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The book of Judges ended on a low note, and the book of Ruth does not open optimistically either. Yet, what we find throughout the book is a tale of redemption in Jesus Christ; although this is the first book where it seems that God is silent, it is in fact entirely underpinned by the gospel story of redemption from famine. It is fittingly quiet on the LORD’s direct communion with Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, yet it is drenched with symbolism, places, names and types which explains to the reader God’s dedication of the recapitulation of the body of Christ through the ordained salvation method of through His Anointed Son.
It is a book which many mistake to have been included purely to chronicle the events of the following books which speak of the kingship of Saul and David; yet if we were to simply look at Ruth as a story of a ‘humble and meek’ woman who was used by God to display the glory of Christ coming through humility, coming through a despised Moabite, then the message will be sorely saturated and much of what the Spirit wishes to communicate to the Spirit-filled reader will be lost. Both Antiochene and Alexandrian interpretations of this book are still subject to Christ’s words in John 5:39, that all Scripture testifies to him in several layers beyond that of mere prophecy or chronology.
Ruth 1: Israel in Slavery
Ruth thus begins with a famine during the time of the judges, and this pattern of fullness-famine-fullness is explored several times throughout the previous books: the leadership of Joseph and the blessings given to Israel in Egypt, leading to the widespread enslavement of the Israelites, culminating in the great Exodus to Canaan; the giving of Abraham’s wife to a king in both Genesis 12 and 20, a type of captivity over Abraham’s wife, the bride and the church, only for the wife to be returned to her lord, her husband, with greater blessings than what they have begun with; and the grander scheme of Eden, where Adam and Eve were but spiritual infants in the garden of Eden:
“Thus the enkrateia tradition could hold the state of Adam before the formation of Eve, or the supposed virginal condition of the protoplasts, to be the ideal after which to aspire, even seeing its perfection as entirely derivative of a pre-sexuality or a-sexuality. Here is the danger in misinterpreting Irenaeus as a restorationst, for Irenaeus saw the innocence of Eden as a state of immaturity, the growth from which would necessarily include marriage, the basis of the blessing of increase [referencing Against All Heresies Book III and Genesis 1:27-8]” – Michael Reeves in his unpublished doctorate thesis “The Glory of God – The Christological Anthropology of Irenaeus of Lyons and Karl Barth”
This theology of maturation, not to be confused with a type of Darwinist theology, takes us to realise that Naomi has to experience her death, her own baptism in Christ, so that she can also experience the resurrection – restoration to Eden – and ascension, going beyond Eden, so that we mature beyond the template of Eden which is only a shadow and type of New Creation. So this should teach us of the handing over of power to Satan in the fall but only for him to be crushed by Christ who takes the maturing church, including Adam and Eve, to the greater New Jerusalem.
Famine to Glory
This is reflected in the geographical movement of Elimelech and his family, including his wife Naomi, his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, and their respective Moabite wives (Elimelech’s daughters-in-law) Orpah and Ruth. V.1-5 begins with Elimelech leaving Bethlehem with his Israelite family because of a famine, and his sons finding Moabite wives in Moab, a direct correlation to the period of the latter chapters of Genesis where Jacob and his eleven sons found themselves in foreign land – Egypt, because of a great famine. Yet, upon receiving news that the LORD had “visited his people and given them food” they return to Judah where there is the house of bread, Bethlehem.
Note how the centrality of Old Testament evangelism is honed in on Israel as light to the nations; Israel is his people, by default implying at this time that Moab is not. Thus, the movement of Elimelech’s family from Bethlehem to Moab and back to Judah is meant to be a parallel to Abraham’s movement from Canaan to Egypt and back to Canaan (Genesis 12-13). So also Naomi’s name is changed similarly, from Sweetness to Bitterness, from having two sons and a husband taken from her (v.5) to the Almighty dealing bitterly with her (v.20), though three chapters later she will receive even greater blessings than when she had as Naomi, a glory greater than Eden. “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (v.21) These are the words of a half gospel; of Christ who died and did not resurrect, of Israel in slavery and there being no exodus – but Christ is indeed alive, and Israel is indeed saved.
The Offspring in Bethlehem
Throughout this entire episode, we should not assume that Elimelech is a sinner; contrarily, we receive only a neutral narrative which explains that he, alongside his two Israelite sons, had died in foreign land. It is in this context that we can see the similarities between Elimelech, Jacob and Israel in the wilderness. All three parties have died prior to entering Canaan; all three knew that the Israelites were the chosen people, that restoration would come firstly to Israel and bless the nations surrounding her. And yet, what is so important about the story of Elimelech, who is named “my God is king”, is that he is like those Israelites of the previous generations who called Yahweh his king. Any one of the Israelites could be the direct forefather of Jesus Christ, the one offspring in Galatians 3:16-19, and yet it would seem that Elimelech’s line is finished in v.5. Naomi is thus only left with her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Naomi.
What is important to realise is that Elimelech’s line is of course restored through Boaz and Ruth’s marriage; this effectively gives the inheritance back into the line of Mahlon, Elimelech’s son, the sick one – whose name is revived only through Israel, God’s chosen people especially in Bethlehem.
If read independently, this is also an allusion to Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, for The Offspring was born not in Moab, not in Egypt, not in the wilderness, but in the House of Bread for He is our Bread of life (John 6:48). However, if read in context of the book of Ruth being sandwiched between Judges and 1 Samuel, we can see how the message becomes more poignant; the continual refrain of rest and slavery in Judges with the book ending on slavery means that the immediate rest should come not in Saul, nor David, nor Solomon, but in the offspring of Elimelech who died outside of Israel like Jacob, whose name perpetuated not in Moab but in Israel, though he was buried in Moab (c.f. Genesis 49:29-30; 50:5).
Therefore, where we see Orpah leave upon Naomi’s pleading in v.11-14, we can also see how Elimelech’s line is essentially stopped there. Scripture does not mention again what happens to Orpah or Elimelech’s line through Orpah, but it appears that she heeded Naomi’s advice to find a new husband in Moab (v.8). Orpah went to find a husband, witnessing the LORD allegedly abandoning Naomi, and even if she were to find a husband, no longer would her line of descendants proclaim like Elimelech that “God is King”. This is the importance of seeing the difference Orpah’s progeny and Ruth’s; the former submitted to silence as if it is not important anymore, but Ruth’s being the highlight for the progeny extended through Israel and not in Moab.
