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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ruth part 3: Understanding the family.

Ruth 1:1-10

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?


Israel had sinned against God's commands and so were under His covenant curse. This may be a difficult concept for us to bear today in our 21st century understanding of what faith is but nevertheless it is absolutely true. God is angry at sin by all people but when the people whom He has set His particular love sin; then He is both hurt and angry. We need to put aside the gospel that has been so prevalent in the last century or so, which focusses almost entirely upon the love of God and also His beneficial favour poured out on all of His people. There is always an element of truth in all of our wanderings from the whole truth. In Deuteronomy God lays down on a number of occasions the way of blessing for the children of Israel; this is then balanced by promised curses for their wrongdoing.


God expects His children to be obedient to Him. His commands are never hard or unfair; in fact they are always to our benefit. Therefore when the children of Israel obeyed they were blessed and when they disobeyed then curses eventually came. God always delayed His punishment which gave His people more than a fair opportunity to repent and return to faithfulness.


We need to understand that the curses were a painful experience and were directed from the hand of God to the people whom He loved. His purpose was always that His people returned and were then under His covenant blessing. The truth is that whether under blessing or curse His children are always under His covenant care! He punishes those who he loves as any good father does with his children when necessary and blesses them when necessary. Punishment is not an acceptable word in Western thinking any longer and so this most important doctrine is constantly being eroded and watered down and sad to say we are all guilty of it.


Some leading evangelicals have shown this very hand and are justifying sentimentality rather than truth. It is becoming common place that rather than preach God's wrath poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ as He died on the cross for the sins of His people that there must be a more caring God than all of this up there and so He cannot be guilty of what to them seems to be cosmic child abuse. There cannot be any more insidious a theology than this and the gospel is under direct devaluing by it, in fact it makes no gospel at all. Sin is odious to God and is damned by Him and we ought to be eternally grateful to Him for it and shout from the highest pinnacles in the land that this is true, but I am afraid to say that the wolf of error has bitten the church and we are wobbling under the weight of the attack. Without the Lord Jesus having experienced the whole wrath of God for our sin which He took as His very own there can be no salvation, it is by the blood of the Lamb of God being shed that sin is dealt with and the guilty One was punished. We must not move from God's universal hate of sin and that His wrath was poured out on our Saviour on that day. We just simply say “Hallelujah, what a Saviour.”


Elimelech's family were guilty of similar thinking to this. God was punishing Israel and they arrogantly thought that they could escape the effect of God's curse upon the land. It is true to say that their stomachs were filled by being in Moab but they still experienced the curse personally.


Consider what became of them:
  • Elimelech died in the land of curse and was guilty of misguiding his entire family. His pragmatic decision to go to the place of ease was followed by his sojourning, or his settling down in Moab much as did Lot in Sodom. He was in the place of sin and was enjoying it.
  • His family was changed by the situation. Had he stayed in Israel even amongst a rebellious people he would have been castigated for his sons marrying Moabites (we must at this moment put aside all that we know about Ruth in order to consider the enormity of what Elimelech did!) such an act expressly broke God's law and was evidence as to how far from God that Elimelech really was.
We might appreciate the decision that he made but we must learn that we ought not to be like him. He is not a good role model.


There is something else that he was doing in going to Moab; he was in effect saying to God “I can escape you and your authority!” There is nowhere in earth, sky or sea that we can escape the presence of God Almighty. That is most comforting to us when we are in trouble but it is a painful truth to discover when like Elimelech we go against God's directives. Elimelech paid the cost of his rebellion, his children also rebelled, the men of the family (those that ought to provide for Naomi) died and a widow and two daughter's in law were left behind. Naomi believed that she had changed from being pleasant (that is what her name means) to being bitter (Mara) but more about that in a later study. Elimelech's headship of his family caused great difficulty for those that survived the experience.


There are two contrasting lessons in this:
  • We cannot hide from God at any time.
  • Our rebellion has consequences.
The great thing about the book of Ruth is that is is not really about judgement even though that has rightly been our focus so far but it is all about God's grace in dire circumstances even for a poor family that find themselves in the place of compromise.


We truly are a privileged people in that we have the bible readily available, as I write I am surrounded by 4 different translations, and so we know how this story progresses and finally concludes. We are so often reading the last page first but that can cloud the lessons that the Holy Spirit intends for us as we read on. It is worth our while to go slowly and take in the great warnings that are given by the mistakes made. It was to the extremely rebellious church at Corinth that the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 reminds them that scripture records that God was not pleased with the unfaithful Israelites in the desert who had known blessing beyond compare but had turned against Him. This says Paul is recorded for an example to us in order that we might not do similarly. Scripture is completely open and honest, there is no spin. It exposes the sins of God's people as an example to us in order that we might learn and do better. Therefore this final study in the cause of the problems that Elimelech caused is useful to us as we consider how we act as 21st century Christians. For us the covenant blessing and curses stand but in a different way. The nation of Israel was a prototype of the church and from a natural but chosen nation we can see how the perfect and glorified church will look. Israel is a poor picture and for that point so is the seen church but the church invisible is perfected and ultimately fulfills all that Israel ought to have been. Therefore for the church when we are obedient there is blessing, peace with God in whatever circumstance being the ultimate blessing. This is not about comfort, health and wealth etc. they are never promised as a result of what we do. That is the subject of yet another study but not this one.


