Sunday – June 8, 2014 PENTECOST SUNDAY, Ruth 4:1-22 “Gentile Redemption!”

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Ruth 4:5
“Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.”

Unlike some other cultures, Americans love to link romance with marriage. As the lyrics of one 1950s popular song put it, “Love and marriage … go together like a horse and carriage.” You might be disappointed in the story of Ruth because it does not contain as much “romance” as you are used to finding. Naomi sought to orchestrate a marriage between Ruth and Boaz, based on “romance.” She convinced Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her best dress, and then crawl under the covers with Boaz on the threshing floor once he had fallen asleep. A sexual union in these circumstances would have consummated a marriage, albeit not by the most honorable means. Such a “marriage” would have been a “shortcut.”

Naomi’s scheme did not produce a “romantic evening,” or a midnight marriage. However, it did give Ruth the opportunity to ask Boaz to become her husband so as to provide protection and security for her (and for Naomi), as well as to produce a child who would carry on the family line. Boaz regarded Ruth’s actions as honorable, and assured Ruth that he would do as she asked if the nearest kin declined to assume this responsibility. They did spend the remainder of the night in close proximity, but it was far from a romantic interlude. When Ruth reported these things to Naomi, her mother-in-law assured her that Boaz would quickly bring this matter to a conclusion.

In stark contrast to the events of the previous night, we come to the seemingly unromantic legal negotiations and commitments of Chapter 4. Quite frankly, such “unromantic” dealings are a beautiful thing to behold. Chapter 4 is also a stark contrast to what we read in Chapter 1. There, Naomi returned to Bethlehem accompanied by Ruth, refusing to be called “Naomi” (Pleasant), but insisting on being called “Mara” (Bitter) instead. She sought to justify this by claiming that God had dealt harshly with her. She claimed to have gone out to Moab “full,” while returning to Bethlehem “empty.” However, when Chapter 4 draws to an end, Naomi’s arms are “filled” with the child that God has given her through Ruth and Boaz.

 I believe that both Ruth and Boaz took great pleasure in doing God’s will, even in those times when this appeared to be contrary to their own best interests. Naomi, on the other hand, could only sit back and complain, and propose actions that were contrary to God’s will. Chapter 4 of the Book of Ruth puts all the previous events and responses into a proper perspective. Understanding this chapter as we should will enable us to understand the entire book, so we should listen well to what God has to say to us in this text.

 

Sunday – June 1, 2014 Ruth 3:1-18 “Undercover Operations”

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Ruth 3:1-4
“Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”

Naomi has proposed to Ruth a shortcut to getting what Naomi wanted, but by the grace of God, the two principle characters – Ruth and Boaz – remained sterling examples of godly conduct. I have found I have been influenced by some Bible teachers who have tap danced all around the threshing floor, fervently trying to sanctify Naomi’s actions. It is time to take off the rose colored glasses and see the godly manner in which Ruth and Boaz handled the risky situation into which they had been placed by others’ plans.

You might rightly ask why I hold to this position, when others I highly respect and admire see the text quite differently. It all comes down to one’s hermeneutics (the interpreting of Scripture). First, I believe that the Bible is to be understood as it appears. Second, I believe that the Scriptures provide the willing student with all the supporting information one needs to understand what they find in any biblical text. I do not believe that the interpretation of any text hangs upon information discovered outside the Bible whether that is from historical narratives or scholarly commentaries. External information may supplement and illustrate biblical truth, but the interpretation of a biblical text does not hang on something outside of Scripture.

When it comes to the Book of Ruth, many want to see a common cultural practice underlying the actions which Naomi directed. The reality is that we see no such practice in the Bible – anywhere! (Please search for yourself!) Without other biblical texts to support this conclusion, I must take the text at face value. There is no unique cultural interpretation here. In other words, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume.

That being said, the godly character of both Ruth and Boaz is dramatically displayed against the backdrop of Chapter 3. Circumstances were far from ideal here but that did not prevent them from living in a way that should command our respect. We often bemoan the fact that we live in dark days and are more than willing to complain about the evil of our day. Is today any different than the times of the Judges of Israel? It is during such times that the light of the gospel should shine ever more brightly from the distinctiveness of His people so God will get the glory!

