The way of all the earth

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2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Kings 2:1-12

Call it entropy, decay,  or “the ravages of time” …however we phrase it, “the way of all the earth” is not upward!

We are perishing.  That’s the Bible’sdescription  repeated over a hundred times in the King James Bible.  Like milk on a hot day.  Or an old piece of fruit.  Keep the clock ticking on this world and it will run down.  Keep the clock ticking on me and I too will perish.  It’s the way of all the earth, and it’s inescapable.

David is on his death-bed when he utters these famous words to his son Solomon, “I go the way of all the earth” (1 Kings 2:2).

In one sense this should not surprise us.  Everyone dies.  But in another, it’s very surprising.  Because here is the messiah dying!  And he tells Solomon, the new king, that even messiahs die!

From the beginning of his reign in Jerusalem, David was told about this mixture of death and eternal glory:

When thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom…  And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.  (2 Samuel 7:12-16)

David will die, but his seed will live and establish his throne forever.

And so David knows three things:  everything dies, even messiahs die but nonetheless there is an everlasting kingdom.  If we can’t quite put those three truths together, it’s because we’ve taken our eyes off David’s Seed.

Jesus, the Offspring of David, came as the promised Messiah, the eternal King.  But, true to “the way of all the earth”, even He dies. However, listen to what He says just before His death:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”.  (John 12:24)

Jesus, the Seed of David, describes His death as a fruitful one.  He would be a Seed that dies, is buried and sprouts up new.  His death would bring life – abundant life.

In Jesus life and death converge.  He takes to Himself the way of all the earth and He puts it to death on the cross.  Jesus does not avoid the way of all the earth.  He treads that path Himself, taking His creation through death to glory.  As the true Messiah and Author of life, His is the only death that gives life.  Risen again to sit on His eternal throne He offers us life beyond the grave.

Right now, all the earth goes the way of death.  Not even Christ was exempted!  But there are two ways to die.  We can die apart from Him and perish eternally.  Or we can die in Him and rise to new life.

Christ will soon return to apply His resurrection life to all creation.  Have courage today – when He comes again, there will be a stunning reversal to “the way of all the earth.”

when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

David and Bathsheba

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2 Samuel 11:1-27

“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof,
You saw her bathing on the roof,
Her beauty and the moonlight over-threw you.”

(Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah)

David was famously a man after the LORD’s heart.  He was the second King, succeeding where Israel’s first King, Saul, had failed. He was messiah – christ – an anointed king.  And he reigned over a united Israel, bringing peace and extending blessing and grace.  Maybe this was it.  Maybe David was the true and eternal Christ.  Maybe he was the Promised Seed come to set the world to rights.

But then comes 2 Samuel 11:

“At the time when kings go forth to battle… David tarried still at Jerusalem.  And it came to pass in an evening tide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.”  (v1-3)

What tells us that this messiah is not the Messiah? His heart.  His heart wanders from his true bride.  He desires to have another.  No, David is not the eternal Christ.  Jesus’ heart burns fiercely and uniquely for His bride, the church.

But David’s looking turns to lusting and all in a hurry we read that this woman, Bathsheba, is brought to David.  We are never told whether she is willing.  And it’s doubtful that she could have objected to the king.

After everything we’ve read of David, this comes as a shock.  But it gets worse.

Bathsheba falls pregnant and David, eager to cover up the adultery, brings back her husband from war, hoping that he’ll sleep with her. But Uriah is so loyal to David that he refuses to go to his wife while his men are at war.   Night after night,

Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house. (v9)

Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing. (v11)

The righteousness of Uriah not only contrasts with David’s wickedness, but it provokes more of it.  With David unable to cover his tracks he turns to murder.  David writes in a letter to his commander in chief, saying,

“Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die”.  (v15)

It’s adultery  and murder.  It’s appalling.  And it proves that David is a mere man, just like us.  In fact a wicked man, just like us.  Because we too need to be honest with ourselves.  We are also guilty of David’s sins if we allow Jesus to define our sin.  He says:

“whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”.  (Matthew 5:28)

And

“whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”.  (Matthew 5:22)

At heart, we are all adulterers and murderers.  And this is how our whole sinful nature operates.  We desire things we shouldn’t.  We go after them no matter the cost.  And if anyone stands in our way, we kill.  We lust and loathe and are  just as guilty before God as David was.

