trust, faithfulness and a willingness to learn. When we are F.A.T. (faithful, available, teachable), we are of great usefulness to God through the body of Christ in which He has providentially placed us.

So, that idea from my journaling last night is the same idea that we get from the Book of Ruth. Ruth was faithful and obedient to the Lord that she barely even knew at first. She told Naomi that she would go wherever Naomi went. She said that Naomi’s people would be her people. Where you go, I go. She was faithful to that vow no matter how bad things got for her and Naomi. She shared in Naomi’s sorrows and was completed devoted to her. She could have easily given up and gone her own way but she was faithful to Naomi and it was through that faithfulness that she meets Boaz and then takes her place in the history of Israel as the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest king Israel ever had. And it was through the lineage of Ruth and Boaz that we find the earthly lineage of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What if Ruth had not been faithful? She would have been like Orpah – a brief mention in the history of Israel, the book of Ruth would not have been written, and God would have found another way to provide for the earthly lineage of His Son.

But that was not the case, Ruth was faithful. She was obedient. She plowed the field in front of her even with things looked their bleakest. She hooked her wagon to Naomi and held on even when it seemed that nothing but death and despair was going to come from it. She, by faith, knew that God would lead. She didn’t know what the result was going to be but she trusted that God was make something out of the situation. She knew that God would provide. She didn’t know what that was going to look like but she trusted it anyway.

God’s synchronous message to me is not to miss out on what God is doing in you and through you right now because there is something that you are waiting for God to give you. Be faithful in the here and now. Be usable here and now. Be faithful in the small things now. Plow the field in front of you with all your heart and trust God with what’s next. Trust that He will reveal it to you in due time. Trust that nothing is wasted. Be faithful to the assignment God has you in now and He will reward your faithfulness in what seems like less than the promise right now with the great promise of later. Never forget the here and now. Be faithful in the field that God has your hand to the plow in right now. God is a God of promise but He is also the God of the right here and the right now. Trust that He has purpose in the here and now.

Amen and Amen.

The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 2 of 4)
As we continue the introduction to the Book of Ruth this morning, we see in the pages of this book that Ruth was a Moabite woman. She did not let her heritage keep her from worshiping the one true God, nor did it stop God from accepting her worship and blessing her greatly. The people of Israel were not the only people that God loves. God chose the Israelites to be the people from the rest of the world would come to know Him. Jesus fulfilled the promise when Jesus was born an Israelite. Through Him, the entire world can come to know God. Acts 10:35 states that “in every nation He accepts those fear him and do what is right.” God works through those who love Him regardless of their race, gender, nationality, or past history. The book of Ruth is a perfect example of God’s impartiality toward those whose worship He will accept. Although Ruth belonged to a race often despised by Israel because of the constant tension and threat of war between the two nations/groups of people, she was blessed because of her faithfulness. She went on to become the great grandmother of King David and a direct earthly ancestor of Jesus.

The Book of Ruth reminds me that even though I am twice divorced in my past, Jesus can still use me. My past is littered with behavior that was in opposition to God’s design for your life and for mine. I sought approval and personal validation through the approval of the women I chose to be with in my life prior to Christ. I made women and the charms that they offer a man the god of my life and it lead me to a rollercoaster ride of a life and much, much heartache, pain and divorce. When we make a person (in my case whomever the woman was in my life) or an object (sexual relations as validation) the cornerstone of your life, it only leads to destruction. Seeking bedroom approval and letting that rule my life led to making choices that I knew were wrong concerning my kids, concerning money, you name it, that I knew were wrong in God’s eyes but these women were visible and God was not there and not visible to me. I chose worship what was tangible and that which I could touch. All the pain and the heartache that are in my past are very real and there is nothing I can do to change that. In some “religious” circles, I would be considered an enemy of the church. I would never be considered acceptable to some hoity toity church. Could never serve in any capacity. As a matter of fact, I might even be shunned to the point that I would feel uncomfortable and leave the church because of my past. I was, I admit, a hedonistic pleasure seeker before I met Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. All I cared about was how life affected me. All I cared about was how to manage my world so that I could get the best out of it for myself. Sure, I was a halfway decent person. Wasn’t a murderer or anything but my morality was certainly situational as it was whatever preserved what I wanted and needed was the most important thing even above morality. Whatever I had to do to keep access to the charms of the woman in my life, I would do it. If it meant forgetting the difference between right and wrong, the difference between being a good parent and a bad one, I would do it.

I was having a conversation yesterday with the Pastor of Discipleship of my church yesterday and I told him that when I look back on the man that I was before Christ, I am appalled and disgusted. Not that I am any great saint 16 years into my walk with Jesus Christ (the Holy Spirit still got plenty o’ work to do in this here Southern boy), even the man I was 5 years into my walk appalls me. Even the man I was 10 years into my walk surprises me about how little about the depth of God’s justice, love, and mercy that I knew then. I suppose that 10 years from now I will sit and wonder how people would have trusted me with the gospel as the man that I am now at 55. As we grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit reveals to us things along the way. Things that we were blind to five years ago are matters of great conviction and pain now. How weird is that we are blind to our favorite sins but in time the Holy Spirit is able to get us to see them for what they really are – sin – and how we can no longer hide them or justify them any longer. As we continued the conversation, thank God for the Holy Spirit and thank God for grace of Jesus Christ. Without the work of the Holy Spirit we would be stuck in immaturity. Without Jesus I would be destined to hell because of my past sins that I recognize and my current sins that I ignore or don’t even recognize as sin yet.
But that’s the wonderful thing about our salvation in Jesus Christ and about the wondrous sanctification of the convert by the Holy Spirit. Now, I can celebrate what God has done in me. I can be honest and transparent about my past as it shows the miracles that can be wrought in the presence of the Jesus Christ. My redemption, the man that I am becoming, are all testaments to the power of salvation. It is a change from the inside out. It is not behavior modification. It is real change from the core of who I am outward. My past is evidence of the changed person that I am now. My past is my ministry to those who think that they are too far gone to be touched by the grace of Jesus Christ. My past is my testimony to the wonders of grace. God is using me right now. God will be using me for far greater and greater things for the kingdom as I mature in my walk with Jesus Christ. You are never too far gone and you are never too old to be used by Jesus Christ when you accept Him as Savior and Lord. It is not where you are in the race right now. It is where you finish and how you finish that matters.

