the Lord

It's All a Matter of Perspective

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They happened to enter Bethlehem just when the barley harvest began. Ruth 1:22 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Basically, there are three ways to see things in life—our own outlook, the viewpoint of others, and the way things are in an objective sense. Only one person sees all three perspectives—the Lord.

When we or others view people, life events, or whatever else, we see things subjectively. Each of us have our own biases. How we see the world and all that’s in it—including ourselves and others—is viewed through our beliefs, emotions, experiences, and values.

We can claim a sense of objectivity but that’s all it is—a sense. Only the Lord sees things in the truest objective way because He is eternal. When God reveals His perspective, as in the Scriptures, we still tend to see it through our own biased lens.

3 Perspectives

This final vignette of this first chapter of Ruth gives us a glimpse of all three perspectives—Naomi’s, the viewpoint of other people, and the actual situation.

The arrival

After Ruth’s declaration of commitment to stay with Naomi, they traveled from Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—a journey of at least 2-3 days by foot.

As they enter Naomi’s hometown, everyone is excited to see her and the women wonder at Naomi’s presence with a young Moabite widow and no husband—Can this be Naomi?

Naomi’s response is telling. It reveals how she sees her situation and why it happened. Not only is it subjective, it’s somewhat typical for most of us.

Naomi’s outlook

Let’s consider each of Naomi’s three statements.

  1. Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.— Naomi’s name can mean both pleasant or sweet and Mara means bitter. It’s a play on words to describe both her inner state and her outlook on life. And she holds the God responsible for her situation.

  2. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.— Do you see how she puts the blame for her situation on the Lord? Naomi sees her life’s misfortunes as God’s hand against her and uses a play on words to make her point. Her statement about going out full but coming back empty is her view now but it will change by the end of the whole story of Ruth.

  3. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.— It’s pretty clear Naomi is playing on the sympathy of others as a victim of circumstances though it was her husband and her choice to leave Judah ten years before. She only returns because things have reversed—they left because of a famine and she returns because of God’s provision for Israel. Her answer may be posed as a question but it’s rhetorical—the answer is clear—the Lord is the cause of her problems.

When things go wrong, most if not all of us are quick to find some reason it happened and someone else to blame. Many people blame God for all the problems in the world. Somehow He’s responsible for everyone’s choices and all the bad and evil things that happen.

Here’s our conundrum—we want God to intervene when and where we think He should but don’t want Him to interfere with our own choices and pursuits. It’s as if we want to be in control of God. This is one of the many consequences of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

A full circle

Ancient writings followed the common literary structures of their time. Some of the literary devices are more obvious than others. The use of contrasting words and concepts is one of the most common.

Chapter one of Ruth begins with a famine but ends …as the barley harvest was beginning. The scope of the book starts out with a timeframe of ten years but telescopes down to one day and a pivotal meeting in the last chapter.

The heart of the story begins in the next chapter where Ruth becomes the main character in this story of redemption. Even this first chapter ends with a redemptive focus—going from famine to harvest and coming from a far country to home.

Naomi can’t see this for now but she will in the end.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reflection—

When things go wrong, we tend to blame something or someone else rather than ourselves. We’ll even blame God because of our own expectations in life. We don’t see things from a clear and objective perspective.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself shifting blame to someone other than yourself and not facing your own responsibilities, ask the Lord to show you His perspective of your situation. Ask Him to help you learn a better way to handle things.


devo Scripture Text

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:19-22 NIV)


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Wherever You Go, I Will Go

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Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Ruth 1:16 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

This is one of my favorite segments of the story of Ruth. It is a pivotal scene in the narrative. This dialog between Naomi and Ruth illustrates a few important and valuable themes in Ruth representative of the Bible’s larger narrative arc.

Four things in particular stand out to me—faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship.

Faith

Ruth demonstrates great faith with her insistence to go with Naomi to Judah. Unlike her sister Orpah, Ruth is not returning to her homeland, her people, or her gods. She trusts in the Living God of Israel—Naomi’s God. She trust Naomi’s confidence in God’s provision (Ruth 1:6) although she has not seen it.

Ruth is willing to commit herself to Naomi and follow her to a land she has not seen and a people who are not hers. Remember, she is a Moabite widow—a foreigner to Naomi’s people. And, Naomi is clear there are no guarantees (Ruth 1:11-13).

Faithfulness

Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi is expressed in an emotional and strong way in verses 16-17—

“Don’t force me to leave you. Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and I will be buried there with you. May the Lord strike me down if anything but death separates you and me!”

What a dramatic and heartfelt plea! Consider how personal it is. This isn’t about beliefs and theology, it’s based on Ruth’s relationship with Naomi and Naomi’s relationship with her God.

It’s also an astounding commitment of faith and faithfulness to Naomi, her people and customs, her land, and her God—the Living God of Israel.

Redemption

Redemption is seen in Ruth’s confession in two ways. She converts from the gods of her people—the Moabites—to trusting in the Living God of Israel. Ruth is also a prophetic indicator of things to come. She is a prophetic sign of the inclusion of Gentiles—non-Jewish people—in the redemption of all humanity by Jesus.

The Jewish people saw the Kingdom of God as exclusively for them. Unless Gentiles were converted to Judaism, they wouldn’t be included in God’s Kingdom. The early church thought this way as well, as seen by early Jewish church leaders protesting the apostle Peter’s involvement with the conversion of a Roman centurion (Acts 10:45-46; 11:18).

This prophetic sign is also seen in the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Typically, women would not be included in a Jewish genealogy but she is one of two Gentiles and five women listed (Matt 1:5).

Discipleship

Ruth’s declaration of faith and commitment to Naomi is a model of true discipleship. Not to another person but to the Lord. Consider Ruth’s statements as if addressed to Jesus. Jesus calls His followers—His disciples—to deny yourself, die to yourself (take up your cross), and follow Me (Matt 16:24.

Let’s look at them line by line—

  • Don’t make me turn back…— this models repentance, a turning away from our former life.

  • Where you go, I will go…stay…— this is a personal commitment to follow as Jesus calls believers to follow Him.

  • Your people…my people…Your God…my God.— this models a confession of commitment and identification with God’s people, the church community, and corporate worship.

  • Where you die I will die…— because Israel’s God is a living God, this expresses a hope in resurrection from the dead—the believer’s living hope (Job 19:25; Matt 22:31-32).

One last thought. Notice how Naomi responds to Ruth’s confession of commitment and faith. At first, Naomi doesn’t see the level of Ruth’s commitment. When she does, she accepts it and Ruth’s faith and allows Ruth to journey with her to Judah.

We need to be wary of limiting God’s power to draw people to Himself through us, even when we don’t see it right away. Don’t look past the people in your life. Engage with those you come in contact with on a daily basis. Listen to their life stories. Build relationships.

All people have value to God because His image is imbedded in each of us. Jesus is the focus of our faith (Heb 12:2) and all humanity is the focus of redemption (John 3:16).

Reflection—

Consider Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi as a declaration of faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship in the Lord. This is what God calls all of us to when we respond to His love and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Regardless of your present circumstances—whether favorable or not—allow Ruth’s confession and declaration to be a guide for your prayer and trust in the Lord.


devo Scripture Text

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:15-18 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

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 in NIV 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 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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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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