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.

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Promise (1 Chronicles 17:13-14)

“I will be His Father, and He shall be my Son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from Him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle Him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and His throne shall be established forever.”

1 Chronicles 17:13-14

So, David felt bad that he was living in a “permanent” house while the Ark — the symbol of God’s presence — was sitting in a tent. He decides that he wants to build a permanent dwelling for the Ark and the prophet Nathan thinks it’s a great idea. This morning’s verses are the tail end of what God tells Nathan to say to David. The summary is that God is pleased that David is so concerned about God and about God’s glory and about the obvious disparity between Israel’s king and Israel’s God at that moment. God tells David that he (David) will not build a house for God, but that God will “build a house” for David. This promise includes the promise that the Messiah would be of the line of David — this morning’s verses.

God promises that the King He establishes will be God’s Son. Jesus is the Son of God and is of the line of David. God promises not to take away His lovingkindness — sometimes rendered “mercy” — away from this King. The promise continues that God will establish this King in His (God’s) house and kingdom forever. Ultimately, God promises that one of David’s descendants will be the Messiah. No other figure in Israel’s history receives that particular package deal of promises.

Fast forward to the NT. One writes, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us that we may become to children of God.” God, through Christ, extends the promise of sonship to everyone who believers. Another writes that those who believe are not destined for wrath, implying that God’s mercy rests on us. Jesus says that He has gone to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house where there are many mansions. The promises made to David are fulfilled in Christ and Christ then extends many (not all) of those promises to those who believe. Why? As Paul wrote, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things are new. The emphasis added reminds me of why those promises are extended to me as a believer. They are extended because I am in Christ. Christ is the intended recipient.

Application? God has made promises both lovely and frightening. Am I living as the recipient of those promises? A quick jaunt through scripture reveals that I am promised grace sufficient to withstand the trials and temptations in my life and many, many other things. Am I receiving those promises and living accordingly? If not, I am probably a pretty sad excuse for what I could be in Christ. If not, why not?

Missed Opportunities

Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Genesis 31:3

Ever notice how sometimes God gives only enough direction to provide a general sense of which way He wants us to go? Jacob has noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him has changed and that Laban’s sons, Jacob’s brothers-in-law, are grumbling about God’s blessing on Jacob. Things are going south in a big way. In the midst of all this, God drops in and says, “Hit the road, Jake.”

I think this was an opportunity for Jacob. God didn’t say how or when to leave; He just said leave. Jacob was given the opportunity to be up front about things. He could have gone to Laban and said, “I’ve noticed that relations are strained and thought it might be a good time for me to head back home. I mean, my folks haven’t met the grand kids yet and your sons seem to be really unhappy with the way things are. So, I think I’ll be heading out tomorrow.” Jacob could have given Laban the chance to do something sneaky and have God pop in and tell Laban not to mess with Jacob like that. So many things could have been and might have been, but they weren’t. And I think that means Jacob missed this opportunity.

Sometimes, God does the same thing with me. He tells me that He wants to do something, but only gives enough information for me to take an opportunity or miss it. Years ago, I was approached and asked to pray about serving in the junior high youth ministry at the church I was attending at the time. I thought I was being asked to pick up teaching duties and prayed generally about whether or not God wanted me to step into that service. I got a “Yes” back and passed the answer along to the pastor who had talked with me. He prayed over me and the prayer was for a ministry overseer. What? I proceeded to serve and stumble and bumble my way through a year or two of overseeing that ministry and eventually stepped down when I probably should have stayed. God gave only as much information as I needed to make the decision. I asked if He wanted me in that role and He said yes. I didn’t ask Him what the role was or He might have answered. Had Jacob asked God when He wanted Jacob to leave, I suspect that God would have given a very specific answer.

