Monthly Archives: October 2008

Moravian Courage

A Tale of Two Counts

Home Moravian Church, Oct. 26, 2008.  Craig D. Atwood

I have been asked to speak on the theme of Courage as we lead up to Stewardship Sunday. It is an appropriate theme at this time. Right now, we Americans are facing difficult challenges. Our nation is engaged in two wars, our financial system is on life-support, our planet is warming, and we are in the midst of an often divisive political campaign. Members of this church have lost their jobs because of the economic downturn; others have seen retirement funds disappear; and we are all rightly concerned about the future. I am not the only one who is anxious and worried. Faith does not mean that we ignore reality, but that we face uncertainty without being overcome by fear. We need to be faithful in the midst of our fear.

When we examine our church’s history, we see that Moravians have faced much more difficult times in the past. For centuries, our church was an illegal institution, and Catholic authorities repeatedly tried to exterminate our witness in the world. At times, they almost succeeded, but our ancestors remained faithful and good stewards even in the face of the extinction of the church. This morning I would like to highlight the stories of two wealthy Moravians who were courageous stewards in times of crisis. One of them you know about, but the other is someone you may never have heard of. Strangely enough, both of their last names start with Z.

Count Zerotin was a Moravian nobleman whose family was very generous to our church and had often protected our ancestors from the Habsburgs. It was Count Zerotin who recognized Comenius’ potential and paid for his education at the University of Heidelberg. During the Thirty Years War, Zerotin went to great lengths to help his brothers and sisters. He protected Comenius and other pastors on his estate at Brandys. It was while Comenius was under Zerotin’s protection that he wrote one of the masterpieces of Christian spirituality, The Labyrinth of the World. Finally in 1627 all Czech Protestants were commanded to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Along with Comenius, Count Zerotin and his family were forced to abandon his estates and go into exile. Comenius’ greatest works were written during his exile, and they were made possible by the stewardship of Zerotin. The original Moravian Church was destroyed by religious intolerance, but thanks to Zerotin’s stewardship the witness of the Unity survived.

The other Count whose name starts with a Z is, of course, Count Zinzendorf. You’ve probably heard the story of the rebirth of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut in 1727 many times. Keep in mind that it was almost exactly a century after Comenius and Zerotin had gone into exile. The rebirth of the Moravian Church was made possible because Count Zinzendorf courageously welcomed a couple of hundred refugees from Moravia who voluntarily went into exile because they wanted to serve Christ according to the simple teachings of Scripture. They were poor and homeless, but Zinzendorf helped them build a new community. We tell this story so often, we forget how courageous Zinzendorf’s stewardship was. Because of his involvement with the Moravians, the king of Saxony banished Zinzendorf from the kingdom, and for over a decade Zinzendorf was an exile. Despite exile and uncertainty, Zinzendorf and his wife, Ermuth, used their resources and influence to further the cause of Christ through the Moravian Church. It was because of the Zinzendorfs that the Moravians were able to purchase the Wachovia tract and build this community in the wilderness.

These are just two of the stories of Moravians who courageously used their wealth and other gifts wisely and boldly during extremely trying times. Both of them experienced exile and hardship without losing faith in their Lord. Both of them provided refuge for the persecuted, homes for the homeless, and protection for the vulnerable. Because of their courage and wisdom, the Moravian witness was not lost during dark and troubling times. 

It is important that we meet today’s challenges with the same courage and faithfulness as Counts Zerotin and Zinzendorf. Like them, we are called to protect the weak, house the homeless, and care for exiles. Like them, we need to take action to preserve and promote the witness of the Moravian Church. It is during tough economic times that it is most important that we be good and wise stewards of the gifts God has granted us as individuals and as a church. Perhaps 200 years from now, a member of Home Church will stand before the congregation and highlight your courage during these challenging times in order to inspire a new generation of stewards. Remember, even if you are not a Count and your name doesn’t start with a Z, you can have courage and be faithful in the midst of crisis.

I Samuel 26-27: David the Philistine

I Samuel 26-27: David Among the Philistines

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Oct. 26, 2008

Craig D. Atwood

 

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church in beautiful Winston-Salem, NC. I hope it has been a good week for you and those you love. I want to give a shout out to Tripp Fuller who just moved to California to pursue a PhD in theology. Tripp was in my first class at Wake Forest and was very helpful to me. He’s the reason I have a blog titled theflamingheretic, where you can access all of my Bible lessons. The most exciting thing in my life this week was a trip to the dentist. Dr. Leal is an old friend and he told that he took the best class at Salem College recently. It was a class in yoga and creative writing.  It was the last thing I thought he would be doing on a Saturday afternoon, but I’ve never see Jeff so excited as told about what he wrote. He reminded me that life remains full of learning and adventure even if you just had your 30th high school reunion. He’s a really good dentist, too.  

In case you haven’t heard, there will be an election next week. I used to complain because North Carolina was not a swing state and the candidates ignored us, but I’m getting a little tired of the ads. My nine-year old daughter Madeleine can recite several of them by heart. But please don’t let election fatigue keep you from going to the polls. Today several churches downtown are holding a Souls to the Polls rally and taking folks down to the board of elections to vote early. I won’t tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you to vote your conscience.

Chapter 26 overview            Speaking of political leaders, this week we are continuing our year-long study of the book of I Samuel. Hopefully we’ll finish by Advent! Last week we talked about David and Abigail, which was a nice interlude in the story of Saul’s war against David. Our lesson last week ended with the statement that Saul gave David’s wife Michal to another man. In chapter 26 we return to Saul’s pursuit of David. I am not going to read this chapter on the air because it is so similar to chapter 24, which we discussed at length. The similarities include the Ziphites telling Saul where David was hiding, Saul taking 3000 warriors to pursue the rebel, David secretly scoring a coup on Saul, David proving to Saul that he could have killed him but showed mercy instead, David asking Saul what crime he had committed that has made the king hunt him down, and Saul addressing David and acknowledging that David is the better man.

In short, the two stories are so similar that many scholars speculate that they are two different versions of the same event. It seems very unlikely that David would have attempted, much less been successful, in pulling off the same trick twice. There was no reason to prove twice to Saul that he could have killed him. It also seems like a strange coincidence that both events were instigated by the betrayal of the Ziphites and that in both Saul admits he was wrong.

The fact that we do have two different accounts of the same basic story increases our confidence that something like this really happen. The fact that they are so different indicates that they circulated in oral tradition for a long time before being written down. It is reasonable to conclude that somehow or another, David managed to get within striking distance of the king and chose not to kill him.

Multiple Traditions                        Why did the author of I Samuel include both of these stories in his book? We saw in our study of Genesis that biblical authors were not as worried about redundant stories as modern editors are. I just got one my manuscripts back and the editor cut out a few redundant passages, even though every word I had written was gold. The editor of I Samuel included repetitious passages to emphasize that David showed mercy to Saul.