Orpah shall find her husband by the blessing of her gods (v.15) who haven’t abandoned her like Yahweh has allegedly done with Naomi; Orpah shall be connected to the other husbands, to the other Baalim. Yet, Ruth will go where Naomi will go, lodge where Naomi will lodge, Naomi’s people being Ruth’s people – the first picture of the Gentiles taking shelter under the Israelite wings, of Japheth joining the tent of Shem (v.15-18, Genesis 9:27). This therefore appropriately occurs during the barley harvest (v.22), a time akin to the Pentecost the festival of harvest when the Spirit was given to the Gentiles, the church of Israel becoming once again a world-wide church which the church prior to Moses typified, and here prophesied as through the joining of Ruth to Naomi, of Ruth to Boaz, of Elimelech’s line restored and glorified with the addition of this Gentile – of Israel’s glory shared with the Gentiles together.
Ruth 2: Incarnation
Boaz the Redeemer
The story does not beat around the bush, and immediately takes us from the desolation and wilderness of chapter 1 to fulfilling the true meaning of this barley harvest in chapter 2. This is found in Boaz, incidentally a name used for one of Solomon’s brazen pillars in the temple porch (2 Chronicles 3:15). He is indeed a pillar of faith, a cornerstone of Christian history, a type of Christ-the-Redeemer and the Israelite husband to his soon-to-be wife, a Gentile, Ruth.
Yet, whilst the focus of the chapter is on Boaz, we first see the eagerness of the Gentile, of the despised Moabite which may still be fresh in the minds of the Israelites since the conflict of Ehud and Eglon in Judges 3-4. V.2-3 of chapter 2 in particular points us to the same principle of the Gentile who approached Christ (Matthew 15:27) as we see Ruth gleaning the Israelite field, the field which belongs to Boaz the type of Christ. In this field bought by Christ (Matthew 13:44-46), the field being the world, the great pearl is the church and Ruth is this great pearl in Boaz’ eyes which he would have to sacrifice his own estate for (c.f. chapter 4v.6).
Immediately, we are taken to Boaz’ proclamation – “the LORD be with you” (Yahweh imachem, LORD with you) – and indeed, Boaz is with Ruth, as Christ is with the Gentile and Israelite church in this field, the world. This man from Bethlehem is proclaiming and typifying the truth of Immanuel, God with us, and the narrative of v.8-18 taking us deep inside the mind of Christ as if He is directly speaking through Boaz. This is a breath-taking speech, a type of wedding proposal:
8Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10Then(G) she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should(H) take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11But Boaz answered her,(I) “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12(J) The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13Then she said,(K) “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”
14And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until(L) she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
17So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah[b] of barley. 18And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over(M) after being satisfied.
Christ is our LORD who takes notice of the foreigner (v.10; Acts 26:23; Romans 3:29, 11:11-25); who knows by the Spirit of the troubles of Ruth (v.11; c.f. Luke 10 parable of the Samaritan); who provides refuge under the banner of the “God of Israel” and not the Baalim of Moab as Orpah has run after; who eats with his bride (Exodus 24; Matthew 26:26) and has communion with her by the bread and the wine (v.14) – continually reminding His angels and His Church (v.15; c.f. Deuteronomy 4:26; 1 Samuel 12:5; Job 16:19; Hebrews 12:1) and Israelites to welcome her into the House of God.
Ruth in the Race of Faith
V.20 is thus a turning point for Naomi, a type of exodus for her as she begins to understand that she no longer has to call herself Mara as the LORD has not forsaken the living or the dead. It is interesting how in the same verse, Naomi does not mention the closest redeemer who Boaz knew about (according to the kinsman-redeemer mandate of Leviticus ??), but her consistent focus on Boaz tells us that his actions typify Christ more than that of the closest redeemer who does not even glorify Christ through his duty of redeemer. Yet, v.21-23 remains the current commandment concerning Ruth’s status in this field as she is protected from being assaulted by staying until the end of the harvest by the encouragement and upholding of her Israelite sisters; just as Hebrews 3 (?) taught us that we are to keep running in this race of faith by the Spirit and Christ the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), protected from the attack of Satan (1 Corinthians 10:13) as we stand inside the field of Boaz as Christ’s precious pearl (Matthew 13:46).
Ruth 3: From Death to Ascension
Many people tend to look at the third chapter of Ruth and frown upon Ruth taking initiative for her action like that of a prostitute. However, this is to read too much of an assumption into Ruth’s actions, for we need to remember that Boaz is the one who offered protection to Ruth; he is the first who extended compassion to this despised Moabite, like Christ who loved us before we loved him (Romans 5:10).
Upon this, Ruth is but hoping to prepare herself as a viable bride for Boaz to marry, and the entire preparation process is akin to the process of the Shulamite bride of the Song of Songs (Song of Songs 4) both analogies pointing to the washing and anointing of the church presented holy and blameless before her bridegroom on the great Wedding Day.
Christ and the Church
This is especially interesting given that Ruth is led by her mother-in-law (v.1-6), a Christian and an Israelite, giving godly advice to Ruth. This is by no means a whoring of Ruth; contrarily, it is a deep theology of man and wife, of Christ and the Church. It is in the sleeping of Adam that the church, Eve, was born – which is but a typifying of Christ who had to sleep in the earth and rise again for the global Church to be truly born:
“…Adam was put to sleep. We remember that it is said of believers that
they fall asleep, rather than that they die. Why? Because whenever
death is mentioned sin is there in the background. In Genesis 3 sin
entered into the world and death through sin, but Adam’s sleep
preceded that. So the type of the Lord Jesus here is not like other
types in the Old Testament. In relation to sin and atonement there is
a lamb or a bullock slain ; but here Adam was not slain, but only put
to sleep to awake again. Thus he prefigures a death that is not on
account of sin, but that has in view increase in resurrection. Then
too we must note that Eve was not created as a separate entity by a
separate creation, parallel to that of Adam. Adam slept, and Eve was
created out of Adam. That is God’s method with the Church. God’s
‘second Man’ has awakened from His’sleep’and His Church is created in
Him and of Him, to draw her life from Him and to display that
God has a Son who is known to be the only begotten, and God is seeking
that the only begotten Son should have brethren. From the position of
only begotten He will become the first begotten, and instead of the
Son alone God will have many sons. One grain of wheat has died and
many grains will spring up. The first grain was once the only grain ;
now it is changed to be the first grain of many. The Lord Jesus laid
down His life, and that life emerged in many lives. These are the
Biblical figures we have used hitherto in our study to express this
truth. Now, in the figure just considered, the singular takes the
place of the plural. The outcome of the Cross is a single person: a
Bride for the Son. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for
it…” – Watchman Nee, “The Normal Christian Life” Chapter 11
Ruth thus approached Boaz deep in the night and uncovering and laying by his feet as a sign of submission to Boaz her potential Head (Genesis 49:10; Exodus 3:5 – the taking off of the sandals as a sign of submission; Exodus 4:25; Joshua 3:13; Psalm 8:6, 58:10; Hebrews 2:8), with Ruth in particular seeing Boaz as akin to how Moses saw Christ (Exodus 19:4; Psalm 36:7) by her language – “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings [corners of a garment in the ESV footnote] over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” This call for salvation is typical of the church yearning for God (c.f. Job 19:25; Psalm 57:1, 61:4). The ESV footnote which looks at wings as alternatively the “corners of a garment” only calls me back to Isaiah 61 where Christ clothes us with the garment of righteousness, and Ruth understands that the decision of salvation and redemption comes through Boaz alone and not by her own efforts. V.10 is as if Christ himself is blessing Ruth and condemning Orpah, that Ruth would go for a godly man rather than a husband of other gods; that Ruth would cling onto Christ as the end of chapter 2 intimated through her perseverance in the harvest, rather than be distracted by the lust of her eyes.
