Ruth 2:11-12 Boaz blesses Ruth

RUTH 2:11-12
11 Boaz replied, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been reported to me, including how you left your father and your mother, and the land of your birth, and came to live with a people that you did not know before. 12 May the LORD reward you for what you have done. May you be given a rich reward by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Ruth had fallen at Boaz’ feet. Her question, “What have I done to deserve your favor?” was easily answered. Boaz confessed that he had been informed about everything she had done. He knew her story. He knew about the death of her husband (a young man Boaz had known—they were relatives in the small town of Bethlehem, after all, and perhaps they had also been friends). He knew that she had stayed with Naomi and left her parents. He knew, too, how hard all that had been for her. It wasn’t as if she had been running away from a bad life. Quite the reverse. With her parents still alive, she could have gone back to them and found peace in her father’s house, and even a new husband there in Moab. This had been the plan Naomi had for her; the course that Orpah had taken. 
So now, Boaz blessed Ruth. He invoked the name of the Lord three times. I don’t knew whether this is something like a veiled reference to the Trinity that we more certainly have in Deuteronomy 6:4, but it’s there, and it reminds me of the Triune God. He is the LORD mentioned twice, and the God of Israel mentioned once; three names spoken, but one God meant, the God under whose wings Ruth had come. And Boaz understood in all humility that he himself was an important part of that protection. God normally works through natural means in the world. When he wants to plant a child in a family, he uses the husband and wife to do so. When he wants his gospel proclaimed, he calls on us to do so. And when he wants to give someone protection and shelter, he raises up a man like Boaz. But the temporary shelter of a friend was not what God had in mind for Ruth. Even if the story ended here (or if Ruth would have sung a little hymn, like the Psalm in Habakkuk 3:2-19) we would guess that Boaz would become her husband. But there is more story to tell. There is the question of her legal status, and the question of the standing of her descendants—including a distant grandson, a man named David. All of this was part of God’s plan. We can be comforted that God has plans like this for each one of us as well.
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 9:7-15 Jotham’s parable

JUDGES 9:7-15
7 When they told Jotham, he climbed to the summit of Mount Gerizim, and shouted to them, 
“Listen to me, you citizens of Shechem, 
   and may God may listen to you.  
The upper part of Mount Gerezim is grey, rocky and impressive (scary). There is a narrow valley with an east-west road between this height and Mount Ebal, and Shechem was situated in this valley. It was on an outcropping above the city that Jotham started shouting.  He called on the baals (noble lords) of Shechem to listen to him, and he called on God to listen to their answer. 
What follows is often described as a fable, which is a story involving speaking plants or animals to teach a moral or a lesson. Incidentally, it was Martin Luther who re-introduced Aesop’s Fables to the modern world as a good way to teach lessons to children. This, along with the introduction of the Christmas Tree, the scoring system for modern bowling, restoring marriage to the clergy, and the idea of the kindergarten are just a few of many, many achievements of the great Reformer which are overshadowed (and rightly so) by his greatest accomplishment: the restoration of the true gospel to the Holy Christian Church.  
Why not call it a parable? A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Put another way, a parable is an extended simile with a spiritual application. Jotham’s shout qualifies as either a fable or a parable, and perhaps both. 
8 One day the trees went out 
   to anoint a king over themselves. 
They said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’  
9 But the olive tree answered them, 
‘Should I stop giving my oil 
   which is used to honor both God and men,
   and sway over the trees?’ 
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, 
‘Come and reign over us.’  
11 But the fig tree answered them, 
‘Should I stop giving my sweetness and my delicious fruit, 
   and sway over the trees?’ 
12 Then the trees said to the vine, 
‘Come and reign over us.’  
13 But the vine answered them, 
‘Should I stop producing my wine 
   that cheers both God and man, 
   and sway over the trees?’ 
14 Finally, all the trees said to the thornbush, 
‘Come and reign over us.’ 
15 And the thornbush said to the trees, 
‘If you are really going to anoint me king over you, 
   then come and take refuge in my shade. 
