Significance of Ruth’s Place in the Canon

2021-02-28T08:13:22-05:00 March 1st, 2021|

Given Ruth’s place in Scripture after the Book of Judges, what is the significance of this placement? Ruth acts as an appendix to Judges (Keil & Delitzsch, 1982, p. 468). We may call it an excursus, which according to Webster’s Ninth Collegiate, is “an appendix or digression that contains further exposition of some point or topic.”

The Book of Judges consists of an introduction, the stories of the twelve judges, and two appendices (Cundall, 1973, p. 50). Scott (1976) pinpoints the purpose of these two appendices, “The fact that the period of the Judges is so justifiably called the Dark Ages spiritually in Israel is well illustrated by the two stories coming out of that period recorded in chapters 17-21” (p. 75). Dumbrell (2002) concurs, “Judges concludes with two stark accounts that emphasize the sordid character of the period” (p. 79). Coming to Ruth, we see something different. “It deals with the period of the Judges, but it forms a contrast with the book of that name. The book of Judges tells of war and strife, but [Ruth] is a quiet story of ordinary people going about their quiet lives” (Morris, 1973, p. 229; cf. Scott, 1976, p. 77).

Ruth is a splash of sunshine and grace amid evil and degradation. Scott (1976) puts it this way, “There were doubtlessly some godly parents in Israel who did not follow the faithless trends of the times” (p. 77). Cassel (1960) adds, “Undoubtedly, however, the Book of Ruth offers an interesting parallel to that of Judges. While the latter exhibits the military history of Israel, the former introduces us to the peaceful private life of the people” (p. 7). Fee and Stuart (1993) give this description, “The narrative tells us implicitly that Bethlehem was an exceptional town during the Judges period by reason of the faithfulness of the citizenry” (p. 88).

On the one hand, as Breisch (1972) indicates, “Judges showed us how badly the people of Israel needed a king” (p. 74). On the other hand, “Ruth helps us to understand how God was preparing, even then, to give Israel a king who would truly reign for Him (Breisch, 1972, p. 74). Cohen (1990) adds, “There is no escape from the fact that everything [in Ruth] in the last instance leads up to David” (p. 110). The Hebrew term, goel, redeemer, appears fifteen times in Ruth. It is the goel tradition that provides the book’s backdrop, not levirate marriage (Hubbard, 1988, p. 57). As we will see, a central theme in Ruth is seeking redemption.

Therefore, Archer also insists that Ruth leads us to Christ; the “kinsman-redeemer serves as a Messianic type” (Archer, 1964, p. 269). In Israel, “every man held his piece of land as an inheritance from Yahweh” (Thompson, 1975, pp. 216-217). In God’s providence, a family might fall into poverty and sell their inheritance. The duty of the goel was to redeem family property so that a family would always have an inheritance in Israel (Ruth 4:3-4). This land was a place of rest for the people (Deuteronomy 25:19). But this rest was incomplete. “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that” (Hebrew 4:8). “The rest that these enjoyed was only a type of God’s rest and, therefore, incomplete” (Hewitt, 1986, pp. 85-86). “At best the ‘rest’ for the Israelites of Joshua was only was temporary (Heb. 4:8). In Christ, eternal rest is promised” (Hess, 1996, p. 221). The duty of the goel was also to marry the impoverished widow and raise up children in the name of the deceased (Ruth 4:5).

A word about biblical typology seems to be in order here. A “type is a figure or adumbration [foreshadowing] of that which is to come” (Terry, 1999, p. 246). “The type must prefigure something in the future … Hence it is that typology constitutes a specific form of prophetic revelation” Terry, 1999, p. 248). Therefore, a biblical type “signifies the preordained representative relation which certain persons, events, and institutions of the Old Testament bear to corresponding persons, events, and institutions in the New” (Terry, 1999, p. 246). In Ruth, the land, which Boaz redeems, points ahead to the heavenly rest we have in Christ. As a type of redeemer, Boaz looks forward to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

All of this is quite different than the approach to Scripture known as sensus plenior. Quoting Raymond Brown, LaSor defines sensus plenior as follows:

The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a Biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelation or development in the understanding of revelation (LaSor, 1978, p. 54).