That’s the wonder of the Book of Ruth to me is that it shows that no one should feel disqualified to serve God because of who they were in the past before accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. No one should feel disqualified because of where they were born or who they were born to. No one should feel disqualified from God’s work because you did not accept Christ at 2 years old, went to all the right Christian schools, went to seminary, and then married a preacher’s daughter, and then had perfect little preacher kids and that you have been serving the Lord all your life. God can use you right where you are. Your past is your ministry of the miracle of salvation in Jesus Christ. We each are ministers where we live, work, and play. We all have a redemption story. We all have a story to tell. We all have ministries through which we can testify to the might and power of Jesus Christ in our lives. That is what it’s all about. It’s not about your pedigree. It’s not about being the perfect pedigree of church going all your life. It’s not about being a second or third generation preacher. It is not about going to the best church. It is about Jesus Christ. It is about loving God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. That’s what Ruth teaches us. It is about how much you love and obey God. It is about putting Him first in our lives. It is about giving Him glory in everything we do. It is about demonstrating what a changed life looks like. It is about Jesus. Let your changed life through the grace of Jesus Christ be your ministry!

Amen and Amen.

The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 1 of 4)
As we move to a new book of the Bible today, we are thankful for the Book of Ruth. It comes at point in the Bible where you almost thoroughly disgusted with the people of Israel. The last thing we saw in Judges was that the people of Israel had sunk to new lows of immoral behavior. A civil war had broken out because of half-truths, gang rape of a woman to the point of death that followed after men wanting to have homosexual sex with a stranger passing through a Benjamite town. It was a very sordid and ugly time in the book of Judges. As we read through it, the behaviors became progressively worse as the nation of Israel strayed farther and farther from God.

Ruth provides us with a glimpse of goodness in a time of horrible morality in Israel. The book of Ruth shows us many things:

• First, it shows us that even in the worst of times, there are true believers in God who carry out their faith regardless of the moral climate of the nations (Part 1 of 4 of these blogs)

• Second, it shows us that participation in the kingdom of God is not limited by who you are or what you were and that God can use us all no matter where we start from (Part 2 of 4 of these blogs)

• Third, it demonstrates faithful obedience to God leads us to God’s promises for our lives (Part 3 of 4 of these blogs)

• Finally, it teaches about God’s redemptive plan for man (Part 4 of 4 of these blogs)

Ruth is a beautifully written and wonderfully executed book, though it is one of the shorter books in the Bible and deserves full study and attention by us. For today and the next 3 blogs, we will focus on the overall things that Ruth teaches us. Then, we will move into the passages of the book itself.

Today, let us look as the idea that Ruth teaches us that even in the worst of times, there are true believers in God regardless of the moral climate in which they lived. This is a key point in the book and it is a key concept that we must remember in today’s world. Here we see Ruth, Naomi and Boaz as people of faith and obedience in a dark period in Israel’s history. The story of Ruth takes place toward the end of the Judges period in Israel. These were dark days for Israel when “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”, the oft-repeated phrase in the Book of Judges. But even in the darkest of times for Israel, there were still those who followed God. Naomi and Ruth are beautiful examples of loyalty, friendship and commitment to God and each other. Boaz represents a man who is generous and faithful to the Lord at time when the world may have seemed to have gone mad. Ruth, in particular, is a woman of genuine spiritual character. That she was not an Israelite and she is the shining star in a bleak period in Israel’s moral history reminds us just how far Israel had strayed from God.

What can we learn from this idea presented in this book – that even in the darkest of times that there are people of faith. How timely is that lesson? Just think about our nation right now. Just think about other examples in the Bible of people willing to sacrifice it all for their faith. We begin with Jesus Christ himself. He sacrificed Himself for our sins as part of God’s redemptive plan for man. Jesus was faithful to the Father’s plan regardless of what it would cost him personally. He took on the wrath of God against sin willingly and obediently. He suffered pain and death to achieve God’s greater goal. He did not care whether He was popular. He cared only to speak the truth of God. He cared only to carry out God’s plan, regardless as to what it would cost him personally. Look at Paul. He suffered mightily in carrying the gospel to the nations. He spoke the truth of God regardless of consequences. And without Paul, it is quite possible that you and I as believers would not be sitting here reading this blog right now. Look at the other Apostles. They each gave their lives and died in their efforts to spread the gospel to all the world. In the Old Testament, we see this played out in the book of Ruth.

It is no accident in God’s divine guidance of the formation of the Bible that the Book of Ruth appears right after Judges. In Judges as it ends, we are as believers appalled at the state of the people of Israel at the end of the judges period. Man, it was ugly was it not. The nation had degenerated into civil war that can be traced back to a bunch of horny guys wanting to have sex with somebody regardless of who it was, a guy who throw his mistress to the wolves to save his own skin, and the callousness of a group of men who thought it was socially acceptable to gang rape a woman to death. That these behaviors even existed is evidence that the nation had become tolerant of deviant sexual behaviors and tolerant of “everyone doing what they thought was right in their own eyes.” We scoff at how horrid the people of Israel had become. We are revolted by their behavior and bemoan of what will become of the people of Israel here in this biblical history of God’s chosen people. We find rest and beauty here in the book of Ruth. We find that there are actually people who still love God and obey Him. Even in the darkest of moral climates, we find lovers of God. How relevant is that to us today? Mightily, it is!

We live in a time in history here in the 21st century where our country and perhaps the entirety of Western civilization has become like the Judges period Israelites. We have no king but ourselves. We pervert God’s Word by ignoring and saying it is out-of-date and no longer applicable to modern man. We have “evolved” beyond our need for God and for His Word. What was once considered the universal truth in the Bible is now discarded so that we can chase after our own desires. That we see fulfilling our own desires as god above God is history repeating itself in our day. We are the book of Judges today. We have forgotten God’s Word because it is inconvenient truths that get in the way of fulfilling our desires. All behaviors that are forbidden by God’s Word are open season and are glorified. In the midst of all that, Christians stand at a crossroads in a culture that is more and more openly hostile to God. We have choices to make. Are we to be faithful to God or do we join in the opposition to God. Do we stand out or join in? Ruth gives us an example of that there are people of faith even in the darkest periods in moral history. We do not have to join in. We have to be faithful to God no matter the circumstances.

