Christianity, Religion, Genesis, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 8, 2019) Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Faithful During Grief / God Answers Prayer 1 Samuel 1:9-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how God answers prayer for Hannah.  Hannah is a childless woman in a society that values women with children and male children in particular.  Hannah is distressed, distraught, and discouraged.  She faces “baby mama drama” from her husband’s other wife and she’s had about enough of living in this pain.  In the end, Hanna’s situation works out.  God answer’s her prayer.  But for so many people, things don’t always work out the way we think they should.  Like Hannah, many people are unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing that only God can work it out.  Like Hannah, we rejoice when things do work out.  But when life throws us twists and turns we can be confident that God loves us no less, and in fact God’s love for us is infinite.   Hannah didn’t know things were going to work out.  But after hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace; her soul was no longer troubled.  She had a calm assurance that somehow God was still on her side.    

As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on Hannah as she responds to God with calm assurance after promising to give her firstborn child back to God as a Nazarite.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Vows

Nazarite

Background

The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel bear the name of the Priest / Judge / Prophet however, Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “these two books were originally one book and remain one book in the Jewish canon.  The division into two books probably originated in the second century BCE with the translation of the Hebrew into Greek”.  Regardless of whether Samuel is read as one or two books, its major themes remain the same and are seen through both books.  The NISB notes “there are two large and interlocking themes in 1 Samuel.  The first is public:  the importance of good government.  The second major theme which continues in 2 Samuel is personal: the complexity of relationships both between people and God and among people”.  Additionally, Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “1 Samuel records the critical transition in Israel from the rule of God through the judges to God’s rule through kings”.  It also notes that “all of 2 Samuel and a major portion of 1 Samuel deal with events that happened after Samuel’s death”.  This is likely an indication of the importance of Samuel as a major figure during a transitional time for the Israelites. 

The NISB notes as part of the second major theme in Samuel “the complexity of relationships between families.  These inter-human relationships are almost always conflicted, beginning with Hannah and Peninnah and going through Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, and Saul and his children.  Listen, Parent/child relationships are a constant concern in all of Samuel”. 

This first chapter of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s mother Hannah praying to conceive a man-child.  Hannah, a barren woman has been tormented by Peninnah the other wife of Hannah’s husband Elkanah.  They have come to Shiloh to offer sacrifices unto the Lord.  The text notes that Elkanah gave portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 

The NISB explains that “there are three themes in this story: 

1) Strife within the family.

2) God acting behind the scenes in ways that are apparent only to those who look for such actions.

3) God’s penchant for unexpectedly raising up the lowly”.

The central theme of this week’s lesson continues to be God’s faithfulness – this time during grief, and that God answers prayer.  In this text we see a powerless woman beset with family conflict and we see how God moves on her behalf to answer her prayer.  Our text will reveal how Hannah prayed, how God answered, and how Hannah honored God for answering her prayer.  One note of caution… Please be considerate knowing that God has not favorably answered the prayer of every woman and every man who desires to have a child.  Many women and men struggle for years to have a child only to be disappointed.  We know that God is able and that God can change their situation.  What we don’t know is when or even if God will.  So please be considerate.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Vows

Nazarite

Review of Last Week 

Last week’s lesson was taken from Genesis nineteenth chapter.  It was titled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  Verse one began with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he got up to greet them.  The text then skipped to verses four and five and then fifteen.  I covered verses two through fourteen as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invited the two angels to spend the night at his house where he showed them great hospitality by providing shelter and making a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surrounded Lots house and demanded “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  I quoted the NISB’s explanation that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  I also quoted the NISB explaining

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

I noted that this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  I quoted the The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

“Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him the angels strike the men outside the door with blindness. 

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  Lot lingers, the angles seize him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered. 

Verse seventeen told us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein.

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness.  This time God is faithful during grief; but God ultimately answers Hanna’s prayer.  In the same way Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Lot and his family, now Hannah pleads with God to answer her prayer for a man-child.  Last week we saw how God was faithful to Abraham.  This week we see how God is faithful to Hannah and how Hannah honors God for God’s faithfulness.  The lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Grief and God Answers Prayer.  The scripture text comes from 1 Samuel 1:9-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse nine.  Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh.  After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray.  Eli the priest is seated in the temple door.  The NISB notes that at this point “Shiloh is the central Israelite shrine which contains the Ark of the Covenant”. 

In verse ten Hannah is deeply distressed as she prays to the Lord weeping bitterly.  Hannah is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons.  She weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife is her rival and provokes her severely to irritate her (verse 6).  Dr. Theodore W. Burgh writes in The Africana Bible that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts.  Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””. 

Townsend Commentary notes that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir.  Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”; if you watch The Handmaid’s Tale that sounds familiar.  But this however, is not the desire of Hannah’s heart.  Hannah desires a man-child birthed from her own body.  Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change.  She’s tired of being picked on and talked about.  She’s tired of being laughed at and scorned.  Even though her husband loves her, she’s tired of being treated badly about something for which she has no control.  She has no child of her own and there is nothing she can do about it.  In the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant. 

In verse eleven Hannah makes a vow.  She vows to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death.  Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5).  And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix.  She makes a bargain with God.  If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite. 

Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  And as much as Hannah wants a child of her own she promises God she’ll return the child to God if only God remembers her with this blessing.  We can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances.  However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably.  Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9).  Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2).  Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21).  And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul. 

But Hannah’s vow was specific.  Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite.    Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God.  Hannah’s child will be special.  Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way.  This child will be set apart for service to God and as the rest of 1 Samuel will show how Samuel indeed becomes an iconic servant of God.  Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world. 

Additionally, Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explains in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7). 

In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continues praying silently with only her lips moving.  Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk.  Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”.  The NISB notes that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness.  This raises the question of how effective a leader such an out-of-touch man can be, especially one who is the priest of the nation’s most important shrine”.  Eli was indeed out of touch.  He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine.  Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.

In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight.  Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking.  She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord.  She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”. 

After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest.  Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress.  Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”.  So many people have been in Hanna’s situation.  Unable to do anything about their circumstances and knowing only God can work it out.  After hearing the man of God tell her to go in peace her soul is no longer troubled.  Hannah has a calm assurance that somehow God is going to work it out.  She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad. 

Verses nineteen and twenty close this lesson as Hanna and the others rise the next morning, worship God, and then travel back to their home in Ramah.  At some point Elkanah has sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her.  Hannah conceives the son she wanted so desperately and names him Samuel.  Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””.  Hannah gets the answer to her prayers.  The birth of Samuel changes her life and her circumstances.

Context

Hannah’s prayers were answered.  She was blessed with the child she so desperately wanted.  Her circumstances changed for the better and she has a happy ending to her story.  But sometimes our stories don’t end like we thought they should.  Life takes us on twists and turns that we would not have chosen on our own.  Regardless of the bargains we make or the vows we take with God, our circumstances will be what God purposes for them to be.  Sometimes we desperately hang on to any thread of hope that God will hear our prayer and answer for us positively.  We rejoice when things work out.  But sometimes things don’t work out like we thought they should.  Beloved, even when things don’t work out like we think they should, know that God’s love for you is infinite and what we don’t understand now, we’ll understand better by and by. 

Key Characters in the text:

Hannah – She is the mother of Samuel and wife of Elkanah.  She prays fervently at the temple in Shiloh for God to relieve her bareness.   

Elkanah – He is the father of Samuel and husband of Hannah.  Despite Hannah’s barrenness he confesses and demonstrates his love for her.    

Eli – He is the high priest at the temple in Shiloh.  Also one of the last minor judges; in the latter role he is said to have served for forty years (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Vow(s) – That which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the entrance into the religious life is marked by vows.  Other vows may be made for undertaking specific actions. 

Nazarite – A member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. 

Ark of the Covenant – The chest carried by the Hebrews that contained the tablets of the law.  It was lost from history after the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Let your request be made known to God (Phil 4:6). 

2.  Praying your heart’s desire.

Questions

1.  Why did Hannah want her child to become a Nazarite?         

2.  God answered Hannah’s prayer positively.  How should we respond when we see no positive results to our prayer? 

3.  Did you know women could take the Nazarite vow in the Old Testament?

Concluding Thought:

God answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not now, maybe later.  At any rate, God answers prayer.  It’s up to us to understand the answer and continue to move forward in God’s plan. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of Exodus.  We see God’s faithful provision for the Israelites in the wilderness.  Very soon after departing Egypt the Israelites face difficult times and they began to mummer against Moses and Aaron.  When they face hard times in the wilderness God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by miraculously supplying their needs.  The lesson is entitled “Bread From Heaven”.    

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 1, 2019) Faithful During Distress / Faith And Doubt Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29

Faithful During Distress / Faith and Doubt Genesis 19

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is entitled “Faithful During Distress” and “Faith and Doubt”.  I take a look at how God is faithful during our distress and faith and doubt as it relates to God’s faithfulness.  Specifically, in this lesson, I show how God is faithful to Abraham.  Have you ever heard the saying “somebody prayed for me”?  That was Abraham on behalf of Lot.  If it were not for Abraham, Lot and his family would have perished along with everyone else in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this lesson, God is faithful to Abraham and merciful and compassionate to Lot and his family.  In this lesson, I focus on how hospitality is an important and central theme in this text.  That’s really important because so many people focus on the homosexuality in this text.  Homosexuality isn’t the central issue.  Although Lot shows hospitality to the angels there is little else (in my view, nothing else) to give him credit for.  In fact, given Lot’s offer of his own daughters to the men of the city he was just as guilty of the same violence as the sodomites. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because God heard the outcry of their collective violence and inhospitality and the violence with which they treated aliens in their midst.  Lot was saved not because of his own actions, but because Abraham intervened, interceded, and pleaded on his behalf.  I like how Townsends Commentary explains “with Lot’s rescue, the emphasis is on God’s compassion.  Lot acknowledged that he was saved because he had found favor in God’s sight.  This is also true for us.  If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, where would we be”?  If you have or had praying parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, perhaps you too can identify with Lot.  If it had not been for God on our side, where would we be?

