SOAP Journal – 14 August 2017 (Ruth 4)

Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.

Ruth 4:18-22

As the book of Ruth draws to a close, Boaz redeems the land and takes Ruth as a wife. Ruth and Boaz have a son who is named Obed.

That last part was seen as great. Obed would grow to occupy the place, legally speaking, of Ruth’s first husband, Mahlon. Obed was treated, in a legal sense, as the heir of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, so Obed would get the land and be responsible for taking care of Naomi. It was a win all around.

The book closes with something interesting. The book gives a genealogy from Perez, the son of Judah by Tamar, to King David. It may very well be that the author of this book was just putting down a family history when they wrote it and documenting the lineage of King David. Considering the close of the book, it seems likely.  But this also allows the reader to keep tracking the lineage of the Messiah. Genesis got us as far as Judah and Perez, the book of Ruth gets us as far as David. Other books will continue the lineage.

The lineage is interesting, in part, because it puts Boaz down as part of that family line. It would probably have been sufficient to bring in Elimelech, as he has an inheritance in Judah and would therefore be in the lineage of Judah. Boaz took a chance that he would have no posterity when he redeemed Ruth and the land. Boaz redeeming the land meant that he would pay for a piece of property that would be inherited by the first son he had (if he had one) and that son would inherit in the name of someone else and be considered a part of that family line. Boaz, for all practical purposes, was willing to chance writing himself and his family name out of history.

Jesus, in redeeming the Church, His Bride, did the same thing. Jesus had no wife and no children and His name lives on in those He redeemed. Boaz was willing to take that risk and the book of Ruth records him for all time. Far from being forgotten by history, Boaz becomes a character in the unfolding drama of our Redeemer.

Sometimes, God is going to ask me to do something that seems like it will write me out of the story. Am I willing to let that happen? If I am content to go where God leads and do what God instructs, then I may very well be written out of the larger story — there are plenty of nameless and unremarked prophets mentioned in passing in the Old Testament. Or, like Boaz, I may end up playing a key role in the story. The only way to find out is to step out and let God do what God is going to do.

Father, thank You that Boaz is included despite his willingness to be left out. Thank You that You show, through Boaz, that You can make a heart willing to do what is right and good no matter the personal cost. Please work in my heart to make it so. Let me be willing to do things that will go unremarked if You are the One Who bids me do them.

SOAP Journal – 11 August 2017 (Ruth 3)

Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

Ruth 3:18

The story of Ruth keeps rolling along and Naomi decides that she should try to find a husband for Ruth. It makes sense. The best way to make sure that Ruth’s situation was secure was to find her a husband. Ruth could, as a widow, continue to glean and to provide for herself and Naomi, but that would be a very uncertain future. What is more, Naomi has a man in mind: Boaz.

Something Boaz says is interesting to me. He says to Ruth,  “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10), thus revealing himself to not be a young man. This brings questions: How old is he? Did he ever marry before? If no, why not? What is the age different between him and Ruth? And the text is silent on these. We are told only that he is willing to marry Ruth and thus redeem both her and the property. Then Naomi adds her color commentary and says that the man will not rest until he has settled it today. So we learn something else about him: he is decisive and tenacious. Once he has decided to do a thing, he will do it and make sure that it is done.

Small wonder, then, that Jesus and Boaz are often paralleled. Jesus also decided to redeem His Bride, the church, and once He had decided that, He made sure it was done.

How do I apply this? The Church, as a body, is the Bride of Christ, so let me not be confused on that score. I am not Christ’s Bride. I am His friend, according to His own words. He is, however, my Redeemer. He paid my debt so that I could be free. Let me act on this knowledge and acquit myself as a man ought. I owe a debt, let me seek to repay it as best I can. I know that I cannot repay it, the debt was too great for me to repay or I would have repaid it myself. Let me, instead, seek to render service to Jesus Christ; the One Who paid my debt and set me free from it and its penalties. Jesus paid my price, let me seek to render service that may pay back some small measure of what He has done for me. I owe Him that much and more.

Father, please keep me mindful that I am a debtor to You and to Jesus Christ Who paid my debt. Please work in me to make me a worthwhile servant; to enable me to give back to You even an infinitesimal fraction of what I owe. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for paying the debt I could not pay.

SOAP Journal – 10 August 2017 (Ruth 2)

The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.”

Ruth 2:6

As I come to the second chapter of Ruth, I find myself wanting to look a bit at the servant in charge of Boaz’s reapers. I am not given his name or age or any other personal details, but what he says and does speak of who he is and of what kind of servant Boaz puts in charge.

The first thing I note is that he is observant. When Boaz asks who Ruth is, this servant knows without having to ask. He is fully aware of who this woman is that has been working in the fields all day. He is also aware of how long she has been working and how long she has been resting. This gives me an insight into why Boaz would want this man supervising his servants. This servant has an eye for details and he keeps track of things.

