A Flawed and Failed Attempt to Escape

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In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1 NIV [see full devo text below]


The people of Israel were ruled by judges—rescuers sent by God—for about 340 years. The nation was in a time of moral and spiritual darkness brought on by idolatry, oppression, and slavery.

God would send these judges—leaders who would deliver the people from their oppressors—to restore freedom and stability. But this freedom only lasted for a season. On and on this cycle of slavery and freedom continued for more than 300 years.

Typically, other nations or tribal groups would subdue the people of Israel into servitude to plunder their crops and livestock. This was one way God dealt with Israel’s rebellion towards Him since it created economic hardship and oppression.

When a severe famine came, one family chose to escape the hardship by moving to a neighboring country—Moab (now part of present-day Jordan).

The escape

A father and mother—Elimelek and Naomi—set out from the region of Judah with their two sons—Mahlon and Kilion—to establish a home in this foreign land.

But things did not go well for them in Moab. Naomi’s husband died leaving her widowed with two sons. The sons married Moabite women but they both died as well.

Now, Naomi was stuck in a foreign land as a widow saddled with responsibility for her son’s widows. In those days, women had little to no status or resources for support on their own—especially a widow with two dependent women in a country far from her homeland.

And then, things began to change for the better. After ten years away, Naomi heard of the Lord’s plentiful provision in her homeland of Judah and decided to return home with her two daughters-in-law.

A problem with trust

At the beginning of the story of the Book of Ruth, we can see their move to Moab as a flawed and failed attempt to escape God’s judgment on Israel.

Why would Elimelek leave his homeland during the famine? He feared what might happen to his family if they stayed—hunger and possible death from starvation or worse.

But Israel’s real problem was one of trust.

They chose not to trust the Lord who had made them to be a people different from other nations. A people who trusted in a living God (Deut 7:6) rather than many gods.

As a nation, Israel chose not to trust the Lord and the Covenant Law between He and them. Instead, they looked to other gods. Lesser gods formed into images they could see and touch. The gods of a foreign people who didn’t know or trust in the Lord—the Living God, Yahweh.

This is our problem too.

We all struggle to trust in God who is invisible and spirit (John 4:24), even though He made Himself known in human form through His Son, Jesus.

It’s easier to trust in what we can see, feel, and relate to as individual humans. Our gods or idols—though we don’t see them as such—are in the form of people, possessions, wealth, status, and whatever else we might put confidence in and value.

But our trust in such things or in our own efforts to please God are futile. It’s a misplaced trust. This simple illustration and life application can be drawn from this introduction to the Book of Ruth.

The family set out to Moab to escape the famine and its consequences but the man and his two sons died. Their escape was short lived. And this left the man’s widow and extended family in a worse situation than when they left their homeland.

A choice

Naomi’s options were to stay where she was with little to no hope for the future or return to her homeland, her people, and her God. The home she left ten years before was where the promised provision was now.

In a sense, she went back to square one as we say now but without the husband and sons she went out with. Even in this we can see God’s mercy.

She went out from her home and her people to seek better provision for a better life instead of trusting in God. Although she and her husband made their choice, God remembered her and had a much greater plan to unfold in her life.

There’s far more to this story in the Book of Ruth, as we shall see later. But for now, ask yourself—

Who or what do you trust in?

Reflection—

If whatever or whoever you put trust in aren’t as reliable and trustworthy as the One True and Living God—why would you place your trust in it or them? Faith in God requires trust—a personal and childlike trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself trusting in other things or someone else, including yourself, remember there is One who is ever-faithful and trustworthy. Even when you can’t see how it will help—seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom and trust in His grace—His goodness.


devo Scripture Text

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. (Ruth 1:1-6 NIV)

Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s

How to Find a Life Partner

Who can find a wife with a strong character? She is worth far more than jewels.

Her husband trusts her with ⌊all⌋ his heart, and he does not lack anything good.

She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 31:10-31 GW)


The search for a life partner is a universal and enduring one through the ages. It began, I suppose, when God saw Adam’s need for a companion who would complement and fit him for life—

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.” (2:18 GNTD)

Based on this verse you could say, it’s God’s plan and His will for everyone to have a marriage partner in life. You could say this and many people have but it’s not always the case.

Some people are better off or choose to be single—the Bible speaks to this also (1 Cor 7:8-38). You could also be a man looking for a wife in China where there’s about 33 million more men than women.