But if not, may fire come out of the thornbush 
   and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’
To begin with, the parable draws us in by the subtle differences: The trees (which should be giving shade and not asking for it) want some plant to “sway” over them (like a tall tree swaying over the grass below and giving it shade). But the olive tree and fig tree refuse—they have other good things to do instead. Even the grape vine has better ways to serve God and man than sway over the top of the tall pines. Finally, the big trees (the baals of the forest) ask the nuisance buckthorn to sway over them and give them shade. The thronbushes are good only for one thing. My wife said it in one word: “Kindling.” And Kath is exactly right. “Your pots feel the heat of the thorns” (Psalm 58:9), which “crackle under the pot” (Eccl. 7:6). 
If we peel apart the narrative a little more, we find out that the olive, fig and vine must have represented Jotham’s other brothers. Gideon himself, their father, also rejected the crown (Judges 8:22), and said that his sons and grandsons would not reign, but that the Lord would (8:23). Jotham’s brothers had better and more useful ways to serve God and man, like the olive, fig and vine. Yet the great and powerful baals of Shechem asked the useless thornbush Abimelech to rule. The thornbush’s threat, that fire would come out and consume the tall trees, would come horribly true in the conflagration of verses 48-49. 
Jotham’s sermon drove the point home, but he would not be the last one to speak up. There were still some of God’s people left in this mountain pass, where Joshua had once led the whole nation in a thunderous liturgy of curses and blessings (Joshua 8:33). The first two curses were these: “Cursed is the man who sets up a false idol” (think about that, you baals who worship Baal, Deut. 27:15), and “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother” (think about that, Abimelech, and think about whose blood is on your hands, Deut. 27:16). And all the people said, “Amen!”
When leadership is corrupt and drives a nation into panic, fear and chaos, we have two things to remember: First, governments are established by God (Romans 13:1-7). Therefore there is some good that will come of leadership (or anti-leadership), even like that of Abimelech. Second, when a government is so corrupt that it must be removed, God will provide the change himself, without requiring his people to fall into sins against the fourth, fifth or eighth commandments. What God’s people can do is cling to God’s word, and note passages like Psalm 5, in which the wicked are brought down lower and lower, and the faithful are lifted up, higher and higher:
You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; 
   with you the wicked cannot dwell.  
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; 
   you hate all who do wrong.  
You destroy those who tell lies; 
   bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.  
But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; 
   in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; 
   let them ever sing for joy. 
Spread your protection over them, 
   that those who love your name may rejoice in you.  
For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; 
   you surround them with your favor as with a shield. 
(Psalm 5:4-7, 11-12)
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 9:1-6 Abimelech the anti-judge

JUDGES 9:1-6
At the end of the previous chapter, we heard a bland and enigmatic statement that after Gideon’s death, the Israelites did not show kindness to Gideon’s house. That seems contradicted by the opening verses of chapter 9 where one of Gideon’s sons is treated very well, until we get to verse 5. Then we see just how outrageous things can get when one small, mean and ambitious man discovers that if you say something loudly enough and in public, people will begin to believe you. Abimelech spat out falsehoods and outright lies without any evidence at all to back up his outrageous innuendos, and he turned an entire tribe against sanity and the truth.
This, the sad low point of the book, might be outlined this way:
I. Murder (9:1-6)
   A. Abimelech’s treachery: the slaughter of Gideon’s sons (9:1-5)
   B. Abimelech becomes king (9:6)
II. Curse (9:7-41)
   A. Jotham’s parable curses both Abimelech and Shechem (9:7-21)
   B. An evil spirit turns Shechem against Abimelech (9:22-25)
   C. Rebellion is stirred by Gaal (9:26-29)
   D. The rebellion is reported by Abimelech’s lieutenant (9:30-41)
III. Destruction (9:42-57)
   A. The destruction of Shechem (9:42-45)
   B. The attack on the tower (9:46-49)
   C. Abimelech is killed by a woman (9:50-57)
9 Now Abimelech son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his uncles on his mother’s side and said to them and to his mother’s whole clan, 2 “Say this in the hearing of all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerub-Baal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember that I am your flesh and blood.” 3 So his mother’s relatives repeated all this on his behalf in the hearing of all the citizens of Shechem, and they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 
The distaste of the author for this incident extends even to his chosen word for the men of Shechem, since he calls them baals, ‘lords’ or ‘husbands.’ I have translated this word as “citizens” throughout the passage. It is altogether impossible that every one of Gideon’s seventy sons was calling himself a king and ruling a separate area of this part of Manasseh (between Mt. Gerezim and the Jordan). It is altogether certain that Abimelech was fearmongering, stirring up concern in the people’s hearts that had no basis in fact. He was making them afraid in order to make his position more sure. Abimelech would end up ruling no more than three or four cities as ‘king,’ and his seventy brothers could scarcely have crammed adjacent kingdoms for themselves into such a small area, even if each one of them held the scepter over every two or three farms or vineyards. Still, Shechem believed him. After all, he reminded them, he was a local boy, the son of a Shechemite woman, and his brothers were outsiders. 
