Obedience

While the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, they were expected to conform to the laws and customs of the kingdom in which they lived. The book of Daniel records two incidents where disobedience was punished by death. The first was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping a golden image made by the king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:21) and the second was Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed to his God instead of King Darius (Daniel 6:16). When it was discovered that Esther’s uncle Mordecai would not bow or worship Haman the Agagite, it was not enough for him to just kill Mordecai, Haman decided to have all the Jews exterminated and he was able to obtain permission from the king Ahasuerus to do so (Esther 3:11).

Mordecai’s response to the king’s commandment showed that he was devastated by what was going to happen to God’s people (Esther 4:1) and so, he went to Queen Esther to ask for her help. Esther’s initial reaction indicated that she was more concerned about being killed for breaking the law than she was saving her people. Esther sent a message to Mordecai saying, “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live: but I have not been called to come into the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). The picture Esther painted of her husband, King Ahasuerus was a tyrant that would kill his own wife simply because she dared approach him without his permission. Esther may have been justified in her opinion of her husband, but it also revealed her attitude toward God. Esther didn’t believe God would deliver her, even though he had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel when they were going to be killed.

Esther’s insecurity may have been due to her awareness that she was out of the will of God. Although Esther didn’t choose to marry Ahasuerus, she was benefitting from her position as queen of Persia. Mordecai’s argument was that it might actually have been God’s will for her to marry Ahasuerus so that she could use her position to intervene with her husband on behalf of her people, the Jews. Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows that whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). In other words, what Mordecai wanted Esther to know was that God would hold her accountable for her intention rather than her action with regards to her obedience to the Persian law. Mordecai believed God would save his people, including Esther, if she chose to put her trust in him instead of her husband, King Ahasuerus.

Before Esther went in to speak to her husband, she asked Mordecai to have all the Jews observe a fast on her behalf. Esther indicated that she and her servants would fast also. Esther most likely viewed this action as a way of purifying herself. Although the fast may have had some effect in the mind of Esther, it is unlikely God paid any more or less attention to what Esther was doing as a result of their fast. What was important to him was that Esther cared enough to risk her own life to stop what was going to happen to God’s people. It says in Esther 5:2, “And so it was, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter.” This illustration of Ahasuerus’ mercy toward Esther was meant to display God’s pleasure with her self-sacrifice. Although it was true that the king could have killed Esther for her disobedience, God protected her because she was willing to risk her life to save his people.

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It’s not fair

Jeremiah’s job as a prophet to the nation of Judah caused him to be a target of abuse and slander. It says in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.”

Pashur had heard Jeremiah say that God was going to punish the people of Judah because they would not repent. Pashur’s actions gave the people the impression that Jeremiah was lying and was not a true prophet of God. Jeremiah was severely beaten and placed in a torturous device that would have caused him severe pain and discomfort. Pashur’s intention was to scare Jeremiah into silence. Instead, Jeremiah proclaimed:

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

Jeremiah’s bold proclamation was not given as a result of his own strength, but because he feared God more than he feared Pashur. Jeremiah complained to the LORD about the unfair treatment he received. He said, “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah had become a laughing-stock and was mocked for speaking the truth. He was so upset by what was happening, that he wanted to give up his calling (Jeremiah 20:9).

In a moment of complete despair, Jeremiah revealed his feelings of depression and thought of suicide. He openly declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed, cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad…because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave…wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah’s death wish was in part a testimony to the hopelessness of the situation in Judah. Even though Jeremiah would have rather been able to encourage the people of Judah with a message of God’s mercy, he knew their destruction was imminent and all he could do was try to warn them. Showing us that he felt like a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah declared of the LORD, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay”

You don’t have to be afraid

When Joab saw that the front of the battle was against him before and behind, he chose all of the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Syrians: and the rest of the people he delivered into the hand of Abishai his brother, that he might put them in array against the children of Ammon. And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help us: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth good. (2 Samuel 10:9-12)

Joab’s comment, Let us play the men for our people, seems to indicate he and his brother Abishai were afraid of the Syrians and children of Ammon. To play the man means to act like a man or to make yourself act brave (407). If you are courageous, it doesn’t mean you have no fear, it means you do not let the fear stop you from doing what you know you have to do.

The Syrians and children of Ammon were bullies. They had a reputation for being brutal and cruel to their enemies, but they were not courageous. When Joab and the people that were with him got near enough to the Syrians that they could see the Israelites were not going to back down, “They fled before him. And when the children of Ammon saw that the Syrians were fled, then they fled also before Abishai” (2 Samuel 10:13-14).

