Meditating on Scripture

contemplating a flower

There are many reasons to talk about Scripture. Personally, I need regular reminders of the importance and benefit of engaging with Scripture. Like most healthy things in life, inertia kicks in over time and my practice starts to wear out. There is so much to do, things to read, good things to listen to and watch, and the primary easily becomes the secondary. This current sermon series, “The Word Still Speaks,” is in part a personal reminder to make the main things the main things. If Psalm 1 were to say that the blessed one meditates on Christian literature, or the most recent binge-watchable TV series phenomenon, then we would have more reason to get out there and engage with those things. But the path of blessedness is not in those things. So, here again is a short plan and plea to join in meditating on the Scriptures and to excel still more.

Meditating on Scripture 101: four steps

Here is a four step approach to Scripture meditation. These steps are easy and this is an easy place to start with meditating on Scripture. Although easy, the practice is deep and will grow with you and be able to sustain you into maturity. When Jesus compares the word of God to bread (quoting from Deut. 8.3), he gives an important image. Just as you never grow up to a point in life where eating becomes irrelevant, so too you never reach a point where chewing on the Scriptures is irrelevant. This practice of meditation, simple as it may seem, can (and should) become as central to your daily life and health as eating. While meditation is not a race, this practice can be done in 5 minutes.

What I am laying out here is my own version of what I was taught in seminary by Dr. Donald Whitney. He discusses meditating on Scripture, and many other valuable practices for spiritual health, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I recommend it.

Step 1: Read

Start with reading something in Scripture. We all probably should read more of God’s word than we currently do. That is a truism. But start somewhere. If a chapter a day seems too daunting, then start with a paragraph a day. If that is still too daunting, then start with 1 verse a day. You will not grow very strong on a diet of one verse a day, but the choice for one a day will be at least 365 days of spending time steeping in God’s word in the next year, which I wager is more than many of us have done this past year.

Start with something you can do rather than something grandiose. You will almost assuredly fail at a  grandiose goal and then the sense of failure will hamstring your efforts and you will stop doing anything at all. So, start reading a manageable chunk of Scripture. Surely you can find space—make space—in the day to read one paragraph from the Scriptures. If that is more than you have been doing, then start there.

Step 2: Choose

Second, as you read through—whether it be one verse, one paragraph, or several chapters—pay attention to what strikes you. Now, I’m not suggesting that whatever sticks out to you in one reading of a passage is going to be the key to some profound and subtle understanding of a given passage of Scripture. That is not the point of starting out meditating on Scripture. We are working on chewing on the Scriptures as daily bread. Learning to engage with a 7-course meal is a different thing.

As you read, there is bound to be something in the passage that strikes you. Something in the text which presents a startling or comforting or challenging thought. Of course, you could use more elaborate methods of choosing a passage to focus on, and there is merit in that once established in meditation. But start where you are.

Step 3: Steep

Third, mull on the passage which stuck to you. The goal here is to go back to it and spend some time letting it steep in your mind and heart. What should you do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • reread it several times (try putting emphasis on different parts of the verse)
  • ask questions of the verse (you don’t need to answer them; the goal here is to spend time with the passage, not figure everything out)
  • consider how it could impact your life today

Step 4: Pray

Lastly, spend a moment in prayer shaped by the truths you just focused on. Meditation should open up a conversation with God. After all, since the words come from God it only makes sense to speak with God about them

“Meditation must always involve two people—the Christian and the Holy Spirit. Praying over a text is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to hold His divine light over the words of Scripture to show you what you cannot see without Him.”

Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 55.

Step 5 of 4

The fifth step: repeat tomorrow.

Final encouragements

While meditation on Scripture is simple, it is not always easy. That’s ok. Keep at it.

Meditation is not a race! It is a time to find spiritual food for the day.


