Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale

stone-mountain-north-carolinaYou may have seen this photo before on my page. I’ve used it on other posts, and it keep coming back to it because it’s one of my favorites. But to be honest, when I saw that this week’s photo challenge was scale, this was the first photo that came to mind. The children look tiny by comparison to the mountain to which they are headed.

It also reminds me of the greatness of God.

Isaiah 40:12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

This, of course, is a rhetorical question. Our God is a great big God. Consider the size of that mountain. He made the mountain! Consider the size of the universe. He made the universe! He made everything that exists, and He holds it all in the palm of His hand. The only reason the theory of evolution exists at all is because man does not want to accept the existence of God, for then he must accept the fact that one day he will answer to God and give an account for his actions. But God most definitely does exist, and we most definitely will give an account to Him one day. He is to be feared, yes, but this is a reverential fear, not the fear of someone who cares nothing for your well-being. God created everything, He keeps it all working, and He protects each part—each person—even you and me. Why? Because He cares. When you have made something by hand, you take special pride in it too, don’t you? God made us in His image, and He is like that too. He created us. We are hand-made, each and every one of us, and He cares for us. That is why we all can say with the psalmist…

Psalm 18:2 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

Wow! Did you get all that? With God protecting us, what do we need to fear? Over and over again throughout the Bible we are told that the Lord is our rock. He can be trusted. Men will fail us, but God can never fail.

 

 2 Samuel 22:31 As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: He is a buckler to all them that trust in Him.

A buckler was a form of shield that covered the entire body. So in other words, God will protect you completely, in every area of your life. Nothing can get past His perfect will for you.

Psalm 62:8 Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

The longer I serve God, the more I learn that I can trust Him at all times for all things. I have failed Him many times, but He has never failed me once, and He never will.

 

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Naomi ~ Pleasant Amid Unpleasant Circumstances

Ruth's Journey 02

From Bethlehem to Moab

Everything we know from the Bible about Naomi is recorded in the book of Ruth.

Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. —Ruth 1:1-5

Here we are introduced to Naomi and her family, and also the setting in which they lived.

There is great significance to the names in this narrative.

  • Bethlehem = House of bread
  • Judah = the praise of the Lord
  • Ephrath = fruitfulness
  • Moab = God’s washpot
  • Elimelech = my God is king
  • Naomi = pleasant
  • Mahlon = sickly, puny
  • Chilion = pining, failing
  • Orpah = stiff-necked
  • Ruth = friend

So here is the picture of Naomi. At the beginning of the narrative, she is a very pleasant woman, married to a man who loves God. They belong to the tribe of fruitfulness and live in the House of Bread, in the land where the name of the Lord is praised. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Like a Hallmark moment. Two sons are born to them, Puny and Piny. Both the boys have serious health issues, but they are alive, and Naomi is thrilled to be their mother.

A terrible famine comes to the House of Bread, and Naomi’s wonderful husband falters in his faith. Afraid to trust God in the famine, he moves his family down to God’s Washpot. It may seem completely insane to leave the House of Bread, even in a time of famine, but God has a plan, and God’s plan rarely makes sense except in hindsight.

The Scripture does not tell us how much time goes by; it only says they “continued there.” That means they find a house and settle in. They are not just there for the season; they are there to stay. But Elimelech dies, and pleasant Naomi is left a widow with two sons in a strange land. Her sons take wives of the women of Moab. Piny marries a strong-willed athletic girl named Orpah, and Puny marries a friendly young lady named Ruth. What do these girls see in these men? Who knows. All I know is that, again, God’s plan rarely makes sense except in hindsight. 

Ten more years go by, and yet no grandchildren are born. At last Puny and Piny also die, and Naomi decides to return home. Both her daughters-in-law agree to go with her, and they all start off together. But before they go too far, Naomi stops and tells the girls to go back home to their mothers so that they can find hew husbands among their own people, for they are still young yet. In Bethlehem they would always be looked upon as outsiders. Not only that, but to go to the land of Judea meant to worship the true and living God, forsaking the idols of their family. Both the young women cry at the thought of having to leave Naomi, but Orpah finally kisses her mother-in-law goodbye and returns home to her family. She has lived with Naomi for 10 years, but evidently she has never accepted Naomi’s God as her God. She stubbornly returns to a life of idolatry, and we never hear about her again.

Friendly Ruth, however, has a softer, more tender heart. I won’t go into detail here about her response, because I want to talk about Ruth in more detail next week. But for now, I’ll just say that she clings to her mother-in-law, vowing to go with her all the way to Bethlehem, care for her, and stay with her for the rest of her life.