There it is. I think that this morning’s verse is about opportunities. I think God will sometimes give just enough information tknow what His will is without giving us the how He wants it done. Maybe He gives us these general instructions to bring us back to Him. I mean, Jacob hadn’t really been talking with God very much that The Bible records — and we’re talking about a period of twenty years. Maybe Gd gives us these generalized instructions to take the pulse of our understanding. Will we do things His way or our way; will we rely on Him or fall back on habits that have managed to eke us through? God’s not interested in us eking through, He came that we might have life and that more abundantly. So He wants us to do things His way so we can enjoy the blessings thereof. I could spend all morning theorizing about why God might do this and any of the theories could be right in a given situation and they could all be wrong because God’s thoughts are so much higher than mine.

God is going to give general direction and opportunities. How will I respond?

 

Father God, do not let me do things as Jacob did: in my own strength and reasoning and abilities. Please cause me, instead, to turn to You for further guidance and for strength to do Your work in Your way. Thank You that You care enough to direct at all and that You are just as interested in how and why I do things as You are in what I do.

Blessings

But Laban said to him, “If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the LORD has blessed me on your account”

Genesis 30:27

Sometimes, people are blessed because they are righteous. We see examples of this peppered around The Bible.

Sometimes, people are blessed for no reason in particular. I mean, there is a verse that says God rains down His blessings on the righteous and unrighteous alike. It’s like God’s just looking to bless someone and that individual gets singled out. No issues of merit or deserving involved.

Sometimes, people are blessed because of righteous people hanging with them. This was the case for Laban. Now, Laban pulled the old switcheroo on Jacob, which amuses me since Jacob had a habit of pulling that same maneuver on other people, while Jacob had been faithful in his service to Laban. Laban’s flocks had gone from sad to spectacular under Jacob’s care. I can think of a lot of really plausible theories as to why, but the theories don’t really matter. The end result is that Laban’s oversight spelled sad flock while Jacob’s oversight resulted in numerous, healthy livestock. Why? According to Laban: Jacob. And The Bible does not add any note that Laban was wrong.

I think that the same can be true of God’s children today. When we are walking with God as we should and doing all things as unto the LORD then we will be a very standard blessing to our employers: a good employee. We live in times when people insist on their “rights” and make a fuss when things are not strictly according to Hoyle. I’m not saying that rules shouldn’t be followed or that workers should be exploited, but in an economy with college graduates unemployed we might want to show a bit more gratitude for having a job if we have one.

In a few minutes, I am going to leave this keyboard and get ready for work. What kind of an employee will I be? Will I be the sort who blesses my company with diligence and dedication to seeing my work done right—in short a blessing—or will I slack off and generally waste the company’s resources by being an unproductive drain on them? The choice is mine.

But there is an element over which I have no control. God may choose to bless the work I do beyond my meager ability. I may be doing nothing more than the best I can at my work and God takes that “best” and makes more of it than I could ever manage. When He does something like that, I become a blessing to my employer like Jacob was to Laban.

Does the story of Jacob and Laban end here? Not even close. But this is where I’m stopping my train of thought this morning, with the choice: Do I choose to be diligent and do the very best I am able or do I choose to be a drain on my company? The choice is mine.

A Gentle Spirit

And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.

Genesis 27:17

Much has been made of this verse in many ways. More, lots of folks skip over this one and land on the “romantic” verse where Jacob works for seven years and they seem like a day because of his love for Rachel. While I recognize the romance of the other verse (I’ve heard women give a swooning sigh over it more than once), I wanted to explore something that caught in my brain this morning.

The notion of Leah having “weak eyes” has been interpreted in lots of ways — mostly giving the impression that she was not an attractive woman. The words used and how Strong’s concordance gives their possible definitions left me with a different impression. The word “eyes” is the word `ayin (עַיִן) and could mean her literal eyes, but could also mean mental qualities or spiritual qualities (or fountain, which I do not want to get into at this hour of the day). So it could be that her physical eyes are missing a certain something that a guy would have found attractive and desirable back then, but it could also mean that her mental or spiritual qualities are what is referenced. The word “weak” is rak (רַךְ) and means tender, soft, delicate, or weak. With all of this in mind, two alternate notions of what Jacob found lacking in Leah present themselves.

