You Want Me To Do What?

1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” – Ruth 3:1-5 ESV

Back in chapter one, we have the record of Naomi’s words to her two distraught daughters-in-law, spoken not long after they had lost their husbands. She expressed her heartfelt desire that they find rest. And she knew that this would only be possible when each of them found a new husband. There would be no rest for them as long as they remained widows.

The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Judges 1:9 ESV

The Hebrew word she used is mĕnuwchah, and it conveys the idea of repose or comfort. It was often used in reference to matrimony because it was only in this state that a woman could find the safety and security she needed in a society where women were sometimes treated as second-class citizens and were afforded few individual rights. It was within the context of marriage that a woman could find a home to live in and a husband to provide for her needs. As a widow herself, Naomi was well-acquainted with the insecurities and insufficiencies that would accompany the unmarried state of her daughters.

Now, in chapter 3, we see Naomi repeating her desire that Ruth find rest, but this time she seems to take upon herself the responsibility for making it happen.

“My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? – Ruth 3:1 ESV

It seems that Naomi had become the self-appointed matchmaker for Ruth, driven in part by her feelings of responsibility for her daughter-in-law’s current predicament. Naomi hoped to find her a suitable husband so that Ruth wouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life in a constant state of distress and deprivation. It also seems clear that Naomi sensed there might be something more “intimate” between Ruth and Boaz than even her daughter-in-law realized. She recognized that Boaz’s displays of kindness to Ruth were driven by more than an obligation to fulfill his responsibilities as the kindred-redeemer.

It seems quite apparent that Naomi had developed a plan to bring about the “rest” that she longed for Ruth to experience. Knowing that Boaz was her kinsman-redeemer and that Boaz seemed to be attracted to her widowed daughter-in-law, Naomi shared her plan with Ruth.

“So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal.” – Ruth 3:3 NLT

In essence, Naomi told Ruth to “paint the barn.” No doubt, Ruth was accustomed to wearing the kind of clothes that made sense for working in the fields. Chapter 2 makes it clear that Naomi was returning to the fields of Boaz on a regular basis. She began during the barley harvest but continued to glean when the wheat harvest came in.

So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. – Ruth 2:23 NLT

There would have been few reasons for Ruth to clean up, let alone dress up. She was a common laborer whose long days were filled with back-breaking labor. But on this occasion, Naomi told Ruth to dress like she was going out on a date. She was to bathe, put on her best outfit, and splash on her best-smelling perfume. It seems clear that Naomi was not sending Ruth on a job interview. And the next set of instructions reveals that Naomi had ulterior motives in mind.

“When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him.” – Ruth 3:4 NLT

There is a lot going on here. While it appears that Naomi’s actions are totally focused on Ruth’s well-being, her actions are not purely selfless. It is important to remember that Ruth was the widow of Naomi’s son, Chilion. And the story makes it clear that neither Chilion or his brother, Mahlon, had lived long enough to sire any male heirs. That means there was no one to carry on Elimelech’s lineage. It would have died with his two sons. But if a brother or other family member were to marry Ruth, any son she bore would bear Elimelech’s name and keep the line alive. So, Naomi had a vested interest in this opportunity with Boaz developing into something long-term and with more intimate ramifications.

This entire scene is strange to our modern-day sensibilities. We are not exactly sure what is going on and why Naomi is giving these bizarre instructions to her daughter-in-law. Amazingly, Ruth never bats an eye or expresses any concerns or reluctance. She simply conveys her determination to do whatever her mother-in-law’s told her to do.

“All that you say I will do.” – Ruth 3:5 ESV

But look closely at the content of Naomi’s instructions. Ruth as to wait until Boaz fell asleep, then she was to “uncover his legs, and lie down beside him” (Ruth 3:4 NLT). What in the world is going on here? This strange-sounding counsel must have even left Ruth scratching her head in wonder. What possible good could come out of this?

The matter is somewhat complicated by the input of various commentators who suggest that the phrase, “uncover his legs” is actually a euphemism for the male reproductive organ. But this seems unlikely. For Ruth to do so would have been an act of immorality. But it could mean that Naomi was asking Ruth to pull back Boaz’s blanket, exposing his feet and torso, thus exposing his mid-section to the cold night air. This unexpected “wake-up call” would have roused Boaz from his sleep, only to find Ruth curled up next to him, uncovered and unprotected from the elements.

As an act of chivalry, Boaz would have taken his blanket and covered the woman lying by his side. And this action would have been in keeping with God’s covenant relationship with Israel as portrayed by the prophet Ezekiel.

 “‘Then I passed by you and watched you, noticing that you had reached the age for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness. I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.’” – Ezekiel 16:8 NLT

Naomi told Ruth that after carrying out all she had told her to do, Ruth was to wait for Boaz’s response.

“…he will tell you what to do…” – Ruth 3:4 ESV

At this point in the story, we have no way of knowing what that even means. But neither did Ruth. But she must have questioned the wisdom of Naomi’s plan. Would Boaz become angry? Would he react in confusion? Was there a possibility that he saw her actions as insubordinate or somehow presumptuous? Ruth had no way of knowing the answers to any of those questions, but she indicated her willingness to obey Naomi’s instructions. She placed her trust in her mother-in-law by doing the illogical and unimaginable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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What Luck!

