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Sunday, September 30, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Ruth and Boaz"

“Ruth and Boaz”
Gleanings from the Book of Ruth
September 30, 2012 :: Ruth 2:1-3:18

Our short sermon series is titled, “Gleanings from the Book of Ruth.”

And two weeks ago, the first message was called “Ruth and Naomi.”

We were introduced to two widows. An Israelite widow, Naomi, who had left Israel with her husband and moved to Moab where her two sons had married Moabite women, including a woman named Ruth.

But all of the men died, leaving three destitute widows in a land plagued by famine.

Naomi decided to go home to Israel, hearing that there was food there again and she left one of her daughter-in-laws behind.

But her daughter-in-law, Ruth tenaciously stuck with Naomi and returned with her to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning.

Remarkably, Ruth resolutely declared that she would stick with Naomi no matter what and put her trust in the God of Israel.

Naomi, impoverished by her losses, returned empty and bitter to Israel, but she has Ruth with her.  And all of Ruth’s unyielding lovingkindness to her.

And that’s where we left off.

Sound familiar?

Of course, most of us know this story and know what’s going to happen next.

But, again, try to pretend that you don’t.

Here are two women who are in a most precarious position.

They have just about nothing, but they have the Lord.

Ruth chapter 2, verse 1.

“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.”

Today’s message, “Ruth and Boaz.”

Verse 1 introduces a new character. A man.  We don’t know much about him yet, but we do know that he was related in some way to Noami’s deceased husband.  And he is a man worth knowing. He is a man of standing.

What will he do in this story?  V.2

“And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.’ Naomi said to her, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.’ So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” Stop there for a second.

Ruth has pluck.

She and Naomi are in a desperate situation, and she tries a desperate plan.

She proposes to go to the fields that are harvesting the barley and pick up what the hired-workers don’t glean.  And Naomi lets her.

Now, this practice was included in the Law of Moses, especially in Deuteronomy chapter 24.

It was part of God’s safety-net for taking care of the poor people in Israel.

Landowners were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could find something to eat.

One thing that is great about this welfare arrangement is that the poor still have to do some work to qualify for the help.

In fact, it was hard work, outdoors, in the sun.

And it was dangerous work for single women who could be taken advantage of.

And even though it was in the Law, that doesn’t mean that the landowners always followed it. This was the time of the Judges, remember!

But Ruth had the courage to go out to the field and begin gleaning at the edges.

And v.3 says that she just so happened to find herself working in a field that belonged to no other than ... Boaz!

You and I know that “nothing just so happens.”

Our God is sovereign, and lovingly He orchestrates all of the tiny details of our lives.

The Hebrew here for “as it turned out” in the NIV could be literally translated, “it chanced to chance” which is the author’s way of winking at us that all of what we perceive in life as random is sovereignly chosen for us by the Lord.

So, your last week, and the things that happened to you?  Sovereignly chosen for you by the Lord.

Do we always know what God is up to as He puts together our days for us?

Not at all.

But we know that God is in charge, and if we know who God is, we know that He’s up to something good for us.  No matter how it seems.

Do you need to hear that this morning?  It’s true.

Ruth didn’t know, however, how important it was that she found herself in this place on this day. Because, behold, look who happens to show up?  V.4

“Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, ‘The LORD be with you!’ ‘The LORD bless you!’ they called back.”  Stop there for just a second.

I love that verse.

I think that is an amazing verse.

Now, I know that this was a special person in a special land among a special people, but wouldn’t it be great if all of our businesses functioned like Boaz’s farms?

The boss shows up and blessed the workers.
The workers have joy on their faces as they bless the boss back?

“‘The LORD be with you!’ ‘The LORD bless you!’”

I think that Boaz was a great example of what a godly businessperson ought to be.

And remember, this is during the time of the Judges!

Nearly everyone was doing what seemed right in their own eyes.

But there were still a few people who were doing the right thing.  No matter what other people were doing.

They didn’t just go along with the flow. They did things God’s way, and God blessed them in the time of the Judges.

Boaz was a man of standing and a man of blessing. A man of character and man of compassion.

#1. COMPASSION. V.5

“Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, ‘Whose young woman is that?’ The foreman replied, ‘She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.’ So Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.’”

This is quite extraordinary.

Boaz notices Ruth. She stands out. She’s different.

Who is that?

The foreman explains who she is. Her reputation precedes her. And she’s worked hard.

So Boaz speaks to her.

And he is very generous with her.

He calls her, “My daughter,” which is something for an Israelite man to say to a Moabite foreigner.

It might also hint at a large age difference between the two of them.

And Boaz instructs her to stick around, to stay close to his own worker girls, and to get drinks from the company water jars.

And more than that, he has warned his men not to harass her, or else.

Boaz shows compassion to Ruth.

Was there attraction between these two people?  It doesn’t say that.

The Bible emphasizes how compassionate Boaz is to Ruth.

He is doing what the Law said to do, and going beyond that. He is showing some “hesed” to her, isn’t he?  Kindness-beyond-duty. Compassion.

And Ruth knows it. See how she reacts in verse 10.

“At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, ‘Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?’ Boaz replied, ‘I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’”

What a beautiful statement!

Ruth is flabbergasted by Boaz’s compassion, but Boaz just sees it as showing the LORD’s kindness to someone who has been showing the LORD’s kindness.

Boaz has heard about Ruth. “Oh, so this is the woman that everyone in Bethlehem has been talking about!  You left your homeland and came to trust in the LORD and are taking care of Naomi. I’ve heard of you.”

And the LORD will take care of you.

I love how he says it in verse 12.

“May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’”

You have been a little chick, come under the refuge of the LORD’s sheltering wing.

That’s a great picture of the compassion of the LORD.

Why did the LORD put the gleaning laws into the Torah?

Because He cares about the poor.

Do you care about the poor?

God cares about people.