What is our hope? To find out, let’s look back at David:

Nathan, the prophet, confronts David imaginatively to convict him of his sin (2 Samuel 12).  His actions produce one of the most famous prayers in all the Bible, Psalm 51.

One of the interesting things about David’s prayer is that he unites absolute confidence in God’s forgiveness with complete honesty about the horrors of his sin.

He begins the prayer assured of the “mercy”, “loving kindness” and “tender mercies” of God.  And he continues, not by minimizing his transgressions but saying this:

“I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me”.  (v5)

David confesses that the person he was when committing adultery and murder, is the person he’s always been.

This is surprising.  We usually minimize our confidence in God’s mercy and minimize our acknowledgement of wrongdoing.  David maximizes both.  Why? Because his confidence is somewhere else.

In verse 7 he says

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean”

Hyssop was a spindly plant which doubled as a paintbrush at Passover.  It was used to daub the blood of the lamb on the door-posts so that judgement could pass over.  David seems to think God has hyssop.  Does that mean God has a Lamb?  Does that mean there is blood that can cleanse even David’s sins away?

Yes indeed.  And it’s the only way to put together both the grandeur of God’s grace and the depths of our depravity.

We all lust, covet and steal.  And when we can’t have our way we hate, hurt and kill.  But

the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7)

David was not the Christ.  His heart was wayward and his life followed suit.  But Jesus – His Lord, Lamb and future Descendant – has a redeeming love that’s bigger still.  The final word is not David’s – or our own – i.e. adultery and killing.  The final word is Christ’s faithfulness and death.  Through it, even the gravest sins can be put right.

Are there sins you feel weighing upon you now?  Take David’s prayer as your own – Psalm 51.

David and Goliath

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1 Samuel 17:1-54

Any time a little guy takes on a big corporation it’s called ‘a David and Goliath story.’ Any time a 2nd division football club beats a Premiere League team it’s called ‘giant killing.’

Everyone thinks they know what David and Goliath is about. It’s about the underdog gritting their teeth and pulling off a surprising victory. It’s an inspirational tale for anyone up against the odds:  if they toughen up and never lose faith, they’ll triumph in the end, right?

That’s certainly how the vast majority of sermons on this subject go. A quick internet search of the sermon titles offered for this passage yielded the following summaries:

      • 7 Principles for facing Goliaths in your spiritual life
      • How to face a giant
      • Handling the giant fears
      • The secret to slaying giants
      • Principles of victory
      • The faith that conquers
      • Kill the giant or be killed
      • Frozen by fear
      • Success in our spiritual battles
      • Pebble power

Such an approach assumes that we ought to put ourselves in David’s shoes. We’re meant to be inspired by David’s courage and to imitate his path to success. It’s the Bible as motivational pep-talk. It’s the kind of Christian encouragement that says: “Do it like David” or “Do it for David”.

But this approach is a complete misunderstanding of the story, of the Bible and of the gospel itself.  It turns Christianity on its head. Because if there’s one thing we’ll learn about this story it is not “Do it for David”. Instead: “David did it for you!”

The whole point of the story is that there are only two fighters – everyone else is a spectator.

The Philistine’s champion was called Goliath.  Dressed in scale armour he would have looked very serpentine.  He is the head of the house of the wicked.  And he is over 9 foot tall.  Not natural!  He’s a supernatural enemy who taunts the people of God day and night (v16).  He pictures for us the devil who, Revelation 12 tells us, accuses us day and night.

And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, “Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us”. And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together”.  (1 Samuel 17:8-10)

Notice the kind of warfare Goliath is setting up for us.  The battle is not determined by the rank and file of Israel. The battle is determined by these two champions who will fight on behalf of their armies. The soldiers can do nothing to affect the end result. It would not help the champions in the slightest if, behind them, there were an army of motivated go-getters.  It would not hinder them in the slightest if their compatriots were a despondent mass of no-hopers.   The Israelite army could have its own cheerleading squad, shouting the most inspiring chants known to man. Or they could be asleep.   It doesn’t matter.   The outcome of this battle has nothing to do with Israel’s strength, or nerve, or willingness or faithfulness.   All that matters is the victory of their champion.  If their champion wins, the whole nation wins.