The key to being courageous, or acting like a man if necessary, is to be present in the situation, to not let your emotions control your behavior. Emotions come and go depending on our circumstances. When we do that which requires courage, fear begins to dissipate and we gain confidence as we move forward. From a spiritual perspective, we gain power, God’s power, when we act according to his will, therefore, accomplishment is assured (1961).

Acting with courage in situations that cause fear is a declaration of divine control of all things. Joab concluded his statement to his brother Abishai by saying, “And the LORD do that which seemeth him good” (2 Samuel 10:12). Joab was leaving the outcome to God. More than just putting his trust in God for safety, Joab was accepting that the length of his life was determined by God and if it was his time to go, then he wanted to go out fighting for what he believed, that the Promised Land belonged to the Israelites.

I think when the Syrians saw Joab, they could see the determination in his face. He was not going to give up; he would fight to the end. At the conclusion of 2 Samuel chapter 10, it says, “And when all the kings that were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more” (2 Samuel 10:19).

God is faithful

The story of David and Goliath is one of the most well known of the Bible probably because it is taught in every Sunday school classroom and used as the primary example of courage in the Old Testament. David’s battle with Goliath was really not so much about courage as it was about faith. David believed that God would protect him if he went up against a giant because he had already been delivered from a lion’s mouth and had rescued a lamb from a bear that was about to eat it.

David’s explanation for defeating Goliath was that he had defied the armies of the living God. “David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of the Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with you” (1Samuel 17:37). The reason David was able to defeat Goliath was that the LORD was with him, but what is more important is that the LORD was with him because David was carrying out God’s will which was for the Israelites to drive out their enemies from the Promised Land.

The Philistines were hard core warriors and Goliath was not the only giant among them. When the Promised Land was spied out while the Israelites were still living in the desert, the giants in the land had caused the spies to give a bad report and basically caused the Israelites to have to spend 40 years wandering in the desert because of their lack of faith in God. Fear was the main thing that kept the Israelites from taking on the Philistines and Saul was just as reluctant as the rest of the people to face Goliath in a one on one encounter.

David’s defeat of Goliath not only made him famous, it made him courageous. After defeating Goliath with a sling and a stone, all the Philistines fled from David. The table had been turned and David was the one instilling fear in his enemies. The word defy or châraph (khaw – raf´) in Hebrew means to pull off and by implication to expose or defame (2778). When Goliath defied the armies of the living God, he exposed their fear, but he also exposed their lack of faith. David was the only Israelite who truly believed God was greater than any man that would stand against him. He not only was willing to put his life on the line, but David testified to God’s faithfulness before he took on Goliath so “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45).

An act of faith

The purpose of having a relationship with God is so that he can communicate his will to us. Most people don’t understand or choose to deny that God’s will is the force that governs our universe. When we align ourselves with God’s will, we have the benefit of his help. He is like the wind that drives a sailboat along its course. If we try to go against the wind we won’t get very far.

Many people struggle to determine God’s will as if it is a mystery or something that is counter intuitive. Determining God’s will is as simple as looking to see which way the wind is blowing. The problem is usually not that we don’t know God’s will, it’s that we don’t want to do it.

Saul’s son Jonathon understood that God wanted to deliver the Israelites from the tyranny of the Philistines and he was willing to do his part. Jonathon was looking for an opportunity to do God’s will. Rather than waiting for the Philistines to attack them, he wanted to take an offensive position even though the Philistine army far outnumbered the Israelites.

“And Jonathon said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). Jonathon was familiar with God’s way of working and when he discovered an opportunity to attack, he did not struggle with the situation, he assumed God would help him defeat the Philistines.

In order to confirm his belief, Jonathon determined a way for God to show him if it was his will for Jonathon to go forward with his plan. The sign that Jonathon established for the LORD to reveal his will was an act of faith because it meant that Jonathon believed God could make the Philistines answer one way or another when they discovered Jonathon and his armourbearer outside their camp.

The interesting thing about the sign that Jonathon established was that if it was not God’s will for Jonathon to attack the Philistines, then he and his armourbearer would be killed by the Philistines. Jonathon was so confident that the LORD would use him to defeat the Philistines that he risked exposing himself to them before taking any action.

And the men of the garrison answered Jonathon and his armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will show you a thing. And Jonathon said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for the LORD hath delivered them into the hand of Israel. (1 Samuel 14:12)

Made for each other

A central theme in the book of Ruth is relationships. Rather than food or clothing, abundance and loss is measured in the number of relationships one has. When she returns home from Moab, Naomi tells people that she “went out full” because she left with her husband and two sons, but is returning empty because all of them died in the land of Moab (Ruth 1:21). I think it is interesting that even though she brought her daughter in law Ruth back with her, Naomi still considers herself to be empty.

Naomi felt worthless because she didn’t have a husband or sons which were considered to be blessings from God. The quality of her relationships with her husband and sons is unknown, but when Naomi tells her daughters in law to return to the home of their parents, it says in Ruth 1:14 that “they lift up their voices and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.”

