Malachi Lesson Six

Malachi Lesson Six 3:7-12 Robbing God

“Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?” “Will a man rob  God? Yet you are robbing Me!” You ask: “How do we rob You?” “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing Me. 10 Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the Lord of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not ruin the produce of your land and your vine in your field will not fail to produce fruit,” says the Lord of Hosts. 12 “Then all the nations will consider you fortunate, for you will be a delightful land,” says the Lord of Hosts. (HCSB)

This passage introduces another dispute/rebuttal sequence between Yahweh and Israel. The topic is over tithing, although it is much deeper than just giving back to God. The real issue is obedience (faithfulness) versus disobedience (apostasy). 

Before beginning this passage, let’s have a quick reminder of how the previous lesson ended with verse six; the unchangeable nature of God. This theological doctrine is called immutability. Since God is perfect, He can’t and doesn’t change. Here are two important truths about this statement.

  • God can’t get better since that would mean He was less than perfect at some point, which would also indicate He is not God.
  • God can’t get worse because He would then be less than perfect, which He can’t be. 

God is and must remain perfect in all His attributes. Nevertheless, it is our unchangeable God who gives us a chance to change, which is something we all must do. The beginning of this passage will now reveal how that occurs.

Verse 7

This verse contains a three-fold exhortation.

  • Situation – Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them.
  • Command – Return to Me.
  • Motivation – and I will return to you.

The statement “since the days of your fathers” covers a large period of time, approximately 1,000 years. Like all people, Israel had a long history of being disobedient to Yahweh. What may have contributed to the situation presented in Malachi is Old Testament teaching from the time of Moses before Israel entered the promised land. 

Deuteronomy 4:25-31 2“When you have children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time, and if you act corruptly, make an idol in the form of anything, and do what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, provoking Him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will quickly perish from the land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not live long there, but you will certainly be destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be reduced to a few survivors among the nations where the Lord your God will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see, hear, eat, or smell. 29 But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, you will return to the Lord your God in later days and obey Him. 31 He will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them by oath, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God.

In the mind of at least some of the Israelites, maybe most of them, they believed that since they had been restored from their exile. However, a quick review of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi shows that the prophecies regarding Israel’s repentance and spiritual restoration and blessings had not yet been completed.

Verse 8

Up until this point in Malachi, Yahweh had levied charges against Israel in the following areas.

  • Insulting worship – 1:4
  • Treachery against one another – 2:10
  • Intermarriage with pagan idolators – 2:11 
  • Treachery against their wives – 2:14
  • Toleration of sorcery, adultery, perjury, and exploitation of the weak – 3:5

Now, Yahweh draws their attention to the fact that they were not tithing as required. The Old Testament references “the land” more than 1,000 times, with the vast majority connected to Canaan. Canaan was the land that God promised patriarchs, the land given to Israel, the land where the people would be blessed. The way Israel treated the land and its produce was a key component of their responsibility under the covenant. Ownership of land was understood to mean participation in the covenant community to whom God had given the land. But that ownership was validated by an attitude of faith and thankfulness toward Yahweh. The land was given as an inheritance to Israel, but it was, in reality, stewardship and not ownership. The reason for stewardship and not ownership is because of the habit of humans to sin and forget who gave the gift.

  • Leviticus 25:23 – The land is not to be permanently sold because it is Mine, and you are only foreigners and temporary residents on My land.
  • Deuteronomy 6:10-12 – 10 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give you—a land with large and beautiful cities that you did not build, 11 houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.

In addition, every third year, the tithe was supposed to be distributed in the giver’s hometown to benefit the Levites, foreign residents, orphans, and widows.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 – 28 “At the end of every three years, bring a tenth of all your produce for that year and store it within your gates. 29 Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow within your gates may come, eat, and be satisfied. And the Lord your God will bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

Just like the Sabbath year, the tithe would benefit the poor and those who couldn’t own land (Levites), demonstrating love to God and their neighbors.

Let’s look at this concept from a New Testament perspective. Nowhere in the New Testament is the believer instructed to give a specific amount, tithe, or other. However, weekly offerings are described.

1 Corinthians 16:2 – On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.

Also, in a general sense, the New Testament obligations of Old Testament legislation are increased rather than reduced. Understanding this, the moral conclusion is that Christians, being blessed with the fullness of life under the sacrifice of Jesus, should give more than a tithe since everything we have comes from and belongs to God.

Verse 9

The idea that Israel was robbing God is given two more pieces of evidence. 

  • They were suffering under a curse. Looking ahead to verse 11, the curse could have been in several different circumstances.
    • It could have been a plague on the harvest – locust or drought.
    • It could also refer to an enemy.
  • It was the entire nation that was guilty.

Verse 10

This verse is effectively split into two parts.

  • Bring the full tithe into the storehouse. The word “full” could be understood in two ways, both relevant and accurate.
    • Israel was not bringing the full tithe. Instead, they were withholding part, or all, of the requirement in the Law.
    • The whole (full) nation was guilty of this charge.
    • Because the Levites were dependent on the tithes for sustenance (since they couldn’t own land), if they were neglected, it was more than a simple sign of disobedience. It signified a deeper problem of falling away from their relationship with Yahweh that the Levites modeled (complete dependence on Yahweh).
  • Test Yahweh and see if He will bless and sustain you.
    • If the people would return to God and be obedient, they would receive an abundant blessing.
    • First, we need to understand what this is not. 
      • It is not support for or an endorsement of a prosperity gospel.
      • It doesn’t mean we’ll get a promotion, new house, new car, etc.
      • Those who promote the prosperity gospel are actually saying that human activity can force God into doing what they want. This is the same as implying that God is not sovereign.
      • Instead of a false “name it and claim it” theology, it would be more appropriate to promote a “live it” theology. Act like a child of God, and we’ll be treated as one.
    • It does mean.
      • God’s provision will match our needs.
      • It won’t lead to waste or overindulgence.