V.13 thus is a beckoning for the Church to remain, and that in the morning Christ would redeem us. We are thus still in the night, wandering in the wilderness already saved from Moab, from Egypt, from slavery – and moving towards Canaan, towards Bethlehem of Judah, towards New Creation . Yet, it is still spiritual night, and though Christ arrived as light had entered darkness (John 1), Christ’s return is the great Resurrection Day as Boaz proclaims that the Redeemer will redeem Ruth in the morning. Yet, it is not the treacherous false kinsman-redeemer (chapter 4v.6) which Satan masquerades as, but Christ who is the only one entitled to be one with the Church as Adam and Eve and Boaz and Ruth.
However, these things are yet to be given, and just as God gave us the Holy Spirit as a deposit of this truth to come, so also Boaz grants Ruth this deposit through the symbolism of barley during this period of harvest (v.15) typical of the Pentecost. The mother-in-law may ask Ruth to learn how the matter turns out, but we know that with the barley harvest in our heart, with the Spirit testifying to Christ and He the Father, the morning will come with the arrival of the true Kinsman-Redeemer. Christ and His Father are working to this day (v.18, John 5:17), and will not have the long Sabbath Rest until the matter is settled once and for all (2 Peter 3:9).
Ruth 4: His return on the Wedding Day
So twelve men gather before the gate of the city, and one of them the closest kinsman-redeemer; yet, instead of redeeming his kinsman, he looked only to the property of Naomi. He would rather have her parcel of land (v.3) without responsibility, literally a free gift. With this kinsman-redeemer, he has no intention of perpetuating the name of Elimelech and like Satan who is equally condemned to the pit, he has no power in perpetuating the name of Elimelech let alone the desire to help anyone perpetuate their name. Yet, it is under Boaz the type of Christ that we all have new names which will perpetuate in New Creation (c.f. Revelation 2:17), rather than under the false pretence of this unnamed kinsman-redeemer who has failed to understand the spirit of the Levitical (?) law.
Cloud of Witnesses
This is where we see the self-sacrificial and costly nature of salvation – that Christ would endanger his own inheritance and his estate by conjoining Himself to the Church, so that Christ and Church would have such a union so that we are essentially standing with Him in the communion of the Holy Trinity:
“Being born of the Spirit describes a work of the Spirit in the Christian, which Goodwin sees as analogous to the conception of the human nature of Christ. This new birth is not the ‘begetting’ of a nature that is the very same as the nature of the Spirit Himself, that is, it is not a communication of the Godhead to us making us “God of God”. Just as the two natures of Christ are not confused or mixed, so the Spirit does not become the new nature. Neither is this new nature a spark of the divine life put within, because we are only creatures and can only ever be creatures”. – Paul Blackham in his unpublished doctoral thesis “The Pneumatology of Thomas Goodwin”
It is Christ who took on our flesh, and was emptied so that we are made full (Romans 5:19; 2 Corinthians 5:21); that He would be Mara so that we can be restored beyond Naomi.
The physical emblem of this is stored in the explanation behind “the custom in former times” (v.7) which concerns redeeming and exchanging, much like the great exchange of our sins with His righteousness in Luther’s terms:
“In this is displayed the delightful sight, not only of communion, but of a prosperous warfare, of victory, salvation, and redemption. For, since Christ is God and man, and is such a Person as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned, nay, cannot sin, die, or be condemned, and since His righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty,–when I say, such a Person, by the wedding-ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned; and when He suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that He may overcome all things, and since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow Him up, they must needs be swallowed up by Him in stupendous conflict. For His righteousness rises above the sins of all men; His life is more powerful than all death; His salvation is more unconquerable than all hell.
Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its Husband Christ. Thus He presents to Himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word; that is, by faith in the word of life, righteousness, and salvation. Thus He betrothes her unto Himself “in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (Hosea ii. 19, 20).
Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious Husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all His good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, “If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine,” as it is written, “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (Cant. ii. 16). This is what Paul says: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” victory over sin and death, as he says, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. xv. 56, 57).” – Martin Luther’s “The Freedom of the Christian”
Thus the sandal of the redeemer is given to Boaz (v.9-11), so that all may be placed under the footstool of Christ (Luke 20:43):
9Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to(H) Chilion and to Mahlon. 10Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife,(I) 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.”
Such is the nature of Christ’s proclamation of His marriage to us; He announces it to the clouds of witnesses, be they angels, the Spirit, the creatures, the groaning earth or even those being held in the pit (1 Peter 3:19) – these are the witnesses awaiting the revelation of the glory of the sons of God (Deuteronomy 4:26; 1 Samuel 12:5; Job 16:19; Romans 8:19-23; Hebrews 12:1) that the line of Spiritual Israel has perpetuated into New Jerusalem, that the name of the dead – be that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon or even you – will be preserved eternally in the New Kingdom, so that none of our inheritance is cut off as long as we are grafted into Christ and allow us to stand righteous at the gate of the new heaven and earth (Revelation 22:14).
