Sunday 13th August – Psalm 18
How I love you, Lord!
You are my defender.
2 The Lord is my protector;
he is my strong fortress.
My God is my protection,
and with him I am safe.
He protects me like a shield;
he defends me and keeps me safe.
3 I call to the Lord,
and he saves me from my enemies.
Praise the Lord!
4 The danger of death was all around me;
the waves of destruction rolled over me.
5 The danger of death was around me,
and the grave set its trap for me.
6 In my trouble I called to the Lord;
I called to my God for help.
In his temple he heard my voice;
he listened to my cry for help.
7 Then the earth trembled and shook;
the foundations of the mountains rocked and quivered,
because God was angry.
8 Smoke poured out of his nostrils,
a consuming flame and burning coals from his mouth.
9 He tore the sky open and came down
with a dark cloud under his feet.
10 He flew swiftly on his winged creature;[b]
he traveled on the wings of the wind.
11 He covered himself with darkness;
thick clouds, full of water, surrounded him.
12 Hailstones and flashes of fire
came from the lightning before him
and broke through the dark clouds.
13 Then the Lord thundered from the sky;
and the voice of the Most High was heard.[c]
14 He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies;
with flashes of lightning he sent them running.
15 The floor of the ocean was laid bare,
and the foundations of the earth were uncovered,
when you rebuked your enemies, Lord,
and roared at them in anger.
16 The Lord reached down from above and took hold of me;
he pulled me out of the deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemies
and from all those who hate me—
they were too strong for me.
18 When I was in trouble, they attacked me,
but the Lord protected me.
19 He helped me out of danger;
he saved me because he was pleased with me.
20 The Lord rewards me because I do what is right;
he blesses me because I am innocent.
21 I have obeyed the law of the Lord;
I have not turned away from my God.
22 I have observed all his laws;
I have not disobeyed his commands.
23 He knows that I am faultless,
that I have kept myself from doing wrong.
24 And so he rewards me because I do what is right,
because he knows that I am innocent.
25 O Lord, you are faithful to those who are faithful to you;
completely good to those who are perfect.
26 You are pure to those who are pure,
but hostile to those who are wicked.
27 You save those who are humble,
but you humble those who are proud.
28 O Lord, you give me light;
you dispel my darkness.
29 You give me strength to attack my enemies
and power to overcome their defenses.
30 This God—how perfect are his deeds!
How dependable his words!
He is like a shield
for all who seek his protection.
31 The Lord alone is God;
God alone is our defense.
32 He is the God who makes me strong,
who makes my pathway safe.
33 He makes me sure-footed as a deer;
he keeps me safe on the mountains.
34 He trains me for battle,
so that I can use the strongest bow.
35 O Lord, you protect me and save me;
your care has made me great,
and your power has kept me safe.
36 You have kept me from being captured,
and I have never fallen.
37 I pursue my enemies and catch them;
I do not stop until I destroy them.
38 I strike them down, and they cannot rise;
they lie defeated before me.
39 You give me strength for the battle
and victory over my enemies.
40 You make my enemies run from me;
I destroy those who hate me.
41 They cry for help, but no one saves them;
they call to the Lord, but he does not answer.
42 I crush them, so that they become like dust
which the wind blows away.
I trample on them like mud in the streets.
43 You saved me from a rebellious people
and made me ruler over the nations;
people I did not know have now become my subjects.
44 Foreigners bow before me;
when they hear me, they obey.
45 They lose their courage
and come trembling from their fortresses.
46 The Lord lives! Praise my defender!
Proclaim the greatness of the God who saves me.
47 He gives me victory over my enemies;
he subdues the nations under me
48 and saves me from my foes.
O Lord, you give me victory over my enemies
and protect me from violent people.
49 And so I praise you among the nations;
I sing praises to you.
50 God gives great victories to his king;
he shows constant love to the one he has chosen,
to David and his descendants forever.
When was the last time you were really happy? I don’t know how you show your happiness, there are many different ways to express it; poets and song writers will often turn to their musical and literary gifts and this is what David does. This Psalm is one of rejoicing and the reason for it, as the title says, is because David has been delivered from all his enemies. 2 Samuel 22 contains almost an exact replica of the Psalm and possibly hints at the time the Psalm was written.