Another reason for including both stories is that they are different enough to be interesting. In the first story, David sneaks up on Saul while he is relieving himself in a cave. It is a bit too scatological for use in the synagogue or church. Chapter 26 is much more dignified. It is also much more heroic, almost miraculous. Saul and his 3000 soldiers have set up camp on a plain near a mountain, and Saul is sleeping in the middle of the camp. It sounds like the soldiers are arrayed in concentric circles. Saul’s personal bodyguard, Abner, is lying next to him.  In other words, the king is as well protected as a man could be, but David got close enough to kill him.

The Tale                        In the story, David looks down from a height and sees that Saul’s men are asleep with no one on watch. He decides to try to get into the camp and he asks for a volunteer. One of his cousins, Abishai, is eager to prove his courage, and accompanies David. One problem with this story is that we are not given a clue as to why David wants to do this. In the first story, David’s men urged him to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity and end the war. After an internal debate, David changed his mind and showed the king mercy. This story in chapter 26 has none of that debate. We aren’t told what David intends to do. It appears to be nothing more than fool hearty act of bravado.

Abishai and David successfully infiltrated the camp and were standing over the slumbering form of Saul when they took time to have a rather long debate. Abishai wants to run Saul through with his own spear, but David refuses. Apparently he never intended to kill the Lord’s Anointed, but merely wanted to teach Abishai a lesson about why you shouldn’t kill a king. Abishai is nonplussed, to say the least. Here they are surrounded by 3000 enemy troops and David is giving him a lesson about the divine right of kings. The author acknowledges the difficulty of this scenario by telling the reader that the LORD had made all of Saul’s men fall into an unnaturally deep sleep. Finally, David decided to take the king’s spear and his water jug as tokens of his “victory.”

The theft of the spear is significant. Several weeks ago we talked about the fact that Saul is almost always depicted with his spear in hand. It was the symbol of his authority and manhood. Saul probably had a bumper sticker on his chariot that said “the only time they’ll take my spear is when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.” By taking the spear, David took Saul’s manhood and his kingdom. He attacked the symbol of Saul’s authority. I honestly don’t know why he took the water jug, but I suspect that water jugs were particularly important in a dry land. The water jug was probably a symbol of life.

Unlike the earlier (and probably older) story, David’s conversation with Saul is public in ch. 26. First David called out to Abner and shamed him. Abner was the king’s top general and personal bodyguard, but David taunted, telling the whole army that he was asleep at his post. Today we would say that David was trash talking his opponent. Then he showed everyone the spear so they would know that Abner almost let the king get killed. Abner did not get a chance to respond David’s showboating. Saul called David as his son. David asked the king why he pursuing him and protested his innocence. This is a constant refrain in I Samuel. David was the innocent victim of Saul’s paranoid rage. Here Saul acknowledges before his own army that David is righteous and merciful. He even blesses David instead of attacking him. 

Chapter 27                        We would expect that this second encounter between David and Saul would be the end of the story, but chapter 27 begins with David recognizing that the war with Saul will never end. David decides that he would be safer with the Philistines than in Israel, and so he goes into exile with his two new wives and his men and their families. It was quite a large company that journeyed south to Gath. You may remember that earlier we had a story where David was a refugee in Gath. That was a strange tale that ended with David pretending to be insane so that he could escape from the wrath of King Achish. It is more than a little odd that we now have another story where David escapes from Saul by going to the court of Achish. In the first story, the Philistines hated David so much that he had to go to great lengths to escape, but in this story David’s enemies treat with honor.

These are probably radically different accounts of the same historical event. Even 3000 years later, it is shocking to learn that King David served the Philistines, and it is implausible that the author of I Samuel made this up. It would have been tempting to ignore it if he could. This was one of those memories that must have plagued David and his descendents for many years. This was worse than having been AWOL from the National Guard years before becoming President. It was the kind of resume item that always threatened to undermine the legitimacy of David’s rule, and it had to be explained away from his apologists.

Mercenary David:                         So, we have two quite different descriptions of what happened when David fled to the Philistines. In one he is a vulnerable refugee hiding among the Philistines, but in chapter 27, he is depicted as a powerful warlord who offers his services to a rival king. Since he cannot serve King Saul, he will serve King Achish. The Philistine king is so impressed by David that he gives him a city of his own. Historically speaking, this is perfectly plausible.

You may have heard of El Cid, “he who in a happy hour girded on his sword.” El Cid is one of the national heroes of Spain. During the Middle Ages, El Cid was a warlord who defeated the Moors and helped expand the Christian kingdom of Aragon. Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren starred in a movie about El Cid that was based on an epic poem extolling El Cid as a crusader and model of chivalry. The portrait of El Cid painted by modern historians is more complicated. Yes, El Cid defeated the Muslims, but he frequently fought for Muslim kings against Christians. He was basically a mercenary who fought for whoever paid him best. In chapter 27 David looks more like the real El Cid than the legendary one.

Read 27:5-end

Liege of Achish                        The gift of Ziklag meant that David did not have to hide in caves any longer. He had a permanent home and an income base. Even a fool like Nabal would now recognize David as a prince who could reward his followers. But the young warrior does not settle down in the city. Chapter 27 is a grim reminder that David is still a warrior. King Achish did not reward him for his talent on the lyre. He expected David to harass his enemies. David attacked several tribes that lived south of Judah, ravaging the lands almost to the Egyptian border. The tribes listed included some of the traditional enemies of the Israelites, most notably the Amalekites. The major reason I Samuel records David’s raids against these tribes was to reassure the audience that David was not a traitor against Israel even though he fought for the Philistines. The people he attacked were enemies of Israel.

When Achish asked David about his expeditions, David lied. There is simply no way to interpret around this fact. David lied to his liege lord when he claimed that he was attacking the Israelites and Judeans in the Negev desert. We can picture the ancient audience nudging one another and smiling at the way David tricked the Philistine king. David was so shrewd that he was able to injure the enemies of Israel right under the nose of the Philistine king!

At the time, this was seen as a good thing, but it raises all kinds of moral problems for Jews and Christians today who read I Samuel as sacred scripture. What are we supposed to do with a story like this? This is one of those stories that ancient theologians said should not be taken literally or used a prescription for faithful living. They argued that this story has to be read allegorically. Today we might say that this story tells us that honesty is not always be the best policy. There may be times when it is wise not to tell the whole truth, but we must be cautious in drawing morals from this tale, especially since the Bible neither blames nor praises David for his deception.

War Crimes                        There is a a part of this chapter that is more deeply disturbing than David lying. In order to carry out his subterfuge against his liege-lord, David makes sure there are no witnesses to dispute his account. When he raids the camps and villages of Israel’s enemies, he orders that every man, woman, and child be killed. We know from history that people commit this kind of atrocity. This is not pleasant conversation for a Sunday morning, but such brutality is woven into the fabric of human history. What is shocking about chapter 27 is that it was the Lord’s Anointed did this as a cold-blooded policy. How can we as people of faith make sense of this? I’m not sure we can.

Does it help to realize that the author of this story probably thought he was praising David by telling us this? This was probably part of a pro-David propaganda campaign, a way to warn enemies and reassure friends. Even today, rulers want to convince their enemies that they have the power to destroy them completely. Think back to the rhetoric of the Cold War when mutual assured destruction was our military policy. It is quite likely that King David wanted his enemies to think that he was merciless in battle.