Thus, just as Justin Martyr saw Leah and Rachel as respectively the Old Church of Israel and the New Global Church with Japheth in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27), so also the elders saw Ruth as akin to Rachel and Leah in the typifying of the building up the house of Israel (v.11-12) into an international Church, for it is indeed through Ruth’s story that we see a restoration of God’s people not to the idyllic template of Eden, but to the real glory of Christ Who is greater than Eden, and transcends the barriers of the nations.
The spiritual insight of the House of Perez (v.12) in fact draws several parallels between Genesis 38 and the story of Ruth (taken from http://the48files.blogspot.com/2008/04/judah-and-tamar-retold.html and my commentary on Genesis 38):
Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite
Elimelech moved away from his people to Moab
Judah and his son marry a Canaanite
Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabites
Judah’s two sons die
Elimelech and his two sons die
Judah and Onan act unfaithfully as kinsman-redeemer
Boaz acts faithfully as kinsman-redeemer, the un-named redeemer of Ruth 4 does not act faithfully
Tamar faithfully seeks to continue the line
Ruth faithfully seeks to continue the line
Tamar offers herself as a prostitute to Judah
Ruth seeks to seduce Boaz in a way which could almost be considered entrapment
Judah dishonourable and seduced by Tamar
Boaz is honourable in his conduct to Ruth
Tamar is included in the people of Israel and is an ancestor of Boaz, David and Jesus
Ruth is included in the people of Israel and is an ancestor of David and Jesus
Like Tamar, Ruth is an outsider who was brought within the House of Israel – and in fact they are huge contributors to the line of David down to Christ, fulfilling the prophecy of Japheth and Shem – a picture of the Gentiles and Israelites joining together against the spiritual Canaanites which include many of the physical church of Israel.
Restorer of Life in the House of Perez
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife, and Boaz did this upon his return in the morning, that on the first meeting he gave her the deposit of the barley, and that on his second return he is waiting to be married to her – so our Christ who gave us the Spirit in His incarnation would return to enable us the full intimacy of marital union.
Such is the new glory given to Naomi, that Obed the grandfather of David is greater to her than “seven sons” – exceeding the period of joy that she had with her family in Edenic times and she is restored beyond Mara, beyond Naomi. Like a model of Genesis 3, the Seed is to come, the Seed who is the redeemer whose name shall be renowned in Israel! The focus of this blessing and prophecy is thus on Obed – “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to HIM” [my emphasis, v.15]. The immediate comment that David is borne of Obed shows us that Christ, in the line of David, is actually the true meaning of this restorer and nourisher of life, the redeemer whose name shall be renowned in true Israel.
Naomi is one of the few remnants left of Israel in the wilderness, just like Joshua and Caleb, and their names are upheld through their progeny as those two leaders nursed Israel into the great chosen nation. Indeed, a son is born to Naomi, not Mara – and this is such a direct contrast to the bitterness by the end of the book of Judges, that it is so fitting for us to see the familial love entirely restored from Obed to Ruth, from Ruth to Naomi (v.15), from Ruth to Boaz, from Boaz to Ruth – this flow of love stemming from the fountain of the Trinity passing on to all who had experienced such pain of being once outcast and now restored to greater wonders. Ruth the Moabite is no longer distinguishable as a daughter-in-law, as she is considered truly the family of the Israelites (Ruth 2:2, 2:8, 2:22; 3:1, 3:10, 3:11, 3:16, 3:18), the inheritance of Israel given to her just as Christ has used Israel to give it to all of us today. The narrative’s focus is that she is indeed the daughter-in-law, but Ruth is according to Naomi’s choice of words truly her daughter, and Orpah truly standing outside of this Church of Christ.
The Book of Ruth therefore ends by taking us back to the house of Perez, reminding us of the glory given to Tamar of the offspring coming by her line down through Ruth (Galatians 3:16-19). Here we see this important house recorded: Perez who breached the family of Israel as being of mixed heritage, initially enclosed in Hezron but leading to exaltation through Ram, being one of the prince’s people through Amminadab, with Nahshon the enchanter being the brother-in-law of Aaron by his sister Elisheba (Exodus 6:23), and Salmon who – like Judah and Boaz – married women of non-Israelite blood (Rahab, c.f. Matthew 1:5), leading to the swiftness of Boaz to the salvation of Ruth resulting in the service of Obed, finally ascending to the wealth of Jesse the Bethlehemite (1 Samuel 16:1, 18; 17:58) which were cared for by David, the well-beloved Son of Man as one of the greatest types of Christ.
From this genealogy at the end of the book, we are given the context of the prophecy concerning the restorer of life in chapter 4:12, 4:15 – culminating in King David. Obed was merely the passage to this restorer, as was Perez; and as the next book tells of the story of the true king David toppling the faithless king Saul, it is in the narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel that we find one of the longest drawn out typologies of Christ in the Old Testament, He who became our close Kinsman in order to complete the work of the Redeemer.
Judges 3: God’s Wrath
1(A) Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. 2It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. 3These are the nations:(B) the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. 4They were for(C) the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. 5So the people of Israel lived(D) among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 6(E) And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.
When we read the book of Judges, it is easy to read into it many assumptions which we take from being in a world which believes God is not good. We must never forget that within the Trinity the Son had determined alongside the Father that He would be sent, and that all of man under the banner of Adam would be made in the image of Yeshua (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:29) – in the image of the Saviour who gave salvation. That is testament enough to form our understanding of the coming chapters of the judges. Though these are amazing men who relied much on the Spirit, they are nothing in comparison to the Christ who had the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). These men indeed relied on the Spirit, but what was common to them was the universal disease of death which they could not defeat except in Christ alone. The path between first birth and first death, being born-again in Spirit and finally in our renewed flesh is a rocky path littered with spiritual battles. The typology of Israel, of the wars fought in these important books of the Old Testament, did not cease with the book of Joshua. Indeed, the Israelites are to learn war, not because the LORD is a warmongering God of Marcion; rather, He is portraying an eschatological imagery of what would happen to those who are loyal to the true Husband, against the numbers of baalim (v.7), the number of adulterous husbands which we align ourselves to.
It is important that we understand the specific Hebrew word for baalim, for in these chapters we are speaking of men who have identified themselves as nations which worship other gods (v.6) – nations which attach themselves to other husbands (v.7; Judges2 :11; 3 :7, 12). “Their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods” – a predicament which Melchizedek sought to prevent in Genesis 14 by pre-empting the king of Sodom. Here also, is the implied meaning behind the intermingling of the nations. Do we gain our blessings from God alone, as embodied in the High Priest Melchizedek? Or do we gain our blessings from neighbouring nations, so that they are full of themselves and in turn delude us into believing that they received these blessings from their ‘gods’ or lack thereof? Why else would these Israelites fall so easily, if they did not want to eat that forbidden fruit this present moment as opposed to look to New Creation as Abraham, Moses and many of the named judges in this book waited hopefully towards?
