November, 2018

The Bible – Book by Book – Samuel

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

The story of Ruth transitions from the time of Judges into the time of Kings. This progression is spelled out more clearly in the two books of Samuel. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are titled because they open with the narrative of Samuel. But it isn’t really the best title for the books because Samuel is not the principal focus of the book. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the whole Bible), 1 & 2 Samuel are paired with 1 & 2 Kings and named 1-4 Kings or 1-4 Reigns or Kingdoms. 1 & 2 Samuel are particularly focused on the rise and fall of another person, David. David is the real hero of these books.

There are three main sections in 1 Samuel. The first section details the birth and rise of the last judge to lead Israel, Samuel. 1 Samuel opens with the fervent prayers of Hannah. Her womb had been closed, but she prayed that if the LORD would give her a son, she would give him to the LORD. Eli, the priest, observed Hannah praying (and after determining that she wasn’t drunk) and answered that the LORD would grant her prayer. The LORD makes good on his promise to Hannah, and then Hannah makes good on her promise to God. She gives her son Samuel up to serve in the temple. The LORD calls Samuel and he was established in the land as a prophet.

Samuel grew and was respected in the land. He became a judge over Israel. But as Samuel grew older, the people were dissatisfied with him. They wanted a king like the other nations. Samuel tried to convince the people that they were not like the other nations. They were God’s people. But the people persisted. And the Lord granted their request. Samuel anointed Saul as king.

Saul was the kind of person you would expect to be king. He was handsome. He was tall. He was a competent military commander. He is who the people would have picked. But Saul lacks faith in the LORD. Saul fails to keep covenant. He does not obey God’s prophet (1 Sam 13-15). Samuel confronts Saul in his disobedience and Saul continually shifts the blame to others. Samuel rejects Saul and separates from him.

Samuel finds himself in Bethlehem. He comes to the family of Jesse, from whom God will reveal to Samuel the next king of Israel. Samuel assumes the oldest and tallest son will be chosen. But he is wrong. It is none of the sons whom Jesse has presented. At Samuel’s urging, they call in the son who in the family’s judgment was too insignificant for the feast, David. David is chosen king. He is ruddy and handsome, but his appearance does not influence his selection. David is anointed as king. Now, based on the promise of God’s Word, David risks his life by entering into royal court.

As Saul descends into a psychotic state, David rises in power and stature. The people begin to sing of David’s valor in comparison to Saul’s. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” This enrages the already mentally unstable Saul. Saul repeatedly attempts to kill David, but he remains patient and faithful to God’s anointed king, Saul. On several occasions, David chooses to preserve Saul’s life when he easily could have ended it. This was out of faithfulness to the Lord.

Saul dies in battle with the Amalekites, and David becomes king. As David becomes king, three major shifts have been realized in Israel. First, there is a shift in the leadership of the nation. They have moved from warlord judges to kings. Second, there is a shift in national stature. The nation of Israel is no longer a tribal league, but now it is a unified kingdom. Third, the worship of the LORD has shifted from Shiloh to Jerusalem.

The book of 2 Samuel opens with David hearing of Saul’s death and his rise to the throne. Where 1 Samuel revolved around the narratives of three men, 2 Samuel will focus on David. It will detail the rise and fall of the King. David’s reign as king will document a number of huge successes. The boundaries of the land will spread from Egypt to the Euphrates. David will demonstrate a tremendous faithfulness to the LORD. He will provide a model for repentance. But David’s reign also documents some spectacular failures. David failed to fully follow God’s Word. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David’s son Absalom led a bloody rebellion against him. David sinned again by taking a census when God had instructed him not to.

The rise and fall of David demonstrates that while David was God’s chosen and anointed king, David was not God’s ultimate king. There were great successes under David. But David’s failure pointed to another greater king. David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was not the ultimate king. God did promise David, however, that his seed would be that king. The narrative in 1 & 2 Kings shows that Solomon would not be that king either. But generations later, there would be a Son of David born in Bethlehem who would be that greater king.

