The Story of Ruth (Ruth 1-4)

Good morning. Please open your Bibles to Judges 21. Now, I know your bulletin says we are going to be in Ruth this morning, but we are going to start at the end of Judges, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

While you are turning there, I also want to recognize all the men and women from our church who have put in a lot of long days assisting with disaster relief after Tuesday’s tornado. This has been a unique situation this week, because we’ve got both the providers and the recipients of disaster relief here this morning. Some of you had storm damage. Others of you helped with storm damage. I had the privilege of going out on Wednesday and Thursday as a chaplain with Alabama disaster relief. Jeff Williams asked me at the end of Thursday if I could go out again on Friday, and I said, “not unless you’re ok with me just googling “Mother’s Day Sermon” and preaching something I find online. And Jeff said, “Well, ain’t that what you do every Sunday?”

So I say all that to say this morning may not be as prepared, may not be as polished, but for better or for worse, at least it’s all from me.

I actually started outlining this sermon in the shower on Thursday morning. I was thinking about how I would summarize the book of Ruth:

1.Ruth picks a spot to gather grain in someone’s field. It turns out to be Boaz’s field.

2.They get married.

3.They have a child.

4.And that child turns out to be the grandfather of King David, and eventually, Jesus is born from this family tree, and now we all have a chance at redemption through Jesus Christ.

So if you want to boil that down to a concise, easy-to-remember, preachery outline, here it is:

  1. Ruth picks a spot
  2. Ruth and Boaz tie the knot
  3. Together, they have a tot…
  4. …who is the ancestor of our only shot.

So really, that’s today’s sermon. And if you want to go ahead and be dismissed so you can get in front of the Mother’s Day lunch crowd at Olive Garden, I totally understand. But if you stick around, I want to show you one of the clearest Old Testament pictures of the gospel you’ll find.

Hopefully you’ve found Judges 21. And what I want to do is look at just the last two verses, and pretend like there is no break between the end of Judges and the beginning of Ruth. We are going to read it as if it was just the next paragraph in an ongoing story.

24 And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes..”
(Judges 21:24-25)

On the first day of our series on Judges, remember when I said that most Bible scholars believe the period of the Judges lasted between 350 and 400 years, but that there are a few who make a case for a period of around 150 years? I told you to come back on Mother’s Day to find out why. Today, you’re gonna find out why! So I am sure that that’s THE reason you showed up this morning!

I want to talk first about how Ruth is a bright spot in a dark time.  It’s a dark time for Israel in general. We’ve been talking about Judges for the past several weeks, and the last two verses of Judges really kind of sum up the entire book. Something awful happens in the last couple of chapters, and by the last two verses you see that Israelite society has pretty much fallen apart.  You can barely even call it a nation anymore. The people are divided, everyone is just worried about their own tribe and their own factions, and in verse 25, everyone is just doing what was right in their own eyes.

Whew. It’s a good thing we can’t relate to that today!

So it’s a dark time for Israel, but it’s a really dark time for Naomi as well. Let’s keep reading: 

1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth 1:1-5

After this, they get back to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters in law to go back to Moab, that even if she gave birth to sons that day, that she didn’t expect for Ruth and Orpah  to wait around for them. So Orpah turns back and goes home to Moab, but Ruth gives her famous response, which has probably shown up in more wedding ceremonies than it actually should–

16 But Ruth said, “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. 17 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.”

This is a beautiful statement of commitment, but before you put it on the cover of your wedding order of service, just realize that it was spoken by a widow to her mother-in-law. It’s not really a statement of commitment between a husband and wife. So if you do include it in your wedding, just make sure you feel really good about your mother in law!

So Ruth is a bright spot at a dark time, both for Israel in general, and for Naomi in particular. But Naomi is, still, understandably, in her feelings. She’s been a refugee from her home because of a famine, and she’s lost her husband, both her children, and one of her daughters in law. Now she is returning to her home town of Bethlehem because she believes she has a better chance of being provided for in Israel than in Moab. But you can’t really blame her for feeling like God has turned against her. Check out what Naomi-from-the-block says to all her high school friends when she gets back to Bethlehem.

