Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is It A Natural Phenomena Or An Act Of God?

I Samuel 6:2-7:1

“And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.” (I Samuel 6:2)

The Philistines had kept the Ark of God for seven months.  Every time they moved it into a city there was an epidemic of plague, besides other disasters.  While they didn’t really believe in God, the Philistine leaders were convinced there was a connection between the Ark of God and the disasters.  They called in the experts of their day in the field of religion and asked what they could do to return the Ark to it’s proper place that would free them of the consequences.

“And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.” (I Samuel 6:3) 

Their priests and shamans did not believe in God, but they had a respect for religious things.  They warned that simply sending the Ark back would not be sufficient if they had offended a god.  They would need to send some token of an apology as well.  If the problem was some pathogen the Ark harbored, sending it back should solve the problem, but if it was the result of God’s anger, it might not satisfy him.  By sending the Ark back with a proper evidence of apology, they would find out whether the problem was in fact their keeping the Ark or not.

“Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? 

They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.  Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land. 

Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?” (I Samuel 6:4-6)

The priests and experts recommended sending five golden copies of the lumps or emerods, and of the mice that infested the land as signifying they apology to God.  Since Bubonic plague is usually carried by fleas on rodents and small animals, this instruction would seem to indicate it is probably the disease involved, and that they had at least a rudimentary understanding of how it was spread.

People were dying and it would be pretty stupid to delay in hopes that the problem would go away and they could keep the Ark as a symbol of their domination over Israel.  Six hundred years before, Pharaoh had tried the same thing and it hadn’t worked then.  It would be foolish to repeat his mistakes.  Stubbornness would only result in more deaths.  There was no question that the plague was in some way related to the Ark.

“Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them: And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go. 

And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us: it was a chance that happened to us.” (I Samuel 6:7-9) 

The priests and shamans then recommended a scientific approach to learning whether it was God or some pathogen the Ark harbored that was causing the plague.  Anyone who has worked with cattle knows that unless they have a particular destination in mind, cows amble along wandering from one clump of grass to another.  When separated from their calf, they become quite protective and will fight almost anything to get to it.

Cows that had been worked might from habit or experience work together and go to a certain destination in hopes of being released, but cows that had not would never do so.   Taking away their calves would further frustrate them.  To go against all their natural instincts and follow a road away from their calves without wandering around would clearly indicate that God had to be directing them, and they would know it was
God causing the plague.

“And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home: And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods. 

And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh.” (I Samuel 6:10-12) 

The cows went straight down the road, responding to their calves cries verbally, but not turning back, and not swerving to grab a bite along the way.  The Philistine lords were convinced it was God, not just some pathogen that caused the plague after following the ark about ten miles.  It was totally abnormal behavior.

“And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. 

And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD.  And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.” (I Samuel 6:13-15)

When the men of Bethshemesh saw the Ark, they were thrilled.  Some of the Levites among them unloaded the ark and box of gold pieces and placed them on the large rock.  They then killed the milk cows as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, using the cart for fuel.

“And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. 

And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one; And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the LORD: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Bethshemite.” (I Samuel 6:16-18) 

Each of the five Philistine city-states had contributed an offering, and sent a representative to see what would happen.  When they saw the Israelites offering the cows as sacrifices, they reported back to their cities what had happened.

“And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter. 

And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?  And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.” (I Samuel 6:19-21)

Not trusting the Philistines to leave everything in the Ark, or trusting god to prevent their taking something out, the people of Bethshemesh looked inside to see if everything was there.   Fifty thousand and seventy men died as a result.  Just imagine what the Philistines reaction would have been if they’d still been watching.

The men of Bethshemesh had no doubt as to why the Philistines sent the Ark back.  They contacted Kirjathjearim and asked them to come get it.

“And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.” (I Samuel 7:1)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Regretting their Success

I Samuel 5:1-6:1

“And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.” (I Samuel 5:1)

One can only imagine the elation the Philistines felt after capturing Israel‘s God, (or so they thought).  They had expected to be wiped out like so many others had, not to win such a victory.  They took the Ark to Ashdod to commemorate and celebrate their accomplishment.

“When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.  And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.” (I Samuel 5:2-3) 

The Ark was placed in the temple of Dagon to protect it while they decided what to do with it.  The next morning the statue of Dagon had fallen over as if it were worshipping the Ark.  Unsure why the statue had fallen over, the people of Ashdod set it back up and went about their business.

“And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.  Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.” (I Samuel 5:4-5)

When they came into the temple the second morning, they found statue again fallen as if in worship, but the hands and head had been cut off and were laying on the threshold or sill which supported the building.  Clearly this was not just a coincidence or the result of the ground settling. It made quite an impression and from that time forward, the priests and worshippers of Dagon avoided stepping onto the sill.

“But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.  And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.” (I Samuel 5:6-7) 

The problems didn’t stop with the damage to the idol.  God destroyed them, and caused them to develop painful emrods or what many believe to be hemorrhoids, not only in the city, but in the surrounding countryside.   If so, this is the first and only epidemic of hemorrhoids on record.  In fact the word actually refers to swellings or tumors under the skin and probably indicates that they had bubonic plague.  Blaming keeping the Ark, Ashdod’s leaders informed the rest of the Philistines they would not keep it any longer, because they did not want God angry with them.

