1 Samuel 1 has the story of Elkanah, a man with two wives. Peninnah had children, but Hannah was the wife he truly loved and she had no kids. It was a hostile situation as Peninnah continually poked at Hannah because of her inability to get pregnant. Don’t you love people? They are the same today as they were in biblical times. They went to the temple in Shiloh each year to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, and there was always the provoking between the two wives.
Elkanah gave each a portion to sacrifice, but he gave Hannah a double portion. She was the wife he loved more. But Hannah was very bothered by her inability to have a child, and would not eat and be extremely sad weeping continually while they were there. She was intense in her prayers to God to allow her to become a mom. “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow”. This particular year she was more overwhelmed than ever, and her heart was sad.
Eli sees here state and because she had been mouthing her prayer to God fervently, he thought she was a drunken woman. When he accuses her of such, Hannah assures him it is not wine, but “great anxiety and vexation”. Hannah was truly focused on God’s hand. Eli sends her away with God’s blessing, and that caused Hannah relief so she left and ate and got over her sadness. Scripture tells us that “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her”. Don’t you love it when a prayer gets answered? And it happens through God’s plan and His design.
But it didn’t happen immediately. They went home and did the necessary part to get pregnant, but the result wasn’t immediate. Check out what scripture says. “And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, I have asked for him from the Lord”. In due time…..not when Hannah wanted it, or not necessarily after they left the temple and went home and had intercourse. God delivered on His part in His time. We often think prayer should be like popping something in the microwave. We push a button and God delivers. That is not how God works. But He was faithful and Hannah had a son. And after he was weaned, she brought him to the temple as she had vowed. “Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord”. She prayed for years to have a child. And now, she is giving him to serve in the temple to maintain her end of the vow. We can learn much about the importance of covenants/vows and just how sacred they are to God!
Ruth 4 is a beautiful story of God’s hand at work. Boaz heads into town to make something happen in regards to Naomi and Ruth and their situation. As was the custom of the day, the next of kin had the responsibility if they accepted it, of taking on the wife of the deceased. Elimelech has died and now “the redeemer” – who is not named here – is in the spotlight. Boaz asks if he is going to step up and exercise his right/responsibility to take Naomi into his family.
Boaz asks ten elders to be present for the discussion – he wants witnesses to the decision that will be made. And he lays out the situation clearly for all: “Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you”. He says ‘it is your right to buy Naomi’s land and take her on as part of your family’. But wait, there’s a catch. Boaz goes on to explain the rest of the story. If you take on Naomi, you also have to take on Ruth. So it was a double commitment – the redeemer would have to support two women if he wants to exercise his right as next of kin.
The intial response was yes, but when the commitment was doubled it was too much. “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it”. The one who was first in line was not willing to put his current situation at risk and take on too much responsibility. So Boaz immediately steps up and takes on the responsibility. He agrees to care for the two women, and says “I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance”. He is going to become the father of Ruth’s child to keep the family name alive.
And what comes of this union? “Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife”. It changed Naomi’s world instantly as she went from a widow without any way to support herself to one cared for. Plus she now has a daughter-in-law who has a husband and can carry on the family name. Her friends said “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel”! Talk about a change of situation. But it gets better. Ruth gives birth and makes Naomi a grandma. “Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse”. She now is caring for a very special child. “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David”. Did you catch that? This union produced the grandfather of one of the greatest men in scripture – David. Out of what appeared to be a total disaster God raises up a man after his own heart. God is able, more than able, to do great and awesome things
Ruth 3 has Naomi asking Ruth to go to Boaz and push a bit on him about the future. Boaz has been harvesting – he was a successful farmer and business man. As was the requirement of that day – when a man died next of kin were required to take care of the widow. Naomi knows that Boaz is fairly close as a relative, but is not sure if he is really the guy she can ask to take care of her as next of kin.
So she sends Ruth to move this process along and secure their future. Her instruction is for Ruth to tidy up – after all Ruth has been out in the fields gleaning what grain she could and has been working hard. She doesn’t tell her to paint herself and try to get to him physically. The instruction was to go and lay at his feet. That was a sign of respect and basically a request for a decision. Ruth again shows her loyalty to Naomi and says “All that you say I will do”.