The women come out and they’re like, “Hey, isn’t that Naomi?” And Naomi says to them…

20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Some of you get this, don’t you? Thursday, a bunch of us were at the home of a woman who had a ginormous tree come down in her yard. As a chaplain, it was my job to come to the door and just talk with her while the rest of the team started in with the chainsaws.  First thing she said to me was, “Well, I’ll be honest. If this year doesn’t get better in a hurry, I’m just going to ask Jesus to take me home. [Explain her situation]

Mara is a Hebrew word that means “Bitter.” This is actually a good time to talk about the significance of a lot of these names–

Mahlon and Chilion probably didn’t date much in high school. It’s a little like naming your sons Broke and Homeless. 

Summarize all of chapter 2, about how Ruth met Boaz. In chapter 2:1, Boaz is described as a “worthy man.” More on that in a minute. After finding out who she was, he made sure everyone knew she was under his protection (verse 9). Not only did he give her permission to take water breaks alongside the young men (also verse 9), but later in the chapter, he actually served her himself.

14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:14-15)

In verse 14, it says that she ate the roasted grain he served her from his own hand. He invited her to dip the bread into the wine with him. Then, as if that wasn’t blessing enough, he instructed his servants to pull out some of the sheaves from the bundles that had already been harvested and drop them for her to glean. He allowed her the dignity of work, but he also provided for her above and beyond. So he provided for her, protected her, served her, respected her, and blessed her above and beyond.

And this is when you begin to see why the book of Ruth made it into the Bible. If there’s one thing that you’ve learned over the past three years in Sunday School, it’s that every story in the Bible-–Old and New Testament– is designed to point to Jesus!

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in the English language, made the comparisons between Boaz in this chapter and Jesus. In his devotional book Morning and Evening, Spurgeon called Jesus “our glorious Boaz” wrote about this meal that Ruth had with Boaz and said,“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like

“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like Ruth, satisfied with the full and sweet repast. When Jesus is the host no guest goes empty from the table. Our head is satisfied with the precious truth which Christ reveals; our heart is content with Jesus, as the altogether lovely object of affection; our hope is satisfied, for whom have we in heaven but Jesus? and our desire is satiated, for what can we wish for more than “to know Christ and to be found in Him?

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening

And now, let’s talk about Ruth.

Ruth’s character– she is working hard. Scholars say that the amount she gleaned in one day was the typical yield for two weeks’ work. Even though she doesn’t know who Boaz is, Boaz knows who she is. He knows what she sacrificed for the sake of her mother in law, who don’t forget is his relative.

But Ruth doesn’t meet her sugar daddy and then forget about Naomi. She doesn’t decide that her ship has come in and start buying bridal magazines and practicing writing ”Mrs. Boaz” over and over. Look at Ruth 2:17:

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah[b] of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 

In Ruth 3:11, Boaz calls Ruth a “worthy woman,” or a woman of noble character. The only other woman in Scripture who gets that description is the ideal, hypothetical, theoretical, seemingly unattainable woman of Proverbs 31

We actually talk about her almost every Mother’s Day– the same way we talk about the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. If you come to church on Mother’s Day, there is like a 90% chance you are going to hear about the wife of noble character from Proverbs 31. But in Ruth, the theoretical description becomes flesh and bone. Ruth is proof it can be done!

But then there’s Boaz and his character. When Boaz is introduced in Ruth 2:1, he is introduced as a worthy man. Same word!

So when we get to chapter 3, both Ruth and Boaz have shown that they are people of noble character.

