Thursday, June 29, 2023

 Nothing For Naught !  

If we could truly -- from our heart -- pray that prayer with child-like faith would we ever feel anxious and afraid?  Do our times of anxiety and fear not come when we have doubt that God is REALLY is in control of the details?   And if He really is, then what do we have to worry about??  
Our God is a God of details -- in His creation , in His plan, but also in His Word !  If there was one detail that escaped God's attention, He would no longer be perfect !  And perfect we know He is. 
We all acknowledge that God's word - our scripture -  is God-breathed and inspired but have we not all at times let our eyes skim over some obscure reference or some minor character or unpronounceable name and wondered why these details take up space in our Bible's pages?
Yet, we know in God's creation there is no unnecessary detail. Sometimes it is a very small detail by which some 'big' thing is held together !   Everything has a purpose!
Should we not expect God to be consistent in all of His work -  whether it be created acts or words?
I believe every word in the Bible is there for a purpose and reason, whether or not we see it.   But .. sometimes it just takes a little extra focused reflection and thought to see what the purpose is. 
 I want to look at a few of the 'obscure' characters in the Bible that I think have something to teach us. 

1. Two Thieves
Two characters that are familiar to us are the two thieves crucified with Jesus.   Interesting, isn't it that the crucifiers put Jesus in the middle.  Maybe so He could converse intimately with both.  Two thieves who had lived a life-style of crime serious enough to be condemned to the cruel death of crucifixtion.They obviously knew each other judging from their conversation with each other.  Yet, how different they were.  One held onto his hard heart and felt no remorse for his 'sinful' life.  The other, guilty of the same, looked at Jesus and his heart melted. He dared to ask !
 "Remember me ... !"  
Yes, Jesus remembered him!  He knew all the details of his life, and saw the honest acknowledgement of his sin. Without any hesitation Jesus simply welcomed him into the Kingdom  
Do you ... or someone you know...  feel that they are not worthy, that they dare not come to Jesus fearing He will justly turn them away? Point them to this thief on the cross.  For two thousand years he has been the witness to Jesus' freely  forgiving  ANYONE who asks.  No one will be turned away. (John 6:37)

2. Ehud - Used Because He was Different
Our second character centers in a rather gruesome story that is not pleasant to envision.  But it sits on our Bible page in Judges 3.  There is an insightful detail that is easily overlooked.  The character is Ehud.  You may not be familiar with him, so here is the back story.  Israel had been under enemy oppression for eight long years  - finally in their desperation they cried out to the Lord to rescue them.  And the Lord heard and answered by providing a deliverer, a man by the name of Ehud.  
Ehud was 'different' and maybe suffered ridicule because of it.  We so want to be the same as everyone else - we want to fit in , not stand out.   But the God of details gave us that characteristic that makes us different - because He has need of it, as we see in Ehud's life story..   
What was 'different' about him?  He was left-handed.  Different, awkward , when the world caters to 'right-handedness'. 
Ehud loved God - he was faithful, dependable and fearless!  
The enemy Israel feared was Eglon, king of Moab - the enemy God raised up against Israel because of their evil ways, , but he had served his purpose and now God needed to save his people from his cruel oppression of them.  

Ehud  had a plan. 
Fearlessly, he walked into the enemy's camp, accompanying those who were carrying the tribute demanded by Eglan.The tribute was delivered, but Ehud's plan required a private meeting with the king. so he shouted, "I need to see you alone, O King, I have a secret message from God for you."  The king, obviously curious what this message could be,  dismissed those with him.  Before they left, I'm sure they patted Ehud's left side to make sure he had no weapon.  
Because Ehud was left-handed, his weapon was not hung under his clothes on his left side but on his right !  The guards did not expect he would have a weapon on his right side ! That made it too difficult to access for a right-handed man.   
Therefore, because he was 'different', he had the advantage of surprise when his 'left-hand' reached over to his right side to pull out his dagger.  Before Eglon could react, it was too late. His life was over!  
Are you 'different' in some way?   Did the God of details not give it to you for a good purpose?  Have you asked Him how you can serve Him with the special gift He 'detailed' you with? 