And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Ruth 2:4-13 ESV

Into the scene and into the life of Ruth enters Boaz. Since the death of her husband and her arrival in Bethlehem, this will be the first Hebrew man with whom Ruth will have and interactions. And unbeknownst to her, this particular man will prove to be far more than just the owner of the field in which she has been gleaning barley grain.

With the arrival of Boaz on the scene, the story of Ruth and Naomi is poised to take a dramatic turn for the better. But like Ruth, the reader knows little about this man, other than the brief description that opened up this chapter.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. – Ruth 2:1 ESV

While those of us familiar with the story will tend to jump ahead because we already know what is going to happen, those who read this story for the first time did not have that advantage. But because the original audience was Jewish, they would have picked up on the hint concerning the familial relationship between Naomi and Boaz revealed in the opening verse of the chapter. And while the designation of Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer will not be revealed until verse 20 0f this chapter, they would have immediately assumed it. The would read this section of the chapter with an eager expectation that Ruth was about to get far more than permission to glean grain from Boaz’s field.

With the author’s record of the greeting between Boaz and his servants, we have the first mention of God in the book.

And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” – Ruth 2:4 ESV

The term they use for God is Jehovah, the proper name of the one true God, which means “the existing One.” The two-fold introduction of Jehovah’s name at this point in the story serves to illustrate the godliness of Boaz and the sovereignty of God. This simple greeting between a landowner and his workers provides a reminder to the readers that God is central to this entire story. While what they had to say to one another was probably their normal, everyday exchange, it had special significance on this particular day. The Lord was going to let Ruth and Naomi know that He was with them. And they were about to find out how much He was going to bless them.

Upon discovering Ruth in his field, Boaz made inquiries as to her identity and was informed, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab” (Ruth 2:6 ESV). It will become readily apparent that Boaz was already familiar with Ruth’s back story because he had been informed of her arrival in Bethlehem. But he had not yet met her and it appears that, until this moment, he had not had any interactions with Naomi.

When Boaz realized that Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, the widowed wife of his relative, he greeted her warmly and offered her provision and protection.

“Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” – Ruth 2:8-9 NLT

At this point in the story, there is no indication that Ruth had any idea who Boaz was. She would have had no way of knowing the connection between him and Naomi. And, even if she had known, as a Moabitess, Ruth would have been oblivious to the kinsman-redeemer relationship and what it might have meant. All she knew was that she had met a kind and gracious man who had offered full access to the barley grain in his fields. And Ruth expressed her deep appreciation to Boaz for his unmerited kindness.

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” – Ruth 2:10 NLT

And to Ruth’s great surprise, Boaz revealed that he knew more about her than she would have ever imagined.

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. – Ruth 2:11 NLT

Boaz was intimately familiar with Ruth’s story. With Naomi’s arrival back in Bethlehem, news had spread regarding all that had happened to her while she was in Moab. He had been informed about the death of Elimelech, the marriages of her sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and the sad report of their subsequent deaths. And he was well aware of the personal sacrifices Ruth had made in order to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem. He was impressed. But Ruth must have been shocked and a little bit embarrassed that this stranger knew so much about her.

And Boaz expressed not only his admiration for Ruth’s actions, but he pronounced a blessing upon her, asking that Jehovah reward her abundantly.

“May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” – Ruth 2:12 NLT

It is not clear whether Boaz knew the role he was about to play in Ruth’s story. But it seems likely that he was unaware that he would be God’s chosen means of fulfilling the blessing he had just requested. Boaz would be the instrument in the Redeemer’s hand to reward the actions of Ruth.

It is interesting to note how Boaz communicated the blessing of God to Ruth. He first refers to God by His personal name of Jehovah. But then he adds the more generic designation of ‘elohiym. This term would have been familiar to Ruth, even as a Moabitess because it would have been the same word used of Baal, the god of her own people. But Boaz says that Jehovah is the ‘elohiym Yisra’el, the God of Israel. With this description, Boaz introduces Ruth, the Moabitess, to the God of Israel. And he lets her know that this God, unlike Baal, was anything but distant and dispassionate about her circumstances. Her decision to care for Naomi, a daughter of Jehovah, had placed her under the care and protection of Naomi’s God: Yĕhovah ‘elohiym Yisra’el.

Yet, it’s clear that Naomi does not fully appreciate Boaz’s introduction to his God. She has no way of understanding the import of Boaz’s blessing and the incredible reward that God has in store for her. So, she simply expresses her gratitude to her new patron.

