If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.
Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.
A Promise To Come Back
The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).
In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).
Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.
When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more →
Today’s post is a bit different than usual. During my Tuesday morning Bible study, my cat looked so comfortable snuggled up on my lap that I spent some extra time meditating on the Word. I’d been in Genesis writing about our Creator, and a thought popped into my head. I want to share this idea with you today and ask for feedback. Please comment! Diving deeper into God’s mysteries shouldn’t be done in a void — I believe God wants us to grow together and “sharpen” each other (and also to call each other out if we notice someone studying something that’s not in line with scripture).
Okay, so we know that God has had a plan in mind since before creation and that plan involves building a family (Eph.1:3-6). We also know that the church is described as the bride of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:6-9) and we’re told that human marriage is a “great mystery” that points to the relationships between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33).
What if God began revealing these aspects of His plan from the very beginning in the way He chose to create man and woman? or, to put it another way, what if the way God created man and woman teaches us that He didn’t want to be alone and that He’s fashioning a helper comparable to Him? Read more →
I love weddings. Smiling faces, happy tears, white dress, flowers, everywhere, dancing, true love … *sigh*. But even the best wedding I can imagine won’t be as wonderful as the heavenly wedding after Jesus Christ returns to claim His bride.
We’re fast approaching the fall holy day season. Yom Teruah/Feast of Trumpets is on Monday, September 14. It’s the day that pictures Christ’s triumphal return, which closely connects it with His marriage.
Building A House
In the marriage customs of Christ’s day, at least among the Jews, there were strong parallels with God’s plan. After a betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom went away to build a house. In the mean time, the bride got ready and watched carefully because she wasn’t sure when he’d show up again. The timing depended on the bridegroom’s father saying the house was complete and the bride’s father agreeing that the bride-price had been properly paid.
Jesus told His disciples He didn’t know when He was coming back — that was something only the Father could decide (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32). He did, however, tell us what He’d be doing in the mean time.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Jn. 14:1-3)
Christ’s house-building functions on two levels. One is mentioned here – His preparation of a dwelling place for us in His Father’s heavenly realm. Another involves us more directly.
For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Heb. 3:4-6)
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)
We are built on and in Jesus, by Jesus, so we can be fit dwellings for God. While He is preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to dwell with and be indwelt by Him and His Father. Still, He isn’t the only one working on getting the Bride ready.
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)
This verse describing the bride as “ready” is in the future. Since that’s the case, the Bride today should have started preparations if she wants to be ready by the time this marriage takes place. Yet how can we possibly prepare to marry Jesus? How can we hope to be a suitable helper for Him? Well, we couldn’t if all this preparation was done on our own.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We have to work on ourselves, but that’s all made possible because God is working in us. Since He’s already adopted us into His family, He fills the Father-of-the-Bride role as well as being the Bridegroom’s Father.
Paul wrote to Timothy that if we purge ourselves form ungodliness and iniquity, then we’ll be “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). That’s what we want to become — purified for use in the temple and prepared to do good works.
Claiming The Bride
The time between formal betrothal and when both fathers gave the go-ahead for the groom’s return could stretch into years. Like some of those ancient brides, the church has waited a long time for her groom to come back. We know He’s coming, and we’re working on getting ready, but are we waiting eagerly for Him? Do we anticipate His arrival?
But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ (Matt. 25:5-6)
Now we get to the part involving trumpet blasts — they signaled the bridegroom’s return in an unmistakable sign that he was close at hand. It’s enough to wake you up, but doesn’t give you enough time for panicked last-minute preparation. If you aren’t ready when the trumpet sounds, you miss His arrival.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)
Once He’s here, we’re out of time. Either we’re ready to go with Jesus into the wedding feast, or we’re left outside like the five foolish virgins (Matt. 25:11-13).
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1Thes. 4:16-17)
This is what Yom Teruah — the Feast of shouting and trumpet-sounding — pictures. It’s a yearly reminder for the Bride of Messiah to get ready. Your Bridegroom is coming! Do you hear the trumpet?
Before getting to today’s topic, I just wanted to mention how much I’ve enjoyed doing an actual count-down this year instead of just putting Pentecost on the calendar. It’s helped me focus my Bible study and kept me in mind of the timing for God’s calender rather than feeling like Pentecost sneaked up on me. Today is the 7th Sabbath in our count, which means Pentecost is tomorrow!
And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. (Lev. 23:15-16)
Though this is one of the easiest Holy Days to see evidence of in the New Testament (largely due to the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts), I think we’ll spend most of our time today in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Ruth.
Lawns of Gleaning
Pentecost, also called the Feast of the Firstfruits/Harvest/Ingathering, is a harvest-time festival. The count to this day begins with a wave-sheaf “of the firstfruits of your harvest,” and the offerings on the day of Pentecost include “two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah” of “fine flour” “baked with leaven” that are described as “the firstfruits to the Lord” (Lev. 23:10, 17). After a lengthy passage of instructions for Pentecost, there is a verse that does not quite seem to fit.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 23:22)
This is a repetition of a command also recorded in Leviticus 19:9-10, a command so important to God that He not only gave it twice, but He put one of those commands in the passage describing His most Holy Days. We can get some idea of how this practice works, and perhaps why it is so important, by looking at the book of Ruth.
There’s a note in my study Bible that says, “by New Testament times” the book of Ruth was being “read at the Feast of Harvest (Pentecost) because much of the story is set in the harvest fields.” It was one of five books “read publicly at the Feasts of Israel.”
I dare say we all know the story. Naomi and her family moved to Moab during a famine in Israel. There, her two sons married. About 10 years later, Naomi’s husband and sons were dead and she returned home to Israel accompanied by her daughter in law, Ruth. We jump into the story as Ruth and Naomi arrive in “Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22).