Furthermore, this is no “Old Testament teaching” when we speak of warfare – if anything, the nature of Paul’s exposition of the Old Testament is a thorough understanding of the true spiritual warfare which underpins many of the chronicles of these battles prior to Christ’s incarnation. In Ephesians 6 we are made aware of the different body-pieces of armour; that our path of faith is called the “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18); the passions of our flesh seen as warring with our soul (James 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11); and above all Hebrews 11:34 which speaks of the Spirit and faith in Christ empowering them to be mighty in war, so to point towards the ultimate victory which Christ has won on the cross and physically and finally represented as in the prophecies of John in Revelation chapters 2 and 11-19. We have already seen the failures of the people when they forget God; when they rely not on the Holy Spirit. This new generation may not have tasted warfare, but every generation of Christians must taste true warfare, for it is not good in itself (1 Kings 5:3), but it is necessary (c.f. day two of creation which was not proclaimed as ‘good’ because it symbolised the death of Christ through the parting of the waters). It is through these trials that their faith is more precious than the gold tested in the fire (1 Peter 1:7), and without these trials – without the temporary rain of judgment and pain – these spiritual babies would not grow to maturity; these spiritual saplings will not bear the fruit from the one Vine Whom they are attached to; and thus continually and with more greatness both look towards and typify the greatest light to shine when Christ is finally born.
7(F) And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and(G) the Asheroth. 8Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel,(H) and he sold them into the hand of(I) Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9But when the people of Israel(J) cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a(K) deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them,(L) Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10(M) The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11(N) So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.
And so v.7-11 begins the cycle of captivity which Israel will continually experience, which we will all continually experience, until the rescue of the one Anointed Judge who is given the Spirit without measure. Othniel, the lion of God, the lion of Judah (for he hails from the tribe of Judah) comes as the first judge from the generation who has witnessed God’s miracles as Caleb’s younger brother, and is a rarity amongst the other Israelites who have not witnessed war. He very much represents our Christ who understood the depravity of heresy, who foreknew the fall of Adam before he was made the steward of the garden in Eden, and who with the Spirit would rush into the world fully equipped to fulfil his given ministry. As the True Lion of Judah, he would destroy the real father of Cushan-rishathaim, the real ‘double-wickedness’, the real ‘blackness’ who had enslaved Israel for eight years. This is a number which E.W. Bullinger describes in Christian numerology as representing resurrection and regeneration, the true purpose behind circumcision behind performed on the eighth day (Genesis 17:2) because Christ was resurrected on the eighth day (the first day of the new week). So here, Othniel the typological lion of Judah upon his resurrection, being filled with the Spirit defeats the true darkness, the true Satan.
Though these 8 years proved to be a time of trial (whereupon in its fullness of time Othniel came to rescue), the next forty years symbolically represents a period of probation (as similar to Israel in the wilderness, c.f. Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Psalm 95:10). However, like the deaths of the earlier saints (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Abraham, Miriam, Joshua), the people returned to their idolatry. This intermission whereupon they had no symbolic ‘pope’ to represent them described very clearly their state of faith (or lack thereof) in Christ; and yet, ironically, that is the thrust of these stories in Judges. The portrayal of idolatry upon the death of the judge is meant to enforce the utterly important significance of a judge, mediator, king, LORD, high priest who is eternally interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34), a Saviour who has not only defeated death which these judges could not defeat (thus bringing the Israelites beyond the forty year probation into the eternal jubilee), but a Saviour who lives on as our true Head. Their trust in a Spirit-filled man will result in inevitable failures, for these Spirit-filled men are but Christians; but if Othniel experienced the indwelling and baptism of the Spirit prior to Christ’s incarnation, then also everyone else had the privilege to be like them and by the Spirit prevent such widespread heresies and idolatries in Israel. Like Moses’ call for them to be near to the mountain of God, they were instead too afraid and trembled, standing far off (Exodus 20:18). Moses was never intended to be the true Redeemer – and neither is Othniel, for they both saw that they had these strengths and performed such miracles for they are only emulating their true Mediator who also depended on the Spirit to perform such amazing feats, without measure.
12(O) And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon(P) the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. 13He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the(Q) Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of(R) the city of palms. 14And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
We now turn to an episode concerning Ehud the judge who assassinated Eglon, the king of Moab, after serving him for eighteen years. The narrative is silent on the justification for such a murder, for such a blatant disregard for the Ten Words, but we will return to this issue of graphic violence by the end of the chapter. Meanwhile, we are to understand that the captivity of eighteen years is a direct result of Israel’s idolatry, hence the LORD mobilised Eglon against the Israelites in order that they may be further strengthened in faith in Christ. How often do we attribute evils today as a positive influence from Yahweh, rather than a punishment without meaning? How often do we conceive of God as emptying us of our pride when He can only act out of love for He is the very being of love in communion, in Trinity (c.f. John 17; 1 John 4-5)?
This humiliation of Israel is further enhanced by the understanding of the name of Eglon to be that of a little-calf, and that this little-calf had taken the city of palm (trees – as in the KJV and Hebrew) (v.13), the palm tree representing victory of new creation (1 Kings 6-7; Psalm 92:12; Ezekiel 40-41; John 12:13). The imagery here should therefore not be lost on the Israelite who meditates on this story, knowing fully that we are to recognise here that Eglon has essentially taken new creation under captivity, though he be an enemy to be ridiculed in the face of a judge who would stand up for Israel. For a full eighteen years no-one had taken on the calling to be anointed by the Spirit in destroying the enemy, and it begs to wonder where Israel’s true allegiance lies as it proves itself as once again a nation which had forgotten the saving works of Christ.
15Then the people of Israel(S) cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them(T) a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit[a] in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes.
Literally speaking according to the Hebrew, Ehud is a man with an impeded right hand, and thus the translation states that he is left-handed by implication. Adam Clarke looks at the LXX translations for the same verse (v.15):
“The Septuagint render it ανδρα αμφοτεροδεξιον, an ambidexter, a man who could use both hands alike. The Vulgate, qui utraque manu pro dextera utebatur, a man who could use either hand as a right hand, or to whom right and left were equally ready. This is not the sense of the original, but it is the sense in which most interpreters understand it. It is well known that to be an ambidexter was in high repute among the ancients…
…In Jdg_20:16 of this book we have an account of seven hundred men of Benjamin, each of whom was אטר יד ימינו itter yad yemino, lame of his right hand, and yet slinging stones to a hair’s breadth without missing: these are generally thought to be ambidexters.”