Biblical types do not fit this definition. Biblical types and antitypes are preordained, as are their relationships. Biblical types are prophetic. The appearance of a type guarantees the emergence of the antitype. For example, Adam is a type of Christ (Romans 5:14). Adam’s arrival in Eden ensures the later revelation of Christ.

It is striking that Ruth finds its place between Judges and 1 Samuel, among what we call the ‘former prophets.’ Perhaps we should consider Ruth, not merely historical narrative, but prophetic history. Part of the significance of Ruth’s place in the canon is that it looks ahead to the redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2021

Works Cited
Archer, G. L. (1964). Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody.
Breisch, F. (1972). The Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: National Union of Christian Schools.
Cassel, P. (1960). “The Book of Ruth.” In J. Lange (Ed.), Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Cohen, A. (Ed.). (1990). The Five Megilloth. New York: The Soncino Press.
Cundall, A. E. (1973). Judges. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Dumbrell, W. J. (2002). The Faith of Israel. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Fee, G. & Stuart, D. (1993). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Hess, R. S. (1996). Joshua. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Hewitt, T. (1982). The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Hubbard, R. L. (1988). The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Keil, C. F. & Delitzsch F. (1982). Joshua, Judges, Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
LaSor, W. S. (1978). Prophesy, inspiration, and sensus plenior. Tyndale Bulletin 29, 49-60.
Morris, L. (1973). Ruth, An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Scott, J. B. (1976). God’s Plan Unfolded. Clinton, MS: Jack Scott.
Terry, M. S. (1999). Biblical Hermeneutics. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
Thompson, J. A. (1975). Deuteronomy. London: Inter-Varsity.

Another Look at Ruth: Point of View of the Narrator

2021-02-19T08:14:21-05:00 February 22nd, 2021|

“Ruth is an absolutely delightful little book. Mention its name and Bible readers gently smile, warmly praise its beauty, and quietly tell what it means to them personally” (Hubbard, 1988, p. 1). As accurate as this statement may be, knowing God’s purpose in Ruth takes priority. Proper personal application follows.

Ruth is a “short story” (Hubbard, 1988, p. 47), “an edifying short story” (Bush, 1996, p. 46), or “a Hebrew historical short story” (Howard, 1993, p. 145). “The Talmud attributed the book to Samuel” (Howard, 1993, p. 143). Therefore, Henry (1985) says, “It is probable that Samuel was the penman of it” (p. 252). This conclusion is possible. David was born in 1085 BC; Samuel secretly anointed David in 1070 BC; and Samuel subsequently died in 1060 BC (Jones, 2007, p. 279). Pratt (1990) concludes, “The earliest likely date for final composition is early in the beginning of David’s reign” (p. 300). Perhaps Samuel wrote this little story even before David became king over Judah in 1055 BC. Pratt (1990) adds, “It seems most likely that the genealogies in Ruth extended to the king who reigned in the time of the final composition. If this is so, the book came to its final form before Solomon’s rise to the throne” (pp. 300-301; cf. Young, 1964, p. 339; Archer, 1964, p. 268).

The coordinate question is that of Ruth’s place in the canon. “In the present Hebrew Bible, the book appears as … the first of the five megillot (‘scrolls’) … The five megillot were used liturgically—they were read at the major festivals” (Howard, 1993, p. 147). Ruth’s reading was at Pentecost, the harvest festival.

The Masoretic Text (MT) places Ruth after Proverbs. “The Masoretes were the scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the final form to the text [in contrast to the canon] of the Old Testament” (Archer, 1964, p. 56). Proverbs 31:10 asks, “An excellent wife [woman], who can find?” Boaz uses the same Hebrew terms to describe Ruth. “All my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence” (Ruth 3:11).