In this first lesson of the new school year our focus has transitioned from covenants to demonstrating how God is faithful.  The focus of this week’s lesson is faithful during distress and faith and doubt.  It is Abraham’s faith that is highlighted and we see Lot’s doubt as he hesitates to leave a city soon to be destroyed.   Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Background: 

This first lesson of the Fall Quarter and the new Sunday School year comes from the book of Genesis.  Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It speaks to the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great floods and establishment of Nations. It is the first book of the Bible and the first of the five books known as the Pentateuch.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Genesis was written over a long period of time.  It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the books together.  The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC)”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that Genesis contains narratives from three authors or traditions (1) The Yawist, (2) the Elohist, and (3) the Priestly writer.  These distinct traditions were woven together in the way they appear today by a later editor or by the latest author, the priestly writer.  It’s important to note these writers because it’s important to understand both “the times in which they wrote and the times about which they wrote” (NISB). 

This nineteenth chapter falls within a larger narrative focused on the life of Abraham.  It’s as if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parenthetically interjected into the longer story of Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. 

Lot is Abraham’s nephew.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in chapter eighteen.  As Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing near him.  After Abraham and Sarah show great hospitality to the men (one of whom appears to be the Lord), one of them said “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  When these men leave Abraham and Sarah they set out toward Sodom. 

At this point “The Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”?  After the Lord decides to reveal the plan, Abraham and the Lord engage in a philosophical discussion.  Abraham questions the Lord’s plan asking “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  Abraham pleads his case for the righteous in Sodom.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew, Abraham is going to make the case and plead on his behalf.  This is a powerful plea to the Lord. 

When the Lord agrees that the city will not be destroyed if fifty righteous are found Abraham then asks “suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking”?  When The Lord agrees again, Abraham then asks suppose forty are found there.  When the Lord agrees, Abraham then asks suppose there are twenty.  When the Lord agrees he asks once more, suppose there are ten.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew Abraham is going to go the distance with the Lord on behalf of his extended family.  It’s important to also note that the NIBOVC explains “God is gracious and merciful, forgiving and slow to anger, but God also does not simply “clear the guilty” without some consequences for their sin (Exod. 34:6-7) or, as here in Gen. 18, without some few righteous ones who will redeem the whole.  That’s an important principle to remember; “A few righteous ones who redeem the whole”.  If there are ten righteous in the city, God will stay God’s judgement.  But of course in this story ten cannot be found.  That principle applies to us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our righteousness.

This is where our lesson picks up.  The men who visited Abraham and Sarah are now described as two angels (messengers).  They arrive Sodom in the evening, with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city.  Lot greets them in the same way Abraham did in chapter eighteen and he offers them exceptional hospitality. 

Our lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  It is a view into how Lot responded to God’s grace. Given the background I’ve just covered it is also a view into how God is faithful to Abraham’s plea for his nephew and family.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Review of Last Week.  

Last week’s lesson was titled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The lesson came from the fifth chapter of Ephesians verses twenty-one through thirty-three.  Verse twenty-one was the key verse in the text.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  Or be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I noted how that is a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two told us that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord and I noted how I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  It’s important to know that this verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form than his wife.  Nor does this verse put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives. I also noted how much it bothers me that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.   

 Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

I also noted how life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-five reminded husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  And I noted how toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one reminded us of a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reflects back to Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

This week’s lesson deals with faith and doubt as Abraham pleads for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family.  This lesson shows us how God is faithful and how Lot responded to God’s grace.  The lesson this week is entitled Faith and Doubt.  The scripture text comes from Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he gets up to greet them.  Our lesson text then skips to verses four and five and then fifteen.  Verses two through fourteen are not particularly focused on the topic of faith and doubt but I’ll cover them as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invites these travelers to spend the night at his house where he shows them great hospitality by providing shelter and making them a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surround Lots house and demand “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  The NISB notes that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  Additionally, the NISB also notes

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

  So this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it also notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him they strike the men outside the door with blindness.  They question Lot whether he has any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else in the city because they are about to destroy the city.  And that brings us up to verse fifteen.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  But Lot lingered so the men took him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered.  But given his choices thus far in the story, both good and bad, any speculation would be just that; pure speculation.

Verse seventeen tells us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.  They made sure Lot and his family got out of the city and then gave him instructions to include not looking back, in order to avoid the coming destruction. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.  Lot had already lingered coming out of the city, now he knows he must flee and cannot look back at the destruction that would rain down on the city in which he had lived. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  Instead of destroying the city upon their arrival they lodged and ate a meal with Lot.  Then they protected Lot from the men of the city.  Then they seized Lot and brought him and his family outside the gates of the city. And now they grant him this additional favor to go to a small city nearby.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-two and twenty-three the angel tells him to hurry because the angel can do nothing until Lot arrives. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein. Additionally, the angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. 

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

Context:

The prayers of the righteous avail much.  It is the prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective.  If you believe that prayer really changes things you have probably been the recipient of someone else’s powerful and effective praying.  I like Dorothy Norwood’s song Somebody Prayed for Me.  It captures the feeling of knowing that you didn’t make it to where you are on your own.  Many of us have had praying mothers, fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Without their prayers where would we be? 

Key Characters in the text:

Lot – isAbraham’s nephew.  He is the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother.  He migrates with Abraham and grandfather from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan (Townsend). 

Angel – A scriptural term for heavenly beings who praise and serve God.  They are variously portrayed in Scripture as announcing a child’s birth and destiny (Gen 16:11; Luke 1:11-20), interceding with God (Gen 22:11), executing judgement (2 Sam. 24:16). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.     

Doubt, religious – Uncertainty, as opposed to denial, or religious truths. 

Hospitality – Biblical concept often used with the terms “guest”, “stranger” and “sojourner”.  It is useful to limit the meaning of “hospitality” to benevolence done to those outside ones normal circle of friends, as is implied in the literal meaning in the Greek word “love of strangers” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) 

2.  Somebody prayed for me. (Abraham pleading for Lot)

Questions

1.  Lot showed hospitality to the men when they arrived at the gates of Sodom.  Why is hospitality so important?       

2.  If the assault on the angels had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act.  This presents the sins of Sodom more as social than individual, something that characterizes the entire city (Townsend).  Discuss the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality. 

Concluding Thought:

It was the prayers of Abraham that saved Lot and his family.  It can be argued that on his own merit, Lot was not worthy of the deliverance he received.  Having said that, it can likely be argued that I am not worthy of my deliverance either.  I am reminded of the African Bantu term Ubuntu.  It means “I am, because we are”.  In other words, I exist because we exist together.  Somebody prayed for me.  I am who I am because of the answered prayers of those who prayed for me.  In our praying, let’s remember to pray for others. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In this second lesson of five exploring how God is faithful, we see God granting Hanna the son she prayed for.  The lesson is entitled God Answers Prayer.    

Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 25, 2019) Marriage: A Covenant Of Mutual Love Ephesians 5:21-33

Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love Ephesians 5:21-33

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant of mutual love.  The lesson comes from Ephesians 5:21-33.  In this lesson we see how both the husband and the wife submit or as the Hebrew word says “line up under” each other in a covenant of mutual love.  Lining up under each other is a good way to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.  What I found particularly interesting about this week’s lesson is how Holy Scripture can sometimes be used to oppress women.  In the first century world of Paul, patriarchy was the only known way to exist.  I suppose it was even radical for Paul to suggest that both men and women should submit to one another.  That was the first step.  Now it’s up to us to dismantle patriarchy and all other forms of oppression. 

The focus of this week’s lesson is a covenant of mutual love.  It is the final lesson of the Sunday School year and an excellent way to close the topic of covenants between people.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Household Codes

Covenant

Background: 

Over The last few weeks the lessons have focused on covenants between people.  This week is a little different.  The premise is the same.  While this text does not mention two specific people we are still dealing with two people in the context of a covenant based in marriage.  Just as a reminder “covenant” is defined as a formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Part of what I will focus on today is the mutuality of the covenant based in marriage.  This week’s lesson is taken from Ephesians.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes “Biblical scholars disagree over whether the Letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul.  The Greek style in the letter is different from uncontested letters by Paul, and the ideas in Ephesians represent developments in Paul’s thought among other discrepancies”. Even with other discrepancies the “evidence does not prove, however, that Ephesians is not authentically Pauline” (NISB).  Additionally, “some reputable scholars maintain that Paul wrote Ephesians at the end of his life about 58 – 59 CE and the developments in Paul’s thought represents the “mature” Paul.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that Ephesians has a number of notable differences from the undisputed letters of Paul; possibly it was intended as a circular or “open letter” to a number of communities surrounding Ephesus”.