Sunday – April 27, 2014 Judges chapter 19 to 21 “Saving Private Benjamin”

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Judges 21:24-25
“The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The final five chapters of Judges function as an appendix to the entire book. Instead of focusing on the sins of Israel or of their judges, these chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. Levites were the priestly tribe in Israel, the religious leadership of the nation. Sadly, we will discover that the religious leadership is not holding the nation accountable for its sin. Instead, the Levites are as messed up as the people they are supposed to lead. Their small, personal failures escalate to tribal and national dimensions and plunge Israel into political and moral anarchy. Thus, Judges concludes with a finger pointing in the face of the Levites.

When the Scriptures tell us each man did what was right in his own eyes, it is not singling out a single level of society or position of leadership. It was across the board. The surface issue is what people were doing, but the elephant in Israel’s room was the standard by which they governed themselves. It was no longer God’s standard but their own eyes and results in people insisting on following the leading of their own lusts, declaring their independence from God and echoing the lie of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

The message of the Book of Judges is a message for the church today. How many of us are outraged at the conduct of the covenant people of God? They were called to be the people of God by a covenant but still refused to be subject to His commands. We have been saved by a covenant of God, but in our self piety, reject the rule of God for what is right in our eyes. We come to church on Sunday because it is congenial and find our moral standard commendable in our own eyes. Yet in our hearts we are as stubborn and sinful as the people of Gibeah in our rejection of God’s authority and standards in our lives.

Sometimes matters appear quite proper on the surface, but if we are willing to look past the obvious and dig a little deeper we will find the true enemy. We may be shocked at the author’s selection of Gibeah and their sins to document Israel’s depravity. But do not let the outrageousness of the offense blind us from the point that the Scriptures are making. The root of it all is each man doing what is right in his own eyes. That root may show itself in the grossest of sins as we see here at the end of Judges or in the veneer of righteousness that can be seen with the rich young ruler, but it all comes from the same source.

Sunday – March 23, 2014 Judges 18 “The Danites Promiseland Part 2”

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Judges 18:30-31 “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” The subject matter of the Book of Judges can be very difficult for our generation to study. Many want a technical commentary to simply explain the tradition and history of this book in hopes of finding the background of ancient Israel. They avoid wrestling with the text, having chosen to be distracted with the possibility of a textual problems or reading into the Hebrew idioms so they do not have to hear the clear teaching of the text. The question we need to ask ourselves is why are we so afraid of the Book of Judges?

Since I have found so few Christian teachers who have willingly attempted this task, forgive me if I step on a few toes. The general theme of this book is God’s dealing with false religion. On one hand, we can intellectually agree that God would be upset with false religion and with so many warnings in the preceding books of the Pentateuch and Joshua; we jump on the band wagon and condemn Israel for surely they should have known how stupid false worship is and where it leads.

Do not pat yourself on the back and think how wise you are to see the failure of the Israelites. We are afraid of the Book of Judges because we do not want to see the stupidity of our own false religion. We may not make molten idols but how different are we than Micah, who thought he had the favor of Yahweh because he had an actual Levite as his priest? We have our own forms of such “magic.” For example, by thinking a child is a member of the kingdom because they were baptized as an infant or because they went forward while they were at youth camp. The person who assumes they have entered the kingdom of God because they completed a task is engaging in a false religion and that is just stupid. It does not differ from Micah’s religion in principle or form, only in the details. So our folly remains invisible to us.

We have traded idol worship for subjectivism, but it is still a false religion. The people of Dan made their own convenience store of worship where they could remain in control and worship how and when they chose. They were convinced God was not picky when it came to glory, honor and praise. Modern day Danites tell us worship is an individual affair, and like our toothbrush, a very personal thing. When they come to worship it is not Yahweh, the all powerful saving God they praise. Instead, they want a blob of molten silver that they can squeeze and shape the way they want God to be. And that is self-serving idolatry, unworthy to be called worship.