What is interesting is that in Judges 20:16, the chosen 700 left-handed men were also from the tribe of Benjamin. Is there any reason to focus more on them having an ‘impeded right hand’ compared to the LXX reading of them being ambidextrous?
In Genesis 48:13 we see that the blessings are symbolized through the right hand (by implication, the son under the left hand is ‘inferior’); in Exodus 15:6, we see the power of Yahweh’s right hand representing Christ at His right hand; and in Leviticus 8:23 we see the blood of the sacrifice being smeared onto the right ear, right hand and right foot of the High Priest. It is thus clear that the right hand implies legitimated power. Only in Leviticus 14 do we see a lengthened focus on the movements of the right and left hands, the left being the palm covered in oil, and the right being the one which takes the oil from the left hand.
What is interesting is how the High Priest is a representation of many things – the simplest of these representations being Christ the High Priest. As it is with Christ in Whom meet the Father, the right hand and the left hand can possibly be attributed to (equally) the analogy of the left and right hand of the Father. From Leviticus 14 and from Exodus 15, it would seem that the right hand smeared with blood and oil is representative of Christ at the right hand of the Father in the typological High Priest; and the left hand covered in oil is representative of the Spirit Who both the Father and the Son depends on for their magnificent work of recapitulation (in Irenaeus’ use of the term) and new creation.
If we were therefore to understand this, then perhaps this could be connected with the focus on the left hand for the tribe of Benjamin – to exemplify their total reliance on the Spirit – these one-handed people from the youngest tribe of the 12 tribes, weakest of the weak both physically and in familial status, yet they are brought to glory by the gifting of the Spirit in these wars.
The Word of God – A double-edged sword/dagger
17And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. 19But he himself turned back(U) at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. 20And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his(V) cool roof chamber.(W) And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. 22And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. 23Then Ehud went out into the porch[b] and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him(X) and locked them.
What is interesting is that there is an implied exposition of this passage in Hebrews 4:12, where the Word of God is referred to as a ‘two-edged sword’ (c.f. Mike Reeves in his “Word of God” series part 1). If we were to follow the truth of which this story of Ehud is revealing to the crowd who is engaging with the Word, then we’ll find that the literal understanding is Ehud (the name meaning “united”), with the power of the Spirit Who unites the Church, is directly attacking Eglon the head of all idols in Gilgal by the Word of God like a double-edged sword until Eglon is revealed for what he is full of: dung (v.22).
So also the Word of God in our lives should have similar effect when we are embalmed and indwelled with the Spirit to perform similar ministries in spiritual warfare, and know that by the Spirit the Word of God pierces through our enemies and reveals them for what they are (c.f. Mark 5:6-9): lies, deceit, literally dung in the eyes of our LORD.
24When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought,(Y) “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” 25And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.
26Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond(Z) the idols and escaped to Seirah. 27When he arrived,(AA) he sounded the trumpet in(AB) the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. 28And he said to them, “Follow after me,(AC) for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized(AD) the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. 29And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. 30So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel.(AE) And the land had rest for eighty years.
Given the graphic imagery of the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit, both penetrating the heart of idolatry which is the head of the Moabites, soon thereafter the Moabites were massacred. Similarly, when Satan was defeated after the victorious work of the cross of Christ, his prophesied condemnation from Genesis 3 has finally come to fruition, and the Christians throughout all the ages need only preach the same thing that Ehud has preached: “Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies… into your hand”. Indeed, if only we really believe that victory is already ours, waiting to be realised on the Resurrection Day, the Spirit given as a deposit that the full materialisation of this victory if imminent. Only then will our ministries be as effective as Ehud, as glorious, as violent but as successful that all the enemies of God, the rebellious unbelievers and the rebellious angels shall all fall at our acknowledgment of the victory won by the initial announcement of the trumpet (v.27). Hence, twofold forty years is the reward (v.11), though again we should be reminded that these rests are temporary, however many decades or hundreds of years they last, for the enemy is still prowling the land waiting to devour the Christian (1 Peter 5:8).
31After him was(AF) Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines(AG) with an oxgoad, and he also(AH) saved Israel.
The key words in these verses are: “also saved”. The only judge in the book to not have an introduction or conclusion of sorts, Shamgar’s actions are surrounded with mystery – however, what we do know is that his acts can be attributed to Ehud’s act of salvation – for what Shamgar did was seen also as an act of salvation for Israel. Perhaps the lesson taught in the last part of chapter 3 is the bloody nature of salvation; the placing of Shamgar the killer of 600 Philistines with an oxgoad, a violent ancient weapon, alongside Ehud the assassin of Eglon and leading to the massacre of the Moabites.
Though most possibly multi-faceted in meaning, we surely must not forget the context of Judges 3. We must remember that Israel has been idolatrous, whoring herself after the Baalim. This is a result of the compromises they had made by the end of the book of Joshua for failing to politically, spiritually and geographically displace the foreigners, and instead made truces and made them slaves without also destroying their idols. As such, the violent imagery of chapter 3 is very suitable in our understanding of hell today – a topic much neglected.
John 3:16-18 is a helpful passage, unfortunately commonly short-quoted for its focus on v.16 rather than v.17-18, whereupon the latter verses describe how man is already condemned through Adam’s disobedience. Similarly, the neighbours of Israel in Canaan are thriving in the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the seed of Adam rather than living as newborn of God through Christ’s work. There is thus an immediate urgency for Israel to fulfill their calling as light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), which they have spectacularly failed to do, and furthermore failed to discern truly (Proverbs 14:8; Isaiah 44:18). What Shamgar and Ehud has effectively done is display the reality of spiritual warfare once again, a type and shadow of the spiritual and physical warfare of the Resurrection Day when the neighbouring unsaved nations will be absolutely destroyed. As Israel was intended to be a national typological model of New Creation, it is only fitting that Shamgar and Ehud are placed side by side to display the destructive but necessary nature of the just God and the just Christ, both Father and Son by the power of the Spirit disposing all opposition into the lake of fire. It is from His wrath that we should fear, and yet in chapter 3 we see Israel, Moab and the Philistines all failing to understand the extent of God’s wrath, as displayed through the judges.