Photo by Ester Marie Doysabas on Unsplash

Revisiting the threshing floor: how an odd passage in Ruth speaks today, part 2

ruth and boaz at threshing floor

In Part 1, I discussed the overarching perspective on the threshing floor scene I am arguing: that it is actually a redemptive scene. On the threshing floor, Boaz and Ruth model a path of behavior which eschews using sexual manipulation to get what they want. At the same time, the scene does not deny the reality that humans are sexual beings. In the last post, we looked at Naomi’s plan. She sends Ruth to the threshing floor with the apparent intention that Ruth use her sexuality to secure a better future for herself—to whatever extent that be necessary. We also examined the odd part about the feet in the whole plan. In this post, it remains to look at what Ruth and Boaz did. After examining the text and the canonical background, we will move to some application of this narrative. What stands to the fore here, I believe, is that sexual manipulation is not the only way.

Ruth and Boaz: getting things done at the threshing floor

Ruth goes down to the threshing floor and follows Naomi’s instructions to the “t.” As we read through the narrative, it is not immediately clear what she did when she “uncovered his feet and lay down” (3.7). That requires some close attention to what the text says.

Where Ruth lays

Verse 8 is important here. Boaz wakes up and rolls over, and only then is he aware that there is another person there—which he recognizes is a woman.

Note that it is not until Boaz moves that he is aware of Ruth’s presence, suggesting that Ruth is not touching him (at the least, Ruth is not actively attempting to seduce him). This shows that Ruth interprets “(place of the) feet” as laying on the ground somewhere other than on Boaz with the point of having sex. We can assume that she resumes this same position again after they talk, and that that is what Boaz means for her to do (3.13).

What Ruth does there

Beyond merely not trying to seduce Boaz before he wakes up, Ruth continues along this same course of action. Rather than trying to engage in sex, she talks to Boaz. Namely, she identifies herself and proposes marriage. Intriguingly, we are never told anything about what Ruth looks like. Other women in the OT are described by appearance—such as Rachel (Gen 29.17)—so there may be significance in this omission.

Ruth is known only through what she does; she is not reducible to a body. Her moment to shine is when she claims the identity of Ruth, your servant, but your servant who wishes to become your wife.

For readers with a strong sense of the Bible, Ruth’s actions are exactly opposite of what happened when Ruth’s great-foremother, Lot’s daughter, seduced her father in the cave (Gen 19.30-38). Ruth has the opportunity to get what she wants and needs by seducing Boaz, but instead she talks with him.

What Boaz does

Pulling on the hints in the text and the canonical background shows that Ruth performs marvelously. But what about Boaz? Here we see more of the same.

Boaz notices that a woman is lying there. His response is one of surprise. The real key, though, is what Boaz says. He asks, “Who are you?” When faced with an unknown woman in the dark, rather than assuming she is a prostitute rendering her services, he asks the all-important question. This question allows the two of them to figure out the right way to treat each other.

Again, for readers sensitive to the bigger story of the Bible, compare this to the way Boaz’s ancestor, Judah, acts in Gen 38. There, on seeing his daughter-in-law Tamar dressed as a prostitute at the side of the road, the first thing he says is, “Come, let me come in to you” (Gen 38.16), which is a euphemism for having sex. This sets up a discussion about the price for the tryst. By contrast, Boaz’s question indicates he does not presume to have a right to sexual access to the woman laying at his feet. Rather, he seeks to find out who she is so he knows the right way to treat her. How differently the life of Judah and Tamar would have gone if Judah had asked that same question in Genesis 38!

The “heated” discussion

Finally, the sexual tension largely fades away as Ruth and Boaz move into a discussion about the technicalities of marriage law. The depth of Boaz’s honesty in this passage is significant. He does not hide from Ruth—who apparently doesn’t know—that according to their laws there is another relative who has the first opportunity to marry her.

If it were Boaz’s main intention to have sex with Ruth on the threshing floor, this seems like an odd piece of information to share. In effect, Boaz both acknowledges Ruth’s proposal for marriage and at the same time distances himself from the ability to carry out the marriage at this instance. In terms of the “rights of sexual access,” Boaz is not the first one in line.

