Courage or Fear

Confidence.  Lack of Fear.  Boldness.  New Adventures.  New Challenges.  We have all been faced with decisions or challenges that cause fear and trepidation.  The unknown scares us and when faced with a decision where the outcome is unclear, we fear to take the next step on the path of life.  We are filled with “what if’s.”  What if I fail, what if I make the wrong decision, what if I don’t like what I get myself involved in, what if my decision hurts someone else, what if…Fear and lack of confidence are hindrances to our faith.  As we read through history, we can see many instances where boldness caused big things to happen and changed the course of history.  As Americans, we are familiar with the Revolution and the beginning of our country.  If the Founding Fathers had lacked boldness and confidence, we would still be under Britain’s rule and paying taxes, quite possibly without representation.

As the story of Deborah and Barak continues to unfold in Judges 4, we see that Barak and Deborah received the same message from the Lord, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun.  And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand?’” (Judges 4:6, 7).  God told both Barak and Deborah the instructions for defeating Sisera, and Jabin, King of Canaan.  They both received the same message.  However, Jabin had 900 chariots and was an oppressive king, which caused fear in the hearts of the Israelites.  After being oppressed for twenty years, the mentality of the Israelites was one of weakness and fear and a feeling of powerlessness.  Now God wants Barak to take only 10,000 men from only two tribes to defeat this great king with his 900 chariots.  Barak had heard the message from God, but he had not begun to gather his men since “Deborah sent and summoned Barak…” (Judges 4:6).  Barak heard Deborah ask him the same message he had received from God, yet he continued to be unsure of the path he was to take.  Rather than hear the words of Deborah adding confirmation to the message he had already heard, he continues to need reassurance in the next step of the defeat of Sisera and Jabin.

The last part of God’s message to both Deborah and Barak was …”and I will give him into your hand.” (Judges 4:7).  Barak had all he needed to defeat Sisera and Jabin, God!  God had told him that all he had to do was gather the 10,000 men and go to Mount Tabor and God would do the rest.  The instructions were laid out and now all God needed was a willing servant to follow through with the instructions, but Barak was hesitant.  He had received the instructions, he had received confirmation through Deborah that he had heard the instructions correctly, yet he still hesitated.  Instead of going with courage to Mount Tabor and gathering his 10, 000 men, he asked Deborah to go with him.   “Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’” (Judges 4:8).  Deborah agreed knowing that God was on their side and they had nothing to fear.

Deborah, willing to serve however and wherever God would have her serve; Barak, fearful to serve unless all the conditions were met.  The battlefield was not a place a women went to in these times, yet Deborah had full confidence in God and the victory that God promised that she did not waiver when asked to go to the battlefield.  Barak, wavering in his faith needed the confidence of Deborah to lead the army of God against the Canaanites. Courage and fear are enemies of each other.  God knew each of their hearts and the demands He placed on each, and He gave both Deborah and Barak the ability to perform the task He placed before them.

Questions:

  1. Does God lead without giving us the faith to perform the task He lays before us?
  1. Read Romans 8:31, 32 and apply these verses to Barak and Deborah.
  1. Read Luke 16:10 and ply this verse to Barak and Deborah.
  1. God allows things to come into our lives for the purpose of building our faith and giving us confidence in the coming events in our journey of life. Can you see the building blocks in your life and how they continue to prepare you for what is ahead?  Take some time to write a few of those events.
  1. How have those events prepared you for the next step? Write down the lessons you have learned.
  1. Was Deborah’s question in Judges 4:6, 7 enough to confirm what Barak had alredy heard from the Lord?
  1. Do you look at someone else and their relationship with God and think they have something you don’t have? What do you do to improve your relationship with God rather than wallow in the fact that yours is not as close to your Creator as someone else’s?
  1. Is there something that God has been asking you to do and you have lacked the faith and courage to take the step of action? What will it take to be a Deborah instead of a Barak and move forward with confidence in your God?
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Deborah-A Mother in Israel