Not everyone is looking for a life partner, just someone to be with for a while. As they say, “there’s an app—or two or three—for that.” Several online resources exist solely for help to find a companion to share life with—whether for the first time or another hoped for go at it.

Arranged marriages are another option still in play for much of the world though not so much in America. Stories abound of arranged relationships and marriage—some good, some horrible, and some just ok.

What’s a person to do?

What’s the key to seeking the right or best soul mate or life partner for you? What criteria should you go by? Is it just a matter of chance, fate, kismet, or is it a matter of prayer and the right timing?

It’s no secret people choose partners for the wrong reasons or don’t know how to develop a healthy marriage once a choice is made. Too often, what attracts people at first later repels them.

So, what should you look for when seeking a life partner?

The answer isn’t a simple method or process or checklist, but the majority of this last chapter in Proverbs is intended to be a guide. Not just for a man to find a wife but also what a woman should desire and expect for a husband.

Some helpful things to note

Before diving into an answer for the previous question, here are some helpful things to know about Proverbs 31:10-31—

  • There are 22 verses written as an acrostic—each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Sort of an ABC’s for what to look for in a life partner.

  • This portion of text has many subtitles given to it—The Virtuous Wife, The Ideal Wife, The Woman Who Fears the Lord, The Wife of Noble Character, and so on.

  • This is not a checklist of expectations a man should look for or require of a woman as his wife—many a marriage has been rocked or ruined by seeing it as such.

  • This was advice given to a king (Lemuel) by his mother for this reason—

Charm is deceptive, and beauty evaporates, ⌊but⌋ a woman who has the fear of the Lord should be praised. (Prov 31:30 GW)

A simple key

A simple key to finding a marriage partner for life is to know a person’s character. Notice I didn’t make this a one-way focus. A person’s character is essential to consider for a man and a woman when seeking a life partner.

There’s bound to be difficulty and unmet expectations when anyone chooses a partner based on personality or appearance. In fact, idealistic expectations undermine any relationship but especially a lifetime commitment in marriage.

A word to women. If a man doesn’t respect and value you for who you are as a person—you should wait for a better man.

Who would qualify as a better man? A man with similar qualities of character as noted in these verses and a man who wants to be a partner in life with you for life.

God’s design for marriage was always intended to be a partnership. A mutual, beneficial, and fulfilling relationship where each person values the other as their equal, their partner in life.

When other things like appearance or personality—external qualities—become priority over character—a person’s internal nature—unmet expectations and unnecessary problems are bound to come.

An enduring and healthy marriage has its own difficulties because it’s a merger of two persons into one relationship—a unified identity as life partners (Gen 2:24). It requires valuing internal qualities in a person over externals.

Signs of a healthy partnership in marriage are—

Her husband trusts her with ⌊all⌋ his heart… She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life

If you’re seeking to find a life partner, be wise in doing so. These 22 verses can be a helpful guide but make sure it’s a guide for knowing a person’s character rather than a checklist of unrealistic expectations.

Reflection—

God designed marriage as a partnership—a mutual, beneficial, and fulfilling relationship where each person values the other as their equal—their partner in life.

Prayer Focus—

If you’re seeking to find a life partner, ask God for guidance, discernment, and wisdom in doing so. Ask the Lord’s help to guard your heart from making emotional and foolish commitments and for help to see and make a person’s internal qualities your priority.

©Word-Strong_2019

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Next week, I plan to start a new series of devotionals in the Book of Ruth.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

How Concerned Are You About Fairness and the Needy?

Speak out for the one who cannot speak,

for the rights of those who are doomed.

Speak out, judge fairly,

and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people.” (Proverbs 31:8-9 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 31:1-9 GW)


It’s easy to demand fairness and tolerance coming from an ideological stance, a personal view, or even a philosophic approach. But real life isn’t ideal. Ideology and philosophy don’t fit within the harsh lines of reality.

Reality and objective truth will never conform to anyone’s ideological, philosophical, or religious viewpoint. And yes, absolute and objective truth exists no matter how relativistic culture and morality become and the personal challenges of others to the truth.

Relativism meets reality

Personal opinions are just that—personal. They aren’t objective but subjective. They’re captive to emotions and the influence of others. And personal opinions are fickle.

