You’ve often heard the phrase, “The Devil is in the details.” Right?
I don’t know about that whole devil thing, but I do know that the details in the Bible are hugely important when it comes to understanding, appreciating, and embracing the Bible’s message.
For example, the Book of Ruth. For the average person who hasn’t had much interaction with the Bible, Ruth reads like a romance novel in the pastoral setting of Bethlehem. “Oh yeah! Bethlehem! That’s the town Jesus was born in.” Right-O! Gold star for a correct association.
For the more experienced Bible student, the Book of Ruth is about a young Moabite woman who marries into an Israelite family from Bethlehem. The family had fled from Bethlehem during a famine, looking for sustenance in Moab, a territory about 30 miles east of Bethlehem on the other side of the Jordan River. While in Moab, the father (Elimelech) and his two sons died (Mahlon, Chilion) leaving the man’s widow (Naomi) alone with her two daughters-in-law (Ruth and Orpah). Naomi chooses to return to home Bethlehem and Ruth devotedly follows.
Ruth gets a job gleaning (collecting the wheat harvest pickings for food). The field in which she gleaned belonged to an Israelite named Boaz, who just “happened” to be a close relative of Naomi. Long story short, Naomi schemes to find a husband for Ruth (nice Jewish mom, right?) according to the laws of levirate marriage. Levirate marriage says if a man dies, his brother or nearest relative should marry the widow and produce a son to make sure the man’s inheritance stays in the family (Deuteronomy 25).
Spoiler alert! Everything works out. (Hooray!) Boaz marries Ruth the Moabitess, and she births a son. Boaz and Ruth’s family line produced not only the legendary King David (her great-grandson) but David’s descendant, Jesus! Now for the fascinating details.
Detail 1: Because of the trouble the Moabites caused Israel about 265 earlier (Deuteronomy 23:4-6), God commanded the Israelites, “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly” (Deuteronomy 23:3). So what about Ruth the Moabite? Well, Ruth had married an Israelite in Moab. She was, therefore, part of the Israelite people with a Moabite lineage. Her marriage and her heart-felt devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, more than proved her as having embraced Israel’s God and His people despite her background (Ruth 1:16-17).
Detail 2: Why was Boaz open to marrying Ruth, a Gentile and a Moabite by background?
First, there was no prohibition from God about an Israelite marrying a Moabite or any other Gentile. The only ban that pertained was for an Israelite to marry someone from the Canaanite tribes God had commanded them to clear from the Promised Land, Canaan. Moab is outside the designated clear-out zone of Canaan’s borders. But that still doesn’t explain why Boaz was willing to marry Ruth, a Moabite Gentile by lineage.
Second, Boaz was “obligated” to marry Naomi’s daughter-in-law per the levirate marriage command. But hey, no problem! He loved her, she was a young, desirable woman, and Ruth proposed to Boaz. I always snicker when I read, “Then he (Boaz) said, ‘May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor’” (Ruth 3:10). Okay, older single guys. What would you do if a young(er) hottie with a demonstrably fine character (Ruth 2:11-12) sincerely proposed to you? Yeah, don’t lie. You’d give it some serious thought just as Boaz did, am I right? Of course, I am! But that still doesn’t explain why Boaz was willing to marry Ruth, a Moabite Gentile by background. Annnnnnnd, here comes the tiny, vitally important detail. Follow me.
· Who was Boaz's father? Salmon. “Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz” (Ruth 4:20-21).
· Who had Salmon, Boaz’s father, married? Rahab, the Gentile Canaanite prostitute of Jericho fame. “However, Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, her father’s family, and all who belonged to her, because she hid the messengers Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho, and she still lives in Israel today” (Joshua 6:25, italics mine). If ever there were three strikes against a choice of bride for an Israelite, Rahab had ‘em. BUT Rahab threw her lot in with the Israelites just like Ruth would do later. Rahab embraced the Israelites, and they accepted her.
How did she “live in Israel?” With her Israelite husband, Salmon. “Aram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab…” (Matthew 1:4-5a).
There it is! Boaz’s mom was the Gentile Canaanite, Rahab! Boaz was willing to marry Ruth, because his dad and mom already set the example for him. Since Boaz’s Israelite dad was willing to marry a woman of Gentile Canaanite lineage who embraced the God of Israel and His people, he could, too! Boaz's dad and mom modeled God's love and open arms to all who come to Him regardless of their schmutzy (Yiddish for “grimy”) background!
Despite their not so glorious backgrounds, both Rahab and Ruth were grafted into Jesus' ancestry, and without them, there would be no Savior for us.
I have another example of how biblical details matter, and yes, there is a bit of devilry involved with this one. It has to do with two accounts that dovetail. 1) A mercenary Levite priest, and 2) The tribe of Dan. Both come from the Book of Judges (chapters 17-18).