Finally, the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, places Ruth after Judges. “Most agree that it is our oldest evidence” (Morris, 1973, p. 230). Baldwin (1988) maintains “that the LXX potentially represents a Hebrew text older by a thousand years than the traditional Hebrew MT … ” (p. 38). Young (1964) adds, “The early date for Ruth seems further to be supported by the fact that it was early placed after Judges” (p. 340).

As observed above, Ruth is a historical narrative or short story, and we should analyze it as such. “Literary scholars identify the following character types: protagonists (central characters, those who are most indispensable to the plot), antagonists (the main adversaries or forces arrayed against the central characters), and foils (characters who heighten the central character by providing a contrast … )” (Matthewson, 2002, p. 58). In Ruth, the protagonists are Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Pratt (1990) reminds us, “Personal antagonists are not essential for well-formed stories; opposition may come from impersonal obstacles as well” (p. 144). In Ruth, “the problem of the story is the death and emptiness that have afflicted the life of Naomi” (Bush, 1996, p. 51). Ruth and Boaz join in overcoming this problem. The foils, which accentuate the roles of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, are the women of Bethlehem, Orpah, and the unnamed redeemer, respectively.

With this bit of character analysis, a danger looms large. Bush (1996) pinpoints it; Ruth is the “story of hesed,” covenant love (p. 52). “The story portrays in the dramatic and concrete form of the words and deeds of its protagonists what in the sphere of interpersonal and family obligations constitutes hesed while focusing sharply on the element of the imitable, ‘go thou and do likewise’” (Bush, 1996, p. 53). Taking the main characters’ point of view leads to focus on the imitable and moralism. “The common ‘Bible story approach,’ replete with moral lessons taken out of context, inevitably leads to widespread moralism (Woudstra, 1981, p. 5).

However, Ruth is what we call a third-person narrative. What does that mean? “Third-person narrative refers to all the characters impersonally and in this mode the narrator may display omniscience and omnipresence. Most narrative in the Bible is third-person omniscient narrative … ” (Longman & Dillard, 2006, p. 32). In light of the above and following description, think about Ruth. While the human author may have been Samuel, God is the actual narrator.

The narrator does not figure in the events of the story; speaks in the third person; is not bound by time or space in the telling of the story; is an implied invisible presence in every scene, capable of being anywhere to “recount” the action; displays full omniscience by narrating the thought, feelings, or sensory experiences of many characters; often turns from the story to give direct “asides” to the reader, explaining a custom or translating a word or commenting on the story; and narrates the story from one overarching ideological point of view (Rhoads and Michie, 1982, p. 36).

What do we conclude? In dealing with stories in the Bible such as Ruth, remember the Bible is God’s self-revelation. Always ask what He is doing. Getting the proper perspective and point of view brings us up out of the horizontal and avoids dealing with the characters only on the earthly plane. Part of the Bible’s wonder is that God gives us His point of view. To lift ourselves above this earthly plane and assume God’s point of view is not arrogance. It is part of our God-given privilege and task; we gain an appreciation for God’s plans and purposes. Having the proper point of view is vital to correct interpretation and application.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2021

Works Cited
Archer, G. L. (1964). Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody.
Baldwin, J. G. (1988). 1 & 2 Samuel. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Bush, F. W. (1996). Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Henry, M. (1985). Commentary on the Whole Bible. Grand Rapids: Fleming.
Howard, D. M. (1993). An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books. Chicago: Moody.
Hubbard, R. L. (1988). The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Jones, F. N. (2007). The Chronology of the Old Testament. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
Longman, T. & Dillard R. (2006). An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Matthewson, S. D. The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Morris, L. (1973). Ruth, An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Pratt, R. L. (1990). He Gave Us Stories. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt.
Rhoads, D. & Michie, D. (1982). The Story of Mark. Philadelphia: Fortress.
Woudstra, M. (1981). The Book of Joshua. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Young, E. J. (1964). An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

The Context of Contentment

2021-01-30T08:59:21-05:00 February 8th, 2021|

Well known Christian counselor, Dr. Jay Adams, has lamented the proliferation of wall plaques that quote selected Bible verses. I’ve heard him suggest beginning a contextual wallpaper company. One of the texts frequently taken out of context is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.”