What do we value most? Our eternity with our Father in heaven or fitting in with the culture. Even the organized church of today struggles with fitting in or honoring and protecting God’s Word. We as Christ followers must be Ruth, Naomi and Boaz in the face of the immoral hurricane in which we live. We must care more about obeying God than we do about the culture in which we live. We must be willing to demonstrate godly lives in the midst of a godless culture. We must be willing to be faithful to the Lord even when it seems to be out of step with the world around us. We must be willing to be faithful to the Lord when there seems to be no earthly reason to do so. We must have faith in a time when we may see no evidence of why obedience is right this side of heaven. We must trust in the Lord regardless of whether we get earthly benefits from it. We must bow before the Lord and not before the cultural norms of man.

For the book of Ruth, we are thankful. It is an inspiration to us that we see faithfulness regardless of the climate in which the people lived. They loved God and obeyed him even though they lived in a self-seeking, gratify me now society. How much more pertinent can a book of the Bible be?
Amen and Amen.

Here is an overview for the book of Ruth that I adapted from my Old Testament class from when I was in the Master of Christian Ministry program at North Greenville University in the fall semester of 2012:

SUMMARY, KEY THEMES & OUTLINE
The Book of Ruth
I. Title
a. The book is named after one of its main characters, a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and an ancestress of Jesus (4:21-22; Mt 1:1,5).
b. The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is Esther.

II. Background
a. The story is set in the time of the judges, a time characterized in the book of Judges as a period of religious and moral degeneracy, national disunity and frequent foreign oppression.
b. The book of Ruth reflects a time of peace between Israel and Moab (contrast Jdg 3:12-30).
c. Like 1Sa 1-2, it gives a series of intimate glimpses into the private lives of the members of an Israelite family.
d. It also presents a delightful account of the remnant of true faith and piety in the period of the judges, relieving an otherwise wholly dark picture of that era.

III. Author and Date of Writing
a. The author is unknown.
b. Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it is unlikely that he is the author because the mention of David (4:17,22) implies a later date.
c. Further, the literary style of Hebrew used in Ruth suggests that it was written during the period of the monarchy.

IV. Theme and Theology
a. The importance of faithful love in human relationships among God’s kingdom people is powerfully underscored.
i. The author focuses on Ruth’s unswerving and selfless devotion to desolate Naomi (1:16-17; 2:11-12; 3:10; 4:15) and on Boaz’s kindness to these two widows (chs. 2 – 4).
ii. The book presents striking examples of lives that embody in their daily affairs the self-giving love that fulfills God’s law (Lev 19:18; cf. Ro 13:10).
iii. Such love also reflects God’s love, in a marvelous joining of human and divine actions (compare 2:12 with 3:9). In God’s benevolence such lives are blessed and are made a blessing.
iv. It may seem surprising that one who reflects God’s love so clearly is a Moabitess. Yet her complete loyalty to the Israelite family into which she has been received by marriage and her total devotion to her desolate mother-in-law mark her as a true daughter of Israel and a worthy ancestress of David.

b. She strikingly exemplifies the truth that participation in the coming kingdom of God is decided, not by blood and birth, but by the conformity of one’s life to the will of God through the “obedience that comes from faith” (Ro 1:5). Her place in the ancestry of David signifies that all nations will be represented in the kingdom of David’s greater Son.

c. As an episode in the ancestry of David, the book of Ruth sheds light on his role in the history of redemption. Redemption is a key concept throughout the account; the Hebrew word in its various forms occurs 23 times. The book is primarily a story of Naomi’s transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz.
i. She moves from
1. emptiness to fullness (1:21; 3:17),
2. from destitution (1:1-5) to security and hope (4:13-17).
ii. Similarly, Israel was transformed from national desperation at the death of Eli (1Sa 4:18) to peace and prosperity in the early days of Solomon (1Ki 4:20-34; 5:4) through the selfless devotion of David, a true descendant of Ruth and Boaz.
iii. The author thus reminded Israel that the reign of the house of David, as the means of God’s benevolent rule in Israel, held the prospect of God’s promised peace and rest.
iv. But this rest would continue only so long as those who participated in the kingdom — prince and people alike — reflected in their daily lives the selfless love exemplified by Ruth and Boaz.
v. In Jesus, the great “son of David” (Mt 1:1), and his redemptive work, the promised blessings of the kingdom of God find their fulfillment.

V. Literary Features
a. The book of Ruth is a Hebrew short story, told with consummate skill. Among historical narratives in Scripture it is unexcelled in its compactness, vividness, warmth, beauty and dramatic effectiveness — an exquisitely wrought jewel of Hebrew narrative art.
b. Marvelously symmetrical throughout (see Outline), the action moves from a briefly sketched account of distress (1:1-5; 71 words in Hebrew) through four episodes to a concluding account of relief and hope that is drawn with equal brevity (4:13-17; 71 words in Hebrew).
c. The crucial turning point occurs exactly midway.
d. The opening line of each of the four episodes signals its main development
i. (1:6, the return;
ii. 2:1, the meeting with Boaz;
iii. 3:1, finding a home for Ruth;
iv. 4:1, the decisive event at the gate),
e. Meanwhile, the closing line of each episode facilitates transition to what follows (see notes on 1:22; 2:23; 3:18; 4:12).
f. Contrast is also used to good effect:
i. pleasant (the meaning of “Naomi”) and bitter (1:20),
ii. full and empty (1:21),
iii. and the living and the dead (2:20).
iv. Most striking is the contrast between two of the main characters, Ruth and Boaz:
1. The one is a young, alien, destitute widow,
2. while the other is a middle-aged, well-to-do Israelite securely established in his home community.
3. For each there is a corresponding character whose actions highlight, by contrast, his or her selfless acts:
a. Ruth — Orpah,
b. Boaz — the unnamed kinsman.
v. When movements in space, time and circumstance all correspond in some way, a harmony results that both satisfies the reader’s artistic sense and helps open doors to understanding. The author of Ruth keeps his readers from being distracted from the central story — Naomi’s passage from emptiness to fullness through the selfless acts of Ruth and Boaz (see Theme and Theology).
vi. That passage, or restoration, first takes place in connection with her return from Moab to the promised land and to Bethlehem (“house of food”). It then progresses with the harvest season, when the fullness of the land is gathered in.
vii. All aspects of the story keep the reader’s attention focused on the central issue.
viii. Consideration of these and other literary devices will aid understanding of the book of Ruth.