If you take the time to read the book of Judges, a common theme begins to show itself quickly.  “And the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord…” (Judges 2:11, 37, 4:1…).  This scenario is followed by years of oppression by Israel’s enemies.  After a period of years “the people of Israel cry out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer…” (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:6…).  In Judges 4, God raises up the fourth judge after Joshua’s death, Deborah, the first and only woman judge.  During Deborah’s time as judge or “prophetess…she would sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4, 5).  At the same time, the Israelites were being oppressed by Jabin, the king of Canaan.  The Israelites grew weary of their oppression and sought to rid themselves of the enemies that oppressed them.  As the Israelites began to choose God over idols and serve Him with their whole hearts, God would deliver them from the oppression of their enemies through a judge.  This cycle of idolatry followed by deliverance is a common theme seen in the book of Judges. Since they were not following God, they needed wise council from someone who knew God and could direct them toward a relationship with God.    Deborah’s reputation was spread far and wide throughout the country of Israel as the Hebrews would seek Deborah for her wisdom and assist them in providing solutions to the problems they had.  Her reputation is also seen in Judges 5:7 “I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.”  This was a title of honor and respect. The Israelites would seek Deborah’s wise council to help them correct the wrongs in their lives related to their worship and relationship with God.

How did Deborah attain to such a position of authority as a woman in the 12th century BC?  First and foremost, God ordained that Deborah be in this position of authority.  Second, she was persistent in developing her relationship with God.  A person cannot give wise council pertaining to the things of God without having a relationship with God.  A person cannot give wise council to families and individuals day-in and day-out that provides needed and positive change in lives without having a solid walk with God.  A person’s reputation in a land full of apostasy means only one thing: Deborah was closely communicating with God, and the children of Israel saw by her life and the wisdom she bestowed on others that the hand of God was with her.  When Deborah spoke to the Israelites, they knew she was speaking for God.  A prophetess or judge was a mouthpiece for God.  After years of oppression from Jabin, King of Canaan, the people knew they needed to change their ways and follow God since the “evil they did in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 4:1) caused oppression not freedom.

The same thought process exists today in our society that did so many years ago in the time of Deborah.  As a society we are called the “me generation.”  Life is all about me and what I want, not about what others want or what God wants.  So many have turned their backs on God only to find their lives full of confusion, or there is always a sense of something missing and not being able to find it.  What is missing from so many who claim to have all the freedoms they desire?  So many today are missing that intimate and personal relationship with God.

The contrast between Deborah and the children of Israel shows the need for a relationship with God and a willingness to follows His Biblical decrees.  The Israelites were enticed away from following God and His decrees by the bondage of idol worship, only they did not see it as bondage rather they thought they were choosing who to serve based on their freedom to choose.  Each time the country moved away from following God and turned to idols, the oppression began.  So today in the midst of our desire to have the freedom to choose, how often are the choices we make based on our desires rather than God’s directives?  Deborah, a lone woman in her country, made a reputation for herself amongst all the Israelites to follow God and be God’s spokeswoman.

Questions:

  1. After you have read Judges 4, 5, what characteristics of Deborah do you see?
  1. Are these characteristics that you see admirable and worthy to emulate?
  1. What must Deborah have done daily in order in order for the events of Judges 4:5 to take place?
  1. After reading Judges 5:7, write down how Deborah attained this title.
  1. We all have a sphere of influence in our lives. Some spheres are great and others are small, but we all have a sphere.  What changes in your life need to take place so your sphere of influence more closely resembles Deborah’s?
  1. Deborah did not wake up one day and decide to be judge. No position of influence, no matter how great or small, happens overnight.  A positive impact on other’s lives takes determination and faithfulness.  Determine now to make the changes you wrote down in question #5 and determine to be faithful, no matter how difficult the task. Are you willing to take this challenge?  If so when will you start?