The two women travel around the north end of the Dead Sea, crossing two rivers and traversing mountainous terrain to move from Moab to Bethlehem. Today, it is nothing for us to get in the car and drive 50 miles. We could reach our destination in an hour or so. But traveling on foot, it would have taken Ruth and Naomi 7-10 days to walk this distance.

Ruth's Journey 01
This is now Naomi’s second time around the Dead Sea. A decade or more before, she had traveled to Moab with her husband and sons. Now she is returning, older, bereft of her family, and accompanied only by a foreign girl who—albeit kind, is still a foreigner. This is not the pleasant Naomi who had left Bethlehem all those years before. The end of chapter 1 tells the story:

So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was stirred because of them, and they said, “Is this Naomi?” And she said unto them, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty: why then call you me Naomi, seeing the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. —Ruth 1:19-22

So Naomi asks for a name change. She has been through a good many hardships in her lifetime, and the pleasantness is clean gone out of her, leaving bitterness in its wake. You will notice that the people never do call her Mara (meaning “bitter”), and she quickly puts an end to her pity party and learns to be happy and pleasant again.

Once more I’m going to save a good part of the story for next week, but I will skip to the end, where Naomi finally has the joy of holding her one and only grandson, Obed. My, he is her pride and joy! Does Naomi have any idea the significance of this little grandbaby she holds in her arms? This boy will grow up to be the grandfather of David the king, and further down the line our Lord Jesus will be born. That is what makes this book such a beautiful picture of redemption! But I’m getting ahead of myself, for today I wish to focus on Naomi.

Conclusion:

Naomi loved her husband enough to follow him to a foreign land, seemingly away from God’s perfect place for them. She loved her sons, although they were not the perfectly healthy children that all mothers hope for. She loved her daughters-in-law enough to give them a choice about whether or not they would return to Bethlehem with her. And she loved God enough to serve Him openly and unashamedly in a foreign land. This is evident because Ruth had learned enough about God to want to serve Him too. While Naomi did let the trials get her down, she didn’t stay that way for long. Ultimately Naomi trusted God. She knew He had a plan for her life that was far bigger than anything she could imagine, and she knew God would provide for her. What a wonderful example she is of the joy of the Lord. No matter how deep the valley, God’s love runs deeper still. And joy is more powerful than despair.

We are not perfect. Like Naomi, I sometimes lose sight of God’s face, and I get discouraged. But like Naomi, I don’t stay there. God will restore joy and peace to those who will trust Him. And remember: God’s plan rarely makes sense except in hindsight.

Next week: Ruth

Photo courtesy of Living Passages
Map courtesy of The Bible Journey

‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

duck-taking-flightby Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Refrain:
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
And in simple faith to plunge me
‘Neath the healing, cleansing flood!

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

 

 

Louisa M. R. Stead (c. 1850-1917) was born in Dover England, and was converted at the age of nine. She came to the United States in 1871 and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, she attended a camp meeting in Urbana, Ohio, where she dedicated her life to missionary service, although poor health prevented her from being able to fulfill her commitment.

Louisa was married in 1875, and a daughter, Lily, was born to them. When their daughter was four years old, they went on a family outing to the beach. While eating their picnic lunch, they heard cries for help coming from the water. Louisa’s husband stood up and saw a boy struggling in the waves. He immediately went in to rescue the lad, but in his panic, the boy pulled his rescuer under water, and they both drowned while Louisa and her little girl looked on in horror. The words to “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” came in response to her struggle with this tragedy.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Louisa and Lily left for Cape Colony, South Africa, where Louisa worked as a missionary for fifteen years. She married Robert Wodehouse, a native of South Africa. The family was forced to return to the United States in 1895 due to her health. Wodehouse pastored a Methodist congregation during these years until, in 1900, they returned to the mission field, this time to the Methodist mission station at Umtali, Southern Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe).

Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck records a message sent back to the United States shortly after her arrival in Southern Rhodesia:

“In connection with the whole mission there are glorious possibilities, but one cannot, in the face of the peculiar difficulties, help but say, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ But with simple confidence and trust we may and do say, ‘Our sufficiency is of God.’”

Lily married a young man in Africa and continued her missionary work in South Rhodesia for many years. Louisa retired in 1911 because of ill health, though she remained in Africa. She passed away in 1917 at her home in Penkridge near the Mutambara Mission, fifty miles from Umtali. Following her death, it was recorded that Christians in South Rhodesia continued to sing her hymn in the local Shona language.

 

Information for this article came from Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.