Sunday – March 16, 2014 Judges 17 “The Danites Promised Land Part 1”

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Judges 17:4-6
“His mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons that he might become his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

We are introduced to a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim. Micah was not the model son, but then neither was his mother a “Proverbs 31 kind of woman.” Micah had stolen 1100 pieces of silver from her, and she had pronounced a curse on the thief in his hearing. (One has to wonder if she knew – or at least suspected – that it was her son who was the culprit.) It seems to have been the curse which prompted Micah to confess, and not his conscience. She receives back what her son stole, but then sets a portion of it aside for the creation of false idols to be a blessing to her son. Micah went on to make other “household gods” for his private collection.

Micah is a tragic example of the person who has placed their trust in a false religion. During the good times, they feel as though their religion is the cause of their success and prosperity. And then, suddenly, disaster comes their way which their gods are powerless to prevent. They are left with nothing other than a feeling of emptiness and helplessness. Sadly, for many, this realization comes without any repentance and faith. But there are others whom God graciously brings to the end of themselves so that they will repent and embrace God’s only means of salvation.

Micah and his mother are yet another example of doing what is right in their own eyes. Doing what is right in one’s own eyes is living by one’s own assessment of good and evil, of what is right and what is wrong. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is living in obedience to God’s revealed Word. The Israelites, much like men and women today, were “doing their own thing.” If one reads our text in Judges with God’s law (as revealed in the Pentateuch) in mind, it is obvious what evils are being committed – by Micah, by Jonathan, by the Danites, and by virtually all of the Israelites.

All too often people discern God’s will by what they want. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone practicing adultery or any other form of immorality looking to justify their sin with the statement, “I know that God wants me to be happy.” Thus, even though the Bible explicitly forbids their behavior some practice it anyway, convinced that God looks on them with favor because their personal satisfaction supersedes God’s clear revelation. God’s Word is the basis for discerning God’s will. When favorable circumstances accompany clear biblical approval, then we can rejoice. But when circumstances are favorable and the Scriptures are not, we must go with what the Scriptures say, not what circumstances permit.

Sunday – March 9, 2014 Judges 16 “Bringing Down the House”

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Judges 16:20-21 “She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” Let’s face it, from what we have read in Judges, we might not expect to see Gideon, Samson, or Jephthah in heaven, but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that they will be there. These men are listed among those who are included in the hall of faith, and faith pleases God. I am inclined to read Hebrews 11 in such a way as to conclude that it was Samson who, by faith, “gained strength in weakness.” Never was Samson weaker than he was as he stood between the two supporting columns of that Philistine “temple of doom” in Gaza. Here is the time when Samson really gained strength in his weakness.

I fear that Samson’s power along with divine intervention only caused Samson to feel invincible, so that he became more and more reckless. Samson actually began to believe that no matter where he went or what he did no Philistine could do him any harm. Thus, rather than return to Israelite territory and hide from the Philistines, Samson boldly remained in the land of the Philistines, in plain sight, almost daring them to try to do him harm. Samson’s arrogance was about to get him into deep trouble.

And Samson’s silence about where his strength comes from is a far cry from that of David when he confronted another Philistine (Goliath). Why shouldn’t the Philistines know that they are fighting against the Lord when they oppress God’s people? Why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to recognize how weak and powerless their god, Dagon, is? Samson’s silence is not golden, it is sinful and self-serving. Because Samson has chosen to remain silent about His relationship to God and the source of his power, Delilah sets out to loosen his lips. Through her persistent efforts, she evokes four different “confessions” from Samson, all in the name of proving his love for her.

What a tragic picture Samson was. The power and the presence of God departed from him, and he didn’t even know it. I fear that Samson was not only a picture of the person who turned away from walking with the Lord, but that his example may also be a prophecy for a church today that relies on the world’s means and mechanisms, rather than upon God’s Spirit. How easy it is for Christians to follow the fads of the secular rather than to rely on the power of God’s Spirit. We are weak in the power of the flesh. That is why He gave us His Spirit, dwelling within us and His church. Do not presume to think the successes God achieves in and through us by means of His Spirit are somehow our works, for which we can take the credit. If we do, there may very well come a time when the Spirit has departed from us, and we don’t even know it.