This is just as well, because the Israelite soldiers were completely unwilling, absolutely despondent and totally faithless.

Here is how the chapter continues:

When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.  (v11)

Saul the King was meant to lead Israel in victory.  He actually leads them in cowardice.  He is a rejected King who cannot deliver his people.

But that’s not the end.  The second King, David, will win where the first King fails.  He will be their champion and win the battle for them.

This whole chapter screams – You didn’t do it for David, you wouldn’t do it for David and you couldn’t do it for David. But David did it for you.

And David, as we’ve seen, is a messiah (a christ) who was anointed King in the previous chapter.  He pictures for us Jesus, our Messiah, our Christ, our Champion.

He steps into the breach as God’s choice. He faces down our mortal enemy.  In utter weakness (bearing just a slingshot against a heavily armed giant!) but in total dependence on the LORD, he wins the battle.  It’s the ultimate Giant-killing!

And what then happens to the troops?  These troops that were cowering from the enemy are now transformed.  They look and see their champion who conquered in their name.  And what do they do?

the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines  (v52)

They look, they shout, they advance.  All on the back of David’s victory.

So friends, if we’re not shouting for joy or advancing along in the Christian life, why that might be?  Well imagine a joyless, despondent Israelite on the day that David beat Goliath. What would be the problem?

It must be this: the soldier just hasn’t seen the victory.  Or they don’t understand their connection to David.  But if they know their connection and they see His triumph they don’t need to be told to feel joyful and to advance.    Seeing will be believing and believing will move them to action.

If we’re not shouting or advancing in the Christian life, there’s one thing we need to do.  Look!  Look to our Champion, Jesus who conquered Satan on that cross.  In apparent weakness He won the victory and He did it for us.

Don’t grit your teeth and advance anyway.   Don’t look to your own strength.  Don’t “do it like Jesus” or even “Do it for Jesus.”  No.  Look again at Jesus and realize He has done it and He’s done it for you.  Look at Christ.

Your champion has won the battle.   He won it for you when you were weak, faithless, sinful and cowering in fear.  Without a calorie of our own effort, our Champion has won the day.

Now shout.  Now advance.  And to Him be the glory!

A man after his own heart

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1 Samuel 13:1-15; 16:1-13

“You’re a man after my own heart” says one music fan to another.

“You’re a woman after my own heart” says the man to his new girlfriend as she serves him his favourite dessert.

These are common ways that we use the phrase today.  But they are subtly different from each other.  In the first sense “a man after my own heart” means a man whose heart is set on what my heart is set on.  It means that you like what I like.  In the second sense, being “after my heart” means you are aiming to please me.  It means you want to tap into what I like and give me my heart’s desire.

Well the biblical phrase, “a man after God’s own heart”, has both these senses.  It’s talking about a man who is like God and who wants to please Him.

The phrase comes in 1 Samuel chapter 13 where we see the failure of Israel’s first King – Saul.  He trespasses a forbidden boundary (offering a sacrifice which only the priests can do) and is deposed.  Samuel tells him:

“thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee”.  (1 Samuel 13:14)

Just as Adam, the world’s first King did what was forbidden, so did Saul, Israel’s first king.  Just as Adam trespassed and was deposed, so is Saul.  And just as Adam was told about Another who would undo what he had done, so is Saul.

Here Samuel predicts a second King to answer the folly of the first.  And this King would be a man after the LORD’s own heart.

In chapter 16 Samuel is sent to David’s family to anoint this new King.  But initially Samuel thinks it must be the firstborn of the brothers – Eliab:

‘he looked on Eliab, and said, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him”.  But the LORD said unto Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart”.   (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

Finally Samuel comes to David – the youngest – and he is anointed.  He has a heart that is after the LORD’s heart.  God and His King are to have a heart-to-heart relationship – an intense bond of love and intimacy.

In this way David pictures for us the true Messiah – the One who is eternally in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18).  And David, this little christ, will picture for us the Person and work of the true Christ.  He will be the second King who puts right what the first has done wrong.