There also covenant curses for the New testament church. The seven churches in Revelation display this perfectly. Ephesus even though they looked good had lost their first love and so the Lord Jesus threatened to take away their shining light or candle of blessing if they did not repent. The church at Pergamum had followed wrong practices and teachings and so were under threat of God's word coming and cutting away the wrong, but for repentance there was promised blessing. Read Revelation 2&3 to see how the covenant blessings and curses were promised for them and equally are also for us today.


Our sin and rebellion has consequences and not only affects those around us but more importantly it offends God and he will act against us in order to bring us to repentance. There is nowhere that we can hide or run to; other than to our knees in repentance where we will discover as we do further on in the book of Ruth that there will be blessing beyond compare. You can now read the last part of the book and be thrilled at how God restores a rotten situation.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ruth part 2: Understanding the man.



Ruth 1:1-5

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Last time we considered the background to the book of Ruth, our title being; “understanding the times.” We now will try to understand the man. We recognised that decisions were made by Elimelech that were pragmatic but maybe not wholeheartedly godly. Moab was a land that was under God's curse but which was experiencing God's general blessing in that there was no famine and food was readily available. Israel on the other hand was in a time of famine and so Elimelech did the logical thing and took his family to where they could live comfortably. They clearly had made Moab their home and Elimelech's 2 sons were by the time of the story married to Moabite women. The writer goes to great length to introduce us to the main characters of the story. As we are aware names are important in bible times. Very often a character bears a name that completely suits his character. This is by no means co-incidence. In the same way that God inspired the writers of scripture to record His truth then I believe that He inspired parents to name their children for the purpose of teaching His people much. This is true of the characters of this little book.

So let us consider the characters that we are introduced to:

Elimelech:

Elimelech simply means; God is King. It is a Hebrew names and within bible truth suggests that the man was a believer in the Sovereignty of God. When we consider what that means we may well be surprised at his actions.
The reading of scripture leaves us with no doubt that Yahweh is King, He is Sovereign over the whole of creation. We see that from the very first verses of our bibles where He is declared to be the sole creator. The creation came into existence by the power of His word. Without His Word nothing that has been made has been made. God from before the foundation of the world is Sovereign. This means that all things are under His rule and control. The New Testament tells us that even His chosen people (the church) were set apart by Him before creation even began.


God's Sovereign authority is for all time: Past, present &future!


Elimelech's name tells us this also. Therefore by naming him Elimelech his parents were preaching that God is King. The Sovereignty of God is not purely the domain of the reformed church it is simply true of God throughout all ages. We praise God that the reformed church in particular are keen to keep this important doctrine to the fore of all that they believe!
All of this having been said let us consider the man and try to understand what is going on in his experience:
God is Sovereign over all of the issues of all the world and all nations. Therefore He was also in control of Moab's plenty as He was for Israel's famine. By His common grace He was providing naturally for Moab and by His specific grace He was withholding food for Israel. As we discovered last time, Israel was suffering the consequences of sin and rebellion against God and so were reaping the promised curse upon the people.
Israel were experiencing God's discipline!
The people were not necessarily independently responsible for the problem but the nation as a body were. They were guilty of each doing what was right in their own eyes therefore all were suffering the consequences of the nations sin. Elimelech's family along with all other Israelite families were caught up in the problem. They lived in Bethlehem, a place of past blessing and also the place where Rachel was buried. It's name means the house of bread or provision; it is a place of which God also makes future promises. King David was born there a few generations after this event and of course the Lord Jesus was also to be born there. The place of bread was to be the birthplace of the Bread of Life! It's very name along with Elimelech's tells us of promised blessing. It was going through temporary difficulties and discipline which was simply too much for Elimelech to bear. Therefore he went to the place where life was so much easier.


Elimelech was guilty of doing what was right in his own eyes!


He knew that there was food in Moab and so he made the pragmatic decision to go there for his family to be provided for. It would be very easy at this point to be over sympathetic to Elimelech's, after all which one of us a parents, husbands or wives would not seek to do a similar thing? But before we make judgements upon 21st century sentimentality we must first question what is going on amongst the people of God.


Israel are under judgement!


Judgement is never pleasant, it is painful but it has a purpose. Any judgement or punishment that has no purpose is simply bullying and violent. God's judgement in this case is that His people had turned each one of them to their own way and had ignored God who had done all that they needed for them. They had even taken to themselves the god's of the nations. For this they were under the promised covenant curses until such a time as they repent of their evil ways and return fully to God. The hunger that they were experiencing was designed by God to bring them to their knees and beg for mercy and then when accomplished blessing would flow from God to them. There was never a time in the history of Israel when they needed “God is King” to be preached and so Elimelech ran away. He ran away to a land of curse from the land of promise.