Based on this text, you should not expect miraculous infusions of strength of Superman proportions. You will never be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound nor be as fast as a speeding bullet. So, to what do the “all things” in Philippians 4:13 refer? Look at the context.

Verses 11-12 are revealing. 

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 

Yes, Paul is speaking about contentment. By the grace of God in Christ, he can be content “in any and every circumstance” of life. In “all things” regarding the circumstances of his life, whether freely preaching Christ or in prison because of his preaching, whether shipwrecked on a Mediterranean island or spending time mentoring Timothy or Titus, Paul is content in heart and soul.

No matter the circumstance, Paul knows that Jesus Christ rules over heaven and earth. Paul knows that God in heaven is carefully guiding “all things” in the details of his life for his good. Paul confesses this truth in Romans 8:28. “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No matter the circumstance in your life or mine, this truth applies. Contentment in “all things” is not elusive.

Perhaps you have the goal of pursuing greater godliness in 2020. Great! Remember this truth! “Godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6, Italics Added). 

Denny Prutow

“Covenant-Keeping Love” (A Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11).

2021-01-30T09:03:29-05:00 February 1st, 2021|

“Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). John baptized Him, and the Holy Spirit anointed Him for ministry (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18). Luke then adds, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). The Gospel of Matthew puts it this way; “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matt. 4:1-2).

We immediately associate these texts with two Old Testament circumstances. First, Israel was in the wilderness for forty years. God himself states the reason for this wilderness experience. “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2). 

The wilderness experience was for testing to expose and reveal the content of the people’s hearts. God already knew the content of their hearts. He wanted the people to see and learn the real content of their hearts.

Second, the word translated “tempted” can also be translated as “tested.” From God’s perspective, He tested Jesus to expose the content of His heart. From the devil’s perspective, he tempted Jesus to sin as he tempted and succeeded with Adam in the Garden.

These two similarities remind us that Jesus is the “last Adam,” or “the second man” (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). He enters the world as the promised seed (Gen. 3:15). He fulfills His covenant responsibilities to His Father where Adam failed. Jesus Christ also represents His people, both Jew and Gentile. Thus He displays His love for His Father and sustains these tests and temptations on behalf of His people. Within this framework, Scripture calls us to understand why the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.                 

When the confrontation began, “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matt. 4:3-4). The devil provokes the Savior. “Son of God, indeed! Prove your status here and now. Adam failed long ago in this test and displayed for all generations his true heart. Use your divine power to gratify your fleshly desires and hunger.”

Jesus’ response is direct and straightforward. He quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In doing so, Jesus shows that He realizes that His confrontation with the devil is a test of His heart (Deut. 8:2). Will He keep His Father’s commandments or not? Jesus also knows that Deuteronomy is the second iteration of God’s covenant; it is the second law. The heart of the law is love. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).

In essence, Jesus says to the devil, “No devil, I will not turn rocks into fresh-baked loaves to satisfy myself at your command. Because I love my Father, I will carry out His will. I will live by His word. I will keep covenant with Him.

Satan counters Scripture with Scripture. “Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”  ‘” (Matt. 4:6). The devil issues his challenge quoting Psalm 91:11-12. He conveniently does not mention verse 13, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” The devil can quote Scripture as well as we can. He knows the Bible better than we do.

The test is once again to prove His status as the Son of God. God will protect His Son. But Jesus will not take the bait. “Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”  ‘” (Matt. 4:7). Once again, Jesus quotes God’s covenant. He references Deuteronomy 6:6. In so doing, He maintains His posture toward the devil. Jesus displays His heart. He loves His Father. He will not compromise. He will keep covenant with His Father. He will keep covenant with His Father and do so for you and me

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:8-9). Jesus knew His Father promised Him peoples and nations. “I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps. 2:8). On His part, Jesus must be “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,”  ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10). Again, our Lord declares His covenant love for His Father. “I will not bow to you, devil. I love My Father. I will keep covenant with My Father. I will keep covenant with My Father for My people.”

