Posts Tagged ‘doing whatever is right in our own eyes’

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)

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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.