What David did was accepted practice in the ancient world, but is no longer. In part thanks to Christianity, we have established that such things are crimes. We have tribunals in the Hague that convict people of such  “war crimes.” We must be careful and not use stories like this in I Samuel to justify war crimes and other atrocities in the name of religion. One biblical scholars says that the point of this story is that “we, like David, may also be asked to act boldly in circumstances that do not give us ideal options or absolute moral clarity.” We can go too far in that kind of thinking. There is no doubt that genocide and the murder of children is immoral. We must avoid the temptation to use the story of David to justify moral relativism and opportunism.

Another thing that is shocking about this story is that it comes after three stories that expatiate on David’s mercy toward Saul and Nabal. In those stories, David demonstrated great self-control and did not use violence when it was expected, but here we see him exterminating families who have done him no harm. All of the speeches about sparing the Lord’s Anointed pale in comparison.

We are approaching the season of Advent and will be singing hymns about Jesus as the son of David and the Lord’s Messiah. Keep in mind that the New Testament does not claim that Jesus imitated David, only that he was the descendent of David. Jesus was the true Messiah and true king of God’s people in part because he was not like David. Rather than establish his throne through conquest, he offered himself in sacrifice. Rather than shedding the blood of the innocent in order to intimidate his foes, his innocent blood was shed. This is why Pilate could not believe that Jesus was a king. What king goes to the cross to free his people? What king speaks truth when lies are more expedient?

Conclusion                        I will confess that this was not the easiest passage of Scripture to discuss or to write, but it is important that we look at the whole story of David instead of just the pleasant parts. We are living in perilous times, but that does not mean that we have to give up our deepest convictions and abandon our morals. Though there is much to admire about King David, we beware of using his example to justify our lies, crimes and atrocities. Though we have found much benefit in studying the kings of ancient Israel, we who bear the name of Christ are called to follow Jesus’ law and example. May the prince of peace rule in your hearts and minds.

I Samuel 25 – Abigail

I Samuel 25 – Abigail

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Oct. 19, 2008

Craig D. Atwood

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Church. It has been a beautiful week in North Carolina. There are few things more pleasant than the Carolina sky this time of year, and now that the leaves are turning it is hard to sit at a desk. I can see Pilot Mountain from my office at Wake, but I haven’t figured out how to grade exams while hiking. It is easy to follow Paul’s instruction to rejoice when the leaves are flaming with color and the sky is so blue that you feel you could dive into it. Last week I presented a paper on the theology of Spangenberg at an international Moravian history conference at Moravian College. Less than a fourth of the papers were by Moravians; most were secular scholars. It was an excellent conference and many of the papers will be published in the Journal of Moravian History. Riddick and Julie Weber from Winston-Salem also presented papers, and we had the pleasure of driving up together. I hope that the Moravian Church finds ways to encourage them and other young scholars. I am grateful to Dr. Moore for teaching class last week. One of the benefits of Home Church’s relationship with Wake Forest is that we can have someone with a PhD in Old Testament substitute in Sunday School. As it happened, I had to leave the conference early, and so I was able to hear Megan’s excellent presentation on ways to read the story of Abigail. I have to admit that she is right. If I were making a movie about I Samuel, I would cast Catherine Zeta Jones as Abigail. I am afraid that Juliette Binoche may be jealous, though, since for years I had a not-so-secret crush on her. Thankfully, I am married to a woman who is my Abigail: beautiful and smart. This week, I would like to follow up on a couple of the paths outlined by Megan and suggest ways that we might use this story in our lives today. If you were listening last week, you know the story, so there is no point in repeating it.

There is much that we can learn from Abigail and that her example can help us navigate treacherous waters. We saw that Abigail recognized danger to herself and others, and that she used her management skills to address the danger. We saw that she was willing to disobey authority when it would have been foolish and dangerous to submit. She was willing to go to remarkable lengths to prevent bloodshed and violence. And we saw that she had the courage to act when action was needed, and the courage to speak the truth even though others might find it shameful.

Nabal                        First of all, lets think about the character of Nabal, which is the Hebrew word for fool. I am always interested in whether translators decide to translate a proper name or not. Most English translations leave Nabal’s name in Hebrew, but that obscures the nature of this story. As Megan said, this tale advertizes to us that it is a folktale. No father in ancient Israel ever named his son Nabal or Fool except in anger. I’m reminded of Bill Cosby saying that until he went to school he thought his name was Jesus Christ because his dad was always yelling “Jesus Christ, stop doing that.” Think how different this story would sound if it said, “Now the name of the man was Fool.” We might picture folks in the village saying, “Yo, Fool!” What we have here is a special kind of folktale. It is a piece of wisdom literature that is going to illustrate the difference between the Fool and Wise Wife. It will also show us that David recognizes the difference between wisdom and folly.

Many people in the class wondered how this Fool/Nabal could be so rich, but it shouldn’t surprise us. Our news today is filled with stories of fools who are rich. Some inherited their wealth; others were lucky in the stock market; some were well connected. There are rich fools, but we are all paying a price for foolishness and greed on Wall St., as John McCain has pointed out. Nabal may well have been a shrewd landowner, but even very intelligent people can be foolish. Eliot Spitzer comes immediately to mind. Nabal’s particular brand of foolishness was his arrogance. He was wealthy and powerful, which made him feel invulnerable. He did not investigate the situation to learn who David was or even whether he was a friend or a threat. Like a crotchety old man, he looked down on David as an upstart who needed to be brought down a peg. Nabal not only refused David’s request for food, he insulted him because he assumed he was nobody. The Fool substituted swagger and tough talk for diplomacy, and unknowingly invited his own destruction.

Abigail            The next person to consider is Abigail. One of the important things to note about I Samuel 25 is that a woman is the main actor. Abigail is the only one who interacts with all of the other characters in the drama, even the unnamed servants. Last week you heard how carefully she gathered provisions for David and his men. I think we have to assume that the 600 men in David’s band also had their women and children with them. In other words, Abigail had to put together a lot of food, but she did it in secret against the expressed wish of her husband. This is rather extraordinary, and it challenges the assumption that the Bible teaches that women must always be submissive to their husbands. Abigail is one of the many biblical heroines we’ve discussed over the past three years who wisely subverts the expected rules and norms.

She is acting in the best interest of the Fool she is married to, but there is also an element of self-interest in the story. What do you think happened in ancient times to the women marauders killed all of the men? They were given as prizes to the warriors along with the other plunder, but Abigail is not going to be a passive victim of macho stupidity or male violence. She is going to take the necessary actions to protect herself and others, but she is wise enough to know that there is no point in telling Nabal what she is doing. Rather than wasting her time trying to convince a fool to do the wise thing, she simply acts on her own.