And God is trustworthy. He is big and holy and powerful and SAFE.

He is refuge for those who come to Him, to hide under His wing.

That’s a beautiful picture of what salvation is.

We tend to talk about salvation as forgiveness from sins, and it is.  Gloriously, it is!

But it is also just putting ourselves under the wing of the Almighty.

Entrusting ourselves to His care.

Do you know the compassion of the Lord?

Have you taken refuge under His wing?

It’s safe there.

If you have not come under His wing as Ruth did, I invite you to do so right now.  The world is harsh place with danger on every side.  And it’s even worse if you make God your enemy.

But Jesus has become our peace, reconciling God and Man.

And He invites us to take our place under the wing of the Almighty.

He is our refuge and strength if we will place ourselves under His compassion.

When God revealed Himself to Moses in the cleft of the rock, He said that He was, “The LORD, the compassionate and gracious God...”

He is our refuge and strength if we will place ourselves under His compassion.

And, if we have truly experienced that compassion, we will show it to others.

Ruth showed it to Naomi.  Boaz showed it to Ruth.

And he said, “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”  V.13
“‘May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,’ she said. ‘You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.’

At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’ When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, ‘Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don't embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don't rebuke her.’

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. [That’s between 35 and 50 pounds!]

She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!’ Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. ‘The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,’ she said. ‘The LORD bless him!’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He has not stopped showing his kindness [his “hesed”] to the living and the dead.’ She added, ‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.’

Then Ruth the Moabitess said, ‘He even said to me, 'Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.'’ Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, ‘It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else's field you might be harmed.’ So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

Compassion.

Boaz shows her incredibly generosity. He feeds her. He tells his crew to leave extra for her to pick up. It amounts to more than 35 pounds. It’s more than she needs. It’s more than Naomi needs. They can live for two more months and longer!

They are now out of immediate danger because of the compassion of Boaz.

Because of his “hesed.”  V.20 Naomi says, ‘He has not stopped showing his [loving]kindness to the living and the dead.’ ...‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.’”

We’ll find out what that means next week.

The point here is that Boaz has been kind to his distant relatives [He didn’t have to do any of that!] and has shown the compassion of the LORD to those who need it most.

And the story forces us to ask ourselves today, “Are you and I compassionate people?”

Are we generous with those who have needs?

Who do we show “hesed” to?

Who do we show our kindness-beyond-duty to?

I know that many of you are very compassionate.

Just what we’ve seen this year in extra giving to missions has shown that.

Six Haitian children going to Henoc’s school.
Our ten missionary families each getting at $250 Christmas gift.
A thousand dollars donated to Emily Whitehead’s ongoing medical needs.

And that’s just financial compassion.

I know that many of you are engaged in tangible, practical acts of kindness.

We have been shown the compassion of the Lord, we need to show it to others.

How might the Lord be leading you and me to greater acts of compassion in the next week?

Now in chapter 3, the word of application that I want to emphasize is character.

#2. CHARACTER.

We’ve already seen that Boaz is a man with true character, that is, that he is an upstanding man who does what is right and good. He has a good heart, and it shows in his choices, and then those choices speak for themselves in a good reputation.

Your character is the sum of your virtuous qualities.

It is who you really are when no one is watching.

It is a description of your heart and is reflected in your choices.

A man or woman with good character consistently chooses what is right and good.

They can be trusted and they are valuable in the Lord’s sight.

Character.

Now, about two months have gone by (near the end of the barley harvest), and Naomi gets a wild idea into her head.  Chapter 3, verse 1.

“One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.  Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.’ ‘I will do whatever you say,’ Ruth answered.”

Now, I think that this is a crazy plan.

There are so many ways that this could go wrong.

Naomi is acting like Yenta the Matchmaker, and she has a crazy plan to do it.

Get dressed up and go sneak into the place where the men are, and after they are all happily fed and asleep, uncover Boaz’s feet and lie down, and then do what he says.

There are just so many ways for this plan to go wrong.

I’m sure that you can think of them all yourself.

What if she gets caught?
What if she gets abducted?
What if someone takes advantage of her?
What if Boaz takes advantage of her?
What if he gets the wrong idea?

What is the idea?

This is a crazy plan, and there is only one thing going for it.

The people carrying out the plan are people of character.

Naomi trusts in the character of Ruth to do what is right.
Naomi trusts in the character of Boaz to do what is right.
Ruth trusts in the character of Boaz to do what is right.

So Ruth does what Naomi suggests. V.6

“So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile [just so happened to be at the accessible end!]. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered [!] a woman lying at his feet.

‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’”

Which, when translated, means, “Please marry me. You are someone who could legally do that, and Naomi and I need it. Please marry me.  Please spread the corner of your garment over me like, as you said before, the LORD has spread His protective wings over me.

Please marry me. I know that it is unusual for me to ask. I am a foreigner. I am a woman. Women don’t ask men to marry them. I am not in your class right now.  I have been working in your fields.  But we need you.  Please marry me.”

“‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’”

Now, we know what would have happened next if this was SAMSON who found Ruth at his feet, don’t we?

But this is not Samson. This is Boaz.

And he is a man of character. Listen to his amazing response!  V.10

“‘The LORD bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness [hesed] is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.”

You have chosen me!

And you have been thinking, not just of yourself, but of Naomi and what she needs.

V.11  “And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.”

Boaz amazingly says, “Yes” to Ruth’s proposal, and the reason is because he knows that she is a woman of noble character.

She was a Proverbs 31 woman before Proverbs 31 was ever written.

She was a woman of integrity.
She was a woman of understanding.
She was a woman who chose correct behavior.

She was a woman committed to her needy mother-in-law when she could have been vying for a young, handsome husband for herself.

She was a woman characterized by hesed, and Boaz saw in her, his equal.

If this was Hollywood movie, they would have tumbled into the bushes and had hot sex right then.

But these were two people with good character, and they saved the sex for where it belongs...after the wedding.

