A BRIGHT LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF A DARK NIGHT
The last chapters of the Book of Judges remind us of some of the worst aspects of the human nature and the unthinkable crimes against humanity that take place every day. Israel had broken its covenant relationship with God. No longer would they submit to their King. No longer would they heed their Shepherd. This reflects the current state of humanity as stated by the prophet Isaiah:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6)
Not only do we turn aside from the government of God, but by our poor examples we turn others aside.
The last words of the Book of Judges are:
“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
This is the fourth repetition of the phrase, “There was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1;19:1;21:25).
It is important to have this background information if we are to understand God’s plan of redemption. The human heart has been turned aside from its intended function of fully loving the Lord our God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It cannot find its way back. It cannot heal itself.
You see the consequences of apostasy in the final dark chapters of the Book of Judges- Self-seeking, self-justification, self-indulgence, leading to constructing idols in our own image. Our self-manufactured gods are just larger versions of ourselves. We subscribe to our preferred therapeutic priesthoods, mediators, healers, and new age gurus and practitioners, instead of coming to the Tabernacle (which represents God’s plan of salvation centered in the person and work of His Son). Micah’s idolatry is passed on to the tribe of Dan. The Danites follow their heart’s desire for their preferred future. They slaughtered all the inhabitants and burned to the ground, the town of Laish, whose dwellings and lifestyles they had once coveted (18:27). They set up a graven image there and hired a descendant of Moses as their priest, forsaking the worship of the true God that was available at the Tabernacle at Shiloh (18:31).
The most abhorrent crimes of Chapters 19 and 20 show the moral degeneracy of the people: fornication, prostitution, adultery, drunkenness, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, sloth, gluttony, prejudice, lack of hospitality, lust, rape, homosexuality, callousness, murder and dismemberment.
The revenge taken in chapter 20 leads to war and genocide (the near extermination of the tribe of Benjamin). In Chapter 21 the Israelites compound their sin with the further slaughter of the people of Jabesh Gilead and by encouraging the abduction of their virgins by the Benjamites.
Against the dark background of what was occurring nationally during the period of Judges comes the bright light of a love story, A ROMANCE OF REDEMPTION that took place in Bethlehem Judah during this time.
THE BOOK OF RUTH
Like the Book of Judges, the Book of Ruth was written after the monarchy had been established in Israel. The Book provides the details concerning the link between the dark period of the Judges and the Davidic dynasty in the genealogy of the Messiah.
The prostitute, Rahab who hid the spies in Joshua chapter 2, marries Salmon and becomes the mother of Boaz, who features in the Book of Ruth as the kinsman-redeemer for the household of Elimelech. He will marry Ruth, the Moabitess. Their son, Obed, will become the father of Jesse, who will become the father of David, a man after God’s heart who is one day anointed as Israel’s king. God makes a covenant with David promising that one of his descendants would be the Messiah whose kingdom would last forever. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see how this fits into the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Greater Boaz, our kinsman redeemer.
Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:5-6)
Both the genealogy of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the genealogy of Joseph, her husband, are directly linked to David. It is generally concluded that the genealogy recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 1:1-25) follows the line from David to Joseph and the one in the Gospel of Luke records the genealogical line that leads from David to Mary (Luke 3:23-38).
While the Book of Judges highlights the lawlessness of the age, the Book of Ruth highlights God’s mercy. We see mercy in the provisions of the law of God, and mercy in the heart of Boaz. We see mercy in the way Boaz acts in compassion to fulfill the merciful provision in the law to redeem the lost inheritance of the household of Elimelech, Boaz’s next of kin, by taking the deceased’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, a Gentile, as a bride.
The Book of Ruth is more than history; it is a prophetic picture of the gospel. The Book of Exodus records the story of God bringing the Jews out of their bondage in Egypt and into a covenant relationship with Himself. The Book of Ruth records another ‘exodus’ in which God brings a Gentile bride out from her bondage in Moab to be grafted into a covenant relationship with both the God and people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
THE REDEMPTION OF A LOST INHERITANCE
The Holy Spirit employed the writer of The Book of Ruth to record the history in such a way that we can get a preview of God’s redeeming grace that is offered to us through a greater Boaz, a greater Kinsman Redeemer, Jesus Christ. We see how He satisfies the requirements of the law and releases mercy to those born outside the covenant.
The story opens with the record of a Fall. ‘Elimelech’ (meaning “My God is King’ in Hebrew) was an Ephrathite (lit. to be ‘fruitful’ ‘fruitbearing’) living in Bethlehem-Judah (‘house of bread’ and ‘praise’). He and his wife, Naomi, are tested. There is a famine in the land. They were subjects to God as king in name only. Likewise, there was little bread in “the house of bread”, and little fruit in “the place of fruitfulness”. For those who walk by sight and not by faith, there is little praise in the place of “praise”.