Abigail went herself to deliver the gifts to David. There is much that we do not know about the customs of ancient Israel, and so it is not clear if this was a scandalous act on her part. Certainly it was risky and required great courage. Abigail trusted the reports of the servants that David was good and had protected them, but she has no assurance that David would not seize her as a hostage or worse. Even if she succeeded in her mission, she would have to face the wrath of Nabal when he learned what she had done. It took as much, if not more, courage for Abigail to face David the warlord unarmed than for David to confront Goliath with a slingshot. Abigail will have no stones to hurl at David; instead she has to persuade the warlord through the power of her words.

The Speech:            In recent months I’ve heard a lot people speak disparagingly of eloquence in politics, but communication is an essential part of leadership. We need leaders who can put their thoughts and plans into words and persuade others to follow a wise course of action. Eloquence that reflects wisdom and courage is a precious gift. Abigail was smart and well-spoken.

She bowed before David, which is something that bothers our modern sensibilities. We don’t usually see women bowing to the ground before men, although I know a few men that might like that. Keep in mind that Abigail is doing exactly what David did when he greeted Jonathan and Samuel. This bowing to the ground was not sexist; it was a sign of respect. Abigail is acknowledging that David is a prince, which is important since her fool of husband implied he was a runaway slave. Yes, she is flattering David, but sometimes it is wise to remind someone of their exalted status. As Megan pointed out, David is still insecure. He feels a need to put Nabal in his place for having offended his honor. Abigail responds to this by reminding David that he is a powerful and respected chief. I’m reminded of a scene in Schindler’s List when Schindler tries to convince the Nazi commandant that he could demonstrate his strength and authority better by showing mercy rather than killing those who offended him. The Nazi tried, but he was too weak and insecure man to be merciful.

I Samuel portrays David as a man who can be bold, but he can also control himself. It appears that he was impressed by the courage and prudence of Abigail. He listens to her speech about the fool she was married to. Though Abigail is often presented as the perfect wife, she does not attempt to defend her husband’s boorish behavior. She appears almost disloyal to her husband talking about him this way to another man. No doubt she and the other women in the red tent swapped stories about their husbands the way wives do today over coffee or on the internet, but this was different. She is shaming her husband before another man, but she is doing so in order to save Nabal’s life and the lives of the entire household.

There is a lesson in this for us today. One of the things I’ve learned about family abuse is that the abuser usually tries to isolate members of the family from outsiders. Families with abuse keep secrets. The great fear is that someone will find out the truth, but it is the truth that sets us free. The only way to stop abuse is to be honest about what is happening and to seek help. Someone in the family must break the code of silence for the sake of everyone’s health. Abigail could have submitted to her husband and not revealed his foolishness, but that would have led to his death and the suffering of many. She took a great personal risk in order to preserve life. Our ethical ideals mean nothing if we do not have the courage to act when it is necessary. Abigail’s courage and willingness to defy her husband saved her life and the lives of many.

Verses 26-31            After Abigail pleads for Nabal’s life, she gives a long speech blessing David. As Megan pointed out, speeches like this were a way that ancient authors could communicate important ideas to the readers. These verses appear to be a later insertion in the story since they break the flow of the narrative. Abigail is thanking the LORD for restraining David from his sanguinary intentions, but David has not yet responded to her plea. The story reads better if we go from verse 25 straight to verse 32 when David takes Abigail by the hand and assures her that he will not take vengeance on Nabal. The inserted verses and David’s response to Abigail both talk about the fact that David has been preserved from bloodguilt. Unlike Saul, David was willing to break a foolish vow when greater wisdom was revealed to him. In this case he recognized that Abigail was an agent of the LORD, and he was grateful to God that she came and spoke to him. Had David killed Nabal and his household, Nabal’s extended family and clan would have been obligated to seek revenge. Even in our day we suffer from the cycle of violence where vengeance is never satisfied. The story of David might have turned out quite differently if he had responded to Nabal’s disrespect with violence. Rather than uniting the tribes and clans of Israel as king, he might have remained a petty warlord who only knew one tool of statecraft – the sword.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch                        Abigail was able to pull off her plot, which may be a testament to her husband’s lack of attention to his own affairs. You would think he would miss hundreds of loaves, skeins of wine, fruit, and five whole sheep! But we have many examples in our day of leaders in government, business, and the church who were apparently clueless about what was going on in their own organizations. It is perhaps significant that none of the servants told Nabal what was going on. That is always a bad sign in an organization, by the way. When Abigail returns home from her mission, Nabal is feasting like a king, or a pig, depending on your point of view. It appears that Nabal started the feast without his wife, and this may be a further indication of just how out of touch Nabal was. He didn’t even notice Abigail was missing. Of course, it is possible that Abigail had made all of the arrangements for the feast as a way to distract her husband from what she was doing. That would make a lot of sense, but we do not know for sure.

Someone in the class pointed out last week that Abigail very wisely waited until Nabal was sober to tell him what she had done. I learned years ago when working the night shift in a motel that you can never reason with a drunk. Don’t even try. There is an interesting pun in this section. It says that the wine was drained out of Nabal, meaning that he had sobered up, but the word Nabal can mean “wineskin” (Birch, 1169). We can imagine what kind of condition Nabal was in the next morning after his feasting and drinking. No doubt he was experiencing that peculiar type of repentance that comes after self-indulgence. As his head pounded and his stomach churned, he probably knew he had been a fool. Abigail took advantage of the opportunity to let him know just how great a fool he had been. She told him that she had gone to David because she had learned that David was planning to slaughter every man and take all of the women and animals as booty. She told him that the only way she could save his life was to present herself to David and plead for his life.

Wives                        Nabal was shocked at the news. The Bible says that his heart died and he became like a stone. We don’t know if he had a heart attack or a stroke. Either would make sense in this situation. It is even possible he had a catatonic fit. We don’t know for sure, but the severity of his reaction is an indication of the seriousness of this story. In the end, Abigail had saved everyone’s life, except Nabal’s. He survived for a few days more before he died. I Samuel emphasizes that it was the LORD, not David who killed Nabal, and David blesses the LORD for this. This is one of those prayers that makes pastors uncomfortable, by the way. Today it is not acceptable to thank God for the death of your enemies. There is more to this blessing than that, though. The text reiterates that David is without guilt. Megan talked last week about the apologetic aspects of I Samuel. Here, the author wants to make it clear that David was not responsible for Nabal’s death, and that Abigail had not poisoned him so that she could be free to become David’s wife.

We aren’t told how long David spent wooing Abigail. The Bible is a bit like modern movies in that events are telescoped. The text sounds like David got the news that the fool had died and immediately sent for Abigail, kind of like a Mafioso taking the wife of his rival as soon as the funeral was over. Most likely, David followed custom and sent for Abigail after a period of mourning. It is likely that she had let it be known that she was interested in David. Clearly David was impressed with Abigail.

If this story was originally a folk tale about a fool with a wise wife, this is the happily ever after ending. Because she was prudent and brave, Abigail was able to marry the handsome prince. If this story was based in historical events, we can assume that David’s marriage to Abigail had practical benefits. We don’t know how much of Nabal’s property Abigail inherited, but this marriage meant that David was no longer just a leader of brigands. Abigail would help finance his rise to the throne.