In making this point, Boaz effectively guards himself against any intentions Ruth may have had to try to have sex with him that night (whether she did or not is a moot point). Boaz tells her, “I will marry you, provided the other relative does not do so first.” This puts a tryst off the table for the evening.

Technical aside 

While it may sound odd to our ears, scholars of the Bible—and other cultures with similar practices—often talk about who has “sexual access” to a woman within the legal system of the culture. The default view of modern Western culture is that a woman can have sex with whoever she wants—though it is generally looked down upon for someone in an active relationship to have sex with someone other than their partner without consent. The default view of many non-Western cultures today (and of Western culture throughout most of its history), by contrast, is that there are clear limits on who a woman’s prospective sexual partners could be. Boaz alludes in this passage to the system called Levirate marriage (or to something like that system). The main point of relevance here is that, once a woman married into a particular family, the potential pool of future mates, in the event her husband died, was limited to specified kinsman of her husband. Who has “sexual access” to a woman is spelled out in the laws and customs of the culture. 

This whole way of thinking is rather foreign to us, but it is important in this text. By pointing to the other kinsman, Boaz is effectively saying that regardless of his or Ruth’s intentions, he does not have the right to sexual access at this point. For that to happen, he must first develop the clever legal scheme at the gate in chapter 4.

Summary

While the text itself does not come out and answer the question whether Ruth and Boaz “did” anything at the threshing floor, the hints in the text point to them sharing a chaste night. Both are cast as responding differently from their ancestors in Genesis. Rather than turning to sexual manipulation to get what they desire, they turn to talking, sharing dignity, and concern for what is proper under the law. In other words, both Ruth and Boaz reject sexual manipulation as the path to follow and engage in redemption. They redeem humanity one little bit from the well-trodden path of sexual trickery.

Against this backdrop, we can make some sense of why Boaz tells Ruth to lay back down rather than go home for the night. Now that they have worked out an appropriate way to relate to each other, the threat of something going wrong is much reduced. However, if Ruth is seen or caught making the journey back home in the dark, there could be major problems. At least if she is traveling home in the morning with grain, she can plausibly pass herself off as an industrious worker out and about early.

The threshing floor and today

Following this line of thinking, we are in position to let this text speak an appropriate word of judgment into our current life. Sexual manipulation and trickery are rampant today.

One thinks immediately of the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has brought to public light how pervasive sexual abuse. In answering the question, “who has sexual access to a woman,” many people answer “anyone with the power to take it.” The prevailing message in porn says the same thing: sex is about men taking what they want from women. By contrast, Boaz stands up in this story with a word of rebuke to our culture. Boaz’s question “who is it?” proves the noble and necessary response to the world of #MeToo and rampant pornography. This question, set within the bigger story of Scripture, shows awareness that the power and ability to take sexual access is different from the right to do so.

Ruth’s approach to the situation is admirable as well. The image of a woman using her sexuality to get what she wants is deeply engrained in Western popular culture: movies, TV, music, etc. Sexuality is considered a form of power to use in securing a desired end. Whether that end is the personal attention which the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” philosophy of life seeks, or other goals, it makes no matter. Rather than try to manipulate Boaz with her sexuality, Ruth is open about her identity and her aims, trusting Boaz to act.

In the historical particulars, it would be foolish to try to reenact a Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor kind of evening. However, read within the bigger story of Scripture, it sounds a welcome message for us today: sexual manipulation need not be the way to get what we want. The virtuous and upright choices of Ruth and Boaz lead to blessings and provision from God. By contrast, the stories of sexual manipulation—both in the Bible and again and again ever sense—are shot through and through with destruction and heart ache. There is a better way to walk. Ruth and Boaz model it.

Vacation Bible School 2022: SonSpark Labs!

Children will have awesome fun exploring the amazing SonSpark Lab at VBS 2022! They will trace God’s life-changing plan as it’s revealed from Creation to the present and on into the future. They’ll find answers to life’s most important questions. They will discover that God loves them and that through Jesus they can be members of God’s family and personally experience God’s formula for life.

