Judges and Ruth: A Parable

A very insightful friend of mine talked about how the current climate felt a lot like Judges 9:7-15. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and wanted to just share a few reflections on this moment in Scripture. Here’s the passage:

When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’

“But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’

“But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’

“But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’

“Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’

“The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’

Judges is a story about what happens when the people of God lose sight of being hospitable people.

The theme of hospitality is central to the Biblical narrative and Judges is one of the central examples of what a people looks like without hospitality. The people of Israel had forgotten their primary mission was remembering the hospitality they had received from God and extending that hospitality to others, especially the most vulnerable in society.

Story after story is told about violence, revenge, and the exploitation of the weak, vulnerable, and marginalized in the society of Israel. It is a country and a culture out of control where desire and personal gain fueled how people lived in the world and those with power used their power and wealth to gain more power and wealth at the expense of others.

The world is summed up in this way: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

When we lose the story of hospitality, we lose what it means to be the people of God.

What we see in the Jotham passage is people were looking for a ruler who would give them what they wanted, rather than trusting in the hospitality of God. Trusting in the hospitality of God means both receiving and extending radical hospitality and trusting this is the best way to live in the world. Finding a king (throughout the story of Scripture) is about trying to find life and worth in structures outside of God.

Trust in a king or a structure is viewed as a lack of trust in God.

The Jotham passage reminds us when we look to other places (government, wealth, power, privilege) for fulfillment, meaning, purpose, or even our values and worldview we will get exactly what we are searching for.

But what we were searching for may look a lot more like thorns than life-giving fruit or healing oil.

This all seems very doom and gloom. I taught through Judges once as a youth pastor and was super depressed at the end. But I also feel the weight of what was happening in their world.flowers-sidewalk-crack

Deeply.

I think my friend hit the nail on the head.

But there is hope.

Because the Bible doesn’t stop with Judges.

The next story is Ruth.

I encourage you to read the whole story because I am just going to hit some highlights. Ruth takes places right in the middle of the time period of Judges. While Israel is spiraling out of control, we have this tiny little story about a woman who embodies the hospitality of God.

You could not find a more marginalized and vulnerable person that Ruth. She was an outsider culturally and religiously, she was a widow so she was vulnerable because of her gender and economic status. She was grieving the loss of her family, her country, and her way of life.

She did not fit the dominant culture and she was in a place of grief, loss, and confusion. But she is upheld as the embodiment of hospitality through her embrace of Naomi.

She embraces and stays with Naomi when it would have been easier and safer to just let Naomi go home to die. She stands in solidarity with her fellow marginalized sister.

Then Ruth stumbles across Boaz.

Boaz is already practicing a form of hospitality by leaving grain for the poor. But in Ruth, he encounters someone who is radically different from himself and enters into a whole new kind of hospitality. He risks his own status and privilege to care for and embrace “the other.”

It is a beautiful story. But it is even more beautiful because of WHEN it takes place.

As a nation forgets what it means to be defined by the hospitality of God, there are still people living into hospitality.

There are still people who choose loves and embrace.

There are still people who move TOWARDS those who are different, marginalized, and oppressed.

In the midst of their own grief and poverty, in the midst of a world spiraling out of control, in the midst of feeling disillusioned, forgotten, and opposed to all the ways the world is “supposed to” work, they continue the hard work of hospitality, redemption, and grace.

Of welcoming and learning from those who are different. Of embracing those who are supposed to be their enemies. Of learning to listen, love, and care for those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

When the world around us has lost the plot, there is hope when the people of God choose to reject the inhospitality of the world and embody God’s future right where they are.

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