And its important to keep that in mind when we look at chapter 3, because there has been a lot of speculation and questions throughout history about exactly what happened at the threshing floor. Here’s what we know:

In verses 1-5 of chapter 3, Naomi realizes that Boaz is what is called a kinsman-redeemer. In Levitical law, if a woman’s husband died, his nearest relative was expected to marry the widow, assume the debts of the dead family member, and work his land.  That way, his property wouldn’t be passed to someone from another tribe. Also, any children they had together would be considered the sons of the dead man. So Naomi realizes that in God’s providence, Ruth “just so happened” to have been working in the field of one of her kinsman redeemers. So she gets Ruth ready for date night.

Ruth goes to the threshing floor, waits until Boaz has had plenty to eat and maybe a little too much to drink, then goes and lays down at his feet.

Now,  I don’t want you to read Ruth 3 and think that Ruth did something sketchy or inappropriate by coming to the threshing floor at night and uncovering Boaz’s feet. You will read in some commentaries that “uncovering thefeet” might have been polite language for something else. But realize that  before this encounter and after the encounter, she is described as a woman of noble character.

8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings[a] over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:8-9)

Ruth is asking Boaz to receive her and be her redeemer. She calls herself a servant. She submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. And she calls him “a redeemer.”

But notice this: Ruth doesn’t yet call Boaz “her redeemer.” Yes, she submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. But let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption.

Let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption. Ruth has made her request. She has acknowledged that Boaz is able to save her, but it’s Boaz that does the saving.

Remember, the whole point of the book of Ruth is to point us to Jesus. Jesus is our great and glorious Boaz. And this is a beautiful picture of what it means to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. We come to him as His servant. We ask Him to cover our sins, just like Ruth asked Boaz to spread his cloak over her.

We acknowledge that he is able to save, just as Ruth said, “You are a redeemer.”

And then, we ask him to save US.

Can we do something together? Can we agree that when we talk about someone getting saved, we don’t talk about them accepting Jesus? Salvation isn’t when we accept Jesus. It’s not like “The Voice,” where you hear Jesus sing, and you turn your chair around and hit the button and say, “Hey, Jesus. I want you on Team James.”

Salvation is when we ask Jesus to accept us. And the story of Ruth reminds us to get that right. But let’s also remember that Boaz just points to Jesus. He isn’t Jesus. Verse 12 points out that legally, there is a closer relative to Naomi that should get the first right of refusal.

So in chapters 3-4, Boaz tells Ruth to stay there until morning, and the next day Boaz meets the other relative to see if he wants to exercise his right of first refusal. And at first, he’s all ready to get Naomi’s land. But then Boaz says, in 4:5, ok, but just know that on the day you get the field, you also get Ruth, and any children you have together are considered to be part of Naomi’s family, not yours.  And so, In one of the greatest ironies of history, This nearer relative turns Ruth down, and look at why:

6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (Ruth 4:6)

This guy is worried about his inheritance, so he rejects Ruth. By the way, do you know what this guy’s name is?

Neither do I! Neither does anyone else, ever, in all history. We will always know the name of Boaz. But the guy who is worried about his inheritance and his legacy disappears from history!

Here is yet another foreshadowing of the gospel. Jesus said in Matthew 16, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it. When we reject Jesus’ offer of redemption, we gain the world, but lose our soul.

If you are following the outline, here’s what you’ve got so far:

1.Ruth is a bright spot.

2. Boaz ties the knot. And number three…Together, they have a tot.

So Ruth and Boaz get married, and they consummate the marriage, and a child is born to them. But when you look closely at chapter 4, you see something really interesting. Here you have two people of noble character. Their personalities have been defined by sacrificial serving. Ruth has sacrificially met Naomi’s needs. Boaz has sacrificially met Ruth’s needs. And that a son is born to them, look at verse 14 and following:

14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14-17)

With these verses, it starts to dawn on us that this isn’t really the story of Ruth’s redemption. It’s the story of Naomi’s redemption. Naomi went from “sweet and pleasant” to “bitter” and now she’s back to Naomi again. Ruth is the one who gives birth to a son.