The second thing I note is that he has character. Ruth asked permission to glean — even though The Law codified gleaning as a sort of workfare for the poor — and the servant did not take advantage of Ruth’s situation. Ruth is not an Israelite and a person of lesser character might have seen her status as an opportunity to try to extract some payment or to make her situation even more difficult. This servant does no such thing. He gives her permission to glean with no caveats or stipulations.

The third and final thing I note is that this servant sees the good things that people do. When he reports who Ruth is, he speaks of her as the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. He speaks of the sacrifice that she made by staying with her mother-in-law He also informs Boaz that Ruth has been working in the fields from the morning until whenever the conversation took place. The servant sees her work ethic and how she is laboring to take care of herself and her mother-in-law.

When the book of Ruth is taught, Boaz is often pointed to as a type of Christ and Ruth as a type of the church. If Boaz stands in for Jesus, then what does the servant in charge tell me about the servants that Jesus wants? Observant people of character who see the good things that others do and are ready to report that good. Let me be such a servant to my Lord. Let me be observant, looking to see what is going on and keeping track of things. Let me be a man of character. And let me be always ready to report the good things that people do. It is far too easy to relate the bad.

Father, thank You for this nameless servant who shows character, an observant mind, and a readiness to see and recount the good things that happen. Please form this kind of character in me; one that observes and is focused on the good things that happen.

SOAP Journal – 09 August 2017 (Ruth 1:14)

And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Ruth 1:14

I have read and heard and told the story of Ruth so many times, that it is difficult to come to this book as if for the first time. In the first part of the story, I want to zoom in on the two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth.

Their names are kind of foreshadowing. Orpah means “gazelle” and Ruth means “friend.” One is going to bolt when trouble arrives while the other will remain. So our introduction to these women serves to tell us what is coming. And their husbands’ names fulfill much the same purpose. Mahlon and Chilion mean “sick” and “pining” respectively. When someone is sick or pining, it is only a matter of time before something has to give. Either they will recover or the illness persist or will worsen. Either they will get the thing for which they pine, or desire will make them sick.

And being widowed is the trouble that the names foreshadowed. Both husbands die, leaving behind both wives with their widowed mother-in-law. Three widows in three verses (vv. 3-5). At the beginning, both women do what is socially expected of them at the time. Naomi decides to go back to Judah and her daughters start packing to go with her (v. 7).  This was the social norm of the time. Once a woman married into a family, she was considered a part of that family. Where the family went, she went. And Naomi is all that remains of the family.

Naomi tells the young women that they should go back to their families (vv. 8-9). She tells them that she, being a widow herself, has no hope of producing any more children (or really of being remarried) and that there is no way for her to provide new husbands for these women. Again, the social norm of the time was that a woman was provided for by her husband. It was a fairly common practice that a surviving brother would marry his deceased brother’s widow in order to provide for her and continue the family name. If a woman did not marry, then she was supported by her father.

Both of the young women do what would have been expected at the time. They protest and say that they will stay with Naomi. Again, family was a big deal back then and staying with family was considered right and proper.

That brings us up to this morning’s verse. Orpah makes a ruckus then kisses Naomi goodbye and goes back to her old life. She might have remarried and had a troupe of children. The Bible is silent on the matter. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to leave Naomi. When Ruth promised herself to her husband, she was all in. She had decided that she was going to stay with this family come what may. And she does. Her husband has died and her mother-in-law tried to send her back to her parents. But Ruth refused to be sent back. She utters what may be one of the more famous quotes in the book that bears her name, Do not urge me to leave you [or] turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people [shall be] my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if [anything but] death parts you and me (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth lives up to her name and is a friend to Naomi.

The story turns out very well indeed for Ruth, though it is not all sunshine and roses along the way. But I want to come back to the two Moabite women.

Orpah married a man. She did not marry his family or his faith or anything else that came along with the package. She just married the man. So, when the mane was gone, so was she. I am not going to advocate for women taking on their husband’s faith or abandoning their family or anything like that. I am, rather, going to take Orpah as a metaphor.

Ruth, contrarily, married not just the man but his family and people and faith. She committed herself to the whole package. Again, I am not going to take Ruth as a case in point and try to make any assertions about marriage, but will take Ruth as a metaphor.

Orpah and Ruth both married Israelites; committed themselves to the family of faith. When trial came, they had very different responses. Orpah could be, as Jesus put it in the parable of the sower, the rocky soil. The seed sprouted quickly, but had no root and so it withered when trouble came. Ruth could be, per the same parable, the good soil. The seed sprouted and had good roots, so it weathered the difficulty. Orpah might be seen as a type of fair weather believer: glad to be in the family of faith when things are good and prospects are promising, but ready to leave when things get tough. Ruth might be seen as believer dedicated to following come what may: nothing shakes her resolve to remain with the family of faith.

