JONAH

A Story about Jonah

As Yom Kippur has just passed, I thought it would be timely to write a bit about the story of Jonah.

Jonah was called upon by destiny, family and God him/herself to walk amongst the ignorant and speak the truth. Instead of accepting this direction, Jonah chose to take a boat into the ocean toward distant lands. Was he afraid? Did he lack the energy or confidence to be a messenger before people who did not know him?

Whatever his reason, he ended up amidst people of various faiths (although all of them did believe in *something*). He ended up there, but not alone. A terrible storm surrounded them, and it wasn’t long before the sailors discovered that the storm was brought on by Jonah himself. The storm was the externalization of Jonah’s avoidance of his calling.

What happened?

Jonah told them they could throw him overboard, and after hesitation and deliberation, for they were not malicious people, they did throw him and the water immediately calmed down.

When I heard this story, I couldn’t help but relate it to my own life.

It has been a bumpy one, at least emotionally!

However, on a deep level in my heart, I realize that my challenges have always sprung up when I was taking actions that were not directly in line with my highest vision of life, and not making use of my true talents.

What struck me about the story was how OTHER PEOPLE were affected. Jonah was not the sole bearer of suffering for his sin of vocation. All the people he was around felt the pain! All of the comrades he encountered in his “alternate” course felt the violence and chaos.

When making choices, from now on I know I will be much more thoughtful about which path I take, because I have come to understand that when I do what is truly right for me, I spare my community the arduous storms of discontent and failure.

Sure, I can learn my lesson, get thrown overboard, and be reborn… But Jonah has already gone through that! Why perpetuate the cycle of useless suffering?

I’ve heard the call of destiny, and now I will methodically untangle the chords attaching me to a ship I was never meant to sail on. I will trust that God would not place a mission in my heart that I am not capable of carrying out.

It was only last week that I was eating apple and honey with my friends, and only a couple of days ago that I was offered sweet honey cake delivered to my synagogue from Cut to the Chase Bakery with the best cakes San Antonio and the world can conceive of!

Now, it is time to put my actions where my dreams are. I have been praying, but as one classic story from Juadism goes….

I young man was studying Torah with a great teacher. One day he came to class late.

“I was praying!” he said.

The teacher had no sympathy… “That is no excuse to miss your studies!”

In spirituality, dreams and visions are all well and good. They are the sugar and butter and flour and eggs, simple and beautiful things but nothing that one can eat or sustain true nourishment from.

When tools are employed, such as bowls and spoons and whisks and ovens, and energy is exerted, then the beautiful ingredients can become something real and sweet like honey cake, something we can taste and feel and touch. Something that allows us to spend a little more time using our unique wisdom to made the world a better place. Something that helps us help the world before our bodies die, songs unsung, leaving the next generation without the glorious map we might have offered.

THE BOOK OF RUTH (Part 3)

RUTH & BOAZ

The second chapter of the Book of Ruth is a subtle development of the love story of Ruth and Boaz. The focus is upon interpersonal feelings among the major characters in this book. Boaz appears to be the leading character after chapter one. In fact, chapter two begins by saying, “Naomi had a relative named Boaz, a rich and influential man who belonged to the family of her husband and Elimalech.” Boaz was a wealthy landowner who lived in the town of Bethlehem and who had wheat and barley fields outside of town. He was also a close relative of Naomi’s late husband Elimalech which would be important as the love story develops.

The immediate task at hand for Naomi and Ruth was to find food for survival. They agreed that Ruth would go and glean in the fields that were being harvested (2:2). Gathering grain or fruit overlooked or dropped by the harvesters, was an ancient custom in Israel established by law (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-22). This practice was actually a civil institution for the benefit of the poor, especially widows, orphans and foreigners.

Whether by chance, calculation, or divine providence, Ruth ended up gleaning in the fields of Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi (2:3). Evidently Ruth had not heard about any of Naomi’s relatives. Then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem to inspect the harvesting (2:4). He saw Ruth gleaning and inquired about her. The servant seemed impressed by Ruth and he gave a good report about her to Boaz. Boaz must have been impressed by Ruth’s beauty and her diligence.

Ruth worked hard from dawn to sunset gleaning barley in the fields of Boaz. After Boaz learned of her identity, he urged Ruth to remain in his field and glean with his women servants (2:8). He also assured her that the men would not harm her (2:9). He even encouraged her to drink water with his servants (2:9).

Overcome by gratitude,Ruth asked Boaz why he was being so kind to her. Boaz replied that he had received a detailed account f her plight. But most of all, he was impressed with her kindness and loyalty to Naomi (2:11-12).