But verse 17 says that the women of the neighborhood were the ones who named the baby. (Cody and Kendyl, is that how you named Eden? Did you get on the neighborhood facebook page and do a survey?

Obed is a Hebrew name that means “serving”


A willing servant (Mary), gives birth to a son, Jesus. But when the prophet Isaiah described this, he didn’t say, “For unto her a child is born.” He said, “Unto us a child is born!”

Mary didn’t name the child. His name was picked out by someone else.

And just as Obed’s name means “serve,” and he redeemed Naomi, God’s word says that Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Centuries after this, Matthew would begin his gospel account with this story. And this, by the way, is why some people argue for a shorter time period for the Judges. Remember that Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who sheltered the spies at the beginning of Joshua. So if Matthew didn’t skip any generations, then there were only four generations from the beginning of Joshua to the end of Judges, the beginning of Saul’s reign, and the birth of David.

But don’t you see that the story of redemption in Ruth is so much bigger than just the love story between Ruth and Boaz. It’s Naomi’s story of redemption. And through Jesus, it is our story as well. 


Day 096: Join or Die (Judges 19-21)

“The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.””
‭‭Judges‬ ‭20:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

An early Revolutionary War pamphlet featured a snake cut into eight pieces, each piece labeled with one of the colonies. The slogan “Join or Die” was a call to arms for the colonies to unite in their fight against the British. And at the beginning of Judges, that is the picture we have of Israel. They have settled into the land, and now they are uniting against a common enemy:

“After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.””
‭‭Judges‬ ‭1:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‭‭ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

In today’s reading, we see almost the exact same verse, but with a HUGE difference:

“The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up first.””

At the beginning of Judges, the people of Israel were united. The only question was who would lead the charge against their enemies.

At the end of Judges, the people are divided. The only question was who would lead the charge against the Benjamites— their own brothers.

There is another parallel. Compare the account of the second battle of Ai in Joshua 8:6-23 to the battle of Gibeah in Judges 20:29-43. The strategy, the outcome, and the language are nearly identical.

But again, the difference is that the tribes of Israel were united against an outside enemy in Joshua. In Judges they were united against one of their own tribes. Against themselves. I can’t not make parallels between the War of 1812, when the British burned the Capitol, and January 6, 2021, when one group of Americans breached the Capitol in opposition to another group of Americans.

Even within the Church, the divisions between Christian Americans run horribly deep. Have you ever said, “I just don’t see how anyone can claim to be a Christian and vote for [insert political candidate’s name here]. I know many churches that are more comfortable welcoming an unrepentant adulterer or a dishonest businessman into their fellowship than they would a member of the other political party.

This is what happens when a nation forgets the Lord. When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, sin spirals down, things fall apart, atrocity is piled upon atrocity, and we turn on each other.

Sin separates. Idolatry divides.

I wonder if this is the lesson we are supposed to get from the story of the woman whose body was cut into twelve pieces. The twelve tribes of Israel were supposed to be one body. One beautiful bride, beloved and chosen by God. But sin had ripped her apart.

The concubine was both a sacrifice and a symbol. Her broken body was intended to shock the people of Israel into action. The twelve disjointed pieces were to represent a nation torn apart. But because Israel had fallen so far, the result wasn’t repentance, sorrow over sin, and the unity that brings about. It was civil war.

The only thing that can unite us is repentance and sorrow over our sin. And that will only happen when we look to Jesus, whose body also was torn for the twelve tribes.

Day 095: Why Samson’s Hair is the Least Important Part of the Story (Judges 16-18)

“And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” Judges 15:20

“Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.” Judges 16:1 ESV

The longer you are in a certain job, the more confident you become in it. Rather than waking up in the morning and hoping you can please your boss and exceed expectations, you wake up saying, “I’ve got this.”