“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” – Ruth 2:13 NLT

She is hopeful and grateful. But she is also totally unmindful of all that is going to happen to her in the days ahead. Ruth will continue to glean, loading up as much grain as she can physically carry. And she will be ecstatic at her good fortune. In her mind, her luck could not have been any better. Of all the fields outside of Bethlehem in which to glean, she had chosen the perfect one. And even after a full day of back-breaking labor, Ruth must have felt an extra boost of energy as she made her way back to Naomi, eagerly anxious to share their good fortune.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Bless, As You Have Been Blessed

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. – Deuteronomy 15:12-18 ESV

The people of God were supposed to stand out from all the rest of the nations living in and around the land of Canaan. Their unique status as God’s chosen people placed upon them an obligation to live according to His will for them and that will was all-inclusive, covering every aspect of their lives. God made no allowance for compartmentalization. In other words, He left no area of daily life untouched or outside the pervue of His divine decrees. Everything about them was to reflect their unparalleled relationship with Him. From God’s perspective they were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV) and “a people holy to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:21 ESV).

In this passage, we see Moses dealing with a topic that causes some unease and uncertainty for our modern and more enlightened sensibilities. He addresses the issue of slavery. But it’s important that we grasp the cultural context and understand the true nature of the kind of slavery being discussed. It’s easy for us to read this text and use our contemporary understandings of slavery to define what Moses is talking about. We conjure up images of slave ships and innocent people being ripped from their homes and forced into servitude and bondage against their wills. And while that form of slavery was widespread during the time in which the book of Deuteronomy was written, Moses is dealing with something different altogether.

As was seen in the previous verses, God had made provision for the needy among the Israelites. He had given the nation a series of commands designed to provide ongiong care for those who were suffering from any form of physical or financial need. And Moses had told them, “there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV).

One of the primary means by which a destitute individual could seek relief was by willingly offering themselves as a servant to one of their fellow Hebrews. It was a matter of economics and a question of survival. The individual in need took the initiative, offering their services in exchange for food and shelter. That’s how Moses describes it:

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant…” – Deuteronomy 15:12 NLT

This was not a case of forced slavery, but voluntary servitude. This system provided an opportunity for the financially prosperous to help their less-fortunate brothers and sisters. But, like all well-intentioned welfare programs, this one could easily be abused. So, God set up conditions and parameters to guide the Israelites in their practice of this essential community assistance program. Moses informed the people that this servant/master relationship was to be governed by the sabbatical year. After six years of continual service, the one who had sold themselves into slavery was to be released.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.” – Deuteronomy 15:12 NLT

The covenant or agreement made between the two parties was absolved by the sabbatical year. For six years they had enjoyed a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the destitute individual was able to live in relative comfort while their benefactor enjoyed the benefit of relatively low-cost labor. And this business-like arrangement helped to curtail the number of needy families within the Israelite community.

Even when the time of release came, the master was to bless his servant with a gift. They were not to simply cancel the contract and send their former servant out on their own. To do so would have forced the servant back into their original condition of poverty. So, to prevent that from happening, God required the master to “bless” their departing servant with a gift.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 15:13-14 NLT

They were to bless their former servant as they had been blessed by God: graciously and generously. And Moses reminded them that they were still on the upside in this exchange because they had enjoyed six years of drastically reduced labor costs while the servant had been in their employ.

“You must not consider it a hardship when you release your servants. Remember that for six years they have given you services worth double the wages of hired workers…” – Deuteronomy 15:18 NLT

And God provided another vital condition to this master/servant relationship. If the sabbatical year arrived, the servant could voluntarily choose to remain with his master. After six years, they could determine that the arrangement they had was preferable to starting out on their own and, as a result, they could offer to extend the original agreement.

“But suppose your servant says, ‘I will not leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and he has done well with you. In that case, take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door. After that, he will be your servant for life. And do the same for your female servants.” – Deuteronomy 15:16-17 NLT

Again, it is essential that we understand that voluntary nature of this transaction. No one is being forced into slavery. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement based on love and the well-being of both parties.

Ultimately, God was concerned about the integrity of His name. He had set apart the entire nation of Israel – including every man, woman, and child. His call was not based on economic status, gender, age, or social standing. The entire nation belonged to Him and thåe manner in which they treated one another was going to reflect on Him – either positively or negatively. So, He provided a range of regulations and rules to govern their corporate behavior. Nothing was left out. There was no secular-sacred split. God refused to turn a blind eye to any area of their lives. He expected and demanded complete dedication from His people. Their actions and attitudes mattered. And each and every Israelite was to be considered as a vital part of the family of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Humbled, Hungry, and Helped

1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:1-10 ESV

We don’t always understand the ways of God and, according to God’s own self-assessment, we should not be surprised by that.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

The ways of God are beyond man’s capacity to comprehend. Which leave us with two basic choices: We can resist His will, writing it off as unrealistic and therefore, unnecessary to obey. Or, we can consider the source and place our trust in Jehovah Elohim – “The Lord your God” – the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator-God whose wisdom is beyond understanding and whose integrity is without question.

As Moses continued to prepare the people of Israel for their entrance into the land of Canaan, he kept reminding them of all that God had done for them. It was natural for them to be apprehensive about the future because it was filled with the prospect of battles against formidable enemies. And while God had assured them that He would go before them and provide them with victories over those enemies, it did not completely remove all fear and doubt from their minds. Most likely, their minds were filled with all kinds of questions and they found themselves playing the “What-If Game.”

“What if we go into battle and God changes His mind?”

“What if all the nations band together and overwhelm us?”

“What if fail to win the first battle and God turns His back on us?”

