What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, November 18, 2022):
Judges 21 ~ Ruth 1-4 ~ 1 Samuel 1-2
Haggai 2 ~ Zechariah 1-6
1 John 2-5 ~ 2 John ~ 3 John ~ Jude
We are touching on nine different books this week! I always like to read Ruth through in one shot. Just a thought.
Notes on Judges
As we close out the book, we find that the Israelites have sunk into the depths of depravity. Sexual sin, including homosexuality, abounded. Idolatry and killing and barbarianism were standard fare. It all comes as a result of the loss of spiritual direction.
The Book of Judges closes with these words, though they are used elsewhere throughout the book: “In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” This is a fitting testimony to what happens when we make our own way, good intentions notwithstanding. There is a reason God puts leaders in place in the kingdom, why there is a church, and why the Lord is never seen looking for lone rangers.
This sorry chapter in Israel’s history ends on such a horrible note. The wickedness had spun out of control, and the book closes with Israelites fighting against and killing each other by the tens of thousands. Yet God had a plan for the people he loved.
Notes on Ruth
Ruth is a great diversion from all of the sin we encountered in Judges. The Book of Ruth takes place during the time of the judges, showing us that there has been and always will be a remnant, there will always be those who remain faithful even through the most apostate of times.
This is another book, like Jonah, that I like to read in one sitting. Ruth is significant, for she will be a part of the lineage of the Messiah. Her future husband’s grandmother was Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho (see Matthew 1.5).
Naomi was a Jew. Her husband moved her and their two sons to Moab due to a famine. Both of their sons married women from Moab, and then all three men died. Naomi was left alone with two daughters-in-law of a different nationality than her. One of them was Ruth.
While in Moab, Naomi heard word of increasing prosperity back in the home country of Israel (1.6). You have to wonder how information like that traveled in those days. She found the report reliable enough that she packed up her entire life to move back.
Ruth clung to her mother-in-law back to Israel as a widow. It was bad enough for Jewish widows, but for Ruth, as a Moabitess, prospects were extremely low for any kind of life above abject poverty. Her love for Naomi was remarkable.
Names in the Bible are always significant. Naomi means “pleasant,” but she on her return wanted to be called Mara, “bitter”, because of the hard changes she had encountered (1.20).
Ruth keeps both herself and Naomi alive by picking up leftovers from fields as they are harvested. This was a provision for widows given via the Law (see Leviticus 19.9-10). But then Boaz, owner of the field, lays eyes on her. We all know what happened after that.
Boaz commends Ruth on not going after younger men (3.10-11). But she lived nearly as a slave, with poverty wages. I wouldn’t think of her in any position to be chasing anyone. Meanwhile, Boaz was a single and very prosperous man. Well, it all worked out, didn’t it? The kinsman-redeemer who was a closer relative than Boaz (3.12-13) either had another wife or previous wife, and/or children. According to the law, any children he would have with Ruth would inherit all of his property in Ruth’s family's name, not his own (Deuteronomy 25.5-6, I think this is the law in play here). I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to read. The closing words are the most significant: “Boaz the father of Obed (her baby), Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David” (4.22). The specific target of David as the progenitor of the Messiah is a key Old Testament prophecy, and this book sets it up.
The blessing of the elders and the people upon Ruth, to be like Rachel and Leah, would not only be fulfilled, but in a way far beyond their ability to even grasp. Ruth would be the great-grandmother of David, and therefore place her in the genealogical line of the Messiah.
Notes on 1 Samuel
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings are actually one long book in a four-part series. A better title for 1 and 2 Samuel would actually be 1 and 2 David. He is by far the most prominent character in the two books.
Nevertheless, Samuel will be THE transitional character between the time of the judges and the time of the kings. He is the first recognized prophet of Israel. All of what we are reading here at the opening takes place during the spiritually confusing time of the judges, and we can see how many bad decisions and mixed spiritual signals are still manifesting. In chapter one, we find the miraculous birth of Samuel, who would be the last of the judges, but the first of the prophets to serve the kings of Israel. His life would be a turning point for Israel, as she transitioned from being ruled by a patchwork of judges to the establishment of a nation king. However, we will see Samuel struggle with God over the kingship. He never approved of the idea (even though we will see that God wasn’t really keen on it, either).
Samuel’s mother Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah. Even though some had multiple wives back in the Old Testament, this was never an approved practice in God’s eyes. Jealousy and infighting were to be expected. Peninnah, Elkanah’s first wife, had his children; but Hannah had his heart. This is messed up on so many levels (see 1.2, 5).
It was not until passing through this territory for about the 20th time that I started looking at these first two chapters in an entirely new way. All at once I saw, in addition to this dysfunctional family, some really troubling features to this story that I have missed over the years. First off, Hannah has committed to giving up her son, without her husband’s prior knowledge (1.21–23), to send him away at a very young age to live in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. Here, he was to be raised by a priest who, apparently, also knew nothing about this arrangement until the boy Samuel was dropped on his doorstep (2.27–28).
This old priest had some spiritual issues (1.27–29), as well as being an incompetent father (2.12). Samuel was to be raised, away from his parents, away from his family, away from the normal settings for a small boy, to be raised by a half-baked priest with wild, promiscuous sons in a church building. It is no wonder that Samuel himself would do rather badly as a father (see 8.1–3).