Boaz wakes up and finds Ruth at his feet. That was a bit of a shock. She says “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer”. The redeemer that Ruth refers to here is the man who is responsible to take care of Naomi and her as widows. She is asking if Boaz is that man. We find out that there is another ahead of Boaz in the chain of relatives – someone closer than he – so he can’t give an answer other than that he will find out the next day and get this resolved. He basically says a husband is on the way.
Boaz lets her sleep there and then sends her back to Naomi with food. “He measured out six measures of barley” and put it on her coat to carry back to her mother in law. Naomi is pleased and knows that they will have an answer soon. “For the man will not rest but will settle the matter today”. She knows there will now be a decision on her fate and future. This is a great picture of the redemption that God has planned for us. We can come to His feet and lay there knowing that our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will settle the matter today if we will only ask Him to come into our heart and set us free from sin. Have you been redeemed?
Ruth 2 has Naomi and Ruth back home. There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Boaz, who had fields that were in harvest. Ruth takes the initiative to try and become a bread winner and says “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor”. Remember she is a young woman in a foreign land not knowing a person other than her mother in law. She wants to take care of Naomi and find a way to eat – so she heads out to pick up the grain that has been left in the field.
She isn’t the only one doing that – Boaz has many slaves and workers that serve him. He notices Ruth out there working hard and asks about her of his servants. And he is impressed. In fact he says “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before”. Often we think no one notices what we are doing. I find that is seldom the case – someone is always watching and sees how we live and what we do. Life matters. How we live makes a difference. People are aware.
That was certainly the case with Boaz. He blesses her by allowing her to sit and eat with his servants. And then he instructs his people to make is easier for her to succeed. “Let her glean even among the sheaves….also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her”. Boaz tells his folks to allow her to pick up right in the area they are working – before anyone else would have a chance. And not only that, they are instructed to leave some of the grain intentionally for her to gather. He wants to make it easy for her to get enough. That is truly sharing graciously and generously on his part.
Ruth goes home that evening with a good day under her belt. She had a good harvest, and brought home a nice amount of grain. Naomi asked about the day and discovers the goodness of Boaz. She says “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead”. Boaz didn’t owe her any favors. But he gave freely to some people in need from his abundance. They had made a good choice to come back to Naomi’s homeland. They had people there who were willing to care for them in spite of their situation. God is good, all the time!
Ruth 1 has a beautiful story that is very bittersweet as well as a great lesson in loyalty. Emilelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion were living in a land that had a famine. They pick up and move to Moab where they could find some food. While there, the two boys took Moabite wives – Orpah and Ruth – and brought them into their family. Then the tragedy hit. They lived in Moab for 10 years and Elimelech first died, then both the boys died as well. So we have a picture of three widows living this this foreign land away from their people. Naomi was “left without her two sons and her husband”
Naomi decided it was time to return to the land of Judah. So she instructs the two daughter in laws to “go, return each of you to her mother’s house”. She couldn’t care for them any longer, and they have no relationship with her people back home since they became part of her family when they lived in their land. But the family had obviously bonded as “they lifted up their voices and wept”. Their response was strong and focused: “no, we will return with you to your people”. They have grown to love Naomi and want to stay with her.
But Naomi wants what is best for these two young women. She tells them to “go your way” and make a new life. Naomi feels responsible, and feels rather frustrated with her situation. “It is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me”. She has experienced a lot of loss and life has not gone her way. With this second request for the ladies to leave here, Orpah decides to do so, but “Ruth clung to her”. Then we hear some of the most powerful words in scripture about love and loyalty. Here is what Ruth had to say……
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you”. Here is a lesson in how we need to commit. Ruth has no real ties to Naomi outside her dead son. She is living in a situation with no bread winner in her own life, nor for Naomi either. If she goes with Naomi, she will be leaving the familiar and heading to a place she knows no one. It is a bad decision on the surface. But love overcomes all those surface reasons why it shouldn’t happen. Ruth has become part of the family and wants to spend her life with Naomi. It truly is until ‘death do us part’ in a real, yet sort of different way. We can learn much from her words here about how we need to totally dive in to relationships when marriage happens. Too often people don’t go all in, they give just enough to get by. Ruth was all in – for life!