If there would be a wedding...

There is one more complication. V.12

“Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.’

So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, ‘Don't let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.’

He also said, ‘Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.’ When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town.

When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, ‘How did it go, my daughter?’ Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, ‘He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'’ Then Naomi said, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.’”

A man of character. He will get the job done.

Now, Naomi and Ruth only had to wait a day.

We’re going to have to wait a week to see what happens next.

But we can see here what happens when two godly people act with godly character.

They do the right thing, even when it is hard.

Are you and I men and women of character?

Integrity?
Righteousness?

With godly quality to our hearts?

God wants to build character in us so that we learn to do the right thing, to make the right choices, and to build a good reputation.

I long for our church to be known as a loving family of generous, compassionate people of godly character.

Would you pray with me for just that thing?


Gleanings from Ruth

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Feature: Blogs I Read

When I last checked, I subscribe to over 300 blogs. Some of those are inactive and never publish anything, others are very active and publish several posts per day. Some are local news sources and family friends. Many are about theology, ministry, spirituality, and everyday life (the kind of things you see discussed on this blog).

Many of those blogs are worth reading, and I'd like to tell you more about them.

Beginning next week, I'm going to start introducing the blogs I read and give you an idea of why I read them and whether or not you might want to check them out, as well.

(I might even tell you about some blogs I read that I don't think that many people should read--or at least what to watch out for as you read them with discernment. But, as usual, we'll try to keep the negativity level low here at Hot Orthodoxy.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chuck Mitchell Retires

Congratulations go to my Dad, Chuck Mitchell, as he retires today from MT Business Technologies.

Dad has always been an awesome example of integrity, ingenuity, and hard work. I am proud of him and his accomplishment.

I'm also happy that he gets to enter a new phase of life--more ministry, more flexibility, more time with family, and more doing the things he loves (including water-skiing down the Clarion River).

Way to go, Dad!


Thursday, September 27, 2012

EFCA Today Reviews: The Deep Things of God


I have the privilege of being the book review coordinator. It's always a joy to be a part of getting good reviews online. I love working with EFCA leaders.

I have also written a review of The Deep Things of God that I hope to see online soon. I'll let you know when it is available. It is a very good, very important book--one of the best things I've read all year. Life-changing, but in a surprising way--it showed me what I already know...about absolutely everything.  Read more here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guilt and Shame - CCEF Conference

Just one month now until Heather and I leave home to attend the CCEF Conference in Chattanooga. The "CCEF Junkie" in me can't wait to get my fix.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Honoring God in a "Spiritually Single" Marriage

The all-time most popular post on this blog is, surprisingly, Married to an Unbeliever a message from 2006 in a sermon series on the family. It has been viewed over a 1,000 times (which is a lot for this modest blog) and appears in the top 10 results in Google for the search "married to an unbeliever."

I say "surprisingly," because it's "just" a sermon I wrote for our church, and yet it seems like it's been helpful for a larger group (at least they have clicked on it a lot--I guess it's debatable how many people have been helped {smile}).

Last week, I read a very good short article by Sarah Flashing at the Gospel Coalition Blog called Honoring God in an Unequally Yoked Marriage, and it made me think about my earlier post.

My heart goes out to "spiritually single" Christians, especially those who are trying to raise children in formative years. Pastors and church leaders need to keep our eyes and ears open for how we can minister, creatively, flexibly, compassionately, and wisely to men and women who are married but walking with Christ alone.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Idea of a Great Vacation

We're headed home tomorrow from a family vacation--it's been a great time of rest, history, and fun.

I've finished 5 books and started 2 others -- that's my idea of a great vacation!

Read until you sleep and then sleep until you read.

(I like eating and swimming and site-seeing, too, but you get the idea.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Kingdom

The next new book I'm trying to read on vacation is called The Kingdom by Bryan Litfin.

It's the third book in the Chiveis Series, a difficult to describe adventure (part science fiction, part fantasy, part medieval tale, part post-modern apologetic) story by a professor at Moody Bible Institute.  I read the first two and enjoyed them enough to recommend them to others. I'm interested to see how Litfin finishes the series.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Silent on Sex? A problem in the church.

John Freeman of Harvest USA, a ministry promoting gospel-centered healing for sexual brokenness, pens a passionate plea for the church to talk more about sex.

I remembered talking to a church’s prayer team years earlier. They had been praying with people for more than ten years at a weekly intercessory healing prayer meeting. One leader said to me, “John, we’ve prayed with people about marriage issues, problems with children, job losses, interpersonal conflicts, and crises of faith and other personal problems, but never has someone come for prayer about anything of a sexual nature, not once.” 
I was shocked. The numbers of those struggling with pornography, same-sex attractions and sexual addictions are increasing daily. Add in family members affected and impacted by someone they love dealing with sexual brokenness, and it is clear this is a huge problem in the church today.

And that kicks off a 10 point series of why the church has been so silent, which I am looking forward to reading.

I'm sure of one reason -- the prevailing story is that the church talks too much about sex, and that we're against it. Not true of course, but there is truth in it.  We've often talked about sex in the wrong way--not as a good thing designed by God yet capable of great disfigurement.

But the church can't afford to be silent.  I'm glad that ministries like Harvest USA exist, and they spur me on to lead our church in lovingly speaking out on this tanglely subject.

More to come.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Encouraging Biblical Literacy

EFCA Today has a great article with stories from church leaders about how their congregation encouraged people to read and understand their Bibles.

Good ideas!

Whatever ways you do it, the important thing is to get people into the Book.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Avalon Falls

Looking forward to doing a little reading on our family vacation this week.

First up: Avalon Falls by L.B. Graham.