The interaction in the first two chapters between the sweet and innocent Hannah with Eli, the spiritually-messed-up priest, is interesting. Eli’s sons, wicked priests, were what you would probably expect in the “clergy” by this point, after what we read about in Judges. However, God was about to step in. The blatant wickedness of the sons (e.g., see 2.12, 17, 22) was about to be addressed (2.34), and the way will be prepared for Samuel to redirect God’s people spiritually (2.35).
With the season of Christmas bearing down upon us, it is interesting to compare the song of Hannah, who prayed desperately for a child (2.1-10), with the song of Mary (who was totally surprised by her pregnancy) in Luke 1.
Notes on Haggai
The people of Israel are promised God’s blessing as they get back online with his plan in chapter two. Zerubbabel is given the promise to be the Lord’s signet ring. He is from the royal line of David (his grandfather Jehoiachin and great-great uncle Zedekiah were the last two kings of Israel before the exile), and we will see in first chapter of Matthew that he would be an ancestor of the Messiah.
This little book is significant in a number of ways. Haggai, as a prophet, has no prophetic visions of God’s character. He simply gives the order to rebuild the Temple. What is also unique is that the people immediately respond and obey to this word from the Lord. We don’t see that too often!
There is a promise of God overthrowing thrones and shatter foreign kingdoms. That could be frightful to hear about if you are a people group completely under the domain of and subject to one of those nations. However, God promises his people that he has them covered.
Notes on Zechariah
Zechariah prophesied to the exiles after they had returned, two years into Darius’ tenure as king of Persia (1.1). This takes place before the rebuilding of the Temple (before the book of Haggai, that we just read). A theme will be encouraging the people to rebuild it.
Zechariah is full of prophecies about end times that correlates much with Revelation, but also gives us some unique glimpses of the Millennium. In this anti-climactic setting following the loss of everything— a seventy-year stint in Babylon—and now returning to a somewhat desolate place, the Lord sends strong words of encouragement. See 2.8-13. Messianic symbolism is found at its finest in chapter three. We meet Joshua, the godly high priest of that time back in Haggai (even though this takes place before the time of Haggai’s narrative). Here, Joshua is a symbol of the people of God and of the coming Messiah. He is instructed to change out of dirty clothes into clean in order to symbolize the forgiveness of sin (3.3-4). There is allusion to the cross, as in 3.9 the prophet says that sin will be removed in a single day.
In this chapter (three), the high priest and his team are identified as “men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, The Branch” (3.8). This is obviously referring to the Promised One, the Messiah (see, e.g., Isaiah 11.1). But the high priest, whose role the Messiah would take upon himself, is identified by name in 3.1, Joshua. This, of course, is the Hebrew name for Jesus. “‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (4.6). One time I was driving through a suburb in Chicago close to my home and saw this literally written in stone on the side of a synagogue. I almost drove off the road! I had never really noticed before that his powerful verse comes out of the Old Testament.
In chapters five and six, Zechariah will now be given a series of visions, living illustrations: a flying scroll, a woman in a basket, four chariots.
Compare the woman, representing wickedness in 5.7, with the woman in Revelation 17.3. As the church is represented throughout the New Testament primarily as a woman (e.g., the Bride of Christ; and see Revelation 12), so the wicked.
The symbolism of Joshua as Messiah is completed at the end of chapter six, where he wears a crown, is called the Branch, is to be clothed with majesty to sit and rule on his throne (see 6.11-23).
Compare horses of judgement in 6.2 with the four horses of the apocalypse in Revelation 6.1-8. I’d like to take some time someday, a lot of time, and compare and contrast and try to reconcile these two very-similar-but-not-exactly word pictures.
Notes on 1 John
May we never grow numb to the thrilling reality that we indeed are indeed the children of God! (3.1). Our basic life commands as followers of Jesus are to believe and to love (3.23).
There is a lot of emphasis on the metaphor of the family of God throughout this book. But John even goes beyond metaphor, when after describing us as the children of God, he says, “And that is what we are!” (3.1). That is to say, it’s more than a metaphor—it is reality! He emphasizes the love that God has for us, then challenges us to respond to that love, and to reject all competition for our hearts and souls. The spiritual warfare dynamic is clearly laid out in 3.8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Our love for God is validated through our love for one another (4.20), and through our obedience (5.2).
Notes on 2 John
This very short book is virtually a summary of 1 John. The “lady” is the church itself.
Notes on 3 John
Another quite short book, this one is directed to a man named Gaius. A troublemaker in the church is identified by name. The early church did not mess around with those who brought division. I love verse 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” I find this encouraging not only for my biological children, but also for those whose lives I have ministered to in the past.
Notes on Jude
Much of Jude is extremely similar to verses we find in 2 Peter. Then as now false teaching was a force to be reckoned with.
The deep spiritual connection between false teachers and the kingdom of darkness is spectacularly explained. The curtain is pulled back on the invisible world of the demonic, and it is frightfully horrifying.
The proliferation of false prophets moved Jude to change the entire direction of his short book to addressing them instead of what he originally intended to write (3). The problem of false teaching was huge then— and has continued to this very day. Those who would twist the Word of God into something more palatable, politically correct, woke, profitable– or whatever– are described accurately here as “clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (12–13).
The last days prophecies of the Bible are so spot-on (18-19). What a wicked world we live in. As I read that “these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them” (10), I cannot help but think of all the spiritual garbage that is so easily posted and disseminated on social media.
In order to persevere, Jude exhorts us to build ourselves up in the faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, remain in God’s love, and wait for mercy that comes from Jesus himself (20-21).