It is therefore important that through Ehud and Shamgar, both representing the sword of the Word of God by the inspiration and power of the Spirit (for the name Shamgar in Hebrew means ‘sword’), we need to understand judgment as synonymous to salvation; hell synonymous to new creation – both from the angle that one cannot exist without the other, for if there are saved then there are those who are not saved and remain condemned. Yet Israel seemed to have forgotten the wrath of God, the depth of their sin, and lived lives of post-modernity, where everyone did as they pleased and worshipped whomever they pleased and had sexual relations with whatever they pleased. God’s anger at the sin and the sinner should shake us into awesome fear, for his anger is so great as to pour it all upon His beloved firstborn Son Jesus Christ. To deny His wrath is to deny the work of the cross – and that is the sin which Israel was saved from; that is the type of salvation offered to them, through the medium of understanding why God’s wrath had to be shown in such a violent, bloody and graphic form as in Judges 3, for our Christ was bloodied and died a violent, torturous and gruesome death both spiritually and physically.
Judges 4: The Spirit anointing the Bride
Deborah and Barak
1(AI) And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died. 2And the LORD(AJ) sold them into the hand of(AK) Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in(AL) Hazor. The commander of his army was(AM) Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3Then the people of Israel(AN) cried out to the LORD for help, for he had(AO) 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
Matthew Henry describes eloquently the state of Israel after being in peace for eighty years:
“…The common ill effects of a long peace. The land had rest eighty years, which should have confirmed them in their religion; but, on the contrary, it made them secure and wanton, and indulgent of those lusts which the worship of the false gods was calculated for the gratification of. Thus the prosperity of fools destroys them. Jeshurun waxeth fat and kicketh…The great loss which a people sustains by the death of good governors. The did evil, because Ehud was dead. So it may be read. He kept a strict eye upon them, restrained and punished every thing that looked towards idolatry, and kept them close to God’s service. But, when he was gone, they revolted, fearing him more than God.”
Now, peace is not so much the issue than that of the Israelites becoming easily sluggish and complacent. Though New Creation is a place of complete peace, of everlasting Jubilee and Sabbath, it is where we inherit renewed flesh and live lives of purity surrounding the light of the Lamb. Yet, Israel is but a shadow; a type; and like Adam who is but a type of Christ the true image in Whom Adam was made, Adam is thus but an innocent infant making his infancy more concretised by disobeying God and eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil (c.f. Irenaeus in his “Against Heresies”). So we also see Israel restored to ‘innocence’ again and again, typologically replaying that story of the fall whenever they chose to follow other idols again, unsurprising for we are all descendants of Adam by nature and can only escape that nature by having redeemed spirit and flesh in Christ the true image of the Father (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1).
4Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in(AP) the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6She sent and summoned(AQ) Barak the son of Abinoam from(AR) Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount(AS) Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by(AT) the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops,(AU) and I will give him into your hand’?” 8Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will(AV) sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10And Barak called out(AW) Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
Now, Deborah, the first female judge, was sitting between Ramah (hill) and Bethel (the House of God) in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment (v.5). Where she sat is of importance, for we understand that only Christ can ascend the holy hill (Deuteronomy 30:12; Psalm 24:3), and thus Deborah fulfils her typology by sitting on the very area between the hill and the House of God, the true tabernacle in heaven, for Christ bridges that path for us as well. This imagery does not stop here for she also sits under the palm tree of Deborah (presumably named after her), in harmony with the understanding of ‘palm trees’ from our scrutiny of Judges 3 for the city of palms.
It is undoubted that Deborah here also relies on the Spirit of the Father and Christ to give the instructions between v.6-9 – from the choice of Barak (called “lightning/lightning flash”) to the particular locations like Mount Tabor (“broken region”), and river Kishon (“winding”, presumably a winding river). From the wisdom of Issachar’s geography, it would seem the named terrain is of great difficulty for Sisera’s chariots. For Israel to pursue such wisdom and advice from a weaker vessel, from a woman, is to focus on the greatness of the Spirit working through Deborah, so much that Barak – supposedly a fierce army leader given a name of such power, voluntarily submits himself not to Deborah as v.8 suggests, but to the Wisdom on Whom she relies on. Adam Clarke notes this, as well as points out an interesting addition to the LXX of the same verse:
“The Septuagint made a remarkable addition to the speech of Barak: “If thou wilt go with me I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go; Ὁτι ουκ οιδα την ἡμεραν εν ῃ ευοδοι Κυριος τον αγγελον μετ’ εμου, because I know not the day in which the Lord will send his angel to give me success.” By which he appears to mean, that although he was certain of a Divine call to this work, yet, as he knew not the time in which it would be proper for him to make the attack, he wishes that Deborah, on whom the Divine Spirit constantly rested, would accompany him to let him know when to strike that blow, which he knew would be decisive. This was quite natural, and quite reasonable, and is no impeachment whatever of Barak’s faith. St. Ambrose and St. Augustine have the same reading; but it is found in no MS. nor in any other of the versions.”
If the LXX addition is another Christological focus of Barak’s faith and reliance, then this chapter teaches us firmly that whether the judge be male or female, the true justice comes through the Spirit of God. Despite the might of Ehud and Shamgar in the previous chapter, their might can be equally shown through Deborah and the woman who is prophesied to destroy Sisera (v.9). Thus chapter 4 humbles the inner chauvinist, for we must remember that the gospel means equality for all (Galatians 3:28), though certain gender roles must be performed (Ephesians 5 and 6) to display this very gospel which gives inherited glory to all equally.
11Now Heber(AX) the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of(AY) Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in(AZ) Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
This theme of God using women is continued even in v.11. We see here Heber, the husband of the prophesied woman Jael who is to be glorified by her foreseen act upon Sisera. Heber is not someone to praise – he severed himself from Reuel, Jethro, Hobab – the father of Moses who introduced Moses to the Christian faith. It is therefore clear that Heber is anything but a follower of Yahweh (v.17); yet Jael, the submissive wife, still holds true to the original faith of their forefather Hobab. This will become clear in later verses.
12When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13Sisera called out all his chariots,(BA) 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which(BB) the LORD has given Sisera into your hand.(BC) Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15(BD) And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
So it is also important to see that Deborah does not commit violence herself; she leaves the work to Barak. In many ways, this is a reflection of the story of Moses and Joshua – Moses spreading his arms into the shape of the cross (as according to Justin Martyr’s exposition of Exodus), and Deborah being the type of Christ on the holy hill sitting under the tree of peace; whereas Barak and Joshua are both doing the work of God by relying on the arm of the judge, the prophet. Where Moses is weak as an old man, so also Deborah is a woman – and the strength of God comes through the men. This should reveal much about warfare being led primarily by men, though support can come from weaker vessels, the wiser older men, and women who are similarly reliant on the Spirit.