Tomorrow we will see how he does that by crushing the adversaries of God’s people.  But for now let’s meditate on the heart of the King.  David’s heart is a picture of Christ’s.

Think now about Christ – the One who is “after God’s heart” in both the senses we began with:

He both wants what God wants and He does what God wants.

He’s both the Revelation of the Father’s desires.  And He’s the Fulfiller of those desires.

As the GodMan He shows us what the Father is like.  As the God-Man He performs what the Father likes.

He’s like God in every way and He delights God in every way – the true Man after His own heart.

Our hearts are very fickle.  Our desires are incredibly wayward.  But look to Christ.  He offers to God the true sacrifice, the true obedience and the true worship on our behalf. And He also offers to God the true heart.  If God was waiting for me to fulfil His heart’s desires He’d wait in vain. Thankfully, Christ has done it for me.

The Father is already well-pleased with His Son.

“Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth” (Isaiah 42:1)

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.  (Matthew 3:17)

And Christ has taken flesh to fully satisfy His Father in our place:

“Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.”  (Hebrews 10:9)

Now when we come to Christ we come in on a loving union that is unbreakable.

God hath made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6)

In Christ we are welcomed into His own eternal heart-to-heart!

God save the king

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1 Samuel 9:15-10:27

This book  highlights the impact of the King James Bible on English.  Yet, as this phrase shows,  many times the influence went the other way.  It was the culture that shaped the translation of this verse.

It appears in 1 Samuel after the people had asked for a king (1 Samuel 8:5-9).  There had been centuries of judges, but Israel craved a king “like all the other nations”.  What follows is a familiar pattern in the Bible:  The LORD hands the people over to their foolish desires and then redeems the situation.  That’s what happens here.  Samuel anoints Saul…

“And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.”  (1 Samuel 10:24)

Except that they didn’t really.  They said “Let the king live.”  Or, better, “Long live the king.”  But “God” is not there in the Hebrew.  In this case the translators did not want a word for word literalism.  Here it’s more a case of “meaning for meaning.”  A contemporary phrase is used that would have been used in an equivalent situation in Bible times.

The phrase was already used in translations dating back to the Coverdale Bible of 1535. In the culture, the phrase goes back at least to the reign of Henry the Eighth as a cry of loyalty.  And the navy used it as a watchword, to which the response was “Long to reign over us.”

Of course, from that came the song “God save our lord, the King” (1604), which is now the English national anthem.

And so it’s very understandable that the King James translators would keep the tradition going.

In the end however, God would not save but depose this unfaithful king.  Saul would come to represent an Adam-figure.  He is the first king who fails.  It would take a second king to come and fight Saul’s battles for him and to succeed where Saul had failed.  As we’ll see tomorrow, this second king was David, who pictures for us Jesus Christ.

But this is the way the LORD will redeem the situation.  The kings will find their purpose as throne-warmers and witnesses to Christ.  It’s King Jesus who will fulfil everything that Saul was meant to be.  He will be the long-living King – the eternal King.

Of course when He finally came in the flesh, there weren’t great cries of “Long live the King!”  There wasn’t much of a groundswell of support.  There weren’t many shouts of acclamation.  In fact, as He died on the cross, it was the very opposite.  The people cried out,

“He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.  He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God”.  (Matthew 27:42-43)

It’s almost an anti-coronation!  The crown is set on Him, but it’s a crown of thorns.  The title is bestowed on Him: “King of the Jews”, but it’s in jest.  And to everyone present it seems like God is refusing to save the King.  They’re even content toshout it out.  These people are witnessing the death of the King, and, shamefully, they seem happy with that.

Yet the whole story of Easter could be given the title, “The King is dead.  Long live the King.”  You see the Father does indeed save His Anointed King – raising Him from the grave to be Lord over all.

Ultimately it’s not we who make Him King.  For all the preachers’ talk of enthroning Jesus as Lord, that’s not our job.  It’s God who raises Jesus and seats Him on the throne.  It’s God who saves the King.  Our part is simply to add our own grateful response: “Long to reign over us!”

Messiah

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1 Samuel 2:1-11, 27-36

Two quick questions to start the week: What’s the meaning of life?  And what’s the message of the Bible?