Outline

I. Introduction: Naomi Emptied (1:1-5)
II. Naomi Returns from Moab (1:6-22)
a. Ruth Clings to Naomi (1:6-18)
b. Ruth and Naomi Return to Bethlehem (1:19-22)
III. Ruth and Boaz Meet in the Harvest Fields (ch. 2)
a. Ruth Begins Work (2:1-7)
b. Boaz Shows Kindness to Ruth (2:8-16)
c. Ruth Returns to Naomi (2:17-23)
IV. Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz’s Threshing Floor (ch. 3)
a. Naomi Instructs Ruth (3:1-5)
b. Boaz Pledges to Secure Redemption (3:6-15)
c. Ruth Returns to Naomi (3:16-18)
V. Boaz Arranges to Fulfill His Pledge (4:1-12)
a. Boaz Confronts the Unnamed Kinsman (4:1-8)
b. Boaz Buys Naomi’s Property and Announces His Marriage to Ruth (4:9-12)
VI. Conclusion: Naomi Filled (4:13-17)
VII. Epilogue: Genealogy of David (4:18-22)

Judges 21:1-25
Israel Provides for the Wives of Benjamin

As we conclude the book of Judges, the thing that is so often repeated in this book is exactly how the book is wrapped up in its final verse, “in those days Israel had no king; all of the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” This passage is no different. The compound mistakes already made with more mistakes. The mistakes of the tribe of Benjamin were followed by a civil war that practically wiped out the tribe of Benjamin. The civil war was concluded with the mistake of killing off of the people who did not participate in the civil war. That was followed up by the remnants of the tribe of Benjamin stealing women from other tribes. What a messed up mess this was! What a fitting way for the book to end. A flurry on messed up actions undertaken by men who did not consult God but went through the motions of consulting God. They took actions into their own hands though they built an altar and made sacrifices. They did not wait for God to tell them what to do. They just went off on their own way. There were great heroic men in the book of Judges known for their heroism in battle but their personal lives were far from being men seeking after God. Each one of the great heroes of this book, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, were morally bankrupt in some way. They were indicative of the society in which they lived. Each seeking to please himself was the name of the game in ancient Israel at this point in its history.

How much like modern day society does this sound like? We live in a culture that may give credence to the existence of God (if they do that much) but yet act as those He does not exist. We exist in a society that does what it thinks is right and places its faith in itself. What is right for me is right for me and what is right for you is right for you! My truth, my reality is mine and yours is yours. If you define that God just wants you to be happy then multiple sex partners outside of marriage is OK. If you define that God just wants you to be happy then multiple wives over the course of a life is OK. If you define that God just wants you to be happy then homosexuality is no longer a forbidden practice. If you define that God just wants you to be happy then if I feel like a woman today though I am obviously and genetically male then it is OK for me to identify myself as a woman and have the world defend that right and vilify those who do not buy into it. If you define that God just wants you to be happy then lying to get what you want is OK. If you define that God just wants you to be happy, then, selfish ambition is OK. If you define that God just wants you to be happy, then, you go to church to feel good and then live as you desire the rest of the week. We are a nation that believes that seeking one’s own desires is nirvana. We have become a nation that believes that I define for myself what is right and what is wrong. There is no universal truth because we each define for ourselves what truth is. Since truth is relative to one’s own desires, then, we produce leaders that are just as morally bankrupt as we are as a nation. We bemoan the fact that in the last presidential election that our choices were between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – two people who are known to have situational ethics and develop spin machines to justify their actions as OK. What do you expect? We glorify such power players as Donald and Hillary. The morality of a politician does not matter. The policies and political stances no longer matter. It is all about persona and who can tear down the other the fastest. Why did we not have better choices? We have no one to blame but ourselves. We are so like the nation of ancient Israel at the time of the judges that it’s not even funny. When we read the Book of Judges, we see ourselves. Let us read now the final chapter of this book:

 

21 The Israelites had vowed at Mizpah, “We will never give our daughters in marriage to a man from the tribe of Benjamin.” 2 Now the people went to Bethel and sat in the presence of God until evening, weeping loudly and bitterly. 3 “O Lord, God of Israel,” they cried out, “why has this happened in Israel? Now one of our tribes is missing from Israel!”

4 Early the next morning the people built an altar and presented their burnt offerings and peace offerings on it. 5 Then they said, “Who among the tribes of Israel did not join us at Mizpah when we held our assembly in the presence of the Lord?” At that time they had taken a solemn oath in the Lord’s presence, vowing that anyone who refused to come would be put to death.

6 The Israelites felt sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, “Today one of the tribes of Israel has been cut off. 7 How can we find wives for the few who remain, since we have sworn by the Lord not to give them our daughters in marriage?”

8 So they asked, “Who among the tribes of Israel did not join us at Mizpah when we assembled in the presence of the Lord?” And they discovered that no one from Jabesh-gilead had attended the assembly. 9 For after they counted all the people, no one from Jabesh-gilead was present.

10 So the assembly sent 12,000 of their best warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill everyone there, including women and children. 11 “This is what you are to do,” they said. “Completely destroy[a] all the males and every woman who is not a virgin.” 12 Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found 400 young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.

13 The Israelite assembly sent a peace delegation to the remaining people of Benjamin who were living at the rock of Rimmon. 14 Then the men of Benjamin returned to their homes, and the 400 women of Jabesh-gilead who had been spared were given to them as wives. But there were not enough women for all of them.

15 The people felt sorry for Benjamin because the Lord had made this gap among the tribes of Israel. 16 So the elders of the assembly asked, “How can we find wives for the few who remain, since the women of the tribe of Benjamin are dead? 17 There must be heirs for the survivors so that an entire tribe of Israel is not wiped out. 18 But we cannot give them our own daughters in marriage because we have sworn with a solemn oath that anyone who does this will fall under God’s curse.”

19 Then they thought of the annual festival of the Lord held in Shiloh, south of Lebonah and north of Bethel, along the east side of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem. 20 They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, “Go and hide in the vineyards. 21 When you see the young women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to the land of Benjamin to be your wife! 22 And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, ‘Please be sympathetic. Let them have your daughters, for we didn’t find wives for all of them when we destroyed Jabesh-gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not actually give your daughters to them in marriage.’”