First, Leah could have been feeble-minded. There are folks who are not the most mentally astute; not the sharpest knives in the drawer. This does not say anything about their physical attractiveness or anything else, just that they’re not PhD candidates. And there is not thing one wrong with that. This notion makes Jacob’s later confusion of Leah for Rachel a bit more understandable to me, since a weak mind would probably not be something on parade during the wedding night.

Second, this could refer to Leah being of a tender spirit. My wife is a bit like this. Her heart and soul are sensitive and tender and require a bit more care in terms of how I approach her. For the sake of clarity, I should mention that tact and I are not exactly on one another’s speed dial, so this is challenging for me. Would this manifest on the wedding night and give Jacob a hint that he had the wrong woman in his tent? Probably not. A tender spirit manifests in very loving ways. My wife is sensitive to my needs and desires and tries very hard to make sure she communicates her love in ways that I understand. I’m male and especially oblivious for my gender (ladies, you can commiserate with my wife later), so this is not always easy for her.

What would either of these imply about Rachel? See, the focus is so often on Leah and how sad it is for her that we forget to flip it around and see what the statement about Leah implies about her little sister. If the idea is that Leah was not mentally acute then the implication is that Rachel was. Or, at the very least, was moreso than her sister. If the idea is that Leah had a tender spirit then the implication is that Rachel was a ferocious spirit. Or, again, at least less tender than Leah. Among her sisters (my wife has two), my wife is the gentle and tender spirit. She can be ferocious when necessary, but she’s generally not. Something else about tender spirits: they’re not forward. To a guy like Jacob—or, you know, most guys—a forward woman is attractive in a very particular way. Rachel might have been the kind of woman who just came out and told anyone and everyone what she wanted (reference her later demand that Jacob give her children or she would die) whereas Leah might have been more the type who just let what she wanted fall by the wayside.

So…? The second idea is the one that really impacts me this morning. My wife is a gentle spirit and there is much to be said in favor of that type of woman. First, gentle spirits tend to encourage quietly and not stumble. Later on, Rachel will be the one stealing her father’s household idols and getting in arguments with Jacob. Leah will be a wife and mother and—more importantly—not mentioned as having anything to do with idols. Second, gentle spirits want to be loved. As the nation starts, Leah keeps hoping that this son will mean that Jacob is attached to her and loves her; that this will be the time she finally feels loved. The implication for spouses of these gentle spirits is that we need (I include my married-to-a-gentle-spirit self in the group) need to make sure our spouses know that they are loved. It encourages their heart and bolsters their spirit. Third, gentle spirits have a spiritual legacy. Ready for this? Rachel’s sons produce a type of Christ (Joseph) and the first king of Israel (Saul, tribe of Benjamin). Leah’s sons include Levi—the tribe that births Moses and the priesthood— and Judah—the tribe that leads to a Man from Nazareth named Jesus. Leah, in all her gentleness, is given a spiritual legacy that continues to bless us today.

Unexpected Places

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Genesis 28:16

God has a tendency to show up when we least expect Him.

Many years ago, my youngest sister passed away. That phrase works pretty well, because she is a believer and I fully expect to see her again. It took a while before my family noticed it, but God was in the midst of everything. Little details, like my sister having spoken with our brother-in-law about how she wanted her body disposed of, slid quietly and efficiently into place and, one-by-one, the places where God showed Himself increased in number.

The following year, I called off a wedding. It was not an easy decision, nor was it painless, and more than one relationship was destroyed in the explosion from that decision. As the house of cards I had built came tumbling down, I found God standing there with His peace on offer. I accepted His peace, I would’ve been a fool not to, and some of what followed was more endurable. More importantly, God was there in the middle of the storm.

If we pay attention to the scriptures then we notice that self same pattern in the pages of God’s word. Abraham is trying to avoid working during the hot part of the day and God shows up on His way to nuke Sodom and Gomorrah. This visit is unexpected because God used to walk with Adam and Eve during the cool part of the day. Later, Moses will be out tending sheep when God shows up and commissions him. Moses doesn’t expect this visit, in part, because he (Moses) has been out of the courts of power and influence for forty years. A Samaritan woman goes down to the well to draw water when she’s reasonably certain no one else will be around and, lo and behold, God is sitting there waiting for her and asking for a drink. Over and over the pattern repeats that God feels free to drop in when no one expects Him.

