Friday, May 29
Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32). Israel has now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and has already received, as we saw earlier, its marching orders (33:1). They are nearly ready to depart.
Everything is to be anointed with consecratory oil (verses 9-15). The Christian will read these verses in the awareness that the tabernacle itself is a prefiguration of Christ, the Anointed One. The Son of God, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, is the permanent presence of God to humanity.
The glory of the divine presence descends into the tabernacle (verses 34-38). This glorious cloud, associated with both the passage through the Red Sea and the giving of the Law on Sinai, is now a feature of God’s ongoing presence with His people. Both events become permanent and “institutionalized” in the Mosaic tabernacle. The divine overshadowing will in due course be transferred to the Solomonic temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11), as well as the second temple (Haggai 2:6-9).
All of these manifestations of the divine presence, as well as the rabbinical speculations regarding the cloud (shekinah), are properly taken as prophetic of the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal and consubstantial Word definitively “pitched His tent (eskenosen) among us” (John 1:14). Thus, all of the earlier overshadowings are but prefigurations of that by which the Holy Spirit effects the mystery of the Incarnation in the Woman who served as the tabernacle of God’s presence in this world; cf. Luke 1:35.
Saturday, May 30
The Book of Ruth: Following the Pentecostal theme of the "first fruits," this week we will be reading the Book of Ruth, the title character of which was a Gentile who came to worship Israel's God. Ruth was thus a kind of "first installment" of the Church's mission to the Gentiles.
In our English bibles, the Book of Ruth falls between Judges and Samuel, the order one also finds in the ancient Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) versions. This arrangement doubtless derives from a desire to read the whole biblical narrative in sequence, for the events in Ruth did occur during the period of the Judges and prior to the establishing of the monarchy.
In the traditional Hebrew text, however, the Book of Ruth is located in a completely different part of the Bible. Whereas the books of Judges and Samuel are found among the "earlier prophets," one finds Ruth, in the third and last part of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Ketubim or "writings," stuck between the Song of Solomon and the Book of Lamentations. Within this latter category, Ruth is also part of a little collection of the five meghilloth or "rolls" traditionally read in the synagogue for specific feast days. This usage assigns Ruth to the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a custom that explains why the Daily Devotional Guide appoints Ruth to be read during this week of the Christian Pentecost.
Pentecost Sunday, May 31
Ruth 2: Generally speaking, the Moabites seem not to have been among the Bible’s favorite folks. When Zephaniah predicted, “Moab shall be like Sodom” (Zephaniah 2:9), the news hardly came as a shock. Pronouncements such as “I will send a fire upon Moab” and “Moab shall die with tumult” (Amos 2:2) pretty much sum up the prevailing biblical sentiment on Ruth’s fellow countrymen. Moses had, in fact, made that sentiment a national policy: “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever”
(Deuteronomy 23:3). Such was the un-nuanced “official line” of the Old Testament on the subject of the Moabites.
Such was the context in which the young Moabite widow Ruth said to her widowed Israelite mother-in-law Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; / And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; / Your people shall be my people, / And your God, my God. / Where you die, I will die, / And there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16–17). Ruth was biting off a great deal by accompanying Naomi back to Bethlehem. Indeed, her faith is properly likened to that of Abraham, who also left his family and his father’s house in order to follow God’s summons to a strange land.
Monday, June 1
Ruth 3: Boaz lived in Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” and made his very substantial living by growing barley and wheat. Indeed, the story’s emphasis on Boaz’s abundant grain harvests stands in stark contrast to the famine or “hunger,” ra‘av, with which the Book of Ruth begins.
Maintaining a residence in the town, Boaz went out daily to oversee the workers in his fields. He also labored with them and was known sometimes to sleep out on the threshing floors during the winnowing days.
The Bible describes Boaz as a kind and godly man, and both traits were picked up by his field laborers. “The Lord be with you,” he greeted them each morning, to which they responded, “The Lord bless you!”
(2:4). Blessing, indeed, rose easily to the lips of Boaz (2:12; 3:10). He likewise took good care of his workers, making certain that they had water to drink under the hot sun (2:9) and seasoned food when they broke for the midday meal (2:14).
Himself a kind and godly man, it is not surprising that Boaz appreciated kindness and godliness in others, and such were exactly the traits that he admired in Ruth, the woman who had accompanied the unfortunate Naomi back from her recent, sad sojourn in Moab. Arriving at work one morning, Boaz found the young Moabite woman gleaning the fallen heads of grain dropped by his reapers, a privilege that the Mosaic Law reserved for the poor. Boaz treated Ruth with his accustomed kindness, further enhanced by knowing of her own kindness to Naomi. He encouraged Ruth to remain in his own fields, instead of wandering elsewhere (2:21–22), and instructed his reapers to leave extra grain lying in her path to be gleaned (2:16). In short, he “took notice” of her (2:19).
We do not know at what point Boaz’s admiration for Ruth assumed an amorous tone, but it did so before the summer was over. Aware of being a kinsman to her deceased husband, Boaz was alert to the possibility of marrying Ruth by levirate law. Indeed, he must have researched the question, because he learned that there was another male relative, whose claims in the matter were stronger than his own. Because Boaz was older than Ruth (3:10), perhaps he felt embarrassed to present himself as a possible husband.
Then, one night as he slept on the grain at the threshing floor, the suddenly chilled Boaz was awakened to find the perfumed presence of a woman lying at his feet. It was Ruth, asking him to marry her (3:9). He needed no further coaxing. As the two of them lay there the rest of that night, Boaz devised a plan to advance his claim over his possible rival.
