March 12-18, 2017
“After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”
Judges 2:10 (NIV)
There are few passages in Scripture that are more discouraging and disappointing than this one.
After all that has happened to Israel since the nation crossed the Jordan to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham: after Jericho and Ai, and the painful lesson of Achan’s sin, and the division of the Promised Land, and the powerful final address from Joshua. One would think that these images and memories would be hard-pressed into the hearts of the children of Israel and serve as a vivid reminder of God’s power and grace.
But no. Just one generation later, God’s people have already forgotten God.
“They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them…they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands.”
Judges 2:11-19 (NIV)
What follows is a pattern that will repeat itself over and over in the history of the nation of Israel – disobedience, God’s punishment, repentance, God’s restoration, and then a return back to sin. During this time period, Israel is led by a succession of judges; some who are faithful, some who are not.
The most notable of the judges are Deborah, Gideon, and Samson, and all have wonderful stories to learn. But, inserted in the middle of this week’s reading is the poignant story of a Moabite woman named Ruth.
The story of Ruth begins with the misfortunes of an Israelite woman named Naomi. Famine had forced Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, to move from Bethlehem to Moab, where both of her sons married Moabite women. Sadly, within ten years, all three men had passed away.
Following this tragic loss, Naomi yearns to return to her homeland, but she encourages her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to stay in Moab and find new husbands. Ruth, however, insists on staying with Naomi and, together, they return to live in Israel.
Ruth cares and provides for her mother-in-law, even volunteering to humble herself in search of food in the fields of others (see God’s command to Israel regarding the provision for the poor in Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22). While doing so, she is noticed by Boaz, who not only has compassion for her, but offers additional provisions from his own household.
When Naomi hears of Boaz, she recognizes him as a part of her extended family. This familial relationship allows Boaz to “buy back” or redeem Naomi in order to maintain her family name, and her rights and inheritance in the land (see Leviticus 25:25ff).
Eventually, Boaz and Ruth are married, and God blesses them with children, including a son named Obed.
The father of Jesse.
The father of David.
In the midst of tragedy, God can and will find ways to bless his people and accomplish his good will.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”
Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Vince Vitale, Director of the Zacharias Institute (Ravi Zacharias Ministries), speaking about the role of Christian apologetics and its limits, once observed at one point that nobody is ever “argued into Heaven.” I believe he’s right about that.
If I have rejected God, it’s probably not because I am compelled to by the evidence — not primarily. Rather, it’s because I don’t want Him to be real. Truth is, I don’t want to believe in Him. I don’t want a Lord in my life. I want to be god over my own affairs. So rejecting God becomes less an intellectual decision than one of the will — of what I want.
Not that there aren’t intellectual issues. And that’s where apologetics comes in and can be very effective, I believe, when handled with gentleness and respect. If we can help people clear their intellectual obstacles away, then they have no excuses left for not getting down to the heart of the matter.
Because, truthfully, the heart is what it’s about.
In the end, we will be guided in life by one of just two principles, “I Want” or “I Am.”
It’s really that simple.
What I want — or what He, the Great “I Am,” wants.
There are no other options.