This is a new genre for Graham, but I've really enjoyed his fantasy books series called The Binding of the Blade, so I'm hopefully expectant of a good ride.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “Ruth and Naomi"


“Ruth and Naomi”
Gleanings from the Book of Ruth
September 16, 2012
Ruth 1:1-22

If your Bible opens automatically now to the Book of Judges, just go to the end and turn the page, and you’ll be at Ruth chapter 1. And we’ll see why in just a second. Ruth chapter 1.

I’m going to call this short series (I think it’s going to be 3 messages), “Gleanings from the Book of Ruth.” 

That, of course, for those who know the book has a double meaning.

Because there is gleaning, agricultural gleaning, in the story itself. Gleanings of barley which is what you see pictured here. I know that because Google told me so. So if that isn’t barley, Google was wrong, not me.  Either way, it’s a much more encouraging picture than the one we had up all Summer, right?

Of course, we are into theological gleanings here, not just agricultural gleanings.

What can we glean about God and His ways from the Book of Ruth? 

And what difference does it make to our lives?

Today, we’re just going to read and apply chapter 1 of the Book of Ruth.

And we’re going to call this message, “Ruth and Naomi.”  Which the whole book could be called that because these two ladies are 2/3 of the main characters in the story, and the story comes at us from their perspective.

I love that about the Bible. Some people think that the Bible is a woman-hating book, anti-woman, but stories like Deborah’s in the last book and stories like Ruth’s in this book really show that to be a myth.

The Bible is pro-woman and has some amazing women in it from whom we can all learn a great deal.

This week, Ruth and Naomi.

Now, I’ve said this before again and again, the best way to encounter a story like this one is to pretend (at least on some level) like you’ve never heard the story before.

To enter into the story like the first readers would have.  And discover what they discovered as they first encountered the story.

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.”

This story takes place (v.1) “in the days when the judges ruled.”


It was not a good time.  We’ve spent the last 3 months find out how dark and difficult that time was.

And, in fact, there was a famine in the land of Israel.  Perhaps this famine was caused by the Midianites and their locust-like raiding of Israel. Remember that from the book of Judges?  

Or maybe it was a judgment of the Lord, stopping up the heavens from raining because of the rampant idolatry of the people. He had promised to do that sort of thing back in Deuteronomy.

It doesn’t say where the famine came from, but that it was a severe trial.

And there was a man from Bethlehem, named Elimelech.

Now, the last two stories we read had men from Bethlehem in them, and they were bad stories. This story, starts out bad, and we’ll see how it ends.

Elimelech and his wife, Naomi make a difficult choice. They choose to leave the Promised Land and go over the Jordan river to the land of Moab.

They feel forced to do that because their home has no food.

The name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread” in Hebrew. But the house of bread was empty.

Now, I hesitate to judge Elimelech’s actions because I don’t know what I would do in the same situation, but it was probably not based on faith that Elimelech left the Promised Land and went to Moab.  He took his family, his wife and his two boys, Mahlon and Kilion and settled in Moab.

But it did not go well for them. V.3

“Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. [A widow. But at least she had the boys. V.4] They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”

We cannot begin to realize how devastating those three sentences really were for Naomi.

First, her husband died.

Second, her sons married Moabite women which might have been technically legal but definitely undesirable for a good Jewish family at that time.

And they continued to live in a foreign country where people worshiped other gods.

And then the boys died, too.

Ten years, no grandchildren[!] to carry on the line, and now three widows.

To be a widow in those days was a vulnerable thing, much more vulnerable than it is here in our country today.

A scary position unless you had a great extended family to take care of you and handle your legal affairs.

Naomi has no one.  At least, that’s how it seems. No one close enough.

Especially while they live in Moab.  And it’s not just one widow. It’s three!

Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth.

Three women in a precarious position.

A seemingly hopeless situation fraught with grief.

What is going to happen?

Have you ever been in a situation that seemed hopeless, and you didn’t know what was going to happen?  Where you felt like the carpet was pulled out from under you and your world was going into a tailspin?

That’s the feeling here. That’s the situation.

It’s the time of the judges and Naomi has lost everything that was her security in life.

Everything, but her two daughter-in-laws. V.6

“When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.”

The LORD had been gracious to His people again and provided food. And when she heard about that, Naomi headed home to Bethlehem. The house of bread had bread again. V.7

“With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’”

I think that Naomi is trying to help these ladies. 

It’s possible that she’s just trying to get rid of them–they are dead weight around her neck.

But that’s not how it feels. It feels like she cares about them and thinks it would be best for them to find new husbands in Moab.

She probably figures that it’s more likely that they will find husbands in Moab, infertile as they appear to be. They are Moabite women. They might have a chance.

At the same time, it’s probably foolish of her to send them back–because all true blessing from the God of Israel.

That’s Whom she asks to bless them in verse 8.  I love what she says in verse 8.

“May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.”

#1. KINDNESS.

That word translated “kindness” in verse 8 is a very important word. It is the Hebrew word, “hesed,” and it can’t be translated with just one English word.

Kindness is good, but lovingkindness, covenant loyalty, mercy, love are all other words to try to capture the idea. 

One scholar I read this week defined it this way.  “...hesed (NIV "kindness") cannot be translated with one English word. It is a covenant term, wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. In short, it refers to acts of devotion and lovingkindness that go beyond the requirements of duty.”  [Daniel Block, NAC Judges, Ruth, pg. 634-635]

At the end of the 23rd Psalm, David asks that “goodness and mercy” will follow him all the days of his life. That’s goodness and “hesed.”

And that’s what Naomi wants for Ruth and Orpah.

She wants them to experience the hesed of the Lord.

Kindness beyond duty, beyond what they deserve.

We use the word “grace.”  

Naomi wants Orpah and Ruth to know the grace of God.  To experience it for themselves.

What a great prayer!

We should pray that way for others. Pray for the hesed of the Lord to rest upon the people we love.

But notice that it is not just a prayer.

It is what she has experienced from Ruth and Orpah. V.8 again.

“May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and me.”