Boaz increasingly showed favour to Ruth. He fed her at mealtime and ordered his men servants to give her special assistance in gathering an ample supply of grain to eat (2:14-16). Such kindness was not normally given to a foreigner. There appears to be many motives as to why Boaz treated Ruth so kindly. He sincerely was concerned for the poor. He also wanted to help a selfless devoted widow who was trying to help her mother-in-law survive. Also Boaz seems already to have had romantic emotions towards Ruth. Throughout the book Boaz is pictured as a man of noble character with a devout faith in God.

Uppermost for Naomi was to find a husband and home for Ruth (3:1). Therefore Naomi saw the possibility for this to happen by the events that were taking place in the fields of Boaz. First, Ruth had gleaned in the field of a near relative. She had excited his interest, and the special favors that he bestowed on here were proof of it. Second, in the early evening Boaz would help in threshing barley. Since the time of harvest was time of merrymaking, Boaz would participate in the eating and drinking, and afterward sleep at the threshing floor.

Naomi therefore counselled Ruth to make herself outwardly attractive to Boaz (3:3). Ruth was instructed to go where Boaz was threshing but she was not to reveal her identity to Boaz until he had finished eating and drinking. Ruth was also instructed to notice the spot where Boaz slept on the threshing floor so that she could find it in the dark alter that eveinging (3:4). Ruth was proposing marriage to Boaz. In that day it was an acceptable practice for a woman to propose marriage to a man and ask for protection.

The threshing floor was either privately owned by Boaz or was common to the entire village. The winnowing took place in the evening usually from four or five o’clock until shortly after sunset, when a cool breeze blew in from the Mediterranean Sea. After they had celebrated, they slept at the threshing floor. After Boaz was asleep, Ruth lifted his covers and lay down at this feet (3:8). At midnight Boaz woke up and was startled to find a woman lying at his feet. Therefore, he asked her, “Who are you?” Ruth and Naomi must have rehearsed what she would do in this situation. She revealed her identity to Boaz (3:9). Instead of waiting for Boaz to act, she made a passionate appeal to Boaz (3:9). Instead of waiting for Boaz to act, she made a passionate appeal to Boaz to perform the next of kin for her by being her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz by asking him to perform the next of kin responsibility (3:9). Boaz acknowledged that he was Ruth’s kinsman, who was qualified to marry her and redeem her form barrenness and a life of loneliness. Boaz was also willing to be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer (3:11). But because Boaz was a man of honor and integrity he told Ruth that there was a kinsman more closely related to Ruth and he would be given first choice to marry her (3:12). Evidently Naomi was not aware of this closer kinsman.

Boaz kept his word. In front of the city elders, he propositioned the closer kinsman to buy some land which was left to Naomi by her deceased husband (4:1). Boaz assembled 10 men who would compose a council for a public meeting on the marriage of Ruth and the buying of Elimalech’s land. The near kinsman had the option of buying of Elimalech’s land. The near kinsman had the option of buying the property of his deceased relative. Boaz explained that if he did not buy the land, that Boaz would buy it immediately (4:4). The next of kin wanted the property. Then Boaz mentioned that if he purchased the land, he would have to marry Ruth. Since he wanted the land for his own immediate family and not for the children of Ruth, he reconsidered the offer and agreed that Boaz should buy the land and marry Ruth. In front of witnesses, he voluntarily gave up his right to redeem the land and allowed Boaz to marry Ruth.

What a wonderful ending to a beautiful love story. Boaz married Ruth as he had promised. Soon afterward they had a baby boy (4:13). He was named Obed. This son was the ancestor of King David. More importantly he would be a forerunner of the coming Messiah.

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THE BOOK OF RUTH (Part 2)

LOVE AND DEVOTION

Ruth listened to the passionate plea of her mother-in-law for her to return to her own people. After all Orpah, had already agreed to return to her family (1:14). Now it was Ruth’s turn to express her deepest feeling to Naomi. Therefore she told Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” (1:16). These words have been used over and over again to express undying loyalty (especially at weddings).

First, Ruth was saying that she wanted to be loyal and devoted to Naomi no matter where they went. She was willing to serve her mother-in-law, even though she knew that the Israelites would dislike and mistrust her because she was a Moabite.

Second, she was saying that she had accepted the God of Israel as her personal God. Ruth had already chosen to break all ties with her former god of Moab. She wanted to serve the true and living God. Ruth had made a commitment to the God of Israel. For her there was no turning back to the idols of Moab.

SUFFERING AND DISGRACE

Both women agreed to share their future together in Bethlehem. They crossed the Jordan River with their few earthly possessions and determination to face whatever the future would hold for them. They made their way up the trail from Jericho to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was surrounded by abundant fields of barley and wheat when they arrived. Naomi had been away more than ten years.

The appearance of Naomi and Ruth caused considerable excitement in Bethlehem. The whole town was roused. Some would have despised her for leaving in the first place. Others would have accused her lack of faith in God. Still others wanted to hear all of the gossip and the tragedies that had befallen Naomi. Most of them probably condemned her and said, “She got what she deserved.”

