Unfortunately, having a Bible is not the same as being hungry for what it says.
The sad truth is that many of us do not read any of the Bibles in our possession. We open them on occasion. We read along when someone else is reading publicly. We can even recall vague snatches of scriptures learned in childhood. But as for a consistent, disciplined, sequenced pattern of personal Bible reading or study... we do not feel the need to dine on God's word.
Unfortunately, having a Bible is not the same as being hungry for what it says. The sad truth is that many of us do not read any of the Bibles in our possession. We open them on occasion. We read along when someone else is reading publicly. We can even recall vague snatches of scriptures learned in childhood. But as for a consistent, disciplined, sequenced pattern of personal Bible reading or study... we do not feel the need to dine on God's word.
In 1961, J. B. Phillips wrote a small but excellent book entitled Your God Is Too Small. The idea behind this book is that we have many notions of God which are simply inadequate to describe our great Jehovah. Since our ideas about God are flawed, our behavior toward him is often equally flawed. If we see God as a benevolent grandfather, we tend to take his mercy for granted and overlook his judgment. If we think of God primarily as a stern and harsh disciplinarian, we are likely to emphasize his punishment and overlook his grace.
Perhaps the greatest problem Phillips addressed was man's tendency to make God into a bigger version of himself . . . we try to create God in our own image. We make him think like us and react like us and feel like us. Too often, we become the yardstick against which the character of God is measured. Our worship of this kind of "god" quickly degenerates into a worship of ourselves.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Mankind has not always had the luxury of making transitions thoughtfully. Sometimes we have been thrust rudely into the future with neither a "please" nor a "thank you." On occasion, however, we can see these transitions coming. We have had the opportunity to stand on the threshold of these transitions and think carefully about where we are going . . . and why . . . and what we hope to find when we get there.
Think of a young family man, a man with a pretty wife and beautiful children, a man with great promise and potential. He has a nagging pain in the back and, on going to the doctor, is informed that he has cancer. There are only weeks left of what should have been decades. Why do things like that happen?
Early in the second century, one of the most interesting heretics in all of church history came to prominence. While in Rome, Marcion preached the gospel as he thought it really happened. The Old Testament, in his view, was the product of a sick and evil mind. "Look at all the lying, pillage, and killing," he said. "Look at the favoritism: Yahweh selects a race of idolatrous schemers to be his chosen people, and calls an adulterous murdering brigand 'a man after my own heart.' No," concluded Marcion, "the one who made the world and inspired the Old Testament could not be good . . . The Old Testament god may be the powerful creator, but he is not the good heavenly father Jesus proclaimed."
Have you ever had Marcion's problem with the Old Testament?
The picture we get from the book of Judges is that Israel is in deep trouble. There is a general breakdown of moral standards and religious practice throughout the land. Most of the people had left Jehovah and were worshiping other gods instead. At least eight references are made to the Israelites forsaking God in favor of the local Canaanite gods. Even the Levites were engaging in a form of idolatry (see Jdg 17:5 ff). The Israelites were fighting among themselves over territory and booty and power. There are stories in Judges of deception and murder, rape and immorality, human sacrifice and human slaughter. The constant refrain running through Judges is, "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . ."
It is in this setting that the story of Ruth unfolds. "In the days when the judges ruled" (Ru 1:1), we find a family moving from Bethlehem to Moab in search of food. The story that follows offers a touching and heartening story of one woman's piety and personal integrity.
That woman is Ruth, a native of Moab and the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Ruth's devotion to Naomi and her sense of honor sets the book of Ruth apart from Judges - in the middle of a pig-sty of immorality we find a pearl of virtue and dignity. The fact that Ruth was a foreigner serves only to highlight a theme which will recur throughout the Bible - rightness before God is not determined by genealogy or nationality but by the quality of an individual's heart. Ruth has so pure a heart and shows herself to be of such integrity, God includes the story of this Moabitess in his Holy Scriptures and involves her in the family tree of both David and the Messiah to come.
The greatest and most bloody revolutions in history have been fought over issues of leadership. France threw off the yoke of her extravagant monarchy in the revolution of 1789. Thirteen years earlier, the Americans had fought for the right of self-governance. England, Germany and Russia?each in her turn?struggled to determine what form of government would be best. Princes, presidents, prime ministers, and priests have formed governments and attempted to lead nations. It appears that human beings are vitally interested in how they will be lead.
The Israelites struggled over this same issue as well. Many of the conflicts recorded in the Old Testament arise over the matter of government and how the people respond to their leaders. Judges, prophets, priests and kings try their hands at managing the Israelites. From the time of Moses, through the judges, until the anointing of Saul, the children of Israel argue over the best means of providing leaders for themselves.
You would think that, at least when it comes to those who claim to be God's people, we might listen more closely to Him who is our ultimate leader and King. God has always had a plan for providing his people with leadership, a means of transmitting his will and wisdom through agents he himself chooses. The book of 1 Samuel tells of that plan and of our failure to follow it through much of our history.