After discreetly sending Ruth home in the final hour before daylight, Boaz arranged a meeting at which he employed a clever stratagem that outwitted his rival (4:1–10). Thus, Boaz became the husband of Ruth, at the end of one of the very few truly romantic stories in the Bible.
Tuesday, June 2
Ruth 4: When she came back from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi was a broken soul. Nor is it hard to see why. In just the first five verses of the Book of Ruth, she had swallowed a series of bitter cups in abrupt succession: famine, exile, and then the deaths of her husband and two sons.
Indeed, the names conferred on those two boys at their birth suggest that the infants were weak, ailing, and not destined to enjoy the proverbial length of days; Mahlon means “sick
ly” and Chilion “wasting away,” so it likely surprised no one when each young man died shortly after his marriage. Naomi, then, bereaved and beaten, returned to Bethlehem lamenting, “Do not call me Naomi [“my joy”]; call me Mara [“bitter”], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty” (Ruth 1:20–21). On this sad note ends the first chapter of Ruth.
This tone of sadness will change rather quickly, nonetheless, and the rest of that book may be described as Naomi’s transformation. As the second chapter begins, it is Ruth, not Naomi, who takes the initiative to go out and make them a living (2:2). Taking advantage of an ancient rule permitting the poor to glean in fields already harvested (Leviticus 19:9–10), Ruth comes into contact with Boaz, described as “a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth” (2:1). Treating her kindly (2:8, 12, 14), Boaz encourages Ruth to remain in his own fields and instructs his laborers to leave extra grain for her to find (2:15–16).
Thus, when Ruth returns home that evening, she brings her mother-in-law a great deal more grain than a gleaner normally would (2:17). Suspicious, the inquiring Naomi learns where her daughter-in-law was gleaning that day and that the hand of Boaz has been at work in the matter.
At this point we discern the first trace of Naomi’s coming transformation. When she instructs Ruth not to leave the fields of Boaz, the admonition need not, on its surface, indicate anything more than an appreciation of the better gleaning available in Boaz’s fields. Naomi has something more in mind, however, and her first remark—“This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives” (2:20)—betrays her deeper intention. She immediately realizes that Ruth, following the customs of the time, has a particular social claim on her dead husband’s next of kin. Namely, a levirate marriage, by which Boaz would raise up children to Ruth’s deceased husband. This is the message quietly contained in Naomi’s remark that the Lord “has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead” (2:20). The “dead” here refers to Ruth’s husband.
This is no more than hinted at, and perhaps Ruth herself does not yet grasp the significance of the words, but Naomi understands the situation very well, and her instruction to Ruth is a first step in her emerging plan. The deeply depressed woman of the story’s beginning is now recovering an energetic initiative and sense of life.
Following the older woman’s counsel, Ruth remains “close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest” (2:23), but nothing happens to advance Naomi’s plan. Deciding that more drastic measures are indicated, she then gives
Ruth detailed instructions how to press the point with Boaz by more explicitly stirring up his interest (3:1–4). When Ruth follows these instructions (3:6–9), we discover that Boaz’s own thoughts about Ruth have already been running along romantic lines (3:10–11). Indeed, he
has even researched the situation, for he knows that he is not actually the next of kin (3:12) and that the matter will require further adjudication (3:13).
Boaz is well aware that Naomi’s is the guiding hand behind this whole business. When he sends Ruth home, therefore, he gives her as much barley as she could glean in six days, telling her: “Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law” (3:17). It is a line of great irony.
Naomi, for her part, is confident that Boaz will see the thing through. She assures Ruth that “the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day” (3:18).
And Boaz does, of course. Thus, the story that began with famine, exile, death, and bereavement closes with a harvest, a marriage, and the birth of a child. Naomi’s transformation is complete. The book’s final scene presents what is arguably the finest picture known to man: a grandmother dandling a new grandchild in her lap.
Wednesday, June 3
Leviticus 1: Because the English noun “sacrifice” is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.
For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from its common English translation (the King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burnt, the expression does not tell us very much.
The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning “ascending.” This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English “holocaust.” Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust—the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus—was the most complete form of sacrifice.
The six steps involved in such a sacrifice are described in verses 3-9, which treat of a bovine sacrifice. Nearly identical steps were followed for the holocaust of sheep (verses 1-13) and birds (verses 14-17).
It is clear that a holocaust always involves the sacrifice of a living animal, not a grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.
Thursday, June 4
Leviticus 2: The sacrifice treated in this chapter is the minhah, or grain offering. In this sacrifice, only part of the grain was burned, the remainder being reserved for the household of the priest (verse 2). In addition, the grain could be baked into bread (verses 4-13).
In these latter cases it was important not to use yeast in the baking process, probably because yeast produces fermentation, which was considered a form of corruption. There was the perceived need to remove all suggestion of corruption from the sacrifice offered to God. Salt, on the other hand, because it is a preservative, was a normal part of this form of sacrifice. Indeed, this aspect of salt rendered it an excellent symbol of the permanence and incorruptibility of God’s covenant with Israel. It was, in truth, a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19). Holy Scripture contains a number of references to this symbolic value of salt (cf. Ezekiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).
Friday, June 5
Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the “peace offering” is in the Hebrew text known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of it are eaten by the priests who offer it and those individuals for whom it is offered.
The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire.
Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).
For reasons that are not clear, the fat of these sacrifices could not be eaten, though there are no proscriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.