“They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.  And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.” (I Samuel 5:8-9)

The Philistine leaders weren’t convinced that the Ark was the problem and recommended that it be taken to Gath.  In Gath they experienced an even more severe destruction and outbreak of swollen lymph nodes.   The people of Gath concluded that the people of Ashdod were right and decided to get rid of the Ark.

“Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.  So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.  And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.  And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.” (I Samuel 5:10-12)

When they brought the Ark to Ekron. The people there accused them of trying to kill them off and refused to allow it into the city.  They called the all the Philistine leaders together and demanded that the Ark be sent back to Israel because even though it hadn’t been allowed into the city, they were still getting infected with many deaths, and even the survivors suffering from the hemorrhoids.  The people were praying God would bring an end to the plague.  After seven months, they were willing to do almost anything to stop it.

Capturing the Ark turned out to be one of the worst mistakes the Philistines had ever made.  They were not celebrating their victory any more.   People frequently find that what they thought was a blessing was a curse instead.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I Samuel 4:1b-22

“… Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.  And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.” (I Samuel 4:1b-2) 

The Philistines were one of the groups Israel had never been able to completely drive out of the land.  For a thousand years, since Abraham’s time, they had been a loose federation of independent city states.  When Israel first took over the land they were still very independent with individual kings and chiefs leading comparatively small forces.  Samson had been able to hold them at bay without unifying Israel.  In the forty years or so since Samson’s death, they had become much more strongly united and developed a more centralized government.   They were able to field and army sufficient to defeat Israel, killing four thousand Jews the first day.

“And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. 

So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.  And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.” (I Samuel 4:3-5) 

The Ark of the Covenant held the stone tablets with the terms of Israel‘s covenant or contract with God.  The lid, called the mercy seat, represented the throne of God in heaven.  When God spoke to the high priests it was usually from the mercy seat.  The entire Ark was intended to focus their attention on God.

Over the more than five hundred years since building the Ark, Israel had begun to worship the Ark in God’s place as evidenced by the statement, “it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.”  When the ark was brought into the camp, Israel was excited that it would give them victory.

Unfortunately, like Israel, Christians can begin to idolize the very thing that was intended to teach them about God.  Some idolize various religious leaders such as Calvin or Luther, or some modern leader, while others idolize a particular church or group such as the Catholic church.  Some have begun to idolize the King James version of the Bible.   It doesn’t matter what they idolize, it is idolatry, detracting focus from God to something else.  It is sin.

“And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp.  And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 

Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.  Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.” (I Samuel 4:6-9) 

Remembering how God had given Israel victory for the last five hundred fifty years, when they heard God had been brought into Israel’s camp, the Philistines were panicked.  Pride wouldn’t let them back down but they were sure they would be defeated if God was involved.  They vowed they’d give their best and die fighting rather than give up.

“And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.  And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.” (I Samuel 4:10-11) 

Instead of just killing four thousand the second day, the Philistines killed thirty thousand.  Israel’s army was routed, and the Ark was captured.  In the process, Eli’s two sons were killed, fulfilling the prophecy in I Samuel 2:34, “And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.” Both Eli and Israel were being judged for not putting God himself first.

“And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.  And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out. 

And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.  Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see. 

And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army.

 And he said, What is there done, my son? 

And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. 

And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.” (I Samuel 4:12-18)

Eli’s eyesight was failing but he was worried about what would happen to the Ark, because he knew it wasn’t God, but just a symbol.  When the messenger told what had happened the people of Shiloh set up a cry and Eli heard them, demanding to know what was going on.

Shocked and horrified at the news of his sons’ deaths and the capture of the Ark, Eli fell off his seat backward.  Being ninety nine years old, his bones were quite brittle and since he was pretty heavy, the impact broke his neck, killing him and fulfilling the prophecy that there would not be an old man in the family.

“And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.  And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast borne a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. 

And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.  And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.” (I Samuel 4:19-22)

The shock of the news trigged premature delivery of Phineas’ wife’s baby, resulting in her death, although the baby survived.  Just before she died, she called him Ichabod, ‘The glory is departed,’ meaning literally God was gone because the Ark had been taken away.

Throughout history people have quit the church because a certain leader died or was left.   Others stopped going to church because the church they had attended close down or changed in some way.  It always indicates a form of idolatry.  God does not depend on a particular person or organization.  If the church begins to teach false doctrine, it may prove necessary to dissociate from it, but that does not excuse turning away from him.

Monday, January 28, 2013

God Reveals Himself To Samuel

I Samuel 3:1-4:1

“And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (I Samuel 3:1)

During Eli’s life there was no prophet who regularly communicated God’s messages to them, and the priests were wicked.  Even Eli only heard from God indirectly at the mouth of another prophet.  It reveals just how far from God Israel’s religious leadership had drifted in the years since Samson was judge.  Though he was only a child, Samuel was sincere in his efforts to serve, unlike Eli’s family.

“And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. 

And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. 

And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. 

And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. 

And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. 

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.” (I Samuel 3:2-7) 

Eli was very old and his eyesight was failing, so he frequently needed help.  One night, even before the lamps on the golden candlestick ran out of oil, but after they had gone to bed the Lord spoke to Samuel.  Thinking Eli needed something Samuel hurried to his side.  Eli assumed he had dreamed it and sent him back to bed.  The same thing happened again and again Eli sent him back to bed.