You might think that these are impossible issues to solve.  Surely they can’t be answered with any final clarity or certainty – at least, not in a paragraph.

Well I think they can be answered in less than a sentence. I think they can be answered in a single word.  A single Person even.

And I’m not the only one.  Listen to these answers given by the Talmud.  The Talmud is a collection of the ancient oral traditions of the rabbis.  The teachings were written down from the 2nd century AD.  But the original sources would have been much, much earlier.  And it goes without saying – these are not New Testament influenced opinions but are based purely on the Hebrew Scriptures:

“The world was created only for the Messiah.” (Sanhedrin 98b)

“All prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah”  (Sanhedrin 99a)

According to these rabbis – the world exists for the Messiah alone.  And the Scriptures testify to the Messiah alone.

So then, the greatest question of life is this: Who is the Messiah!?

Well the Authorized Version uses the word “Messiah” only twice – both occasions in Daniel chapter 9.  But (as with the vast majority of English translations) it’s the Greek translation of the word “Messiah” that predominates.  “Christ” (an anglicized version of Christos) appears 555 times.  But both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew) have the same meaning: “Anointed One.”

The Messiah (or Christ) is the Anointed One.  He is the Meaning of the world and the Centre of Scripture.

Let’s get a little flavour of that from the book of 1 Samuel.

After rom-com Ruth, 1 Samuel begins with the story of childless Hannah.  As she prays for a son, she demonstrates the heart of true Israelite faith:

“The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:10)

Israel had no earthly King at this stage.  But Hannah knew that the LORD has another King.  A true, anointed King.  And through this King the LORD would judge the earth with justice.

Later in that same chapter a man of God prophesies about the Messiah again.  And he testifies to the priestliness of the Anointed One.  Speaking God’s word he says,

“I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and [it] shall walk before mine anointed for ever”.  (1 Samuel 2:35)

I have a slight disagreement with the KJV here – it would make most sense to say that the “house” walks before the Anointed, rather than the Priest.  It seems to me that the Anointed is the Priest.

So the true Anointed is both King and Priest.  He is the One through Whom the LORD will rule and bless.

But why “anointed?”  What does that mean?

Well 1 Samuel 16 gives us a good picture of it.  It’s the choosing of David as King.  And when he is chosen:

“Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.”  (1 Samuel 16:13)

Where we “crown” our kings, in the Bible they “anointed” them.  In fact they “anointed” kings and priests, and occasionally prophets also.  To anoint is to pour oil on their heads.  Why?  Because oil is a sign of the Spirit.  And as David is anointed, the Spirit literally rushes upon David and equips him for his royal tasks.

So what does this tell us about the Anointed One?

Well the Messiah is not anointed by men, but by God Himself.  This happened before the world began.  Not with oil – a symbol.  He is anointed with the Spirit Himself.  Before there was a universe God has been anointing God with God!  The Father is pouring His Spirit onto and into His Son.

Why?

So that He can be our righteous King, ruling the nations, protecting His people, executing justice.

So that He can be our faithful Priest, mercifully mediating our life with God.

So that He can be God’s truthful Prophet, bringing us the mind and heart of God.

To see the Messiah is to see the life of the Holy Spirit embodied.  And to see the Holy Spirit we look to the Anointed One in action.  He is the One filled beyond measure with the Spirit of God.

From the overflow of His life has come a whole universe.

To the overflow of His grace does the whole Bible witness.

And when Christ is at the centre, both the world and the Word start to make sense:

‘The Samaritan woman saith unto Jesus, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things”.  Jesus saith unto her, “I that speak unto thee am he”.’  (John 4:25-26)

The meaning of life and the message of the Bible are one and the same.  It’s not a programme or principles but a Person.

Have we minimized Christ in our thinking and outlook?  Have other things distracted us from Him?  How can we return to the Centre of all things?

Sheltering under his wings

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Ruth 2-3

After the brutality of Judges, Ruth is often seen as a nice little love story.  A ‘rom-com’ to take our minds off the raping and genocide!