VBS at First Baptist Church will be held Monday-Friday, August 8-12 from 9am to 12pm. There will be a closing program on Friday with more details announced during VBS. This annual summer program is open to youth who are 4-years-old up through youth entering 6th grade in the fall.

To register, please complete the Youth Activities Consent Form and return it to the church prior to VBS or upon arrival on the first day.

Revisiting the threshing floor: how an odd passage in Ruth speaks today, part 1

ruth and boaz at threshing floor

The threshing floor passage in Ruth 3 is one of the oddest parts of the book.

For sermons on it, see here and here.

It is a story foreign to us and it seems like it is modeling all the wrong things. In this and the next post, I will make the case that the threshing floor scene is actually relevant to us today because it models a way of living together as men and women that is sexual but not sexually manipulative. In our cultural context where focus on human sexuality is a premium, this is a good message to hear. Revisiting the threshing floor allows us to consider how humanity as sexual beings can relate to one another in redemptive rather than selfish and destructive ways.

To see this, we will walk through a few points:

  1. Naomi’s intentions
  2. Ruth’s actions and Boaz’s actions
  3. The biblical background which the scene plays out against

Let’s begin with the Naomi, the architect of this questionable plan.

Naomi’s intention for the threshing floor

I assume that Naomi’s plan involves a sort of “nudge, nudge, wink, wink, ya’ know what I mean, ya’ know what I mean” element. Said differently, Naomi tells Ruth to “take care of business” without spelling it out in so many words. There is wiggle room in her plan, depending on how Ruth interprets it and how Boaz responds. But the general suggestiveness implies Naomi sees the solution to their problems in a seductive evening. Of course, this is a long and storied solution to all sorts of problems in the Bible—and a solution which brings more problems than solution in its wake. Sexual trickery and manipulation are woven throughout the story of humanity. It would be nothing exceptional if Ruth were to join the club.

As we read Ruth, we should also be attentive to the way that it interacts with the backdrop of the rest of the OT before it. According to the accounts in Scripture, sexual trickery is nothing new. In many ways, Ruth mirrors the patriarchal narratives from Genesis where we see sexual manipulation on display in the life of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (that is all the main characters of Genesis). Sexual manipulation appears again and again as a normal strategy for how men and women relate to each other to get what they want.

That’s the background against which to read what is happening. Naomi is saying, without clearly saying, that Ruth should go and use her sexuality to take care of business.

And one more point. Naomi’s instructions that Ruth “take a bath and get dressed and put on perfume” (3.3) probably means that she should prepare herself like a bride.[1] Assuming this is correct—and it makes reasonable sense—Naomi aims to present Ruth as a bride to Boaz and “force” a marriage (without forcing a marriage, because she doesn’t have the power to do that). Does Naomi intend for Ruth to treat this night at the threshing floor as the wedding night and act accordingly, or merely just propose marriage?

The meaning of “feet” here

A brief side note is in order on the meaning of “feet” in the passage. The whole “uncover his feet” is odd, but there is more to it that requires some thought. “Feet” occurs in 3.4, 7, and 14.

The word here in the Hebrew, מַרְגְּלֹת margelot, is not the usual Hebrew word for feet. That would be רַגְלַיִם raglayim. Margelot is used only 5 times in the OT. Four of those are here in Ruth: 3.4, 3.7, and 3.14. The other one is in Daniel: Dan 10.6. The way this rare word is formed suggests that it means “(place of the) feet.” Which is the definition given in various scholarly Hebrew dictionaries.[2]

The Septuagint gives some insight into the word. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT from before the time of the NT. In each occurrence in Ruth, the Septuagint translates margelot as “the things before his feet” τὰ πρὸς ποδῶν αὐτοῦ (3.4, 7) and “before his feet” πρὸς ποδῶν αὐτοῦ (3.14). In the occurrence in Daniel, the Septuagint translates margelot simply as “the feet” οἱ πόδες. The Greek word used in all these translations most basically means foot, but can also refer to the leg + foot, which may be more the point in the passage in Daniel.

Some scholars argue based on this Daniel passage that margelot should be understood as “leg” rather than “(place of the) feet” in Ruth.