Abimelech pretended to care about “flesh and blood” (the Hebrew idiom is actually “bone and flesh”), and yet he would pierce the flesh of his brothers and spill their blood without any remorse or respect for their father—or any fear of his heavenly Father.
4 They gave him seventy silver shekels from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire worthless and reckless men who became his followers.  5 He went to his father's house at Ophrah, and killed his brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal, seventy men, on one stone. 
A shekel at this time was not a coin, but a weight (between a third and half an ounce). The silver that exchanged hands was most likely to be the same form of currency exacted by Gideon—rings and decorative jewelry. Abimelech used these things to pay his mercenaries, but the number of men is never given, nor was there probably any record of them. Perhaps Abimelech himself was never quite sure of how many of these men (perhaps twenty to forty in all) were loyal and were still with him at any given time, and how many had wandered off after their first lucrative payday. 
Their first and most important job was as thugs. They apprehended Abimelech’s brothers, probably secretly at first, or in a mass arrest that took them all by surprise. Then they brought them out, certainly one by one, so that Abimelech could murder them. This took place on a stone, certainly a large boulder or outcropping of bedrock. The terror and gruesomeness of the scene is evident: each brother was brought out, seeing the blood of his brothers already there, and held in place by a couple of Abimelech’s anti-disciples, servants of blood and death, apostles of abomination. Then a slit or a stab, and each of them bled to death while the anti-judge watched. Their crime was that they were his brothers, but he was the only one who would bear any guilt.
But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal escaped by hiding himself.  6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and all Beth Millo gathered by the oak at the pillar of Shechem, and they made Abimelech king.
The locals (the baals) from this part of Manasseh crowned Abimelech king. It’s significant that they did not bother to invite anyone else to attend. Not even the rest of Manasseh was there, nor anyone from Gad (a few miles to the east) or even from Ephraim (a mile or two—really just a few hundred yards—to the south). Bullied into crowning this man, they just stood around and went through the formality, and Abimelech himself showed that a crown was all he wanted, as a trophy. He didn’t really have any interest in helping these people or leading them; he just wanted the glory of being king.
But one of his brothers escaped. The youngest one, Joash, hid himself and escaped the slaughter. His role in this story is small but important; he will not even be mentioned after the twenty-first verse of this, the longest chapter of the book. But he was remembered well, and one of Israel’s better kings, the son of Uzziah, was named for him (2 Kings 15:32-34; Isaiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1). The later Jotham may even have patterned his reign after the better parts of this story of Gideon and his son Jotham, since he protected his people from the Ammonites, exacted tribute from them, and built up the temple of the Lord. The Holy Spirit’s judgment of the later King Jotham is this: “Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:2).
Whether any of us ever becomes “mighty” or not is irrelevant, but the pattern of ordering our ways before the Lord is something we should all strive to do.
     Order my footsteps by your Word,
     And make my heart sincere;
     Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
     But keep my conscience clear. (CW 462:2)
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 8:28-35 Gideon’s last days

JUDGES 8:28-35
28 So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they were no longer a threat. Then the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. 29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back to live in his own house.  