A Happy Ending for Ruth

As little girls grow up, many long to be a princess living in a castle married to Prince Charming while being treated like royalty not just by the servants but also by her Prince Charming.  Reality has struck for many young ladies as the “everydayness” of life happens and the young men are not Prince Charmings and there is no castle to move into once they are married.

The story of Ruth is captivating from the beginning. It starts with death and sadness, moves to kindness and romance, and ends with a beautiful love story.  The Bible is full of exciting and romantic biographies and autobiographies.  Boaz told Ruth in Ruth 3:13 “…if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then as the LORD lives, I will redeem you.”  Early in the morning Boaz sent Ruth home with “six measures of barley” so she would “Not go back empty-handed to her mother-in-law.”  Boaz continues to show care and concern not only for Ruth but also for Naomi, being sure to provide an ample supply of grain for their needs.

During Bible times, the gate was the center of all activities.  The gate, in essence, was similar to the courthouse of today.  The elders of the town (the men) sat at the gate and made decisions about the laws of Moses as they applied to the townspeople.  In Ruth 4:1, Boaz went to the gate and sat down and waited.  As the nearest kinsman redeemer to Ruth passed by, Boaz invited him to sit and then Boaz gathered “ten of the elders of the city” (Ruth 4:2).  Before these ten elders and the nearest kinsman redeemer, Boaz presented the case of Ruth.

Naomi had complete trust in Boaz knowing he would care for her and Ruth as seen in Ruth 3:18.  Boaz told the nearest kinsman redeemer that Naomi was selling the parcel of land that had belonged to Elimalech, and he had first rights to buy the property.  The nearest redeemer was ready to buy the property until Boaz presented the second half of the deal, “the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” (Ruth 4:5).  However, the nearest redeemer no longer was interested in this deal since the addition of Ruth would “impair my own inheritance.” (Ruth 4:8).  This man was concerned about his present children sharing their inheritance with Ruth’s child or the language of the original Hebrew also implies that he did not want to harm his current relationship with his wife and bring strife into his life by adding another wife.

Boaz was willing to care for Ruth, Naomi, and also the land that belonged to Elimalech.  As the custom of the day, a signed contract was not what bound the terms of this agreement, but rather the giving of a sandal.  The nearest redeemer, before ten witnesses, drew off his sandal and gave it to Boaz.  Boaz agrees to the terms by declaring to the ten elders and the people that were gathered around “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon.   Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place.  You are witnesses this day.” (Ruth 4:9, 10).

Boaz is willing to provide all the care for Ruth that the Israelite culture demands, even though she was a Moabite.  Boaz proves time and again his noble character and his willingness to do what is right.

Questions:

  1. Who is Boaz’s mother? (Matthew 1:5)
  1. What is Rahab’s story? (Joshua 2 and 6:22-25)
  1. What similarities are there between Ruth and Boaz’s character? (Ruth 2:1 and 3:11).
  1. How does God bless Ruth and Naomi for their faithfulness? (Ruth 4:13-17).
  1. Compare the character of Ruth with the character of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. What similarities are there?
  1. Ten generations are recorded in Ruth 4:18-22. What is significant in this list?  How does this list show God’s blessing on Ruth’s life?
  1. According to the verses in Proverbs 31 and the genealogy recorded in Ruth 4:18-22, what does God consider to be of utmost importance? Consider also Ruth and Orpah.
  1. Now consider your life. What similarities do you see between Ruth, Proverbs 31, and your own life?  What differences do you see?  Are there changes you need to make?  Prayerfully consider these things and seek God’s direction and assistance to become the woman He wants you to be.

Boaz-Ruth’s Kinsman Redeemer

Different cultures have different practices that seem foreign and strange to us.  The story of Ruth encapsulate a few of these cultural practices.  Now that we have moved from the agricultural age to the technology age, land has taken on a different meaning.  No longer do families pass down acres of farm land to their children so they can plant crops and provide food for their families and a means of livelihood.  During the time of Ruth, not only did farm land provide food, but also it was a measure of one’s wealth.