3. Elishama who?
I'm sure you could not tell me who Elishama was if I asked.  
We know every little about him.  He is briefly mentioned in passing in Jeremiah 36:12. He lived in the time when Jehoiakim, King of Judah ruled and God sent Jeremiah with a warning  message to the king.  Elishama, we read, was a scribe, in whose chamber Jeremiah's scroll was hidden.   Jehudi by order of the king went to get it,  and he read it to the king, who seized it and threw it into the fire.  
Why was it important for God to record that Elishama was a scribe in the service of the king?  
Many, many years passed - millenia, in fact. Then, in 1986 in an excavation in Jerusalem a clay seal was uncovered.  What was important about it is what was written on it... "Elishama, servant of the king."  
The world is always eager to prove God doesn't exist, that the Bible is a collection of fables and full of errors.   But God is in the details -  Elishama's name was needful to be recorded so that he stands as 'proof' that God's word is true -- EVERY WORD !!!  

4. Ittai the Gittite
Another character whom you may not be familiar with is Ittai the Gittite. (II Samuel 15).The Gittites lived in Gath but you may be more familiar with Goliath than with Ittai -- both Gittites. (II Sam. 21:19 says .. Goliath, the Gittite)   Obviously, the Gittites were Philistines, hardly the friends of Israel, yet here we have in our Bible reference to Ittai.  He has a message for us. 
Background -- King David was being betrayed by his own son Absolum. Absolom had won over   to himself many fellow Iraelites. He beguiled them with lies about how King David was a thoughtless judge, not caring about the peoples' complaints. If only he - Absolom- were king  he would certainly care for them with more empathy and support!   
David had to flee for his life and his supporters went with him.  Ittai and all the Gittites also went with David and when Daved noticed them he encouraged Ittai to go back and stay with Absolom, even referring to him as king.  I believe he was 'testing' Ittai's loyalty since David did not know why Ittai and his men had joined him.  They had only been with him for a day.   
But look at the words of Ittai in response to David telling him to go back home.  His words echo Ruth's words to Naomi -- that where David goes he will go , in life or death!  
His sincerity was obviously proven because king David subsequently put Attai in charge of a third of his army. (II Sam. 18:2)  
What is Ittai's message?  Don't judge someone by their family or their history or their ancestry or ethnic background.  Though Ittai was from a godless nation that prided itself on its giants - Goliath being one of them -  he chose to live contrary to his upbringing.  
God leads and judges everyone on their own merits and does not judge anyone for the sins of their father's. (Ez. 18:20)  
King David reflected God's heart in his attitude and actions toward Ittai.  He believed him and rewarded his loyalty, putting him in a position of trust.  

5. Dear Shiphrah and Puah ! 
 Then we have Shiphrah and Puah whose names are recorded in Ex. 1:16.  We know that because of their 'lie' , God's plan for the deliverance of Israel through Moses  unfolded.   These two midwives boldly stood before Pharaoh who could have with one wave of his hand, order their death but they declared that the Israel women were different from the Egyptian women in that they gave birth very fast , before the midwives even got there !   The obvious should have struck Pharoah.  If the midwives statement was true why did they have midwives??    God was pleased with the midwives and rewarded them with families of their own.  Why was that unusual?  I read one article that stated that midwives were not generally allowed to marry.  If that is true or not, we know God blessed them in a way that was very meaningful to them !  
The lesson they teach?  That it is okay to lie to save our skin or life?  No, I don't think so, although I know we all take pleasure in the picture of these two women standing so brazenly before the king with their cover story!  
I think the lesson they teach is that when we are brave enough to do the right thing even though we are disobeying authorities and our life may be in danger because of it, God will protect us, cover us, and reward our faithfulness.   

I hope the above glimpses into some of the lesser known passages of our Bible encourage and enrich your own Bible study.  And may you be encouraged to know how important you are in God's thoughts.  You may see yourself as a small detail ... but God sees you as an important piece in His unfolding eternal plan !  You are necessary and needful and  BLESSED in God's love for YOU !  