Not all difficulties are evidence of satanic attack. It is often said in Christian circles when things do not go according to our plan that Satan is having his day! But it is often true that difficulties are evidence of God's discipline over His people. Discipline always has the target of repentance and restoration, what we must not do when under discipline is run from the place of blessing because wherever we go we are entering a Moab. Elimelech ran away from blessing and as we will see never had blessing! His example teaches us that if we do the logical thing then we lose out on blessing. On the other hand we shall see that Naomi returned to the place of blessing and was ultimately blessed beyond all that she could imagine, in fact 7 times more so is what is said of her in chapter 4:15.

One thing that the book of Ruth teaches us is that discipline from God is so often undervalued and misunderstood by the very people that it is intended to help. You have read right in that I say that discipline is given by God to help His people to live a better life. much of what is taught in the 21st century church fits Elimelech's theology. He believed in "when the going get's tough the believer gets going!" The whole point of Israel being in difficulty was that they cry out to God for help and for the ability to repent of their sin. Often a move for repentance comes not from the leadership but from a groundswell of outcry from the ordinary people. There is no evidence to suggest that Elimelech was anything but an ordinary man leading an ordinary family. He  was needed to be telling his own people that God is King and not being "comfortably numb" and living in Moab. He did not really care about his own people's plight, he was ok thank you! He did not even care about those amongst whom he was living. Elimelech simply did not understand what God's discipline was all about.

It is true that there seemed to be blessing in Moab, we need to just consider what is going on there. Moab was already under God's condemnation but yet there is plenty of food. What is that all about? It displays firstly God's common grace. That simply put is that God provides by His common grace for all people of all nations in whatever circumstances that they find themselves in. Moab did not deserve to be in plenty but God chose to bless them. This very fact should have spoken loud and clear to Israel and Elimelech but it did not! Elimelech chose common grace rather than the specific grace that God has for His chosen people. That is a poor exchange if ever there was one. Common grace supplied a full stomach but it did not afford spiritual blessing. Elimelech took His people to a land of eternal judgement and was happy to sojourn there.

God's specific grace however was fully directed at Israel. Their empty stomach's should have been their clarion call to God for forgiveness from which will come eternal benefit more than any could ever imagine. Something of this we shall discover as we consider what happened to Ruth and Naomi in the rest of their lives.

As the church we really need to grapple with these truths and come to an understanding as to what God does in and through His people. We really need to understand that just because a people have it easy then it is no mark of God's satisfaction with them. Equally just because a Christian is not experiencing ease and comfort it does not mean that they are under God's curse. But then again it might be, we must be discerning and seek what it is  that God is saying in our own current circumstance. The nation of Israel needed Elimelech to be at his best but he was at his worst and ran headlong into God's wrath and anger. Let this be a solemn lesson to us.


There is so much that we learn from Elimelech, he is the prototype of a backslider who does the right thing in his own eyes but loses out on personal blessing. But there is also a solemn warning to those who follow in his footsteps. We may sympathize with his plight but to follow him in his flight will bring as it did for him:

Dire Consequences:

Elimelech was responsible for his own actions and reaped the benefit of them but personal rebellion or sin will always have a knock on effect. That was particularly true for the family of Elimelech. They found Moab to be for them a good place. That in itself is a contradiction, they were a family of God and had moved away from the corporate family for personal gain. It is true that food is a vital necessity but when repentance is the only thing that bars a nation from restoration then any that run away will experience problems to an even greater extent. Just as in Moab there can be no blessing for the people of God who run away! The family's stomachs may have been full but their hearts were darkened more and more every day that they lived their. Their move was not temporary, they lived in Moab. The boys married Moabite girls which is directly against God's declared law (more about that in a later study!) Again the names of the boys speaks volumes:
  1. Mahlon means sickly or weak.
  2. Chillion means wasting away or pining!
The names given to the 2 boys also teaches us many lessons; they were by name weak, sickly, wasting moaners. They died young and left young foreign widows behind them. They brought no blessing into the foreign land but left behind them a confused people. If Elimelech thought before leaving Bethlehem that he would be a witness in Moab then there was nothing further from the truth. A believer running away from God as with Elimelech and also Jonah leaves behind them a wake of disaster and confusion. The consequences of a believer backsliding are far reaching, so much more than we can ever imagine.


This puts and amazing responsibility upon the individual who is doing what is right in their own eyes. Sin will not only bring personal judgement but it will also bring difficulties to all that we are involved with. To do the right thing as far as we want will affect our whole family and the church. If we do the right thing then blessing is promised but to do the wrong thing will wreak havoc.


We have tried to understand the times previously, in this little study we have tried to understand the man. We do not hold him in judgement but we learn lessons from the clear mistakes that he made. We remember that it was very difficult times but Elimelech read them very wrongly. We also live in difficult times that we need to read accurately and then to react righteously because as we have learned not to do so will bring about disaster. The church must also take it's responsibility properly. If only some righteous man in Israel had shown Elimelech the error of his ways then things could have been so different! It is the responsibility of the church to help each other to do the right thing and to prevent disaster resulting from pragmatic decisions.





Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Psalm 4: What God listens to.


For the director of music; with stringed instruments; A psalm of David.
A cry from the heart. 

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
 
Selah
A promise in the heart.
Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Selah
A gift from the heart. 
Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD. Many are asking, "Who can show us any good?" Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.
A certain peace in the heart.
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Remember last time we discovered that Psalm 3 was for the morning and that Psalm 4 is for the evening. Some believe the Psalms to be related due to the Selah (or “pause for a moment and then continue”) at the end of Psalm3. Psalm 4 in that case does not randomly follow on from Psalm 3 but that they belong together. Psalm 4 is David’s prayer for protection before going to sleep. 
Absalom is outside lurking in the shadows and awaiting his chance to kill his father; whether that is true or not is open to conjecture and really does not matter that much anyway. Verses 3-4 clearly tell us that it was written with night-time in mind therefore it is a helpful Psalm to reflect upon in the night especially when fears are preventing sleep. We all have worries that from time to time cause us to lose sleep and even though the Lord tells us not to worry and that worrying makes not one iota of difference to the situation. 
Proverbs instructs God’s people to cast our cares upon God who cares for us; this is exactly what David is doing in this Psalm. By his experience and example we learn what it means to cast our cares upon God because He does care for us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in!
The first thing that we see is that David makes:

A cry from the heart.

The Psalms are the songs of the bible but they are much more than popular songs. I suppose some of the Negro spirituals that come from extreme suffering of an oppressed people come close to the Psalms. Psalm 4 is a plea from the heart of the David; this is a prayer of David to God whom he fully trusted in and knew personally as we learned from Psalm 3. 

It is helpful for our own prayer life as we learn how this saint of old prayed to God.

David cried out to God from his heart. Last time we discovered that we must come boldly to God in prayer. He does not expect us to come as some type of Uriah Heap who prided himself in his false humility and who loves to tell of his unworthiness but really he was revealing an evil and arrogant pride which made him a most unlikeable fellow. Some Christians believe God expects of His people to be so humiliated by their sin that they resemble Uriah Heap. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our sin as was David’s has been dealt with and so we can and must approach God boldly! Of course that does not allow us to come arrogantly but carefully as did David. This is a great lesson to us. 

David came boldly to His God who listened to his requests and answered His bold friend.

We therefore see the respect that David had for God. We also must come respectfully to God recognising His righteousness. Even David King of Israel came in praise and wonder of God in heaven. Getting the right balance in life is always difficult. As we have said we can be arrogant in our humility but it is equally wrong to be arrogant in our boldness. David in this Psalm displays the right balance; we must come to God always in the right way. Jesus taught that God wants His people to worship Him in spirit but also to be guarded by truth. 

We must pray biblically.

As David was praying and asking for God to hear and grant mercy to him his attention went out to his enemies. He addresses them in his prayer displaying the conversational aspect of his prayer life. He could not directly address his enemies but he could talk to the Lord about them and expose his heart before the Lord. 

David was God’s appointed king; God’s glory was with him and it was this that was under attack. They were fighting David but in reality it was God they were standing against. Remember the time when Samuel judged over Israel, the people demanded of him a king like the nations around them had. Samuel was hurt at their rejection of him but God said to Samuel that it was not him that was being rejected but God Himself. This is a similar situation the leader whom God had appointed was under attack and being rejected. In reality Israel would rather have the good looking and youthful usurper than God’s man. David had every right to be angry at what they were doing and to speak indignantly to God in his prayer about it. We also know what God has appointed for His people, we are under attack from all sorts of outside forces that would usurp God’s authority in the church. Rather than lose sleep over it as David did we must commit it honestly to God in prayer. That is true also for all of the issues that we experience as individual Christians.

The amazing thing about David is that he was concerned about his enemies. They loved delusions and sought after false gods; they knew all about the truth and rejected it and so they refused to follow God. David loved his enemy and wanted only the best for them and so he prayed “how long before you come to the truth and your senses?” What an example of true godliness, there is no wonder that David is a type or fore-runner of Jesus who came because He loves those who are His enemies.

Lesson:

As Christians we are the people of God and as such we also can come boldly requesting that His name might be glorified even in those who would despitefully use us. Do we love the enemies of the church and the gospel enough to pray for them as David did?


The Selah that follows is probably a musical term, which means pause for a while and ponder before continuing. In other words:

 “Stop and wonder at what God has done for His people!”


A promise in the heart.

David recognised his relationship with God in verses 3-4; he had been set apart for service to God and His people! Being “set apart” is a reference to the articles used for worship in the tabernacle. All of the bowls etc that were used had to be made of pure metal and before use they had to be made ceremonially clean. David is using the same terminology here when referring to the Godly. In the New Testament we discover that the articles set apart by God are all who are Christians. Those who have been saved by Jesus’ death are set apart and are made holy for God’s service!