Kindness is not just something that God does. It is something we can show to others.

Naomi had experienced their loyalty, their kindness, even beyond what was due her.

Before asking yourself to whom you could show this kind of kindness, ask yourself this question first.

Who has shown you lovingkindness?

We’ve all experienced that kind of grace.

Don’t you just love it when you see someone go beyond what they have to do to extend kindness to someone else?

Who has done that for you?  Is there anyone that you can thank today?

The other side of the coin, of course, is who should we bless today with the kind kindness that the Lord has shown to us?

The Lord blesses those who are kind.

Love is patient. Love is kind.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness.

This word hesed is going to show up again and again in this short book.  Ruth is going to experience blessing, in part, because she is kind.

Naomi is trying to be kind by letting her daughters-in-law go. But they don’t want to. V.9

“Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me–even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons–would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!’”

Do you see what she’s saying?

Naomi is talking about Levirate marriages where her new sons (if she could have them) would take the place of her old sons and carry on the family line.

Not. Going. To. Happen.  She says.

So, what future do they have in Israel?

V.14

“At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. ‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

But Ruth replied, ‘Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’”

#2. COMMITMENT.

What a beautiful statement of commitment!

Ruth clings to Naomi and offers commits herself to her and to her God.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Ruth is forsaking all other gods and committing to the LORD.

That’s amazing, considering how Naomi doesn’t seem to completely trust the LORD.

But Ruth does.

And she sides, not with Chemosh, the god of Moab, but the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Commitment.

You’ve probably heard this passage read or sung at a wedding, and the words definitely would fit there. But this wasn’t Ruth getting married.

This was Ruth promising to take care of her mother-in-law.

And it was Ruth trusting her life to the LORD.

Have you trusted your life to the LORD?

Like this?

Have you said, “I will leave all other gods and follow you?”

No turning back?  No turning back.

That’s what v.17 means when it says, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

No turning back.

Total commitment. Total surrender.

Some people want to accept Christ like pressing the “accept button” on their computer for some program.

“I have read and accept the terms and conditions.”

That’s just something to get out of the way so that you can get on with life.

Some people want to just add Jesus to their list of gods:

Money, Entertainment, Family, Sports, Popularity, Prestige, Power....and Jesus.

But Jesus wants to be God in our life, alone.

He wants this kind of commitment.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’””

That’s faith. And that’s the kind of kindness we saw in v.8. 

And it’s true commitment.

Does that describe the state of your heart?

The Lord Jesus Christ committed to us when He died on the Cross paying for our sins.

And now that He’s come back to life, He calls us to commit our lives to Him.

Naomi sees that Ruth means business.  V.18

“When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ [I remember Naomi! She was always so pleasant....That’s what “Naomi” means, pleasant. V.20]  ‘Don't call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara [Bitter], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’”

Ow.

This isn’t a happy homecoming.

Even though she has Ruth with her, she just about ignores her.

“I went away full.”  Really?  Didn’t you go with an empty stomach?

Yeah, but I had a husband.  And now, I don’t have anything.  And Ruth is standing right there next to her.

Naomi was bitter.

And it’s sad.  She said she was bitter in verse 13.

She says she should be called “Bitter” now.

How would you like the nickname “Bitter?” or “Sour?”  I wouldn’t. But Naomi would.

We need to be careful about judging her.

We need to feel for her.  This is very sad. She has been devastated. It is trouble. It is trial.  It is pain. It does hurt.

Christianity does not discount the pain.

And Naomi is right in seeing the LORD has sovereign over the pain.

“The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

God is sovereign over our troubles.

But that does not mean that He is against her.

Naomi almost seems to blame God and think that God is blameworthy.

And that’s where she is wrong.

That’s where her bitterness comes from and it’s called bitter for a reason. It tastes terrible and makes your stomach all messed up.

The antidote is contentment.

#3. CONTENTMENT.

Which is easier said than done.

I don’t know that I would act any better than Naomi in the same situation.

But I do know that she doesn’t have to respond this way.

Other people have experienced this and worse and responded not with bitterness but with contentment.

Think of Job.

“The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

We don’t have to respond to the trials in our lives with bitterness.

We can say, “God is enough.”

Even if everything gets taken away from us, God is enough.

There are 10,000 reasons to continue to bless the LORD.

Naomi can’t see the whole story.

She thinks the story of her life was that God had blessed her and then He took that away.

End of story.

Do you know what’s going to happen in the next chapter of your life?

We act like we do, but we don’t.

We can’t read the next chapter yet.

But we know the author, and we should know that His plans for us are ultimately GOOD.

And a hint of hope breaks into the story in verse 22 with a little foreshadowing. V.22

“So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

I wonder what is going to happen next?

Are you going through a famine right now in your life?

Has the rug been pulled out from under you?

Do you feel like you are tumbling down the stairs and you don’t know what’s at the bottom?

Don’t give in to bitterness.

God is enough.  He has a great end of the story planned for you.  Wait for the next chapter.

And in the meantime, remember the kindnesses of the LORD to you so far in your life and how others have shown you kindness.

And pass some kindness around.

The world needs it.

The LORD is good and trustworthy and worthy of our total committment.

No turning back. No turning back.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hesed

Starting into the book of Ruth tomorrow and discovering the Hebrew word "hesed."

"...hesed (NIV "kindness") cannot be translated with one English word. It is a covenant term, wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. In short, it refers to acts of devotion and lovingkindness that go beyond the requirements of duty."

[Daniel Block, NAC Judges, Ruth, pg. 634-635]

Friday, September 14, 2012

Anyabwile on Gossip

A wise old owl lived in an oak.
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why can’t we all be like that old bird?

[HT: Thabiti Anyabwile]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Biblical Training's Introduction to Islam

I miss going to school.

There, I said it.  It probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me, but I've always enjoyed going back to school--a fresh chance to learn something, to stimulate the old brain, to go places I've never been before. How exciting!  (My kids just shake their heads in disbelief.)