The NISB notes that “the main theme of Ephesians is God’s plan to reconcile Jews and Gentiles, which was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus”.  Our lesson text is taken from a section of the fifth chapter that is focused on the Christian household.  “In the New Testament the first household codes appear in Colossians 3:18-4:1 which is a roster of duties for members of a Greco-Roman household.  Other examples are found in 1 Timothy 2:8-3:13; Titus 2:1-10; and 1 Peter 2:13-3:7” (NISB).  Additionally, the NISB notes that “the household code in Ephesians has been misused: First, because in some editions of the Bible, Ephesians 5:21 has not been printed with the code and second, because editors have not noted that “be subject” does not appear in the best manuscripts of 5:22” (NISB).  Regardless of those controversies, the central message of this passage is mutual submission to one another and the lordship of Christ over all of us.  One additional note of importance mentioned in the NISB is how this

“Text reflects unquestioning acceptance of slavery (chapter 6) as a social and economic institution.  No modern Christian can hold such a view.  Modern interpreters assume that slavery is not universally to be practiced, but they are sometimes hesitant to assert the same about the domination of wives by husbands”.

Our lesson this week is entitled A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The importance of this mutual love should be the central focus with the lordship of Jesus Christ as the overarching guide.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Household Codes

Covenant

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson came from Ruth chapter 3.  Verses one and two began with Naomi’s concern for Ruth’s security.  Naomi’s care and concern for Ruth underscored her love for her daughter-in-law.  After realizing Boaz had shown interest in Ruth, Naomi knew exactly what to do.  Naomi knew the customs of the barley harvest and as the reaping season drew to a close she gave her daughter-in-law specific instructions on how to conduct herself. 

In verse three Naomi told Ruth to wash, anoint herself with perfume, and to put on her best clothes.  Naomi told her to go to the threshing floor but not to make herself known to Boaz until after he has finished eating and drinking.  Naomi knew exactly what she was doing.  With the specific instructions she gave Ruth she hoped to ensure Ruth’s success with convincing Boaz to marry her. 

Naomi’s instructions continued in verse four.  She told Ruth “when he lies down, observe the place then go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do”.  In verse five Ruth demonstrated her obedience to Naomi telling her “all that you tell me I will do”.  I cited the NISB noting that the Hebrew word for “lie down” is used eight times in 3:4-14.  The NISB noted that “Lie down” can simply mean “sleep” but this word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse.

Verse six told us Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions.  Verse seven is not in the lesson, but it told us how after Boaz was content with eating and drinking he lies down at the end of a heap of grain and how Ruth “came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down”. I cited the New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary noting that “The Hebrew of this scene is filled with words that may have either ordinary meanings or sexual overtones, especially the words “feet” (used euphemistically for genitals) and “lie down” (for sleeping or sexual relations).  Both in content and choice of vocabulary, the storyteller establishes the possibility for a sexual tryst outside of marriage, yet draws back from saying exactly what took place”.

Verse eight told us that at midnight Boaz was startled discovering a woman laying at his feet.  It’s easy to understand how he might be startled having gone to sleep alone only to wake in the middle of the night with a woman lying next to him.  I also noted that Boaz is likely a pious man given his greeting in chapter two verse four. 

In verse nine Ruth explained “I am your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin”.  This is Ruth’s marriage proposal.  The NIBOVC noted that “spread your cloak over your servant” is in effect elevated language for a marriage proposal.  Verse ten helps us understand just how wise Naomi was.  Naomi had given Ruth specific instructions and now Boaz says “may you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first”.  Here Boaz recognizes Ruth’s actions toward him as better than her actions toward her mother-in-law.  He knows how loving and faithful Ruth has been toward Naomi.  Now he sees that same kind of love and faithfulness toward him by Ruth. 

In verse eleven we saw the covenant to marry that Boaz made to Ruth.  In verse nine Ruth proposes marriage.  In verse eleven Boaz makes the covenant to marry Ruth.  He promises her “do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask”. 

Verse twelve introduced a twist.  Boaz told Ruth there was another kinsman more closely related than he was.  Yet, Boaz will be determined to see this matter through successfully.

In verse sixteen Ruth returns to her mother-in-law who asks “how did things go with you, my daughter”.  Ruth tells Naomi all that happed and in verse seventeen she says “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said; do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed”.  Naomi’s plan worked.  Boaz sent Ruth home with six measures of barley to show his appreciation.  And in verse eighteen Naomi told Ruth to simply wait.  She knows Boaz will not rest until this marriage is settled.

This week’s lesson deals with marriage as a covenant of mutual love.  It closes our lessons on covenants between people.  This week we look at the husband wife relationship within the household codes of Ephesians.  Paul emphasizes how husbands and wives submit to one another in reverence to Christ.  He gives specific instructions especially to the husbands as their instructions are much longer than the wives.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it A Covenant of Love.  The scripture text comes from Ephesians 5:21-33. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse twenty-one is the key verse in this text.  It is the central focus of this passage and our lesson.  Be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I think that’s a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two says that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord.  I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  So let me by clear.  This verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form that his wife.  This verse does not put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives.  What really bothers me is that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.  In most of the churches I have been associated with, the church would close down if women didn’t show up.

 Having said that, I refer you again to verse twenty-one; we are to submit ourselves one to another.  Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

Verse twenty-three tells us the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the savior.  Jesus Christ is our example.  If Jesus wouldn’t treat a woman in an inferior way, neither should a husband.  Additionally, keep in mind that life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-four reminds us that the church is subject to Jesus Christ.  So, as the church lines up under Jesus Christ, so too should wives line up under their husbands.  Again, I refer you to our key verse – Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Verse twenty-five tells husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-six gives us a reason to love sacrificially.  That purpose is “In order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word”.  The NISB notes that the washing of water presents the “image of baptism or the ritual purification baths of Jewish women”.  At any rate, the sacrificial love of the husband is again an effort in teamwork.  The picture is one such as Christ giving himself for the church and the husband giving himself for the wife. 

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  The husband’s sacrificial love does this for the wife.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  Toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one is a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reminds us of Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

Context:

Some of you may know that one of my daughters will be joined in a covenant of mutual love next month.  I am excited for her and her future life-long partner.  Their mutual love is evident to everyone that knows them.  The covenant they will enter is just one way God shows God’s love in this world.  The ceremony is a great representation of that love.  But it’s in the actual day to day living and loving, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health that true love is made known.  I’m excited for my daughter and her covenant partner.  I’m excited that God will be represented in their marriage ceremony, but I’m more excited that God will be represented in the way they love each other, with their friends and family, and in their community.  Marriage is a covenant of mutual love.

Key Characters in the text:

Apostle Paul – A minister of the Word of Christ to Gentile believers in many parts of the Asian continent during the early development of the church (Townsend).    

Key Words: 

Household Codes – New Testament passages that provide ethical instruction for various social parings: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1; 1 Peter 2:18-3:7).  

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Real men love their wives. 

2.  Teamwork makes the dream work.        

Questions

1.  Ephesians is a first century letter to a church in which patriarchy ruled the day.  How does patriarchy exist today?      

2.  Husbands are commanded to love their wives.  Discuss whether that is possible if the husband does not take care of himself.        

Concluding Thought:

Biblically sanctioned patriarchy is just as wrong as Biblically sanctioned slavery.  No one argues for the return of biblical slavery as if somehow Biblical slavery was less violent than American chattel enslavement.  It is plainly evident that all forms of enslavement are wrong.  Likewise, Biblical patriarchy oppressing women is wrong and should not be tolerated today.  Paul makes a small step in the right direction when he tells us to be subject to one another.  It’s up to us to go the rest of the way toward a more equal and always loving society.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week begins the first lesson of the new Sunday School year and the Fall Quarter.  This Fall our lessons revolve around how we respond to God’s grace.  Through the month of September the focus is on how God is Faithful.  Next week’s lesson deals specifically with the ideas of faith and doubt as Lot and his family escape Sodom.  The lesson is entitled Faith and Doubt. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 18, 2019) A Covenant To Marry – Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, 16-18

A Covenant To Marry – Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, 16-18

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant to marry.  The lesson comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, 16-18.  In this lesson we see Naomi’s specific instructions to Ruth, Ruth’s marriage proposal to Boaz, Boaz’s covenant to marry Ruth and ultimately the redemption of Naomi through Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer.  What I found particularly interesting about this lesson is how in its Hebrew form it is replete with puns and innuendo of a sexual nature.  The writer is definitely telling us something, but it’s up to us to figure out what it is.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Redeemer

Widow

Background: 

This week’s lesson is the second from the book of Ruth.  As noted last week, Nelson’s Bible Handbook records that the author of Ruth is unknown although some scholars credit it to the prophet Samuel.  In these four chapters and eighty-five verses seated between Judges and 1 Samuel we find the story of a woman whose name means pleasant but her life has been bitter.  Although this book is named Ruth because of her undying love for her mother-in-law, it tells the story of Naomi. 

After hearing that the famine in her homeland has ended Naomi and Ruth return to Judah.  When they arrive Naomi’s homeland Naomi is broken, bitter, and no doubt destitute.  Ruth asks Naomi if she can glean grain “behind someone in whose sight she might find favor” (2:2).  “As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech” (2:3).  Ruth gleans from Boaz’s field and as Boaz comes from Bethlehem he notices Ruth.   Boaz treats her with kindness telling Ruth to glean in his field and to stay alongside his servants.  Boaz knows how faithful Ruth has been to Naomi and now he has seen for himself how diligent she works in the field.  After Boaz shares a meal with Ruth and after a full day gleaning in the field she returns to Naomi and explains how kind Boaz has been.  “Naomi said to Ruth, “It is better, my daughter that you go out with his young women otherwise you might be bothered in another field”.  So Ruth stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests” (2:22-23). 