Though he had lived in the high priest house since he was just a toddler, helping every day with the sacrifices and temple chores, and hearing about God, and was sincerely interested in knowing, Samuel did not personally know the Lord.   It really isn’t surprising as Eli’s own sons didn’t know the Lord either.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people in churches today in the same boat.

About a week ago, I answered a knock at my door.  The man standing there asked me if I knew the Lord’s name.  I could answer without hesitation that I did, so they left.  As I thought about the question I realized that knowing the Lord’s name is not the same as knowing him.  I know Barak Obama’s name, but I don’t know him for example.  I wonder if the guys who come to my house know the Lord or, like Samuel, just his name.

“And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. 

And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.  Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. 

So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. 

Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.” (I Samuel 3:8-10)

Eli actually knew the Lord, although his sin prevented him from communicating with him. The third time God spoke to Samuel, Eli finally realized it was God speaking and not just his imagination, and told him to acknowledge God and listen.   It had been a long time since he had communicated with the Lord himself.  People who have been away for that long forget we can communicate with God.

“And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.  In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.  For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.  And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. 

And Samuel lay until the morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel feared to show Eli the vision.” (I Samuel 3:11-15)

God then revealed the same message to Samuel that he had given to Eli through the prophet.  Because Eli had taken no action about his son’s behavior, They would be killed, and Eli’s family cursed.  No sacrifice would ever make up for his deliberate sin.  Even after the first warning, Eli had taken no action.  This time there would be no way to stop it.

“Then Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. 

And he answered, Here am I. 

And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee. 

And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. 

And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.” (I Samuel 3:16-18)

Samuel was afraid of Eli’s reaction, but when he demanded to know what God had said, he took it quite calmly, saying it was up to God.  It troubles me when God allows terrible things to happen as a direct result of some sin and people say, almost flippantly, “whatever the Lord wants,” and make no effort to change their behavior.   I don’t know if they think it makes them look spiritual, or if they just don’t care.

“And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.  And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.  And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. ” (I Samuel 3:19-4:1a)

Acts 17:27 promises that God will reveal himself to anyone who seeks him.  “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”  Samuel had been actively seeking God, while Eli, who already knew him, was not.

With Samuel seeking to know God, God began to reveal himself again, and people knew God was using him.  God began to speak to people again through Samuel.  Once again we are reminded how crucial the spiritual attitude of the pastor or leader is to the spiritual health of the church.  The word of the Lord was no longer scarce.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Rebelling Against God

I Samuel 2:12-36

“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (I Samuel 2:12)

What a sad commentary on Eli’s ministry.  He was both high priest and judge.  He was responsible for teaching Israel what the law meant and for overseeing their worship, yet he failed to teach his own sons.  Like many people today, he apparently was so busy with his job he didn’t take time to teach his own children, assuming they would learn simply by observation.  Too often the children are left with the impression they don’t matter as much as others and seek attention elsewhere.  Eli’s sons had turned to wickedness, and “knew not the Lord.”

“And the priests' custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh, unto all the Israelites that came thither. 

Also before they burnt the fat, the priest's servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw.  And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force.  Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.” (I Samuel 2:13-17)

Specific parts of each sacrifice were designated for the Lord while other parts were designated for the priests.  Exodus 29:27-28 gives one such example.  The priests ignored the part that was specified as theirs, taking what ever they wanted for themselves.  After a time, they began to demand that they be given the first choice of what was offered, even before the sacrifice was made.  People began to feel that their religion served only to please the priests and turn away in resentment.  Because of their position a great many people were affected by their sin.

Unfortunately the same thing could be said of some religious leaders today, who live richly and focus on building their own reputations at the expense of their churches.  Such preachers and “evangelists” drive more people away from God than sincere ones can bring back.  James 3:1-2 warns that such will face greater condemnation because of their range of influence.

“But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod.” (I Samuel 2:18)

Unlike Eli’s sons, Samuel was focused on the ministry rather than what he could get, even though he was just a little child.  Though he was being raised in the same home as Eli's sons, Samuel made a different choice.   We cannot blame our past for our choices.

“Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.  And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home.  And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD.” (I Samuel 2:19-20)

Each year, Hannah visited Samuel bringing him new clothes and encouraging him.  Eli was appreciative and blessed Hannah and Elkanah for giving Samuel to serve the Lord, praying that they might have other children.  God blessed with five more children.

“Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.  And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.  Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord's people to transgress.  If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.” (I Samuel 2:22-25) 

Eli heard about how his sons were abusing the priesthood, even to the point of using their position to obtain sexual favors from the women who came to offer sacrifices.  He rebuked them, telling them it was not right and that they were causing others to sin.  He pointed out that they were sinning against God, but it meant very little since they didn’t know the Lord.  They simply ignored Eli’s warning, because they had gone so far God was committed to destroying them and no longer convicted their hearts.

“And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men.” (I Samuel 2:26) 

While Eli’s sons were steadily going farther into sin and becoming increasingly unpopular, Samuel was learning more about serving the Lord, and gaining the respect of the people.

“And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?  And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? 

Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?  Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” (I Samuel 2:27-30) 

God sent a prophet to warn Eli.  He reminded him how that God had chosen Aaron’s family for priests and given them certain provisions as their pay.  Even Eli had taken more than his rightful share at times implying that what God provided wasn’t good enough.  When eh heard about the levels of wickedness his sons were committing, Eli talked to them about it but took no effective action to stop them, so placing them ahead of God’s command.  As high priest, he had the authority to remove them from being priests if they refused to stop but didn’t, even though he knew that God had said he would bless those that honored him and curse those who ignored him.

“Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.  And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever.  And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age. 

And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.  And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever. 

And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests' offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.” (I Samuel 2:31-36)

Because Eli had placed his sons desires above Gods command, God was going to remove his family from the high priest hood line and give it to another.  As proof that it was God doing it, both Eli’s sons would be killed the same day, and a family that would serve the lord would receive the priesthood.  Further, Eli’s family would be cursed to a point where none of them lived to be old men and those who lived would be a shame to him.  In the future they would beg for any minor job around the church just to get something to eat.

It  would be pretty high price to pay for not teaching his children to serve God, and refusing to punish them for their sin. Eli still took no action about his sons.  How many today are rebelling against God by refusing to live by his standards or allowing others to do so?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fulfilling Her Promise

I Samuel 1:19-2:11

“And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her.  Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.” (I Samuel 1:19-20)

Hannah had prayed a sincere prayer from her heart, then gone home trusting God.  God answered her prayer and a few months later she had a son she called Samuel, or “heard of God” because God heard her prayer.  As James 5:16 declares, “…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

“And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.  But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever. 

And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the LORD establish his word.” (I Samuel 1:21-23a) 

The next year, when Elkanah went to the Tabernacle to sacrifice, Samuel was only a couple of months old, and Hannah elected not to go until Samuel was old enough feed himself because she had promised to give him to God.  As soon as he was able she would place him at the temple to serve God forever.  Elkanah loved both Hannah and the Lord and agreed to her promise, only reminding her that she must not go back on her commitment.

“So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.  And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh: and the child was young.  And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.” (I Samuel 1:23b-25) 

When Samuel was about two Hannah brought him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh along with three young bulls and a meat offering of flour and wine.  The typical Nazarite vow required three lambs for a sin offering, a burnt offering, and a peace offering as well as a meat offering of bread and wine.  Hannah went far beyond that, offering three bulls  and a large quantity of flour instead of just enough for one or two loaves.

“And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD.  For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. 

And he worshipped the LORD there.” (I Samuel 1:26-27)

Hannah reminded Eli of his rebuking her for drinking, explaining that Samuel was what she had prayed for, and that she was lending him to the Lord for life in thanks giving.  After years of judging Israel and watching a steady turning away, it was a blessing to him to see someone who really trusted and believed in God.  Her attitude cause Eli to worship God also.  Galatians 6:6 commands “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.”  It is not a surprise many pastors become discouraged when they only hear about people’s problems and failures.  People get depressed listening to the news because it is nearly always bad.  Preachers are no different.  They need to hear about the blessings as well.

“And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” (I Samuel 2:1-2) 

Hannah then prayed a prayer of praise, thanking God for what he had done.  Peninah, Elkanah’s other wife had constantly used Hannah’s childlessness to put her down implying she was some how less than normal.  By giving Samuel, God had destroyed that claim.  He had done it simply because she believed him, and him alone.

“Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.  The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.  They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. 

The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.  The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.  He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. 

He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.  The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (I Samuel 2:3-10)

She then prayed about the arrogance of people who do not consider God relevant.  It is God who enables them to succeed or who causes them to fail.  He has the power to stop the greatest person and to make the weakest succeed.  He will not always ignore those who rise against him, nor will he always allow those who serve him to be abused.  She is expressing the hope and expectation of every believer in God.

“And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest.” (I Samuel 2:11)

When Hannah and Elkanah returned home, they left Samuel with Eli to help in serving the Lord, although he was extremely young.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Praying From The Heart

I Samuel 1:1-18

“Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite: And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.  And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. 

And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions: But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.  And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.  And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.” (I Samuel 1:1-7)

Elkanah was a devout Jew, going every year to the temple to offer his sacrifices as God commanded.  When he went, he provided each of his wives and his children with bountiful sacrifices, giving Hannah more because she was his favored wife.  Peninah was jealous, making fun of her inability to bear children, and driving Hannah to tears.

In I Corinthians 7:28, Paul warns that there is always going to be conflict in a marriage, even when there is no sin involved.  “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.”  One marriage counselor says a statement that “I never hear any complaints” indicates the one making it is so self involved they are oblivious to the other’s feelings.  There are always minor annoyances between people.   Unfortunately the more people involved, the greater the potential annoyances grows exponentially, and the likelihood of resolving them decreases.  While polygamy was not forbidden in scripture, it is almost guaranteed to cause problems.

“Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?

So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.  And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore.  And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” (I Samuel 1:9-11) 

Men and women are different, contrary to what our society would like to believe.  Doing his best to comfort Hannah, Elkanah only emphasized his lack of understanding.  Realizing he didn’t, Hannah took her problem to the Lord, asking for a son, and promising to dedicate him to the Lord as a Nazarite.

