Square Your Priority!

Square Your Priority!

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there (Ruth 1:1-2, NIV).

The world is filled with too many ideas and too much information, too many and too much to crowd and confuse our Christian values. Sometimes, what the Bible teaches us about Christian principles are so intricately related to the ideas of the world that it requires our careful attention and examination to untangle them. For an example, on the one hand, the Bible instructs us that God loves us and desires the best for us. On the other hand, the wordily scheme twists the truth by declaring that God wants us to be “happy” and that He is happy when we are happy, so that we must try to be happy by any means. Contemporary Christians often think that we all figured out the biblical values. Let’s not fool ourselves! We can fall into those traps anytime when we do not consistently maintain and refine our thoughts through the Word of God.

Although the Scriptures do not edify us all specific details of life, it contains the divine truths that God wants his children to use to shape and govern every part of our minds. Here, God has given us the Book of Ruth, a short narrative woven into only four chapters, which deals with our everyday-norms and ups and downs that all human beings can be connected with such as poverty, hunger, loss of loved ones, shame, failure, helplessness, humiliation, relationship with in-laws, blessing, second chance, and even success and divine redemption. In this post, reflecting on the history and cultural background of the Book of Ruth, we can observe that the way Israelites disobeyed and pursued the value of the world is not so different from the way we contemporary people justify ourselves: pursuing the righteousness of God is our priority.

Let’s focus on the spiritual and cultural climate of the time of the judges, the period where the narrative of Naomi and Ruth was occurring (Ruth1:1). During the days of the judges, Israelites governed themselves without the divine justice and the Mosaic covenant and law. Twice in the Book of Judges, the author explains the spiritual and moral turmoil of Israel: “every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6, NAS); everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25, NAS). The author interprets doing what is right in sinner’s eyes as doing evil in the sight of the LORD (Judg. 2:11; 3:12). Quick reminder, after God redeemed Israel from Egyptian reign, they crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan River, conquered the land of Canaan, and lived in the promised land which was supposed to be filled with honey and milk. After the spiritual leaders like Moses and Joshua passed away, without conquering all the regions of the Canaan as God commanded them, the people of Israel turned away from the Redeemer and forsook the law of the LORD. In return, God sent enemies to Israel so that they may repent and turn their wicked ways. When they repented and called out to God, He raised judges like Deborah and Gideon to defeat the enemy. Instead of the covenant at Sinai, the evil and wicked thoughts of individuals were their own law and justice and instead of the fidelity to God, they were faithful to fulfilling their own sinful natures. Everyone was a judge according to his or her own standard.

Influenced by the pattern of the lifestyle of the period, we find that Elimeleck and Naomi made a decision to leave the place where the divine promise dwelled, the spiritual house, Bethlehem. Elimeleck, which means my God is a king, felt short of living according to his awesome name and fled to Moab; his people stayed in Bethlehem and suffered the famine (Ruth 1:1-2). The family somehow was able to maneuver to relocate to the other region; perhaps they had more financial resource than their fellow Israelites had; perhaps, they just had enough for their own family. They needed a place to circumvent the crisis, some sort of a refugee and a hiding place, and the God of Israel was not their first choice, not “the plan A.” How many of us have made God as a back-up plan, calling out to him “after” we tried everything we could, “after” our doctors told us that there is no cure, and “after” we used our own wisdom and money to solve our problems?

Before going any further, this is a good time to examine few things about Moab and the significance of the Elimelech’s family choosing the foreign land. Moabites were the descendants of Lot of whom his daughters bore by sleeping with their father to maintain the family linage. Unfortunately, Moabites and Israelites became enemies. Before Joshua’s conquering the land of Moab, there was the famous incident of the king of Moab urging Balaam, the prophet, to curse Israel and that of succeeding in using prostitutes to entice Israelites to sin against the Holy God of Israel. In Deuteronomy 23:3-4, God declared that Israelite should not an Ammonite or Moabite to be part of the Israel’s marriage. When Israelites entered the promised-land, commanded by God through Joshua, they invaded the Moabite territories. And the Moabites remembered the infliction. One historical record shows that a Moabite king invaded Israel and boasted of the massacre of entire Israelites towns. To the very land that God prohibited Israelites to enter and mingle with, Elimeleck and his wife Naomi with their sons chose as their shelter.

The Holy Spirit consistently asks us how far we are willing to go for pursuing what is right in our own eyes and what is right in His eyes. There was a boundary that they should not have crossed, but Elimeleck and Naomi crossed the line for the sake of their own happiness, permitting and allowing anything for their own happiness that seemed right according their own eyes. The matter is not simply the fact that they moved to a different city and country. No, to chase their own wellbeing, they abandoned the source of divine blessing, the righteousness of God and the content of their faith such as the tradition of the Israel community, the history of the divine redemption, and the covenant of grace.

Contemporary Christians often make the same mistake. Sure, we may not face a severe famine or even the direct attacks from our enemies, but we are in battle between the principle of the world and the value of the Bible, more specifically pursuing happiness and pursuing the righteousness. Let’s admit this: we are obsessed with the idea of wellbeing. That is why the Prosperity Gospel, which teaches that if you just believe enough you can receive everything from God, so flourishes in Christian communities and medias. As such, we are naturally drawn to the Prosperity Gospel. Yes, I do not want to suffer, and being happy is better than to be miserable and painful. But, we lost the value of doing the right thing in this society. We used to do the right thing because doing the right thing had worth, but nowadays, if there is no direct benefit in doing the right thing, it has no worth.

The world screams that selves are the agents of justification and the judges who must discern the righteousness, not God. Slowly, the purpose of our lives are transforming into fulfilling our own happiness, and our happiness became the law and standard that we employee to judge what is right and wrong. If doing “A” makes me content, that is the accurate move. Without re-setting our priority, we will also commit the same mistake that Elimeleck and Naomi made and even violate the boundary that they should have never crossed. There are things that we can never abandon, i.e., our Christian principle of righteousness which is recorded in the Bible and which is often against our contemporary culture. Even though the world may criticize us as bigots, narrow minds, and even exclusivists, we must hold on to the biblical truths, because they are the inspired, revealed, and chosen Words of God transmitted into human language through the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

The world says that “do all things, if they make you happy,” but God commands us “do right things, even if they make you unhappy.” It is easy to do whatever makes you happy; doing the right thing is not always fun. If it were so easy, Israelites would have done it perfectly, and Jesus Christ the Son of God would not have to die for our sins. However, even though God knew that pursuing the uprightness is difficult and almost impossible for human beings tainted by sin, he still commanded the Israel community: “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors” (Deut. 6:18, NIV). And, I must comment that we cannot always do the right things, so that we should not always feel guilt and shame; however, walking on the path of righteousness is always more important than walking on the prosperous life. This is so because Christians do not pursue blessing, but the source of the blessing; Christians do not believe in freedom without boundary, but freedom in the boundary of the righteousness of God; Christians do not live to gather happiness of the world, but believes in the eternal bliss of the heaven. Then, it may not be our happiness that examines our relationship with God, but the hardship of our participation is pursuing the right things. Of course, God does not want us to be miserable, but reminds of us to square our priorities.

ReflectionJ.D. Kim