Between my masters degree and starting my doctoral program, I often felt nostalgic and adrift. One of the things I love the most about school is that my teachers tell me what to read. I love to be told what are the best things to read to learn the most about whatever subject we're learning about.

So, I was incredibly excited to learn about biblicaltraining.org, a premier FREE website with online seminary-level courses in Bible, theology, missions, and a whole lot more.

I'm not taking any classes for credit (those days are done for me, I'm pretty sure), but I am taking advantage of the excellent course material.

Right now, I'm systematically listening to the lectures on Introduction to Islam with Dr. Timothy Tennant.  

They are so good! I have been trying to find a decent introduction to Islam for years. Things are either too basic and unhelpful (and mischaracterize Muslims) or way over my head.  Dr. Tennant is genuine expert (with degrees in Islamic studies and missions experience in the Muslim world) and yet communicates in clear, followable prose. I'm learning what Islam truly is, where it comes from, how it differs from Christianity, and how to speak to and reach Muslims for Christ.  I'm not sure exactly how I'll end up using this information, but I am sure glad I'm getting it.  (And did I mention that is FREE?)


I love school.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Introducing Todd Hardin

While I'm introducing new friends online, let me introduce you to the writings of Todd Hardin.
Todd serves as Grace Baptist Church’s Minister of Care and Counseling where he directs the Charis in Action Counseling Center. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is also a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Todd lives with his wife Brenda and their two boys in Knoxville, Tennessee. [From his bio.]
Todd and I were counseling students at WTS together in 2009.  He obviously knew his stuff and had really helpful things to share in class. (And when I was discouraged one day in class, he came alongside me, offered to help, and "pastored" me.)

I am happy to see that Todd is writing for the Biblical Counseling Coalition these days.  I'm sure that his contributions will be worth reading.  Check him out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Friend: Zeke Pipher

This Spring I e-met (meeting online?) a new friend, Zeke Pipher, an EFCA pastor, avid outdoorsman, and author of Man on the Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize the Best Things in Life.

I read his book, it's really good--especially if you find yourself in the category of "hyper-hobbied"--loving the go-go-go of being a man but sometimes forgetting what is really important and trying to find a balance.  I'd love to get Zeke to come out to our Wild Game Dinner at Lanse Free some year.  I think he would really connect with the guys.

I've been enjoying his blog. Zeke has a way of shaking your shoulders to get your attention and then giving you life-giving grace in a few paragraphs.  I always want to run home and hug my kids and get dirty playing in the yard after reading his blog.  Highly recommended.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hot Orthodoxy on Google +

Today, I connected this blog to a Google + account, so that what I say here gets reported there.

I'm fairly new to G+. At this point it seems like Facebook, but better, but very few people seem to live there. It's like one of those towns that was designed by really smart people but after everyone had already moved across the state lines.

But if you live in G+ (and you know who you are), you can now follow these posts there, too.

Bill Mounce on Gossip


In today's "Monday's with Mounce," New Testament scholar Bill Mounce meditates on James 1:26-27 and has strong things to say to gossiping religious people.

He says, "This verse hit me pretty hard this morning: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

I have often said that gossip is the native tongue of the church, and what this means is that a large number of people who attend religious services Sunday morning need to be told that their 'religion is worthless.' But what does that mean?"

He then explains the verse and then ends with this: "I believe gossip is the native tongue of the church. It rips and shreds. The church should be the safest place of all, and yet most have found that it is one of the most dangerous. It is a place where knowledge is used as a weapon to pummel and destroy. It is a place where unity is destroyed by the quick jab of the tongue."

Honest Augustine on Time

I've been reading through Augustine's Confessions, this year. It's been a struggle to wade through it--just not my sort of thing.

But every once in a while, you come across a gem.

Today, I read this from Book 11, Time and Eternity:
What then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know.
Very honest, Mr. Augustine, very honest. I've felt that way about a lot of things.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “How Low Can You Go? (Part Two)"

“How Low Can You Go? (Part Two)”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
September 9, 2012
Judges 19:1-21:25

We’ve reached the very end of the book of Judges. This is the eleventh and last sermon in our Summer series on the book of Judges just in time for the Fall.

Raise your hand if you have learned something this Summer about the book of Judges.

Judges is a theological book with theological life lessons to learn.

It is not just a history book telling us what happened and when. Judges has a story to tell, and a story with a point.

And the point has been that when we ignore the Lord and when the Lord does not intervene, we are desperately lost and hopeless and caught in a downward spiral of sin and its consequences.

We were reminded weekly of this pattern where the people of Israel got into a “crazy cycle” of leaving God, experiencing the consequences, calling out for help, receiving a deliverer/judge and then experiencing the salvation of the Lord.

For a time.  But then they were back at it again.

(And again and again.)

And we saw last week, that this last section of the book of Judges has no judges in it.

No deliverers. No white hats. No good guys.

God is hardly mentioned (and then his name is taken in vain) and rarely intervenes.

Last week, we were shaking our heads over and over again about the foolish things that the Israelites did.

And we said, “How Low Can You Go?”

Pretty low.

The author of the Book of Judges has one more sordid story to tell to make his argument.

This story is “outrageously appalling.”

It illustrates how low you can go.

And it’s lower than I would like to mention if this weren’t holy scripture.

It’s not clear when this story happened; a few details point to it actually occurring early in the period of the Judges.

But the author has placed it here because it puts the perfect cap on his argument by perfectly illustrating what happens when people forsake the Lord.

How low you can go.

The story starts and ends with the same words.

Chapter 19, verse 1. “In those days Israel had no king.”

Chapter 21, verse 25.  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

We heard those words last week, as well.

That’s the point of this terrible story.

Israel had no king, and everyone did whatever they felt like.
They did what seemed best to them at the time.
They ignored what God wanted and did what they wanted.