So how does talk of “feet” fit here? As one commentator succinctly puts it:

As is well known, the term “feet” could be used as a euphemism for sexual organs (male: Exod. 4:25; Judg. 3:24; 1 Sam. 24:4 [Eng. 3]; female: Deut. 28:57; Ezek. 16:25; etc.) though not demonstrable as a euphemism here, it may have been chosen to add to the scene’s sexual overtones.

Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The Book of Ruth, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 202.

Hebrew uses lots of colorful idioms, and one is that “feet” can refer to genitals. While the word “feet” here most likely means “place of the feet” as opposed to “feet/leg,” the context of Ruth 3 is charged with sexual overtones: the threshing floor is associated with activities of prostitutes elsewhere in the OT and several of the words in close context here—uncover, lay down—can mean having sex.

The picture which emerges is that Naomi encourages Ruth to use her sexuality to get things done. What exactly Ruth would do is dependent on Boaz’s response, but the logical implications of what could happen are clear.

Summary and next steps: what will happen at the threshing floor?

Summarizing up to this point.

  1. Naomi intends to propose Ruth in marriage to Boaz in an intimate setting.
  2. The wording and action throughout this passage is rife with sexual ambiguity. It is unclear what Naomi intends and what Ruth will do.
  3. In Hebrew idiom “feet” can refer to “genitals.” Within the context of heightened sexual ambiguity, it is possible to understand Naomi intending the meaning of genitals. At the least, this contributes to the sexual tension of the scene.

This is the backdrop for what happens at the threshing floor. In the next post, I will argue that Ruth and Boaz’s actions in this situation should be seen as redemptive. They act nobly in the sexually charged atmosphere, opening up the possibility of men and women relating to each other as sexual beings but not through means of sexual trickery to get what they want and need. This message is one that is sorely needed today, and worthwhile to take the time to think through in the text here.

That is the argument to be made in the next post.


[1] So Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The Book of Ruth, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 202.

[2] For example, David Clines The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, volume 5, Hollady’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, and The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. These are three standard reference works, with Clines’ being one of the best Hebrew lexicons in existence.

A few thoughts on Roe v. Wade and Dobbs v. Jackson

On June 24, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court ruling in Thomas Dobbs et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (which was infamously leaked), written by justice Samuel Alito, came out that:

“We hold that Roe and [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision”

Roe v. Wade (1973) was, of course, one of the most polarizing Supreme Court cases in US history. Given the embattled nature of Roe v. Wade, it is sensible to expect that Dobbs v. Jackson will raise further bitterness. There will be no shortage of outrage, protest, and legislative activity. There are bound to be more Federal (and probably Supreme) Court cases on issues of abortion as a patchwork of laws across the nation come into play. In the meantime, how do we as Christians think about and talk about such a polarizing issue in our daily lives? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind so that we are ready to think with charity, compassion, and hopefully some biblical framework on the issue of abortion.

As Christians we should…

Be realistic

First, all sides should stop and catch their breath for a minute. Dobbs v. Jackson is not that sweeping of a ruling. Neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice movement finds much substantive victory or defeat here. Dobbs v. Jackson is a ruling on a legal technicality: the constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion and the legal reasoning used in the Roe and Casey cases was underwhelming.

Consider what that ruling actually means. The constitution does not guarantee the right to tax-advantaged retirement plans. But we have them. Why? Because we have tons of state and federal laws describing how they work and making them legal. All that Dobbs v. Jackson does is say that the current federal laws created in the Roe v. Wade ruling can’t stand by themselves.

Consider what this ruling does not do. It does not say anything about whether abortion is good, right, or moral. It does not say that abortion is illegal in the US. It does not even say that there can’t be federal laws guaranteeing abortion across the country. It simply says that the law which the Supreme Court de facto passed in its 1973 ruling is not valid.

While in some ways Dobbs v. Jackson is a major win for the pro-life movement, it really is a weak win at best. It is good practice—both generally and in this case—for we as Christians to be realistic in what we talk about.