Verse 11

As mentioned under the discussion of verse nine, the word “devourer” can have more than one meaning. In general terms, it indicates something that eats. However, it is often found in expressions of destruction.

  • Fire: Hosea 8:14b – I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels.
  • Human armies: Jeremiah 30:16a – Nevertheless, all who devoured you will be devoured, and all your adversaries-all of them-will go off into exile.

Even though Israel was hanging under a curse, Yahweh was prepared to reverse that to a blessing if they would repent and turn back to Him. 

Amos 9:14 – I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel. They will rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce.

Jeremiah 31:5 – You will plant vineyards again on the mountains of Samaria; the planters will plant and will enjoy the fruit.

Verse 12

In this verse, Israel is described as a symbol of blessing and the recipient of God’s grace and favor. However, this does not occur apart from obedience and faithfulness. But it does point to a future time when Israel will undergo a national repentance the will precede the earthly reign of Jesus and be characterized by Yahweh’s protection, provision, prosperity, and presence.

  • Romans 11:26
  • Joel 2:18-32

Applications

  • If you have strayed from your relationship with God, cling to the promise He makes. Return to Him, and He will return to you.
  • Understand what it means to rob God. Are you giving back to God what He has blessed you with? Are you cheerful in your giving? 
  • Ask yourself if you truly believe that God will meet your needs (not wants). If the answer is no, then pray for more faith and opportunities to display that faith through action.

Malachi Lesson Three

Malachi Lesson Three 2:1-9 – Yahweh Warns the Priests

“Therefore, this decree  is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart  to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings.  In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart. 

“Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants,  and I will spread animal waste  over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices,  and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree so My covenant with Levi  may continue,” says the Lord of Hosts. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace,  and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.  True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me  in peace and fairness and turned many from sin.  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. 

“You, on the other hand, have turned from the way.  You have caused many to stumble  by your instruction. You have violated  the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised  and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.” (HCSB)

In this passage, we see Yahweh giving a warning to the disobedient priests, telling them what will happen if they continue and reminding them of how He rewards faithful service. Their behavior wasn’t only disobedience to God; they also led the people away from true worship by their negligent behavior.

Verse 1

The beginning of chapter two links back to chapter one with the word “therefore.” God is warning the priests that if they continue with the disobedience described in chapter one, they will face the punishment described in this passage. 

Verse 2

Verse 1 gives a conditional choice to the priests. Nevertheless, God was still willing to grant mercy and forgiveness if they repented and began to act as priests. 

However, this will require a heart change on the part of the priests. The phrase “take it to heart” has a deeper meaning in the original Hebrew. It denotes the “command center” of a person’s life. A place where knowledge is collected and considered. A place where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of a person’s life. It is not an emotional response. The phrase occurs a dozen times in the Old Testament, and in each case, it refers to determining a course of action in response to knowledge. If the priests responded to God’s call for repentance and giving Him the honor He deserved, they would be restored. Up until this point, they had demonstrated a superficial faith. God was calling on them to display genuine faith.

The term “curse” doesn’t have a hidden meaning; it is literally a curse. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 warns of the covenant curses that would befall Israel if they disobeyed God. The curses are identified in three stages in this verse.

  • Sending a curse.
  • Turning blessings into a curse.
  • The curses had already started.

Verse 3

Not only will the priests be cursed if they don’t correct their behavior, but their descendants will also be cursed. The word “look,” some translations have “see” or “behold,” adds urgency to the coming curse. The original Hebrew phrase indicates an event that will occur in the imminent future. Thus, we see in the Bible where descendants share in the blessings.

  • Numbers 25:13 – It will be a covenant of perpetual priesthood for him and his future descendants, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.

Then an illustration is given on how God will humiliate and remove the unrepentant priests from their position. The picture of animal excrement being spread on the priest’s face and then being thrown in the same trash heap like the rest of the excrement shouldn’t be taken literally. However, it does mean that the priests would be removed from their position in such a way that would bring the greatest amount of disgrace on them. This strong imagery indicates the degree to which God was repulsed by the priest’s behavior. Just as they had treated God with contempt (verse 1:6) and defiled His altar with corrupt and useless sacrifices (verse 1:7), God would treat them with contempt and defile them, making them worthless for future service. The priests felt it was a burden to faithfully serve God (verse 1:13), so now they and their descendants would be free from the burden of service.

Verse 4

Yahweh desires to honor His covenant with Levi, that his descendants will continue to serve the role as priests for Israel. An important point to remember regarding covenants made with groups. Although the group will be blessed by God, it does not ensure that each individual in the group will receive the blessing. It still requires adherence to the requirements of the covenant, and failing to do that, as the priests here were failing, leads to being removed from the covenant relationship.

  • Matthew 8:11-12 – I tell you that many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Luke 13:28 – There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown out.
  • Romans 9:6-8 – But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.

In the same way, today, we are not Christians because our parents were Christians. Those who believe and place their trust in Jesus are Christians, regardless of their ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, or any other demographic delineation. 

Malachi considered the “covenant of peace” to apply not just to Phinehas (son of Eleazar) and his descendants or the descendants of Aaron but to the entire tribe of Levi. This understanding is likely based upon Deuteronomy 10:8 – At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the LORD’s covenant, to stand before Yahweh to serve Him, and to pronounce blessings in His name, as it is today.

Verses 5-7 – This section describes how the priests were expected to conduct themselves.

Verse 5

Yahweh had blessed the priestly tribe of Levi with a full and happy life filled with shalom. Shalom should be understood to mean peace and wholeness. The twin concepts of life and peace are present in:

  • 1 Samuel 15:6 – Then say this: “Long life to you, and peace to you, to your family, and to all that is yours.”
  • Proverbs 3:2 – For they will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being.
  • Numbers 25:12 – Therefore declare: I grant him My covenant of peace.
  • Joshua 9:15 – So Joshua established peace with them and made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders of the community swore an oath to them.