“What if our new leader proves to be a lousy one?”

Moses knew what was going through their minds, so he kept reminding the people about the trustworthiness of God. He encouraged them to look back and remember all that God had done for them. He had a proven track record of faithfulness.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years…” – Deuteronomy 8:2 NLT

But along with reminding the Israelites of what God had done for them, Moses pointed out the why and the how behind His actions. There had been a method to God’s seeming madness. And Moses doesn’t want them to overlook the wisdom inherent in God’s ways.

“…the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” – Deuteronomy 8:2 NLT

Everything that had happened to them in the wilderness had been for a reason. There had been a divinely ordained purpose behind it all. God had been testing them. And this test had not been for God’s benefit. He already knew their hearts and did not need to see the results of their test to come to a conclusion about their spiritual condition. No, the testing had been for their sake.

And one of the primary methods God used to reveal their need was to humble them. The Hebrew word is `anah and it means to afflict or oppress. The humbling they experienced was the result of the affliction and oppression. God used circumstances to bring them to a point of need and dependence. He used life necessities like food, water, and clothing to bring them to a point of total reliance upon Him.

It is important to remember that God had been leading them every step of the way, ever since they had left Egypt. In fact, the book of Exodus reveals that, immediately after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, “they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exodus 15:23 ESV). The text tells us that there was water, but that it was bitter and unfit for human consumption. So, “the people grumbled against Moses” (Exodus 15:24 ESV). They failed the test. Rather than recall the incredible power of God displayed in His parting of the Red Sea, they saw their circumstance as untenable and their God as incapable of doing anything about it. But, in spite of the lack of faith, God made the bitter water sweet. 

Two-and-a-half months later, God had led them to the wilderness of Sin. The memories of the miraculous plagues ordained by God and performed by Moses had begun to fade. The weariness of wandering through the wilderness had begun to take its toll. And seemingly, out of nowhere, the people launch into another fit of disgruntled disenchantment with their circumstances.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:3 NLT

Don’t miss the ingratitude that permeates their complaint. Their unhappiness with their current lot in life was causing them to look back with fond memories on their former lives as slaves in Egypt. Rather than expressing their thanks for God’s deliverance, they accused Him of genocide. Driven by their hunger for food, they charged God with trying to starve them to death in the wilderness. Once again, they had failed the test. And Moses made it clear that they had failed.

“In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaints, which are against him, not against us. What have we done that you should complain about us?” Then Moses added, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and bread to satisfy you in the morning, for he has heard all your complaints against him. What have we done? Yes, your complaints are against the Lord, not against us.” – Exodus 16:7-8 NLT

They had tried to hide their anger with God by directing their complaints against Moses, but their efforts had failed. And they had failed God’s test. He had known they would be hungry. He was the one who had led them to the wilderness of Sin. But He was allowing them to experience need in order to teach them that He was to be their source. There was no reason for them to complain. All they had to do was ask. Their God was all-sufficient and He proved it by providing them with quail and manna.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” – Exodus 16:11-12 NLT

God humbled them by allowing them to experience hunger. But He also fed them. Their hunger was God-ordained and intended to point them to their Provider. Their lack was meant to point them to the all-sufficient source of all good things: God Almighty.

But in spite of God’s incredible patience and gracious provision, the day came when the people of Israel became dissatisfied with the manna.

“Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:5-6 NLT

Driven by their stomachs, the people of Israel unwittingly revealed the condition of their hearts. They failed the test. They were more concerned with the gift than the Giver. They were more consumed by the thought of food than they were by the holiness of the One who made the food possible. And that’s why Moses made every effort to remind the Israelites who stood on the edge of the land of promise that the difficulties of life were intended to test their reliance upon God. They were meant to teach them that their God was greater than whatever circumstances they might face.

“…he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:3 NLT

God had allowed them to experience hunger, but He had also fed them. He had caused them to walk countless miles that left the Israelites weary and worn and yet, their sandals and clothing showed no signs of wear. God provided. He could be trusted. Because He was faithful.

“For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:4-5 NLT

What an astounding statement that is and yet, how easy it is to overlook it and underappreciate its significance. God had their best interest in mind every step of the way. And now, as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses wanted them to understand that nothing had changed. Their God was the same. He was greater than their greatest difficulty. He was still leading and guiding them. And He would still be providing for them. But they were going to have to rely upon Him. Which is why Moses pleaded with them to “obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him” (Deuteronomy 8:6 NLT).

God had great things in store for them. The land was rich and bountiful, with more than enough resources to meet all their needs. But more important than the capacity of the land to provide for their physical necessities, was their need to keep their eyes focused on the God who would make it all possible.

“When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. – Deuteronomy 8:10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Lord Your God

17 “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’ 18 you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So will the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the Lord your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. 21 You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. 23 But the Lord your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. 24 And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. 25 The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. 26 And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.– Deuteronomy 7:17-26 ESV

Eight times in ten verses, Moses uses the phrase, “the Lord your God” when referring to Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. In Hebrew, it is Yĕhovah ‘elohiym. Moses’ repetitive use of this particular name for God is intended to provide weight to what he has to say to the Israelites. He is well aware that the people are fearful as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. Moses has been here before and, most likely, still has painful memories associated with the day, 40-years earlier, when the Israelites let their fear get the best of them and they refused to enter the land. 