Ironically, the devil promises Jesus the ministry of the angels if He will obey him. However, as a result of His covenant faithfulness to His Father, “The devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matt. 4:11).

What are we to make of this work of Christ? Merely quoting Scripture is not the answer to combating the devil. Yes, we must know and memorize Scripture. More importantly, we must live according to Scripture. Following Jesus Christ, we must lovingly keep covenant with God, our Father. Admittedly, we will not do so perfectly. And so, part of our covenant love for the Father is to admit our sins and failures and seek God’s forgiveness based on Christ’s death on the cross for us.

At the same time, Jesus Christ maintained true covenant love with His Father, and He did so perfectly. As C. S. Lewis famously observes in Mere Christianity, “Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means” (New York: Macmillan, 1958, 110). Yes, Jesus Christ pressed through every temptation and sustained every test. As the Second Adam, He fulfilled covenant love to the utmost on behalf of you and me. On the one hand, Adam’s sin and covenant failure becomes our sin and covenant failure (Rom. 5:18a, 19a).

However, on the other hand, Christ’s covenant-keeping love becomes our covenant-keeping love (Rom 5:18b, 19b). It was for this reason that the Spirit led our Savior into the wilderness to begin His ministry and to press through every temptation and sustain every test. And as already observed, Jesus Christ is obedient in covenant-keeping love to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). This covenant-keeping love is a gift to you and me through faith in Him. Trust Christ’s covenant-keeping love for you.

Denny Prutow

My Immanuel Psalm

2021-01-30T09:04:55-05:00 January 25th, 2021|

When the angel of the Lord announced the birth of Jesus to Joseph, he also interpreted this miraculous birth. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23). The angel quotes the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Jesus was and is “God with us.”

Psalm 23 demonstrates the centrality and importance of “God with us.” A reminder is in order here. “One important form of Hebrew poetry is that a poem often has the critical verse or message in the middle of the poem rather than at the end” (Godfrey, 2017, p. 33). Godfrey (2017) sees that the words “for you are with me” are the center (p. 33). He demonstrates his point by outlining the Psalm as follows:

The LORD is my shepherd,
for you are with me.
I shall not want,
for you are with me.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
for you are with me.
He leads me beside still waters,
for you are with me.
He restores my soul,
for you are with me.
He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake,
for you are with me.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,
for you are with me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,
for you are with me.
You anoint my head with oil,
for you are with me.
My cup overflows,
for you are with me.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
for you are with me.
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,
for you are with me (pp. 33-34).

Of course, Jesus Christ is the shepherd who is with us. Review my earlier post, “The LORD is King.” Jesus testifies, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); He is Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). And Psalm 23 outlines both His character and vital presence. During the pandemic, weathering unemployment, recovering from surgery, and negotiating the many other hurdles of life, Jesus Christ carries me through. I will fear no evil. Goodness and mercy will follow me. And in the end, I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Why? You are with me, Lord Jesus. Hallelujah!

Denny Prutow

Work Cited: Godfrey, W. R. (2017). Learning to Love the Psalms. Orlando: Reformation Trust.

Our Hope: Understanding the Times

2021-01-16T08:16:32-05:00 January 18th, 2021|

David Held was one of the most loving individuals I had ever met. He was pastor of the First Congregational Church in Pasadena, California. The church building is adjacent to Fuller Theological Seminary. I was graduating from Fuller under the auspices of the US Army to become a chaplain and the Congregational Church. Pastor Held was guiding me through my ordination exams.

These exams included writing a paper outlining my personal beliefs. In that paper, I quoted Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” I made a statement to the effect, “Governmental authorities serve at the pleasure of God who raises them to power and removes them from power.” Pastor Held kindly suggested, “I’d delete this section. I think the Apostle Paul was in error here.” Wow! This rebuff of biblical truth was stark.