17But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened(BE) a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.'” 21But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
So chapter 4 ends on the initiative and support of women – and that rightfully they deserve the glory for relying on the Spirit. So Jael is seen as the church in Revelation, using the tent peg who is Christ (Zechariah 10:4), nailing it straight into the head of Satan the father of all enemies with the help of the hammer (Jeremiah 51:20), with the help of God in destroying he who does not belong to the tent, the household of God (Hebrews 8:5; Revelation 15:5; Isaiah 54:2) – and so the ejecting of Sisera is violently accomplished as Satan is equally displaced from the world which he deserves not to inherit, but only the meek and humble – the Christians.
23(BF) So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
And so, in Judges 5 we will see a full exposition in poetic form of the events of chapter 4.
Taken from the blurb of the titular book – “Nicky Cruz is known by millions through Run Baby Run, the dramatic book and film of his early life, which told of his transformation from New York’s most feared gang leader into one of the world’s most famous and effective evangelists…
Nicky then asks whether you have what it takes to make a difference. Having a Soul Obsession requires: Passion, for Jesus; Mercy, to see people through Jesus’ eyes; and Vision, to know the purpose God has for your life”.
Excusing the rather Americanised expressions and film trailer-like blurb, this enjoyable book was given to me as a birthday present back in my first year in university. The book is a sort of biographical sequel to Nicky Cruz’ first book “Run Baby Run”, and it covers some new insights to his new European evangelistic ministries. However much I respect evangelists like Nicky Cruz, like all saints in Christ we still run the danger of misrepresenting the gospel. I happen to come across this book again after my fiance was going through the stuff in her flat, and I noticed that I had one page which I deliberately tabbed. Of course, when I picked up the book, I didn’t know why I tabbed it, until I read what was on the page:
“There is a time and place for arguing doctrine and debating theology, but not when trying to reach someone for Christ. One of the greatest strengths of our ministry is that we decided years ago to leave theology to the scholars and instead focus only on the love of Jesus. When we reach out to a neighbourhood, we leave our arguments at home and bring only a soft shoulder and a tender heart. We love people because Jesus has put a burden in our hearts to save them. And the more we reach out, the greater our compassion grows”.
5 years ago when I was serving the Christian Union in LSE, this paragraph stuck in my mind as something inspiring. Why did people bother debating the nuances of infant or believer’s baptism? What is the motive of finding out whether the Angel of the LORD is just some ‘theo’phany, or an actual Christophany? Does it matter if the authors of the Old Testament knew Christ or just knew a monotheistic Unipersonal God? Should we learn to sing hymns or rock n’ roll praise? The questions continued and made me cynical of all types of doctrinal debates. I decided to put things back to the Matt Redman-esque “heart-of-worship”.
Theology should however never ever be detached from evangelism. In fact, evangelism is a subset of theology. Christian theology should be grounded in the Word of God, the Spirit testifying to Christ, the Christ testifying to the Father. Without this Trinitarian method of revelation, we cannot possibly come to call on the name of the LORD. Yet, Nicky Cruz, through poor expression, comes to relate “theology” as a scholarly subject relegated to the confines of a Harvard campus (as the paragraph would later on describe, he said he has never met anyone who was ‘saved’ by theology). I do not doubt Nicky Cruz’ compassion, and neither am I criticizing Nicky’s interpretation of the word theology — rather, I am looking at what “theologians” have done to the word “theology” so as to give Nicky such an interpretation. If Nicky is right, then indeed the contemporary theologians have come to look at “theology” as a subject of luxury, something to be studied but not practised nor lived out. If the theologian’s favourite Latin quote is ‘crux probat omnia’, yet continually fails to live a cross-centered life, as opposed to someone like Nicky whose theology far surpasses ours despite his poor usage of theological terminology, then “theology” is given a dirty name. It becomes taboo. And it should not be that way. It should be simple – because the Word of God, which Christian theology is founded upon, is not just for scholars and intellects.
Doctrinal purity prevents us from preaching a false gospel. I have increasingly approached people with the conviction that they should learn more about Jesus, rather than tell them simply to believe in Jesus. We can love these people, but they in turn will worship Christ because of man’s love. Man’s love is a confusing thing, unless we take care to clarify that it is not the work of Zeus (Acts 14) but the love of an ascended Christ. There is something eery in evangelism when Christ-focused theology is not applied — even the blurb to Nicky’s book implied it. “Nicky then asks whether YOU have what it takes to make a difference”. In many ways, yes — but it starts from understanding what CHRIST has done to make a difference before He uses us as mouthpieces for His Word. There are many success stories of people converting to Buddhism, extreme strands of Catholicism,Islam… to isolate Christian testimonies as ‘true works of God’ is to misunderstand whether true salvation comes by simply uttering another name. No – true salvation comes from knowing what the Person “Jesus Christ” represents. Knowing His relationship with the Father and the Spirit (John 17). Knowing His death and resurrection and ascension. No person can know all those things in one go, but through conversations, discussions and relationships with the people of Christ, the non-Christian can come to accept his or her salvation offered when the Father gave the Son as a gift to all people. Altar-calls and evangelistic events have their place, but it is the day-to-day grind of the Christ-focused Christian which discerns the true light from the deceiving glimmers of the misrepresented gospel. The trouble with biographies on famous evangelists is that the reader tends to carry with him or her the conviction to be like the evangelist, but fail to conform to Christ, the true image of God.
God has pointed me back to this book to point out a widespread problem of our age. We don’t need more of contemporary theology — but we need more of the type of theology which pushes us to have a soul obsession to reach out to people and tell them not what we can do, but what Christ has done on the cross to redeem all of creation and the Christian’s soul. To end with Mike Reeves’ analysis of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (Vol 1):
“The book ends with an important sermon on how to do theology. Theology, he [Barth] argues, is what the Church does to check that what it preaches is actually what God has revealed. There are three marks, he says, of a theology that lives up to that task: it must be biblical; it must be confessional; and it must be (as the title Church Dogmatics suggests) done for the Church and not merely for the academy or for intellectual amusement. Theology is worship in the field of thought. In our situation today, where theology is so divorced from our Church life, it is a sermon we would do well to hear.”