23 So the men of Benjamin did as they were told. Each man caught one of the women as she danced in the celebration and carried her off to be his wife. They returned to their own land, and they rebuilt their towns and lived in them.

24 Then the people of Israel departed by tribes and families, and they returned to their own homes.

25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

In this final passage of the book, we see that, during the time of the judges, the people of Israel experienced trouble because they became their own authority and acted on their individual opinions of right and wrong. This condition produced horrendous results. The Israelites moved from one messed up situation to another. Because of a rash vow made in the heat of emotion, they destroyed another town. They put tribal loyalties above God’s commands and they justified wrong actions to correct past mistakes. It was just a big old mess. Nowhere in this passage do you hear of the Israelites receiving a word from God. Their solutions were of their own opinions rather than a word from God. Even though they went through the function of building an altar (21:4) and offering sacrifices. They did not wait for a word from God. They went on to their own solution. They wept aloud to God as to why this happened but yet they did not look to themselves as the cause of the problems.

We wonder why our nation seems to be degenerating into a fractured mess. All we have to do is look at the final verse of the book of Judges. We have no king and we do what we think is right in our own eyes. We seek after our own desires. We are fractured into our own individual kingdoms and we define reality and truth for ourselves and refuse to believe that there needs to be a greater good. We may claim that God exists but we act as if He does not. We have made ourselves our own gods. The desires of our own hearts are what we have made god. We are ancient Israel in the modern day. We are the book of Judges. We must as a nation repent and return to God. We will suffer the same fate as the nation of ancient Israel if we do not. We must put God as our king. We must return to Him. He will speak to us again when we put His will above our own. He will speak to us again when truly act as if He exists. We must repent. We must put in God we trust back at the forefront of our lives as individuals and as a nation.

Amen and Amen.

Judges 20:1-48 (Part 2 of 2)
Israel’s War with Benjamin

One of the things that amazes me about this sequence of events chapters 19 and 20 of Judges is how the Levite man just demonstrates a complete lack of morality. Not only does he treat his concubine like she is property or a piece of meat but then, then, he conveniently leaves out the fact that he offers up the woman to the mob to save his own skin. He twists the truth to suit his own needs.

Reading this passage made me think about some of the experiences that happened to me while going through my first divorce. If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that my first divorce was the divorce from hell. My ex-wife spun events during that divorce to portray herself as the victim and the heroine of the situation. It was highly effective at first. She portrayed me as a wife beater and a pedophile when I took her to court for contempt (she had been refusing to allow the children to come with me on my specified visitation dates – every other Wednesday evening and every other weekend – for about six months). Once we got to court, she claimed that I had molested by oldest daughter the last time that she allowed the girls to come with me on visitation. Well, bam, once that was said, what was a slam dunk contempt of a court order became entirely something else. DSS swooped into our lives and did not leave our lives for 3 years. During the early phases of the DSS and Guardian Ad Litem investigations, my ex-wife had these investigators believing that I was a sick, twisted pedophile who beat his wife for sport while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol every day and every night. You know, just an immoral redneck that beat his wife and abused his kids. She portrayed herself as the defender of the realm, the protector of the defenseless. It was so bad and pervasive a thought process about me that the first time the Guardian Ad Litem interviewed me at my home (my parent’s place on Lake Hartwell at that time) that she was afraid to be alone with me in my home. As a result, she brought her husband with her to the investigative interview (which of course violates privacy laws I am sure, or at least in the 2010’s it would). It was so bad that I had to go the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department and talk to investigators and take a lie detector test, voluntarily. It was as if this simple contempt case of me just wanting the court to enforce the separation agreement had been spun into this major nightmare scenario when my freedom could have easily been taken away from me.

Not only was my now ex-wife (God rest her soul) portraying me as a pedophile but also as a wife-beater. She even went as far as to start attending battered women’s meetings and had battered women’s rights things posted on the refrigerator at her house, our former marital home. She bombarded my children with constant information about how I had been an abuser and a drunkard. It was all so very effective for a while. It was all to deflect away from the real facts of the case.

The real facts of the case were not as my ex-wife had portrayed them. She spun the stories to her advantage and it was all just to punish me and shame me into coming back to her. Now, I could think of better ways for reconciliation. Don’t try the punish route if you are trying to reconcile with your spouse. Punishing them into coming home just drives them further away. The facts of the case were that my ex-wife was the violent one and the one who played the harassment game constantly, and I left our marriage and my sweet girls (8 years and 3 years old at the time) to survive and to prevent literally someone from being killed or hurt badly. Ultimately, DSS had seen enough of the truth of the situation that they remove my daughters from my ex-wife’s care and I ultimately gained custody of them myself (after I had remarried). All those things have their own story that we got sit here for days and talk about, but for today, I wanted to concentrate on that early part of my divorce from my first wife.

When people today talk about how do country’s fall for socialism and even in our country how we fall for fake news and get all polarized against those who do not hold our same beliefs and wonder how it happens, I always reflect on that time period from 1993-1994 in my life, when my exwife made those claims about me. How people immediately and willingly believed these lies without first even getting to know me. I was branded with lies about me that were not true. How the spin machine flies into action without first investigating the facts and circumstances. People fall for what they WANT to believe about things these days because there is no longer a belief in weighing the facts. People fall what they WANT to believe today because there is no longer any consideration of what absolute truth is. People spin the truth to suit their own advantage today because they do not have God at the center of their lives. They perpetuate these elaborate spins on events to portray themselves as the one who holds the truth, the one who is the victim, the one who has their rights trampled.

It took me a long time to get over the events of 1993-1994 but eventually I came to see it as just a person with control issues doing whatever it took to regain control regardless of the truth. I came to pity my exwife for the way she spun everything to her advantage and she burned up pretty much every relationship in her life because of it. In the end, it was just her and her second husband that lived in their own little world with their spin on the world. Everybody else was crazy and they were the only two sane ones. Each of my girls has had to deprogram themselves from that mentality over the years. As they grew older they were able to see the truth about how life should be viewed. So, when people talk about how socialism and how people fall for, I think of ’93-’94 and how the real me was twisted into a monster to suit the needs of my exwife. I think of how my daughters were exposed as young girls to the propaganda over the years that I didn’t love them and how I was the sick and twisted one. Even in later years, after she had remarried, to love me or to love her was the choice she gave them. It was just so sad and such evidence of how opinion can become belief over time. Over time, the truth became a casualty. Over time, the truth became whatever reality was constructed in my exwife’s mind. It was just truly sad to watch over the years.