The Bible – Book by Book – Ruth

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

Throughout the history of Israel, God has always provided a redeemer for His People. In Egypt, he provided Moses to rescue His People from slavery. In the wilderness, as the people wandered toward the Promised Land, God provided Joshua to lead them across the Jordan River. After Joshua through the book of Judges, the God provided a series of warlords to judge the peoples. But at the end of Judges, we find Israel in a dark period. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). As we turn the page in our English Bibles, we come to the book of Ruth. God is going to raise up another Redeemer.

The book of Ruth is the story of how God’s unfailing love will bring about Israel’s greatest leader, David. Great persons in Scripture have a birth narrative. A birth narrative is the story of how a person’s birth came about. 1 Samuel begins with the story of Hannah’s prayer for a child and the Lord’s answer to that prayer with the birth of Samuel. The beginning of Exodus is the story of the circumstances that gave rise to the birth of Moses and his remarkable childhood. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give the details surrounding the birth of Jesus. The book of Ruth is a birth narrative for Israel’s greatest leader. It provides the background and family history of David. This explains why Ruth appears just before 1 Samuel in our English bible. But in the Hebrew canon, it actually appears after the book of Proverbs. This is probably because the book of Ruth is a real-life fleshing out of the excellent and virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. What does this Proverbs 31 woman look like? The Hebrew canon says, “Here is the story of Ruth.”

The book of Ruth can be outlined with four major sections. 1) Ruth emigrates from Moab to Bethlehem. 2) Ruth gleans in Boaz’s field. 3) Ruth meets Boaz on the threshing floor. 4) Boaz redeems Ruth.

The book opens in the time of Judges during a famine. Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons die. She is left with two foreign daughters-in-law in the foreign land of Moab. Naomi hears that there is food in her hometown of Bethlehem. She decides to return, but before she warns her daughters. She tells them there is no future with her. Orpah decides to leave Naomi, but Ruth pledges to stay with her. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). So they set off to Bethlehem together. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Naomi changes her name to Mara, which means bitterness. She is a broken woman.

The second act occurs in the wheat fields of Boaz. Ruth goes to glean in the fields as a poor foreigner. She chances up on the fields of Boaz, a respected Judahite and wealthy landowner. Boaz shows great respect for Ruth. He protects her and provides for her. Ruth is confounded by his grace and asks why she has found favor in his eyes. Boaz responds that it is due to her generosity toward Naomi. When Ruth returns home, Naomi informs her that Boaz may be a kinsman redeemer. The kinsman redeemer was the closest relative who had the obligation to avenge the death of a family member (Num 35), buy back property (Lev 25), redeem a relative sold into slavery (Lev 25), and possibly enter into Levirate marriage to preserve the name of his relative (Deut 25). There is hope.

The third act occurs at the time of threshing. This season was marked with a great celebration on the threshing room floor. Naomi hatches a risky plan that results in Ruth making a provocative proposal of marriage to Boaz. Boaz wants to accept but presents a problem. There is one who is a closer kinsman redeemer.

The fourth act is Boaz’s gracious redemption of Ruth and Naomi. Boaz goes to the gates of the city, where business was transacted, and addresses the nearer kinsman. Boaz explains the presence of Naomi’s fields and this man’s right to them. He is intrigued. But then Boaz mentions that there is a woman, and this nearer kinsman would have the obligation to raise up a son to maintain the name of the deceased. The man is less enthused about this. Upon learning this, the nearer kinsman backs out. So, Boaz is able to redeem Ruth and Naomi, in order “to perpetuate the name of the dead” (Ruth 4:10). Ruth and Boaz marry, and she gives birth to Obed. And Obed is the father of Jesse, who is the father of David. David becomes king of Israel and an important part of the line of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew specifically records in the birth narrative of Jesus that Jesus is descended from “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth” (Matt. 1:5). The foreign widow was graciously brought into the lineage of the Messiah of God’s People. Once again, God provides a redeemer for His People.