So, in his attempt to motivate the next generation, he goes out of his way to emphasize the presence and power of God. In fact, his use of the name Elohim was intentional because it conveys the infinite, all-powerful nature of God. Elohim is the name used in Genesis 1:1 to describe God’s creation of the world.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1 ESV

God’s invisible power was put on display through His creation of the world. The very existence of the universe with the planets and stars; along with the earth and all it contains, is evidence of God’s power. And the apostle Paul reminds us that God’s power remains on display for all mankind to see.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

God chose to make His power known. And Moses encouraged the Israelites to remember how their invisible, all-powerful God had revealed Himself to them in the past. God’s power, while invisible to the naked eye, was from unknowable or imperceptible. They had been given ample proof of God’s power.

“Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt. Remember the great terrors the Lord your God sent against them. You saw it all with your own eyes! And remember the miraculous signs and wonders, and the strong hand and powerful arm with which he brought you out of Egypt” – Deuteronomy 7:18-19 NLT

And Moses assured them that God would use that very same power to assist them in their conquering of the Canaanites. They would not be entering the land alone. They would have Jehovah Elohim on their side. So, their fear was unfounded.

“The Lord your God will use this same power against all the people you fear.” – Deuteronomy 7:19 NLT

They were going to have to face their fears with faith in their all-powerful God. Their enemies were real. They could see them with their eyes. But their God, while invisible, had proven His existence through miraculous signs and wonders. And He would do so again. But there were going to have to trust Him.

Moses assured the Israelites that God was in their midst. They may not be able to see Him, but He was there. And they could trust Him. Moses described God as “great and awesome” (Deuteronomy 7:21 ESV).  He is gadowl – great in magnitude and extent. There is no one or nothing like God. He is supreme and without equal. And He is yare’ – a fear-producing, awe-inspiring God who deserves all honor and glory.

This great God was going to go before the people of Israel and assure their victory over the land’s inhabitants. And while God was fully capable of eliminating each and every Canaanite from the land in one mighty act, Moses revealed that God’s plan was going to entail a slow and methodical transfer of ownership. No doubt, the Israelites would have preferred that God give them the land in one major victory, but that was not God’s plan. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that the instantaneous elimination of all the land’s inhabitants would have left the cities and villages unoccupied and, the fields and vineyards uncultivated. If all the Canaanites were to suddenly disappear, the land would suffer. There were not yet enough Israelites to occupy and care for the countless towns and villages that dotted the landscape. So, God’s plan would involve a more strategic and systematic approach.

But Moses knew this was going to pose a potential problem for the people of Israel. It ensured that there would be a constant presence of their enemies in the land. And, as long as there were Canaanites in the land, there would be false gods that could tempt the people of Israel to turn away from God. Which is why Moses warned them:

“You must burn their idols in fire, and you must not covet the silver or gold that covers them. You must not take it or it will become a trap to you, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring any detestable objects into your home, for then you will be destroyed, just like them. You must utterly detest such things, for they are set apart for destruction.” – Deuteronomy 7:25-26 NLT

Unfaithfulness was going to be a constant temptation to the people of God. Even as God gave them victories over their enemies, proving Himself to be “the Lord your God,” they would find themselves tempted to disobey Him. And Moses knew that the countless idols of their enemies, made of gold and silver, would prove a stumbling block to the people of Israel. They would covet them for their financial value. But Moses warned them to have nothing to do with these false gods. They were an abomination to God. They represented man’s worship of something other than God. So, they were to loathe these idols just as much as God did. And they were to destroy them, eliminating any risk that these pseudo-gods might lure them into unfaithfulness.

It is interesting how Moses juxtaposes “the Lord your God” with the false gods of the Canaanites. Jehovah Elohim was invisible, yet all-powerful. The false gods of the Canaanites were visible and tangible, yet lacking in any power because they were non-existent. But these false and lifeless gods still had the power to lure the people of Israel into committing acts of unfaithfulness. Even the precious metals from which they were made possessed the power to lure the people of God into taking their eyes off of Him as their sole source of provision and power.

God was going to be in their midst. He was going to go before them, preparing the way, and providing them with incremental victories over their enemies. But they would have to follow His lead and see the Canaanites, their false gods, and their inherent wickedness as a people, as constant threats to their own spiritual well-being as a nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

God Provides.

Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father. Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.

The territory of Manasseh reached from Asher to Michmethath, which is east of Shechem. Then the boundary goes along southward to the inhabitants of En-tappuah. The land of Tappuah belonged to Manasseh, but the town of Tappuah on the boundary of Manasseh belonged to the people of Ephraim. Then the boundary went down to the brook Kanah. These cities, to the south of the brook, among the cities of Manasseh, belong to Ephraim. Then the boundary of Manasseh goes on the north side of the brook and ends at the sea, 10 the land to the south being Ephraim’s and that to the north being Manasseh’s, with the sea forming its boundary. On the north Asher is reached, and on the east Issachar. 11 Also in Issachar and in Asher Manasseh had Beth-shean and its villages, and Ibleam and its villages, and the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its villages, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; the third is Naphath. 12 Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 13 Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.