Naomi explained her predicament by expressing her desire to change her name. She said, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Marah” (1:20). No longer was she to be called Naomi (pleasant); now she was to be called Mar (bitter). Naomi had left Bethlehem for Moab full of happiness but she returned to Bethlehem from Moab full of sadness. However, this was not the end of the world for either Ruth or Naomi. They may have been ridiculed by their fellow town people but they knew the love of God and his forgiveness. All were not lost.

God was still in control of their lives and it was time for a new beginning for both Naomi and Ruth. Verse 22 says, “When they arrived in Bethlehem, the barley harvest was just beginning.” With the coming of the first fruits of the land, there was also renewal of the spirit of these two women.

THE BOOK OF RUTH

 

The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful short stories of all times. The plot is simple—a love story between two women. However, for the Book of Ruth to be included in the Old Testament, there had to be a deeper purpose than just a beautiful love story. That purpose was to express belief in the universal love of God instead of a nationalistic God of Israel. God’s love was extended to all mankind, not just to the Hebrews. The book of Ruth stresses that Ruth was a foreigner who believed in the Lord of Israel. Therefore, the Book of Ruth is a plea for the inclusion of foreigners in “the Assembly of Israel.” It emphasizes that God’s love is universal.

A second theme is the story of trust and love between two women—Ruth and Naomi. Ruth says to Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

RUTH AND NAOMI

The book of Ruth is a timeless story of the extraordinary love and devotion of two women—Ruth and Naomi—for each other.

SURVIVAL

The setting for the book of Ruth was the turbulent days of the Judge before King Saul had established the Kingdom of Israel. It was a time when each of the 12 tribes of Israel was ruled by its tribal chieftain. It was also a time when “Everyone did whatever he pleased” (Judges 21:25). Without a central government to distribute food to every part of the country during times of famine, there was extreme suffering for the Israelites who experienced severe drought.

The story focuses on the life of one family during such a time of extreme famine in Canaan. The family of Elimalech had a small farm near the town of Bethlehem (1:2). However, when the famine cane he decided to emigrate to Moab. The inhabitants of Moab were descendants of Lot (Genesis 19:36-37). They lived on the high fertile plateau to the south of the Arnon River.

So Elimalech took his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to the land f one of Israel’s most bitter enemies, the Moabites. They intended to stay there until the famine was over (1:2). Not long after arriving in the land of Moab, however, Elimalech died. He was probably weak from malnourishment and from the difficult trip to Moab since they travelled by donkey and on foot. His wife Naomi was left with her two sons.

Both of Elimalech’s sons married Moabite women (1:4). Their names were Orpah and Ruth. However, after ten years both Mahlon and Chilion died (1:5). (The name Mahlon in Hebrew means “the weakling” and the name Chilion means “pining one.”) After ten years in Moab, Naomi was without husband or sons. She had no means of supporting herself. Her only way to survive was to return to her relative in Bethlehem.

UNSELFISHNESS

Naomi heard that the famine was over in Canaan and that God had blessed the Israelites with good crops (1:6). Her first instinct was to take her two daughters-in-law with her to Bethlehem to find husbands for them. This could mean they would have children, which in turn would assure Naomi that someone would take care of her in her old age.

They started out together on the approximately, 100-kilometer trip back to Bethlehem (1:7). However, probably just before crossing the Jordan River into Hebrew territory they camped for the night. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law. “Go back home and stay with your mothers” (1:8). Naomi then encouraged these two Moabites to return to their parents who in turn would provide for them. Also their chances of remarriage would be much greater. At this point in the story Naomi was more concerned for her daughters-in-law than she was for her own welfare.

Then Naomi asked God’s blessings on the two Moabites. First, “May the Lord be as good to you as you have been to me and to those who have died” (1:8). Second, “May the Lord make it possible for each of you to marry again and have ahome” (1:9)

UNSHAKABLE PEACE

The Lord has only good plans in store for your life. (Jeremiah 29:11). You may go through difficult times, but God promises to use every trial to build “good” into your life. (Romans 8:28). When Satan tells you to worry, God has the opposite in mind. He wants you to trust Him and to experience His peace on a daily basis. How do we gain and retain the true peace of God?

Recognize your dependence is on God. The heart that finds its identity in Jesus Christ is a heart of peace. The person who rushes here and there to solve his own problems quickly can become a person of strife and worry. Take responsibility for your actions, but let God have the reins to your life.

Pray.The enemy cannot defeat you when you are on your spiritual knees before God in prayer. This is the true pathway to unshakable peace.

Trust God. When thought of fear invade your mind, tell the Lord what you are feeling and claim His presence as your protection and shelter. David prayed, “Strengthen my arms so I can bend a bow of bronze.” In other words, “Strengthen my faith, Lord, so I won’t doubt your goodness.”