The Bible – Book by Book – Judges

A curious event occurs in Genesis 5:5. It might not seem so curious to us, as this event has become somewhat commonplace to us. But at that time, this sort of thing had never happened before. It was a new event in human history. In Genesis 5:5, Adam died. Other people had died before Adam, or at least one person. But that was the unnatural event of murder. We don’t see anyone in the Scriptures dying of natural causes. This was a curious event and it solidified the reality that had entered into the creation when Adam and Eve had fallen into sin. The life of man now ended in death. In fact, the rest of Genesis 5 is a litany of death. “and he died…and he died…and he died.”

If death remains a curious event, it is only because we will experience it but once. It is no longer curious because it is completely foreign to us. The book of Genesis ends with the people of God in Egypt and another death, the death of Joseph. The book of Joshua ends with the death of Moses and the people of God in the land of Canaan. They have been chosen as God’s special people. They have been rescued from slavery. They have received a Promised Land. But they are still subject to the unyielding presence of death.

The book of Judges will not answer the problem of death. It will open by reiterating the death of Joshua. The death of Joshua bridges from one book into the next. This is important because it sets the context of the book of Judges. People die. Leaders die. And the death of leaders will send Joshua into a downward cycle of despair.

There is a repeating pattern in the book of Joshua. There is rebellion against the LORD, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judg 3:7). God is angry with them. The people are oppressed by their enemies. The people cry out in repentance. The LORD raises up a deliverer, or a judge. There is peace for some period of time. The judge dies. And then the cycle starts over. There are twelve judges in the book. Six of these judges receive some form of narrative. But each seem to follow this cyclical pattern, with each subsequent judge being a little worse than the previous and each revolution being punctuated with the death of the judge. Therefore, a picture of a downward spiral is more accurate than that of simply a cycle. The story arc of Judges more closely follows that of a toilet bowl than a bicycle wheel.

The first judge in the cycle is Othniel. Othniel is raised up after the people cry out for deliverance from the hand of Cushan-rishathaim (i.e. Cushan the Doubly Wicked). Othniel confronts Cushan and defeats him. And there is 40 years of peace in the land.

The second judge is Ehud. Ehud’s cycle is one of the most colorful depictions of battle in the Bible. Ehud slaughters Eglon by concealing a dagger on his right thigh. When he confronts Eglon, who was a “very fat man,” Eglon was in his bathroom. Ehud reaches with his left hand for the dagger on his right thigh. He thrusts it into Eglon’s fat belly, pierces the sphincter, and disembowels Eglon. The fat closes up over the handle of the dagger. Ehud leaves the dagger in Eglon and escapes. Ehud ushers the people into 80 years of peace.

It might be apparent by now that these judges were not what we typically think of as judges. They were not officials in black robes making judicial pronouncements. Perhaps a better translation of the term would be “warlords.” The warlord in the middle of Judges is Gideon. Gideon is often celebrated in our churches, but perhaps that should be re-thought. Gideon is, at best, a mixed bag. He destroys the altar of Baal, but he repeatedly demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s command. He delivers Israel from Midian and refuses to be made king, but then he names his son Abimelech, which translates to “My father is king.” Gideon is a hero/antihero who reflects well the fickle nature of the people and yet is an instrument of God’s grace.

The longest narrative in Judges is given to Samson. Again, Samson is often presented to us (particularly in children’s story bibles) as a hero, but he is really more antihero. He is a deeply flawed saint. He has a birth narrative, like noteworthies Moses and Samuel. But he often does what is right in his own eyes. Bruce Waltke summarizes, “He mixes his faith with lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride of life, not with love of God and Israel.” Samson also reflects a fickle people. And Samson will not be the ultimate deliverer of the people, for he too will die.