Our relationship with God is not one-sided, we do not speak to a god who cannot hear or speak. David tells us that our God who is in heaven is righteous and just and He hears the prayers of His friends even in our ramblings as we lie on our beds at the end of a difficult day. 

In the Psalm David reminds himself and therefore warns us that our thoughts at bedtime can be very dangerous! You know what it is like when you go to bed; if the day has been stressful we will ponder all of the difficulties of the day plotting and planning as to what might happen tomorrow and how we might do harm to those who hurt us! Whilst we are waiting for sleep to happen we can indulge in the most awful sins. If this Psalm was written at the time when Absalom was seeking David’s life then it would have been very easy for David to wage a hate campaign against Absalom! BUT David recognised this as wrong.

It is important to note that David does not say do not be angry or that anger is sin. It was right for him to be angry and as Christians at times we ought to be angry. We should be angry about injustice and all wrongdoing, how much more so for the wrong that is aimed at God or His people, which may include ourselves. 

God Himself is angry at sin but His is a righteous anger with no hint of wrong or sin involved. 

We should be angry in the same way. God hates sin but loves sinners and desires that they be restored into fellowship with Him. David in writing this Psalm displays his God-like qualities. He gives some sound advice to both himself and to his readers also. When temptation to sin comes we should: “search our own heart and be silent.” It is better to be quiet than to say something, which will cause bitterness and sin.

At this point David instructs the reader to ponder and consider what has been said but then to continue: Selah

Lesson:

As Christians; we are in a personal relationship with God through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a living relationship and so as His family we can approach Him not only knowing that He listens to us but that He also answers our prayers. 

As His friends we are to be like Him in all of our ways. Just as at times in His earthly ministry Jesus displayed anger but did not sin. We also must deal with our anger rightly and not sin. Remember that when the Lord interpreted the commands He said that hatred was as bad as murder. David throughout his life displayed a love for his enemy and so must we.

A gift from the heart.

David moves from the heart that sins to the heart that worships. His advice is simply: 

“keep away from sinful thinking by offering something to God instead.”  

When sin crouches at the door of your heart look upwards and offer your sacrifice to God! The question that needs to be asked is: 

“what are the sacrifices that David is talking about.” 

The answer to that is found in Psalm 51:17 where David writes that the only sacrifice that is acceptable to God is a broken and contrite heart. He was guilty of gross sinfulness including adultery and the murder of an innocent man as a cover up of his own evil deeds! David had from this learned that “at the time of great temptation” it is better to offer the praise of your heart to God instead of acting upon desire. But if we do transgress we can come before Him broken and asking for forgiveness in order that you might regain fellowship with Him and also with His people. 

When we come to this understanding then we can more honestly understand other people when they fail. This is exactly what David goes on to say! It is important that God’s people reflect the heart of God because when things go wrong; throughout history people have asked the question that David addresses next.

Who can show us any good?”

He makes a request of God in response to the people’s need. They need to see good in people, where should they see it? It should be clearly seen in the people of God. Therefore the answer is for God’s people to reflect God’s glory. David here was probably referring to Moses who after meeting with God one day had to veil his face from the people because his face shone due to him having seen the glory of God that his face was radiant. In fact it shone so brightly that it would have frightened normal sinful people to death. David was saying in his prayer that the greatest need for Israel at that moment was for God’s glory to shine upon him in order that they might see God’s goodness through him.

Lesson:

People today are confused as to what is right and what is wrong. Post modernism (which is apparently the time that we live in!) tells us that there is neither right nor wrong. Its protagonists tell us that everything is ok as long as it does not offend anybody. In this they exclude God who is offended by sin!! 

How will anybody ever know truth, if truth is not told? 

The proclamation of the gospel is desperately needed in our land TODAY! Not merely by our words but by every facet and nuance of our very being. 

How do we gain such a persona? 

Do we pray as did David that those opposed to the gospel might see truth through us?


A place in the heart.

It is interesting to note that at the end of the previous section there is no Selah. By this David is saying; “with this in mind carry on and consider what is in your heart.” When God shines His light upon His people it always has the same effect:

WORSHIP!

This is true of David; he was no longer concerned about the enemy or even his personal sin. He had seen the glory of God; and that is greater than a stomach full of good food or a heart merry with wine or even greater than being a successful farmer or merchant. To have God’s face to shine on you is absolute and total satisfaction, in the light of this everything else pails into insignificance. This is true peace, when we are at peace we can sleep well because God is our security. 

Thomas Cranmer’s brother asked him on the night before he was martyred if he wanted him to stay overnight. Cranmer refused the offer saying that he intended to have a better nights sleep than he had ever done before because God would be with him. Cranmer could only say such a thing because he had experienced a peace beyond all understanding. Jesus said that He had come to bring such a peace into the world. David experienced it, Cranmer experienced it, are you experiencing it? You cannot gain it by what you do but by what has been done on your behalf.