14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Joshua 17:3-18 ESV

1200px-The_Daughters_of_Zelophehad.jpg

When reading the Scriptures, there will be times when certain names and events are mentioned that seem to come out of nowhere and make no sense in the context. Today’s passage is a case in point. As the author describes the allotment of the land of Canaan to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, he suddenly mentions the five daughters of Zelophehad. He even provides the names of the five women: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And it’s almost as if he expects his audience to be well acquainted with these women and their story. Seemingly, out of nowhere, these women appear, making what appears to be a very bold demand of Joshua, Eleazar the priest and the leadership of Israel.

The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers. – Joshua 17:4 ESV

This is one of those situations where, if we are not familiar with the rest of the Scriptures, we will find it difficult to understand what is going on. Are these women making up their story? Have they joined forces to fabricate a lie in an attempt to deceive Joshua and finagle a portion of the land for themselves? First of all, it is important to understand the situation in which these women found themselves. They were the sole remaining heirs of their father. He had no sons. And in that culture, the inheritance passed down through the sons. So, any allotment of land would have gone to the sons of Zelophehad, not his daughters. But years earlier, these women had seen the handwriting on the wall and had understood that with their father’s eventual death, they would be left unprotected and unprovided for. And when the people finally entered the land of Canaan, they would have no right to a portion of the land. So, they had appealed to Moses, Eleazer the priest and the leadership of Israel.

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’” Numbers 27:1-11 ESV

Their father had died in the wilderness, leaving them, in a sense, destitute. They were unmarried and without the protection and provision of a male figure in their lives, a necessary requirement in their culture. But they had been brave and bold enough to appeal their case to Moses and the leadership of Israel. And Moses had wisely taken their case to God. Their whole argument was based on the fact that their father had been a good man and his death had not been the result of sin against God. So, why should the legacy of his name fail to carry on just because he had daughters instead of sons? And God agreed with the logic behind their argument, telling Joshua, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (Numbers 27:7 ESV). Not only that, God used their case as a precedence for a new law concerning inheritance. From that point forward, the inheritance of any man who had no sons, was to pass on to his daughters. And if a man was childless, his inheritance was to go to his brothers. If he had no brothers, it was to go to his uncles. And if he had no uncles, his inheritance was to go to his nearest living relative. God had taken the plea of these five women and turned it into case law, providing for His people a statutory requirement concerning the issue of inheritance. 

It is important to notice that these women were the ones who came to Joshua and reminded him of the decision handed down by Moses as he had received it from God. Had they not spoken up, there is a good chance that they may have forfeited their right to a portion of the land. These woman showed extreme faith by making their initial appeal to Moses, but also in bringing their God-decreed right to their father’s inheritance before Joshua, Eleazar and the leadership of Israel. And their faith and fearlessness to stand up for their rights was rewarded with “an inheritance among the brothers of their father” (Joshua 17:4 ESV). We can only imagine that this decision was not well-received by their uncles. When Joshua apportioned part of the land to these five women, the brothers of Zelophehad lost out. Their portion of the inheritance diminished as a result of the womens’ request. But it was their God-given right to enjoy their fair-share of the inheritance and enjoy the blessings of the land promised by God. 

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is the positive side of this chapter. But then the chapter ends with a somewhat sad recounting of the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, coming to Joshua and complaining about the inadequacy of their allotment of land. Perhaps it was based on God’s decree to give a portion of their land to the five sisters. But whatever the case, the descendants of Joseph demanded that they were too large in number to live in the land that they had been given. But part of their problem was that they viewed portions of the land as uninhabitable. Part of it was occupied by well-armed Canaanites. The rest was forested and would require work on their part to clear and cultivate it. But Joshua challenged them to do just that. Not only that, he expected them to do what God had commanded them to do and drive out the Canaanites from the land. Yes, the land was filled with enemies and part of it was covered by forests, but it was not a case of too little land, but too little faith on the part of the people of Joseph. Trees can be cut down and Canaanites can be defeated. What God had given to them was more than enough. But the full enjoyment of their inheritance was going to require that they do their part. Joshua reminded them that they had been blessed by God and were “a numerous people and have great power” (Joshua 17:17 ESV). They saw their size as a problem, but Joshua challenged them to see it as a blessing from God. Their superior numbers would give them an advantage over their enemies, and a workforce large enough to clear the trees and cultivate the land. God had adequately provided for their needs. But they were going to have to make the most out of the gift given to them by God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lousy Leadership.

Multiply yourselves like the locust;
    multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
    more than the stars of the heavens.
    The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Your princes are like grasshoppers,
    your scribes like clouds of locusts
settling on the fences
    in a day of cold—
when the sun rises, they fly away;
    no one knows where they are.