“And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth.  Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. 

And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.” (I Samuel 1:12-14)

Hannah’s prayer was from her heart, and wasn’t for public consumption, so she prayed silently.  Many people today seem to think God is hard of hearing and speak loud and long to get his attention.  Apparently it was common in that day as well, so Eli thought she was just drunk when he saw her lips moving but couldn’t hear her prayer, and scolded her.

“And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.  Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto. 

Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. 

And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.“ (I Samuel 1:15-18)

When he understood, Eli assured her that God would hear her, and Hannah went back to her family greatly relieved.  She had shared her burden with the Lord, and trusted him to take her concerns seriously.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Blessing Received

Ruth 4:1-22

“Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down.” (Ruth 4:1) 

Unwilling to damage either his own or Ruth’s by allowing rumors, Boaz went to entrance to the city and waited for his kinsman to come into town.  If it was like most small towns, people fall into certain patterns of behavior, and it was easy to guess about what time he would come in for coffee or whatever they used back then.  Even the greeting, “Ho such an one” sounds like a typical small town “Hey stranger” to someone they had seen only day or two before.  4000 years later, not much has changed.

“And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down.  And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's: And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee.” (Ruth 4:2-4a)

Even today in communities where people know each other well, it is not uncommon to conduct business in public restaurant with whoever happens to be present as witnesses.  Boaz reviewed Naomi’s situation, to be sure everyone knew what was going on and asked his relative if he wished to redeem the land as the law provided.  If not, Boaz would willingly take the responsibility, but he needed to know how to proceed.

“And he said, I will redeem it. 

Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.

And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4b-6)

The relative first said he’d be glad to buy back the land, and increase his property holdings.  Boaz then reminded him that if he did he would also have to take Ruth as his wife and when the time came her first son would be considered Mahlon’s son rather than his own.  Fearing that would leave him no heir of his own, the relative refused to marry her, freeing Boaz to redeem the land because he would put his own inheritance in jeopardy by marrying Ruth.

“Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.  Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe.” (Ruth 4:7) 

Different cultures have use different things as a sign of good faith.  Today we sign a contract, but a few years ago, a handshake was considered as good as a contract.  By taking off his shoe, the relative signified that he was surrendering his rights to the property and Ruth, in essence signing a quitclaim deed.

“And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi. 

Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.” (Ruth 4:9-10)

Boaz then repeated exactly what had been agreed to all the people present, that he was authorized to buy Elimelech’s property from Naomi with no encumberances by the rest of the family.  In addition, declared his intention to make Ruth his wife, and raise a son to take her first husband’s name and inheritance.  They were recognized as witnesses of the transaction should there ever be a question.

“And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.” (Ruth 4:11-12)

The people agreed to serve as witnesses, congratulating him on the decision to marry Ruth and wishing him well, and that God would bless her like he had some of her predecessors.

“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. 

And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.  And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him.  And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. 

And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:13-17) 

With no further ado, Boaz claimed Ruth as his wife.  She conceived and presented him with a baby that they named Obed, who later became King David’s grandfather.  Naomi claimed the child as her grandson and served as his nanny.  The women reminded her how much she had been blessed, in that her daughter in law was better to her than her sons would have been, and that she had had a relative like Boaz who was willing to step up, going beyond just what the law required, giving her a family she otherwise would not have had.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, Ru 4:20 And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” (Ruth 4:18-22)

Pharez was Judah’s son, born before Israel went into Egypt.  About five hundred years later, when Joshua invaded Canaan, Rahab delivered the spies at Jericho, and was spared.  She married Pharez’s great great great grandson, Salmon, and had a son named Boaz.  It is this Boaz who married Ruth and became David’s grandfather.  David was born between five and six hundred years after the victory at Jericho.

It sure makes you think about modern medicine’s claims to have extended our lifespan when we look at the length of time these men lived, doesn’t it?  Remember that God had promised that if they would obey his law they would not be subject to the diseases others were.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Putting Her Reputation On The Line

Ruth 3:1-18

“Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor. 

Wash thy self therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.  And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.” (Ruth 3:1-4)

Naomi had been concerned that Ruth was sacrificing her future by staying with her.  After seeing how hard Ruth had worked for almost three months, she was even more concerned.  During that time Boaz had gone to considerable expense to see that Naomi and Ruth were provided for, and as a relative, he had a moral obligation to them.  Deuteronomy 25:5 commands, “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.” 

That same obligation to care for the family in the New Testament.  I Timothy 5:4 commands, “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.”  Failure to take the responsibility effectively states that we don’t trust God to provide and don’t believe he has the authority to tell us what to do.  I Timothy 5: 8 warns, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”  Jesus warned, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven,” in Matthew 10:33.  It is a measure of ones commitment and faith.

Rather than returning to the city at night, Boaz was camping with his workers at the threshing floor, obviously enjoying their camaraderie.  Naomi instructed Ruth to put him in  somewhat compromising position, slipping into camp after they had gone to bed and crawling into Boaz’ blankets with him.  He would be forced to take some kind of action to preserve his reputation.

“And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.  And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her. 

And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. 

And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.  And he said, Who art thou? 