Culture changes. It’s not objective nor absolute. A simple review of modern history reveals how culture doesn’t just waver—it swings from one extreme to another.

Personal opinions, politics, and philosophy—including ideologies and religious views—drive the currents of culture change. This should be self-evident but I realize our present culture is characterized and driven by relativism.

And it isn’t just moral relativism, it seems as if everything can be questioned as to its veracity—even physical and scientific realities. Just because you can think or imagine it doesn’t make it a reality.

Speaking out or speaking for?

As I read and think on what is expressed in these two verses in Proverbs 31 (above), I hear the polarized arguments and opinions of our present American culture in the background.

People are speaking out for those who seem to have no voice and appear defenseless. I’m thinking of those concerned with refugees and illegal immigrants. But is anyone really listening to them? Are these voices speaking on behalf of those they’re concerned about or for them?

There is a difference. We can speak for someone yet not express what they think and feel. I’ve seen this when one spouse answers a question for another in their presence. When we speak on behalf of another, we should speak what’s in their heart and mind not ours.

One segment of our population—worldwide—who are doomed and defenseless and have no voice of their own are pushed aside and ignored for the sake of another large segment of the population. I’m referring to the unborn whose life is cutoff before it begins outside the womb.

Life begins at conception. This is a biological reality. This may not be the existing interpretation of the law in the USA but it’s true.

America’s Declaration of Independence and the 14th Amendment to the constitution speak of equal rights. The 14th Amendment is the basis of civil rights for all humanity and recognized former slaves as humans with equal rights.

Before this, slaves—any gender or age—were considered chattel—they were mere possessions of their “masters.” The Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision (1973) did the opposite for the unborn and some states have already extended this beyond actual birth.

The rights of the unborn are denied by a legal interpretation based on opinion not scientific fact. This was and is a slippery slope as prophetically expressed in the book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race.

Concern or cause?

Causes, whether secular or religious, usually begin with a concern but at some point develop a life of their own. How does this happen? Emotions, opinions, and personal views take over.

My wife and I worked with abandoned and abused children and young women for many years. Prior to developing our ministry in the Philippines for the abandoned and abused, we were foster parents for several years in the US.

We have real-life, firsthand experience as advocates of those in dire need and who need protection and restoration. But we were never protesters. We still aren’t. We’re doers along with thousands of others engaged in similar work throughout the world.

We’ve heard and seen many people show concern, even speak out on behalf of those who are oppressed and at risk. But talk is cheap. Causes and opinions come and go. Real advocacy has no agenda but to do what is needed to help those in need.

If you have a genuine concern for the defenseless, needy, and oppressed, then consider these three specific admonitions—

Speak out, judge fairly, and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people.

Speak out It’s good to speak out for those who have no voice but be sure you do so for their benefit not just your view of them and their situation.

Judge fairly Be objective not subjective. Don’t be driven by emotions and opinions. Ask genuine questions and listen to those you want to defend. Put yourself in their place and see things from their point of view.

Defend the rights… Throughout history and in every nation, there are those who are guilty but get set free and those who are innocent yet are condemned. The Lord knows about this firsthand—He was betrayed and put to death as the only truly innocent Man (Matt 27:19-26).

Ultimately, we will all come before the only One who is able to judge justly—God. Here are some final thoughts from the Scriptures—

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalms 10:14 NIV)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalms 68:5 NIV)

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you—But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV)

Reflection—

If you have a genuine concern for the defenseless, needy, and oppressed, then consider these three specific admonitions—Speak out, judge fairly, and defend their rights as their advocates, not for your own cause.

Prayer Focus—

If any of what’s written above challenges your own convictions or points of view—be willing to set those aside. Ask the Lord to help you see them first from His point of view.

©Word-Strong_2019


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These 4 Things Are Inside-Out and Upside-Down

Three things cause the earth to tremble,

even four it cannot bear up under:

a slave when he becomes king,

a godless fool when he is filled with food,

a woman who is unloved when she gets married,

a maid when she replaces her mistress. (Proverbs 30:21-23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:20-33 GW)


Benjamin Franklin is credited for several proverbial sayings typifying early America. Many of his sayings ascribed a sense of order important for a new nation birthed through a revolution. Here’s one of them—

A place for everything, everything in its place.

This isn’t just an American sentiment. It’s universal. It’s innate in our humanness. We like and want order. Something inside us wants to bring the chaos or disorganization around us into some form of order.