Judges 21 wraps up this book in scripture. Remember that the people of Israel had just all but wiped out the tribe of Benjamin because they harbored some evil men in Gilbeah. They had sworn that “No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin”. They were obviously ticked off at them. But now they were having second thoughts. They began to question that and asked if “there should be one tribe lacking in Israel”. Were they really going to wipe this tribe out?
There was a problem though because “they had taken a great oath”. They couldn’t just ignore what they had agreed to earlier. “What shall we do for wives for those who are left, since we have sworn by the Lord that we will not give them any of our daughters for wives”? How would they enable the few men remaining to carry on their tribe? They put their heads together and discovered that “no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead” to the assembly and this was their loophole. They could go and take some women from them to become wives.
So they sent 12,000 of their bravest men and killed off the people and returned with 400 young virgins and then “sent word to the people of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon and proclaimed peace to them”. Seems like a little leadership during this time could have saved a whole lot of lives. People were out of control and just reacting to the situation with little creativity or discussion. Their motive was to be sure “that a tribe not be blotted out from Israel”. That would have been easier to guarantee before wiping out 25K plus men.
The few remaining of the tribe of Benjamin come back and are told “Go and lie in ambush in the vineyards and watch. If the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and snatch each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin”. These were the virgins that they had gone and brought back earlier. The message was to go kidnap your future wife. And they did and headed home. The rest of the people who had been gathered departed to their homes. “There was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. A formula for disaster. People struggle with strong leadership. Without it, chaos reigns!
Judges 20 continues the saga that the young Levite started when he cut up the body of his dead concubine and sent it to each of the tribes. He got their attention. ” Then all the people of Israel came out….400,000 men”. Not a bad response eh? Now that he has their attention, he recalls the story. “The leaders of Gibeah rose against me….they violated my concubine, and she is dead….they have committed abomination and outrage in Israel”. He asks for their “advice and counsel here”. And “all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man”. The battle lines are drawn.
So the people of Israel confront the tribe of Benjamin and ask them to turn over the knuckleheads from Gibeah that had killed the concubine. But they refuse. “The Benjaminites would not listen….the people of Benjamin came together….26,000 men who drew the sword”. So it is 400,000 vs 26,000. Seems like pretty overwhelming odds. But the whole army can’t go at once. So they seek God and “the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first”. They send their part of the 400K into battle and it didn’t go well, in fact there were “destroyed on that day 22,000 men of the Israelites”. That didn’t go well considering that God told them how to proceed. But they don’t give up, they go to the Lord again. “The people of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until the evening. And they inquired of the Lord” once again. He tells them to go again and this time the people of Benjamin “destroyed 18,000 men”. Wow – second major failure. Now 40K or 10% of the troops have died. It is not going well.
So they go before the Lord again. They have to be pretty confused by now. Twice He has told them what to do and both times it failed. But they seek him and are told “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand”. Ok, that sounds familiar doesn’t it? This time it goes differently. They use some strategy and the Benjaminites were “drawn away from the city”. God used their strategy this time and “the Lord defeated Benjamin”. They didn’t just win, they pretty much wiped them out as “the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day”. Remember that they had 26,000 men when this started.
A few hundred men escaped and ran away, but the army of Israel finished their job “and all the towns that they found they set on fire”. Remember how this all started. They were called to the carpet to turn over the evil amongst them. But rather than do that, they decided to fight. They killed 40K of the Israelite brethren, but almost all their fighting men were killed, and all their towns were burned. Protecting evil is always a bad idea. I am at a loss to explain why the Lord allowed the first two attempts to clean up the evil to fail, except to test their faithfulness to continue in obedience even in the face of disaster. They stood the test, and on the third try, they did the job and removed the evil.