Chapter 25 ends with brief mentions of two other wives of David. First we are told that he married Ahinoam of Jezreel. This marriage is further indication that David is rising in status and power. The difference between biblical times and modern times is that in those days rich and powerful men added trophy wives without having to get divorces. Polygamy was considered a good thing. Ahinoam is particularly important since she will be the mother of David’s firstborn son, Amnon.

But what happened to David’s first wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul? The text states tersely that Saul gave her to Palti son of Laish. This is stark reminder that in the ancient world fathers could give their daughters away literally. Even though Michal was married to David, Saul felt he had the right to give her to another man since David had betrayed him. You may remember that I Samuel says that Michal loved David. She is the only woman in the Bible that we know loved her husband. She saved David’s life, but her father gave her to another man. In a single verse, the author reminds us that David’s struggle against Saul has not ended.

Conclusion:                        We spent two weeks on the story of Abigail and David not only because it is so long but also because it is a rich story. It is one of those passages of Scripture that acknowledges the complexities and ambiguities of life, but which also provides some guidance on how to live. Hopefully, none of you is like Nabal the fool, but if you are, perhaps this story can open your eyes to the need to change before it is too late. Hopefully, none of you is living with a fool like Nabal, but if you are, take guidance from Abigail who acted wisely, courageously, and cautiously. Hopefully, none of you has ever been in danger of shedding blood over a point of honor, but if you are, learn from David. Listen to wisdom and do not follow through on rash and stupid oaths. 

Ruth 4 – Marriage

Ruth 4 – “Better than Seven Sons”

Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast January 27, 2008

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church in beautiful Winston-Salem, NC. I hope it was a good week for you and those you love. High schools students have finally completed their first semester examinations, which were interrupted by snow and ice, and they are now anxiously awaiting the verdict. I always tell students that it is too late to pray after the exams. Pray while studying! Ash Wednesday is very early this year. It is hard to believe that Lent will start in a week and a half. The women’s fellowships of the local Moravian churches sponsor days of prayer every Wednesday at noon during Lent. A schedule is available from the church office. Here at Home Church we have communion every Wednesday evening after dinner. Several people have asked when we are going to discuss more Twilight Zone episodes. We’ll save those for after Easter. Today we are finishing our study of the Book of Ruth and we start with I Samuel next week. During this election year, it seems fitting to study the book of the Bible that deals most honestly with politics and leadership.

Read:            4:7-end

Sandals            Last week we discussed Boaz’s shrewdness. He had decided that he wanted to marry Ruth the Moabite woman and that he should honor Ruth’s dedication to her mother-in-law. How could he arrange it so that he could marry Ruth, take care of Naomi, keep Ruth and Naomi together, preserve Naomi’s inheritance, and do the right thing for the dead? It was a tricky problem since another person had a legal claim to Elimelech’s land. So Boaz made him repudiate his claim in front of the elders of Bethlehem and publicly proclaimed that he was taking possession of all of the land and property of Elimelech and his sons and would marry Ruth. More important, he declared that Ruth’s son would be the rightful heir to Elimelech’s property. This was a win-win solution that took some careful planning to arrange.

            In the midst of all of this drama, the storyteller breaks in to tell us about a strange custom in ancient Israel. It was already an obsolete practice by the time Ruth was written, since the storyteller has to explain it to the reader. It says that in “former times,” or we might say “in days of yore,” or even “a long, long time ago” people legalized transactions by exchanging sandals. Clearly the old folktale of Ruth included this scene of the unnamed next-of-kin solemnly removing a sandal and giving it to the victorious Boaz, but the author of Ruth knew his audience would not understand this. This is one of the best pieces of evidence that Ruth was written hundreds of years after the events it describes. The author’s explanation of the practice of sandal exchange is really not very illuminating, and it is not clear if he even knew what the ancient practice was. This has left scholars through the centuries to speculate on what is going on here.

            There is evidence outside the Bible that land deals in that region of the world included a ritual placing of the shoes of the purchaser on the land as a symbol of transaction. The sandals represented the owner of the sandals the way a man’s hat 50 years ago represented the man. To hang your hat meant that you were at home in a place. A friend of mine used to tell the story of a professor who would come into class and place his hat on the desk. Then he would go and talk to friends. One day, the students got restless and began to leave. He told them that as long as his hat was in the room, he was in the room, and they should act accordingly. The next week he came to class and all he saw were the students’ hats in their chairs. This sandal exchange appears to have had similar function. The sandal was proof that the next-of-kin had freely consented to this deal, and the witnesses could attest to that. Again, we see that Boaz is doing everything according to the laws and customs of his society. This way there will be no question of the legitimacy of Ruth’s son and his right to Elimelech’s property. Modern Christians can learn from Boaz that it is important to be wise as well as good.

            It is interesting that Boaz twice refers publicly to Ruth as a woman of Moab. This could have been simply a way to make sure that everyone knew who he was talking about since Ruth had no father to negotiate for her. It is possible that Boaz was making a point of the fact that she was a foreigner as a way to challenge the elders. If they agreed to the legitimacy of Boaz’s actions in marrying a foreigner now, they could not criticize Ruth and Boaz later. As we said at the beginning of this study, though, it is very likely that it is the author of Ruth who is emphasizing that Ruth is from Moab. Here at the climax of the story, readers are reminded twice that this amazing woman whom Boaz has chosen as a wife is not an Israelite. She is one of those foreign wives that Ezra wanted men to abandon. She is one of those outsiders whom Ezra wanted the Judeans to shun, but she is the one who showed loving kindness to Naomi and who would be a partner in life to the great Boaz. And all of the elders of Bethlehem gave their assent to this marriage. Who knows, maybe King David kept the sandal in the treasury in his palace!

Blessing            The elders at the gate blessed Boaz and expressed their hope that Ruth would bear as many children as Rachael and Leah, the great matriarchs of Israel and Judah. The Hebrew is a bit difficult, but it appears that they also expressed their hope that Boaz and Ruth would provide many children for the clan of Ephrathah, which means fruitfulness, and that their descendents would dwell long in Bethlehem. They acknowledge that it is the LORD who creates life and brings children into the world, but the LORD does use the joining of man and woman to populate the earth. This theme of human agents cooperating with divine providence runs throughout Ruth, but is most evident in this blessing by the elders. We know that this blessing came true, but for Ruth and Boaz, it was still a matter of hope rather than history.

            It is not accidental that the elders focus on Ruth rather than Boaz in this blessing. It is Ruth who will bring forth children, and the elders compare her to three important women in the book of Genesis: Rachel, Leah, and Tamar. We read their stories a couple of years ago in our study of Genesis, and you will no doubt remember that their stories were all unusual. Jacob was tricked on his wedding night. When he went in to consummate the marriage, he did not know that he was sleeping with Leah instead of Rachel. Perhaps the story of Boaz waking in the night to find Ruth unexpectedly beside him recalled the old story of Leah and Jacob. Also, Leah and Rachel gave their servants to Jacob to have children for them. This surrogate motherhood justifies Ruth’s plan to have a child for Naomi who is passed the point of having children. The elders are telling Boaz that they know what is going on, and they approve. The patriarchs had acted similarly.