If we think like that perhaps we need to rehabilitate our view of romantic comedy.  The story of Scripture is most certainly a romance – the tale of Christ winning a bride.  And it is definitely a comedy – there is a eucatastrophe (a turn of events) in which all things end well.  And so Ruth tells us the story of the Bible in miniature.

Ruth is from Moab but is married, then widowed by an Israelite.  Her mother-in-law, Naomi, seeks to return to Israel alone.  But Ruth insists,

Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

Martin Luther said “The heart of religion lies in its personal pronouns.”   Here Ruth owns the God of Israel as her God.

It’s costly for Ruth to trust the LORD.  In Israel she will have to rely on the kindness of strangers, rather than her own people.

Thankfully she meets Boaz.  He seems to embody everything written in the Jewish law about care for foreigners and widows (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).  Actually those laws themselves are meant to embody the LORD’s care for foreigners and widows (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

Boaz is like the LORD.  And just as Ruth finds shelter under the wings of the LORD (2:12), so she finds shelter under the wings of Boaz (3:9).

He is a near relative of her deceased husband – a “kinsman”.  He’s a wealthy man and in a position to “redeem” Ruth – that is, to marry her and “raise up the name of the dead.”  In other words he will continue the family name for his dead relative.

So let’s take stock of who Boaz is: A redeemer, the most eligible of husbands, a refuge for the needy, an embodiment of the good law, and able to, in a sense, raise up the dead. Does this remind you of anyone? He is extremely Christ-like!

When Boaz agrees to marry Ruth, this foreign woman is raised up to dizzying heights.  She is brought in to the covenant people.  More than that, the book ends by reminding us that Ruth is brought right into the Messianic line.  She becomes the great grandmother of King David.  (Ruth 4:18-22)

From widow and foreigner – a stranger to the covenants of promise – Ruth is adopted into the chosen people, given life from the dead (so to speak) and made royalty.  It all happens through marrying her kinsman-redeemer.

In just this way, any of us can join God’s chosen people.  No matter where we have come from or what we have done, we are offered a marriage union with Christ.  When we call out to Him as “my God”, He in turn calls us “my people.”

It’s just like a marriage.  All that is ours becomes His and all that is His becomes ours.  All our sin and shame goes to Him and, on the cross, He pays it off as our Bridegroom-Redeemer.  In return, His righteousness and riches come to us, and we are brought into the heart of His Royal Family.

If you belong to Jesus, He says to you:

All that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you… for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death… when we meet!

Whatever you face today, know that you face it, sheltering under Christ’s wings.

Doing what is right in your own eyes

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Judges 21:1-25

George Carlin once observed a universal rule of the road: “every driver slower than you is an idiot.  And every driver faster is a maniac.”

You on the other hand…  You are the golden mean.  You are, because you say you are.  And who would dare to contradict!?

We all naturally “do what is right in our own eyes.”

This saying is an important one in the book of Judges.  The first 16 chapters describe the 13 Judges who ruled Israel in between Joshua and Saul.  There’s a cycle: oppression from foreign rulers; prayer to God for a deliverer; the raising up of a Judge; a generation or so of peace; and then a fall back into sin and oppression.  The cycle is repeated again and again.

These little rulers – miniature portraits of Christ, like Samson – gave a foretaste of the righteous rule of King Messiah.  But little christs sin and die. They cannot deliver.  Not finally.  And when they go, society falls into even deeper chaos.  Without such a judge above them, the people would judge themselves.  And their self-declared verdict was always “not guilty”.

In the final four chapters of Judges we read of the results, and it’s not pretty.  Rank idolatry, warfare, adultery, brutal rape and murder.  Finally there is a near total genocide.   These chapters are like a kick in the stomach.  We are left reeling by this vision of christlessness.

And the phrase which bookends the whole sorry tale is this:

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.  (Judges 17:6; 21:25)

Here is humanity in its natural state: christless man, if you like.  What is so chilling is that moral justification – readily self-bestowed – is married to utter wickedness.  It’s not just breaking the speed-limit that they deem “right in their own eyes.”  It’s rape, murder and genocide.

Yet who can deny that the very worst atrocities of history have not only been committed but justified by their perpetrators?  It turns out that sin makes us less likely to confess our badness, not more.  To sin is to love darkness.  You become even less prepared to “come clean” in the light.  Sin and self-righteousness go hand in hand.

