Category Archives: Hebrew Distillations

“I fear the Lord, the god of heaven…”


And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:7-9)

 I find Jonah’s response interesting: I fear The Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. It seems like such a simple phrase that we could easily skim over it without appreciating its implication. But the way the sailors respond made me pay closer attention to this little gem: Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, What is this that you have done! For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. (Jonah 1:10)

 First, we need to note that both times we see the word Lord here it is the formal title for Yahweh. It’s not ‘lord,’ it’s Yahweh. Jonah had told them he was fleeing from Yahweh and they probably didn’t think anything of it at the time. Most ancient religions thought that gods were geographically limited; there was a god of the mountains, a god of the plains, a god in this desert, a god in that desert, etc. So when Jonah told them he was fleeing from Yahweh, they probably thought all he needed was a change of zip code. And then, something terrible happened

“The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)”

 Suddenly a routine trip was enveloped by a life-threatening tempest! So they cast lots to figure out whose god they had offended and it turned out that Yahweh was upset (Jonah 1:7). That’s when Jonah says that his GodYahwehcreated the air, land, and sea. This one phrase reveals that Jonah’s God made it all and controls it all. This is not a god, but The God. This god is not limited to a zip code, but is The God and creator of the entire earth. This God’s sovereignty is not limited to a specific region, but encompasses all regions. Uh-oh. Even if they are able to make it back to dry land, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to escape this God. No wonder they asked Jonah what to do (Jonah 1:11), followed his advice to throw him overboard (Jonah 1:15), and then offered sacrifices to Yahweh (Jonah 1:16). (Fun little factoid: the crew aboard this ship were actually Jonah’s first converts!)

Do we ever think, like Jonah, that we can somehow run from God’s presence? As though we could possibly escape Him?

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalms 139:7-18)

Suspicious circumstances

I remember working in the fields in Tennessee. The entire summer was filled with back-breaking labor, especially during harvest season. One year, there was a new girl from out of town who was helping in the fields. News travels fast in a small town, so I had heard about her; it turns out she had moved to care for one of the widows in town. It was obvious that she had a kind heart. After all, it’s not every day you hear of someone moving to a totally new area to care for someone else. I saw her from time to time and, if I’m honest, I thought she was pretty. She was also an incredibly hard worker, which I couldn’t help but respect.

Fast forward a few months: the harvest is over and I’m having a celebratory camp out with the guys. It’s a bit of a tradition for us to cook over the fire and have a couple beers (nothing too crazy because we still have to load all the bales into the barn, but enough to make you feel good). As the night began to wind down, we all headed to our separate tents to get some rest before the harvest was moved off the field. I drifted off to sleep, happy that the harvest season had been a success.

Then in the middle of the night, I was startled awake by someone in my sleeping bag! The first thing I noticed was the alluring smell of a woman’s perfume. I asked the obvious question “Who are you?” Then she responded, and I knew it was the woman from the fields, the one who had moved to town to care for a widow, the pretty one. There I was, after having a few drinks, and this young, beautiful woman crawled into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Oh wait…

That’s not my story…

This story belongs to Boaz!

You see, there’s a very highly debated portion of the story of Boaz and Ruth. Earlier in the story, Naomi gives the following instructions to Ruth: 3 “Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do. (Ruth 3:3-4)” Ruth obeys and, after Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry (Ruth 3:7), Ruth wakes him up (Ruth 3:8).

Perhaps I’m the product of a hyper-sexual culture, but I can’t help myself: I find this situation to be a little suspicious. For example, if I told Connie that something like this happened to me last week—that a pleasant smelling woman had crawled into my sleeping bag—she would probably be a little concerned. It seems as though a lot of evangelical scholars want to say that Ruth’s intentions were completely innocent, but I just find that hard to believe. Let’s look at what we know.

  • Ruth is a widow living with a widow, which means they don’t have anyone to provide for them.
  • Ruth has been picking grains in the summer, but the harvest season is over. This means her primary means of provision is about to end.
  • Boaz is single, and from the story it sounds like he is successful. (If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably a widower, but it doesn’t say that so I’m just guessing.)
  • Ruth was previously married, so she knows how a man might respond to a washed and anointed woman laying down next to him at night.

Ruth asks him to spread his wings over her because he is a redeemer. So how does Boaz respond? He says to her “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter.” And Boaz’s response is, for me, what makes all the difference in the world. In this story, I think Boaz is the good guy. The fact that Boaz mentioned The LORD and calls Ruth “my daughter” lead me to believe that he is the only virtuous person in an otherwise shady situation. Ruth is anointed, wearing perfume, and sneaking up on Boaz in the middle of the night after he’s had a few drinks. However, if Boaz intended to take advantage of a vulnerable widow, it’s unlikely he would have called her “my daughter.” If Boaz intended on sinning against the Lord, it’s unlikely that he would have mentioned God, and even more unlikely he would have used the Tetragrammaton, which is the most sacred name the Jews have for God. In fact, it’s so sacred that modern Jews won’t even say it! Instead, they say Adonai, which means “my God.” Would Boaz have used the most sacred name possible for His God in a moment of trespass? Would Boaz have called Ruth “my daughter,” a term that highlighted their age difference and subtly highlighted Boaz’s role as potential provider in her life? To quote LL Cool J: I don’t think so.

Also, the fact that their conversation centered on the Boaz being a kinsman redeemer makes me pretty certain nothing shady happened. Ruth said, “Spread your wings over me, for you are a redeemer,” not “shut up and kiss me, you big hunk of man!” Later, Boaz tells everyone not to mention that “the woman” had been there (Ruth 3:14). The fact that he says “the woman” instead of “a woman” could mean that everyone knew Ruth had been there to talk to Boaz. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret, midnight rendezvous so much as a late-night meeting. Ruth was desperate and needed to know ASAP if Boaz intended on redeeming her, because the other guy hadn’t made a move and Ruth had been living there for months by that time. For these reasons, I think that Boaz did not take advantage of Ruth. While we’ll never know Naomi or Ruth’s motives, we can trust that Boaz responded in a way that honored God.

She just so happened…

“…and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.”

Ruth 2:3

I absolutely love this phrase, which occurs in Ruth chapter 2. So far, if we’re honest, this story has been slightly less than delightful. Because there was a famine in Bethlehem (which literally means “house of bread”), a man named Elimelech (literally “God is my king”) brings his wife Naomi (“pleasant”) and their sons, Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“wasting away”) and travel to Moab (“nothingness”). So a man whose king is God takes his pleasant wife and their sickly, wasting away sons from the house of bread to nothingness to escape a famine. The sons marry two Moabite women: Ruth (“beauty”) and Orpah (“double-minded”). Pretty soon all the men die! Naomi, because of her bitter luck, changes her name from “pleasant” to Mara (“bitter”). She decides to head back to Bethlehem with her daughters-in-law but at the last minute Orpah changes her mind and stays in Moab. At this point, it’s just Ruth and Mara. Did I mention that all the men died? This is bad news in a society where a woman’s livelihood depended primarily on her husband or sons!

When the ladies return to Bethlehem, Ruth heads to the fields to pick up grains after the harvesters. Mara and Ruth are literally living off of crumbs at this point. But Ruth just so happens to go and pick grains in Boaz’s (“strength”) field. Boaz just so happens to be the one person who can marry her and “redeem” her from widow status. The rest is history with Boaz marrying Ruth, King David being born within a few generations, and, eventually, Jesus being born in the flesh through this very lineage. And it all took place because Ruth just so happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.

I can’t help but wonder how many things just so happen to occur in my life. How many of my coworkers do I just so happen to work with on a daily basis? How many of my neighbors do I just so happen to live within 100 yards of and see on a regular basis? The phrase “just so happened” is, of course, a literary device. It’s a subtle reminder that God is in complete control. God is in the details of our lives; orchestrating and developing our stories the same way a conductor directs a symphony.