Instead of living in the light of their covenant relationship with God, Elimelech (‘My God is King’) moves from his first estate to Moab where Chemosh is worshiped. Elimelech takes with him his wife Naomi (‘pleasant’) and their two sons (Mahlon-lit. ‘sickness’ and Chilion, meaning ‘pining away’).
The emigrants are in Moab for ten years. The number ten is an expositional constant in Scripture connoting judicial completion. The net result of their forsaking the covenant and the land of their inheritance is death. Elimelech (My God is King), Mahlon (Sickness) and Chilion (pining away) die in Moab. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Before Mahlon and Chilion die, they take Moabites for brides, Ruth (‘friendship’ or ‘association’) and Orpah (‘neck’, also translated ‘became stubborn’). Neither couple produce an heir to claim the lost inheritance of Elimelech’s household. Naomi, now a childless widow, refuses to answer to her former name, ‘Naomi’ (pleasant), but insists on being called ‘Marah’ (‘bitter’).
While Naomi is in the far country of Moab, she receives good news from home. God has provided bread in the ‘house of bread’ (Bethlehem), and fruit in the’ land of fruitfulness’ (Ephratah) (Ruth 1:6). So, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem Judah with her two daughters-in- law. As she considers the difficulty her daughters-in-law might face as non-Jews in Judah (Deut. 23:3), she advises them to stay in Moab where they can marry among their own people and raise their families there. Orpah (stiff necked) returns to Moab while Ruth (‘friendship’ or ‘association’) identifies with Naomi.
Naomi at first seeks to discourage Ruth from following her.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.  “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus, may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go and identify with her people and her God by faith, she said no more to her.
When they return to Bethlehem Judah, “all the city is stirred because of them” (Ruth 1:19).
The townspeople were filled with questions: Is this Naomi? What happened to her? Where is her husband and where are her sons? And who is this foreign woman with her? How will Naomi be fed? Where will they stay? What future will she have as a widow? What will happen to the lost inheritance of Elimelech? How are we to treat our sister and this foreigner who have nothing to live upon but the charity of others?
We will read more tomorrow and see how God’s provision in the law and the willing heart of Boaz will make a way when there was no way! What a great picture of the gospel we have in the work of Our Gracious God, our Kinsman Redeemer!
NEW TESTAMENT READING: JOHN 4:4-42
Jesus had to pass through Samaria. The Greek verb emphasizes that it was a logical necessity that he travel through Samaria if he were to go to Galilee from Judea. Standing in the way of “logical necessity” were years of cultural prejudice. Jews wanted nothing to do with Samaritans due to the way they had corrupted the Jewish faith. Therefore, they often chose to go out of their way to avoid interaction with the Samaritans. They sometimes chose to travel the coastal route by the Mediterranean or east of the Jordan through the region of Perea. But Jesus was not bound by cultural prejudice as this account will further indicate.
Why this animosity towards the Samaritans? When the nation split in two after the reign of Solomon, King Omri named the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, “Samaria”.
1 Kings 16:24 (NASB) 24 He bought the hill Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; and he built on the hill, and named the city which he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.
The name “Samaria” eventually referred to the region and sometimes to the entire northern kingdom which had been taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:1-6). The Assyrians led a large number of Jews away to a region that is today northern Iraq. A remnant was left behind and non-Jews were transported to Samaria. These foreigners mixed with the Jews and through intermarriage formed a mixed race. When the Jews returned from captivity there were great tensions between them and the Samaritans that continued to the time of Christ (Ezra 4:1-24; Neh 4:1-6; Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritans withdrew from the worship of Yahweh and the celebration of the festivals in Jerusalem and made their center of worship at Mount Gerizim. They built a temple there which had been destroyed before the time of Jesus.
By taking the more direct route to Galilee than the popular xenophobic route, Jesus was indicating that he was going out of his way to reach the lost and despised. In the previous chapter he was speaking with the “up and out”, the highly esteemed religious leader, Nicodemus. In this chapter he meets with the “down and out”, a woman of disrepute who is fetching water at the well at noon day in a region of people despised by the Jews.
We see how human Jesus is as John describes him as being tired. Like his disciples, he must have been hungry as well as thirsty. But what sustained Him more than physical food was the privilege of harvesting souls by preaching the gospel.
Jesus takes the initiative. He cares enough to say something to this woman. He starts with a conversation about felt needs and then will turn the discussion to real needs.
He announces the gospel promise- the gift that God has for her. He arouses her curiosity by saying “If only you knew the gift God has for you and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me to drink, and he would have given you living water’”. What a gospel preview!
Jesus preached Himself. He announces that He is the source of all that satisfies.
In the midst of her dissatisfactions and disappointments, Jesus’ offer sounds attractive. She requests that Jesus give her this water. Not only does she welcome the thought of never thirsting again, but she despises having to go to the well day after day in shame, at a time when she would not be noticed, while everyone else was in their homes for their midday meal.