Out of order

When things are out of order, it’s unsettling. When a different or new form or order comes, it’s more than unsettling. It’s as if things are turned inside-out and upside-down.

This happens in many ways in daily life and across generations and centuries. A basic knowledge of history makes this clear.

Revolutions and wars have a way of resetting the previous order of things—new governments and far-reaching societal upheavals. Modern examples are the American and French revolutions. But political and social change reaches around the globe and back through many centuries.

Most of us aren’t students of world history and sociology. We’re more concerned with disruptive changes impacting our lives in a personal way.

These three verses give us four life situations where things are not how we’d expect or want them to be. Each of them can be found throughout history and also in the Scriptures.

When a slave becomes king

In one of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, it speaks of a vile or contemptible person who would become a king but not recognized with royal honor. Later, he does terrible things to the people of God—slaughtering many.

He was an infamous king who desecrated the temple of God in Jerusalem when he sacrificed a pig on the altar (Dan 11:21, 29-36).

This illustrates what happens with a person who does not know or understand how to handle authority. They abuse their power at the expense of others and themselves.

The full fool

Here’s another story of a king from the book of Daniel. Daniel was known as trustworthy and faithful. He became a great statesman and advisor to the great emperor, Nebuchadnezzar—even in the emperor’s worst times (Dan 2:27-34).

Much later in Daniel’s life, when Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar reigned, Daniel was forgotten and Belshazzar was foolish and impudent. During a great feast, when he was full of food and wine and himself, he had the sacred articles of Jewish worship brought in to worship his gods (Dan 5:1-7).

His foolishness cost him the empire and his life. That same night after being warned by a miraculous sign of a finger writing on the wall, Darius the Mede invaded, conquered the empire, and put him to death.

When a fool is full, he becomes full of himself and a danger to himself and others.

An unloved woman

The story of the patriarch Jacob’s first wife, Leah, is an example of the impact of neglect, jealousy, and favoritism. Each of these has a harmful ripple effect for obvious reasons.

Sadly, the repercussions of Jacob and Leah’s troubled marriage and the children born by her and her handmaidens rippled on for generations. It didn’t just impact their family but the nation of Israel for generations (Gen 29:30-32).

One way we see God’s favor upon Leah, almost as compensation for being unloved by Jacob (Gen ), is how she was blessed to give birth to six sons—three times those of Rachel, the loved wife. Even when we disrupt God’s order, He moves to bring restoration.

The replaced mistress

Sometimes ideas and plans don’t bring their expected results. When it comes to our own efforts to circumvent God’s direction and provision for our lives, it never brings the results we expect.

God promised a son to Abraham but it took much longer than expected. In fact, he and his wife had grown old past the age of bearing children. Sarah, his wife decided to make God’s promise come to pass by having Abraham lay with her servant, Hagar (Gen 16:1-5).

After Hagar gets pregnant she despises her mistress, Sarah, thinking she was better and preferred over her. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Sarah and Abraham is caught in the middle. The story gets worse as it goes on except for one thing—God’s faithfulness.

So many lessons could be drawn from this saga but the connection to this proverb is simple. When we try to reorder things our way from what God intends, we turned things inside-out and upside-down and wonder why.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the exceptions don’t become the rule. When a person is not equipped or prepared for a certain role, they aren’t able to handle it well. When their expectations aren’t met or are unrealistic—there will be unintended consequences.

Reflection—

We always have the choice to trust God when faced with various life situations. Trusting Him means having the long view of things—willing to wait upon the Lord’s direction and provision. When we try to reorder things our way, we’re likely to turn things inside-out and upside-down.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself struggling to trust God in any life situation, reflect on these life lessons and others like them in the Bible. Consciously choose to trust the Lord rather than figure it out your own way. Express this choice to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for the wisdom and grace to leave it in His hands.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Things and People Who Are Never Satisfied

The bloodsucking leech has two daughters—“Give!” and “Give!”

Three things are never satisfied. Four never say, “Enough!”:

the grave, a barren womb,

a land that never gets enough water,

a fire that does not say, “Enough!” (Proverbs 30:15-16 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:1-16 GW)


Have you ever wanted something so much you’d do most anything to get it? And when you got whatever it was you wanted, you realized it wasn’t enough? It didn’t satisfy the want inside you.