The word clave or dâbaq (daw – bak´) in Hebrew is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:24 where is says that a man shall “leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife.” Ruth pleads with Naomi to not make her go back and even goes so far as to say “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:17). Similar to a marriage vow, Ruth is saying to her mother in law, till death do us part.

Ruth’s devotion does not seem to be of value to Naomi, perhaps because Ruth was a Moabitess, a foreigner and not a blood relative, but her willingness to leave her own country and family to be with Naomi is certainly commendable. Naomi blames her bitterness on God and believes her affliction is from his own hand. Not only does she not recognize Ruth’s value, she is missing the point that God has blessed her with a lifetime partner that is committed to taking care of her in spite of the personal sacrifice that requires.

“And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s; a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz” (Ruth 2:1). The word translated kinsman, yâda‘ (yaw – dah´) means to know (3045). Naomi was related to Boaz by marriage, but what this verse is saying is that Naomi had a relationship with Boaz, she knew him personally. The interesting thing about this is that there is no mention of Naomi ever interacting with Boaz after she returns to Judah. It would seem reasonable for Naomi to contact Boaz, and if he was a wealthy man, to ask for his help, but Naomi doesn’t do that.

One of the Mosaic laws made provision for a widow to glean in the field of another so that she would not go hungry if she had no one to provide for her. Ruth takes the initiative to go into a field where corn is being harvested and by divine providence she ends up in the field of Boaz. During their first meeting, Boaz tells Ruth that he has instructed his men not to have any sexual contact with her. Ruth’s response indicates that what Boaz has done is not typical behavior. “Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thy eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing that I am a stranger” (Ruth 2:10).

The fact that Boaz, a mighty man of wealth, would show kindness to a Moabite who is gleaning in his field distinguishes him from not only the typical man, but perhaps any other man in Israel. Ruth describes Boaz’s action by saying that he has comforted her (Ruth 2:13). The word translated comforted, nâcham (naw – kham´) is the same word that is translated repented in Judges 21:15. One way of looking at what Boaz did would be that he gave his strength to Ruth. He attempted to make her feel like she was his equal and he raised her status in the eyes of others.

The reason why Boaz’s action qualifies as repentance is because he did the opposite of what would have been expected under the circumstances in order to achieve a more positive outcome. Boaz could have had Ruth thrown out of his field because she was a foreigner or told his female workers to stay away from her because she would be a bad influence on them. But instead, Boaz tells Ruth to stay close by his maidens, warns his young men not to touch her, and even invites Ruth to sit at his table at mealtime.

At the end of the harvest, Naomi seeks to arrange a marriage between Boaz and Ruth. She instructs Ruth to go to Boaz at night, just before he is laying down to go to sleep. The action Naomi wants Ruth to take is a type of marriage proposal. The way it is being presented to him makes it possible for Boaz to refuse and not embarrass Ruth because he has rejected her.

Ruth’s obedience to her mother in law demonstrates her trust and belief in the Jewish way of doing things. She is no longer acting like a Moabite or following the customs of her people. A clue that Ruth has truly been converted is that her actions are described as showing kindness. The Hebrew word checed (kheh´ – sed) is one of the most important words that is used to convey Old Testament theology (2617). Checed is representative of a deep, loving relationship. The word chesed is meant to convey a strong bond that keeps two people knit together, as in a marriage, but more from love that a legal obligation to stay together. Relationship is the basis for checed and personal involvement is what makes it possible for a person to show the extraordinary kindness that checed implies.

Boaz seems to be caught off guard when he wakes in the middle of the night and finds Ruth lying at his feet. It appears that the thought of matrimony has not crossed his mind, perhaps because as he explains to Ruth, “And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I” (Ruth 3:12). When Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz, she knew that he did not have the ability to redeem her as his property. Based on Boaz’s behavior toward Ruth, Naomi may have assumed that he loved her and would want her to be his wife.

Boaz describes Ruth as a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11). The word translated virtuous, chayil (khah´ – yil) means strength or power (2428). Chayil is often used in a military context and is associated with the word gibbôr (ghib – bore´) to describe a proven warrior (1368). What Boaz may have been implying when he referred to Ruth as a virtuous woman was that she was a good match for him, that they belonged together. Boaz is referred to as “a mighty man of wealth” in Ruth 2:1, which means that he had been successful in battle. Often times warriors took the spoils of their victories and were rewarded for the enemy territories they conquered. If Boaz claimed Ruth as his property, it would likely have established his dominance over her and inhibited her from feeling loved by him. Boaz gave Ruth the impression that she was his equal and her courage in leaving her country and coming to Judah was commendable.

