Ruth 3:1–4:22, 1 Timothy 1:12–20, Psalm 73:11–28
Life is filled with things hard to understand. People died on Sunday when a tornado ripped through their town. People died today when an Amtrak train derailed. Another earthquake hits Nepal. This week will no doubt have other tragedies, but it isn’t just tragedies that are hard to understand. Human habits and customs can be a puzzle too.
The Israelites had a custom that today makes me shake my head. For them, if a man died, his nearest relative was to take his wife as his own and father children in the dead man’s name. In the time of Ruth, a widow could also make that proposal to the nearest relative. He was called the ‘kinsman-redeemer” and didn’t have the option of saying no. However, the proposal came in an unusual manner. It is described in the story of Ruth.
Naomi, her mother-in-law, first made sure that Ruth was known to the kinsman-redeemer. Then Naomi said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”
How strange! I don’t know if the people of Moab had this custom, but if they did, Ruth said nothing. She just did what she was told. The story does say that Boaz was not a young man of Ruth’s age. He protected her when she gleaned in his fields, but he may not have been particularly appealing to her either. However, Ruth had decided to follow Naomi’s God and that meant trusting Him with the affairs of her life, and trusting those who had authority over her. This took faith and she had faith. She simply replied, “All that you say I will do.” (Ruth 3:1–5)
Today’s NT reading takes faith too. Paul writes Timothy telling him to stay strong in his faith because he is in a spiritual battle. He says to hold to a good conscience. These things I understand, but the last line is difficult . . .
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18–20)
In some way, perhaps in his prayers, Paul allowed the enemy access to these men who were blaspheming God. There are no details except to say their actions ruined their faith and they needed to learn the hard way that blasphemy was a serious offense against the Lord. Their classroom was the horrible fate of being in the hands of the liar and destroyer.
For me, this seems so contrary to the will of God. How could it be His plan to teach His people, even the most willful of them, by letting the devil at them? Yet I think of Job who had not sinned or done anything where he needed a severe lesson taught to him, yet God turned him over to Satan. In his case, God did this to prove the power of faith, that faith is not about trusting God only when good things happen. Job would prove that the faith God gives is sufficient for difficult situations also.
It seems much easier to trust God when things go well, but when life hands me challenges, then my faith is put to the test. This is truth concerning the lives of others. Can I trust God to be in control even when it seems that my family or friends are caught in the web of the evil one?
The psalmist writes about faith issues too. He is looking at the apparent success of evil people and wonders if living a godly life is important. “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” (Psalm 73:12–14)
His efforts to live a godly life are taking a toll. I can relate to that. It would be easier to follow my own desires than to follow God and be in continual war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Having increased wealth can be appealing too, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” (Psalm 73:16–19)
Thoughts such as my temptations also fade and disappear when I spend time with God in His Word and in worship and prayer. There the Lord reminds me again that this life is not all there is. “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:22–26)
Living the Christian life is rewarding, yet there are times when it seems I’ve missed out. It takes faith to go through reverses, to keep on when there seems no visible reason. Yet God reminds me that He is with me, and one day I will be with Him in eternity. This takes faith, and I rejoice that faith is a gift from God, not something I must conjure up!