Jesus now deals with her personal life. “Go call your husband to come here.” When she confesses that she has no husband, Jesus prophetically points out that she has had five husbands and the man she is living with presently is not her husband.
As often happens when conviction of sin begins to settle in, the woman changes the subject. She raises the subject of religion. Our guilt often causes us to find some self-justification through religious works. Here she mentions her identification with the religion of the Samaritans.
Jesus speaks with authority- “You worship what you do not know.” Jesus then vindicates that the true revelation of God’s promise of salvation has been given to the Jews.
The woman then reveals that she knows and believes in the promise of the Messiah. Then Jesus announces that He is the Messiah.
What a masterful conversation and disclosure!
The disciples come back from lunch and are disturbed to find Jesus talking to this Samaritan woman. In the meanwhile, the woman leaves her water jar and runs back to the village to let them know that Jesus is a man who told her everything she ever did. She obviously felt that she was not condemned by Him.
Jesus explains that His nourishment comes from doing the will of God. He tells us to wake up and look around. There are many people, just like this woman, who are waiting to receive the good news of Who Jesus is and His remedy for our problem of sins, and His offer of the gift of eternal life.
The woman’s enthusiastic testimony drew people to come and meet Jesus themselves.
John 4:42 (NASB) 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
READING FROM PSALMS
Notice the verbs for worship used in the first 6 verses: Give thanks! Proclaim His greatness! Let the whole world know! Sing to Him! Sing to others about Him! Tell everyone about His wonderful deeds! Exult in his name! Rejoice! Search for the Lord! Seek Him out! Remember His works, His miracles, His rulings and His promises!
Verses 7-8 declare the integrity of God’s character. He stands by His covenant commitment to His people. In spite of their wanderings He protected them and warned other nations not to oppress them.
TODAY’S PROVERB reminds us of the power of the tongue to do good or evil.
Proverbs 14:25 (NASB) 25 A truthful witness saves lives, but he who utters lies is treacherous.
PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS
(from the Prayer Guide “OPERATION WORLD” and Prayercast.com)
We recommend the Book which can be purchased at www.operationworld.org
Republic of Cuba
Area: 110,861 sq. km
The largest island in the Caribbean.
Population: 11,204,351 Annual Growth: 0.02%
Answer to Prayer
The Church has continued to multiply at impressive rates. Growth from the 1990s continues and, while slowing, remains strong. Praise God for a dynamic and expanding Church.
Challenge for Prayer
Cuba faces a difficult future. Pray for the following needs:
- a) This last bastion of Communism in the West defies fundamental change through the continued influence of and “old guard” Party leadership. As of 2019 Miguel Díaz-Canelis now the President of Cubaand is likely to succeed Raúl Castro as First Secretary in 2021. Pray for their salvation and for wise leadership that governs in the best interests of its people.
The 2019 Constitution made the ideas of Jose Marti and those of Fidel Castro superior to those of Marxism with regards to influence over the Cuban Communist Party and Cuban society.
In 2010 Cuba officially shifted from being an atheist nation to a secular one, and overt religious persecution diminished. However, in order to be approved by the government, churches must be members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC). Those that do not register with the CCC are unable to print Bibles or repair or build structures. They also face harsh intimidation: loss of work, inability to apply for top jobs, denied access to universities, utilities shut off, and even imprisonment. All churches are under surveillance and do not know which of their members are CCC informants. Though Cuba appears more open, intimidation and a lack of Bibles are continual obstacles to the spread of the Gospel. However, state hostility has deepened the Cuban Church’s faith, dependence on prayer, and unity. Persecution has challenged and propelled Cuban believers to minister to their community in innovative and bold ways
- b) The current model is simply unsustainable in the long term, despite substantive assistance from Venezuela, China and Bolivia. While the Castro family sits on a personal fortune, endemic poverty has led to a thriving black market where crime, drugs and prostitution (including sex tourism) are widespread. Black and mulatto Cubans suffer greater deprivation with fewer opportunities than whites. Only Haiti and the Dominican Republic are poorer in the Caribbean region. Pray for sensible reforms and economic freedom, and that structural sins might be overcome by good.
- c) Cuba has a top-heavy population, with large and increasing numbers of aged dependent on too few in the younger generation for support. This demographic time bomb will place further stress on an already fragile economy.
- d) The wounds inflicted by Marxism need healing. More than 500,000 have been imprisoned for ideological reasons and over one million have become ideological or economic refugees, many in Florida, USA. Both the USA and Cuba have used refugees as a weapon of war. Pray that forgiveness might abound among all Cubans, and that relations might improve between Cuba and the wider world.
PRAYER: We come before You with praise and thanksgiving. Like the Psalmist and the woman at the well, we want to tell everyone about Your great deeds. We praise You for your mercy shown to us through our Kinsman-Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for restoring our lost inheritance and establishing Your throne in our hearts so we can truly say “My God is My King”. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, J.B. Phillips paraphrase)
New Life Community Church, Concord, MA 10742
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