The Bible Study Handbook by Lindsay Olesberg: Introduction

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“There’s no trouble getting hold of a Bible. But once you have on in your hands . . . now what?” Have you ever wanted to get better at studying the Bible? Have you ever read something and had it go way over your head? Are you tired of limiting your understanding of Scripture to … Continue reading

Bible Study at Urbana 12

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So this is what I did this morning.  That’s about 500 people (in a room that seats 350) studying the Gospel of Luke together. And that tiny person in the front is me. We are at the Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the organization I work for, puts this conference … Continue reading

Ruth 3: A Scandalous Honor

“I want to accidentally stay all night/ I want to read the Bible/ and I want to make out . . .”

-Derek Webb. “I Want to Marry You All Over Again”

You know something is perfectly harmless but you would NEVER tell someone to do it. Got anything that fits in that category?

Like if you were mentoring a young Derek Webb and he told you about his relationship with a young Sandra McCracken and said, “I want to get to know her better. What do you think I should do?”

How many of you would suggest staying at her house all night, reading the Bible, and then making out?

But after they were married, and Derek told you the story of the night that happened, how many of you would laugh and say, “yeah, I got a few of those stories too.”

Disclaimer: If you are a student I work with, please disregard the previous paragraphs. Or at least talk to me about them before you do anything stupid and youthful. 🙂

Ruth and Boaz have a story like that.

The Plan

You have to hand it to Naomi. The woman is brilliant. She hatches a plan to hook Boaz and Ruth up so devious, sneaky, and risky that it had better work or Ruth is screwed.

Her plan involves the following four steps:

Step 1: Boaz will be on the threshing floor. Wait until he falls asleep there.

Step 2: Sneak up to him and “uncover his feet.” (I think this is the ancient hebrew equivalent of “take his pants off.”)

Step 3: Lie next to him.

Step 4: He’ll tell you what to do.

That should do the trick! And it totally does!

But what is even more surprising about the whole thing is what Boaz says to Ruth.

A Worthy Woman

That’s what my translation says about Ruth. Another says she is a “woman of honor.”

Why?

Well, because she has not gone after young men, provided for her mother-in-law, and apparently not done anything while Boaz’s “feet” were uncovered.

Ruth’s character goes a long way and has been noticed by the entire community. And because of it, Boaz will act as her next-of-kin, provided some other chump doesn’t want to. Ruth will have a husband and Naomi has a shot at having children of her own. This is going to be great!

But here is the funny part.

Ruth is an honorable woman. But Boaz totally spends the night with her. Then in the morning, he sneaks away before anyone is up and tells Ruth to disguise herself as she leaves the threshing room floor.

Why?

Because “it must not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”

Ruth and Boaz are totally honorable and upstanding people in the community, just not when they spend the night with each other. Things should be fine as long as nobody knows what happened.

I would never tell someone to do this. I would never recommend that one of my students do this in pursuit of a relationship. But years from now, looking back, we could all have a good laugh at it.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Ruth 2: The Law in Action

I often wondered, as I read through the Torah, what Israelite life would have looked like had they obeyed the Law God gave them.

Ruth 2 provides us with a small glimpse of what might have happened.

Poor, Alien Widows

No, that is not the title of a new sci-fi movie I am working on. It is the category of person that Ruth falls into.

Her husband is dead, she is a Moabite (a fact we learn many many times as we read the story), and she has no means of wealth generation. Such people have had a rough time throughout history.

But things are supposed to be different in Israel.

These people are to be cared for. You look after them. You don’t make laws that oppress them. You welcome them into your land because you were once an alien in a strange land.

Ruth is allowed to glean from the barley fields. That means people are taking God’s law seriously.

Ruth is welcomed to Boaz’s table. That means he is taking God’s law seriously.

Boaz instructs his young men and servants to leave her alone and let her collect her food. That means he is taking God’s law seriously.

The book of Ruth is like a bubble of goodness and sanity in the chaos of the Judges era.

Boaz: Ruth = Ruth: Naomi

In chapter 1, Ruth made a covenant with Naomi. She acted like God to her mother-in-law.

In chapter 2, though he doesn’t make a covenant (yet), Boaz acts like God to Ruth.