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

And everything fell apart.

Judges chapter 19, verse 1.

“In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father's house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him.”  Stop there for a second.

Now, remember, there really are no good guys in this last section of the book.

Don’t bother looking for a protagonist to look up to. He isn’t there.

And almost no one is named in this story. I think that is significant. These people could be anyone. Their actions stand for the people of Israel had become. So they are nameless. They are Joe and Jane Anyone.

Here’s the story. A Levite who lived up north (not in a Levitical city, just like we saw last week) took a concubine, what’s that?

A concubine is a like a half-wife.  She is more slave than wife and doesn’t have the full rights of a wife.

The Bible doesn’t tell us if the Levite had a first and full wife.  It’s not clear.

But from the beginning, this looks shady.

And they have a falling out. The NIV kind of smooths out the difficulties here, but obviously the couple splits. She goes back home to daddy.

Verse 3 says that her “husband” goes back and talks nice to get her back.

And her daddy is happy to see him.

He’s really happy to see him. He doesn’t want him to leave.  And the Bible really doesn’t say why.  V.4

“His father-in-law, the girl's father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the girl's father said to his son-in-law, ‘Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.’ So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the girl's father said, ‘Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.’ And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the girl's father said, ‘Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!’ So the two of them ate together. Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, ‘Now look, it's almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.’”

Oh, I wish he took that advice!

The father’s hospitality is the best thing that happens in these three chapters.

But the Levite’s patience with his father-in-law has run out.

And even though it is getting on in the day, he takes off.  V.10

“But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, ‘Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.’ His master replied, ‘No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.”

“You never know what those foreign people are going to do.

We can’t trust those Jebusites like we can trust our brother Israelites.”

Famous last words. V.13

“He added, ‘Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.’ So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into
his home for the night. [Did anyone just get deja vu? V.16]

That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the men of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. When he looked and saw the traveler in the city square, the old man asked, ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from?’ He answered, ‘We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the LORD [which is probably a lie]. No one has taken me into his house. We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants–me, your maidservant, and the young man with us. We don't need anything. [Which is probably a lie.]’

‘You are welcome at my house,’ the old man said. ‘Let me supply whatever you need. Only don't spend the night in the square.’

Anybody have deja vu?

Anybody who has read the book of Genesis recognize what is happening?

This old man is warning them.  V.21

“So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.’”

Is this Israel?  Or is this Sodom?

(And, unfortunately, there are no angels in this house. Only someone like Lot. V.23)

“The owner of the house went outside and said to them, ‘No, my friends, don't be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don't do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don't do such a disgraceful thing.’  But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.”

I’m sorry to have to read that to you.

But it is a true story, and it happens much more than we would like to think in our world today.

Violence to women is a great sin.

Real men protect women.
Godly men sacrifice themselves for women.
They don’t sacrifice women for themselves.

This is what happens when there is no king and when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

Depravity. Sickening depravity.

And no one is exempt.

Back when I preached Genesis 19 and the rescue of Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah, I said, that there is a Sodom located in every human heart.

And that’s what’s going on here.

The Sodom is coming out.

The author of Judges is telling this story to show how Israel had gone.

They had gone so low as to begin acting like Sodom and Gomorrah.

When we forsake the Lord, the evil in our hearts comes out and hurts others.

When you take God out of the equation, our world becomes Hell on Earth.

That’s what homosexual gang rape is.
That’s what heterosexual gang rape is.

Sex is a wonderful gift from God designed to bring pleasure to couples and children into families within the safe context of a loving covenant marriage.

But sex without God in the equation is a terrible shameful thing that hurts people.

If you have been the victim of sexual violence, I am sorry.

It’s a truly terrible thing, and it should not be.

And the Lord wants to help you. He wants to lift the pain of the shame you are carrying.

Heather and I have been reading a book by Ed Welch called, “Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.”

In fact, we’re planning to go to a conference next month on how to better minister to people who have been shamed by others.

If you are hurting from being the victim of sexual violence, I recommend this book for you, and that you to talk to someone and receive the Lord’s grace and comfort.

He loves you.

This story is in Judges to show how depraved this action is, not approved, but depraved.

But it gets worse. V.26

“At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master [notice that he’s “master” now, not husband–that was wrong, too. When her master] got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold.

He said to her, ‘Get up; let's go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.   Everyone who saw it said, ‘Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!’”

This Levite is no hero. He is no judge.

His actions are crude and unnecessary.

He realizes rightly that Israel is broken and that the tribe of Benjamin is at fault, but his actions are bizarre and twisted, too.

It’s like one of those movies that will come out next month that no one should ever watch.

But everybody is just doing what they see fit!

Chapter 20, verse 1.

“Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, ‘Tell us how this awful thing happened.’

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, ‘I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel's inheritance, because they committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.’ All the people rose as one man, saying, ‘None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house.”

Notice how the Levite tells the story. He trims the truth.

He conveniently leaves out his part of the story and messes with the details some.

He’s no hero.

But something does need done about Gibeah in Benjamin. V.9

“But now this is what we'll do to Gibeah: We'll go up against it as the lot directs. We'll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army (10% supply line). Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for all this vileness done in Israel.’ So all the men of Israel got together and united as one man against the city.

The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, ‘What about this awful crime that was committed among you? Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.’ But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.

From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred chosen men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred chosen men who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. [Like Ehud!]

Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fighting men.  The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, ‘Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites?’ The LORD replied, ‘Judah shall go first.’”

Anybody here just get deja vu again?

What does this sound like?

Chapter 1, right?  Then they asked the Lord who should go up first against the Canaanites and the Lord answered Judah.

And that tells us the Judah is a leader-tribe.

But it also tells us that Israel is now fighting Israel because Israel has become like the Canaanites.

One scholar calls this the “Canaanization” of the nation of Israel.

And now brother will fight brother.