Every warlord judge died. None of them brought true deliverance to the people. They still rebel against God, suffer the consequences, cry out to God, and seek deliverance. But that deliverance will only be fulfilled in one who will not die. The book of Judges is a cry for redemption that can only be satisfied by One who defeats the grave and death. The book of Judges calls for the covenant-keeping God to destroy the anarchy of our hearts with an ever-living Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The Bible – Book by Book – Joshua

The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua. This should be rather self-apparent. The book is titled Joshua. “After the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant” (Josh. 1:1). This Joshua flows out of who Moses was and what Moses did. Moses was known as the “Servant of the LORD.” Fourteen times in the book of Joshua, Moses is referred to as the “Servant of the LORD.” Moses saw the LORD face-to-face. He had an intimate relationship with the LORD. He was a prophet of the LORD. The “Servant of the LORD” also ties Moses into the lineage of men like Abraham (Gen 24:26). The promise of the patriarchs come through Moses and to Joshua. This Joshua connects the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) with the rest of the Hebrew canon. There is a clear progression of the history of God’s people from Moses into Joshua.

In the Hebrew canon, Joshua is not considered a “history” book. It is part of the prophets. The books we typically consider to be the “historical” books of the OT (Joshua through 2 Kings) are called the “Former Prophets,” in distinction to the “Latter Prophets” (Isaiah through the Minor Prophets). Why is this important in understanding Joshua? These “Former Prophets” give us more than just history. What they present is, in fact, historical (and true). But it is also written as more than a collection of facts and figures. It is meant to convict and comfort. The author is more concerned with a prophetic telling of the conquest of the Promised Land than he is with a presentation of raw fact. This does not diminish the historical reliability of the narrative in the least. It does, however, help us to see more of the comprehensive and redemptive plan of God for his people.

Moses, the Servant of the LORD, dies. The book opens with this macabre note. This is a constant refrain through the Scriptures. Everyone dies. Adam died. Abraham died. Isaac died. Joseph died. And now, Moses died. The book of Joshua is going to end with, you guessed it, a death. Joshua will die. Every one of the patriarchs died. Every great leader of God’s people died. Every single leader of Israel died. And the leadership is passed onto this Joshua. The death of Moses did not curtail or stop God’s plan. John Calvin noted, “While men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails.” The mantle of leadership is passed on to Joshua, the son of Nun.

This Joshua will lead the people of Israel over the Jordan River. This book will divide Joshua’s leadership over the people into three distinct sections. The first twelve chapters describe the conquest of the land. Israel will cross the Jordan and start defeating the Canaanites. They will fail at some points, but God will provide the victory to them. The next section, chapters 13-22, details the division of the land. Each of the tribes of Israel will receive their portion. God is faithful to his promises. The third section, chapters 23 and 24, is a reminder to the people to remain faithful to God. Remember the covenant that God established with you and live according to it.

It would be reasonable to think that the people would be hesitant to cross the Jordan and to take possession of the land after the death of Moses. Moses had been so important to everything they had known. Moses was the one whom God raised up to deliver them. Moses led them through the waters. Moses received the Law. Moses interceded for them. Moses had done everything. What would they do now? Joshua 1:1 gives us the reassuring news, “The LORD said to Joshua.” The LORD spoke to Moses. Now the LORD speaks to Joshua. It confirms his calling. It comforts an anxious people. It emphasizes that this transition is from the LORD. God is still faithful to his promises. The LORD’s provision of Joshua was a blessing to the people. They can be strong and courageous because of Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua.

And yet…it is not about this Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about another Joshua. The Hebrew name Joshua means, Yahweh saves. The Greek transliteration of Joshua is Iesous, from which we get the English name Jesus. Jesus’ name means, the LORD saves. The Joshua of this book really is a signpost pointing us to the other Joshua. The other Joshua is the one who will lead God’s People into the true Promised Land. He will provide us with God’s portion. He is the leader that, though he dies, will rise from the dead and reign victorious over the grave. He is the one who will establish and fulfill the covenant promises. He will bless those who bless God and curse those who curse God. And it is because of this greater Joshua that we can be strong and courageous.