That brings us to the scripture text for this lesson.  But first I should note the puns and innuendos excursus recorded in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible. 

“In chapter three, the narrator uses a series of puns that can have either innocent or sexually suggestive meanings.  The Hebrew word shakab, “lie down” is used eight times in 3:3-14.  Shakab can simply mean “sleep” but the word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse (e.g. Gen 19:33-35; 30:15-16; 38:26).  Similarly, the word galah (“uncover”) is frequently found in texts that prohibit incest (Lev. 18:6-19); regalim (“feet” or “lower body”) is a common euphemism for the genitals (Deut 28:57; Isa 7:20; Ezek 16:25); and “threshing floors” were traditionally associated with sex for hire (Hos 9:1).  The verb yada (“make known” in 3:3 “observe” in 3:4; “know” in 3:11 and “known” in 3;14) is also used in OT texts as a euphemism for sexual activity.  When Ruth asks Boaz to “spread your cloak over your servant” (3:9), she uses a phrase that has sexual overtones in Deut. 27:20 and Ezek. 16:8.  Thus, while the narrator does not spell out for us what happened between midnight and morning, the language used throughout the chapter is both ambiguous and playfully suggestive. 

So these numerous puns and innuendoes may be a simple case of the writer being playful with words. Or it may be the writer telling us a lot without saying it in so many words.  At any rate, we can be sure that the people spoken of in Holy Scripture are recorded as real people with hopes, ambitions, and desires, as well as faults and failures just like people today. 

Additionally, I should note that Boaz becomes Naomi’s redeemer.  Ruth alone has no claim to Elimelech’s property.  The NISB notes that “The redeemer is the designated family member who is expected to recover that which has been (or is in danger of being) removed from family control”.  Boaz is the kinsman redeemer for Naomi. 

Our lesson this week is entitled A Covenant To Marry.  After Ruth’s marriage proposal, Boaz makes a covenant saying “don’t’ be afraid, I will do for you all you ask” (3:11).  From this marriage, Obed would be born.  Obed is the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David.  Also, Matthew 1 records the genealogy of Jesus.  In this genealogy only four women are named and Ruth is one of them.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Redeemer

Widow

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson was taken from Ruth chapter 1.  I noted that leading up to verse six, the timeframe of Naomi’s story was when the Judges ruled.  During this time there was a famine in Judah and Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home country and crossed into Moab.  I noted how “Bethlehem means “House of Bread / Food”.  Yet during Naomi’s time there was no food due to the famine.  I also noted the meaning of the names of Naomi, Elimelech her husband, and Mahlon and Chilion her two sons.  You may remember that after living in Moab for some time Elimelech dies and so do Naomi’s two sons.  I quoted Dr. Wil Gafney from the Africana Bible writing that “Naomi is a postmenopausal widow bereft of her childless sons.  Naomi has no (male) family left.  But she has a home.  She returned to her people, the land of her ancestors”.  

Verses six and seven told us that Naomi with her daughters-in-law start the return home because she has heard that the Lord has given Judah food. 

Verses eight and nine told us how Naomi pleaded with her daughters-in-law to go back to your mother’s house.  I noted how the term “mother’s house” is an indication that Naomi is urging them to look for new husbands”. 

In verse nine she wished that they would find security in the homes of new husbands.  The NISB notes that “In their world, marriage was assumed to be the only respectable way for a woman to achieve social and economic security”.  In a male dominated, patriarchal society, these husbandless women and this sonless mother would have a hard time just to survive.  

Verses ten and eleven told us again that Naomi wants them to look for other husbands.  Naomi told them “do I still have sons in my womb that that they may become your husbands”?  She knows how hard it is to survive without a husband and she believes it would be best for them to find other husbands.  I noted how this is really Naomi looking out for their best interest.  This is Naomi showing them love.  She knows she can do little to nothing to make life better for her daughters-in-law. 

The lesson then skipped to verse fourteen where again they wept aloud.  Naomi is heartbroken, distressed, and probably destitute and by her own words bitter.  She has set her mind to return to her home and she knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law.  Orpah is convinced of her mother-in-law’s argument.  It’s logical, it makes sense, and she knows Naomi is speaking from a place of love.  Orpah departs from Naomi and returns to her people, to her culture, and to her gods.  But Ruth clings to Naomi.  She knows Naomi is speaking the truth.  She knows she has nothing really to look forward to.  She knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites.  But still, she clings to her mother-in-law.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry.  She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the sorrow she has already faced and the hardships she is likely to face.  She clings because she loves this woman.  She loves her mother-in-law more than the comfort of living with her own people.  She clings because she loves this woman more than the familiarity of her own customs and her own gods.  She clings because Naomi is a woman who has no doubt shown Ruth the kind of love that transcends customs.  Naomi has shown her a love that transcends culture. And for Ruth, Naomi’s love transcends familiarity. 

In verses sixteen and seventeen Ruth speaks the words that are so often repeated in marriage ceremonies.  These words are Ruth’s unequivocal love for her mother-in-law.  Ruth is going to cling to Naomi regardless of what may come.  Where ever she goes, where ever she lives, whatever God she serves, and where ever she dies, Ruth declares that the same will be to her. 

I also highlighted the fact that this sentiment of love is certainly appreciated, respected, and esteemed; yet we should be mindful of the context.  The NISB notes that “these words spoken by one woman to another woman must be taken out of context in order to be used as a pledge of love between a man and a woman”.  Yet it is this sentiment and the deep meaning of this kind of love that we all ought to strive for in our marriage relationships.  This is Ruth’s covenant with Naomi. 

Verse eighteen closed last week’s lesson with Naomi resigned to Ruth’s commitment.  Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined and committed; not just to go with her but to demonstrate her love toward her. 

That should be our goal.  To demonstrate our love for one another in ways that leaves no doubt about our care and concern.

This week’s lesson deals with a covenant of marriage.  Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz.  Boaz understanding the character of Ruth, her faithfulness to her mother-in-law, and her work ethic makes a covenant to marry Ruth.  This marriage would redeem Naomi, provide a home for Ruth and Naomi, give Boaz access to Elimelech’s property, and produce the grandfather of King David.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Covenant To Marry.  The scripture text comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, and 16-18. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verses one and two begin with Naomi’s concern for Ruth’s security.  Naomi’s care and concern for Ruth underscores her love for her daughter-in-law.  After realizing Boaz has shown interest in Ruth, Naomi knows exactly what to do.  Naomi knows the customs of the barley harvest and as the reaping season draws to a close she gives her daughter-in-law specific instructions on how to conduct herself. 

In verse three Naomi tells Ruth to wash, anoint herself with perfume, and to put on her best clothes.  Naomi tells her to go to the threshing floor but to not make herself known to Boaz until after he has finished eating and drinking.  Naomi knows what she is doing.  With these specific instructions she hopes to ensure Ruth’s success with convincing Boaz to marry her. 

The instructions continue in verse four.  Naomi tells Ruth “when he lies down, observe the place then go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do”.  In verse five Ruth demonstrates her obedience to Naomi telling her “all that you tell me I will do”.  The NISB notes that the Hebrew word for “lie down” is used eight times in 3:4-14.  “Lie down” can simply mean “sleep” but this word is also frequently used in biblical texts to imply sexual intercourse.

Verse six tells us Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions.  Verse seven in not in the lesson, but it tells us how after Boaz was content with eating and drinking he lies down at the end of a heap of grain and how Ruth “came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down”.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The Hebrew of this scene is filled with words that may have either ordinary meanings or sexual overtones, especially the words “feet” (used euphemistically for genitals) and “lie down” (for sleeping or sexual relations).  Both in content and choice of vocabulary, the storyteller establishes the possibility for a sexual tryst outside of marriage, yet draws back from saying exactly what took place”.

Verse eight tells us that at midnight Boaz is startled discovering a woman laying at his feet.  It’s easy to understand how he might be startled having gone to sleep alone only to wake in the middle of the night with a woman lying next to him.  Boaz is likely a pious man given his greeting in chapter two verse four. 

In verse nine Ruth explains “I am your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin”.  This is Ruth’s marriage proposal.  The NIBOVC notes that “spread your cloak over your servant” is in effect elevated language for a marriage proposal.  Verse ten helps us understand just how wise Naomi was.  Naomi had given Ruth specific instructions and now Boaz says “may you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first”.  Here Boaz recognizes Ruth’s actions toward him as better than her actions toward her mother-in-law.  He knows how loving and faithful Ruth has been toward Naomi.  Now he sees that same kind of love and faithfulness toward him by Ruth. 

Verse eleven is the covenant to marry that Boaz makes toward Ruth.  In verse nine Ruth proposes marriage.  In verse eleven Boaz makes the covenant to marry Ruth.  He promises her “do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask”. 

Verse twelve introduces a twist.  Boaz tells Ruth there is another kinsman more closely related than he is.  Yet, Boaz will be determined to see this matter through successfully.

In verse sixteen Ruth returns to her mother-in-law who asks “how did things go with you, my daughter”.  Ruth tells Naomi all that happed and in verse seventeen she says “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said; do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed”.  Naomi’s plan has worked.  Boaz sends Ruth home with six measures of barley to show his appreciation.  And in verse eighteen Naomi tells Ruth to simply wait.  She knows Boaz will not rest until this marriage is settled. 