Your shepherds are asleep,
    O king of Assyria;
    your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
    with none to gather them.
There is no easing your hurt;
    your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands over you.
For upon whom has not come
    your unceasing evil?Nahum 3:15b-19 ESV

 

Nineveh was a wealthy city full of prosperous people who had benefited from the global expansion of the Assyrian empire. Along with tremendous amounts of plunder, the city of Nineveh had become a powerful trading hub, with merchants coming and going all the time, bringing in commodities from all around the known world. It was a great time to be alive if you lived in Nineveh. You had a powerful king with an army that was second to none. You lived in a city that was well-fortified and the envy of all your enemies. Every imaginable produce was available for purchase or trade within its walls. The signs of affluence were everywhere. You were surrounded by elaborate temples, sumptuous palaces, and fine homes. Wealthy and influential individuals walked the streets. Dignitaries from all around the world flocked to Nineveh to strike alliances and bring tribute to the king. As a result of all the Assyrian conquests, there were so many slaves, virtually anybody could have one. It was a great time to be alive.

But not for long. Nahum sarcastically tells the Assyrians to keep on multiplying. It is as if he is saying, “Keep it up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because it is about to get very dark, very quickly.” Nahum has no problem if their army keeps on expanding and their population continues to increase, because it won’t do them any good. Their many military victories had brought financial success. Business was booming, with the number of merchants plying their trade growing daily. They were like locusts. Too many to count. Their army was massive in size. In fact, Nahum refers to them in verse 17. The word translated as “princes” is actually the Hebrew word for “captains” and it most likely refers to the military leaders who oversaw the vast Assyrian army. The term translated as “scribes” literally means “crowned ones” and probably refers to the large number of princes and royal officials who helped oversee the administration of the massive bureaucracy of the Assyrian government. He compares these two groups to locusts and grasshoppers. They were everywhere and their numbers were too many to count. But Nahum warns that the day is coming when they will all disappear and no one will know where they all went. The merchants, princes and captains will be no more. Like locusts that cover the land, they will suddenly vanish. Here today, gone tomorrow.

And Nahum has a special word for the leaders of Nineveh. He compares them to shepherds who are responsible for the care of the sheep, but accuses them of being asleep on the job. They are negligent. The king and his officials are so busy building an empire, that they have forgotten to care about the common man. Global expansion had taken precedence over everything else. These men believed that surrounding their people with military might and financial success was all that was needed. They had the fortifications and the army to defend them. No one would dare attack the impregnable city of Nineveh. They had grown cocky and overconfident, drunk on their own success. They wouldn’t see the disaster until it was upon them.

But the word translated as “slumber” has another meaning. It was used as a figurative expression of someone dying. It is as if Nahum is warning that the day is fast approaching when all the princes, captains, royal officials, and the king himself, will all be dead. And the result will be that the sheep, those under their care, will end up scattered. No longer safe within the walls of Nineveh, they will flee to the mountains and try to escape capture at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians.

And there is nothing that can be done to stop what is going to happen. Nahum warns them, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). This is going to be terminal. There is no escaping what God is bringing upon them. So, they could keep on growing and expanding, trading and doing business around the world, but none of it would prevent the inevitable. God’s judgment was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who puts kings on their thrones. He is the one who established kingdoms. And in every case, He expects those in authority to rule justly and care for those under their authority. Paul reminds us, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT). And he says that, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:4 NLT). It is important to remember that, when Paul wrote this, he was addressing Christians who were living under the heavy-handed rule of the Roman government. But God has established the role of all government to provide rule and order and to protect and provide for those under its care. And He will hold all governments responsible for the role He has given them. He will hold to account each and every king, dictator, despot, president, government official, senator or member of congress. God even held the leaders of Israel accountable for their leadership over those under their care. Take a look at what He had to say to the shepherds of Israel:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:1 NLT

God takes leadership seriously. He allows men and women to enjoy roles of responsibility, but He expects them to wield their power and influence for the good of their people. Even pagan kings and communist dictators are expected by God to provide their people with protection and the provision of their needs. But in so many instances, we have seen governments spend more money on their military than they do on meeting the needs of their people. They build vast military complexes while their people suffer from a lack of the basic necessities of life. God will not allow that to go on forever. He will hold all leaders accountable, regardless of their political ideology or spiritual philosophy.

And lousy leaders are never missed. Their untimely exit from the stage of life is applauded, not mourned. Everyone loves to see the bad guys get their just desserts. As Nahum so aptly puts it: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). Eventually, everyone says good riddance to bad leadership.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Food For Thought.

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. – Genesis 47:13-26 ESV

God had originally told Abraham, “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NLT). While that promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ through His message of salvation for all people, we see it partially fulfilled in the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As the seven-year famine took its toll on the surrounding lands, the people found themselves forced to come to Egypt for grain. During the preceding seven years, when the land was still fruitful, Joseph had set in place a program to store up as much grain as possible, in preparation for the coming famine.

During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests. Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities. In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

In time, the people found that they had exhausted all their money buying grain from Pharaoh’s storehouses, but the famine was far from over. So they resorted to exchanging their land and their freedom for food. Eventually, Joseph would provide seed to the people, but enforce a 20 percent tax on all food produced in the land. And when all was said and done, the people would actually thank Joseph for what he had done. “You have saved our lives! You are showing us favor, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:25 NLT).