This is the reality of greed and lust—not just sexual lust—but a deep longing that never seems to be satisfied. It’s the unrestrained self—like a bottomless pit of want.

This sense of dissatisfaction is not because of a lack of something but abundance. This abundance is the entrance to the bottomless pit of want. It sets a person up to want more but it never brings satisfaction.

As mentioned in a previous devotional, the use of numbers and lists in the book of Proverbs provides helpful ways to remember various truths. In these two verses, our list moves in a progression from two to four but with one theme—never satisfied.

2 daughters—Give and Give more

It begins with the descriptive picture of a bloodsucking leech. Those worm-like, slimy creatures whose flat undersides attach to a person’s skin with their other side rounded which grows more round as blood is sucked from their host victim.

Not a flattering description of someone who attaches themselves to another for provision and sustenance! But it makes the point in a graphic way.

Not everyone who begs is a leech. But some people only seem to know how to take and never give. The more given to them, the more they want and take. One Bible version says this—

A leech has twin daughters named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.” (Prov 30:15 MSG)

When a person develops a dependency on another or others, it becomes more and more difficult for them to let go of their dependency. It doesn’t matter what form the dependency takes—they will always want more. In some ways it’s like an addiction.

Isn’t it interesting how lottery winners are sought after by friends and family, and others who have all sorts of advice on how to handle the winnings. Some are more subtle than others but a lot of hands are extended in expectation of the lottery winner sharing their wealth.

Wealthy people always seem to have at least one if not a few family members who feel entitled to the family wealth. This is a universal reality down through the ages.

Government assistance is essential for many people to survive. No question. But it can be taken advantage of and milked in many ways. This type of dependency becomes a way of life and livelihood and the system often discourages efforts to be weaned from this dependency.

Never enough

It’s not all about leeches though. Four other examples are given of this unsatisfied state.

The grave

The grave is a reminder of the universal reality of death. As many have said before—no one gets out of this life alive. None of us escapes the grasp of death. Even cryogenics happens after death, well…unless someone volunteers to be frozen alive.

Although the grave—death—isn’t just for the old. I’ve presided over too many funerals and memorials of people who died too soon. But as we age, the finality and reality of death claiming life presses into our psyche more and more.

A barren womb

A woman who longs for a child of her own bears a heavy weight. There are no easy answers. Only well-meaning platitudes that fall flat and increase the harsh longing of a mother-to-be.

There are stories in the Bible that illustrate this, such as Sarah—Abraham’s wife who was to bear the son of a man called the father of many nations (Gen 17:1-8; 15-20). Hannah’s story, the mother of Samuel the prophet, illustrates the heaviness of a barren womb even more so (1 Sam 1:1-18).

Land and water

Farmers, gardeners, even firefighters know how thirsty the ground is for water. Water either soaks in too fast or not at all, or runs off before it can soak in and satisfy the needs of plant and tree growth.

Keep in mind this is a picture. It illustrates something of life from nature. Think of the different situations it might represent—flooding or drought, the cycle of seasons in relation to farming. Now, consider how this relates to your own life. Need a start? How about—you don’t miss the water till the well runs dry.

Fire

Fire brings us full circle. A close friend and firefighter told me this about fire years ago—as long as there is fuel and oxygen, the fire stays alive and consumes whatever is in its path. It’s never satisfied. It never says enough!

Anyone who has experienced a powerful fire firsthand—whether in a building or a forest—can attest to the fierce consuming power of fire. My wife and I have. It is hard to put the experience into words except to say—it’s fierce and powerful and indiscriminate in its destructive power.

The sense of not being satisfied only stops when we surrender it to God and ask for Him to rescue us. We may be able to dull it or try to avoid or ignore it but it doesn’t just go away because it’s embedded in us.

King Solomon understood this personally, as seen in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

This is why Jesus made so many personal invitations to come to Him. And He showed us the way of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42) so we could be set free of this unsatisfied sense and be fulfilled in Him.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38 NIV)

Reflection—

Whatever dissatisfaction we might have will only be quelled when we surrender it to God and ask Him to rescue us. For the Lord desires to rescue and free us, and to fill us with contentment and life.

Prayer Focus—

Are there ways you find yourself longing for something or someone that hasn’t been satisfied and leaves you wanting? Bring these desires, longings, and wants to the Lord and surrender them in prayer. Give them to Him in your heart and ask for His help.

©Word-Strong_2019


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