Public ministry is no exception. When you are fresh out of seminary, or when you are first called to a new church, you want to hit your marks. You pursue your calling with passion. You daily pray for God’s strength, and acknowledge that you can’t do it on your own. But over time, you get comfortable in ministry. The public persona of a pastor is of God’s representative on earth. So you start to believe your own press. You begin to think that you can get away with pretty much anything. And you become very, very good at maintaining appearances.

Samson judged Israel for twenty years. For the sake of the analogy, let’s call that public ministry. It seems to me that this statement at the end of chapter 15 may reflect a period of Samson settling into the role. There were some early fireworks like we read about yesterday, but things have been pretty stable for  a couple of decades. So maybe he’s complacent. Maybe he’s confident in his role as “God’s man” for Israel. Maybe for twenty years he’s been coasting on what he accomplished in the early days of ministry.

In the first verse of Judges 16, we see Samson on a road trip to Gaza—20 miles away,  in Philistine territory. Temptation comes in the form of a seductive prostitute, and Samson falls,  perhaps rationalizing that no one knows him there. In Gaza, he doesn’t have to act like Israel’s judge. He can—no pun intended—let his hair down.

The hair. The most visible aspect of the Nazirite vow. Samson could abandon every other term of the vow, and no one would know. And as long as Samson looked like a Nazirite on the outside, he believed it didn’t really matter what was happening on the inside. After Delilah succeeded in getting Samson to share his secret and cut his hair, Judges 16:20 says that he “didn’t realize the Lord had left him.” The bigger tragedy, I think, is that Samson never realized he had left the Lord.

According to Judges 16:20, Samson didn’t realize the Lord had left him. The bigger tragedy is that Samson never realized he had left the Lord.

Here’s the truth: we often are never aware of the decay on the inside of a person until there’s something observable on the outside. It’s only when the affair comes to light, or the police pull you over, or the accountants find the discrepancy in the books. That’s when the facade cracks.

Pastors and ministers, don’t get complacent. Don’t ever wake up in the morning believing you can do this job under your own strength. And when you are away from home, don’t fall for the lie that you are “off the clock,” and that what happens in Gaza will stay in Gaza.

It will cost you.

Day 092: Dance With the One That Brung Ya (Judges 8-9)

This graphic represents Gideon’s 300 men, and Midian’s 120,000 (Judges 8:10)
22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)

Put yourself in Gideon’s sandals. Your army of 300 men just beat the Midianite horde of 130,000. The angel of the Lord Himself referred to you as a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12). And then a grateful delegation asks you to be the beginning of the Gideonite dynasty. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “No more threshing wheat in a winepress for me! I’m movin’ on up!”

But Gideon remembered something vitally important: the victory over the Midianites didn’t come because of Gideon’s strength or cunning. It came because of God’s good pleasure. And for Israel to have continued success over her enemies, they would have to submit to the Lord’s leadership, not Gideon’s.

At first, Gideon seemed to understand the corrupting influence of power, so he declined the offer to become Israel’s king. Sadly, the temptation became too great, and he eventually started to act like a king anyway. He makes an ephod for himself— the holy breast piece that only the priest was supposed to wear, and names his son Abimelech, which is Hebrew for “My Father is King.” Real subtle, Gideon.

Gideon started well and ended poorly. His story is the story of the Israelites told in miniature. Almost as soon as they entered the Promised Land, they forgot the one that got them there.

We have a saying here in Alabama: “You dance with the one who brung ya.” Don’t get to the ball and then ditch your date. For me, It is so easy for me to forget that the battle and the victory belong to the Lord. Let’s give God credit for the victory, and give Him the rightful place of leadership in our lives. I need to keep dancing with the one that brung me. Otherwise, with apologies to Billy Idol, I’ll be dancing with myself.

Uh-oh, uh-oh.

Father, You have delivered me. Help me remember to let you lead me.

