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Women Of The Bible: Lesson #11 – The Levite’s Concubine, Ruth and Naomi, Hannah

THE LEVITES CONCUBINE

Scripture reference:   Judges 19

Date:  About 1200 b.c.?

Main contribution:  She shows the depths to which a society that does not value women as persons can fall.

The story of the Levite’s concubine is found in the concluding chapters of Judges. These chapters, out of chronological order, show in three vivid pictures what can happen in a society that loses its spiritual and moral bearings.

Judges 18 tells the story of an Israelite who set up an idol and hired a Levite to serve as his family priest. The story reveals how pervasive the influence of pagan religions had become during this era, and how the knowledge of God and His ways had been corrupted. Judges 19 then tells a shocking story that illustrates the moral decline that followed.

The Levite’s concubine (a secondary wife) ran away and returned to her father’s house. The Levite went to get her and bring her home. On the journey the Levite refused to stop in a town inhabited by a Canaanite people, going on instead to Gibeah, a town populated by fellow Israelites.

But the men of that town gathered to gang rape the Levite. When they pounded on the door of the house where he was staying, the Levite pushed his concubine outside. The text says that “they raped and abused her throughout the night” (Judg. 19:25 niv). The next morning, when the Levite arose to continue his journey, he found her dead beside the door.

The Levite took the concubine’s body to his home, cut her body into sections, and sent them to the other tribes of Israel, calling them to assemble and punish the rapists.

The story is stunning in its portrait of moral depravity. The men of Gibeah were just like the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, intent on homosexual rape of strangers. But the outraged Levite was no better, for he readily turned over his concubine to be misused in his stead. His utter selfishness, lack of compassion, and unconcern for her seem beyond comprehension.

While the story horrifies us, it fills in blanks in the picture of a woman’s life during this era as no other story could. In Deborah we see the heights to which a woman might rise in a patriarchal society; in the story of the Levite’s concubine we see the depths to which a culture that fails to affirm the intrinsic value of every person can fall.

 

AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY

•     When people choose to have sex outside of marriage, they lose sight of the value God places on individuals. Ultimately they will see others as the Benjamites saw this poor woman they killed: as nothing more than an object to be used.

•     Our culture claims sexual sophistication. In fact it glorifies illicit sex. As a result we are becoming desensitized to the evils of sexual impurity. To object is not to reflect Victorian morality but to take a stand for the value and worth of every person. Sexual immorality is a type of slavery; people use others for their own gratification with no concern for consequences to others or to themselves.

 

RUTH AND NAOMI

Scripture references:  The Book of Ruth; Matthew 1:5

Date:  About 1100 b.c.?

Name:  Ruth [rooth: “friendship”]     Naomi [nay-OH-mee: “pleasantness”]

Main contribution: Ruth the Moabitess, influenced by her mother-in-law Naomi, married an Israelite and their son became the grandfather of David, in the line of Christ.

Ruth was a Moabitess who married an Israelite. Her husband’s family had left Judah during a famine and migrated to Moab. There all the men of the family died, leaving three women alone and helpless: Naomi, the mother-in-law, and Ruth and Orpah, her daughters-in-law. The women were helpless for a simple reason. Property was owned by men, not by women. With no men left in the family, the women lacked any means of support.

Only one course of action seemed open to Naomi. She would return to Judah and seek aid from her relatives. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ households, where they would be supported until they could remarry. Orpah followed Naomi’s advice, but Ruth insisted on staying with her mother-in-law. The loyalty and support she offered Naomi proved to be the turning point in her own life.

Ruth’s relationship with God began the way that most relationships with Him do. Ruth came to know and value someone who knew Him well. For Ruth, that person was Naomi.  Naomi spoke easily about God because He was real to her. We see this in the blessing she gave her two daughters-in-law after Naomi had decided to return toJudah: “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband” (Ruth 1:9). Naomi clearly loved her daughters-in-law and loved God. In loving she became the bridge over which Ruth passed to faith.

When Naomi urged the two young women to go home and find new husbands, Orpah turned back. However, Ruth refused to return home. She truly loved her mother-in-law and would not desert her. That love was expressed in a loyalty that surpassed all other ties. Rather than return to her father’s home, and stay in her own country, Ruth chose to accompany Namoi into an uncertain future in a strange land.

For Ruth, Judah was a strange land, with unfamiliar customs. But in Naomi Ruth had a mentor, and she wisely followed her advice. The two women had returned at harvest time. Old Testament Law provided that the poor and landless could gather food in fields owned by others. Naomi sent Ruth out to gather grain that the harvesters missed, a process called gleaning.  Gleaning was hard work, but for the poor each kernel of grain was precious. And Ruth “continued from morning” until late in the day gathering food for Naomi and herself.

Later, after Ruth’s modesty and virtue had won the admiration of one of Naomi’s relatives, Naomi explained to Ruth the law of the redeeming relative. When a man died childless a near relative could marry his widow. The first son produced by the couple would be given the name of the dead husband and inherit his estate. Hearing of the admiration of such a relative for Ruth, Naomi urged Ruth to approach the man and ask him to take on the redeeming relative’s responsibility.