This is well portrayed in the film, The Talented Mr Ripley.  Unbeknownst to his friend, Matt Damon’s character has committed a terrible murder.  But he explains how a murderer can “make sense of it” as a “good person.”

“Whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense doesn’t it?  In your head.  You never meet anyone who thinks they’re a bad person,” said the murderer.

And it’s not just the monsters of history and the murderers is it?  In myself I have an incredible capacity for self-righteousness that’s not dampened by sin but actually enflamed!  Without turning to Christ, the more I sin the less likely I am to face my badness.  Instead I dwell in the basement and declare all that I do “right in my own eyes.”

What is the solution?  We need a Judge above us to pass an objective verdict. The question is, how could that verdict ever be favourable, given our nature?

Well this Judge would have to take our well-deserved judgement rather than dispense it.  Rather than crush us, He’d have to be like Samson, crushed for our deliverance.  He’d have to shine His light upon us, without condemning us. He’d have to be a Judge who befriends even the guilty.  A Judge who justifies the wicked.

Only then we can throw open the curtains, come clean and confess to who we are.  And here’s the irony – when we acknowledge our sin to Christ, then we are justified by Christ.  Or to put it another way, we become right in His eyes.

Thus, the world divides into those who are ‘right in their own eyes’, and those who are wrong in His.  But the miracle of the Judge who justifies is this: Those who are wrong in their own eyes, become right in His.

Samson

Judges 13:1-25

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Ever since Adam, humanity has craved a good king to set the world to rights.  Adam was set over creation to rule but dragged it down to death and curse.  Yet from the beginning the Messiah was promised – in Greek it’s the word “Christ.”  It just means Spirit-filled King.  He would raise this world up to life and blessing.

In Genesis a line of kings are promised to come from the tribe of Judah.  Each of these human rulers would be a throne-warmer for the Messiah:

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.  (Genesis 49:10)

The sceptre would be passed from king to king to king, until the Messiah came.  Which meant every earthly king was a foretaste of the Messiah.  Either his goodness would inspire their hope, or his badness would make them desperate for the Righteous Ruler.

Samson is a brilliant mixture of the good and the bad.  You can read his story in Judges chapter 13-16.

On the bad side, Samson is a firebrand who wants what he wants when he wants it.  He quickly flies off into rages with foreign men.  At the same time he’s brought low by more than one foreign woman (the most famous being Delilah).  No man could mess with Samson.  But he was easily undone by his libido.  Though the LORD uses his life for good, his choices appear impetuous in the extreme.

On the plus side, Samson’s name means “Sunshine”.  And the Messiah’s reign is meant to be like sunshine, chasing away the darkness (2 Samuel 23:4Isaiah 9:2Luke 1:78-79).

From the earliest time, Samson is filled with the Spirit (Judges 13:25).  And Messiah means “Spirit-filled King.”

Samson is famous for his strength but of course that strength is not a natural endowment.  It is power from on high.  And those around Samson are constantly puzzled by it.  They repeatedly urge Delilah:

Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth  (Judges 16:5)

Such puzzlement would never arise if he were a barrel-chested gym-junkie.  No, the pictures of Samson which depict muscles on his muscles don’t get at the Scriptural truth.  Samson’s power is Spirit-dependent, God-ordained power. Just as Jesus claimed to do nothing by Himself, so Samson gives us a picture of the true strength that comes not from the flesh, but from the Father and by the Spirit.

Samson has a kind of wisdom too.  He is a teller of riddles which no-one can explain but he alone (Judges 14:12-20).  In this way he’s a forerunner to wise king Solomon, whose unanswerable wisdom was itself a picture of Christ’s.

Samson’s determination to win a bride at all costs – though pursued foolishly – is also a picture of Christ, who goes to every length to win His bride, the church.

And Samson was a ruler who saved his people and defeated God’s enemies.  Ultimately he brought victory through his own death.

Samson’s demise was a kind of tragic victory (Judges 16).  His beloved, Delilah, turns traitor.  His wisdom is defeated.  His strength is turned to weakness.  The lights go out for this man called “Sunshine” as his eyes are put out by the enemy (Judges 16:21).  And he is bound and taken away to the pit.  There he becomes an object of scorn – as they mock him and “make sport” of this once mighty man (Judges 16:25).