Sunday – March 2, 2014 Judges 14-15 “The Lion, The Wench, & The Wardrobe”

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Judges 14:3-4
“Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” 4 However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.”

Have you ever known anyone who wasted his or her life? Someone who, based on the subjective standards of the world, appears to have great potential because of their intelligence or creativity or personality and yet never lived up to your expectations of those qualities? Samson is perhaps the most well-known of all of the judges. There have been times when he has been held up as a hero, but in reality he may be the worst of the judges recorded in this book. If anyone knew what Samson’s potential was, it would have been his parents.

Think of the anguish Manoah and his wife experienced as they observed Samson’s disdain for his calling as a Nazirite. How many sleepless nights were there for these godly parents when they realized that in spite of their desire to raise Samson to be a godly young man, he had every intention of going his own way? While some might argue that they did not do enough to stop him from marrying a Philistine wife, they did clearly express their displeasure and sought to persuade him to marry an Israelite woman. In spite of their efforts, Samson was intent on going his own foolish way, more interested in satisfying his desires than in fulfilling his spiritual calling.

Here’s the beautiful thing: Samson’s sin would neither hinder nor thwart God’s purposes. Samson would be a deliverer, or, in the words of the Angel of the Lord, he would “begin” to deliver Israel from the Philistines. God’s purposes are vastly greater than anything we can imagine. What Samson’s parents could not see at the moment was that God would use Samson as an unwilling instrument, and thus He would accomplish everything that He had purposed.

In times like ours, things certainly look bleak, spiritually speaking. Our nation has forgotten and forsaken its spiritual roots. Christians are no longer respected as they once were, and there are indications that greater persecution is coming for those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and believe that the Bible is His inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word. We see Congress out of control, proposing legislation that would have seemed preposterous only a few years ago. Are we as Christians wringing our hands, as though God’s promises and purposes are at risk? Unlike Samson’s parents, we have been told what God is going to do in the future, and we have also been assured that no power on earth can thwart His plans and purposes. The very things over which we may be agonizing may be what God is using to accomplish His sovereign will.

Sunday – February 23, 2014 Judges 13:1-25 “Samson’s Silver Spoon”

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 Judges 13:3-6
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. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

When it comes to biblical characters who seem larger than life, Sampson breaks the mold. The introduction of Samson in fact requires all of Judges 13. This introduction is the most lengthy and detailed introduction of any of Israel’s judges. More attention is devoted to Samson, the last judge of the Book of Judges, than to any other judge in this book. Our job as students of the Scripture is to discover why the author felt this lengthy introduction was necessary.

The story of Samson is a beautiful example of how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility inter-mesh. There are many who feel it necessary to embrace one or the other – God’s sovereignty or human responsibility – but not both. But our text demonstrates both principles at work at the same time. Samson is a man who must, and does, make choices. These choices are almost always sinful and self-serving. And yet God purposed and promised that Samson would begin to deliver Israel from bondage to the Philistines. And that is exactly what God did, through a disobedient and pleasure-seeking Samson.

Do not think that God’s sovereignty removes all freedom of choice from men, or accountability for those choices. God’s sovereignty is so complete that He can give men freedom and yet still be in complete control of His world. We who are parents know (or will soon learn) that it is impossible for us to have complete and total control of our children. When we seek to exercise control, we do so by limiting our children’s freedoms. We confine them to their rooms and take away their car keys, cell phones, and computers. But even then we are not in complete control. God is able to give men the freedom to make choices and yet still be in control, so that we are assured that His purposes will be realized. That is illustrated by God’s use of Samson, even though he is sinfully self-indulgent.

If Judges 13 gets our hopes up about Samson and what will happen in his life, Chapters 14-16 will bring us down to reality. But the good news for those who place their hope and faith in Jesus Christ find out it is even better than they might have imagined. Jesus will never disappoint us nor will He will never fail. His deliverance is truly “wonderful,” and it lasts forever. I pray that you have already placed your trust in Him.