A kinsman redeemer found in the story of Ruth is a foreign concept in our technology age, but was very common place during Ruth’s day.  Ruth 2:1 first introduces Boaz as a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s husband.  Naomi again brings up this point of Boaz being “a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” in Ruth 2:20.  As the story continues, Ruth continues gleaning in Boaz’s field “until the end of the barley and wheat harvest.” (Ruth 2:23).  The barley harvest happened first in the month of April followed by the wheat harvest in May.  Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz for at least two months since Naomi and Ruth arrived “at the beginning of the barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22).  During this two month time period, the people of Bethlehem were able to become acquainted with Ruth and observe her character.

Towards the end of the barley and wheat harvest, the events of Ruth 3 takes place, and the role of a kinsman redeemer is played out.  According to the laws written down by Moses in the Pentateuch, a man was to marry his brother’s widow so his brother’s name would be carried on.  This brother who married the widow was called the kinsman redeemer.  A kinsman redeemer is also seen in relation to property.  If an Israelite was force to sell his land temporarily, he and his family retain the right of redemption.  The land could be redeemed in one of three ways:

  1. A kinsman redeemer buys back the land (Leviticus 25:25)
  2. The seller himself is able to buy back the land (Leviticus 25:26, 27)
  3. It is restored to the rightful owner during the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:28)

There are also a few near East customs seen in Ruth 3.  Since Boaz was older by a generation, he would not have initiated the proposal to be Ruth’s kinsman redeemer.  Ruth would have to approach Boaz.  In Ruth 3:7 another unusual custom is seen. Ruth was to “uncover Boaz’s feet and lay down (at his feet).”  This custom allowed Ruth to initiate a marriage proposal that showed her dependence on Boaz to care for her and protect her.   When Boaz awoke at midnight and found Ruth at his feet, he treated her with kindness and complimented her for her decision.  “And he said, ‘May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.’” (Ruth 3:10).  Ruth could have chosen to find a younger man that seemed more desirable to a young woman, but rather she chose the man who was a kinsman redeemer and had already shown her great kindness.  Ruth is attentive to the things that are important and is rewarded for her choice.  In Ruth 3:10, Boaz looks at Ruth’s choice in him as a greater kindness than moving from her homeland to Israel with her mother-in-law.

Boaz was not the nearest kinsman redeemer, and Boaz being a worthy man of high esteem knew this fact.  His assurance to Ruth in Ruth 3:11-13 provided her comfort.  Boaz would take care of her and make sure that she had a kinsman redeemer that would provide for her and her mother-in-law.
Questions:

  1. Read Ruth 3. In Ruth 3:1 Naomi tells Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you that it may be well with you.”  What do you think this means?
  1. In Ruth 3:3, Naomi tells Ruth to wash herself, anoint herself, and put on her cloak. This could be reference to Ruth changing from her clothes of mourning.  This change could be a sign that her mourning for her husband was over.  Why do you think this is significant to the story?
  1. The instructions given by Naomi to Ruth are recorded in Ruth 3:4 and Ruth’s response is in Ruth 3:5. What were Naomi’s instructions?  What do you think about these instructions?
  1. What was Ruth’s response to Naomi’s direction? (Ruth 3:5, 6)
  1. What is the significance of Ruth uncovering Boaz’s feet? (Ruth 3:7)
  1. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 records the direction from God to the people regarding a kinsman redeemer. Read this passage and record the law established by God.  Why was this so important?
  1. What does James 1:27 command us to do regarding widows? Why is it important to provide care for the widows?
  1. Read Leviticus 25:23-28 and record what is to happen to a man’s property. To further understand the year of jubilee read Leviticus 25:8-17 and record what you learned.
  1. Leviticus 25:18-22 shows God’s goodness when we have follow His commands. Read this passage and record what God says and how this can apply to your life.