That is what I thought of this morning is how the Levite man spun this situation to his own advantage and even caused a civil war rather than reveal the truth of what he did. He did not reveal that he was a coward and threw his own mistress out to the wolves to save his own skin. And, how people can do that without flinching is what I thought this morning. My mind immediately drifted back to that time of my first divorce where truth got twisted and this whole scenario took over and how it did not seem that the truth mattered anymore. So with that in mind, let’s read this passage once more:

20 Then all the Israelites were united as one man, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, including those from across the Jordan in the land of Gilead. The entire community assembled in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all the people and all the tribes of Israel—400,000 warriors armed with swords—took their positions in the assembly of the people of God. 3 (Word soon reached the land of Benjamin that the other tribes had gone up to Mizpah.) The Israelites then asked how this terrible crime had happened.

4 The Levite, the husband of the woman who had been murdered, said, “My concubine and I came to spend the night in Gibeah, a town that belongs to the people of Benjamin. 5 That night some of the leading citizens of Gibeah surrounded the house, planning to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she was dead. 6 So I cut her body into twelve pieces and sent the pieces throughout the territory assigned to Israel, for these men have committed a terrible and shameful crime. 7 Now then, all of you—the entire community of Israel—must decide here and now what should be done about this!”

8 And all the people rose to their feet in unison and declared, “None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! 9 Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. 10 One-tenth of the men[a] from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah[b] of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” 11 So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town.

12 The Israelites sent messengers to the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What a terrible thing has been done among you! 13 Give up those evil men, those troublemakers from Gibeah, so we can execute them and purge Israel of this evil.”

But the people of Benjamin would not listen. 14 Instead, they came from their towns and gathered at Gibeah to fight the Israelites. 15 In all, 26,000 of their warriors armed with swords arrived in Gibeah to join the 700 elite troops who lived there. 16 Among Benjamin’s elite troops, 700 were left-handed, and each of them could sling a rock and hit a target within a hairsbreadth without missing. 17 Israel had 400,000 experienced soldiers armed with swords, not counting Benjamin’s warriors.

18 Before the battle the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, “Which tribe should go first to attack the people of Benjamin?”

The Lord answered, “Judah is to go first.”

19 So the Israelites left early the next morning and camped near Gibeah. 20 Then they advanced toward Gibeah to attack the men of Benjamin. 21 But Benjamin’s warriors, who were defending the town, came out and killed 22,000 Israelites on the battlefield that day.

22 But the Israelites encouraged each other and took their positions again at the same place they had fought the previous day. 23 For they had gone up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord until evening. They had asked the Lord, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?”

And the Lord had said, “Go out and fight against them.”

24 So the next day they went out again to fight against the men of Benjamin, 25 but the men of Benjamin killed another 18,000 Israelites, all of whom were experienced with the sword.

26 Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. 27 The Israelites went up seeking direction from the Lord. (In those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was in Bethel, 28 and Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron was the priest.) The Israelites asked the Lord, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?”

The Lord said, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.”

29 So the Israelites set an ambush all around Gibeah. 30 They went out on the third day and took their positions at the same place as before. 31 When the men of Benjamin came out to attack, they were drawn away from the town. And as they had done before, they began to kill the Israelites. About thirty Israelites died in the open fields and along the roads, one leading to Bethel and the other leading back to Gibeah.

32 Then the warriors of Benjamin shouted, “We’re defeating them as we did before!” But the Israelites had planned in advance to run away so that the men of Benjamin would chase them along the roads and be drawn away from the town.

33 When the main group of Israelite warriors reached Baal-tamar, they turned and took up their positions. Meanwhile, the Israelites hiding in ambush to the west[c] of Gibeah jumped up to fight. 34 There were 10,000 elite Israelite troops who advanced against Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that Benjamin didn’t realize the impending disaster. 35 So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors, all of whom were experienced swordsmen. 36 Then the men of Benjamin saw that they were beaten.

The Israelites had retreated from Benjamin’s warriors in order to give those hiding in ambush more room to maneuver against Gibeah. 37 Then those who were hiding rushed in from all sides and killed everyone in the town. 38 They had arranged to send up a large cloud of smoke from the town as a signal. 39 When the Israelites saw the smoke, they turned and attacked Benjamin’s warriors.

By that time Benjamin’s warriors had killed about thirty Israelites, and they shouted, “We’re defeating them as we did in the first battle!” 40 But when the warriors of Benjamin looked behind them and saw the smoke rising into the sky from every part of the town, 41 the men of Israel turned and attacked. At this point the men of Benjamin became terrified, because they realized disaster was close at hand. 42 So they turned around and fled before the Israelites toward the wilderness. But they couldn’t escape the battle, and the people who came out of the nearby towns were also killed.[d] 43 The Israelites surrounded the men of Benjamin and chased them relentlessly, finally overtaking them east of Gibeah.[e] 44 That day 18,000 of Benjamin’s strongest warriors died in battle. 45 The survivors fled into the wilderness toward the rock of Rimmon, but Israel killed 5,000 of them along the road. They continued the chase until they had killed another 2,000 near Gidom.

46 So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, 47 leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. 48 And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to.

Here in this passage, we see that, in the reporting of the events in Gibeah, the Levite man conveniently left out the fact that he had handed over his concubine or mistress to satisfy the mob’s demands. He wanted justice fo the threats made against him rather than placing any value on the woman’s life or holding himself partially responsible for her death. How easy it is for us sometimes to twist the truth of a situation to remove our own culpability when we are seeking to shift blame to someone else. The incident reveals the depths of perversion, violence, and lies that develop when a culture abandons God’s ways.

