Friday, March 26, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday March 28, 2010

(The LORD honors our kindness to those in need)
(Ruth 2)

In the Book of Ruth, here in chapter two, we are introduced to a man named Boaz, who is a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech. Boaz comes into the lives of Ruth and Naomi at a time when they had no one to care for them following the deaths of their husbands. It was at the beginning of the barley harvest and Ruth is, no doubt, directed by GOD and drawn to the fields of Boaz, who happened to be one of the most prominent, GODly men in the Israelite community.
Boaz’s relationship to Naomi’s deceased husband qualified him as a “Kinsman Redeemer” under Old Testament family law (Leviticus 25:35-36). This law requires a relative to care for another relative who has fallen on hard times financially and can no longer support themselves.
In this particular situation involving Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth, there is another duty of the Kinsman Redeemer that comes into view, and that is, the obligation of the next of kin to marry a childless widow of a relative for the purpose of producing an offspring to carry on the lineage of the dead spouse, and, to preserve their property (Ruth 4:1-6).
Old Testament Law also gave any persons who were poor, the right to gather any produce that was left in the fields or orchards of an owner, after they themselves, had completed their first picking of the harvest (Leviticus 19:9-10 & Deuteronomy 24:19-21).
One day Ruth asked Naomi if she could go to the field to glean leftovers from the harvesters. After Naomi consented, Ruth went out and, inadvertently, found herself working in the fields of Boaz. While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and came out in the fields to greet the harvesters.
Upon noticing Ruth, he asked his foreman who she was. The foreman replied that she was a woman from Moab who had come back with his relative, Naomi. He told Boaz that she had asked if she could glean the leftovers from the harvest, and, that he had graciously allowed her to do so.
Boaz went over to Ruth and invited her to continue on working with them. He also told her that he had already warned the young men not to bother her. Ruth thanked him warmly and informed him of her foreign roots. He told Ruth that he was already aware that she was a foreigner from the land of Moab, however he was more impressed with her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi, and her choosing to come to live in a foreign land among complete strangers. He said to her, “May the LORD, the GOD of Israel, under WHOSE wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully”.
On that day Ruth was able to gather up about 40 pounds of grain, an unusually high amount for a gleaner. When she returned home to Naomi, Naomi knew that someone had purposely helped her young daughter-in-law to gather such a large amount. And when she discovered that that person was Boaz, her relative, she encouraged Ruth to continue working only in his fields, for we see here that Naomi had already began to hope and plan for Ruth’s future.
When we leave our old lives behind and come to dwell in the community of GOD, we can always count on a warm welcome and acceptance. In fact, JESUS has already accepted the obligation to redeem us and welcome us despite the terrible price on the cross that HE had to pay in advance, and despite the terrible things that we may have already done. GOD is a rewarder of anyone who earnestly seeks HIM, through CHRIST JESUS, and HE will never leave you to hunger or thirst. HE will provide for all of our needs, especially when HE sees us showing unselfish love and kindness toward one another on a daily basis.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

Friday, March 19, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday March 21, 2010

(GOD knits the hearts of HIS family together)
(Ruth 1)

The Book of Ruth is a shining example of how GOD continues to move on the hearts of HIS people during times of struggle, especially when HIS people remain faithful to HIM. The events chronicled in the story of Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, occur during the period when Judges ruled over Israel. It was one of the darkest periods in Israel’s history, and it sets itself against a background of national irresponsibility and weak spiritual and moral character among the populace.
The Book of Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman, (the other is Esther) and it is also one of only three books in all of scripture that are named after a Gentile (the others are Luke & Titus). Early, but unsupported rabbinic tradition identifies Samuel as the author of the book of Ruth, as well as Judges, and first and second Samuel, which bear his name.
Here in Ruth, these eleventh century B.C. characters (Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi) portray a contrasting side to the chaotic times of the Judges, and provides us with a welcome relief from the immorality, bloodshed, famine, and mayhem that was, then, permeating the land of Israel because of her sins against GOD.
This book shows us quite clearly, that, even in times of crisis and despair, we can still continue to live by GOD’s principals and directives, and also that, GOD will reward us richly when we do. Faith, hope, and love are the three great enduring things. They are “virtues” that will always overpower the “anti-virtues” which are doubt, depression, and fear, but we can only access those virtues, when we choose to incorporate GOD’s plan into our lives, instead of our own.
Here in chapter one, we see a man named Elimelech, during a time of great famine in Palestine, move his family from Bethlehem to the country of Moab. His family consisted of his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion.
While in Moab, Elimelech died leaving Naomi alone with their two sons. The two sons each grew up and married Moabite women. One’s wife was named Orpah, and the other, Ruth. Ten years later, however, both sons died leaving all three women alone with no children.
One day Naomi received news that the famine in Palestine was over and GOD had begun blessing the people of Judah with bountiful crops again. She decided it was time to return home, and so, she struck out on the road back to Judah taking her two daughters-in-law with her. Along the way, however, she decided that maybe it was not the best thing that Orpah and Ruth leave their homeland and travel with her to Palestine. She felt that she had nothing to offer these two young women in the way of security through new marriages. She felt that she herself was too old to bear more sons for them to marry. Besides, it wouldn’t make sense for the two women to have to wait years from those sons to grow up to the marrying age.
One of the women, Orpah, agreed with Naomi and decided to head back home to Moab, while the other, Ruth, made the decision to stay with Naomi and commit to live in a new community in the land of Judah, by stating in verse 16 (NLT), “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your GOD will be my GOD”. Ruth’s, now famous expression of commitment to Naomi, not only shows loyalty to a friend, but it also exhibits clear theological insight.
In Old Testament times, everyone eventually came to know that GOD had a covenant relationship with Israel, and by Ruth identifying herself with GOD’s covenant people, she also qualified herself to claim Israel’s GOD as her own. Apparently Naomi had lived the kind of exemplary life around Ruth that enabled her to draw Ruth out of the world, and into the community of GOD. We should all strive to be the kind of people who draw others to us through right living, which will ultimately draw others into the community of GOD, where CHRIST, through HIS vicarious sacrifice, has shown, that HE wants us all to be.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