“So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son” (Ruth 4:13). Boaz and Ruth were the great grandparents of king David. There was definitely a divine purpose for them to be married and have a child, but what stands out in the story of how their relationship developed is the mutual respect and admiration they had for each other. Unlike some of the other couples that contributed to the birth of Jesus, Boaz and Ruth typified the loving-kindness that God shows his children. You could say that Boaz and Ruth were made for each other and their marriage is a testament to God’s ability to work all things together for good “to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

A matter of the heart

The expression, he has a good heart is usually used to describe someone that is kind, thoughtful, and loving toward others. The heart is said to be the seat of emotions and it can be the source of motives, feelings, affections, and desires (3820). It is the heart that enables us to love, and hate, and develop a relationship with God When our heart is wounded, it affects our ability to connect with people and may cause us to turn away from God because we cannot related to him.

A characteristic that is connected to the heart is courage. In one sense, to be courageous means to be strong, whether in physical strength or something called fortitude which is the will to press forward or through with something. There are many accounts of people that have acted courageously and performed supernatural feats to rescue or protect someone that did not have the physical strength to do so.

I think most people assume Samson was a big, burly man that looked like a sumo wrestler or a professional weight lifter. The only thing recorded about Samson’s appearance is that he was a Nazarite from birth and therefore, he never cut his hair. The source of Samson’s strength was unknown to everyone except Samson and perhaps his parents. It is possible that Samson assumed his strength came from being a Nazarite, when in actuality, it was his relationship with God that enabled him to overpower the Philistines and perform mighty acts to defeat them.

To be a Nazarite means to be separated or consecrated to God. It is similar to the virginity of a woman in that virginity is a sign of purity and is intended to keep a woman separated or consecrated to her husband until they are married. In a way, you could say that a Nazarite’s heart belongs to God and he is not free to love anyone else but God during his time of consecration which in Samson’s case was his entire lifetime.

It says in Judges 16:4 that Samson “loved a woman, in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” Delilah was a Philistine and she agreed to find out the source of Samson’s strength so that the Philistines could bind him and afflict him. “And Delilah said unto Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee” (Judges 16:6).

The word translated afflict, ‘ânâh (aw – naw´) means to be bowed down, be humbled. ‘Anah often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (6031). One of the ways the word ‘anah is used is to express the act of rape. “To take a woman sexually by force may be ‘to humble’ her” (6031) as was the case with Jacob’s daughter Dinah. It is believed that the Philistines sought revenge against Samson and intended to kill him after a prolonged period of torture. Delilah’s request to know the source of Samson’s strength so that he could be afflicted was a straight forward attempt to take advantage of his love for her and to determine if he was even willing to die for her.

Isaiah 53:3-4 says of the Messiah “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Jesus also told his followers that they would be delivered up “to be afflicted” and would be hated by everyone in the world because they identified themselves with his name.

Not many people would agree that if you are a Christian, you should expect to be afflicted, to receive harsh and painful treatment for no reason other than you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you have taken a vow of chastity and are being tormented by your friends because you won’t do what everyone else is, having sex outside of marriage. The most common group of women to be targeted by sexual predators is young virgins who will experience rape as their first sexual encounter with a man.

When Samson’s soul was vexed unto death by Delilah’s daily pleading and nagging, he finally “told her all his heart” (Judges 16:17). Immediately, Delilah called the Philistine leaders and told them Samson’s weakness had been revealed.

After Samson is imprisoned by the Philistines, he seeks one last opportunity to gain strength so that he can be avenged. He prays that God will remember him and strengthen him. Samson’s two-fold request indicates that he is no longer relying on his Nazarite vow for power. The interesting thing about Samson’s prayer is that the LORD didn’t answer it. It is believed that Samson was able to topple the house where three thousand Philistines were gathered because his hair had begun to grow back while he was in prison. But, I think it is more likely that Samson’s courage returned because he sought to restore his relationship with the LORD.

The word used for strength in Samson’s prayer, châzaq (khaw – zak´) is the same word that was used when the LORD said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let his people go. Samson knew that he sinned by telling Delilah all that was in his heart. It says in Judges 16:20 that Samson thought he would be able to escape like he had at previous times, but “he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” Samson was on his own when he suffered torture at the hands of the Philistines and his desire to be avenged had nothing to do with God’s plan to deliver the Israelites from Philistine rule. His heart was hardened after being afflicted and he thought the LORD had left him for good. He wanted to die because the sorrow and pain in his heart were too much for him to bare.

In the last moments of his life, Samson reached out to God and God was there, just not in the way Samson expected him to be. God didn’t harden Samson’s heart, he gave him courage. I think Samson believed he was forgiven and would be able to bring down the house with his bare hands. “And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein” (Judges 16:30).