Day 091: “Go in the Strength You Have” (Judges 6-7)

Gideon Springs, Site of Gideon narrowing down his army. From our 2022 Israel Trip
14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:14-16)

I was recently asked to do a doctrinal review of children’s Bible study materials for a national organization. This involved going through the material page by page and making notes on a separate comments page about any doctrinal or theological issues that came up.

The Bible story for the entire month of study was the story of Gideon, and for the most part, the writer and developers of the material did a great job. However, the Bible translation they use translates Judges 6:14 to say,

The Lord turned to Gideon. He said to him, “You are strong. Go and save Israel from the power of Midian. I am sending you.”

Now, I get the need to simplify the language of the Bible to make it easier for children to understand. And I don’t want to throw an entire translation under the bus, which is why I’m not telling you which translation they use. But I think they got this particular verse dangerously wrong, because it changes the whole point of the story. No other English translation suggests that God chose Gideon because he was strong. All of them have some variation of “Go in the strength you have.”

Gideon wasn’t strong. When God first spoke to him he was threshing wheat in a hole in the ground for fear of being seen by a Midianite raiding party (normally you threshed wheat on a hilltop, where the wind could blow away the chaff).

God calls Gideon a mighty warrior (6:12) when he is anything but. In chapter 7, God had Gideon trim an army of 30,000 down to 300 so no one could claim Israel defeated Midian by their own strength (side note: resist the interpretation that “God only wanted the men who cupped their hands to their mouth so they could keep their heads up and ready for battle.” Again, not the point of the story).

Finally, when the time does come to fight, Gideon gives each of these 300 men a torch, a pot, and a trumpet. They have their hands full. I can imagine one of these, um, “warriors” saying, “Hey, if I’ve got a torch in one hand and a trumpet in the other, how am I supposed to carry my sword?”

And God says, “Exactly.”

There is a world of difference between God sending us into battle because we are strong and God sending us into battle with the strength we have. Any strength we have is the Lord’s strength. Any battle we win is the Lord’s victory.

And any translation that suggests otherwise needs to go back to the editing desk.

Day 089: Making Sense of the Cycles in Judges (Judges 1-2)

18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel… (Judges 2:18-20)

If you are new to the Bible, fasten your seat belts. The book of Judges is one of the most action packed and exciting books of the Bible. But it is also one of the most tragic and depressing, because it records the downward spiral of God’s people once they entered the Promised Land.

Judges is the perfect book for people who like to see patterns in history. It proves the cliché about what happens when you don’t learn from the past.

A helpful tool for understanding the repeated cycle of Judges is the acronym SWORD:

  • S tability
  • W ickedness
  • O ppression
  • R epentance
  • D eliverance

So there are six major SWORD’s in Judges, with some minor variations. Pay attention to the phrases “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” That will be your sign that a period of stability is ending, and a new cycle of Wickedness is beginning.

Here are some other patterns to take note of:

  • The periods of oppression trend longer as you go through the book: 8 years before the first judge, 40 before the last judge.
  • For the first five judges, the periods of stability last about 40 years each. Then they take a downward turn: The four judges after Gideon combine for 31 years of stability. The period of stability before Samson, the last judge, was only twenty years.
  • Over the period of the judges, the size of the army raised up against the enemy shrinks. Early in the book, Deborah and Barak have a normal-sized army. Later, Gideon is instructed by God to reduce his army to 300 men. And Samson is an army of one against the Philistines. Some commentators have seen in this a foreshadowing of the Messiah, who would redeem Israel not with a mighty army but with His own sacrificial death.
  • Significantly, there isn’t any repentance before Samson. In every other cycle, the people cry out, and God raises up a deliverer. So Samson is literally the judge nobody asks for. And he is the worst.

All of this leads up to God doing a new thing in the books of Samuel. The period of Judges is perhaps the darkest in Israel’s history. But it gives way to Israel’s Golden Age, the United Kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon. God allowed His people to hit rock bottom before He ushered in a new kingdom.

Which is another pattern to pay attention to as we journey through Scripture. Keep reading!

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