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"My Name Is Naomi" 

"Hello, my name is Naomi.  You have found me  in the pages of your Bible, though I am not the main character in the story - my daughter-in-law Ruth is. But I have some thoughts I so desire to share with you, if you have the heart and time to hear them. 
 Hindsight is very wise, but it comes a little late - we have already reaped the 'fruit' of our choices, actions and decisions.  They say the best way to learn is through others' mistakes, so you don't have to make them yourself !  So let me share what I learned and I pray that my experiences might be of help to you. 
I, like every other young woman, had my dreams and expectations..  I would marry and have children and live my life, happy and content to run my happy household.  My name , Naomi ,means 'pleasant' and that is how I expected my life to be. 
And that is how ,at first, it began to unfold.  I married and was excited to find I was soon pregnant with my first child.  It was a son - but he was not strong.  I feared for his well-being and afraid I was going to lose him so I named him "Mahlon"  (meaning sickly) maybe to remind myself that he might not live to adulthood.  Shortly after, I became pregnant again - another son, but to my sorrow he too was born sickly, so I named him Chilion (meaning pining or wasting away) 
But, I was so thankful that as I cared lovingly for my boys they did become stronger and to my relief and joy grew to be  men. 
But then a famine swept our land and it became difficult to get enough food.  Not that anyone was starving 'yet' , but we did not know for how long this famine would go on. We knew God had always cared for His people, and I believed that He would see us through this famine.  
Then one day, my husband, Elimelech came to me and said he had decided that we would move to Moab, where there was plenty of food .  I couldn't believe my ears!  Moab was cursed by God because the Moabites refused to give food to the Israelites, and these were the very people Elimelech was choosing to trust?   The very thought of leaving my home, my family, my friends - everything I had ever known was heart wrenching and filled me with anxiety.  But what could I do ?  My husband was determined and I had no choice but to obey him. 

Lesson  1 --  Sometimes life throws the unexpected in our life-path, upsetting our security, our comfort, wrecking havoc with the very things we thought were solid in our life. 
Or someone makes a major decision that affects us, yet we are not considered or given any voice or control.  Because we feel the rug is pulled out from under us,  we  cry out to God  but feel left adrift,  because surely He could have prevented this life-changing, devastating circumstance.  
  But God does not abandon us in the wilderness or when we are forced to go to Moab . He  quietly guides and watches over us, even when we do not see Him, and are unaware of His Presence!  He is never troubled or at a loss, He knows the way we will go, knows what we will encounter, and all He asks is that we trust Him to guide us through, because He knows the way! 
So we moved to Moab where everything was new and strange. Yes, we had food, but at what price ?   
And then, my husband died, leaving me grief-stricken!   Now, I was really alone, responsible for my two sons.  And I worried about them.  They were young enough that they embraced their new country and felt quite at home.  My heart plummeted when I realized that they were interested in the Moab girls, thinking of taking them as wives.  I had never considered that I would have pagan grandchildren !   I had already lost everything. Was I to lose my family line of descendants  as well?
 But when my sons brought the girls home  that they had chosen to marry, I had to admit that they had chosen well.  I grew to love both girls, Ruth especially bonded to me and was eager to hear about my God, so different from the gods of Moab.  Orpha clung to her own gods, but we did have a good relationship and loved each other. 
It was another sorrow and hardship when we realized that my sons could not father children .  Ten years went by but I have to credit my daughters-in-law for their faithfulness.  They could have left but they didn't, and I did not experience any blame or resentment from them. 