There is no mention of Jacob and his family in these verses. They were living in the land of Goshen – “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV). And it is important to remember that, because they were shepherds, Pharaoh had put them in charge of his own flocks and herds. He had told Joseph, “Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock” (Genesis 47:6 ESV). So as the famine increased, the people were forced to trade in their livestock in exchange for grain. “So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for their horses, the livestock of their flocks and herds, and their donkeys. He got them through that year by giving them food in exchange for livestock.” (Genesis 47:17 NLT). The sons of Jacob found themselves extremely busy. They were the official shepherds of Pharaoh and he would have been paying them well to care for his growing menagerie of animals. So while it seems that Pharaoh is the one receiving all the benefits of Joseph’s famine-relief plan, his own family was being sustained and blessed at the same time. The opening lines of the book of Exodus tells us, “In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:6-7 NLT). The very famine that had forced them to flee from Canaan had resulted in the extraordinary expansion of their numbers. As the people of Egypt were exhausting all their money and possessions buying grain from Pharaoh, the Israelites “were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27 ESV). They were being blessed by God.

All of this should make us stop and consider the ways of God. If we would have been alive during that day and part of the family of Jacob, it is likely that we would have doubted God’s goodness by questioning His allowance of the famine. We might have complained about having to be upended and relocated to a foreign land. We most likely would have found reason to gripe about how much work we were having to do because of all the livestock being put under our care. And we might have even felt a tinge of jealousy as we watched Pharaoh AND Joseph get inordinately wealthy as the people of the land suffered. But in doing so, we would have have missed the point. We would have failed to see the mysterious ways of God in the seeming difficulties of life.

The family of Jacob was being blessed by God – in the midst of a famine. They were expanding in numbers as the Egyptians were selling off all they had and offering themselves as slaves to Pharaoh. This was the sovereign hand of God at work. It was the will of God being worked out in real life as He fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through all the difficulties surrounding the famine, God was setting up the perfect scenario to bring about His plan to make of Abraham a great nation and to give him the land of Canaan as his possession. God’s ways are not our ways and they never will be, and that should always be food for thought.

There Is No Other Savior.

When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. – Hosea 13:1-8 ESV

It would seem that the northern kingdom of Israel was unfamiliar with the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Because that is exactly what they had done. They were guilty of turning on the very one who had chosen them and blessed them by making them a nation. When God had divided the nation of Israel after Solomon’s epic fall from grace, He had chosen Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim to be the first king of the northern kingdom. That is why God held the tribe of Ephraim responsible for the direction the nation had taken. It was Jeroboam who came up with the bright idea to make two golden calves and establish their own places of worship, so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Eighteen years into his reign, Jeroboam rebelled against the southern kingdom of Judah and declared war against them. King Abijah of Judah had some very condemning words to say to the people of Israel just prior to their battle.

And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods. Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. – 2 Chronicles 13:8-9 ESV

Abijah warned them, “O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12 ESV). And he was proved right. The southern kingdom of Judah ended up routing the Israelites in battle, destroying 500,000 of their men in the process. “Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18 ESV). King Jeroboam escaped, but would never regain his power. In fact, the chronicler tells us, “Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died” (2 Chronicles 13:20 ESV). As Hosea puts it, “He incurred guilt through Baal and died” (Hosea 13:1 ESV).

But Jeroboam left a legacy. His golden calves, false priests and pagan worship centers remained. And as Hosea makes clear, even with Jeroboam gone, the people of Israel “sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen” (Hosea 13:2 ESV). Despite their humiliating defeat by Judah and the loss of their king, the people of Israel remained committed to their false gods. They stubbornly clung to their man-made idols, crafting them out of precious metals and then kissing them, desperately hoping that these false gods could become viable substitutes for the one true God.

But Hosea warns that their efforts will prove futile. Their days are numbered. He describes their future as bleak, saying, “they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney” (Hosea 13:3 NLT). And God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4 ESV). He was to be their one and only God. Those idols to whom they offered sacrifices were not gods at all. They were statues made by men and were incapable of hearing them, let alone helping them. There was only one source of salvation and that was God. He alone could be their savior. He alone had the power to hear their prayers and provide them with help and hope. It was He who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan. It was He who had provided them with victory over the inhabitants of the land and given them farms, vineyards and houses they had not built. As God reminded Joshua, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build – the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them” (Joshua 24:13 NLT). And Joshua would go on to warn the people:

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

The people had chosen. They had decided to serve false gods rather than the God who had delivered them from captivity and blessed them beyond measure. They gladly accepted the blessings of God, but then became fat and happy, slowly forgetting the one who had chosen them and set them apart. They ended up biting the very hand that fed them. God pulls no punches in describing their unfaithfulness: “they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6 ESV). Once they had become satisfied with the blessings of God, they ended up forgetting the God behind the blessings. The provisions became more important than the Provider. The gifts meant more to them than the Giver. And in their minds, they rationalized that if one God is good, more gods is better. In fact, their philosophy seemed to be: the more, the merrier. More gods, more blessings. More shrines, more potential saviors. But they were going to learn that there was no other savior. Like a wild beast, God was going to attack them, and their false gods would prove poor substitutes for Him and lousy saviors from destruction.

A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).