Context:

“I am redeemed.  I’ve been bought with a price.  Jesus has changed my whole life”.  The words of this song, written by Jessy Dixon, seem appropriate to express the gratefulness of being restored into God’s family.  Naomi was redeemed.  Where her life had been bitter and empty; after Ruth’s marriage and the birth of Obed, Naomi is restored, renewed, and redeemed.  Many of us have experienced a season (if not seasons) of bitterness in life.  It’s my hope and prayer that we all come through those seasons better.  Filled with better love, better hope for tomorrow and better grace for today. 

Key Characters in the text:

Naomi – The mother-in-law of Ruth and wife of Elimelech.  Her name means “sweet” or “pleasant” but she becomes bitter toward God after the death of her husband and two sons.  She is later redeemed and the sweetness of her life restored. 

Ruth – A Moabite woman who becomes the grandmother of King David and in the bloodline of Jesus Christ.  Ruth demonstrates her undying love for her mother-in-law Naomi and through her she becomes Naomi’s redemption. 

Boaz – A rich farmer from the City of Bethlehem and a kinsman to Elimelech.  He was made the kinsman-redeemer when he agreed to marry Ruth, and he therefore became the great grandfather to King David and direct ancestor of Jesus Christ (Townsend).

Key Words: 

Redeemer – God as the rescuer and recoverer of Israel.  A designation for Jesus Christ, who brings salvation and the redemptive relationship God, intends to have with those who believe.  

Widows – Women who remained unmarried after the death of their husbands were of special concern in ancient Israel as powerless persons (Ex 22:22).  They were recipients of Christian care by churches in Acts 6:1-3 and 1 Tim 5:3-16. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  I am redeemed.  (Song written by Jessy Dixon)

2.  Teamwork makes the dream work.        

Questions

1.  A marriage between Naomi and Boaz would not have kept the “name” of Elimelech alive.  Naomi was past childbearing age.  Discuss what a marriage between Ruth and Boaz accomplishes.    

2.  Naomi instructed Ruth to approach Boaz in an intimate way to propose marriage (Townsend).  Why do you think this was necessary?      

Concluding Thought:

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview (Reference.com).  Marriage, family, and community are foundations of society.  When our marriages, our families, and our communities are rooted in love all of our lives are made better.  After their husband’s death, Ruth willingly remained with Naomi.  She later willingly married Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer.  As a result their family grew, the community was made better, and the result was Naomi’s redemption.  Working together, makes the dream work.                

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we move back to the New Testament but remain on the idea of love and marriage in the context of a covenant.  Next week the lesson text is taken from Ephesians 5:21-33.  The lesson is entitled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 11, 2019) A Mother-Daughter Covenant Ruth 1:6-11, 14-18

A Mother Daughter Covenant Ruth 1:6-11, 14-18

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant between a family.  The lesson comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18.  In this lesson we see women who are ethnically different.  They worship different gods, they have different customs, and they have different cultures.  Yet something binds these women together more powerfully than their differences could separate.  In this lesson Ruth leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and all of her people to go with Naomi.  What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth.  This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to.  Ruth knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites.  But still, she clings to her mother-in-law.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry.  She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home.  These two women have a bond of love.  It is this love that becomes a mother daughter covenant; a covenant that we all should strive to emulate in our own relationships.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Redeemer

Widow

Background: 

This week’s lesson is the first of two lessons from the book of Ruth.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that its author is unknown although some scholars credit it to the prophet Samuel.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Christian Bibles place Ruth in between Judges and Samuel.  This leads the reader directly from the era when “there was no king in Israel” (Judg. 21:25) to the time of David, the exemplary King noted in Ruth 4:17-22”.  The Hebrew Bible, instead, places Ruth among the writings. 

Townsend commentary notes that Ruth begins during the closing days of Judges.  “Judges was a four-hundred year timeline of anarchy and oppression during which the Israelites were not ruled by kings but rather had judges who were deliverers whom God periodically raised up to deliver Israel”.  Judges Closes with “There was no King in Israel”.  Ruth takes us from the anarchy of no king to the time of the great King David. 

Perhaps the strongest theological point in Ruth is the idea of the redeemer.  Although this book is named Ruth, it tells the story of Naomi.  “Naomi lived in Bethlehem in the time of the Judges.  A famine drives Naomi and her family to seek refuge in Moab, where her two sons marry (abduct) Moabite women as wives.  When Naomi’s husband and sons die, she returns to Bethlehem, destitute, bitter and “empty” but accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).  Again, this book is named Ruth, but it is really the story of Naomi. 

It is Naomi who “needs redemption and ultimatly she receives it.  It is Naomi’s life that is renewed (4:15); her feelings of bitterness, emptiness, and hopelessness are turned around.  Like Naomi, we are the recipients of unmerited love, and our redemption is due to someone else’s faithfulness, not our own” (NISB). 

It is also important to note the full context in which Ruth pledges her love to Naomi.  Dr. Wil Gafney writes in The Africana Bible – Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa and The African Diaspora that “Ruth’s embrace of Naomi is particularly striking remembering that they were from different ethnic communities, practiced different religions, and Naomi was there – and presumably did not object – when Ruth and Orpah were abducted into marriage.  So Ruth really leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and people to go with Naomi.  What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth.  This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to. 

Our text this week is focused on a covenant between a family.  A family that is ethnically different but bound in love nonetheless.  Ruth is marginalized as a Moabite and as a widowed or unmarried woman.  She knows she will likely be unwelcome in Bethlehem.  The Israelites did not like, nor did they get along with the Moabites.  Yet, her love for her mother-in-law compels her to go anyway.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Redeemer

Widow

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was the first in a series of lessons that deal with covenants between people.  As we saw in last week and will see again in this week’s lesson, love is a significant theme that drives these covenants.  Last week’s lesson was taken from 1 Samuel chapters eighteen and nineteen.  The love that secured the covenant between Jonathan and his friend David was the central theme.  Chapter eighteen began with a continuation of the David and Goliath story.  In verse one David had already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul.  David was seen as a hero and of course this bothered King Saul.  David had single handedly won the war and defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel.  Verse one told us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David.  Townsend Commentary noted that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”. 

Verse two helped us understand that Saul was pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”.  

Verses three and four helped us understand that Jonathan and David had a mutual agreement; they made a covenant.  Verse three told us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.  The terms of their covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.

Verse five helped us understand David’s obedience and wisdom.  David conducted himself wisely.  He was successful in all that Saul put before him.  He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”.  The fact that even the servants approved really says something about the fame, celebrity, and prominence of David.  That same fame and prominence is what would make King Saul jealous. 

At this point the lesson text skipped chapter 19.  I noted that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires.  Townsend Commentary noted “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two.  He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”.  Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”. 

Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David.  Saul is jealous of David.  This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.

Verse two of chapter nineteen told us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul.  Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King.  Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning.  

Verses three, four, and five detailed the plan Jonathan came up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment Jonathan spoke truth to power.  If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly was.  Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine.   He reminds the King that David is innocent.  In this way, Jonathan showed his true loyalty.  He risked his own life for the safety of his friend.  He spoke truth to power.  He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.

Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father.  Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”.  Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it.  It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan.  He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  As Jonathan noted, David was innocent.  Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right.  His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.

That should be our goal.  To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness. 

This week’s lesson deals with another covenant based in love.  David and Jonathan’s love is through friendship.  Naomi and Ruth’s love is based in family.  Although the family circle has been broken with the death of the husbands of Naomi, Orpha, and Ruth the love Ruth demonstrates to her mother-in-law is just as powerful as any other.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Mother-Daughter Covenant.  The scripture text comes from Ruth 1:6-11, and 14-18. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Leading up to verse six we learn the timeframe of this story is when the Judges ruled.  There was a famine in Judah and Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home country and crossed into Moab.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Bethlehem means “House of Bread / Food”.  Yet at this time there is no food due to the famine.  Elimelech means “My God is King” in ironic contrast to the end of Judges which states that there was no king in Israel.  Mahlon and Chilion sound like the Hebrew words for “Diseased” and “perishing” suggesting that the sons are likely to die young.  And Naomi means “Sweet” or “pleasant” in ironic contrast to the bitterness she will face in life”.  After living in Moab some time Elimelech dies.  After living there about ten years the two sons also die.  When verse six picks up Dr Wil Gafney writes in the Africana Bible “Naomi is a postmenopausal widow bereft of her childless sons.  Naomi has no (male) family left.  But she has a home.  She returned to her people, the land of her ancestors”.  

Verses six and seven tell us that Naomi with her daughters-in-law start the return home because she has heard that the Lord has given Judah food. 

Verses eight and nine tell us that Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to your mother’s house.  The NISB notes that using the term “mother’s house” is an indication that Naomi is urging them to look for new husbands”.  And it’s here that we get the first glimpse of the kind of woman Naomi is.  She tells them “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me”.  Regardless of Naomi’s motivation for sending them back she wishes them well and acknowledges how they have treated her dead sons, and how they have treated her as their mother-in-law.  In verse nine she wished that they will find security in the homes of their new husbands.  The NISB notes that “In their world, marriage was assumed to be the only respectable way for a woman to achieve social and economic security”.  In a male dominated, patriarchal society, these husbandless women and this sonless mother would have a hard time just to survive.  After she kisses them, they all wept aloud.  But surely, this isn’t the first time they have wept aloud together.  These women have experienced great trials and tribulations.  They have experienced the death of their husbands and Naomi’s sons.  And they have likely faced the struggles of providing for themselves without their husbands. 