The war was done, the men went home, Gideon’s work was ended and the land had rest. The peace Gideon won lasted another generation—forty years. His name was enough to make Israel’s enemies keep away. The rumor of Gideon’s victory must have made its way all around Canaan, and what a story it was! An army of a hundred and fifty thousand Midianites and Amalekites were defeated by three hundred men led by Gideon! Two Midianite generals, Oreb and Zeeb, and two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, were captured and killed. These were facts too easily verified to be exaggerations. Moab, Ammon, Edom, Philistia and the other nations kept to themselves. You can even imagine boys telling tales to frighten their little brothers: “You’d better be good, or Gideon’s gonna getchya!” 
But the Holy Spirit wants us to remember the first and greatest victory of Gideon, and he does so by using Gideon’s nickname, Jerub-Baal. The victory over Israel’s idolatry was far more important to God than any military success. The reputation of Jerub-Baal would continue to do good in Israel even when Gideon himself fell into sin. God works for the good of his people in all things, even when his people fall deeper and deeper into sin.
30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, because he had many wives. 31 His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.  
When we first met Gideon, he was a poor man fighting to keep his family alive with a pitiful harvest that was so small he could use a wine press for a threshing floor. Now we see that he became so wealthy and prosperous that he married many wives and could sustain a family with something like seventy sons (we’re not told how many daughters Gideon also had). We are also given an account of where his son Abimelech fits into the picture: Abimelech was the son of Gideon’s concubine, perhaps one of many.  
The Bible does not condone this kind of marriage. Bigamy and polygamy are expressly forbidden by the original command for marriage: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The arrangement of marriage is to be a man and a woman joined together as one flesh. This also means that sexual relations with anyone outside a marriage (whether before, during or after) are all forbidden as adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9; 6:16), and therefore all prostitution, fornication, homosexual sins and many, many other sins are all forbidden by God. Although having a large harem was the custom of Israel’s neighbors, it was not and is not in accord with God’s will, and whenever God’s kings or leaders introduced a second wife or many wives into their lives, things did not go well. 
32 Then Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah of the Abiezrites. 33 As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites turned again and prostituted themselves with the Baals, making Baal-Berith their god.  34 The Israelites did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of their enemies all around them,  35 and they did not show kindness to the house of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) for all the good that he had done for Israel.  
Baal-Berith means “Baal of the Covenant.” Was it some perversion of godly worship, in which Gideon tried to tie the God of the Bible and his covenant together with the people’s fascination for Baal? We can’t say, but it wasn’t good, whatever it was. 
The Lord permitted Gideon a peaceful death, but as soon as he was gone, the Israelites lost all sense of restraint and immediately fell into idolatry. Throughout the Bible, idolatry is described by God as being the same to him as adultery, the violation of a relationship that should be as binding  as marriage, and even more so. So it’s described here as “prostituting themselves,” or as the King James translator put it: “they went a-whoring after the gods of the people of the land.” Some Israelites might have tried to combine elements of Baal worship with the true worship of God; others may have given themselves completely over to Baal worship, which of course had the advantage of no written word and therefore no laws or conventions to be followed or obeyed. But either way, God saw it as adultery and a deplorable sin.
In addition, Gideon’s family did not fare well after the judge’s death. A wretched “what have you done for us lately?” attitude appeared, and our author obliquely tells us that the family was not shown kindness. It’s as much to say that they were mistreated and abused, probably because they had a reputation as a family that was fairly wealthy, but now they had no leader, no protector—and therefore they became the target for thieves and swindlers and all sorts of robbers, whether white-collar, blue-collar, or cloak-and-dagger. 
This brings us to the beginning of the theological and dramatic midpoint of the book, chapter 9. It is the opposite of a climax. What we are about to see is the nadir, not the zenith; the lowest point in the period of the judges. But even now, with a judge’s family suffering abuse and disrepute, God would be with his people, and he would carry them through even despite their sins to bring about his plan of salvation. May God be forever praised for his mercy and compassion, and for sending us our good Savior. “God demonstrates his love for us in this,” Paul said (Romans 5:8): “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Praise him and serve him always.
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 8:22-27 Sins against the first commandment

JUDGES 8:22-27
One of the results of the fall of man is that we have lost the image of God. This image of God was ours (mankind’s) in the first creation. It was given to us and was created in us. This image of God included knowledge of God (which the devil mocked but which the Father confirmed, Genesis 3:5 and 3:22), true righteousness (which God credited to Abraham on account of his faith in the coming Christ, Genesis 15:6), and holiness, which is to be free of sin and pure, which we have only through Christ (Isaiah 51:8). This image of God is not restored to us by obeying the law, but it is revealed to us in the gospel: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17, quoting Habakkuk 2:4). 