Friday, March 12, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday March 14, 2010

(No one is beyond GOD’s redemption)
(Jonah 4)

The prophet Jonah ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II. Years earlier, during the reign of Jeroboam II’s great grandfather, Jehu, the nation of Assyria had established dominance in the east, and, had secured tributes from Jehu, in effect, making him a vassal king. Sometime later, however, the Assyrians suffered a temporary setback due to dissension within their camp, and this allowed Jeroboam II to expand Israel’s territories to its greatest size since the “United Kingdom” of David and Solomon.
Unfortunately, because of Jeroboam II’s disobedience to GOD, and his leading of Israel farther into idolatry, GOD had sent both Amos, and Hosea into northern Israel to warn him of Israel’s impending judgment if they didn’t repent and return to HIM. In fact, the prophet Hosea specifically told Israel that GOD would use the Assyrians to topple them because of their refusal to return to HIM (Hosea 11:5). But, because Assyria had been lingering in a weakened and declining state for some years at that time, Israel did not believe the prophets and remained stubborn refusing to heed their warnings from GOD.
Perhaps the prophecies of Amos and Hosea explain why Jonah was reluctant to obey GOD and go to preach repentance to Nineveh. He of course, was one who believed Amos and Hosea, and so, he, understandably had a problem with going to save his enemies, so that they can come later and destroy Israel.
Nineveh’s repentance delayed GOD’s wrath on them for another 150 years. However, as man always does, so too, the people of Nineveh fell back into the doldrums of sin, and their city was still ultimately destroyed. World history tells us that Nineveh was invaded and destroyed by Nabopolasser, the Babylonian king, with help from his ally Cyaxeres the Mede, in 612 B.C. (also see Nahum’s prophecy in the book of Nahum).
Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites, which resulted in their repentance and their turning to GOD, angered Jonah very much. In fact, here in chapter 4 of his book, we see that he threw a major, adult-sized temper tantrum, stormed out of the city, and sat underneath a large leafy plant that GOD had provided for his protection from the blazing hot sun, and he literally sulked throughout the night.
GOD continues to deal with Jonah, however, as HE sends a worm to kill the plant that HE had made for the disgruntled prophet, causing him to be angered to the point of death. The lesson that GOD is trying to teach Jonah here is that when we cause GOD to withdraw HIS compassion from us, through our own ungratefulness and disobedience, we don’t have a right to be angry when we see HIM bestowing HIS compassion upon someone else, even if its upon those whom we don’t like.
We can not be sure, whether or not this lesson was lost on Jonah, for his book ends without him ever responding to GOD’s final comments to him. However, as I said in last week’s commentary, Jonah was clearly at fault with his attitude of not wanting GOD’s “will of compassion” to demonstrated in the lives of others, even if he feared they might harm him at some future date. But if we pray for GOD’s will to done in the lives of those we think might harm us, as believers, we have to know that GOD can and will act on their heart for the better.
The book of Jonah has often been called “The Gospel of Second Chance”, because it clearly shows that when we know GOD, HE will not let us run away from obedience for too long. And sometimes HE may have to place great storms in our lives, or great fishes in our paths to get our attention, however, we can be thankful, because ultimately, “our compassionate GOD” always has our best interest at heart.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