And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” (Ruth 3:5-9)

Waking in the middle of the night to find himself in bed with a woman scared Boaz.  It would be very hard to explain an if accusations were made of adultery, he would face the death penalty.  He asked who it was immediately.  Ruth then told him who she was and asked him to take the responsibility of a man to his relatives.

“And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.  And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.  And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.

Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.” (Ruth 3:10-13)

For almost three months, Boaz had observed how Ruth worked and how circumspectly she behaved around men much closer to her own age, both rich and poor.  It was obvious she was not just looking for a man.  That she had chosen to make herself available to him if he chose touched him.  Unfortunately, he was not the closest relative, and the other would have the final say as to how this would be settled.  Boaz was not free to act without his approval.

Boaz did not send her home in the middle of the night, but allowed her to stay, promising that he would confront the other relative in the morning.  If the other man wanted to take the responsibility, Boaz would walk away with a clear conscience, but if not, Boaz would make her his wife and fulfill the responsibility.

“And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. 

And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.  Also he said, Bring the veil that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.” (Ruth 3:14-15)

To prevent any damage to her reputation, Boaz asked his men not to mention that a woman had come to the camp, and gave her six measures of Barley, about what she would get from a day’s gleaning to allay any questions from Naomi.  Though nothing had happened, people would talk if they suspected anything, and denials would only fuel rumors.

 “And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? 

And she told her all that the man had done to her.  And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law. 

Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.” (Ruth 3:16-18)

It had been Naomi’s idea for Ruth to get into bed with Boaz.  He could have just ordered her to leave to protect his reputation, and cut off any further help.  He also could have treated her as a prostitute and made her an outcast, or he could choose to make her his wife.  Since he hadn’t just sent her home she had to be either an outcast or his wife.

After Ruth explained what had happened,  Naomi knew Boaz would not waste any time settling things.  He had cared too much to make her leave in the middle of the night and had taken precautions to protect both his own and her reputations.  Delay would increase the likelihood of somebody talking.  The faster it was settled the better for everyone.  They could just wait and see what happened.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seeing God Provide

Ruth 1:22-2:23

“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22)

Barley is one of the first crops to ripen so Naomi and Ruth probably returned in early to mid summer.    Under the Jewish system, farmers were not to pick up anything that was dropped or missed and they were not to take the time to completely reap the corners of the fields.  Leviticus 23:22 commands, “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.”  It was the ideal time to return, providing the opportunity to gather adequate food for the following winter.

“And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. 

And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter.  And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.” (Ruth 2:1-3) 

Although Naomi still owned the land and house that Elimelech had inherited, no one was farming it so it would not produce a crop.  The only food they would have was what they could get by gleaning the fields, picking up what the harvesters left behind.  Being young and strong, Ruth offered to go out and glean wherever she could.  As it happened she went into a field belonging to a relative of Elimelech’s, and began to glean in the part of the field where they had finished.

“And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.  Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? 

And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab: And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.” (Ruth 2:4-7)

In most small communities everyone knows everyone for miles around.  When Boaz came out to check on his workers and help a little, he didn’t recognize Ruth and questioned who she was.  Explaining that she was Naomi’s Moabite daughter in law, the foreman told how polite she’d been and how hard and long she’d been working, spending little time at her house.

“Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.” (Ruth 2:8-9) 

Approaching Ruth, Boaz informed her that he had given orders she was not to be bothered by the guys and that she was welcome to drink from the water he provided for them.  He also told her he would rather she moved from field to field with his crew so there wouldn’t be any problems getting permission to glean or of the guys trying to take advantage of her.  Boaz seems to have been quite a bit older, referring to her as daughter.

“Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? 

And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been showed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.  The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” (Ruth 2:10-12) 

Surprised that he would welcome a foreigner in such a manner, Ruth asked why he was doing that.  Boaz explained that he appreciated what she was doing for Naomi, in leaving her home to accompany her.   He was just providing a little token of the blessing that she was earning from God.

“Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens. 

And Boaz said unto her, At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left.  And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not: And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.” (Ruth 2:13-16)

In farm country it is still common for the farmer to provide lunch for his workers.  Seeing her appreciation for his help, Boaz invited Ruth to share in their meal, going out of his way to be sure she got enough.  He also instructed his employees to deliberately drop some extra grain occasionally to be sure Ruth would get enough without making it apparent he was trying to help her.

“So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.  And she took it up, and went into the city: and her mother in law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved after she was sufficed.” (Ruth 2:17-18)

Ruth worked just as long as the men in the field, collecting and threshing out a little less than a bushel of grain.  It was far more than would normally be expected thanks to Boaz’ instructions and generosity.

“And her mother in law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned to day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. 

And she showed her mother in law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man's name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz. 

And Naomi said unto her daughter in law, Blessed be he of the LORD, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen.” (Ruth 2:19-20)

Naomi was surprised that Ruth had been able to gather so much and that she hadn’t been run out of the fields, and wanted to know who had been so kind.  Learning that it was Boaz who had been so helpful, Naomi was especially thankful that God didn’t forget his people.  It was quite a change from her attitude in Ruth 1:13, “…for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.” 

“And Ruth the Moabitess said, He said unto me also, Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest. 

And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughter in law, It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field. 