The mercenary Levite priest (ch. 17). Against God’s command, an Israelite man named Micah made a carved image and a cast silver idol. He not only made the idols, but he also installed his son as the family priest. This was messed up on two levels – both idolatry and a priest who wasn’t of the tribe of Levi. Like I said… messed up.
Then along comes “a young man, a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who was staying within the clan of Judah. The man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah to stay wherever he could find a place. On his way, he came to Micah’s home in the hill country of Ephraim” (Judges 17:7-8). What did Micah do? Why, he hired the Levite to be his family priest for free lodging, food, provisions, and a salary. Who would turn their nose up at that? The Levite certainly didn’t.
So while Micah had a genuine priest of Yehovah on site, he was still committing idolatry. But the Levite priest made it okay, right? Nope. The idolatry stained the whole thing.
And now, the other side of the story.
The tribe of Dan (ch. 18). First, a little background. When the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua some 40 years before the Micah incident, God assigned portions to each tribe (Joshua 18). For the tribe of Dan, their assigned land included what is now known as the Gaza Strip in Israel (Joshua 19:40-46). Sadly, they were unable to conquer the Canaanites and Philistines living there so they decided to look for easy pickings elsewhere (Joshua 19:47-48).
As an aside, do you think God had lied about giving them their part of the land and lied about helping every tribe conquer their enemies entirely (Exodus 23:22-23, 27-32)? Absolutely not! God doesn’t lie. So the fault isn’t on Him, it’s on the Danites. How did they respond to their failure to secure their God-given territory? They disobeyed God by looking for a new place. Now back to our story.
The Danite scouts arrived at Micah’s house and spotted the Levite. They made him an offer the mercenary priest couldn’t refuse. “Come with us and be a father and a priest to us. Is it better for you to be a priest for the house of one person or for you to be a priest for a tribe and family in Israel?” So the priest was pleased and took the ephod (a special priestly garment), household idols, and carved image, and went with the people” (Judges 18:19-20).
This leads me as a pastor to wonder, “How many mercenary pastors have forsaken their God-given flock to pursue ‘better pastures,’ as in more money and more fame. You know, better pickin’s?” If their relocation to another congregation wasn’t a God-directed thing, then it must’ve been a personal decision based on desire, which would make it a form of idolatry – putting one’s wants ahead of God’s will.
This is what the Levite did. Not only was he lured away by the offer of being a priest over an entire tribe(!) but he stole the valuable idols as well. (But it’s just a little idolatry. That can’t hurt, can it?)
The Danites, along with their mercenary Levite priest, hoofed it up to what is today the northern edge of Israel and fell upon the town of Laish. They slaughtered all the people – men, women, and children – and took possession. Finally, the Danites had their living space.
And they were the disobedient tribe with their idolatry-compromised Levite. So now we have a tribal territory founded on rebellion and idolatry. God must’ve been awfully proud of them.
Here’s the implication. Due to rebellion some 400 years later, Israel split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel led by Jeroboam I and the Southern Kingdom of Judah led by King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. Jeroboam I realized the tribes might reunify if they kept going to Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom’s territory, because that’s where the Temple was located. To paraphrase Jeroboam, “If I just set up alternate worship locations that are easier to get to, install my own priests, and substitute an easier religion with more seductive gods, then I’ll be able to keep control over my kingdom’s people.”
Guess where he set up one of two centers of rebellious idolatry? Surprise! Right in the heart of Danite territory and no one of the tribe of Dan objected that we know of. And why not? They were founded on rebellion and idolatry, the same thing Jeroboam was doing. A natural fit.
From this northern edge of Israel, idolatry flourished, moved south, and eventually contaminated both kingdoms so thoroughly God had to burn it out through famine, warfare, and exile. The Northern Kingdom never recovered. The Southern Kingdom of Judah did, but only as a shadow of its former self and only by God’s grace.
The tiny details of Micah’s idolatry, an opportunistic priest, and a rebellious tribe all came together to set the stage for Israel’s great downfall, despite having the God of the Universe backing them up.
Here’s the last ugly detail that stunned me when I read it. The mercenary Levite? That was Moses’ grandson, Jonathan! (Judges 18:30) That’s right. The grandson of Israel’s great Law-giver broke God’s Law, “Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3) in the worst way.
Little details, revealed and connected, show how in just a few generations, God’s household of faith nearly collapsed for good. And yet, the little details of Ruth show how God made good on His promise of a Savior and future eternal King of Israel despite Israel’s failure.
Do we think little details in our lives don’t matter? That tiny ungodly detail we tolerate has the potential to wreak havoc in our lives and bring us down. Or maybe it’s that tiny godly detail that will ultimately produce a great wave of godliness in our lives and lead many to salvation. Details matter not only in our understanding of the Bible but in how we live our lives.
The little details aren’t always so little in their impact.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts