Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ruth, the Good Example--by Linden Malki

Across the Jordan  Valley and the Dead Sea to the East there were several tribal kingdoms that were related to the Israelites. One was the Edomites, who descended from Jacob's brother Esau; the others were Moab and Ammon, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot, whose family barely escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They apparently married into pagan Canaanite peoples and ignored anything they'd known of Abraham's God.  When Moses and the Israelites were migrating back to the Promised Land, the route they took was east of the the Wadi el-Araba, the rift valley below the Dead Sea. It was high ground and included good pasture land for sheep. Moses contacted the various kings and asked for safe passage through these territories, promising that they would not attack or damage the countryside.  The Amorite king refused,  attacked the Israelites, and was defeated.  The king of Moab saw this, and  hired Balaam, a prophet, to come and curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam received only blessings from God for Israel--which annoyed the King of Moab,  but then  Balaam suggested that Moabite women go to the Israelite camps and invite the menfolk to their religious festivals--which included fertility rites and child sacrifices. Not anything that was healthy for anyone. The Israelites did not travel through Moab, but their political relationship was mixed, and there were  hostilities between them.   Later, when David became King, he annexed Moab, who later rebelled, were defeated, and eventually absorbed by the invading Assyrians.

Apparently at the time of Ruth,  relations were good enough that Elimelech and his family did not have problems living in Moab during a famine in Judah, and David sent his parents to Moab for safety during the years he was hiding out from Saul.  We see Ruth accepted in Judah when she came back with Naomi, but she had accepted Naomi and Judah's God as her own.  She is also depicted as a loyal and responsible daughter to Naomi, willing to work at a job kept for the poor.

There were continuing problems with Israelite men marrying outsiders, and allowing them to continue their worship of pagan gods.  This was the downfall of Solomon, who even built sanctuaries for his political wives' gods.  We see King Ahab marrying a aggressively pagan Phoenician princess, who not only kept her own gods, but tried to eliminate the prophets of God and the worship of Israel's God from the kingdom. Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, who had married King Jehoram of Judah, was her mother's daughter, and brought the worship of Baal to Jerusalem.  After the "premature" deaths of her husband and son, she  killed off all the other heirs to the throne of Judah, including all but one of her own grandchildren. The infant Joash was rescued and hidden by an aunt, who was married to the high priest. Six years later, the high priest brought out Joash for his coronation, and Athaliah was killed by the temple guards as she tried to escape.

When the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra, the leading priest, were concerned about the number of foreign wives among the returnees.  Looking back at the "bad examples", it was  decreed that they all had to be divorced and deported; there is no record of any consideration given to the religion of the wives.  The Book of Ruth was written and promoted during this period as an antidote to the wholesale discrimination against foreigners.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

BIGGER THAN LIFE--by Linden Malki


King David was a man who knew and loved God; a strong man who had, as we all do, amazingly good sides, and less-than- good sides.
  We see him first coming in from the fields, where he has been shepherding his father's flocks. Samuel the prophet was led to anoint him as being called of God.  He was recommended to Saul as a musician, when Saul was having attacks of depression.  He became Saul's armor-bearer, and after his defeat of Goliath, a leader in Saul's army, the best friend of Saul's son Jonathan, and eventually Saul's son-in-law.  Everything appeared to be going his way.
Success has its dark side--David was so successful that Saul became worried that David was going to take over the kingdom, and tried to kill him. David, on the advice of Jonathan, fled for his life. He spent the next several years in exile, moving around in remote hiding places, accompanied by men who had also left their homes or were unhappy with Saul's leadership. There were several times that David could have killed Saul, but each time he refrained, saying that Saul was still God's appointed King.
One thing we know about David is that he was a gifted musician and poet, and about half of our book of Psalms are credited to David. There is a group of them from this period of being on the run from Saul, and we see David's faith and confidence in God overcoming the discouragement and fear of his situation, as we see in others his thanksgiving and prayers that grew out of other events in his life, the good and the bad.
Saul eventually finds himself in a full-scale war with the Philistines, a group of sea people who had migrated to the coast adjoining Judah over the previous several hundred years. (They are the source of the name that came to be used for the whole area: Palestine.) He and his son Jonathan were killed, we have David's lament for them in II Samuel 1.:19-27.
On God's instructions, David went to Hebron, the central city of tribal area of Judah, and was anointed King of Judah by the local leaders.  After seven years of political and military strife and the death of Saul's surviving son Ishbaal, David became the king of the northern tribal federation of Israel, after which he conquered the fortress city of Jerusalem (which was not part of the Judah/Israelite territory at this time, but was in a strategic central location), and had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem.  He expanded and fortified the city, subdued the Philistines, Moabites, and most of the other surrounding tribes, as far as the  Euphrates River, but not the Ammonites on the east side of the Jordan.
           And then things didn't go so well. His family was a mess. He blew it with the Bathsheba affair, had his oldest son Amnon killed by his brother Absalom for the rape of Absalom's sister , and then Absalom led a revolt against David and David had to flee the city. David's army was able to put it down, but Absalom was killed and David grieved over that until his general Joab chewed him out for showing more concern for a criminally rebellious son than the supporters that had saved his kingdom.           David has left us a great legacy of both heroism and mistakes, but he never lost his faith in God, and was willing to repent when confronted with his sins. The Psalms we have from his life have been called "The Gospel of the Old Testament", for the number of times he makes prophetic statements that are part of the lead-in to the Messiah, who is also said to be the Son of David.  David shows us that we don't have to be perfect; we do need to be humble and honest about what we do. And always he shows an amazing faith and dependence and obedience to God--which has inspired people for 3000 years, and is still as fresh as the young man who started out as a shepherd,became the Shepherd of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and the ancestor of Jesus.