The paradox which the sinful world cannot understand and which it mocks is that a Christian is at the same time forgiven saint and yet also a sinner. One of the ways this dichotomy presents itself in us is that we can be at the same time thoroughly aware of a sin, avoiding it and giving glory to God, and yet completely blind to another sin against the very same commandment. Our enemy puts blinders on us so that our passion over avoiding a certain sin can be downright pietistic, and yet we can’t see that we’re wallowing in that very sin or its neighbor without being aware of our guilt at all.
Gideon is an example the Bible gives of just such a blindness. We see Gideon’s strict observation of the first commandment at a time when he was offered the very firsts kingship over Israel:
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson, too, for you have delivered us out of the hands of Midian.”  23 But Gideon answered them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”
Gideon had some of the qualities of a king. He had won a great military victory. He had personally executed two enemy kings. He had plunder and even the gold trappings of a king, down to the kingly ornaments for his camels. The people offered him rule (the term mashel is “dominion,” as in Bildad’s description of God’s dominion in Job 25:2), and they even offered to make it hereditary, to his son and grandson. But Moses had warned Israel that to seek a king would bring some blessings but also unforeseen hardships and challenges.
Gideon wanted the people to look to God for their blessings and their leadership. He had at least learned that lesson, that God is the one who provides for us and who blesses us. This was a first commandment lesson, but Gideon’s understanding of the first commandment was incomplete…
24 Then he said to them, “Let me make a request of you. Each of you give me an earring he has taken as plunder.” (For the enemy had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)  25 “We will be glad to give them,” they answered. So they spread out a garment, and each man threw an earring into it that he had taken as booty.  26 The weight of the golden earrings that he requested was seventeen hundred shekels of gold apart from the crescent ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and the chains that were on the necks of their camels).  27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod and put it in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.  
After rejecting the kingship and turning Israel’s attention to God, Gideon immediately showed that he failed to understand Israel’s form of worship by violating the second part of the first commandment. The full text of the commandment is this: 
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:2-6; Deut. 5:6-10). 
The ephod he made was a decorative golden plate like a vest or the breast piece of a suit of armor. It would have hung from the neck down to about the waist, and would have been tied around the back like an apron. The freemasons and Mormons still wear articles like this to commemorate the origins of their groups and yet the commemoration has developed into an idolatrous sin not unlike that of Gideon’s ephod. In this case, the thing represented the communication that Gideon had with the Lord in person in the early days of his judgeship. However, only the high priest of Israel was to wear such an ephod (Exodus 28:11-12). By making another, Gideon was creating a new place of worship at a time when there was to be only one place: the tabernacle of the Lord.
We are told that “all Israel prostituted themselves” by worship this ephod.  How could this be? Did they mistake it for God? No, they tried to use it to communicate with God. They prayed to it or through it. Picture an Israelite pilgrim putting it on (maybe even giving a little donation for the upkeep of its shrine) and then wearing it as his “prayer shawl” so that he would have a better chance at getting through to God. But God doesn’t listen to us because of what we wear, or because of which prayer book we use, or whether our prayers are spontaneous or written in the front of the hymnal. He listens to us because we have faith in Christ. 
This thing was especially a problem for Gideon’s family, and that’s understandable since they were the ones who lived there and spoke with the constant stream of Israelites who came for this false worship. It must have seemed like an honor, and most of us like to feel special; either loved or respected. So this particular sin was a nasty snare. But the Bible warns us to stay away from sins, even when it seems like everybody else is doing it (2 John 11). “Do not share in the sins of others,” Paul says. “Keep yourselves pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). 
When we do fall—and we are all still at the same time forgiven saints and fallen sinners—we are called back by the Holy Spirit to remember that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to be the Savior of the whole world (1 John 4:14) and who died to atone for all of our sins. We put or faith in him, we worship him, and we rely on his love. 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota


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