Sunday – February 16, 2014 Judges 10:1 – 12:15 “Jephthah: I Said What?”

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 Judges 10:17-18
Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

We love our heroes. We want someone to be bigger than life and be immune from the shortcomings of society to somehow save the day. The medium or source does not matter. Whether people come from television or sports or  from politics and religion, we naturally seek to put individuals on pedestals and view them through rose-colored glasses, looking past their flaws and over exaggerating their strengths. We are distracted by their physical strength, or the style with which they carry themselves. Maybe they have faults, but we will not dig deep enough to find out because at the end of the day, we want a champion, a true deliverer.

There is only one True Deliverer, only One who is worthy of our worship and praise. If we are looking for heroes in the Book of Judges, we are destined for disappointment. The more closely we look at Israel’s judges, the more obvious their flaws become. Frankly, almost all of Israel’s judges who are described in any detail are jerks. They have weaknesses and besetting sins. We should learn from Scripture that all leaders – every one of them – have flaws. If we look long and hard enough, we will see them.

We can not idolize men for we will surely be disappointed. But we can be encouraged as we see the kind of instruments God uses to achieve His purposes. He uses homemade swords wielded by left-handed men, tent pegs, ox goads, and mill stones. He uses plain and ordinary people like Jael and the woman with the mill stone. When God uses the simple and even foolish things to achieve His purposes, then it is only He who should receive the glory. Let us be encouraged by the kinds of people God uses to achieve His purposes.

God saves those who are unworthy of salvation, not because of men’s works but solely because of God’s mercy and grace. Are you not amazed to find men like Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, and women like Rahab in the “hall of faith” of Hebrews 11? It is not the greatness of our deeds, but the gracious work of God in the person of Jesus Christ, that saves unworthy sinners. Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross of Calvary. He offers the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to all who place their trust in Christ Jesus and His work on their behalf. He is the Hero! He is the only Deliverer who can deliver condemned sinners from the penalty of death. Have you acknowledged your sin and placed your trust in Him alone for your salvation? If not, I plead with you to do so for your eternal well being.

Sunday – February 9, 2014 Judges 9:22-49 “Payday is Someday”

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Judges 9:56-57
Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads, and the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal came upon them.”

I love precision, not because I am precise in everything that I do, but because I get great pleasure watching others do their tasks with such skill and accuracy. It is one of the reasons why I love watching the Olympics so much. But it is more than sports; it might be the gardener who knows exactly what to look for to fix my sprinklers or the doctors who treated me in the hospital last year. They waste little time and material, and they make their work look so easy.

The Book of Judges illustrates the precision with which our God goes about His work in this world. The obstacles and difficulties are many but God is at work through different kinds of men and women, few of whom are godly, or even wise. The goal of God’s work is the preservation of His people, the fulfillment of His covenant promises, and the punishment of those who have played a part in the slaughter of the 70 sons of Jerub-Baal (Gideon). And the punishment must be meted out in such a way as to destroy the guilty, and yet secure the safety of those who were not involved in the evil committed against the sons of Gideon. The skill and efficiency of God are entirely consistent with His character, but it is still a wonder to behold.

Our text is an excellent demonstration of the fact that God is not only able to execute justice in such a way that the wicked get exactly what they deserve, He is also able to judge in such a way as to protect those who are innocent. Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem perish for their treachery in the murder of Gideon’s sons who were Abimelech’s rivals. Gaal, his relatives, and the people of Thebez were spared because they had no part in this evil. I take great encouragement when I realize that God’s timing and His work of deliverance and destruction are always done with great precision. There are no accidents in what God brings to pass, His ways are perfect.

When I read the newspaper or watch the news on television, the world appears to be in chaos. Do not despair, as though no one is in control. The Scriptures teach us to view the chaos of our world differently than we often do, as the unseen hand of God, bringing about the fulfillment of His plans and purposes. Our passage wonderfully demonstrates the awesome truth of the sovereignty of God. God is in complete control of everything that happens so He can fulfill the curse of Jotham in such a precise way. So do not fear, there is no question that God’s plans and purposes will come to pass as He providentially and more visibly governs the affairs of men.