That’s how low you can go.  V.19

“The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The men of Israel went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the men of Israel encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day.

The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, ‘Shall we go up again to battle against the Benjamites, our brothers?’ The LORD answered, ‘Go up against them.’

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, ‘Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?’ The LORD responded, ‘Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.’

Why do you think the Lord let them lose the first two days?

I don’t know. But my guess is to teach them something.

He wants their hearts.  And they don’t really seem to pay that much attention to Him until now.  They are getting serious for a change.

And now, God is involved. This is the only place in this story where we know what He is up to. He is involved in cleansing the defilement that Benjamin has made. V.29

“Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads–  the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah.

While the Benjamites were saying, ‘We are defeating them as before,’ the Israelites were saying, ‘Let's retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.’ All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. Then ten thousand of Israel's finest men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was.

The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah.  The men who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword.  The men of Israel had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, and then the men of Israel would turn in the battle. The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the men of Israel (about thirty), and they said, ‘We are defeating them as in the first battle.’

But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the smoke of the whole city going up into the sky. Then the men of Israel turned on them, and the men of Benjamin were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come upon them. So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the desert, but they could not escape the battle. And the men of Israel who came out of the towns cut them down there. They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and easily overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. Eighteen thousand Benjamites fell, all of them valiant fighters.

As they turned and fled toward the desert to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjamites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more. On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. But six hundred men turned and fled into the desert to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months.

The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.”

What a terrible day.

The Lord brought judgment.

V.35 tell us that “The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel.”

But it is terrible that it had to happen.

Canaanites were not Israel’s worst enemy. Israel was Israel’s worst enemy.

Isn’t that true of ourselves, too?

I am my worst enemy when I am at my worst.

And the fall out of this situation is even worse. Chapter 21.

“The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: ‘Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.’ The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. ‘O LORD, the God of Israel,’ they cried, ‘why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?’”

Wait a second.

Did they just blame God?

I think they did.

I think they just accused God of failing them somehow so that this terrible thing has happened to their nation.

Don’t blame God when you’ve gotten yourself into a jam.

It’s good that they realize what has happened to them.

They feel like a arm has been amputated. They are missing almost a whole tribe and it’s because they’ve killed them.

And they just realized that they promised not to let their girls marry Benjamites.

“It sounded good at the time!” V.4

“Early the next day the people built an altar and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Israelites asked, ‘Who from all the tribes of Israel has failed to assemble before the LORD?’ For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah should certainly be put to death.”

They’re taking a lot of solemn oaths. Be careful what you promise....

“Now the Israelites grieved for their brothers, the Benjamites. ‘Today one tribe is cut off from Israel,’ they said. ‘How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?’

Then they asked, ‘Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the LORD at Mizpah?’ They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there.

[Well, that’s it! We don’t need to ask God what to do. It’s obvious! V.10]

So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. [Israelities! Their brothers! Who should be fellow followers of Yahweh!]

‘This is what you are to do,’ they said. ‘Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.’ They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan.  Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon.
So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them.”

How low can you go?

This is sexual violence. The women of Jabesh Gilead are victims now of Israel’s sin. V.15

“The people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a gap in the tribes of Israel. [And if the Lord made the gap, maybe they ought to let HIM fill it?]  And the elders of the assembly said, ‘With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left?

[Oh, we’ll think of something!]

The Benjamite survivors must have heirs,’ they said, ‘so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. We can't give them our daughters as wives, since we Israelites have taken this oath: 'Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite.'

But look, there is the annual festival of the LORD in Shiloh, to the north of Bethel, and east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and to the south of Lebonah.’ So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, ‘Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin.

When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, 'Do us a kindness by helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war, and you are innocent, since you did not give your daughters to them.'’

So that is what the Benjamites did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.  At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.

[And in case it wasn’t obvious...]

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

Two points of application today and only two.

#1. WE NEED A KING.

Is that obvious?

When the author says, “In those days Israel had no king,” he’s not just stating a historical fact.

He is saying that what Israel lacked was a king.

A godly king. A covenant keeping king.  A spiritual king.

A king that would lead the people in the way they should go.

When we get to Samuel, we’ll see that not just any king will do. And bad kings make things worse, we’ll see that in 1 and 2 King when we get there.

But a godly king, that’s what we need.

We need led. We need a Shepherd King that leads His people out of the downward spiral and into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Because if we don’t have a king like that?

Then we are hopelessly lost and totally depraved.

Women will not be protected and treasured. They will be used.

Men will exchange natural relations for unnatural homosexual relations.

Sodom will come out of our hearts.

The truth will be rare, and lies will be everywhere.

We will make excuses for every selfish thing we do.

We will even do terrible acts in the name of keeping oaths.

Brothers will kill brothers.

And we’ll try to pin the blame on God!

Saying, “How did this happen?”

We need a king.

We need a king to save us.

I think that Judges has made its point.

We need a king.

#2. THE KING HAS COME.

That’s not technically in the book of Judges, but I’ve read the end of the story, and it’s good.

The New Testament teaches that the king we need has arrived.

His name is Jesus.

And He died on the Cross to undo the downward spiral.

And He won.

Jesus came back to life, and if that doesn’t undo the downward spiral, I don’t know what does!

The king has come.

He is the savior we need.

And He was already at work even in the book of Judges.

Here’s something amazing to think about.

Israel survives the time of the judges!

Isn’t that amazing?

God is gracious to Israel even though they don’t deserve it in the slightest.

And He’s still at work even in the darkest times.

He’s planning to send that King.

In fact, that’s one of the things we’re going to study next in our sermon times.

Next week, we’re going to turn the page and study the book of Ruth.

The story in the book of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges.

And it is a dark time.

But there is bright light that shines through it.

And at where that light shines brightest is the King.

The King has come.

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Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Ehud
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
The Weakness of Samson: Part One
The Weakness of Samson: Part Two
How Can You Go? (Part One)