Be compassionate

This ruling is disorienting to many people. Anyone born after 1973 has never lived in a US where abortion has not been enshrined in federal law…until now. That means that for over half of the US population, this is uncharted territory. Most of the people in the US have grown up with the assumption that—good or bad—abortion was part of US law. In a context where so much in society is shifting and debated, this ruling brings instability to yet another area of society where things seemed generally secure.

To put things into an idiom relatable around here, imagine the Supreme Court ruled tomorrow that the “right to bear arms” in the 2nd Amendment only allows ownership of guns of comparable type to those the Founders knew in the late 1700s. That would rock a lot of peoples’ worlds around here. That would lead to a lot of emotion, anger, frustration, and uncertainty.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade rocks a lot of peoples’ worlds. We should be prepared to be compassionate towards those whose worlds have been rocked. Gloating is not compassionate.

Be sensitive

While it is hard to get exact numbers, realize that approximately 1 of every 4 women of childbearing age in the US will have an abortion at some point in her life. In any gathering of more than 4 women, statistics tell us that one either has had or will have an abortion. While the rate of abortions is not spread equally across demographic groups, in all likelihood you know several women who have had abortions (or will before menopause).

When we think and talk about abortion, this should give us pause. Before waxing eloquent on the stupidity and moral degeneracy of women who get abortions, consider that you know some of them (even if you don’t know that you know them). Being sensitive does not mean not talking about abortion as a wrong, tragic, and ugly thing, but it should temper how we talk.

We can easily substitute a message of condemnation in place of the gospel of grace by the way that we talk to and about other people.

Be helpful

This is an opportunity like hasn’t existed since 1973 for those who speak loudly against abortion to act as loudly as they speak. The situation on the ground differs from place to place. In many states, nothing has changed since the ruling. In some states, abortion rights are set to be expanded. In some states, abortion has been (or will shortly be) banned. Especially in those states where abortion is now illegal, a great burden of responsibility falls on the shoulders of those who have argued and fought for the fall of abortion.

It is easy to yell loudly against something we don’t like; it is far harder to live for what is good and right. The ruling provides opportunity for those who have yelled loudest about the need to do away with abortion on demand to yell equally as loud with actions in helping deal with the repercussions of no more legal abortion in many states.

How can we deal with helping those in crisis? Abortion data tracks pretty strongly along socio-economic lines: the poorer the woman, the more likely an abortion. Obviously, there are other factors in play, but that is a strong correlation. Will pro-lifers turn out to be committed to dealing with the difficulties of life many women face that make abortion a sensible choice to them? Only time will tell that. But ending legal abortion will certainly not end abortion.

As Christians, this ruling invites many of us around the country to consider what sort of social causes are worthy of devoting time, energy, and money towards beyond just overthrowing abortion laws. The underlying logic of abortion grows from many strands of brokenness and sinfulness. Outlawing abortion by itself doesn’t deal with any of these root problems.

Keep striving to change the conversation

There is much more to say on this issue. Abortion is a complicated and tragic part of our culture. The Dobbs v. Jackson ruling does not end the complication and tragedy. If anything, it will probably inflame them further.

There will be lots of legal debates still to come. Elections and laws have consequences, and they will continue to have them going forward.

As we make our way in this post-Roe world, we still need to work to change the conversation regarding abortion. Few people actually like the idea of abortion. We disguise it under talk of choice and rights, but most people don’t like the idea of killing the baby/fetus. For women getting an abortion, it tends to be a cost-benefit analysis type decision. How do we change the conversation from talking about rights and laws to talking about the tragedy that is abortion?

Abortion is a tragedy. How can we work to minimize this tragedy in peoples’ lives?

That question throws us back on the need for the gospel, the need for loving people who are living broken lives, and all those other needs that Jesus presses so forcefully for us to recognize. After all, salvation does not come through passing laws. The wholeness for which all of us were made is not found in defeating abortion laws, but in union with Christ. I hope that many Christians who have fought—and continue to fight—for pro-life legislation will remember that.