Verses ten and eleven tell us again that Naomi wants them to look for other husbands.  Naomi tells them “do I still have sons in my womb that that they may become your husbands”?  Naomi knows how hard it is to survive without a husband and she believes it would be best for them to find other husbands.  And this is really Naomi looking out for their best interest.  This is Naomi showing them love.  She knows she can do little to nothing to make life better for her daughters-in-law. 

The lesson text skips to verse fourteen where again they wept aloud.  Naomi is heartbroken, distressed, and probably destitute and by her own words bitter.  She has set her mind to return to her home and she knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law.  Orpah is convinced of her mother-in-law’s argument.  It’s logical, it makes sense, and she knows Naomi is speaking from a place of love.  Orpah departs from Naomi and returns to her people, to her culture, and to her gods.  But Ruth clings to Naomi.  She knows Naomi is speaking the truth.  She knows she has nothing really to look forward to.  She knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites.  But still, she clings to her mother-in-law.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry.  She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home.  She clings because there is something more powerful than the sorrow she has already faced and the hardships she is likely to face.  She clings because she loves this woman.  She loves her mother-in-law more than the comfort of living with her own people.  She clings because she loves this woman more than the familiarity of her own customs and her own gods.  She clings because Naomi is a woman who has no doubt shown Ruth the kind of love that transcends customs.  Naomi has shown her a love that transcends culture. And for Ruth, Naomi’s love transcends familiarity. 

In verses sixteen and seventeen Ruth speaks the words that are so often repeated in marriage ceremonies.  These words are Ruth’s unequivocal love for her mother-in-law.  Ruth is going to cling to Naomi regardless of what may come.  Where ever she goes, where ever she lives, whatever God she serves, and where ever she dies, Ruth declares that the same will be to her. 

These are certainly beautiful words and I remember them repeated in my own wedding years ago.  While the sentiment is certainly appreciated, respected, and esteemed we should be mindful of the context.  The NISB notes that “these words spoken by one woman to another woman must be taken out of context in order to be used as a pledge of love between a man and a woman”.  Yet it is this sentiment and the deep meaning of this kind of love that we all ought to strive for in our marriage relationships.  This is Ruth’s covenant with Naomi. 

Verse eighteen closes our lesson with Naomi resigned to Ruth’s commitment.  Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined and committed; not just to go with her but to demonstrate her love toward her. 

That should be our goal.  To demonstrate our love for one another in ways that leaves no doubt about our care and concern.    

Context:

Do you have a friend or family member that will do anything they can for you?  Do you have someone who will “walk the last mile” with you?  Do you have someone who will stand by you and support you through “thick or thin”?  Do you have a “ride or die”?  Do you have someone that loves you unconditionally?  Do you have someone who gives you unmerited love?  All of this and more is what Ruth is to Naomi.  This book bears the name of Ruth; but Naomi is the real MVP.  Ruth gets credit for demonstrating her undying love for her mother-in-law but it is Naomi who impacted her daughter-in-law in ways to warrant that kind of love.  I can think of no strength, no power, and no purpose stronger than love.  Love can cause you to sacrifice yourself for the ones you love.  Love is the greatest power in the universe.

That is what this mother-daughter covenant is.  It is a covenant based in love.  As followers of Jesus Christ our love should be so strong, so unmistakable, so committed and devoted that our loved ones will know we are their “ride or die”.     

Key Characters in the text:

Naomi – The mother-in-law of Ruth and wife of Elimelech.  Her name means “sweet” or “pleasant” but she becomes bitter toward God after the death of her husband and two sons.  She is later redeemed and the sweetness of her life restored. 

Ruth – A Moabite woman who becomes the grandmother of King David and in the bloodline of Jesus Christ.  Ruth demonstrates her undying love for her mother-in-law Naomi and through her she becomes Naomi’s redemption. 

Key Words: 

Redeemer – God as the rescuer and recoverer of Israel.  A designation for Jesus Christ, who brings salvation and the redemptive relationship God, intends to have with those who believe.  

Widows – Women who remained unmarried after the death of their husbands were of special concern in ancient Israel as powerless persons (Ex 22:22).  They were recipients of Christian care by churches in Acts 6:1-3 and 1 Tim 5:3-16. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Who are you riding for?

2.  Don’t sleep on Naomi.        

Questions

1.  Ruth was a Moabite who was likely abducted into marriage.  She knew Israelites frowned upon and did not like Moabites.  Does Ruth rely on faith that things will work out, or does she simply love her mother-in-law regardless of how things will work out? 

2.  Ruth a Moabite woman becomes the ancestress of King David and thereby Jesus.  What does this say about racial purity?    

Concluding Thought:

Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Ruth’s love for Naomi is a demonstration of what love can do.  It can cause a person to willingly sacrifice their own comfort and convenience for the sake of someone else.  This is the kind of love God demonstrated for us through Jesus Christ.  God sacrificed God’s only begotten son for our salvation and redemption.              

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we continue our study in the book of Ruth.  As we continue to learn about covenants between people we explore how virtuous Ruth charms Boaz and becomes the grandmother of King David.  Next week the text comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, and 16-18. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (August 4, 2019) A Covenant Between Friends I Samuel 18:1-5, 19:1-7

Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at a covenant between friends taken from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7.  In this lesson we see a friend’s loyalty tested by someone in authority.  But it’s not just anyone and it’s a test that could mean life or death.  In this text we see Jonathan essentially committing treason against his father Saul.  Saul is the King.  His commands are absolute.  Yet, Jonathan’s love for his friend David is more powerful than Jonathan’s willingness to obey his father.  It’s easy to say right is right and wrong is wrong; but Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father the king and loyalty to his friend David.  In this week’s lesson we see a glimpse of how he chose between the two and how Jonathan put himself at risk of death to save his friend.  I am reminded of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as he said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Jonathan was not silent.  He spoke up for and on behalf of his friend.  It took courage.  He spoke truth to power.  I am convinced that our communities, our cities, states, and our country would be better if our real friends would only speak up.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Covenant

Treason

Jealousy

Background: 

This week’s lesson begins the first of three lessons in the Old Testament.  These lessons deal with covenants between people.  This week the covenant is between Jonathan and David and the next two week’s will come from the book of Ruth.  With that in mind I’ll give a broad overview of the Old Testament, an overview of the book of Samuel, and then a few background thoughts on chapters surrounding this week’s lesson.

What Christians call the Old Testament are also Jewish scripture.  Michael Coogan’s “The Old Testament, A Very Short Introduction” notes that “Bible originally meant book but the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament is not one book but many, an anthology of ancient Israelite and early Jewish religious writings”.  The first part is the Torah, also known as the Law.  The Torah or The Law consists of the first five books of the Bible.  The second part is the Prophets.  The Prophets section is divided into the former and the latter prophets.  The Former Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.  The latter prophets are books named after individual prophets (Coogan).  The third section is known as the Writings.  Our lesson this week comes from the section known as the Former Prophets. 

The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “1 and 2 Samuel were originally one work.  They bear the name of Samuel, yet Samuel is the focal character only in the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel, dies before 1 Samuel ends, and is not mentioned in 2 Samuel.  The main interest of both books is David.  First Samuel tells of his rise and 2 Samuel of his kingship”.  It also notes that 1 Samuel is pro-Davidic.  Saul can do nothing right and David can do nothing wrong”. 

This week’s lesson comes from chapters 18 and 19 of 1 Samuel.  These chapters focus on David in Saul’s Court and highlight Saul’s hatred of David, Jonathan’s love of David, and the value of covenant between friends.  “While Jonathan’s love is that of a close personal relationship, “love” in the ancient Near East is also a way of conveying political loyalty.  Thus Jonathan, heir to Saul’s throne, is loyal to David” (NIBOVC).

Our text this week deals with a covenant between friends.  The challenge faced by one of these friends will reveal the loyalty he has placed in his friendship.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Covenants have meaning.  The mettle of this friendship is tested in ways that require courage and commitment.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Monarchy

Jealousy

Covenant

Treason

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson began in Matthew 7 verses one.  Verses one and two started the chapter with the admonition “do not judge, so that you will not be judged”.  I noted that in this context, Jesus was telling us not to look down on or speak against others as if we are morally superior.  Verse two helped us know that when we judge we will be judged in the same manner.  When you were growing up you may have heard someone say “what goes around, comes around”.  That may not be in the scripture, but the principle certainly is. You can think of sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians 9:6.

I noted how verses three through five dealt with hypocrisy and provided a theological definition of hypocrisy as “the outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness”.  Those verses helped us understand that we cannot act morally superior to others whose faults are small compared to our own very large faults.  We should first evaluate our own motives and actions before evaluating the behavior and motives of others.  I thought it was important to mention that while behavior is easy to see, a person’s motives are not always clear.  It’s easy to say “right is right” and “wrong is wrong” but sometimes what we think is right or wrong really isn’t so clear cut. 

Verse six moved away from telling the disciples and crowd to not be hypocrites.  Instead it essentially tells them to be good stewards of discernment.  As I stated in previous lessons, Matthew’s Gospel is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  When Jesus talks about not giving that which is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine, he is talking about the scribes and Pharisees.  Standard Lesson Commentary noted that Jesus “does not want them to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees yet Jesus knows the potential for misuse of his exhortation not to judge”.  Equally important was knowing that some people will take advantage of your kindness.  This verse helps us to be on guard for the unrighteous who are not really concerned about righteousness or doing right by others.   