Yet in this tragedy comes the victory.  One day Samson is brought out from his prison cell to be humiliated before his banqueting captors.  But Samson has one last request of the LORD:

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.  (Judges 16:28-30)

We may choose to read Samson’s story as a whirlwind of passion and pride.  Perhaps we read it as an historical text, informing us of an ancient barbarism.  We might see it as a morality tale, perhaps cautioning against shady ladies… or haircuts.  But we won’t understand this story, and we won’t understand the Bible, unless we see it as a testimony to Jesus.

Christ is our Spirit-filled Ruler, Sunshine in our darkness, Strength in dependence, Wisdom beyond compare and Lover of His bride.  Yet, just as with Samson, the greatest accomplishment of this King of Kings was His death.  It was as He was mocked, despised and cast into darkness that He defeated His enemies.  He bowed Himself on that cross and submitted to an unimaginable crushing.  And He did it for us.

May every king – good or bad, or good and bad – lead you to Jesus.

Shibboleth

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Judges 12:1-15

Are you “in” or “out”?  “Bang on trend” or “out of fashion”?  “Up to the minute” or “behind the times”?  Life is full of exclusive clubs.  We discriminate by age, gender, race, wealth, strength, intelligence, looks, taste.  We can turn anything into a barrier to entry.  But the LORD is very different.  And two incidents at the Jordan river will show just how different He is.

Yesterday we considered how God had made a way through the Jordan river for His people to pass.  In a Red-Sea-like miracle, the new Israel “passed over” with Joshua (meaning “Jesus”), at their head.  This event proclaimed the way sinners can enter God’s rest: only through His initiative, only through a Passover-like salvation, only with Jesus at our head.  None of the Israelites deserved to enter into the promises, but in God’s mercy, sinners freely cross from wilderness to rest – from death to life.

In today’s story we again see sinners attempting to cross the Jordan.  But when this crossing is patrolled by humans, there’s a very different policy of border control.

It all comes about in the book of Judges – the book following Joshua.  The people have entered the land and have more or less settled down.  After Joshua dies Israel is ruled by “Judges”, and the book of Judges tells us of 13 of them.

One of them is called Jephthah. He’s from Gilead.  In Judges 12, men from the tribe of Ephraim pick a fight with Jephthah and the Gileadites.  That wasn’t smart.  The men of Gilead fight back ruthlessly and put many to the sword.  Crucially, they also control the escape routes back across the Jordan.  Fleeing Ephraimites would try to pass themselves off as locals, but the men of Gilead had a cunning test:

when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over…  the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:5-6)

We are shocked by the juxtaposition.  Such a simple test.  Such dire consequences.  Such immense blood-shed.  The river would have flown red with the blood of Ephraimites.  (See here for more modern examples of “Shibboleths” being used to distinguish friend from foe.)

But you can’t help but feel for the Ephraimites.  Put to the sword because of their accent!  They couldn’t say “sh” even if their life depended on it.  They paid a terrible price.  What a very different policy for border crossing!

But when it’s men who take charge of the entrance requirements, things invariably operate according to the “flesh”.  That is to say, we will look for human abilities and identities to qualify or justify ourselves.  The “in-crowd” will be distinguished from the “outsiders” by something in them: Nationality, Race, Tribe, Family, Gender, Achievements, Money, Looks, Status, Brains, Brawn, Something.  This being the case, the entrance requirements have to be discriminatory.

If this was God’s recruitment policy there’d have to be some kind of God ordained ‘ism’ – whether racism, sexism, intellectualism or accentism!

But thank God that Christ’s Kingdom is different.  Safe passage is not granted on the basis of anything in us.  We pass over on the basis of Jesus, our Forerunner, not because of any trait of our own.  Therefore His Kingdom looks very different.

In the book of Revelation we see the multi-national multitudes in heaven.  They have been saved by Jesus the Lamb and brought through to the promised rest:

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;  And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.  (Revelation 7:9-10)

Or to put it another way: Jesus is the end of all Shibboleths.