            It was a little more problematic to bring up the story of Tamar, who was the daughter-in-law of Judah. We talked about that story in connection with the levirate marriage last week, but it is interesting that the elders specifically point to this story in blessing Boaz’s decision. They mention Judah and his son Perez, who was an ancestor of Boaz. Some scholars think that this was a veiled insult to Boaz and Ruth, but I don’t think so. When we studied the Tamar story, we saw that Tamar was considered righteous and there was no condemnation of her actions with Judah. We should avoid importing modern ideas of morality into the Old Testament. The elders are not saying that they approve of the marriage even though they think that Ruth had acted immorally; they are saying that Ruth and Boaz are acting righteously and for the good of the family even though this is a non-traditional marriage. They are drawing from the past to bless this unusual courtship, and they are praying that the results will be as good as they were for Tamar. Does this indicate that rumors had already spread about the threshing floor? Probably not. This blessing was written for the sake of the readers who knew the whole story.

A Son is Born                        Now we come to the happy conclusion. Ruth bears a son for Boaz. Verse 13 is the last time Ruth is mentioned in this book, and this has bothered a lot of commentators, especially feminists. The last time Ruth spoke in this story was when she returned to Naomi, and some people think that Ruth has been eclipsed by her husband and son. They read this as an all too familiar story of a strong woman taking action only to be silenced by marriage. Personally, I think that is unfair. Neither Boaz or Naomi have speaking roles after the marriage is settled. They have all played their part in this lovely drama and it is the community that speaks at the end. The elders bless the marriage and accept Ruth as a member of the clan, and the women of Bethlehem have the final word of blessing. This is a strong reminder that the Bible is not primarily about individual salvation; it is about the community of God’s people. Ruth and Boaz acted wisely, courageously, and independently, but they acted as part of a community. They did what was best for the clan as well as what was best for them. And in the end, it was the community that validated and legitimated their actions. This can be an unwelcome message in the modern world where we celebrate the rebel who lives by his or her own rules. The idea that the family, or the community, or the church has a role to play in your life sounds old fashioned to us. But it was important that the actions of Ruth and Boaz be affirmed by the people. In the end, this is not a story about two individuals falling in love; it is a story about the welfare of the clan and the blessing of God on the people of Israel. Ruth and Boaz were part of a larger whole, and they played their part with wisdom and loving kindness, but they have nothing more to say. They are not forgotten, but the future belongs to their descendents.

            It is the women of the village who come to Naomi to celebrate the birth of Ruth’s son, but surprisingly they proclaim that it is Naomi who has had a son rather than a grandson. This has always struck readers as very odd, and scholars have tried to find ways to understand the scene described in chapter 4. Some have argued that Naomi legally adopted Ruth’s son as her own, which would make Ruth the sister-in-law of her own son. That is certainly possible, but it is more likely that this is being said poetically. Naomi, you will recall, came back from Moab “empty.” She was left barren and bitter, and she had no future. Now, thanks to the loving kindness of Ruth, she knew that she would have descendents and someone to care for her in her old age. She was no longer empty and desolate. Once again, her life was fruitful and sweet.

            The women praise Boaz for acting as a kinsman-redeemer should act. He had provided a future for Naomi without reducing her to servitude in his house. He is the very model of graciousness, having gone far beyond what custom and law demanded. This is why Boaz should be famous in Israel. Not because of victories in battle or for lording it over others, but because he showed compassion to a poor widow and was gracious to her. That is what the Bible values most of all, and that is why we know the name of Boaz. He redeemed Naomi from her isolation and she no longer had to eat her morsel alone. The son of Boaz would provide life and nourishment for Naomi the way a mother provides for a baby. The circle of life has been completed beautifully because Boaz was righteous.

            And Ruth was not forgotten in the praises of the women. They share in Naomi’s joy that she has a daughter-in-law who is truly a daughter-in-love. They declare that Ruth, the foreigner, is better than seven sons would have been. This is unimaginatively high praise in a culture that valued sons far more than daughters. You may be aware that there are many parts of the world that still treat daughters as a burden rather than the blessing they truly are. In India and China, women have tests to determine the sex of a fetus, and they frequently abort females because sons are more valuable. Before modern technology, it was not uncommon for female children to be abandoned by mothers or fathers who wanted only sons. Here in the Book of Ruth, the happy climax of the story is not that Ruth and Boaz have children, but that Naomi has a son. For unto a Son is born was good news. The originally readers of this story knew the importance of sons, which is why is such a wonderful shock that the women proclaim that Naomi’s daughter-in-law was worth more than a son, more than seven sons. Remember, seven is the number of perfection, so they are saying she is worth more than the perfect family.

            This was a valuable lesson when this story was first written, and it remains valuable today. This is a strong affirmation of the biblical principle that the worth of a person is not based on gender, or nationality, or race, or social standing; it is based on actions and character. Ruth deserves such high praise because she treated Naomi better than a son would have. Ruth stayed with Naomi if when Naomi rejected her. Her life and devotion never faltered. And here at the end of the story, Ruth loved Naomi so much that she let Naomi care for her son. Most unusually, it was the women of the village that named the boy. We would expect that Naomi would have the honor of naming the child, so it is a surprise that his name is given by the women. This is a further indication that author believed that this was a story about the whole community, not just the main actors. The male elders validated the marriage; now the women validate the birth by granting a name.

            Obed means servant, and it may have been a shortened form of Obediah, which means servant of God. Most likely the name indicates that Obed would serve Naomi in the sense that he is the one who will take care of her as she grows old. He is a gift from God provided through Ruth and Boaz.

Genealogy             The Book of Ruth ends with a genealogy. This is not the most exciting part of Ruth for modern readers, and scholars disagree over whether this was an addendum to the original story. Certainly the book seems to end with the statement that Obed was the father of Jesse who was the father of David, but some scholars think that this closing listing of the ancestors is the most important part of the book. There is a theory that the main purpose of Ruth was to support the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy. Personally, I think it worked the other way. I think the connection to King David was a way to highlight the importance of Ruth and her story of sacrificial love for Naomi. Ruth was rewarded for her faithfulness by being chosen by God to be an immediate ancestor of King David. Not only was she worth more than seven sons, she was a chosen agent of God to be the mother of the line of kings of Judah.

            There is another reason for ending the book with David. If this book was indeed written after the Babylonian Exile, we can infer two messages embedded in Ruth. One is that there would not have been a King David if the law against foreign wives had been place in the days of the Judges the way it was after the Exile. That is a message of resistance to an unjust and prejudicial law. The other message is one of hope. Picture the exiles who returned from Babylon to a destroyed country. Think of the Judeans who were left behind and who lost their parents and children to famine and plague. Think of the people of God who saw jackals haunting the lands that were supposed to flow with milk and honey. Naomi is symbolic of Israel. She came back from a foreign land empty, bitter, and without hope, but God did not abandon her. Ruth, like God, showed Naomi loving kindness and faithfulness. She, like God, worked quietly to provide for Naomi and bring her back to the land of the living. And Naomi, who was empty, lives to see a son who will be the ancestor of David. There is a messianic hope in Ruth that is symbolized in this reference to King David. Though life can be almost unbearable, God remains faithful and sends a redeemer. Perhaps it is not the one you would expect. Perhaps the redeemer is a foreigner, and perhaps redemption has to be worked out in the middle of the night, but redemption does come.