The text then skipped to verses fifteen through twenty-three.  I provided the theological definition of prophet as “One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament.  In verse fifteen Jesus cautioned his disciples and listeners to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravening wolves.  I noted other words that describe people like this as huckster, grifter, charlatan, imposter, swindler, cheat, fraud, deceiver, and fake.  Jesus tells us to beware of these kinds of people.  Jesus loves everybody, but that love does not mean we should let ourselves be taken advantage of by them. 

Verse sixteen reminded us that we will know them by their fruits.  It’s true that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart.  But it is just as true that you can see what they do.  You can see who and what they support, and you can see what they condone and how they conduct themselves.  You will know them by their fruit. 

Verses seventeen and eighteen say it plainly.  A good tree produces good fruit and a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit.  In other words, good prophets will do good things and bring about good on behalf of God.  Corrupt prophets will do corrupt things and bring about corruption in the name of God.  But keep in mind that not every false prophet started out corrupt.  Sometimes they fall into corruption somewhere along the journey and become corrupt.  So the point for us is to always keep our eyes on Jesus as our guide and not on a human who is capable of failing us. 

Verses nineteen and twenty told us that trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire and that we will know them by their fruits.  Ultimately the end of false prophets will be destruction.  Unrepentant abusers of God’s people have no place among the righteous.  

In verse twenty-one Jesus explained that those who make it into his kingdom will be those who “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.  Jesus expects us to live this Christian life. 

Verses twenty-two and twenty-three closed last week’s lesson on spiritual discernment showing us that many will say they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus.  Yet, in the end Jesus will tell them “I never knew you, go away from me you evildoers.  I noted that what should be frightening to us is that there will be many who say they have done this in Jesus name.  We must be vigilant and diligent so that we are not deceived by these charlatans, grifters, imposters, frauds, and deceivers otherwise known as false prophets.  Our goal is to walk in God’s perfect love and if we do so with discernment we won’t become victims of these false prophets.

This week’s lesson deals specifically with a covenant between friends.  It’s good to have friends and it’s even better to have good friends.  Good friends don’t need to talk every day, week, or even every month.  What makes the difference is that when called upon, a good friend will do everything within their power to aid and assist you as best they can.  If you are blessed with a good friend and even better, blessed with a lifelong good friend, you are indeed blessed.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Covenant Between Friends.  The scripture text comes from I Samuel 18:1-5 and 19:1-7. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

These first five verses of chapter eighteen are a continuation of the David and Goliath story.  In verse one David has already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul.  David is a hero.  He has won the war and single handedly defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel.  Verse one tells us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”. 

Verse two leads us to understand that at least at this point, Saul is pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”.  But soon we will see that feelings and opinions can sometimes change like the wind. 

Verses three and four help us to understand a mutual agreement between Jonathan and David.  They made a covenant.  Verse three tells us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.  The terms of the covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.

Verse five shows us David’s obedience and wisdom.  David conducted himself wisely.  He was successful in all that Saul put before him.  He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”. 

At this point the lesson text skips to chapter 19.  I should note that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two.  He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”.  Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”. 

Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David.  Saul is jealous of David.  This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.

Verse two tells us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul.  Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King.  Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning. 

Verses three, four, and five detail the plan Jonathan comes up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment he speaks truth to power.  In verse three Jonathan details how he will report back to David his conversation with his father.  If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly is.  Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine.   He reminds the King that David is innocent.  In this way, Jonathan shows his true loyalty.  He risked his own life for the safety of his friend.  He spoke truth to power.  He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.

Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father.  Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”.  Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it.  It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan.  He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  As Jonathan noted, David was innocent.  Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right.  His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.

That should be our goal.  To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness. 

Context:

Silence implies consent.  If you won’t speak up about what bothers you then perhaps you aren’t really bothered.  Perhaps you’re okay with the situation.  Perhaps you aren’t directly impacted so you have nothing to gain by personally speaking up.  Perhaps speaking up disturbs your comfort.  Your silence implies your consent.  If you don’t speak up for what is right you accept what is wrong by default.  The real question is why.  Why don’t we speak up for others?  Could it be fear? Fear of what others may think of us.  Fear of losing social standing.  Fear of losing future opportunities.

We should not be driven by fear; instead we should be driven by love.  A love to set right what is wrong in our relationships, our communities, cities, states, and our country.  We should be driven by a fierce love that at times requires the courage to confront our relatives, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  It takes courage to confront others.  It takes courage to speak truth to power.  But when confrontation and speaking truth is based in love we can be sure that we are doing right by God and God’s people.  That’s the basis of righteousness.  Jonathan spoke up for his friend.  He wasn’t silent.  David knew where Jonathan stood.  He didn’t have to guess or wonder.  Jonathan’s friendship and his loyalty were based in a covenant of love.  As followers of Jesus Christ righteousness should be our guiding principle and love our guiding light.  Even when, if not especially when, we are called to speak up for others.   

Key Characters in the text:

King Saul – The first king of Israel.  “He was plagued by an evil spirit that tormented him to madness, and he was envious of David’s fame and victory” (Townsend). 

Jonathan – “He is the eldest son of King Saul.  He is a biblical model of faithful friendship and fidelity” (Townsend).

David – “He is the eighth son of Jesse.  He was a shepherd, a musician, and a soldier.  He faithfully served and recognized Saul as God’s chosen servant” (Townsend). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Loyal / Loyalty – 1. Faithful to one’s sovereign, government, or state: 2. faithful to one’s oath, commitments, or obligations:  3. faithful to any leader, party, or cause, or to any person or thing conceived as deserving fidelity.

Treason – 1. The offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign. 2. A violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state. 3. The betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Jealousy – Jealous resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success or advantage itself. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What kind of friend are you; fair-weather or true?

2.  When so-called friends don’t speak up.        

Questions

1.  Jonathan had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend.  Discuss the criteria he used to decide between the two.

2.  Discuss ways you can speak up for others. 

3.  When is it appropriate to be faithful to friends or loyal to civil authorities (Boyd’s Commentary)?       

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us about faithful friendship through a covenant between friends. True friends are hard to find.  After David killed Goliath he was the real MVP (most valuable player).  Everyone loved, praised, and celebrated the great victory over the Philistine.  But like the wind, some people’s opinion of you can change.  In this week’s text David may have started out as the real MVP but when he needed a real friend it was Jonathan who came to his rescue.  True friends are hard to find.  A true friend is a friend in good times and bad times.           

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we study the first of two lessons in the book of Ruth.   As we continue to learn about covenants between people we will explore the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi.  This is one of the most powerful love stories in all scripture.  Next week the text comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18. 

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (July 28, 2019) Jesus Teaches About Spiritual Discernment Matthew 7:1-6, 15-23

Spiritual Discernment Matthew 7:1-6, 15-23

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I review how Jesus teaches about spiritual discernment in Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23.  In this chapter we see major teaching points about spiritual discernment, hypocrisy, constructive criticism and others. As Jesus begins to conclude his sermon on the mount we understand what he requires is not easy.  It requires spiritual maturity and being sensitive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of a smooth talking false prophet.  It can be especially easy to fall into this trap when the false prophet started out doing good works and as Jesus said they prophesied in his name, cast out demons in his name, and even performed many miracles in the name of Jesus.  What frightens me is that Jesus said there would be many who did these things in his name.  But in the end he declares depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you.  Spiritual discernment is needed by all who follow Jesus.  This week’s lesson gives us a glimpse of how to achieve discernment.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Criticism

Hypocrisy

Prophecy

Background: 

Matthew is written about 70 A.D. after the fall of the temple.  It is written to Jewish Christians who are struggling with their own identity.  These Jewish Christians are not accepted in the mainstream Jewish community because they believe in the divinity of Jesus.  The New Interpreters Study Bible notes that with bitterness the Jewish Christians have withdrawn from the synagogue.  The Temple has been destroyed, the Romans have occupied the land of the Israelites, and the Roman soldiers subject and oppress the Israelite people.  Because The Temple is destroyed, the Judeans are confused, distraught, and distressed because much of their religious existence revolved around The Temple.  They question whether God has abandoned them.  Matthew is primarily written to Jewish Christians and it offers unconverted Judeans (and others) a picture of why Jesus is the Savior.

This seventh chapter of Matthew deals with the ideas of judgment, accountability, and discernment among other things.  Part of what this chapter deals with is how we judge the actions and character of others.  When judgement comes from a place of moral superiority it is sinful.  This seventh chapter points that out using examples the people of its day would understand. 

Just as in previous weeks, our text this week continues to show what the righteousness of Jesus looks like.   Jesus is focused on teaching his standards of righteousness and showing how God’s people should be treated.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Criticism

Hypocrisy

Prophesy

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week the lesson began at verse thirty-eight with Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Mount.  He opens with the “You have heard that is was said” “But I say unto you” formula.  In this verse he reminded the disciples and the crowd of Leviticus 24:19-20 – “19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered”.  Jesus reinterpreted this command turning it upside down and in the next verse he literally says to do the opposite.  Instead of “eye for eye” Jesus told them to “turn the other cheek”.  The righteousness of Jesus goes beyond The Law.  His righteousness takes it to the next level.  I also mentioned how this verse causes us to evaluate the idea of retributive justice against the idea of restorative justice.  Retributive justice is “the view that God’s justice intends to give sinners that which their sins deserve (Jer. 5:29, 20:12)”.  Restorative justice “emphasizes an equal concern for crime victims and offenders, while deemphasizing the importance of coercion. It also seeks to focus on the harm done to persons and relationships rather than on the violation of a law” (The Free Dictionary).  In other words, retributive justice would not turn the other cheek whereas restorative justice would require the one who slaps a person to repair or somehow pay reparation to the one slapped.  In this way, relationships can be made whole and community restored because both the victim and the offender are involved in restoring community.

Verse forty dealt with our relationship with the legal system or as Townsend Commentary puts it “legal revenge”.  Jesus was telling us when we are sued to willingly give more than the law requires, even to our own detriment. 

Verse forty-one told us to “go the extra mile”.  I mentioned how Standard Commentary notes that “By law, a Roman soldier could compel a person to carry his gear, but only for one mile”.  Roman soldiers were despised by the Israelites.  The Romans had occupied the land of Israel, destroyed The Temple, and oppressed the Israelites.  To go the extra mile for your oppressor is indeed a radical love.  

Verse forty-two dealt with our relationship with money.  Our economic system and our societal values today are vastly different from this time in ancient history.  The point is for us to be generous when and where we are able. 

Verse forty-three and forty-four returned again to the “You have heard that it was said” “but I say unto you formula”.  In verse forty-three Jesus reminds us the law says to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).  I mentioned how Standard Commentary notes that “Nowhere does the biblical law command one to hate an enemy”.  The point Jesus is making is that his righteousness requires a radical, life changing, transformative love.  

Verse 45 helped us understand that what happens to someone else could just as easily happen to you.  God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and God sends rain on the just and the unjust.  Good things can happen to bad people and bad things can happen to good people. 

I noted in verse forty-eight Jesus tells us to be perfect even as God in heaven is perfect.  Townsend Commentary described this perfection as meaning “mature and full grown”.  We are not and cannot be perfect.  Yet, we can be mature and complete in our love toward God’s creation and especially God’s people.  Our goal is perfect love; that is what we are striving for. 

This week’s lesson helps us understand spiritual discernment.  As Jesus continues to outline what the rules of his kingdom looks like, we learn about checking ourselves first before we start correcting others.  We also learn about spiritually discerning motives of false prophets.   Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches About Spiritual Discernment.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Spiritual Discernment.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 7:1-6, and 15-23. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verses one and two start this chapter with the admonition “do not judge, so that you will not be judged”.  In this context, Jesus is telling us not to look down on or speak against others as if we are morally superior.  Jesus cared about people.  All of God’s people.  Someone else may be farther along in their Christian maturity than me or you but this admonition from Jesus helps us know that they are not superior to me or you.  Not only that, but verse two lets us know that when we judge we will be judged in the same manner. When you were growing up you may have heard someone say “what goes around, comes around”.  That may not be scriptural, but the principle certainly is.

In broad terms, verses three through five deals with hypocrisy.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines hypocrisy as “the outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness”.  These verses help us understand that we cannot act morally superior to others whose faults are small compared to our own very large faults.  We should first evaluate our own motives and actions before evaluating the behavior and motives of others.  While behavior is easy to see, a person’s motives are not always clear.  It’s easy to say “right is right” and “wrong is wrong” but sometimes what we think is right or wrong really isn’t so clear.  The point Jesus is making here is that we should be guided by love.  When love is the guiding principle we are less likely to judge others from a position of superiority.  We should keep in mind that Jesus loves all of God’s people.  As Jesus outlines what righteousness looks like and the rules of his kingdom in chapters five through seven we see again and again the high importance he places on treating people right.  Not just friends and family and the people who look, act, and think like us but all of God’s people regardless of their position in life. 

Verse six moves away from telling the disciples and crowd to not be hypocrites.  Instead it essentially tells them to be good stewards of discernment.  As I’ve stated in previous lessons, Matthew’s Gospel is not kind to the scribes and Pharisees.  When Jesus talks about not giving that which is holy to dogs and not casting your pearls before swine, he is talking about the scribes and Pharisees.  Standard Lesson Commentary notes that Jesus “does not want them to be hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees yet Jesus knows the potential for misuse of his exhortation not to judge”.  What is important for us to know is that some people will take advantage of your kindness.  This verse helps us to be on guard for the unrighteous who are not really concerned about righteousness or doing right by others.  People like this are not concerned about your well-being and may wish you no good. 

The text skips now to verses fifteen through twenty-three.  Townsend Commentary titles these sections True and False Prophets (verses 15-20) and True and False Disciples (verses 21-23).  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines a prophet as “One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament.  In verse fifteen Jesus cautions his disciples and listeners to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravening wolves.  Other words that describe people like this could be huckster, grifter, charlatan, imposter, swindler, cheat, fraud, deceiver, fake, and I’m sure there are others.  Jesus tells us to beware of these kinds of people.  Jesus loves everybody, but that love does not mean we should let ourselves be taken advantage of by them.  One measure of discernment to guard against being taken advantage of is to evaluate how much of what they teach benefits them personally. 

Verse sixteen reminds us that we will know them by their fruits.  It’s true that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart.  But it is just as true that you can see what they do.  You can see who and what they support, and you can see what they condone and how they conduct themselves.  You will know them by their fruit. 

Verses seventeen and eighteen say it plainly.  A good tree produces good fruit and a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit.  In other words, good prophets will do good things and bring about good on behalf of God.  Corrupt prophets will do corrupt things and bring about corruption in the name of God.  But keep in mind that not every false prophet starts out corrupt.  Sometimes they fall into corruption somewhere along the journey and become corrupt.  So the point for us is to always keep our eyes on Jesus as our guide and not a human who is capable of failing us. 

Verses nineteen and twenty tell us that trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire and that we will know them by their fruits.  Ultimately the end of false prophets will be destruction.  Unrepentant abusers of God’s people have no place among the righteous. 

In verse twenty-one Jesus explains that those who make it into his kingdom will be those who “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.  Jesus expects us to live this Christian life.  Jesus expects us to live a righteous life guided by and actually doing the work of love.

Verses twenty-two and twenty-three close this lesson on spiritual discernment showing us that many will say they have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus.  Yet, in the end Jesus will tell them “I never knew you, go away from me you evildoers.  What should be frightening to us is that there will be many who say they have done this in Jesus name.  We must be vigilant and diligent so that we are not deceived by these charlatans, grifters, imposters, frauds, and deceivers otherwise known as false prophets.  Our goal is to walk in God’s perfect love and in doing so with discernment we won’t become victims of these false prophets.    

Context:

Spiritual discernment, constructive criticism, and hypocrisy, are some of the major teaching points in this text.  The first two we should embrace and the last we should reject and avoid.  But that is easier said than done.  It takes spiritual maturity to exercise spiritual discernment.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of a smooth talking false prophet.  It can be especially easy to fall into this trap when the false prophet started out doing good works and as Jesus said they prophesied in his name, cast out demons in his name, and even performed many miracles in the name of Jesus.  Spiritual discernment requires being sensitive to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Again, that requires maturity. 

Constructive criticism happens when someone offers a solution to a problem in a positive way.  That happens best when we have first evaluated ourselves.  When our motives are true, not self-serving but more so in the interest of another we are able to offer constructive criticism without judging others.  When offered in the right way constructive criticism avoids judgement while still identifying and helping to solve a problem.  It is in some ways the very opposite of judging others. 

Most people know hypocrisy when they see it.  When people say one thing but do another its hypocrisy.  When people smile in your face but hate you as soon as you turn your back, that’s hypocrisy.  There are a number of other examples but again, most people know it when they see it.  As followers of Jesus Christ we should strive to never become hypocrites.  As followers of Christ our yes should be yes and our no should be no.  Our goal should be to live and act in love following the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Criticism – the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything. 

Discernment – The process of assessing and evaluating, particularly in relation to trying to determine God’s will in a particular situation or for one’s life direction. 

Hypocrisy – The outward appearance of conveying truth or righteousness that masks the inner state of mind or intention of untruth or evilness. 

Prophet – One who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people, most prominently the Hebrew prophets whose writings are found in the Old Testament. 

Demon – An evil spirit that works contrary to the divine will (Mark 1:34, 39). 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Judgement versus discernment.

2.  When wise as serpents (Matt 10:16) see ravening wolves (Matt 7:15).       

Questions

1.  Discuss ways you have noticed hypocrisy.             

2.  Discuss ways constructive criticism could have prevented hypocrisy.            

Concluding thought:

This week’s lesson teaches us about spiritual discernment.  Just as in last week’s lesson a changed heart brings about a changed life.  The righteousness Jesus calls us to, is to be both wise or discerning and grounded in love.  It is a love that helps others overcome their faults and sins.  It is a love that operates in the righteousness of Jesus and makes effort to first judge ourselves before we judge the intentions, and motives of others.  Sometimes it is indeed a difficult task.  But that’s our goal.  That’s what we are striving for.       

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we leave the New Testament and move back to the Old Testament.  Our lesson comes from I Samuel and deals with a covenant between friends.  The challenge faced by one of these friends will reveal the loyalty of his friendship.  I am reminded of a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.  Covenants have meaning.  The mettle of this friendship will be tested in next week’s lesson.  Next week the text continues at I Samuel 18:1-5, and 19:1-7.