After serving in the Army Chaplaincy and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it has been my privilege to pastor a Reformed Presbyterian Church and teach at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Westminster Confession of Faith 23:1 declares, “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good … ” The prooftext is Romans 13:1-4. The Reformed Presbyterian Testimony 23:19 states, “Both the government of the nation and the government of the visible church are established by God. Though distinct and independent of each other, they both owe supreme allegiance to Jesus Christ.” Again, one of the proofs is Romans 13:1.

God rules the nations and His church through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, and King. See my previous post, “The LORD is King.” Daniel 2:21 is forthright, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever … He removes kings and establishes kings.” If the LORD is not King, what is the alternative? Daniel 3 tells the story of the great image Nebuchadnezzar made. What is this image? “It is a symbolic representation of Babylon and the kingdom of this world” (Ferguson, 1988, p. 69). In ancient Babylon, ultimately, men and women worship either God or government.

Fast forward to the riotous breach of the capitol buildings in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. That same night, a US Senate leader said of the incident, “This is a special place. This is a sacred place. But this sacred place was desecrated by a mob today on our watch. This temple to democracy was defiled by thugs.” After the incident, another Senate leader declared that “this Temple to democracy was desecrated.” You may do an internet search of these words and find them in numerous publications.

Note the religious tone in these comments. The Apple Dictionary (Version 2.3.0) gives the following definitions. Sacred refers to that which is “religious rather than secular.” To desecrate means to “treat (a sacred place or thing) with violent disrespect.” A temple is “a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious reverence.” We are becoming more and more like ancient Babylon. Our culture leads us to acknowledge either Christ is LORD or government is Lord.

In the first-century, Governor Pontius Pilate set the same choice before the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’” (John 19:15). This choice was also that of first-century Christians. Was Caesar Lord, or is Jesus LORD? While we are becoming more and more like Babylon, we are, simultaneously, becoming more and more like the world the Gospels outline. But this fact is hopeful. God chose to plant and spread His Gospel message in ancient first-century Roman society.

Christ promises His disciples, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This promise applies to the church today. Our cultural situation is ripe for spreading the Gospel. Part of understanding the times is to discern these hopeful signs.

Denny Prutow

Work Cited: Ferguson, S. (1988). Daniel. Dallas: Word.

The LORD is King

2021-01-08T10:05:38-05:00 January 11th, 2021|

The declaration of The Book of Psalms of Worship resounds, “The LORD is King indeed; Let nations shake with fear” (Selection 99B). Who is this Lord? The chief confession of Israel is clear: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). The indispensable Christian confession is similar, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Jesus is Lord; He is God incarnate.

Furthermore, this Lord, this God, is King of the nations, as Jeremiah 10:6-7 confirms. “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might./Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?” As such, this King rules. He is the One “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). His power is all-inclusive. Every atom and molecule in the universe serve His purpose. This comprehensive rule includes you and me. “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).   

What does the Kingship of Christ mean to you personally? You can join with the Preacher and say, “I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). Facing future uncertainties, in times infected by a pandemic, amid closures and lockdowns, surrounded by political strife and division, you are in the best of all possible places. You are in the secure grip of the Almighty God. Take this truth to heart. Know that the Lord is King. Rest in Him!

Denny Prutow

Pointing the Way

2021-01-02T11:40:06-05:00 January 4th, 2021|

Contrary to popular belief, J. H. Jowett (1928) is correct, “I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal” (p. 133). Here, Jowett speaks of the main point, the statement of purpose, behind a sermon or Bible lesson. He does not have the main point of his text in mind. He is thinking about how best to apply the point of the Bible text to the congregation. The point of the text might be a gangling sentence. The point of the sermon or Bible study needs to be short, pithy, pregnant. It is a seed that the sermon fills out via the text.

But why do pastors and Bible teachers avoid developing a single unifying point for their sermons and teachings? The immediate answer is that it is difficult work. Jowett confesses, “I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labor in my study” (p. 133). Note that Jowett also believes that getting this pithy unifying statement, based upon the text, is the most fruitful part of his study. Is it difficult? Yes! Is it fruitful? Absolutely!