Ruth 3 – Boaz

Ruth 3:11-4:6 Boaz

Adult Bible Class Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Jan. 24, 2008

Craig Atwood

Introduction                        Several people asked why I was doing Ruth in Advent, and the answer is simple. She was one of the ancestors of King David and Jesus. There is more about Ruth than Mary in the Bible, but the church does not tell her story often enough. Since it has been awhile since we’ve been together, let me briefly review Ruth. So far we have seen that the book could have been named for Naomi, who is a central character. She was a woman from Bethlehem who had move to Moab with her family to escape a famine, and there her sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. After her husband and sons died, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth accompanied her because she loved her mother-in-law. In Bethlehem, Ruth had to labor hard, gleaning in the fields so they could eat. In our last lesson, Ruth took the advice of Naomi and went to Boaz at night during the threshing festival. He was kind to her and spread his cloak of protection and love over them both. Ruth and Boaz spent the night together, and he promised that he would arrange things for the best for her and Naomi. Boaz was already impressed with Ruth’s devotion to Naomi and her hard work in the fields, but he was even more impressed that she sought him out rather than finding a younger man to marry. He knew she was trying to do what was best for Naomi.

 

A Decent Man:            So far in the story, it is women who have been the main actors. Ruth, in particular, has acted with courage and cunning, but now the plot depends on Boaz. We described Boaz earlier as an upright person, a pillar of his society. Ruth trusted him, and now we see that her trust was well-founded. Notice that he tells Ruth to leave before the morning grows light. He does not want her reputation to be damaged by vicious rumors about her nocturnal activities. In short, Boaz proves to be a gentleman who protects women rather than exploits them. There is an element of self-interest in this as well, of course, since Boaz did not want his own reputation to be harmed, but his main concern appears to be for Ruth.

He also sends Ruth off with a sizeable gift of threshed grain for her mother-in-law. Through the centuries, commentators have speculated that there is something significant in the six measures of barley, but we can’t be sure. It is possible that it represents the six days of work that go into harvesting and threshing, with marriage representing the Sabbath day of rest, but who knows? In any case, it was a lot of barley, and in the context it is pretty clear that Boaz was providing an informal bride price for Ruth. I think there is no reason to doubt that Ruth and Boaz engaged their vows that night, and the tension in the story is whether he will be able to fulfill his promises to her.

Kinsman-Redeemer                        Boaz introduced an element of suspense when he told Ruth that there was someone else in the village that had a better claim to be a kinsman-redeemer than he did. We never learn this man’s name, but he is the closest thing to an antagonist in this folk tale. He is the one who has failed to come to his kinswoman’s aid, and he is the one who can thwart Naomi’s plans. But he is not a bad man. One of the enchanting things about Ruth is that all of the characters are both human and good. They try to do what is right in difficult circumstances. But this unnamed relative of Elimelech could undo everything by asserting his right to be the redeemer.

This is one of the most difficult historical problems in the story, and I am not sure that we have yet found the solution. The story implies that there was a relationship between redemption and marriage in the time of the Judges, but there is no evidence elsewhere to support this. There is a long debate among modern scholars over the nature of the kinsman-redeemer and marriage laws in Ruth. In the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish literature, there is no indication that a kinsman-redeemer had an obligation to a widowed in-law. The kinsman-redeemer was responsible for rescuing family members from slavery and buying back property that had been sold. There is nothing in the laws that we know of that imply any obligation to someone like Ruth who is outside the family. The kinsman-redeemer mentioned by Boaz had an obligation to Naomi, but not to Ruth. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that the story teller knew the details of ancient Israelite social customs. Remember, this story was written much later than the events it describes, and the writer threw in an old, barely remembered custom to increase the authenticity but he or she did not know for sure how it worked.

Levirate Marriage            This has led many scholars to conclude that another ancient Jewish custom applied in the case of Ruth, namely the levirate marriage. You may recall from our study of Genesis that at one time in Israel’s history there was a law that said that a widow without children must marry the brother of her dead husband. The most famous example is in Genesis 38 which tells about Tamar who was married to a son of Judah. When her husband died, she married another son of Judah’s. When he died, Judah refused to let Tamar marry a third son, and she had to live as a non-person in the women’s tents. Finally she tricked Judah into sleeping with her and she got pregnant by him. When the truth was revealed, Judah acknowledged that Tamar was more righteous than he was. Tamar gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Since Tamar and Perez are mentioned explicitly in the last chapter of Ruth, many commentators through the centuries have assumed that Ruth’s story hinges on the issue of levirate marriage.

There are some problems with this assumption, however. The old custom of levirate marriage served two purposes. It was a way to continue to the family line of the dead man since the first male born would be his heir, but it also provided a home for the widow. When a woman in Israel married, she came under the authority of the patriarch of her husband’s household. It would have been difficult for a father-in-law to arrange a marriage for a widowed daughter-in-law, so it made sense that she should marry within the family. In an age where polygamy was common and acceptable, this was a reasonable solution even though it makes modern people uncomfortable. I wonder if ancient Israelite women paid close attention to how attractive a prospective husband’s brothers were, especially if he was old and not so healthy.

The situation described in Ruth simply does not fit the laws of the levirate marriage outlined in the Torah. Her husband and his brother were both dead, so there was no one in the family for her to marry. Her father-in-law was dead, so there is no patriarch she was responsible to. Legally she should have gone back home to her father in Moab, but she already made the sacrificial choice to go with Naomi. Legally, Ruth and Naomi had no relationship, but they have a bond of love. A kinsman-redeemer had no obligations toward Ruth even though he might have been obligated to help Naomi. If the laws of levirate marriage applied, Ruth would not have had to take extraordinary measures to make contact with Boaz. It is possible that the laws had changed by the time of Ruth or that the laws in the Torah were not standard throughout Israel, but it is more likely that something else is going on in this story.

Boaz’ Promise            If Ruth and Boaz exchanged promises of marriage and did what we would expect them to have done, it would be up to Boaz to make arrangements for a marriage. He could have simply married Ruth or even taken her as a concubine, but he wanted to make sure that Naomi was taken care of as well. He did not want to separate Ruth and Naomi, nor does he want to make Naomi depend on charity. Perhaps he had heard of Ruth’s vow that only death could separate her from Naomi, and Boaz did not want to bring that bond. Being a shrewd and well-respected man, Boaz hatched a plan to arrange things for everyone’s benefit. He had to make sure that the unnamed redeemer did not interfere and that the elders of the village approved of his marriage to this foreign woman.