My exwife shifted blame to save her own skin as a modern example. What happened after her spin of the events to her own advantage is a script for made-for-TV movie (think The Betty Broderick Story that starred Meredith Baxter Birney and Stephen Collins from 1992 and you will get a taste for what it was like). I was not a saint for sure and I don’t want to give that impression. My life is a story of redemption from the depths of self-indulgence and worshiping things other than god for many, many years. I clung to the belief that I was basically a good person and all roads lead to heaven kind of thing until my Damascus Road-type experience in December 2001 when I accepted Christ as my Savior. Even now, I still struggle with pride and other sins that condemn me in the absence of Jesus Christ and that grieve that Holy Spirit that lives within me. The Holy Spirit still has a lot of work to do in me. So, please don’t read this as some angry tome against my exwife and making myself a saint in the process. Nothing could be farther from what I intend here. I use the experience from my own life, my first divorce, to demonstrate a point. I have long since forgiven my exwife and it pained me to see how her continuing hatred for me had consumed her life. It was just sad to watch.

The point that I am making with using that experience from 1993-1994 is that it is an example of how we spin the truth to our advantage regardless of what the subsequent consequences will be. When we start making the truth what we want it to be, it is the essence of pride. It is the essence of thumbing our nose at God and making ourselves the purveyor and definer of truth. It is an example of the society in which we live now. Truth is how you spin it. There is no absolute truth now because we have all degenerated into seeing the world through our own eyes instead of the eyes of God. We make the truth what we want it to be. Our nation has strayed from God just as Israel did here in the book of Judges. Israel did what was right in their own eyes. We are the same way today. Let us pray that it does not take a Babylonian exile of sorts for America to return to God.

As individuals, let us resolve to seek the truth even when it is going to make us look bad. If we have our value in God and not in the image that we want others to see, then, it really doesn’t matter if the truth makes us look bad. When we confess that we have made a mistake, committed a sin, we are showing people that as a Christian we would rather please God than preserve our self-image that we project to others. When we are honest about our faults and failures and shortcomings, that is the beginning of humility. In humility, we find that we need God more than ever. In humility, the Holy Spirit can change us. The Holy Spirit can mold us into greater and greater Christlikeness. When we are honest about who we are, we find greater and greater dependence on God. When we are honest about who we are, we can begin to change. When we subject ourselves to the absolute truths of God, we find rest and peace. When we are not trying to project an image to the world, it is a whole lot less work. When we are honest about ourselves, God has us where He wants us – a child of God who is ready to be obedient and ready to give Him glory rather than ourselves.

Amen and amen.

Judges 20:1-48 (Part 1 of 2)
Israel’s War with Benjamin

Wow! Israel has sunk to a new low in this passage. They have a bloody civil war on their hands and nobody seems to care. At that point, a foreign power could have swooped in and destroyed them while they were busy seeking vengeance against their one of their own tribes or being that tribe defending itself against the rest of their own countrymen. It is a sad day for the people of God’s history.

The thing that struck me is that how similar to our own nation right now this whole episode is. We were once a nation (where simply by the nature of the way our government was constructed by the founding fathers) of reasoned compromise. Nobody ever got what they wanted in their own perfect ideal of things. However, in the interest of getting most of what they wanted, they would give up on certain points to get the majority of what they wanted. The founding fathers believed that the conflict of ideals and sometimes of extremely opposite ideas would produce the conflict of those ideas in the congress and drive everything toward the center and toward what in general was the best for the country. It was a grand idea that worked well for our country all the way up until the turn of the 20th century. From the grand compromise that was our form of government, competing ideas generating friction to the point of creating a compromise that was by far the best thing in general for our country. In other countries, we have seen over just the past 241 years of our countries existence where one group takes the government by force and then forces their ideology on the rest of the country. This extremism has produced violence, civil wars, and international wars time and again just in the 241 our nation has been a player on the stage. Our centrist government with checks and balances has survived it all and continued to thrive. There has been in the past no one ideology that has been able to dominate over another and that is why our country has been so internally stable. Everybody’s idealogy getting enough of what it needs but not all of what it wants. That’s how our government is supposed to work and had worked all the way up to recent history.

However, with the last two Presidents our country has become polarized. Obama will his extremely liberal agenda polarized America into conservatives against the liberals, blacks against whites (again!), and the government ground to a halt. Now, we have similarity with Trump. Contrary to Trump’s own egoism, he was not elected by conservatives because he was a man of great substance and vision but rather because he was the only choice other than Hillary Clinton. We didn’t elect Trump as much we defeated Hillary. But because of Trump’s own inability to get his own ego out of the way, the chasm between conservatives and liberals has widened from a gulf to an ocean. Just as conservatives used to whine and complain about Obama being the anti-Christ so too now do the liberals play the part of Chicken Little where the sky is falling (with every word that Trump speaks or any idea he tries to espouse). And would somebody declare it illegal for the sitting president to have a social media account!?!?.

Instead of us conservatives admitting that we have made a mistake by making Trump the candidate from our party, we have circled around and defend everything he says even if it completely idiotic. Meanwhile, the liberals think Trump is the anti-Christ and refuse to compromise on anything coming out of the White House. The vitriol that the liberals have now for the conservative ideology is bordering of fanaticism. I truly fear for the future of our country, not because of Trump or Obama directly but we have become a nation that no longer compromises – the very thing that made our country great and powerful and an economic giant was the stability of our government.

But now we no longer compromise. We are of extreme ideologies and refuse to give in. We are a nation where we never admit our mistakes. We are a nation that would rather take our ideologies to the grave than compromise for what is best for our country. We simply want what we want and will go to our rooms and pout rather than compromise with our brother. Maybe it is because my generation and the generation after it have become so me-centered in our own lives. We are a self-centered people in our personal lives. Could the present generations do what our grandparent’s generation (the greatest generation) did? Come together and lift a country out of a economic collapse and then band together and sacrifice to end tyranny in two hemispheres. Can we be a generation that hunkers down together to defeat a world threat like they did? I am not so sure.

That is what I thought of this morning is how Israel had degenerated into a divided country where a civil war was the result. It reminds me of how our country is right at the moment. Let’s keep that in mind as we read through this passage for the first of two times:

20 Then all the Israelites were united as one man, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, including those from across the Jordan in the land of Gilead. The entire community assembled in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah. 2 The leaders of all the people and all the tribes of Israel—400,000 warriors armed with swords—took their positions in the assembly of the people of God. 3 (Word soon reached the land of Benjamin that the other tribes had gone up to Mizpah.) The Israelites then asked how this terrible crime had happened.