Focus only on God. Don’t cling to negative thoughts. Set the focus of your heart on God and His possibilities. When God views your life, He sees only potential. You can live life to the fullest because Christ is alive in you and all things are under his feet.

Many Christians are worriers. They worry about their futures-what will happen the next day, week, and year. Jesus instructed His disciples to “be anxious for nothing.” He did not say, “Trust God with some things and worry about others.” No. His instruction was clear: “Do not be worried…” (Matthew 6:25)

Is there a need in your life? God knows all about it, and He is engineering the circumstances surrounding that need for your good and His glory. Worrying leads to doubt. It undercuts the sovereignty of God and often causes us to miss out on God’s blessing or answer to our need when it comes.

This is because worry changes our focus. We become enamoured with the idea of trying to solve problems in our own strength.

But when we trust God to solve the difficulty, we place our trust on someone who has never failed and has an infinite ability to meet every need we have.

This is why Jesus could admonish His followers: “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself” (v. 34).

God will take care of you. The absence of worry is the evidence of true peace. “Seek first (God’s) kingdom and His righteousness,” and all your need will be given to you. (Matthew 6:33)

SOLVING PROBLEMS GOD’S WAY: IS THAT YOU LORD? (Part 2)

GOD SPEAKS WORDS OF COURAGE TO OUR HEARTS. God’s word to Joshua was, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). God is omniscient. He is sovereign over all things, and He will never leave us. He provides the courage and strength we need to live each day. However, we must listen as Joshua did for His encouragement. If we spend our lives running and rushing around, we will miss what God’s Spirit wants to say to us. We need to learn to be still before God. This is what King David did whenever he faced a challenge. He listened for God’s Word to Him. The Lord encourages those who seek His way for their lives.

GOD’S WORD CAUSES US TO CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR SIN AND ITS EFFECT ON OTHERS. Our actions affect others. Therefore, we have a responsibility to do what is right before God and those we love. We may think our private sin does not hurt anyone but ourselves, but in reality it hurts the entire body of Christ.

WHAT WE HEAR CONTRIBUTES TO OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH. We learn by reading and studying God’s Word. We also grow spiritually through the teaching of God’s Word. The apostle Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

GOD’S VOICE BUILDS FAITH AND BRINGS A CALMNESS TO OUR LIVES. As you learn to hear the voice of God, a distinct calmness will fill your heart. Paul called it, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7). You will never have God’s peace when you step outside of His will.

God speaks to us so that we may understand truth. He speaks primarily through His Word, through the Holy Spirit to our consciences, through circumstances, and through other people. By applying what you hear to the truth of Scripture, you can learn to recognize His voice.

 

SOLVING PROBLEMS GOD’S WAY: IS THAT YOU LORD?

When you are listening for God’s voice, how do you know that He is the one speaking? Are you hearing some other voice? People say, “I am asking the Lord for direction in my life, but it’s like I’m hearing two different voices. How do I know that God is the one who is speaking to me, or if Satan is telling me this? Or am I just talking to myself?

Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Identifying God’s voice should be the normal, natural walk of the Spirit-filled, committed believer. But a newborn lamb would not necessarily know the shepherd’s voice. A sheep that has been there for a while would know the shepherd’s voice.

As you are praying and seeking the Lord’s mind, you will know that you have heard His voice-not an audible voice, but the Spirit of God speaking to you-if the following things are true:

WHAT YOU HEAR ALWAYS WILL BE CONSISTENT WITH THE WORD OF GOD. God would never tell you to do something or pursue a relationship that is not of Him or that is inconsistent with Scripture. Whatever you are hearing, ask yourself, “Is that what the Word of God says?” If you neglect the Word of God and don’t build the Scriptures into your life, you may be very confused about whether you are being guided by the Lord.

THE LORD’S GUIDANCE WILL CONTRADICT WORLD PHILOSOPHY. If we look at the life of Jesus, we find that His ministry often contradicted the way of the world. He taught His followers to forgive while the world teaches us to “get even.” He admonished them to go the “extra mile” even with the enemy. (Matthew 16:21). But the world tells us to take all we can and worry about no one but ourselves. God exhorts us to live our lives according to His value system and not the world’s which is anti-God and anti-faith.

WHAT GOD TEACHES YOU WILL CLASH WITH YOUR FLESHLY DESIRES. God never requires us to do something that contradicts His word. Satan is the one who entices us to gratify the flesh. We serve a God who enjoys us and wants us to enjoy life to its fullest. His prescription for lasting fulfilment is this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and all this will be added to you” Instantaneous gratification is nothing more than the flesh seeking to have its desires met. Jesus, instead, teaches us to gratify the Spririt and not the flesh, and then we will know the true peace.