With which woman do I empathize? Do I find it difficult to stay with the family of faith; to remain dedicated to God and His people when things get rough and the way forward is difficult to discern? Or am I committed to God and His people no matter what?

Father, I know that things get difficult sometimes and that I struggle to hold on. Please give me a devotion like Ruth’s, that holds on no matter what and commits me to You and Your people unreservedly.

SOAP Journal – 08 August 2017 (Judges 19-21)

So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.

Judges 21:2

The book closes with the history of a Levite, his concubine, and the near-destruction of an entire tribe.

The Levite is from the hill country of Ephraim and his concubine runs back home to her father in Jerusalem. The Levite goes after her and her father persuades the Levite to stay a little extra time. When they finally do get going, it is late and they end up staying in a town belonging to Benjamites.

The scene turns sadly familiar as the men of the city surround the house where the Levite is staying wanting to sodomize him. The concubine is thrown to the wolves and they do horrible things to her until daybreak, at which time she succumbs to the trauma and dies. The Levite takes her corpse home, cuts it up in twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each of the tribes. The Israelites gather and the story is told to them and the Israelites determine that the city must be punished.  The tribe of Benjamin disagrees and a civil war ensures. The net result of this civil war is that only 600 men are left of the entire tribe of Benjamin when the dust settles.

The Israelites figure out how to get wives for those remaining men and allow the tribe to continue, but there is more than one instance of weeping and more than one cause for it.

The book wraps up with the statement that In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:35).

This close of the book serves as a stark reminder of how far human depravity can go if left unchecked. If the preceding account was a reminder of how an individual’s sin can spread, then this is a cautionary tale against defending sin. Had the tribe of Benjamin allowed the guilty to be punished, then there would have been a much shorter account. Levite tells what happened, all of the Israelites go wipe out the guilty parties, everyone goes home grateful that things did not turn out worse. Instead, the entire tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped out and thousands of Israelites along with them.

It is, perhaps, telling that the first king of Israel comes from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul is the king that the Israelites wanted. Tall, good-looking, strong, impressive in just about every way. He was also an often godless person. He is shown to frequently be ruled by his impulses. In short, he is an example that the tribe of Benjamin had not really learned all that much from what happens here.

Another notable Benjamite shows up in the New Testament. Another Saul, as it happens. This one persecutes followers of Christ, throwing them in prison and delivering them up to be beaten and killed. He thinks that he is doing God’s work, but he, like King Saul before him, is ruled by impulses and what he thinks is right. Until he meets Jesus.

If the unrepentant tribe of Benjamin in Judges and the impenitent King Saul in 1 Samuel are examples of what can happen when sin goes unchecked, then Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) is an example of how expansive the grace of God is. Paul repents and is used mightily by God — everything forgiven and remembered no more. King Saul does not repent, his life ending as he kills himself on the battlefield to avoid capture, and the throne passes to another line. The tribe of Benjamin does not repent and is almost wiped out. The difference is repentance.

And that is how this comes home to me. Repentance is the difference between a life that is squandered and a life into which God can pour His grace. Let me be searched by God and repent of whatever objectionable thing He finds in me. It is that repentance that opens the door to God’s grace and to my life being a blessing instead of a by-word.

Father, thank You for this example of how damaging sin can be. Please search me and reveal wrongs in me. I know some of them and I repent of them now, asking You to uproot them from me and lead me in the paths of righteousness. Please let my life be a testimony of what Your grace can accomplish instead of a cautionary tale about the damage that sin can do.

SOAP Journal – 07 August 2017 (Judges 17-18)

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:6

The book of Judges takes a sudden turn in chapter 17 and pans the lens around from the judges to the people at large.

Chapter 17 tells the story of a man named Micah who takes money from his mother. He returns the money and mom is so happy that she gives some of the money to a silversmith to make a household idol. There are so many things wrong with the story already that it is amazing. The son steals from his mother. I have known kids to raid their parents’ change drawers looking for small change to buy ice cream and whatnot, but Micah stole 1,100 pieces of silver. Mom rewards him for returning what he stole. There is nothing recorded about her chastising him or disciplining him, just her being happy that he returned what he took from her. And she rewards him with an idol. There is an impressive amount of dysfunction.

But Micah meets with a Levite and offers the Levite a living in his (Micah’s) household as their priest, figuring that God will sanction idolatry if a Levite is involved in it. And the Levite accepts. It is no wonder verse 6 tells us that every man did what was right in his own eyes, because the people are just going haywire. The Levites were not the priests, but temple servants. And having a temple servant or a priest would not make God happy with doing what He commanded not be done.