What would it be like if I always expected God? I mean, if I lived my life with the constant awareness that I could round any old corner—metaphorically speaking—and bump into my God. How would my life be different if that was my outlook? How would I be different? Would the trials and difficulties in life phase me any more or would I be waiting to bump into God in the midst of them? See, The Bible also says that God sometimes shows up when we expect Him; that God often shows up when we need Him (sometimes He handles our needs indirectly); and that He always shows up when He promised to be present.

I need to be living with the constant awareness that my God could be visiting at any moment. And I need to not be surprised when God shows up in places I don’t expect.

SOAP: 04 March 2014

They said, “We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.’”

Genesis 26:28-29

In context, Isaac is speaking with Abimelech—which some folks think might have been a title like Caesar or Pharaoh or Herod—and has stated plainly that Abimelech and his people hate Isaac and his coterie. So why does Abimelech come out with this bit about blessings and covenants and doing good?

Sometimes, the blessings of God on a life are obvious. Isaac had gone hunting for water and found it all over the place which is kind of a big deal in places like Israel. When the people living in the area argued over who owned the water, Isaac just let it go and wandered off to the next bit of water. Isaac had planted and, in the middle of a famine, had harvested so much that he became wealthy in short order. All this material blessing could not go unnoticed. As Isaac’s wealth increased and as his reputation for just letting things be spread, it created a paradox in the minds of those who increased their wealth by taking it from others—Wall Street types should be taking notes—and those people reported what they saw to their ruler. What they saw was their attempts to take this man’s substance turned around and made increase of his wealth. Every. Single. Time. Do I think that God is always going to protect people’s material wealth? Nope. If Jesus is going to claim that we will always have the poor with us (and He did) then it follows that some people are going to be poor for whatever reason, including being ripped off. What I do think is that the attack wherein the world intends to strip the believer of something God means for us to have is the attack that God will thwart and potentially turn back around into a blessing for us. Does the world mean to take away my peace? Then God may just pour out so much peace that it spills over onto others around me.

The issue of a covenant is a simple thing, really. Abimelech saw that Isaac had something supernatural going on for him. The ruler noticed that Isaac’s life was one of blessing. So he did what a good ruler does: he tried to make a peace treaty with someone who could be a potential threat. It makes sense, really. I mean, Abimelech hears through the grapevine that folks have tried to impoverish Isaac and it has backfired completely. He hears that Isaac doesn’t even bother himself with fighting over the water; dude just goes off and digs a new well. With water being as precious as it was back then, that alone was probably enough to blow Abimelech’s mind. Later, Paul would write that believers should, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with all people. Isaac was living this out and it was blowing minds.

What about the whole “doing good” thing? Either Abimelech is delusional and thinks running a dude away from water is a good thing (maybe he figured that everyone was still alive, so that was good, right?) or he hasn’t heard about the whole water thing (which I think unlikely) or he’s thinking of the recent incident where Isaac lied about Rebekah and Abimelech gave orders for no one to harm Isaac (which, apparently, did not include leaving Isaac’s stuff alone).

Regardless of Abimelech’s screwy notions of “doing good” to someone, he had seen the hand of God at work in the life of Isaac and wanted to make peace with the person touched by that hand. I think that believers today too often forget that God is capable of defending Himself and we feel the need to go protest something or picket something or whatever. Isaac didn’t protest or picket or take anyone to court, he just moved on. Can I honestly say that I would rather just move on and let God handle the details of things like me being defrauded? If not, why not? Because in that willingness to let God be the arbiter and leave God to plead my case, I leave room for an unbelieving world to see my God work on behalf of His child. And in that room where God works is the place where the unbelieving world is brought face-to-face with the reality of my God.