God’s covenant of peace with the tribe of Levi would be an assurance of a lasting relationship and a promise to secure and protect their welfare by His grace, wisdom, and power. In return, Yahweh expected and received reverence (fear), demonstrating that the early priests, in contrast to those being addressed here, wisely feared only God. 

Verse 6

Fear of the Lord shouldn’t motivate only the priests’ moral obedience but also their responsibility to teach and uphold the commands contained within Scripture. Thus, not only were the priests responsible for conducting the sacrifices (correctly) on behalf of the people, they were also teachers of the Law.

  • Leviticus 10:11 – and teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given to them through Moses.
  • Deuteronomy 33:10a – They will teach Your ordinances to Jacob and your instructions to Israel.
  • 2 Chronicles 15:3 – For many years Israel had been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction.
  • Ezekiel 7:26 – Disaster after disaster will come, and there will be rumor after rumor. Then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but instruction will perish from the priests and counsel from the elders.
  • Hosea 4:6 – My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons.

Authentic instruction should be understood to mean “instruction of truth.” The priests were responsible for teaching truth to Israel, and this was done through teaching and obeying the Law. This instruction would teach Israel how they were to live in God’s covenant community and how to avoid defiling the tabernacle. In addition, obedience to the Law would determine Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant Yahweh had established with them. Because of this, the health of this covenant relationship was highly dependent on the priests faithfully performing their responsibilities. However, it is not defined just by how faithfully the priests taught the people; it also included the faithfulness of their lives. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers.

Verse 7

Since verse 6 focused on the responsibility of the priest’s teaching, this verse explains that the priests are messengers of Yahweh. In contrast to angels or prophets who would convey new instructions from God, the priests were messengers in the context of teaching the people what was already revealed in the Law and how it applied to their lives. A key point here, and still applicable today, is the relevance of God’s instructions to us through Scripture and the role of the priests (pastors/elders today) of faithfully and correctly teaching what is contained in Scripture and how that applies to us. That is what is meant by the term “guard knowledge” in this verse. Those today who preach/teach a false or altered understanding of Scripture are the same as the priests being condemned in Malachi. They may get away with it for a period of time, but they will be judged. 

  • James 3:1 – Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.

Verse 8

Here Malachi returns to address the sinning priests, accusing them in three different areas.

  • They had turned from the way. Their failure started with themselves; they were solely responsible for their actions.
    • Judges 2:17 – But they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.
    • Exodus 32:8 – They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, “Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
    • Deuteronomy 9:12 – The LORD said to me, “Get up and go down immediately from here. For your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made a cast image for themselves.”
  • Instead of turning from sin, they had caused others to fall into sin. The word “stumble” is often used in Scripture to identify sin and its consequences.
    • Isaiah 3:8 – For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen because they have spoken and acted against the LORD, defying His glorious presence.
    • Isaiah 8:14-15 – He will be a sanctuary, but for the two houses of Israel, He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over these; they will fall and be broken; they will be snared and captured.
    • Hosea 14:1 – Israel, return to Yahweh your God, for you have stumbled in your sin.
    • Proverbs 4:19 – But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they don’t know what makes them stumble.
    • Leviticus 26:37 – They will stumble over one another as if fleeing from a sword though no one is pursuing them. You will not be able to stand against your enemies.
    • Luke 17:1-2 – He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
  • The third and most prominent charge was that the priests had violated the covenant with Levi. As we consider the seriousness of this, we need to remember that a covenant was a relationship between two parties and made effective by an oath of obligation. If one side failed to live up to the agreement, the covenant was considered to have been broken (violated). The offended party could forgive the offender and restore or renew the covenant. This is the situation here. The covenant was broken but not destroyed. Yahweh is showing mercy by allowing the priests to repent and return if they will follow the Law.

Verse 9

Divine judgment had already begun, but it was not irreversible. The original Hebrew word for “despised” used here is the same one that describes the priest’s despising Yahweh in 1:6. Yahweh doesn’t tolerate pride and will overturn those who are prideful and lack humility.

  • 1 Samual 2:1-10.
  • Isaiah 2:11-17.
  • Isaiah 57:15.
  • Ezekiel 17:24

The reason for their humiliation is that they failed to be loyal and obedient servants to Yahweh. This is a timeless message and warning for today’s church and church leaders. Whenever those who teach God’s Word sacrifice the truth of the message, change it, alter it for their benefit, try to “soften” the message, so they don’t offend anyone, or try to be politically correct, they have betrayed the position that they are filling and the flock entrusted to their care. At the least, this could involve the loss of respect from the flock entrusted to their care. At the worst, it could be the type of punishment Jesus mentioned in Luke 17:1-2, where the offender is thrown into a sea attached to a millstone.

In reviewing this passage, there are four characteristics of a pastor/elder/shepherd leader.

  • The first is a proper relationship to God, which is referred to in Malachi as reverence. True knowledge begins with a reverential awe of God. Spiritual leaders need to cultivate reverence more than anything else.
  • A faithful shepherd will stand true even when confronted by false teachers and heretics. When shepherd leaders faithfully preach God’s Word, we speak absolute truth that applies to any point in history. Teaching God’s Word is a heavy responsibility.
  • They are marked with a godlike character and holiness. The key requirement here is godliness. Church leaders should pray for godliness and ask their congregation to pray for godliness in their leader and faithful teaching from Scripture
  • Knowledge of God, which is salvation through Jesus and living a life of obedience to God and His Word. When church leaders do this, the sheep are fed, and they look to the leader for instruction.

Applications – Although this passage was directed towards the Levitical priests, there are application points for all of us in the passage.

  • If we are in a church leadership position, are we faithful and obedient to what God’s Word requires of us? We need to make an honest assessment of this question, and if we aren’t following God’s Word, we need to repent and get back on the right path. God will extend mercy and grace if we are genuinely repentant about our disobedience.
  • If we teach and preach, do we hold true to what Scripture says, or do we put our own spin on it or twist Scripture to advance our personal agenda? This is a dangerous practice and will ultimately result in judgment against us. Just as in application point one above, we need to repent and be faithful as we teach God’s Word.
  • If we have been involved in false teaching and we have caused others to stumble, we need to repent of that and go to that person(s) or congregation and correct the mistake, as well as ask for forgiveness. Doing just the first part is not enough.
  • Teaching God’s Word is a great responsibility. We can’t do it on our own or through our “head knowledge.” We need guidance from the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it is a wonderful experience to preach God’s Word and see lives changed and souls added to the spiritual family of God.