So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in law.” (Ruth 2:21-23)

Naomi acknowledged that it would avoid problems if Ruth worked only in Boaz’ fields, so Ruth worked in his fields throughout both the barley and wheat harvests,  living with Naomi.  They would have enough grain to last the entire year.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

No Longer Sweet

Ruth 1:14- 21

“And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.” (Ruth 1:14)

Knowing the culture shock and loneliness of moving to another area, ant that there was no probability that they would ever be able to have a life of their own if they accompanied her to Bethlehem, Naomi advised Orpah and Ruth to stay in Moab and build a life. Orpah, decided she was right and returned to her family, but Ruth stayed with her.

“And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. 

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 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 1:15-17)

When Naomi again encouraged her to go back, Ruth made a powerful statement of commitment to stay with Naomi regardless what happened, and calling for God’s judgment if she failed to fulfill.  It is very much like the commitment expressed in the traditional wedding vows, although I have only heard it quoted once.  As so often happens, the woman who quoted it was caught up in the beauty of the words and had no understanding of the commitment she was professing, or of the judgment she was calling on herself.

Ruth was not concerned with the flowery speech, but was stating her commitment to stay with her Mother in law, whatever the cost.  Wherever Naomi went, Ruth would accompany her, staying in whatever home Naomi lived in, whether mansion or shack, in whatever country.  She would accept Naomi’s family as her family,  and Naomi’s god as God, rather than going back to her traditional religion.  She would stay with Naomi until her death, then stay in the same area until she herself died.

This is exactly the level of commitment that Jesus was describing in Luke 14:26.  “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?  Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 

Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.  So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

Literally, Jesus said that without such a commitment, a person could not be saved.  In the parable of the sower and the seed, in Matthew 13, the seed on the rock failed to develop because according to Matthew 13:20-21, “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”  That lack of sincere commitment causes him to fall away when problems come.  It is why the scripture puts so much emphasis on enduring to the end.

Many quote Romans 10:9-10 without realizing the level of faith that is implied in believing that Jesus has been raised from the dead as payment for their sins.  The great passage on faith in Hebrews 11 demonstrates the commitment required if one is to receive Gods salvation.  Those who view praying the sinner’s prayer or being baptized as a sort of magic spell which produces salvation have trouble understanding the book of Hebrews.  This is not to contradict the statement in Romans 10:9-10, but rather to demonstrate the kind of faith involved.  Sometimes the seed on the rock can be kept alive long enough to put out a root.

“When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.  So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 

And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.  I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:18-21)

Convinced that Ruth would not be dissuaded, Naomi stopped trying and they went to Bethlehem.  After ten years away, people could hardly believe it was really Naomi come home.  Naomi told them her name, Naomi, (pleasant or sweet) no longer fit because she was so unhappy over the loss of her family.  Instead they should call her Marah, or “bitter” because she felt that God was against her, and that there was no hope.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cursed But Believing He’s Blessed

Judges 17:1-13

“And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah.  And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, and spakest of also in mine ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.

 And his mother said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my son. 

And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee.” (Judges 17:1-3)

The supreme court is charged wit seeing that the Constitution is followed.  Unfortunately, in recent years the Supreme Court has become more focused on satisfying the wishes of the government than with enforcing the Constitution, resulting in steady erosion of the protections guaranteed by the Constitution.  For example the first amendment specifically states, “Congress shall make no law respecting and institution of religion,” yet the Internal Revenue Service is allowed to decide what constitutes a church and what they are allowed to do.  The sixth amendment guarantees the right of an accused person to a public and speedy trial by and impartial jury of his peers,  yet the Internal revenue Service routinely tries citizens in IRS courts rather than regular courts.  The recent ruling that a person can be arrested and held indefinitely without public trial essentially sets aside the entire sixth amendment.

For  twenty years Samson had been charged with seeing that the Law was followed, much like the Supreme Court is responsible for seeing that the Constitution is followed.  For twenty years he simply ignored any of Gods law that forbid something he wanted to do, implying that the Law was not really important. It should not be surprising that the people have little regard for the law when those who are responsible for enforcing it do not take it seriously, and Micah‘s mother’s plans illustrate the effect of Samson‘s Judging Israel..

Micah had taken his mother’s money for some reason and had not told her, and she thought it had been stolen.  When he confessed to taking it, “His mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image.”  This is in direct contradiction to God’s command in Exodus 20:4-5.  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”

“Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah.   And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.” (Judges 17:4-5)

Micah had a house devoted to various gods.  He made an ephod copied after the one the High Priest wore, and appointed one of his sons to be a priest.  In addition he had set up a seraphim or family idol.  About a hundred seventy five years before, Judges 8:27 tells us, “And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.”  The very symbol of the priest’s authority became a distraction turning people away from God when used out of context.

He also violated God’s law in making one of his sons a priest.  Numbers 3:10 commands, “And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.”

“In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6)

God’s plan was that each person be individually responsible to God for their own actions.  This is not a condemnation, but a simple statement of fact.  Thanks to Samson’s own disdain for what God had said, the people didn’t consider it very important.  They didn’t bother to go to Shechem to read the law from the monument there, or consult with the local priests, just depending on the judge to tell them what was right.  

“And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there.  And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehemjudah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. 

And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? 

And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. 

And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. 

 So the Levite went in.  And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons.  And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.  

Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.” (Judges 17:7-13)

A very religious man, Micah was convinced that having a priest from the tribe God had chosen would result in God’s blessings.  He was like many today that think being a member of a certain group or having a certain pastor or leader is what matters.  It never occurs to them that their personal attitudes and resultant actions are what matters.

Micah completely ignored the fact that Deuteronomy 27:15 declared, “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place…”  In the same way, people today ignore verses like Galatians 1:8-9, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”  

In I Corinthians 15:1-4 defines what the Gospel is.  “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

Any group or individual which preaches another gospel is cursed by God, whether it be that salvation is the result of social or political action, church membership, adherence to a set of guidelines, an emotional experience or anything other than faith in Christ.  As Matthew 7:21-23 states, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Defeated By Adversity

Ruth 1:1-13

“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.  And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.” (Ruth 1:1-3) 

While we are never told exactly when the story of Ruth occurred, Matthew 1:5-6 places her about half way between Joshua’s time and David’s, meaning she was probably a contemporary of Gideon.  We also know that the Mindianite invasion of Israel had resulted extreme seven year famine, further supporting this as the proper time frame.  Judges 6:2-5 describes the situation.

“And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.  For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. Jud 6:6 And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.”

In an effort to avoid starvation, Elimelech moved his family East across the Jordan and south to the land of Moab, hoping to escape the Middianites, leaving behind land that his family had held for over two hundred years.  Elimelech died shortly after they moved to Moab leaving Naomi and her two sons in Moab.

“And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.  And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband. 

Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread.  Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. ” (Ruth 1:4-7)

After a time, Elimelech’s sons married Moabite wives, and established a life there.  After about ten years, both of the boys died with no children.  Learning that Israel was free from the Middianites and prospering under Gideon’s leadership. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem where she would have contact with relatives and friends.  In Moab, all she had was two daughters in law who needed to get on with their own lives.

“And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.  The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.

 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.  And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:8-13)

When Naomi broached the subject of returning to Bethlehem to her Daughters in law, and suggested they return to their homes and get on with their lives both were upset that she would be left alone and offered to go with her.  Knowing how hard it was to give up family ties and establish new relationships in another country, Naomi insisted they should stay in their own land.  Since they were both young, they would not be strongly drawn to her friends, and they had the opportunity to remarry and have families of the own in Moab.  At her age, there was no possibility that she would have other sons for them to marry, so they had no obligation to stay with her, and even if she could, it would be too long in the future to expect them to wait.  She was just sorry they had to suffer because God was mad at her.

Many times people, even sincere Christians, have that same attitude that God doesn’t like them and is being mean when things go wrong.   Sometimes they are like the teenager who is angry that his parents will not overlook his disobedience.  Hebrews 12:6-10 advises, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”  Rather than being an indication that God doesn’t like them, the problems are a display of his love.

Other times the problems simply show that we are no different than other Christians.  John 16:33 warns, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In ii Timothy 3:12, Paul warned, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  

I Peter 4:12-16 instructs, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.  If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.  Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”  

We ought not resent the problems, instead rejoicing in them as a sign that we are experiencing a little of what Christ suffered, and that we will be rewarded accordingly.  Only if the problems are the result of sin on our part do we need to be concerned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It’s Not a Perfect Solution

Judges 21:15-25

“And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.” (Judges 21:15)

Israel had been outraged by what had happened in Gibeah, although they were not right with God themselves.  In their outrage they took an oath that anyone who didn’t go with them to destroy the Gibeonites would be killed, expanding that to include the entire tribe of Benjamin when they refused to help.  They also vowed that none of them would allow one of their daughters to marry a Benjamite because of what had happened.  While it was definitely God’s will that the guilty be destroyed, and that those who tried to prevent their punishment should taste the same fate, Israel had gone beyond that, killing even those Benjamites who didn’t aid the men of Gibeah.

“Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?  And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.  Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.” (Judges 21:16-18)

Realizing they had gone too far, and that they were obligated to keep the oath they had made, they had destroyed Jabesh-Gilead and taken all the young women who were virgins as wives for the surviving Benjamites, but it wasn’t enough.  How were they to meet the needs of the rest of the men so that the tribe would not be completely destroyed without bringing God’s curse on themselves for breaking their oath?

“Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah. 

Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.  And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.” (Judges 21:19-22)

Remembering that there was an annual celebration coming up at Shiloh.  Part of the celebration was a dance by the unmarried women.  They advised the rest of the Benjamites to go to the celebration and hide in the vineyards around where the dance was held waiting for the girls to start dancing.   They were then to grab which ever girl they liked to be their wife.  If the girls parents complained, which they undoubtedly would, the leaders would dissuade them from further action, convincing them that the parents would not accountable for breaking the oath because it was done without their permission, and that they should allow it.  Notice the extremes their rage and unspiritual commitments had forced them to go to?  Sometimes we cannot simply walk away from bad decisions.  We may have to settle for something less than perfection as a result of sin.

“And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them.

And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.” (Judges 21:23-24)

The Benjamites married the girls they captured and returned to their land, rebuilding the cities and starting over.  They were now much the smallest of the tribes of Israel.  Only when everything had been straightened out as far as they could were the rest of Israel free to go home and forget about it.

“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Joshua 21:25)

Once again we are reminded that at that time every person took responsibility for himself before God.