Lesson 2 -  Sometimes what seems to be a 'blessing withheld' is really God withholding what would hinder Him from giving us His best!  And in hindsight, I am grateful that my sons were not able to father children, because the beautiful story you all know would not have happened !  
But again,  my life was shattered  - this time completely , when both of my sons died.  I was overcome  with grief and anxiety and also a very real fear!   Now what was I going to do?   My daughters-in-law were still young - they would surely remarry and join their husbands' families - leaving me completely alone with no one to care for me, and certainly no means of support.   
Where was God?  
How could He have dealt so harshly with me?  It was not my fault that we moved to Moab.  It was not my fault my husband died and it was not my fault that my sons were born sickly, never strong even as men, and it was not my fault they were unable to have children.  My bitterness overshadowed even my grief , and life became unbearable.  The pleasure in life was gone, 'Naomi' was no more - henceforth I would be called "Mara" , meaning bitter, and how bitter I was!  

Lesson 3 -  Nothing is so dark as when there is no light.  I could not see any possible way out of the deep pit I found myself in. There was nothing I could cling to, no possible way to rebuild my life.  But oh... how wrong I was.   God always has a way.  There is no night so dark that God cannot bring light in the morning.  Our despair comes when we no longer believe that 'light' will come and the night seems endless.  Ohh..  dear friend, the night will pass, because God is waiting in the morning light and will reveal what He could see all along, even when you felt only despair. 
Then one day I heard the famine back home was over and I made a decision. I would return  to Bethlehem - at least then I would be with my own people, even though I dreaded facing them. How would they react when they heard my story? When they heard how harshly God had dwelt with me.  Would they blame me for having left to dwell in Moab?  Would they say, I deserved all of God's punishment? I wouldn't blame them, since I knew God so clearly had turned against me and punished me severely.  If they looked at me with scorn and disgust, it was nothing new. It was what I accused myself of every day. 
So, you know the story - how I encouraged Ruth and Orpha to return to their homes, their mothers, and their gods, and how Orpah reluctantly returned, but Ruth insisted on coming with me.  She had more faith than I had, the dear girl !  What a God-gift she was to me, but I didn't even realize that at the time !   All I could focus on was myself and the reasons for my bitterness. 

Lesson 4 - No matter how dark and hopeless a place we find ourselves in, no matter how alone we believe we are, if we are willing to open our eyes to see beyond our own pain, we will see the  hand of God reaching out to give us hope. Whether it is through another person, or some written word, or an unexpected blessing, God will find a way to encourage us, to stir up our  trust in Him and cling to the hope that we have in Him.  And even when there is no relief in sight, no answers, no way of escape,  God has a way. 
Why do we lose our trust in Him so quickly?  Why do we judge by what we see rather than in what we know God has promised?   There is nothing that can upset God's gentle and wise planning of our life -- ALL things working out for good  because He is Good! 
On that long journey home, I indulged my bitterness,  falling deeper and deeper into despair.  My life was over , and now not only was I coming home with empty hands and a bitter heart, but I had with me, a heathen daughter-in-law. - a cursed Moabite.   I could not think of any way I was going to provide for myself, let alone a young woman who would surely not be accepted by my people!   
With each step I felt the pain of despair, of hopelessness, of fear and worry. The darkness of my soul made every breath an exercise in futility.  Why was I even alive? Just so God could watch me suffer? 
Ohhh ... if only I had known what God had planned !  I thought my life was over, full of dark despair, but God was planning the most beautiful story about to unfold. 
Lesson 5 - Ohh.. my friends, NEVER despair, NEVER give up !  When it is darkest, God's light is about to shine on His unfolding story!  God will never take you along a lonely path or bring you into a desperate situation to leave you there !  No, no, He is planning to take you through because sometimes the only way to get to the 'joy' is to go through the 'sorrow'.  
I praised God for the rest of my life - how He so gloriously provided for me in ways beyond my comprehension. Even doing what I thought was impossible - laying a grandson into my arms.  A grandson that would be the grandfather of Israel's beloved King David.  Oh... my ...  my heart could hardly hold my joy  and my face wore a 24/7 smile!  
  If you are going through a dark season of life, please know that as God did for me, He will do for you !  The best is yet to come - wait for it !! " 
"Ascribe greatness to our God, He is the Rock, 
His work is perfect for all His ways are justice, 
A God of truth and without injustice, 
Righteous and upright is He !!":  
Deut. 32:3b,4