Psalm 4

Answer me when I call, O God my help!
When I in trouble was, you aided me.
Be gracious to me; Lord, hear now my prayer.
Be gracious to me; Lord, hear now my prayer.

How long, you people; will you insult me?
How long will you love lies and vanity?
Know that God chose the ones who godly are;
He hears me when I call unto His name.

Tremble with fear lest you fall into sin;
Lie quietly in bed, and think on this:
Offer right sacrifice and trust in God.
Offer right sacrifice and trust in God.

Many pray, “We wish we could see some good.
Lift up your countenance upon us, Lord!”
But I’ve more joy than those with harvests great.
I sleep in peace, for You, Lord, keep me safe.

To the tune: Abide with me.
Meter: 10:10:10:10

Psalm 3: God’s undeserved grace.




O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him."
But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.
Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.
In order for us to understand this Psalm it is helpful to know why it was written. The story goes back to the time of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan had exposed his adultery and pronounced God’s judgement upon him. Because of this sin David would experience problems from within his own family. His son Absalom had instigated a successful military coup against his father and was now ruling Israel. (2 Samuel 15-18) David at the time of writing was hiding in a cave. The Psalm is a record of his cry to God. It is the first Psalm that is credited to David in our bibles and is closely related to Psalm 4. David’s reference to sleeping and waking in verse 5 is the reason that this Psalm is called the “morning Psalm” with Psalm 4 being the “evening Psalm.”
The Psalm breaks down into 4 convenient stanzas:
  1. Is there any hope? Verses 1&2
  2. A ring of confidence! Verses 3&4
  3. Resting in the Lord. Verses 5&6
  4. A certain victory. Verses 7&8

So we begin our thoughts as David begins a new day with a question to God.
  • Is there any hope?
Apparently long ago a submarine had sunk to the bottom of the sea, trapping the sailors inside. A rescue team came to the vessel and heard a tapping from within. The Morse code message simply said: “is there any hope?” This was similar to David’s problem; he had sunk to the depths of despair. He knew that he was under God’s judgement and all that he could do now was to rest in the assurance of God’
He cries out to Yahweh as denoted by the capitalized LORD in our bibles. The God who had previously revealed Himself to Moses from within the burning bush is the same God that David was trusting in whilst in such dire circumstances all of which were of his own making. His question to God “is there any hope?” is one that I am sure we have all at one time or another prayed ourselves. David’s respect for the person of God is contrasted with the taunt of his enemies. David makes a request to the Lord whom he knows personally whereas his enemy can only use the general term for God. It is a bit like people who use the name of Jesus today for their advantage but who do not really know Him as Lord and saviour of their life. Contrast their words with the relationship the Christian has and there is a vast difference. David even though he had sinned and brought this unhappy situation upon himself had never lost his personal relationship with God. God will never leave or forsake His people. The promises made to David whilst he was still a young man are safe and secure. God’s grace supersedes man’s foolish sinfulness!
David’s problem was not that he had lost contact with God but it was how would God fulfill His purposes in this desperate situation? (Read the account in Samuel and see the problem David had.) David's enemy was his own son whom he loved! Absalom was taunting David and bringing the name of God into the equation and all in opposition to David’s success. The outcome eventually would be that Absalom is eventually defeated and David is restored to the throne. Absalom’s taunts are empty but nevertheless they were most hurtful!
God never changes and what He has promised will be fulfilled in each of our lives and in the life of the church. The taunts of the enemy which includes Absalom types (they are people who know of God by association: other religious groups etc.) will eventually come to nothing. David a man after God’s own heart cried almost a rhetorical prayer when he asked: “is there any hope?”
We know it is rhetorical because of the next stanza in the Psalm we discover that David had a:

  • A ring of confidence.
Do you remember the ring of confidence that came around those who cleaned their teeth with Colgate! You were acceptable to all because your breath smells good and your teeth are white. David’s ring of confidence was of a much higher order; his confidence was in Yahweh. Yahweh surrounds him and even though he is “banged up” hiding in a cave; God’s glory is upon him. Even though the circumstances that he finds himself in are due to sin God had not forsaken him nor had He removed His glory from David. There is much to learn here for us as Christians today. It is easy to believe that God is only blessing us when everything is going well according to our estimation. To David although everything seemed to be desperate; in God’s purpose everything was under control, it was in order and was going according to God's will.
Not only was David confident of God’s protection in difficult days he knew that God hears and answers prayer. There had been no miraculous change overnight, the situation was just as it was before; but David was confident.
What difficulties are you struggling with? Be encouraged by David’s story. When Nathan revealed his sin to him, David came to God in repentance (see Psalm 51) and even though sin does have an effect God never leaves or forsakes those whom He loves. Just come to Him as David did and then as with David your confidence in Yahweh will be restored and strengthened. You will know that even though circumstance are difficult God is with you and that He is pleased to answer your prayer from His holy hill which is heaven.
With this confidence as David did we will then be able to:
  • Rest in the Lord:
It doesn’t matter how tired we are, when we are in great danger it is impossible to sleep. Lying down seems to be a trigger for our imagination to frighten us to death. It is the time that we worry the most! David was afraid for his life but yet he was able to say that he could lie down and sleep. That is the evidence of a confident man! He is blessed because not only is he confident in Yahweh and believes that Yahweh hears and answers prayer but also because Yahweh is sustaining him. 
What David needed most at that time was to be able to rest his body in preparation for the battle that the next day would inevitably bring. David recognised that his good nights sleep was a gift from God. Do we praise God for the benefit that a good night’s sleep brings? It is amazing when reading the accounts of people martyred as to how many of them recorded sleeping soundly and in perfect peace the night before their execution. David through this experience was learning the principle that God will not allow anyone to be tested beyond what they can bear even though they might deserve it. He was also learning that even in difficult times it is possible to be at peace in this world. 
This is God’s grace in action! 
The next morning the fears of the night are in the past and David awakes with an even greater confidence that he is on the victory side. Even though the enemy seems vast David was not afraid; he had God on his side!
This is the great heritage of the believer; even though all seems to be against us we need not fear. One of the most distressing books to read is Foxes Book of the Martyrs. At first it seems glorious but by the time you get half way through it becomes monotonous because all of the accounts seem to follow the same formula. The victims are arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to death for blasphemy unless they recant of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. They are then executed as heretics usually by burning at the stake! The one thing that Fox always brings out is that each martyr died knowing that even though the enemy was great they were on the victory side!
Are you resting in the Lord? John Wesley’s Methodists were commended because they died well; but another mark of the believer is that he can sleep well. I do not mean that he will not have sleeping problems but that his sleep will not be ruined because of fear that God might not be on his side!
We also can rest well knowing that one day there will be:
  • A certain victory:
The mark of a great commander is that he can inspire his troops when needed. Remember Winston Churchill’s great stirring speeches during the Second World War and how they raised the spirits of the British nation not to give in to what seemed to be certain defeat! 
What David did in verse 7 might be seen to be blasphemy in that he is ordering God to act! He boldly called on God to arise and fight the battle on his behalf. We have been warned much in the past as to what is the acceptable way to approach God remembering that His character is perfectly holy and righteous. We must not approach Him just as we wish, but David came boldly to Him and made demands that He fights on his behalf. The reason for this is that David knew with absolute certainty that what he was asking was within God’s purposes. Absalom was claiming that he was God’s appointed man BUT he was wrong! God had set David apart and Absalom was not a part of David’s plan for Israel! 
God will not allow another to usurp His authority; He will always glorify His name. Therefore David’s prayer was simply “Deliver me, O my God because it is only you; LORD who can deliver and you will do so in order to bless your people! David understood what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews would later teach in Hebrews chapter 4:16 “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive grace to help us in our time of need.” David was certainly in a time of great need and so he approached the throne of grace confidently knowing that what he asked for was God’s purpose for both Himself and His people Israel.
As Christians we must always treat the things of God with utmost respect. God has given great and mighty promises in His word, we often do not take them as the absolutes that they are and so we act and pray timidly. At times it is a wonder that God can ever interpret what we are asking of Him; our prayers are so nebulous. That certainly was not the case with David! He wanted the enemy destroyed and God’s name to be glorified. 
There are many around us today attacking God and His people, it is offensive to Him and so it should also be to us. Are we as bold as David was? Dare we ask that the enemy of our God be defeated knowing in confidence that God will be pleased to answer that prayer?
So what do we learn from this Psalm? 
We can be like David who whilst in distress was confident in the LORD and resting in the belief of certain victory. 
As Christians we have even more reason to be confident, we can rest assured that the enemy of our souls has been defeated through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ knowing that we are on the victory side. He has commanded that we help to destroy the works of the evil one. He then rescues His people from Satan’s stranglehold. Our weapon of war is the gospel, we have it in our hand we must boldly use it for the glory of God.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ruth part 1: Understanding the times.


(Updated: 18/06/2014)

Judges 21:25 - Ruth 1:1 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons."

 Why study Ruth?


Because it is relevant to our day, to our church, to our current situation therefore it is the book for us over the next few meetings.

In what ways it is relevant will become clear as we study the text together. I am sure there are many blessings contained within for us and also many reminders as to how if we get it wrong then the results can be far reaching.

Ruth can be summed up as the account of a family in great distress. The book can be summed up by three funerals and a wedding. It carries many surprises for us as to how God works out His plans even through a family that some today might term as dysfunctional.

Before we study any book of the bible we should always get a little of the background in place. That might to some seem to be a little boring and unnecessary but all events recorded in the bible take place at a certain time and in certain real circumstances. The events are what they are because of what has gone before and what was happening at the time. The teaching contained within the account is directly related to the events taking place. Therefore it is not merely of interest that we look at the background:

IT IS IMPERATIVE!

If we do not get the background in place we will most probably go off on theological tangents that are probably true but are not necessarily what Ruth teaches us. It is what Ruth teaches us now that is of great importance and so we pray that we handle the word of God correctly and that He blesses as we consider what it says to us.