1 Peter Lesson Four

1 Peter 2:11-17 A Call to Good Works

11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor. (HCSB)

In this passage, Peter exhorts the believers in the church in Asia Minor to live godly lives, shine their light to the unbelievers around them, respect authority, and use their freedom for good.

Verses 11-12

In these two verses, Peter characterizes the identity of the recipients of his letter in four ways.

  • Peter has Christian affection for the recipients, addressing them with the term “dear friends.” Peter is invested in their spiritual growth and wellbeing.
  • In the first chapter, Peter had already identified the recipients as sojourners or aliens. By joining the two words, Peter reinforces the fact that as believers in a fallen world, this is not their permanent home, and to the lost around them, their behavior would make them stand out as being different (strangers) in comparison to them.
  • At first, it may appear peculiar that Peter would tell the believers living in Asia Minor to act in a Christ-like manner among the unbelievers around them. To the Jews, anyone who was not a Jew was considered a Gentile. However, Peter is making the point that believers are grafted into Yahweh’s chosen people. They are now different from those around them.
  • The recipients of the letter are facing persecution in the form of slander from non-believers around them. This is the first explicit mention of hostility directed at believers in the letter. Let’s consider several factors here:
    • What qualifies as “evil” is often subjective and depends on the person viewing the action. Because of Christian resistance to Roman traditions/laws, they were viewed as criminal or evil in their behavior.
      • Acts 16:20-21  20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”
      • Acts 17:6-7  When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees,  saying that there is another king—Jesus!”
      • Acts 19:24-27  24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis,  provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods!  27 So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore.”
    • They are to resist the cravings of the world by Christ-like living.
      • The cravings that believers experience can often be strong as the enemy desires us to stumble or fall.
      • Believers are at war with the powers of darkness.
      • We should never underestimate the powers of darkness and do all we can to resist the temptations of the world.
      • Do we desire holiness or pleasure? The one we feed is the one that will take control.
      • Fleshly desires are motivated by a spirit of selfishness.
      • They make us spiritually weak and ineffective.
    • These verses start a section that is a call to missions.
      • They are to live among the Gentiles, engaging them and being a living witness to the power of Jesus.
      • They are not to withdraw and live a life of isolation.
      • Their incarnational living will draw the lost to submit their lives to Jesus.
    • Believers are not to retaliate or engage in self-defense against those persecuting them.
      • They are to pursue virtue and goodness.
      • By doing this, it would contradict the false accusations being placed against them.
    • The day of visitation is the moment of salvation for the Gentiles around them who submit to Jesus because of the witness of the believers.
      • Peter is convinced that some will convert because of their behavior.
      • The unbelievers may persecute the believers, but some will join Yahweh’s spiritual family because of their faithful lives.
      • God is glorified when this happens.

The summary of these two verses is this. Live holy lives in the middle of secular chaos, and let God take care of everything else. Peter is calling the churches in Asia Minor to live radically different from the surrounding culture to please God and cope with their circumstances. Peter’s point is a timeless point. In today’s world, the church also needs a call to holiness as the modern church, especially the Western church, is under heavy influence from the culture around us.

Verses 13-17

This section is challenging, if for no other reason, that in today’s world, there is an overall element of government/leader bashing. As we look at this section, there is an important divergent point in the discussion. Does the government/leader position go against Scripture, or does it go against your personal preference? The answer to that question is important both in how we understand this passage, and how it should affect our behavior. Now, let’s understand what Peter is saying.

  • Believers should submit to governing authorities.
  • It’s God’s will for believers to submit to authority.
  • Believers don’t submit to human authority with a subservient spirit but as one who is free in Christ.
  • Freedom doesn’t give license for evil.
    • Creating political chaos.
    • Moral irresponsibility.
    • Christians should choose to be orderly citizens.

Verse 15

By submitting to authorities, believers demonstrate the following characteristics.

  • They are good citizens.
  • They are not anarchists.
  • Unbelievers can’t criticize them for their disobedience.

Peter is not saying that authorities will always be on the side of believers or even recognize and reward them for good behavior. He is saying that such behavior will reduce the slanderous attacks on believers.

Verse 16

Peter is focusing on what motivates the behavior of submission. He uses three phrases to explain how Christians should live when subordinating them to governing authorities.

  • As free people:
    • The blood of Jesus has redeemed them.
      • Freedom from the power of sin over our lives.
      • Freedom from the guilt of our sins.
      • Freedom from the impossibility of earning God’s favor through obedience.
    • They no longer are subject to the futile lifestyle of the lost.
    • Their submission is not out of a position of weakness but strength.
  • Not engaging in evil.
    • Genuine freedom allows believers to do what is good.
    • Engaging in evil shows they were never free in the first place.
    • Wickedness is the definition of slavery.
  • Submit as slaves of God.
    • Believers are not given unrestricted freedom.
    • Freedom is exercised under the authority of Yahweh.
    • The understanding of New Testament liberty is the freedom to do what is right.
    • Only slaves of God are truly free.

Let’s draw some conclusions to the concepts of subservience and freedom, as is discussed in this passage.

  • Our ultimate submission is to God.
    • Governments don’t get a blank check pass in our submission to them.
    • Peter never intended his words to mean that we blindly follow governments.
    • As believers, we must weigh what governments are telling us against Scripture.
    • When those two sources of authority over us are in conflict, we must choose what is contained in Scripture.
    • Our ultimate loyalty is to God, not Caesar or any of our current leaders.
    • As believers, we are free from fearing our earthly leaders.
  • Under normal circumstances, governments will punish evil and reward good, as understood through Scripture.
    • At these times, believers can follow the dictates of their government with a good conscience. This is important to avoid unnecessary civil unrest.
    • However, Peter is saying that when governments propose what is evil of demand that believers can’t worship God, then we must not obey the dictates of the government.
    • Practical examples.
      • Abortion clinics – it is ok to protest peacefully against them.
      • Civil rights – again, peacefully demonstrate.
    • Tragically, most of the examples we see today of protests are violent and destructive in nature.