Chapter 18 continues the saga with the tribe of Dan visiting and some Danite spies meeting up with the Levite on their way to spy out a city to take for their own. They end up conquering the city and taking the Levite, the idol, and a fair bit of what had belonged to Micah’s household on their way. Micah, the idolatrous thief, is left destitute and whinging that his god had been stolen. Which brings us back around to the truth that every man did what was right in his own eyes. And worse, gives the impression that sin is highly contagious. Micah was a thief from whom the Danites stole. Micah was an idolater whose god was taken by the Danites who then became idolaters until the time of the captivity (Judges 18:30-31). One man’s sins grew larger and manifested in an entire tribe of Israelites.

If the earlier chapters were pictures of my Redeemer, then this chapter is a picture of those in need of redemption. When there was no king in our lives, we did whatever seemed right to us. In rare moments, we might have gotten things right, but more often we tried to do the right thing — Micah was seeking God’s approval and even hired a Levite in hopes he might get it — and got everything terribly wrong — what Micah was seeking God’s approval for (idolatry) directly contradicted God’s Ten Commandments. These chapters of the book of Judges seem to be a reminder of how desperately we need the King of Kings in our lives; how we need the Judge of all the Earth to render His verdict on our actions and tell us where we are going wrong (Hint: It is almost everywhere).

Let me examine myself and see if Jesus is, in fact, my King or if I am just paying Him lip service. If He is King in my life, then I should be seeking to obey Him. If there is no desire to obey and no effort in that direction, then I might very well have no King of Kings in my life.

Father, thank You for this reminder of how wrong my best efforts can be. Thank You that my efforts are not the basis of my salvation. Please search me and reveal to me whether or not Jesus is King in my life or if there is some pretender on His throne. If He is King in me, please give me a heart that seeks to obey Him more. If He is not, please pull down the usurper and set my heart to rights.

SOAP Journal – 04 August 2017 (Judges 13-16)

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no [children], but you shall conceive and give birth to a son.”

Judges 13:3

Samson may be the single best-known judge in the book of Judges.

The first recorded thing he did is that he saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines and said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” (Judges 14:1, 3). After that, he makes a bet over a riddle and ends up killing 30 people to keep up his side of the wager and walks out on his wife because she gave away his secret. He later goes back and finds that she married someone else and Samson ties together 300 foxes with torches between their tails and sets the poor animals loose in the Philistines’ grain fields. When the Philistines come to capture him for his arson, he takes a donkey’s jawbone and kills 1,000 men. Later in life, he visits a prostitute and carries away the city gates when people lie in ambush for him. At the tail end of his life, he loves Delilah and is betrayed by her. He loses his God-given strength and his eyes are gouged out. He grinds grain for the Philistines and is brought into their temple to amuse them before he pulls down the pillars and crushes 3,000+ Philistine lords and their wives to death, killing himself in the process. With a biography like that, does he have anything in common with Christ? Yes, actually.

Samson’s birth is announced by the angel of the LORD (Judges 13:3) to both his mother and father (Judges 13:11-14) and Jesus’ birth was announced to Mary and to Joseph.

Samson comes to his own (his wife) and his own does not receive him (Judges 15:1-2). In a similar way, Jesus came to His own (the Israelites) and His own did not receive him (John 1:11).

Samson was betrayed by one close to him … on more than one occasion. His riddle was betrayed by his first wife (Judges 14:16-17). The best man at his wedding is the person his first wife married when Samson walked out (Judges 14:20). And Delilah betrays Samson in ways for which I cannot find adequate description (Judges 16). Jesus was also betrayed by one close to Him (Matthew 26:14-16).

And my last observation is that Samson’s death brought deliverance (Judges 16:30). In his death, Samson killed more of the oppressors than he did in the entire rest of his life. It is by Jesus’ death and resurrection that I am saved.

There is more that could be discussed: the meaning of the names and how Delilah feels a bit like a parallel to believers, but the focus this morning is on Samson and the parallels between his life and that of Christ.

I do not want to apply this in the wrong way. It would be a simple thing to look at this and think that God can use any life, no matter how mangled and marred it might be and to use that reality as a license to go about twisting my life and my self into all the wrong shapes. It is true that God can use any life and that Samson is an excellent example of that. It is also true that this cannot be used for license to mess my life up and expect God to make good of it. As Paul wrote, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2) The entirety of Romans 6 is an excellent read on the subject of license.

So, yes, God can use any life. It is also true that some lives are more effective than others. Samson delivered by killing. Jesus delivered by dying. Samson did what his desires told him and was constantly caught by his circumstances. Jesus did what His Father told Him and was Master over every circumstance. Samson ended his life maimed, miserable, and crushed. Jesus triumphed over death and ascended into glory. Which life would I rather live?

Thank You, Father, that You give us the judges for our instruction. Thank You for sending Your Son, the ultimate Judge, to show us what the other judges only hinted at. Please make my life like that of Your Son: a life submitted to You and lived for Your glory.