The Ploy            In ancient Israel, as in many tribal cultures in the world today, business took at the village gates. Men would spend their days sitting, talking, politicking, and making business deals. It was kind of like the way executives sit in particularly nice restaurants in New York or LA and informally conduct business. In chapter 4 we see Boaz taking his place by the gate early in the morning. When he sees the redeemer, he calls him “friend” and asks him to sit next to him. Over the years, I’ve learned to be suspicious of people who call me friend and ask me to sit next to them. Usually there is something coming next.

Boaz baits his trap by telling the redeemer that Naomi is planning to sell a parcel of land that belonged to Elimelech. So far, we have not heard a word about such a plan. Naomi has not even spoken to Boaz in the story. It is possible that Ruth said something about Naomi’s real estate intentions as she and Boaz cuddled during the night, but I doubt it. Based on what we have in the text, I think Boaz simply made this up real estate deal up. It is a feint or stratagem of Boaz’s. And the poor fellow falls for it.

He very graciously agrees to enlarge his own land-holdings by helping out Elimelech’s poor widow. It is an easy decision since Naomi has no children and there is no danger he will ever have to return the land to her descendents. He can play the role of redeemer and profit handsomely from the exchange. It is easy to be generous in such a situation, especially since he knows that Boaz wants the land. But once he commits himself to the redemption, Boaz springs the trap. “By the way,” he says as an afterthought (kind of like Columbo the detective), “remember that if you take the land you also take responsibility for Ruth the Moabite.”

It is impossible to determine if Boaz is simply bluffing here and trying to convince the poor guy of something that was not true, but there is no evidence that a redeemer had to take responsibility for the widow of a dead relative. Boaz may have been trying to convince the village elders that the redeemer had a moral obligation to care for the woman who had taken care of their kinswoman Naomi. In any case, the news that Ruth was part of the land deal came as a complete shock to the redeemer.

It is still not clear to modern scholars why this was a deal-breaker for the redeemer. He says that it would damage his own inheritance if he took on Ruth as an obligation. The author of Ruth is too good a story teller to fill in all the details of ancient Israelite marriage and real estate law. The point he (or she) was trying to make was that Boaz was a wise and good man. He made sure that his only potential rival publicly repudiated his right to redeem Naomi’s property so he could assume the role of redeemer. As soon as his position as redeemer is assured, Boaz announces that he is acquiring all of the property of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, and he announces that he is taking Ruth the Moabite to be his wife. Her first son will be Mahlon’s.

Conclusion                        We could rush things and finish Ruth today, but I learned in Italy that a good meal should take time. So we’ll save the final course for next week. Before I sign off, though, let’s review the lessons we’ve learned from this section of Ruth. If Ruth is a model of feminine devotion, courage, and resilience, Boaz is the model of the wise man. We have seen that he was a good manager of his estates and profited as a result. He protected Ruth in the fields, and he provided plenty of food for Naomi without sacrificing her pride. Most of all, he recognized the true worth of Ruth. When she came to him in the night, he treated her with kindness and compassion, and he valued the gift she offered. Boaz used all of the resources at his disposal to shrewdly do the right thing in the right way. Men today can learn a lot from Boaz. Next week we’ll discuss the happy conclusion to this folk tale of faith. 

Moravian History Conference

Conference to Explain Moravian History and Culture
Thirty–four leading scholars to present at Moravian College in historic Bethlehem, Pa.

Bethlehem, Pa., October 1, 2008 —Leading scholars from around the world will convene at Moravian College’s Hurd Campus in historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on Friday October 10 for a two-day Biennial Conference on Moravian History and Culture. The conference will examine the history and culture of the Moravians (also known as Unitas Fratrum or Herrnhuters ) within their context. This biennial conference is sponsored by Moravian College, the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, and the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Pietism at the University of Halle, Germany.

Thirty-four leading scholars participating from North America, Nicaragua, South Africa, Denmark, United Kingdom, and Germany, will present papers on a wide range of topics encompassing the founding of the renewed Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Saxony, in 1722, the establishment of a transatlantic Moravian network and its preservation throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and more recent Moravian history in the 20th century. The specific themes for this conference are: Moravians and Native Americans; Rituals and Practices; The Historical Self-Concept of the Moravians; Encounters with Foreign Worlds; Transatlantic Networks; and The Origins of Subjectivity in Autobiography and Biography (Moravian Lebensläufe or Memoirs).

The Conference on Moravian History and Culture is a joint venture with the 8th Annual Moravian Music Conference, which starts a day earlier ( October 9 ) and runs parallel to the conference on Friday. For other related events, registration, and detailed programs, please visit the web site:http://home.moravian.edu/public/hist/conference/ .

The conference will begin with a welcome from Moravian College’s Dean Gordon Weil, followed by the opening session on Moravians and Native Americans at 9 a.m., chaired by Moravian’s Jamie Paxton, assistant professor of history. This discussion will feature presentations by professors Rowena McClinton from Southern Illinois University; Claudette Robertson from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater; Mark Everingham from Southwestern University and University of Wisconsin, Green Bay; and Edwin Taylor from the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. Following the presentations, Professor Jean Soderlund of Lehigh University will provide commentary.

A session titled “Rituals and Practices” will follow, led by Kelly Denton-Borhaug, assistant professor of religion at Moravian College. Professor Jared Burkholder of Grace College will present, followed by Professor Bettina Hessler of Northwestern University and Peter Vogt from Niesky, Germany. Moravian’s Heikki Lempa, associate professor of history will close the session with comments. Lunch and a lecture/recital by the Singers from the Old Economy Village will be held from 12:30 to 2: 30 p.m.

The last session of the day, “ The Historical Self-Concept of the Moravians,” chaired by Professor Bart Shaw of Cedar Crest College, will be held at 3 p.m. Lecturers include Professors Julie Tomberlin Weber from Winston-Salem; Keri Davies from Nottingham Trent University, UK; Craig D. Atwood of Wake Forest University; and Peter Yoder from the University of Iowa. Bucknell University’s Katherine Faull will offer closing comments. The program will conclude with a concert will be held at the Central Moravian Church at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, October 11 will begin at 9 a.m. with discussions on “Encounters with Foreign Worlds” chaired by Professor Thomas Cragin of Muhlenberg College. This will include presentations by professors Pia Schmid of the University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany; Helen Blouet from Syracuse University; Thomas Ruhland of the University of Potsdam, Germany; and Crystal Jannecke from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Professor Bethany Wiggin from the University of Pennsylvania will close with comments.

At 1:30 p.m. a session on “Transatlantic Networks” will chaired by Professor Michael Baylor from Lehigh University. Professors Alexander Schunka of the University of Stuttgart, Germany; Riddick Weber from Winston-Salem; and Jonathan Yonan from Eastern University will present, and Gregg Roeber of Pennsylvania State University will provide commentary.

The last lectures will be on “The Origins of Subjectivity in Autobiography and Biography,” chaired by Paul Peucker of the Moravian Archives. Presenters include professors Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger from Lafayette College, Holly M. Kent of Lehigh University, Andrew Burgess from the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque, and Anne Folke Henningsen of the University of Aarhus, Denmark. Professor Robert Beachy of Goucher College will offer closing comments.

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America’s sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at www.moravian.edu .