So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:2-3)
As we read further, we see Boaz went above and beyond what God’s law strictly required a landowner to leave for the poor. He offers Ruth protection and water, and asks her not to glean in any other field where he could not guarantee her safety (Ruth 2:8-9). Behind-the-scenes, he told his reapers to let grain fall for her on purpose and not to stop her if she wanted to glean even among the sheaves of grain (Ruth 2:15-16).
There is much of Christ’s character visible in how Boaz treats Ruth when she first arrives in his field. Like Boaz did for Ruth, Jesus offers us His personal protection. He asks us not to stray from His laws because they are designed to keep us safe from the consequences of sin. He says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). Our response to this unearned favor ought to be much the same as Ruth’s.
So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
This is much the same question David asked God in Psalms 8:4 and 144:3 — “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Every human is small and insignificant compared to God, and those of us who God has chosen for His particular attention are unimportant even by human standards.
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)
God is gleaning His firstfruits from the world’s rejects. He is taking people who are nothing and turning us into something glorious. He is taking strangers — like the Moabite Ruth — and adopting them into His family through Christ’s sacrifice.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. …Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:13, 19)
The adoption process by which we become God’s children is, as we discussed last week, linked inseprably to Christ’s redeeming work (Eph. 1:5-7; Rom. 8:23; Gal. 4:3-7). There is a parallel for this as well in the story of Ruth, in the role Boaz plays as a kinsman redeemer.
And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” (Ruth 2:19-20)
My study Bible says this last phrase could be translated “one that hath right to redeem.” We find the basis for the practice of a kinsman redeeming land in Leviticus 25: 25, 48-49. To prevent an inheritance from leaving the family, someone who was closely related, financially able, and willing to fill this role could redeem land that was sold. In some cases, as here in Ruth, when the man who the land originally belonged to had left a childless widow, the redeemer was expected to marry her per the command in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
We see all this played out in Ruth 4:4-10 where Boaz must offer a more closely related kinsman the opportunity to redeem Naomi’s family’s land and marry Ruth. This man refuses (which, being the hopeless romantic I am, I suspect was Boaz’s plan all along).
Stepping back a chapter and looking at Ruth’s request that Boaz play the part of a redeemer, we read about a practice that seems rather unusual. Since Naomi counsels this action and Boaz knew how to respond, I assume Ruth asking him to be her family’s redeemer (perhaps even this method of asking) was not considered unusual in their culture. Per Naomi’s instructions, Ruth lies down at Boaz’s feet when he is asleep and waits for him to notice her.
And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” (Ruth 3:9)
Looking at the Hebrew for “wing”, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary for the Old Testament says “the idiom to spread (one’s) wings over means to take to wife.” This same word is used in Ruth 2:12 when Boaz tells Ruth, “The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Ruth is asking Boaz for a type of protection that mirrors the relationship between God and Israel. The comparison is drawn even more strongly reading God’s words to Israel in Ezekiel 16.
“When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God. (Ezk. 16:8)
In the same way, we who are part of the church have been “betrothed you to one husband” — Jesus Christ — and will be married “to Him who was raised from the dead” after He died in order to redeem us (2 Cor. 11:2; Rom. 7:4).
Taken together, the book of Ruth and the Feast of Pentecost teach us about the glorious unmerited favor that God pours out on us. We were strangers like Ruth and were not only invited to partake in what God provides, but cared for deeply and betrothed to His own Son, who gave His life to redeem His firstfruit Bride.
We were talking about The Woman at the Well last week, in the women’s book group at church (we’ve been reading Bad Girls of the Bible by Liz Curtis Higgs). One of the ladies in the group suggested that this meeting in John 4 between Christ and the woman at the well might be symbolically connected with Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all meeting their wives at a well. Does the woman here symbolize the Bride of Christ, and His invitation for us to drink from the well of eternal life?
The Living Water
On Jesus’ journey from Judea to Galilee in John 4, He stops to rest at Jacob’s well. A woman comes to the well and the Lord asks her for a drink. She wonders at this, since men did not normally talk to women and Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. A Jewish man certainly didn’t ask a Samaritan woman for a drink.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10-14)
Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Is. 12:2-3)
In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. When the servant reaches his destination, he stops at a well and asks God to show him a sign.
Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen. 24:13-14
God answered this prayer, and Rebekah not only drew water for this servant and his camels, but agreed to follow him into a different country and marry a man she had never met. Like Abraham’s servant, Jesus Christ is a messenger sent by a father who is seeking to add someone to His family. Abraham’s servant and Christ both ask the woman for a drink, and end up offering her something even more valuable than water in a desert.
For Jacob’s meeting with Rachel and Moses’s meeting with Zipporah, the woman is a shepherdess who comes to the well to draw water but is prevented by an obstacle. This obstacle is removed by the man, who then waters her flock.
Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. (Gen. 29:9-10)
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.” (Ex. 2:16-19)
Like Jacob and Moses met their wives at a well and provided water for her flock of sheep, so does the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ meet His church and offer her living water (John 10:11-16). He is a Bridegroom seeking His bride, and as a new believer this woman at the well became part of that group.
Becoming A Fountain
We have been given the same offer as the woman at the well. Come to the source of eternal life and drink freely of the living water. Become the Lamb’s bride.
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2)
This incredible offer is blessing enough, but on top of that we are offered the chance to share this living water with others. “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). He wants us to become fountains as well (Song 4:12-15).
I don’t often listen to contemporary Christian music, but of late I’ve become quite attached to Casting Crowns’ music. This song, from their CD “Come To The Well” seems an appropriate way to end this post.