4 The Levite, the husband of the woman who had been murdered, said, “My concubine and I came to spend the night in Gibeah, a town that belongs to the people of Benjamin. 5 That night some of the leading citizens of Gibeah surrounded the house, planning to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she was dead. 6 So I cut her body into twelve pieces and sent the pieces throughout the territory assigned to Israel, for these men have committed a terrible and shameful crime. 7 Now then, all of you—the entire community of Israel—must decide here and now what should be done about this!”

8 And all the people rose to their feet in unison and declared, “None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! 9 Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. 10 One-tenth of the men[a] from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah[b] of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” 11 So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town.

12 The Israelites sent messengers to the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What a terrible thing has been done among you! 13 Give up those evil men, those troublemakers from Gibeah, so we can execute them and purge Israel of this evil.”

But the people of Benjamin would not listen. 14 Instead, they came from their towns and gathered at Gibeah to fight the Israelites. 15 In all, 26,000 of their warriors armed with swords arrived in Gibeah to join the 700 elite troops who lived there. 16 Among Benjamin’s elite troops, 700 were left-handed, and each of them could sling a rock and hit a target within a hairsbreadth without missing. 17 Israel had 400,000 experienced soldiers armed with swords, not counting Benjamin’s warriors.

18 Before the battle the Israelites went to Bethel and asked God, “Which tribe should go first to attack the people of Benjamin?”

The Lord answered, “Judah is to go first.”

19 So the Israelites left early the next morning and camped near Gibeah. 20 Then they advanced toward Gibeah to attack the men of Benjamin. 21 But Benjamin’s warriors, who were defending the town, came out and killed 22,000 Israelites on the battlefield that day.

22 But the Israelites encouraged each other and took their positions again at the same place they had fought the previous day. 23 For they had gone up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord until evening. They had asked the Lord, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again?”

And the Lord had said, “Go out and fight against them.”

24 So the next day they went out again to fight against the men of Benjamin, 25 but the men of Benjamin killed another 18,000 Israelites, all of whom were experienced with the sword.

26 Then all the Israelites went up to Bethel and wept in the presence of the Lord and fasted until evening. They also brought burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. 27 The Israelites went up seeking direction from the Lord. (In those days the Ark of the Covenant of God was in Bethel, 28 and Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron was the priest.) The Israelites asked the Lord, “Should we fight against our relatives from Benjamin again, or should we stop?”

The Lord said, “Go! Tomorrow I will hand them over to you.”

29 So the Israelites set an ambush all around Gibeah. 30 They went out on the third day and took their positions at the same place as before. 31 When the men of Benjamin came out to attack, they were drawn away from the town. And as they had done before, they began to kill the Israelites. About thirty Israelites died in the open fields and along the roads, one leading to Bethel and the other leading back to Gibeah.

32 Then the warriors of Benjamin shouted, “We’re defeating them as we did before!” But the Israelites had planned in advance to run away so that the men of Benjamin would chase them along the roads and be drawn away from the town.

33 When the main group of Israelite warriors reached Baal-tamar, they turned and took up their positions. Meanwhile, the Israelites hiding in ambush to the west[c] of Gibeah jumped up to fight. 34 There were 10,000 elite Israelite troops who advanced against Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that Benjamin didn’t realize the impending disaster. 35 So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors, all of whom were experienced swordsmen. 36 Then the men of Benjamin saw that they were beaten.

The Israelites had retreated from Benjamin’s warriors in order to give those hiding in ambush more room to maneuver against Gibeah. 37 Then those who were hiding rushed in from all sides and killed everyone in the town. 38 They had arranged to send up a large cloud of smoke from the town as a signal. 39 When the Israelites saw the smoke, they turned and attacked Benjamin’s warriors.

By that time Benjamin’s warriors had killed about thirty Israelites, and they shouted, “We’re defeating them as we did in the first battle!” 40 But when the warriors of Benjamin looked behind them and saw the smoke rising into the sky from every part of the town, 41 the men of Israel turned and attacked. At this point the men of Benjamin became terrified, because they realized disaster was close at hand. 42 So they turned around and fled before the Israelites toward the wilderness. But they couldn’t escape the battle, and the people who came out of the nearby towns were also killed.[d] 43 The Israelites surrounded the men of Benjamin and chased them relentlessly, finally overtaking them east of Gibeah.[e] 44 That day 18,000 of Benjamin’s strongest warriors died in battle. 45 The survivors fled into the wilderness toward the rock of Rimmon, but Israel killed 5,000 of them along the road. They continued the chase until they had killed another 2,000 near Gidom.

46 So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, 47 leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. 48 And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to.

Here in this passage, we see that perhaps the tribe of Benjamin had been possibly given distorted facts about the crime that had been committed or perhaps they were just too proud to admit that some of their people had stooped so low. In either case, they would not listen to the rest of Israel and hand over the accused criminals. They were more loyal to their ideals than they were to the good of the nation. They were more loyal to their tribe than the were to moral laws of God. By covering for their kinsmen, the entire tribe was defending an immoral act than now made them as low as the criminals themselves. Through this act, we get a glimpse of how thoroughly the nation’s moral fabric had unraveled. The time period of the judges is drawing to a close with a bloody civil war. The effects of this horrible rape and murder should have never been felt outside of the community in which it occurred. Those local people should have brought the criminals to justice and corrected the lawlessness that allowed the crime to happen. Instead the town and then the whole tribe/region defended the wickedness – even going to war over it.

Do you not see the path that our country is on in this story? We are just the same. We do not care if we are wrong. We just defend our position even if it is wrong. Why does this play out on the national stage? Because that is the way our nation is, in general, on an individual level. We are a nation that has grown up getting whatever we want handed to us. We are now generations of people that never had to sacrifice for anything. We are a nation of spoiled little rich kids by comparison to previous generations. We want what we want and we want it now. My ideas are better than yours and I will refuse to participate if you don’t see things my way. Just look at how we change wives and husbands when we don’t get our way. Look at how we no longer make things that improve society. We make toys that entertain ME now. While our nation’s infrasturture crumbles around us, we have more thought about the next iPhone than we do about the crumbling bridges we drive over in our self-contained entertainment devices that we call cars.

May we as a nation learn to compromise again. May we become a nation that respects each other’s idea. May we become a nation that no longer worships itself. May we be a nation that worships God! May we see the evil in ourselves and turn from it and return to the Lord. May we see ourselves in ancient Israel and be disgusted by it and return to God.

Amen and Amen.