His opening words are, “I love you, Lord, my strength”. An acknowledgement that there is a God, that He is around, and that He has connections with us, is one thing, but to express love of Him is something quite special. Maybe Sunday is a day when it is worthwhile to ponder that.
He goes on to enumerate ways in which he sees God – “the Lord is my rock, my fortress and deliverer” and speaks of Him as his refuge and shield. They are all ways of describing safety and security in times of danger. It is not that he hasn’t felt danger knocking at the door, on the contrary he speaks of the cords of death entangling him, being in distress, but he runs to God in faith and trust. The believer is not isolated from the dark and the dismal but knows where to run to.
Charles Wesley puts it with his hymn-writing gift “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is nigh”
Aberystwyth is the well-known Welsh tune to it – Jesu, Lover of My Soul (Tune: Aberystwyth – 4vv) [with lyrics for congregations] – Bing video
Like Wesley, David paints his circumstances against the background of nature – the earthquake, the fire, the thunder and lightning – seeing God in and behind nature both in his defence and in the attack on his enemies. Nature can be fearsome as we are all too aware, but God’s saving power can also be seen in it.
Happiness comes about when like David we can say of whatever danger faces us, “They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support” (v18). Is that not cause for happiness?
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Ruth 1:11-18
Ruth and Orpah said they would go with Naomi but she tried to dissuade them saying that (as foreigners) they wouldn’t find other husbands back where she came from, they would have better hope staying where they were. There was much emotional sadness in the family group, Orpah returned but Ruth made a profound and fixed declaration that she would stay with Naomi, come what may (v16,17). Whatever she had learned while in this Israelite family there was something that made her say “your God will be my God”, as though something was ringing in her heart that this was the place to stay and the way to go.
I remember speaking to a youth worker in a church near Glasgow who told me of his background. None of his family had any religious background but for some reason, he didn’t know why, he decided he would like to read the Bible and so he started. He became so intrigued that he thought he might go to a church and as he was on a bus one day he saw one and decided he would go there. On going he said he found that the church was going through the Bible he was reading and that they were finding the same things he had been finding out. The rest became history.
Maybe somebody sitting beside you in church could be in just such a situation. Speak to them, listen to them and if God’s Spirit prompts you, share a bit about yourself.
Tuesday Ruth 1:19-2:12
The women arrived at Bethlehem and those who had known Naomi before exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi (which means ‘pleasant’)’? However she said her name should really be ‘Mara’ (meaning ‘bitter) because God had made her life bitter. Ah, God is often blamed for things in life that are hard and especially so when we seem to have gone on a downward slope. Fortunately, God is able to bear with us through our negative feelings and though she didn’t know it then, much better things were going to come.
As life restarted for them at Bethlehem we find God at work. As New Testament people we know about the future of that little place, we sing about it every Christmas – “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven”. Oh, Naomi, in your bitterness how little do you know what is to happen to wash away that bitterness?
An important man by the name of Boaz, who came from the same clan as Elimelek, had property there and people worked on his farm. At harvest time it was possible for the poor to follow harvesters and try to gain something from the leftovers and this is what Ruth asked of Naomi if she could do this to help support them, and with Naomi’s agreement she started. As she did Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. Our introduction to him reveals a gracious, beneficial employer who cared for his people and they in turn spoke well of him (v4) but as well as this we see his kindness towards Ruth as he gives her full assurance of protection and support, blessing her for her dedication to her mother-in-law. “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (2v12) Industrial relations should be like this.
Wednesday Ruth 2:13-23
In the delicate interchange between the two, we can feel, between the lines, a mutual attraction even at this stage though not yet named. I’m reminded of the story of the old African woman who heard the gospel of Jesus for the first time and said “I always knew him, I just didn’t know his name” Many people who come from outside the Christian community can find themselves attracted to Jesus long before they know what he has done for them in his incarnation, death and resurrection and they can find this through Christian people they meet..
When Naomi sees the good things that Ruth has been given and the protection offered her, she wants to know who the kind man was and on finding out she tells Ruth he is a kinsman and it will be good if she stays in his fields.
Although she knows more about this relationship than she says at this stage, we need to understand something about an ancient relational obligation called the ‘kinsman redeemer’. The Hebrew word ‘Goel’ in the Old Testament refers to one who delivers or rescues and it can refer to helping a relative who has fallen into hard times or who has become enslaved. This duty fell to the nearest kin to do something about it, thus the word kinsman-redeemer. You can see it referred to in Genesis 48, Exodus 6 or Leviticus 25 or 27 but of course it sounds out most powerfully in the figure of Jesus who is declared our brother in Hebrews 2:11, the one who redeems and rescues us. We sinners who are deeply in debt and who are enslaved in iniquity need a redeemer to stand in for us, clear our debt and set us free. The story of Ruth introduces us most beautifully to this idea.
Thursday Ruth 3:1-18
In Chapter 3 we come to a risky (or should it be risqué?) adventure that Naomi encourages Ruth to go on. She tells Ruth that Boaz falls into the kinsman-redeemer category who could be a guarantor for Ruth’s future but it would have to be tested as she was not a Jew and he may refuse to perform a redeeming role for her. Naomi’s plan is a rather seductive one in that Ruth is to present well in garb and perfumes and to steal along at night, when Boaz is sound asleep and to do this strange behaviour of uncovering his feet and lying down with him. Actual sexual congress is not mentioned but it is certainly a compromising situation for Boaz when he awakens and realises his position. Ruth’s request about the covering means that she is requesting his covering or protecting role as a kinsman-redeemer, it is really a marriage request.
Boaz is more than pleased that this lovely young woman whose character he knows has sought him out and not one of the young guns of the populace but he warns her that he is not the nearest and that there is another who technically could fulfil the role and the law must be followed, his agreement to bypass the role must be sought. Boaz doesn’t want to jump ahead merely on his own desire but seeks to do things properly. There is always a danger in forging ahead purely on our own inclinations even if the aim looks right.
Friday Ruth 4:1-8
The story moves on apace now but to understand something of it we need to look at ancient law. People nowadays are very interested in ancestry which is very intriguing but in this time family lines were not just a matter of curiosity they were about life and destiny. For one’s family line to die out meant a spiritual bereavement, a death within the nation. When the people of Israel were settled in the land it was parcelled out by clan and also families. The question arose what would happen about poverty and in the extreme, death? This was where Leviticus 25 says “If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.” – that was to do with property – but the other thing was seed. If a man died his wife was not to remarry a stranger who would thus take over the property of the dead husband. It was the duty of the dead husband’s brother to marry the widow and their future children would be raised in the dead husband’s name. The living brother would continue to hold his own property rights but he would not have his dead brother’s rolled into his. The was called Levirate marriage.
Boaz certainly wanted Ruth as his wife but he took the matter of kinsman-redeemer to the court of the day (the gate where the elders of the town met) and told the other man whose name we never hear about that the land Naomi had through Elimelek who was deceased was available. He offered it to him and he was ready to have it (he probably guessed that as Naomi was old they wouldn’t have any children so the property would become his and his family’s) but here Boaz introduces Ruth, the widow of Naomi’s son and told him that he would have to fulfil the kinsman-redeemer’s role with her. On hearing this the man backed off, basically because he didn’t want it to interfere with his own heritage. He would have been happy to have everything himself but didn’t want to raise up a posterity for dead Elimelek. The sandal removal was an ancient act legalising the transference of property (v7) and by this means Boaz not only received the land but took over the role of the kinsman-redeemer (the GO-EL in Hebrew).
Saturday Ruth 4:9-13
I’m sure it would be music to the ears of Naomi and Ruth – as they would have heard the words of Boaz and the elders at the gate confirming the transaction. He took Ruth and in so doing did for the dead man what was no longer in her power. Also in doing this he was grafting Ruth, the young foreign woman, a Moabitess, into the people of the Lord.
What does this mean for 21st Century Christians? The book is full of pointers to us and our Saviour. We understand that we are like Ruth, strangers to the people of God and struggling to keep ends together. Death has marked our past and leaves us with no hope for the future. In Boaz we see Christ in all his grace and love ready to cover us with his protection and grant us hope for the future Stepping down to act as our kinsman-redeemer he takes on board our lost situation, the life we have no hope of keeping, and lifts us out of poverty and desperation to have a life and a hope with him.
We note at the close of the story that Naomi who was bitter receives the child Ruth has borne and he is none other than the grandfather of the principal type of Christ in the Old Testament, David. What a wonderful story. Let us remember who our Go-el is – Christ our Kinsman-Redeemer.