Verse 17

Peter concludes with four commands for the believers in Asia Minor.

  • Honor everyone – treat everyone with dignity and respect since we are all created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 26 Then God said, “Let Us  make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.  They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth,  and the creatures that crawl  on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.
  • Love the brotherhood – we should show love to all members of our spiritual family.
  • Fear God – only God is deserving of our fear (respect) in our actions. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Honor the Emperor – we are to honor our leaders and show respect to the position they hold.

The famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards, had six points that follow Peter’s teaching on how the church should operate today.

  • Christians have a responsibility to society beyond the walls of the church. We must not engage in isolationism.
  • We shouldn’t hesitate to join hands with non-Christians in working towards common moral grounds. At the same time, we must not compromise our Christian beliefs in cooperative endeavors.
  • Christians should support their government but be ready to criticize when the circumstances dictate that.
  • Politics are not important in the long run. Our first responsibility is to Jesus and only then to our government. No matter how much we do or want to respect our government, we should respect the church of Jesus more.
  • Christians should be aware of nationalistic pride. In the history of the church, there’s never been a truly Christian nation. As a Christian, our identity is in Jesus…period.
  • Christians must display an attitude of mercy for those less fortunate. If our God is a God of compassion and mercy, then we as Christians need to display those same characteristics.

Three main points in summary before I list some applications.

  • As the church, we can’t isolate ourselves from the world. The early church didn’t do that; they engaged the world, often leading to martyrdom.
    • The early church faced mostly physical persecution.
    • In most parts of the world today, the threat isn’t overt physical violence; it’s a slipping away from correct teaching and doctrine, leading to weak or false Christians.
  • Holiness means in all areas of our lives.
    • It isn’t restricted to spiritual disciplines; Bible reading, prayer, attending church, bringing our offering to God.
    • It includes all aspects of our lives.
      • Sexual practices.
      • The words we speak/don’t speak, write/don’t write.
      • How we spend our money.
      • Recreational pursuits.
      • Vocation.
      • Theological decisions.
  • The church needs to call all of its members to holiness. They should collectively fight against the sin in our society.
    • Casual sex.
    • Drugs.
    • Alcohol abuse.
    • Discrimination of any kind.
    • Gambling.
    • Oppression.
    • There’s a multitude more, and they vary in different locations around the world, choose those that fit your context.

Applications

  • First, no matter our circumstances, we must remember that our lives on earth are temporary. When we go through difficult times, face persecution, or just resentment for being a Christian, we must not forget that we weren’t the first, nor will we be the last. Rest in the assurance that Jesus is our strong tower, and He has already overcome the world.
  • We must resist the temptations that the world throws at us and seek holiness in our lives. If we struggle in an area, do we put up safeguards? Do we have an accountability partner?
  • Do we engage the lost world around us with the truth of the Gospel message? Jesus didn’t tell us to avoid the world; He told us to take the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
  • Do we respect our leaders both in action and word (spoken/printed/social media)? Disagreeing with our leaders does not give us the freedom or right to disrespect or slander them. If their words or actions are in conflict with Scripture, we have the freedom and responsibility to disagree with them in a respectful manner and/or peacefully demonstrate against whatever they do contrary to Scripture. Acting in accordance with Scripture goes against everything the world would tell us. However, we must remember application point one above, we are temporary residents here, and our identity is Jesus. If we act like the world, nobody will confuse us with the description of a Christian in the Bible.
  • Do we treat everyone with honor and respect?
  • Do you demonstrate love to your spiritual family?

Ruth Lesson Three

Bitterness and Faith – Ruth 1:14-22

14 Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth replied: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to persuade her. 19 The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,”  she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter.  21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” 22 So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. (HCSB)

The passages covered in this third lesson on Ruth contains two main parts. The first is the continuing exchange between Naomi and Ruth, and the second is their return to Bethlehem. Let’s take a closer look at the two sections.

Verses 14-18

14 Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth replied: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to persuade her.

As verse 14

As it begins, it leads the reader to believe that Naomi has been successful in persuading both of her daughters-in-law to return to Moab. Instead, it is a division point. Orpah listens to Naomi’s advice believing it is in her best interests to return to Moab. However, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side.

The two women, Ruth and Orpah, who began the narrative as equals, are now distinguished as distinctively different. Orpah makes the logical choice for her future and exits the story. We never know if Naomi’s prayers for her were answered. It is interesting that Orpah is not criticized for her actions or as a figure of unbelief. The focus now shifts to Naomi and Ruth. In contrast, Ruth now shines as a beacon of fortitude and faith that comes out in this final decision point discussion between Naomi and Ruth.

Verse 15

Naomi makes one final plea, using Orpah as an example of the best decision for Ruth to make. However, Naomi has no support for her position outside of Orpah’s decision to return to Moab.

It should also be noted that Naomi tells Ruth to go back to her gods. It is easy to overlook this simple statement as Moab didn’t worship Yahweh; they worshipped several “gods,” with Chemosh being the predominant one. The statement identifies two problems/facts. First, in general, the deteriorated state of Israel’s understanding and commitment to Yahweh. Second, that Naomi would actually address idols as gods.  

One final point to consider is that since all the men had died, Ruth was technically under the guardianship of Naomi and culturally should have been obedient to her wishes. In Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi, we see God’s sovereign grace to save Ruth and bring her into the family of Yahweh.

Verses 16-17

These two verses are amazing, considering the cultural differences between the two women and the seriousness of the commitment that Ruth was making to Naomi. Ruth’s narrative in these two verses breaks down into five two-line couplets. There is an introductory command to Ruth, followed by three couplets ending with a challenge to the witness to the statement.

  • Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you.
  • For wherever you go, I will go and wherever you live, I will live.
  • Your people will be my people , and your God will be my God.
  • Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
  • May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates us.

The second and fourth couplets represent a pair of opposites, life and death, bracketed by Ruth’s declaration that she will commit herself to not only Naomi but to Yahweh. The third couplet is the most amazing. Ruth is turning her back on everything that had been familiar to her and is now willing to place her entire trust and faith not only in Ruth and the Jewish people but on a grander scale she is ready to place her trust in Yahweh.

The oath that Ruth swears is in the name of Yahweh, Israel’s God, who Ruth now accepts as her own. The form that it takes is in the typical pattern of a Jewish oath where a curse is declared against the maker of the oath if they fail to fulfill the pledge.

Verse 18

When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to persuade her.

The forcefulness and oath at the conclusion of Ruth’s speech leave Naomi no other choice than to let Ruth stay with her.

Verses 19-21

19 The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter.  21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

The first point to note is that two women traveling alone over a relatively long distance made it to Bethlehem without anything happening to them along the way is an indication of Yahweh’s protection.

The second point is the contrast between the excitement at their arrival and the questions they ask themselves.  

  • The excitement at Naomi’s return.
    • She had been gone for more than ten years.
    • Her family had heard of the grief she experienced.
  • The likely shock that a Moabite woman accompanied Naomi.
  • They question, “Can this be Naomi?”
    • There can be little doubt the years and grief had taken their toll on Naomi.
    • Her appearance was likely nowhere near what it was when she left.
    • Naomi, “the pleasant one,” was now a haggard and destitute woman.
  • Their reaction is not lost on Naomi.
    • Her bitterness reappears, and she asks for a new name.
    • Mara would be understood in Hebrew to mean “to be bitter.”
    • The depth of her bitterness comes out in verses 20b-21.
  • Naomi lays four accusations against God following an A B B A pattern, Shadday (Almighty), Yahweh (LORD), Yahweh, Shadday.
  • There is also a play on words and the accusations Naomi places against God.
    • She left as Naomi, the pleasant one, in a state of fullness.
    • She returns as Mara, to be bitter, in a state of emptiness.

The third point is also a contrast – the actions and behavior of Naomi and those of Ruth.

  • Naomi, one of God’s chosen people of the nation of Israel, does nothing but complain bitterly and blames God for her misfortune.
  • Ruth, the Moabite and a bitter enemy of Israel displays restraint and decorum in her actions.
  • The one who grew up in a nation of idol worshippers, Moab, displays more faith and a humble spirit than the one who allegedly knew the living God.

Verse 22

So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

The last verse of chapter one neatly summarizes what has occurred and sets the stage for what is to transpire next. As the book continues, the prominence of Naomi will decline, while the prominence of Ruth will rise. Considering the cultural barriers at work, this is amazing for three reasons.

  • Ruth is from Moab and could expect little acceptance from the residents of Bethlehem.
  • She is Naomi’s daughter-in-law, having no status of her own.
  • They just returned. They are the “new kids on the block,” even though Naomi had lived there previously.

However, the part of verse 22 is “at the beginning of the barley harvest.” This is a signal that their fortune was about to change.

  • The meaning of Bethlehem is “the house of bread.”
  • The barley harvest was the first harvest of the agricultural season, typically occurring in March-April.
  • This was followed by the wheat harvest in May.
  • The two women were returning to a period of plentiful food.
  • The timing of their return signals that Yahweh is about to prove His covenant faithfulness to these women.
    • Through food to eat.
    • Through a covenant redeemer, Boaz.

Applications

  • Chapter 1 of Ruth describes a journey, heartbreaking in places. We need to recognize and remember that even when the bitter times in our lives leave us feeling empty, God uses them to shape us, mold us, and if we’ve wandered from Him, to call us back.
  • Even though there are times we can’t control circumstances, we can control how we react to them. Meditate on 1 Thessalonians 5:18  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • The Scottish preacher George H. Morrison said, “Nine-tenths of our unhappiness is selfishness, and is an insult cast in the face of God.” If we are selfish in our grief, bitter, we direct our anger at God instead of trusting God and resting in His peace.
  • Just as Naomi had hit rock bottom, she returned to Bethlehem at a time of plenty to start over again. God is always waiting for us to return to Him if we’ve wandered away, to enjoy a life of plenty and refreshment in His presence.
  • The faith that Ruth displayed in her decision to return with Naomi is one of the greatest in the entire Bible. Is our faith like that of Ruth’s or like that of Orpah?

Ruth Lesson Two

Return From Moab – Ruth 1:6-13

She and her daughters-in-law prepared to leave the land of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to His people’s need by providing them food. She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.

She said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show faithful love to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the house of your new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly. 10 “No,” they said to her. “We will go with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, 13 would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” (HCSB)

Looking back at last week’s lesson, Naomi was left with her two daughters-in-law after the passing of her husband and both sons. She was in the very bottom of the valley of despair and grief, left with no viable source of income and no immediate family.

Verses 6-7

But now the grey clouds start to break, and a ray of sunshine touches Naomi’s heart, “because she had heard in Moab that the LORD had paid attention to His people’s need by providing them food.”

There are four features in this sentence that illustrate God’s divine grace.

  • It was a gift from God that, in the depths of Naomi’s despair and grief, she was able to hear good news.
  • Naomi heard that Yahweh intervened for the benefit of His people.
  • The object of the divine intervention is the nation of Israel, God’s people.
  • Yahweh provided bread to His people. This is actually a play on words as the name “Bethlehem”  means “the house of bread.”

Upon hearing the good news, Naomi’s actions were immediate and decisive.

  • She left.
  • She traveled.
  • She headed back to Judah.
  • Moab was never intended to be their home.
    • The Promised Land was their true home.
    • It was a mistake for Elimelech to take the family to Moab.
  • Naomi could expect to receive the treatment that Scripture afforded widows.
    • Deuteronomy 14:29  Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow within your gates may come, eat, and be satisfied. And the Lord your God will bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
    • Deuteronomy 16:11  Rejoice before Yahweh your God in the place where He chooses to have His name dwell—you, your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite within your gates, as well as the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow among you.

There is a message here for Christians who have wandered from the faith. The same God who showed kindness to Naomi in bringing home the “wanderer” is the same God who shows mercy and grace to us today.

Verses 8-9

She said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show faithful love to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the house of your new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.

Naomi prays for two blessings on Orpah and Ruth.

  • The phrase mother’s home, in Hebrew bêt ʾēm, is found in the Old Testament in only three other places. Twice in Song of Solomon, 3:4 and 8:2, and Genesis 24:28. The context for each occurrence involves love and marriage. What Naomi is doing is releasing Orpah and Ruth to go back to their homeland and find new husbands. They no longer have any obligation to Naomi.
  • It is striking the devotion that the two Moabite women show towards Naomi, an Israelite, in beginning the journey back to Bethlehem together.
  • The firmness of the command to return home is matched by the compassion and gentleness she displays to the two women when she prays for a double blessing over them. The term “faithful” in verse 8 is chesed in Hebrew, a word that is not possible to translate into a one-word definition in English. It is a word that expresses a covenant relationship best understood as a combination of love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, and loyalty.
  • At the same time, Orpah and Ruth have shown chesed to Naomi, her deceased husband, and two sons. The praise she bestows on the two Moabite women depicts them as models of grace and that acts of human kindness, as displayed by Orpah and Ruth, warrants grace and kindness from Yahweh.
  • Naomi also petitions Yahweh for security in the household of a new husband.
    • Naomi doesn’t want them to experience a life of wandering and restlessness as widows.
    • She desires that they find a new home with a new family.
    • Naomi understands the world in which they live is heavily dependent on a male providing physical and economic security.

Naomi then kisses them farewell, and they vent their emotions with loud weeping. However, the discussion is not over.

Verse 10

“No,” they said to her. “We will go with you to your people.”

Although a short verse, it is packed with meaning.

  • Considering all that they have been through, it would seem logical for Orpah and Ruth to want to start over in their own land.
    • The grief of watching their father-in-law die.
    • Each woman losing their husband.
    • Likely observing Naomi in despair and deep sadness over losing her husband and both sons.
  • Yet Orpah and Ruth have more attachment to Naomi than they do to their own people.

Verses 11-13

11 But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, 13 would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.”

The first thing to note in Naomi’s exchange with Orpah and Ruth is that she acted in an unselfish manner towards them. It would have been easy for her to try and take them along, maybe even to hope that they could take care of her in the future. However, her first thought is towards their future welfare.

Verse 11

The rhetorical question “why do you want to go with me” appears, at first glance, to be a request for Orpah and Ruth to weigh the advantages of continuing the journey to Bethlehem. However, Naomi is actually scolding them. In essence, she is saying it is foolish to come with me; you’d be much better off returning to your home country and finding a husband there.

Verse 12-13a

Here, Naomi answers her own rhetorical question. She is telling Orpah and Ruth to be realistic. She is too old to remarry and have children, and even if she could, it is unrealistic to think they’d wait for the new sons, assuming she had sons if she was even able to get pregnant again, until they were grown enough to marry.

Verse 13b

Again, Naomi answers her question. And in her answer, we see the bitterness that she feels, as well as believing Yahweh is the source. This is an interesting twist on the narrative. Earlier, Naomi had pleaded with Yahweh to be gracious to Orpah and Ruth by providing them new husbands and a secure place to live. Now, Naomi is accusing Yahweh as the source of her bitterness. This feeling is based on an understanding of God’s previous judgments against the nation of Israel.

  • Exodus 9:3  then the Lord’s hand will bring a severe plague against your livestock in the field—the horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks.
  • Deuteronomy 2:15  Indeed, the Lord’s hand was against them, to eliminate them from the camp until they had all perished.
  • Judges 2:15  Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.

If we read this narrative casually and without a historical/cultural understanding, it is easy to miss the concepts in the first part of the book of Ruth.

  • The famine in Bethlehem.
  • The family’s self-imposed exile to Moab, not a logical choice for an Israelite.
  • The death of her husband and sons as a form of judgment.
  • The inability of Orpah and Ruth to have children is evidence of God’s disapproval of their marriage.

Applications.

  • The first one I mentioned earlier in this lesson. There is a message here for Christians who have wandered from the faith. The same God who showed kindness to Naomi in bringing home the “wanderer” is the same God who shows mercy and grace to us today.
  • Disobedience has consequences. The first part of Ruth has a litany of mistakes; moving to Moab, allowing the sons to marry local women, and Naomi not speaking out against the poor choices.
    • Do our choices in life reflect obedience to God’s Word and shine the light of Christ?
    • If we see others around us, family or friends, make choices contrary to a Christian lifestyle, do we say anything, or do we keep quiet?
    • If we have wandered down the wrong path, do we repent and return?
  • We should never blame God for our circumstances.
    • If we are disobedient, there are consequences. Repent.
    • If we are faithful followers of Jesus, there will be times of testing and persecution. We should view those experiences as God shaping us for future service. They may not be fun, but God knows what we need better than we do.

Ruth Lesson One

Disobedience Carries Consequences – Ruth 1:1-5

Today’s lesson begins a study on the book of Ruth, a fascinating and unique book in the Old Testament. Before digging into the first passage to discuss, let’s set the stage with some background information.

Title: Although the book is titled “Ruth,” she is not the main character and, when considering her background, it is amazing that the book is named after her. She was a Moabite and not an Israelite. This is the only book in the Old Testament named after a non-Israelite. Of the three main characters, Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth, Ruth speaks the least, and her narratives are the shortest.