To overcome this difficulty and achieve fruitfulness, the pastor or Bible teacher must be under constraint, sometimes against his own conscious wishes, which seem easier. Jowett says, “To compel oneself to fashion that sentence, to dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness, this is surely one of the most vital and essential factors in the making of a sermon … ” (p. 133). Cutting material to make a presentation more streamlined and pointed is anathema. “I’ve done all this study. I have a truckload of information to dump on the congregation.” A clear purpose statement narrows the subject and prohibits the dump truck or bushel basket approach.

All of the above reminds me of a dear colleague who reviewed a paper I prepared for a seminary conference. His first question was simple, “Where is your purpose statement?” Did I ever feel foolish! In retrospect, my question is also simple. “If a conference paper needs a purpose statement, shouldn’t a Bible lesson or sermon have one also?” As Jowett says, “I do not think any sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon” (p. 133).

Denny Prutow

Work Cited
J. H. Jowett. (1928). The Preacher’s Life and Work. New York: Doubleday.

Read Through the Bible in 2019

2020-12-31T10:00:29-05:00 January 1st, 2021|

We all want to grow or at least we should want to grow. This year, 2021, presents another opportunity for such growth. We can read the Bible and grow together spiritually. Jesus prayed to His Father for our growth when He said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The word “sanctify” has two meanings. First, it means to set aside something or someone for holy use. In other words, Jesus asked His Father to set apart His disciples for holy use or work. God had already commanded His people, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Second, “sanctify” means causing growth and sanctification is the process of spiritual growth.

Take a look at how Jesus says this growth will come about. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” To grow, men, women, boys, and girls must be filled with the truth of the word of God. Jesus has the Scriptures in mind. Today we have the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. The way to spiritual growth is therefore through the reading and the study of the Bible. Next year you have the opportunity for significant spiritual growth through the reading and study of the Bible. Read through the Bible in 2021 and experience the difference it makes.

Click here and listen to today’s podcast, “Jesus’ Prayers, Your Sanctification, and Scripture.”

Jesus Christ: The Star of Bethlehem

2020-12-26T08:41:46-05:00 December 25th, 2020|

The recent conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, dubbed the Christmas Star, reminds us of the fleeting brightness of the original Star of Bethlehem. Short-lived as that light may have been, it points to the everlasting light of Jesus Christ. Numbers 24:17 prophesied His coming, “A star shall come out of Jacob.” In Revelation 22:16, Jesus identifies Himself as the Star, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

As a young enthusiastic Army Chaplain assigned to 6th Special Forces, Fort Bragg, my Group Commander ordered a live nativity scene in front of the Group Protestant Chapel. A buddy of mine, the Group Signal Officer, worked with me. We arranged the life-size creche with bales of hay. Obtained several animals. No camels were available. Enlisted a rotating cast to include a baby-Jesus. Appropriate lighting added to the scene. All was set, except for one thing. We had no Star of Bethlehem.

My signal officer compatriot and I had an idea. He was able to get a reel of communications wire. We also got hold of a weather balloon. After connecting one end of the commo wire to a generator, fixing a 300-watt bulb, and the weather balloon to the other end, we allowed our Star of Bethlehem to ascend into the sky high above the nativity scene. I have no recollection as to how high our Star ascended. A full reel of commo wire is a mile long.

People all over Fort Bragg saw the Star. Like the shepherds of old, they said, “Let us go and see” (Luke 2:15). And so they did. Crowds followed the Star and came to see the live nativity scene. Uh oh! Among those who saw the Star were the local air traffic controllers. They, too, tracked us down. “You’re invading our air space and causing a danger to aircraft.” Wow! Our Star must have reached a significant elevation. And so the order came, “Reel it in.”

Our man-made Star was ephemeral. But so were the original Star of Bethlehem and the recent conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. They point to the permanent and eternal Star of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, life’s lodestar. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Denny Prutow