Our first study will set in place what the text begins with:

  • In the days when the Judges ruled.
  • There was famine in the land.
  • A man of Bethlehem went with his family to Moab.

(Ruth 1:1)
Let us go back to the beginning for a moment and follow something of revelation history. The Jews refer to the first five books of the Old Testament as the Torah. It is believed that Moses wrote these books which are often referred to as the Law by both the OT and NT. These books record the events of creation, the fall, God's choosing of a people and their setting apart as a nation. There are of course many ups and downs and many lessons to be learned as we read and study. God's law for mankind is contained within these five books and also taught within is His accepted way for man to worship both as individuals and also corporately for all who belong to Him. The end of the historical journey contained within is the peoples release from slavery in Egypt to freedom across the Red Sea.

The book of Joshua follows on in which is recorded Moses' successor Joshua leading the Nation of Israel into the promised land.

Judges follows on from this and records a time approximately 350 years after Joshua led the people into Canaan. The events of Judges took place around 1400 BC. They were turbulent times when the nation was under threat from outside enemies who were attempting to take over the land and also there were times of famine.

The question we have to ask concerning this is: “Why is God allowing His people to suffer in such ways?”

The book of Ruth is a helpful insight for us to see the bigger picture of what is happening as from God's perspective. We also live in days when we are constantly asking the “Why?” question. We ask it concerning the events in the world and within our country but we also focus it down to our own family and even within the local church.

Why is God allowing the things that are happening to us?”

Tradition teaches that Samuel is the author of Ruth and scripture tells us that the events recorded take place during the time of the Judges.

The account of Ruth took place at a time when there was UNRIGHTEOUS LIVING just prior to the KINGDOM being established.

So what do we learn from this first verse?


  1. The events took place in the days when the Judges ruled.

Look at Judges 21:25: In preparation for this study I read a Jewish commentary concerning this verse and was quite shocked at how it was interpreted. The author went to great lengths to make what is clearly a negative into a positive. He looked at Jewish character and decided that doing what is right in our own eyes is really a compliment because the Jews would only see what is right,. But does that add up to either the events during the period of the time of the Judges? Human nature is the same whether it be Jewish or Gentile when we are said to do as we please or what is right in our own eyes is a clear description of selfish living. Scripture teaches both in the OT and NT that all have sinned and that all fall far short of God's intentions. The Holy Spirit of God reveals the selfish or sinful heart of the nation at this point by telling us that everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

How does this impact upon the church locally?


  1. There was famine in the land.

Deuteronomy 11 is God's instruction to His people that they must remain faithful to Him in all of their ways. The result of faithfulness is security and provision in the land but the promise of God for unfaithfulness is a lack of security and a withholding of provision. Judges is all about attacks from outside nations. The raiding of food-stocks etc and also as we see from our verse a time of famine. There is no doubt that God is applying His covenant curses to the nation but as Ruth reveals He is still working out His Sovereign purposes in surprising ways. I simply cannot see how the reality of the events that were happening can ever be interpreted as a compliment to the ways of God's people at the time!

Is there a New Testament equivalent of the covenant curse for the church? If so how does it work out for us?

  1. A man of Bethlehem went with his family to Moab.

There are two ironies in this verse:

  • Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” The man ran away from the place of provision in order to be provided for in a foreign land. God is always faithful to His promises and so if Bethlehem is not providing the basic needs of life then something has gone wrong. It is clear that the promised covenant curses are taking effect. Israel are going hungry and blessing is not available. 
     
  • Moab is the second irony in the story. Read Genesis 19:30-38. Moab the father of the nation was a son of Lot who was conceived through a drunken incestuous relationship by Lot with his eldest daughter. Lot, as we remember, was Abraham's nephew and was rescued in the nick of time from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we look at how the Moabites fight with the Israelites later, and lead them into sin, one can't help wondering why God bothered to save Lot and his daughters. It seems that only evil ever results.

    As we follow the Moabites through the Bible to the time of the Judges, God uses them, like He used the Philistines, to punish the Israelites when they fall away. When the Israelites call out to God, He brings forth a judge to rescue them from their oppressors. 

    Read Judges 3:12-30

    Irony of ironies, from Ruth there is going to come the great king David (who will later conquer and subjugate the Moabites) and from David will come Jesus, the Messiah. So if we follow Jesus' lineage back far enough, we come to his ancestor Moab, who was born of incest. It is amazing how God can use whatever He chooses in order to fulfil His purposes.

    The greatest irony of all is found in Deuteronomy 23:3-6. Moabites are excluded from the assembly of the Lord. That is the Law so how do we reconcile the man taking his family to Moab for provision? Had the Lord let them down? Did God lead them into the land of the Moabites for the provision that He was impotent to provide? We will discover wonderful truths as we study this love story contained in scripture at this turbulent time of the Judges.

    When rebellion against God abounded grace abounded much more as we shall see. Grace does not come cheaply; a high price was paid by this family for the situation that they found themselves in but yet God was clearly working out His purposes.