Long before Boaz met Ruth or knew her by sight, he had heard good things about her.  In the small farming community it was impossible to keep secrets. Everyone knew that Naomi had come back from Moab and that she was accompanied by her daugher-in-law, Ruth. They knew of Ruth’s choice to commit herself to Naomi’s people and their God, and they had formed definite opinions about her character. When Boaz first met her he was able to say,

It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before (Ruth 2:11).

As a near relative, Boaz was qualified not only to marry Ruth but also to reclaim the lands of Naomi’s husband. So Naomi told Ruth how to approach Boaz.

During the harvest season workers often slept outside in the fields. Naomi told Ruth to go at night to the place where Boaz was sleeping and lie down at his feet. Some have taken this as an attempted seduction. However, the position Ruth took was symbolic and a request that Boaz take her under his protection as a wife. Boaz clearly understood the symbolism and promised to do as she requested, “for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11).

The marriage was blessed with a son, and that son became the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

While Ruth truly is a love story, it is far from those romantic novels that emphasize passion and physical attributes. Ruth’s and Boaz’s love grew out of their commitment to values far more significant than mere good looks.

RUTH AND NAOMI: EXAMPLES FOR TODAY

•     Naomi is a wonderful example of how to truly evangelize. She didn’t simply try to talk Ruth to faith; instead she also loved Ruth and lived a life that Ruth recognized was worth emulating. Ruth wanted the peace, character, and loving-kindness she saw displayed in her mother-in-law’s life.

•     Naomi is a glorious reminder of how God can make one of the least likely to be remembered into someone who will never be forgotten. When we feel insignificant we can remember how God used a starving widow to win a woman to faith who became an ancestress of Jesus Christ.

•     Ruth reminds us that character does count. Truly good men are more concerned about finding a godly spouse than a sexy one!

 

HANNAH

Scripture references:  1 Samuel 1-2

Date:  About 1125 b.c.

Name:  Hannah [HAN-nuh: “grace”]

Main contribution:  Hannah became the mother of Samuel, Israel’s last judge.

When Hannah lived, their more powerful neighbors, the Philistines, oppressed the Israelite tribes. Hannah was far more concerned with her own personal tragedy than with the political oppression. She was childless, and she yearned to give her husband a son. The pressure she felt was even greater because her husband’s other wife had borne him children, and she was quick to ridicule the childless Hannah.

The Bible takes up her story one year when the family came to the tabernacle at Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices. When night fell Hannah crept off to the tabernacle and “in bitterness of soul” prayed to the Lord for a son. As she prayed she vowed to dedicate the son God would give her to serve Him.

Hannah’s prayer was answered. She bore a son and named him Samuel. She cared for Samuel for three or four years until he was weaned. Then Hannah brought Samuel to the tabernacle and left him with the high priest, Eli, to serve God there. Hannah’s son Samuel was soon recognized as a prophet; later he became Israel’s last judge. Near the end of Samuel’s life he anointed first Saul, and then David, to become king of Israel.

Hannah’s husband Elkanah clearly loved Hannah very much, and showed her favoritism by giving her twice as much as his other wife. Hannah’s problem was that Elkanah was not enough. She was desperate to have a son. Elkanah likely did not understand the depths of his wife’s feelings, for he asked her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Even though he tried to be supportive, he did not understand and could not enter into her despair.

After Samuel’s birth, Hannah must have explained her vow. At this point, according to the Law, Elkanah could have voided her vow. Numbers 30:6–8 says:

If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself, and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the Lord will release her.

Hannah was blessed in her husband. He loved and supported her even though he could not understand her emotions. Elkanah may not have been the most understanding of men, but he was willing to give Hannah the freedom to follow her own heart—even though that freedom cost him a son.

Hannah’s relationship with God has often been misunderstood. The misunderstanding is derived from Hannah’s vow, in 1 Samuel 1:11:

O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.

Some have taken Hannah’s vow as bargaining with God, assuming that in her heart she was offering the Lord a quid pro quo. The form of her vow is similar to that of a person seeking to bargain. If you do X, I will do Y. But Hannah was not making a bargain, but a vow. Four times in the Old Testament a vow made to the Lord is identified with a freewill or voluntary offering (Lev. 7:16; 22:21; Num. 15:3; Deut. 12:17).

What had happened in Hannah’s heart was that she had come to the place where she was willing to give up to God the one thing that had become most important to her in life: a son. Hannah’s prayer was not an act of bargaining, but an act of surrender. In giving up to God the thing that was most precious to her, Hannah found inner peace.

As we read Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 we discover that, far from being heartbroken at Samuel’s surrender, Hannah was filled with joy. She said, “My heart rejoices in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1), and throughout her prayer of praise Hannah exalted God and all His works. In surrendering her heart’s desire to God, Hannah found her heart filled, not emptied!

In surrendering our heart’s desire to God, we discover joy; in truth only God can satisfy our deepest needs.

Hannah’s life portrays how setting our hearts on something we do not have can rob us of appreciation for the gifts God has given us. It was only when Hannah surrendered the object of her desire to God that she found release from her anguish and discovered peace.