“May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have some for refuge!”

Boaz says this after allowing Ruth to glean from his fields. Shortly after saying it, he invites her to eat at his table until she is satisfied. Then he lets her glean from fields that haven’t even been harvested yet. That is going above the requirements of the law.

Boaz becomes the answer to his own blessing.

He wants God to bless Ruth, so he blesses her.

He even offers her refuge and protection by instructing the young men to not “bother” her. I guess young men have always liked to “bother” foreign women.

Might one of the lessons of Ruth be that God reveals himself through our personal interactions? If you want someone to know God’s love and blessing, love and bless them.

More Jesus Connections

I also said before that I don’t really like making super strong connections to Jesus just yet, but Ruth keeps surprising me.

Last chapter, Naomi was the prodigal son.

Today, Boaz is the “Prominent rich man” who returns from a journey to check on what his servants have been doing with his property. Just like the characters Jesus uses over and over again in his parables.

And finally, Boaz gives Ruth so much food that she is “satisfied and had some left over.” That is what Jesus did when he fed the 5,000.

Not sure what to make of these connections, but they are fun to discover!

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What is one way you want to love and bless someone today?

Ruth 1: The Prodigal Mother-In-Law

Our protagonist leaves their homeland.

Loses everything.

Begins to be in need.

Hears that back home, people have enough food to eat.

So they get up and head back, not quite sure what to expect when they get there.

If that was all you knew, you might think I was talking about the parable of the lost son from Luke 15. But this particular story is about Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem who lived in the time of the Judges. And instead of a rebellious son, she is a refugee, widow, single-mother, childless, stuck with a couple of foreign women, and starving. In that order.

If part of the reason Jesus told that story was to help us understand God’s grace for rebellious sons, how much more should we have compassion on those who find themselves in the same situation through no fault of their own?

The LORD Has Turned Against Me

Naomi lost her homeland, husband, and children.

I can’t even fathom what that was like.

Given all that had happened to her, can you blame her for believing that God had abandoned her? Or, to use her words: turned against, dealt bitterly, brought her back empty, dealt harshly, and brought calamity upon her?

How many of us would be quick to try and snap her out of it?

How many of us would push her to have hope? Push her to believe that God had a reason and a plan and that things were going to look up if she could only have faith?

That’s because we know the end of the story. We know about Boaz and the lineage to David and Jesus.

But in the moment, before any of that has happened, there is only grief and pain.

Ruth & Mount Sinai

Naomi hasn’t lost everything. She still has a couple of daughters-in-law. But they have a shaky relationship at best. There is nothing legally binding them to one another. Naomi cannot offer them anything that they might need. Staying with Naomi isn’t going to set them up for success.

Naomi is helpless. Her sons’ widows are also helpless. That is like adding zero to zero.

But for some reason, Ruth doesn’t care. Ruth wants to stick with Naomi. And not just any kind of sticking with, no! Listen to the words she uses:

Do not press me to leave you

Where you go, I will go

Where you stay, I will stay

your people shall be my people

Your God, my God.

I will never leave you. I will be with you when you go and when you stay. I will become one of your people and worship your God.

This is a covenant.  And it mirrors not just Israel’s side of the Sinai covenant, but God’s.

Naomi can offer Ruth nothing. But Ruth moves toward Naomi, just as God moved toward Israel. Ruth binds herself to Naomi, just as God bound himself to his people.

How ironic that in the midst of all of Naomi’s pain and grief at what God has done to her, she almost drove away the very person who was embodying his steadfast love to her.

Have you ever encountered someone embodying God’s love? What did it look like?

 

Some Final Thoughts on Judges

Things often start a lot better than they end. If there was ever a time when the promise of the future seemed brightest, when hope was the most alive, it would be the beginning of Judges.  When I started reading it, I was rooting for Israel. Come on people! You can do it! You have everything … Continue reading

Judges 21: This is How it Ends

I’m finished with Judges. And I feel like I need a shower. It’s gross, wrong, sickening, infuriating, confusing and a host of other things unpleasant. I guess the Bible isn’t really afraid of stuff like that. A quick recap for you: Men from the tribe of Benjamin gang-rape and kill the wife of a Levite. … Continue reading