Category Archives: Nehemiah

The Story of Ruth as a Chance to Right Historical Wrongs

During last night’s discussion on Ruth, I had several thoughts come to me about the story of Ruth, especially as a polemic way of righting wrongs and standing against political oppression. These are just thoughts, and I am in no way interested in becoming a Ruth-io-blogger, but it is a fascinating book nevertheless, even with the euphemisms.

I see three recapitulations in Ruth’s tale:

1. Tamar

Genesis 38.6-27 tells the story of Judah and his daughter in law, Tamar. Tamar’s husband died, and according to custom, was supposed to be married to her brother-in-law in order that her dead husband’s name to continue on. That didn’t go as planned, so some years later, she tricked Judah into fulling that obligation.

2. Lot and his daughters

The next morning the older daughter said to her younger sister, “I had sex with our father last night. Let’s get him drunk with wine again tonight, and you go in and have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” So that night they got him drunk with wine again, and the younger daughter went in and had intercourse with him. As before, he was unaware of her lying down or getting up again. As a result, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father. When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. (Gen 19:34-38 NLT)

Both Tamar and Lot’s daughters tricked their partners, resulting in children. For Ruth, while there is a certain amount of mischievousness going on, essentially, both she and Boaz (unlike Tamar and Judah) fulfill the demands of the Law. Unlike Lot and his daughters, there is no breaking of the law either. Ruth, a Gentile, corrects the sins of the Tamar and Lot and his daughters.

3. Moab’s refusal to help when Israel invaded

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. (Deu 23:3-6 NLT)

When Israel was marching into the Promised Land, the Moabites refused to render aid to God’s people. As you can guess, this no doubt angered YHWH a bit, which caused this eternal curse. Ruth the Moabite not only follows Naomi into the Promised Land but serves to render support and begins to worship the God of the Jews. This is the opposite of what her descendants did to the Israelites who arrived generations early.

Finally, while this is certainly no ‘second chance’ thing, if we set Ruth against Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms,

On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly. (Nehemiah 13:1-3 NLT)

For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” (Ezra 9:2 NLT)

Set that against Ruth and her descendants, which would have included the Royal Line of David. Did Ezra expel them as well? Was Ruth written during this as a warning against Ezra’s reforms and perhaps, especially since she is set up as an immediate ancestor to David, as a reminder that it is difficult to separate all of the ‘mixed’ from the ‘pure?’

And what of Matthew’s genealogy which expressly included Ruth?

Time with Nehemiah – Fade to Black

Nehemiah has taken a back seat to God’s reformation of Jerusalem, more so than he already had. Scant evidence of Nehemiah is found in a large portion of the book. His story is like that of other great men and women of God – little is known, if anything at all, of them and their daily life. Nehemiah had a job to do, did it, and then surrendered the limelight of story, never really wanting it in the first place.

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Time with Nehemiah – Confession is Good for the Soul

So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land.  The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.” (Neh 9:36-37 NLT)

Those who had escaped slavery returned due to the debts of their parents. Not debts to men, but the sin debts of God. When Israel became unprofitable for God, He sold them back into slavery – rather, they raced back into it – until the redeeming price could be raised. Until then, the people of Israel, and through them, all of humanity suffered in slavery.

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The Man who took the Woman's Family Name

As I reading Nehemiah, I came across this interesting verse:

Three families of priests– Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai– also returned. (This Barzillai had married a woman who was a descendant of Barzillai of Gilead, and he had taken her family name.) (Neh 7:63 NLT)

Why do you think he did that and why do you think it escaped condemnation from Nehemiah?

Time with Nehemiah – Renewal

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The Walls were finished; a civilian ruled Jerusalem; people were coming back to the City. It was time to celebrate.

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Time with Nehemiah – Subterfuge and Completion

Nehemiah was fresh off the conflict from within the City, now he had to face the conflict from without. As the last bricks were being laid, the enemies round about Jerusalem began to conspire to create problems. All work must be stopped for the good of the enemy!

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Time with Nehemiah – Undoing God's Redemption

building wallReally, if you think about it, most projects, church or otherwise, comes down to money. The same was true of the people of the City. After a while, mortgage payments came due. Food bills came due. Money was needed to keep going. The rich people of the city began to take advantage of the situation by charging high interest (from 1 percent monthly, to as high as an annual rate of 20 percent), which actually forced some to sell their children into slavery to pay off the large sums.

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Time with Nehemiah – Reality Sets In

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Nehemiah’s work was going well, the wall was built up half-way it’s needed height all around the city. The people were enthusiastic. Work was moving along fine. Then, the reality of the situation set in – not for the Jewish people, but for the enemies round about. These poor, defeated Jews were going to pull it off! How dare they! The god of the Jews had ceased care, right? The temple was destroyed. Everyone knew that the god of the Jews had allowed the city to be destroyed because the Temple was profaned and the sacrifices made vulgar. So why would he care now?

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Time with Nehemiah – The Rebuilding

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Nehemiah was ready to build, and did so in a divine rhythm. He started with the Sheep Gate, the place where the animal sacrifices where first brought, then he moved the wall to the two military towers. He started building the holiness defense first, then the physical defense. For God, then against man. The walls were important to the people – politically, social, religiously – of the city. It was a sign of God’s favor, His grace, His protection. The ruined walls had stood as a testament to the people for a generation or more that Jerusalem was no longer under the protection of God, but was upon for all to pass by and laugh upon her. Nehemiah had most likely lived within walls all his life, and knew the military importance, as well as the placating force, of them; however, he also know that God’s sacrifices must come first. Before they could hope to have the walls mean anything, they must return the city to a holiness before God.

As they began to rebuild, people from the surrounding areas came to help. Leaders, workers, Jews, Gentiles, government officials, even a maker of perfumes began to help. Men, and even women, helped with seemingly no dissemination between them. Each group of workers had their assigned place, some even working in front of their own homes.

The work didn’t stop here, drawing in help from all over, people returning to build up God’s city, and to refortify His walls. The rebuilding had begun.

Time with Nehemiah – A Prayer to the God of Heaven

Viewing the Walls
Viewing the Walls

Just when you thought everything was going to be easy –

Nehemiah went to the King, the most powerful king in his known world – and the king that he had no doubt faithfully served for years. I can imagine that Nehemiah looked ragged, having fasted for several days, in mourning for fallen Jerusalem. The King saw this – after all, cupbearers were not picked because of humility. More often than not, they were were picked because of physical beauty and strength, and given this elevated position which, believe it or not, was valued. The King asked him what was wrong.

Nehemiah was bold – he asked the King for permission to return to rebuild the city where his ancestors were buried. But he didn’t do this relying upon his own strength, but ‘with a prayer to the God of heaven.’

Imagine that – Nehemiah was a pretty influential person of some rank, a Jew essentially in the Persian Court. Near royalty. He most likely had everything that a man could want, but he gave it up for a place that he had never seen, only that it was in his blood. This place was no picnic. Even getting there was hazardous to one’s health.

The King, with the Queen sitting by his side, gave Nehemiah permission. Identity of the Queen ranges – from Esther herself (doubtful) to the daughter of Cyrus. Remember, the King of Persia did not allow his queen to sit next to him and dined alone. This was no doubt a very private occasion, but who ever the Queen was, Nehemiah’s memoirs acknowledges the break in tradition and announces that the King had a Queen in the room.

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