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Friday, March 5, 2010

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday March 7, 2010

(Our obedience to GOD is a witness to others)
(Jonah 3)

In the Book of Jonah, in chapter one, the prophet Jonah is commissioned by GOD to travel 550 miles northeast from the city of Samaria, to the great double-walled city of Nineveh, which is located in the middle of the Assyrian Empire. The purpose of this commission was to preach a message, urging the repentance of the Assyrians, who, at that time, were the greatest enemies of Israel.
However, because they were Israel’s enemies, Jonah was disobedient to GOD and decided instead, to run away from the command of our LORD, as far as he could in the opposite direction. Jonah, who was apparently not quite as compassionate towards the Assyrians as GOD was, jumped on a ship that was headed to Tarshish, a Phoenician colony located some 2500 miles west of Joppa, which was the farthest end of the world, as they knew it at that time.
Bible history tells us, however, that GOD, through HIS sovereignty, miraculously altered the plans on Jonah’s itinerary, by causing him to be swallowed up by a great fish during a divinely provoked storm at sea. After three days, and much prayer, in the belly of the fish, GOD, in HIS OWN unique way, persuades Jonah to repent of his disobedience, and to re-incorporate the travel plans that HE had originally given him in Samaria. Here in chapter three, Jonah is re-commissioned by GOD to go to Nineveh to fulfill HIS original orders.
In those days, Nineveh was a large city of around 120,000 inhabitants. In fact, it was so large that it would take a person three days, just to see the whole city. It had the unique characteristic of being surrounded by, not one, but two walls, an inner wall, and, an outer wall. The inner wall, which was 100 feet high and 50 feet thick, directly surrounded the central city of Nineveh, while the outer wall surrounded the smaller towns, villages, and fields that were situated outside of the city. Jonah’s task was to go there and deliver GOD’s message of judgment on the people, that, if they did not repent within 40 days, they would be destroyed.
A now obedient Jonah, travels to Nineveh to deliver GOD’s message to the Assyrian populace, still hoping in his heart that they would not heed HIS warning of imminent judgment. To the contrary, the people of Nineveh believed GOD’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to fast and dress themselves in sackcloth to show GOD their sorrow for their sins.
Even the Assyrian king, when he heard Jonah’s message, stepped down from his throne, took off his royal robes, humbled himself and repented as he sat on a pile of ashes, demonstrating his own sorrow for his sins, and the sins of the people. He even issued an edict to the entire city of Nineveh commanding everyone (and also their animals) to go without food and water. Every person was to wear sackcloth, and pray earnestly to the GOD of the Israelites that HE might not destroy them. And when GOD saw their demonstration of earnest repent and obedience to HIM, HE had mercy on them and did not carry out HIS alternate plan of destruction.
When we obey GOD, as Jonah ultimately decided to do, our actions witness to others, and, as in this case, can have a positive effect, even on unbelievers. The use of the Hebrew term “Elohim” for “GOD” in verses 8 and 10, shows that the Assyrians lacked having a personal, revelatory relationship with GOD, and perhaps in this story, we do not actually see a true “conversion” by them, to the ways of GOD. What we do see here, rather, is an emotional stirring of the heart, through fear of their desperate situation, which is not at all unlike what we see at the alters of our modern-day Christian churches, when people come up during “Altar Call”, because of emotional, or physical reasons.
Throughout Old Testament biblical literature, whenever true believers who have undergone a genuine transformation of the heart, and thereby, are experiencing a personal, revelatory relationship with GOD, they always refer to GOD by HIS personal, revelatory name, which is “YAHWEH”.
However, GOD has compassion even on those who do not know him, for HE allows it to rain on the “just” and the “unjust” at the same time, and perhaps, this is why; There are many people in this world who don’t believe in GOD, yet are still capable of doing “a right thing”. And there are many Christians in this world, who often know the “right thing” to do, but yet, we yield to our “sin nature” and don’t do it.
Jonah erred with his attitude and behavior toward the Assyrians, for he did not desire that GOD’s “Will” be done in the lives of other human beings, who are, like Christians, also made in the image of GOD. GOD embodies us all with the same seven “Communicable Attributes”, which are Life, Personality, Truth, Wisdom, Love, Justice, and holiness. These elements are the “Nature of GOD”, and they render all human beings, no matter who they are, or, where they come from, capable of having a “Personal Relationship” with HIM. It is GOD’s earnest desire that all mankind accept CHRIST and be saved. And an “obedient witness”, through their speech and behavior, can still be effective in fulfilling the desires of GOD for mankind, in this world.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander