SOAP Journal – 06 September 2017 (1 Samuel 14:24-46)

But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die.

1 Samuel 14:45

After Jonathan and his armor bearer start the fighting by killing about twenty men (1 Samuel 14:14), Saul and the rest of the Israelite army get into the fight. But Saul makes an ill-advised oath: he said “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” (1 Samuel 14:24). There are so many reasons why this is a terrible oath under which to put the people, but the most obvious is that people who have exerted themselves strenuously are going to be hungry.

The trouble comes in waves. The first wave happens in verses 31-35 wherein the people, famished from exertion, get so hungry that they just start tearing into the meat before it has been properly drained of blood. This, according to The Law, is sinful. Saul rebukes the people for doing this and has them roll over a large stone on which they can properly slaughter the animals and have their little cookout.

The second wave comes once the people have finished eating and Saul thinks it would be a great idea to go down into the Philistine camp by night and do some killing and plundering (1 Samuel 14:36-42). Sound military tactics. Saul does what he should and asks God whether or not the Israelites should do what he (Saul) thinks they should do. God does not answer. Saul immediately concludes, correctly,  that someone in the camp ate when he (Saul) had expressly forbidden it. Turns out that Jonathan had not heard his father give that order and he (Jonathan) had seen some honey in the forest and had a little snack while on the march. Saul decides that he is going to follow-through with his rash oath, but the people intervene with this morning’s verse.

Saul’s rash vow not only led the people into a place where the temptation was too much for them, it also very nearly cost him one of this sons. Points to Saul for wanting to follow-through with what he said. Points taken away for the lack of forethought that went into the vow.

What sort of commitments and obligations am I making? I very well might be making commitments that have nothing wrong with them on the surface — fasting is not inherently bad — but may have consequences if I take the time to stop and consider — for example, hungry people marching and fighting are going to be weakened physically or mentally. If I am committing to something, even something that is apparently good, I need to consider what the impacts of that commitment might be and I need to seek God’s counsel on it. God never told Saul to put the people under an oath of fasting. And there is no record of Saul consulting God on whether or not he (Saul) should put the people under such an obligation. That was all Saul. But God might very well have warned Saul away from that vow if Saul had stopped to consult with God beforehand. Let me pray and consider the commitments I am asked to make or plan to make before I commit to them. It might save me a lot of trouble.

Father, thank You for this reminder that even apparently good things like fasting can be a bad idea in the wrong context. Please bring this to mind the next time I am asked to make a commitment and let me bring that commitment before You before I decide.

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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 – 05 April 2017 (Numbers 30:13-15)

“Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it. But if her husband indeed says nothing to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all her obligations which are on her; he has confirmed them, because he said nothing to her on the day he heard them. But if he indeed annuls them after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.”

Numbers 30:13-15

There are parts of the Law that I have trouble understanding. My thoughts, for good or ill, are influenced by the fact that I grew to maturity in the late 20th Century and am still living in this first part of the 21st. Because of this temporal context, there are certain things that I take for granted. Things like the idea that a man cannot override the commitments made by a woman — not his wife or daughters or any other woman — even if the commitment was not well thought out. There are exceptions to this thinking — my three-year-old daughter is regularly going to be overridden by her mother and me — but the state of the West and what I have been taught all says that a woman speaks for herself.

Then I read a passage like Numbers 30 and my 20th/21st Century thinking collides with my belief that The Bible is relevant to today’s society. The thought that a husband or father could override a grown woman’s commitments does not jive. But certain words stood out to me: he shall bear her guilt. These five words change things for me.

First, these five words acknowledge that failing to keep our word is sinful. It is her guilt that he shall bear, after all. So contract law and all sorts of other things that spring into my mind are all affirmed. It is like hearing that she opened a credit account and he must pay the debt incurred or suffer the damaged credit rating. Which leads me to a second thought.

Second, the ancient world was not like the present. The comparison of her vow to a credit account is apt, because credit was based on whether or not one was trusted to keep their word in the ancient world. Back when, if I asked to borrow something from someone else — money, seed, tools, whatever — the evaluation of whether or not I could be trusted to pay back the debt or return the item intact was based entirely on my reputation. What this passage does is tell me that the one whose name was on the account, so to speak, had final say over what charges could be made against it. It was the husband or father’s reputation that was banked against at that point in history. This is why, I think, the vow of the widow and the divorcee stands (v 9), these women are banking on their own reputation; using their own credit.

A woman might make a vow to God and her husband or father revokes that. The vow was made, but God no longer imputes the guilt to her. She, as far as the text implies, acted in good faith, fully expecting to make good on the vow. Her husband or father, for whatever reason, overrides that vow. There may be valid reasons — the family finances cannot withstand the extra cost, for example — but there is still guilt. And it is the husband or father who bears that guilt.

The application is just a step to the side; a step out of myself and looking at something larger, by far. The church — every believer ever — is called the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9, 22:17). We have made all manner of commitments in our lives — some good, others not. And our Husband, Jesus Christ, chooses which vows will stand and which will not. And He bears the guilt of the ones that are not permitted to stand. That is part of what happened at the cross. He revoked the bad contracts into which I had knowingly and unknowingly entered — the vow that death could have me, the commitment that sin would get and keep power over me, as examples — and He paid the price to break them. The contract was valid and the price to leave it had to be paid and Jesus bore the cost.

Maybe this is all stretching things. I am certain that some who think The Bible an outdated book would dismiss what has been written here as feeble attempts to justify it. They would be wrong. I am not trying to justify The Bible — I do not think it needs justification — but to understand it.

Thank You, Jesus, for revoking the bad commitments Your church made and for bearing our guilt. Thank You for loving us enough to do that. Please keep us; keep me from vows and commitments that should not be made.