Placement: Appearing right after Judges, which is a welcome relief after the continuous downward spiral in Israel’s disobedient behavior. In contrast to such individuals as Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, all of the main characters in Ruth display authentic faith and covenant faithfulness. Ruth is also one of the five scrolls that are regularly read at Jewish festivals.

Author: The author is unknown, as well as the date of writing – scholarly views on the date range from the reign of David to the post-exilic period.

Theme: The book develops the theme of “from emptiness to fullness.” It is also possible that the author had a goal in this book, the exaltation of David by telling the incredible story of his roots.

Theology: The author presents five theological lessons in this book.

  • God will not let His promises to Israel, Judah, and David die.
  • God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform, and His goals to achieve.
  • In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
  • Genuine piety is expressed primarily in devotion, sensitivity, grace, and kindness toward others, and openness to the working of God.
  • God’s grace knows no boundaries. Even a despised Moabitess is incorporated into the nation of Israel. In fact, the royal and Messianic line has Moabite blood in its veins.

Now, let’s look at today’s lesson.

1 During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to live in the land of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the land of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband. (HCSB)

First, we’ll concentrate on verses 1-2 as that sets the foundation and contrast for the entire book.

1 During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to live in the land of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the land of Moab and settled there.

The phrase “during the time of the judges” is understood as the period when the Lord’s people forsook the Lord, rebelled against His rule, suffered the consequences, and needed someone to rescue them.

  • Judges 2:10-13 10 That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. 11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the Lord, 13 for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.
    • This shows that the faithfulness of one generation can’t secure the faithfulness of the next.
    • This is true for a family, church, or nation. They may “play” the role for a while, but their true nature is revealed sooner or later.
  • Judges 2:14-15  14 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. 15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.
    • The consequences of disobedience are set.
    • God hands them over to their enemies.
    • The role of the judges is set in Judges 2:16.

The opening verses of Ruth illustrate and help to understand three significant truths about living in a world where the Lord and His rule are ignored.

  • The Lord’s warning of punishment is no idle threat. Reflect on verse 1, “there was a famine in the land.”
    • This was the land Yahweh promised to give to Abraham in Genesis 12:7 and 13:14-17.
    • It was the land Yahweh promised to give to His people when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt in Exodus 3:8.
    • It was the land “flowing with milk and honey.”
    • It was the promised land where food was abundant, and Yahweh’s people could enjoy the good life Yahweh had prepared for them.
  • Ignoring the Lord’s rule is something to be taken seriously.
    • Elimelech’s name means “God is my King.”
    • Naomi’s name means “pleasant.”
    • They had two sons.
    • They lived in a prosperous area, Bethlehem.
    • They belonged to the tribe of Judah.
    • Moab was the opposite of Bethlehem.
      • No God-fearing Israelite would choose to take their family there.
      • Moabites were the descendants of Lot.
      • The relationship between Moab and Israel was not good.
      • Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel in Numbers 22-24.
      • Moabite women seduced Israelite men to sexual immorality and to worship their gods.
      • Before entering the promised land, they were commanded not to make a treaty with the Moabites in Deuteronomy 23:3-6.
    • The names of their children may also be significant.
      • Mahlon means “to be sick.”
      • Kilion means “failing or pining.”
      • Both may have been frail children.
    • Both children would never have married Moabite women unless Elimelech had taken the family there.
      • Decisions by parents can have repercussions for their children.
      • Scripture commanded the Israelites not to marry outside their own people.
  • Tasting the Lord’s bitter pill prepares the way for experiences of His kindness. But how do we understand that concept?
    • Naomi correctly understands that Yahweh was in control.
    • Often tasting the Lord’s bitter pill is the necessary step for an undeserving people to experience His kindness.
      • In the time of Joseph, Yahweh used the famine to bring salvation to the sons of Jacob.
      • In the time of Elijah, Yahweh uses a famine to turn His people back to Himself.
      • In the parable of the prodigal son, a severe famine was the vehicle that drove the son to humble himself and return to his father.
    • The Lord can and does use bitter experiences to drive us back to Him, where we can experience His undeserved kindness.

Verses 3-5

Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.

We don’t know how long they had lived in Moab before Elimelech dies. However, verse two sheds some light on it by using the phrase “for a while.” This left Naomi without her provider, a dangerous situation for a woman at that time. During this time, the two sons marry Moabite women. Let’s look at several factors surrounding these marriages.

  • The Hebrew term used means “to lift/carry a woman” instead of the typical phrase “to take a woman.” This difference creates a negative connotation surrounding the marriages.
    • The term is used only nine times in the Old Testament.
    • In Judges 21:23, it talks about marriage by abduction.
    • Most marriages by abduction were outside the clan and were considered illegitimate.
  • These marriages should be interpreted in light of Mosaic prohibitions against marriage with pagans.
    • Deuteronomy 7:3-4  Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.
    • As the head of the household after Elimelech’s passing, Naomi should have prevented these marriages.
  • According to covenant curses, marriages to foreigners in the land of exile was considered the judgment of God.  Deuteronomy 28:32  Your sons and daughters will be given to another people, while your eyes grow weary looking for them every day. But you will be powerless to do anything.
  • Naomi’s sons lived in a married state for approximately ten years without either having any children.
    • The barrenness of both Ruth and Orpah must be interpreted as evidence of Yahweh’s hand against them.
    • Deuteronomy 28:18 Your descendants  will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks.
    • Later, in Ruth 4:13, it would take Yahweh’s intervention to allow Ruth to have a child.
  • Both sons die, leaving Naomi with no male family members.

Applications

  • Am I submitting to the rule of Christ, or do I act as I see fit?
  • When trials come, and I experience the consequences of living in a society which has forsaken God, what do I do? Do I try and come up with my own escape plan, or do I submit the will of God?
  • The decisions Elimelech made affected his entire family. When I make decisions that can affect those close to me, what principles do I follow? Do I act in fear, or do I act in faith?
  • Ignoring the Lord’s rule is something to be taken seriously. It can have bitter consequences for those who ignore His rule and those around us who are impacted by our godless choices.