Bible in 90 Days: Ruth, I & II Samuel

Introduction to Ruth By Eugene Peterson, The Message

As we read the broad, comprehensive biblical story of God at work in the world, most of us are entirely impressed: God speaking creation into being, God laying the foundations of the life of faith through great and definitive fathers and mothers, God saving a people out of a brutal slave existence and then forming them into lives of free and obedient love, God raising up leaders who direct and guide through the tangle of difficulties always involved in living joyfully and responsively before God.

Very impressive. So impressive, in fact, that many of us, while remaining impressed, feel left out. Our unimpressive, very ordinary lives make us feel like outsiders to such a star-studded cast. We disqualify ourselves. Guilt or willfulness or accident makes a loophole and we assume that what is true for everyone else is not true for us. We conclude that we are, somehow, “just not religious” and thus unfit to participate in the big story.

And then we turn a page and come on this small story of two widows and a farmer in their out-of-the- way village.

The outsider Ruth was not born into the faith and felt no natural part of it—like many of us. But she came to find herself gathered into the story and given a quiet and obscure part that proved critical to the way everything turned out.

Scripture is a vast tapestry of God’s creating, saving, and blessing ways in this world. The great names in the plot that climaxes at Sinai (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses) and the great names in the sequel (Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon) can be intimidating to ordinary, random individuals: “Surely there is no way that I can have any significant part on such a stage.” But the story of the widowed, impoverished, alien Ruth is proof to the contrary. She is the inconsequential outsider whose life turns out to be essential for telling the complete story of God’s ways among us. The unassuming ending carries the punch line: “Boaz married Ruth, she had a son Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.”

David! In its artful telling of this “outsider” widow, uprooted and obscure, who turns out to be the great-grandmother of David and the ancestor of Jesus, the Book of Ruth makes it possible for each of us to understand ourselves, however ordinary or “out of it,” as irreplaceable in the full telling of God’s story. We count—every last one of us—and what we do counts.

Introduction to 1 & 2 Samuel By Eugene Peterson, The Message

Four lives dominate the two-volume narrative, First and Second Samuel: Hannah, Samuel, Saul, and David. Chronologically, the stories are clustered around the year 1000 b.c., the millennial midpoint between the call of Abraham, the father of Israel, nearly a thousand years earlier (about 1800 b.c.) and the birth of Jesus, the Christ, a thousand years later.

These four lives become seminal for us at the moment we realize that our ego-bound experience is too small a context in which to understand and experience what it means to believe in God and follow his ways. For these are large lives—large because they live in the largeness of God. Not one of them can be accounted for in terms of cultural conditions or psychological dynamics; God is the country in which they live. Most of us need to be reminded that these stories are not exemplary in the sense that we stand back and admire them, like statues in a gallery, knowing all the while that we will never be able to live either that gloriously or tragically ourselves. Rather they are immersions into the actual business of living itself: this is what it means to be human. Reading and praying our way through these pages, we get it; gradually but most emphatically we recognize that what it means to be a woman, a man, mostly has to do with God. These four stories do not show us how we should live but how in fact we do live, authenticating the reality of our daily experience as the stuff that God uses to work out his purposes of salvation in us and in the world.

The stories do not do this by talking about God, for there is surprisingly little explicit God talk here— whole pages sometimes without the name of God appearing. But as the narrative develops we realize that God is the commanding and accompanying presence that provides both plot and texture to every sentence. This cluster of interlocking stories trains us in perceptions of ourselves, our sheer and irreducible humanity, that cannot be reduced to personal feelings or ideas or circumstances. If we want a life other than mere biology, we must deal with God. There is no alternate way.

One of many welcome consequences in learning to “read” our lives in the lives of Hannah, Samuel, Saul, and David is a sense of affirmation and freedom: we don’t have to fit into prefabricated moral or mental or religious boxes before we are admitted into the company of God—we are taken seriously just as we are and given a place in his story, for it is, after all, his story; none of us is the leading character in the story of our life.

For the biblical way is not so much to present us with a moral code and tell us “Live up to this”; nor is it to set out a system of doctrine and say,

“Think like this and you will live well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, “Live into this. This is what it looks like to be human; this is what is involved in entering and maturing as human beings.” We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to our otherwise bland lives. That results in a kind of “boutique spirituality”—God as decoration, God as enhancement. The Samuel narrative will not allow that. In the reading, as we submit our lives to what we read, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but to see our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.

Such reading will necessarily be a prayerful reading—a God-listening, God-answering reading. The story, after all, is framed by prayer: Hannah’s prayer at the beginning (1 Samuel 2), and David’s near the end (2 Samuel 22–23).

Bible in 90 Days: Session 2

Tonight, I was struck by the various comments on this journey we are on. The Bible in 90 Days is quite an adventure! Differing comments even in the same household! Our journey with God is certainly our own walk. All I can say is keep walking – step by step. Remember the words from the chorus:

. . . and step by step you’ll lead me, and I will follow you in all of your ways.



This weekend, I experienced many of God’s musical blessings – Verdi REQUIEM, worship with the Chancel Choir, cellist in worship, Bach on my iPhone. They were all made much more special for me because of a surprising event.

Last week, I experienced a partial loss of hearing. Seeing that my life is music, I was concerned. What turned out to be a minor medical problem gave me pause to consider what I would do if my passions suddenly couldn’t be my passions anymore.

Let me stop right here and say I am fine. A visit to the ENT fixed the problem. Minor issue. Nothing long lasting. Nothing to worry about.

As I read the Bible in 90 Days, there were several passages that I know from music I’ve sung. I would read those passages and sing the anthems I know. For those that aren’t musical, this is commonplace for musicians. We sing what we’ve sung. There is always a song in our minds.

While I could still hear those songs I know, how would it be not to hear the songs yet to come?

Aside from the basic issues of never again hearing the voice of my wife or my children, if you’ve heard parts of God’s given music, how would it be to no longer stand to hear anthems of praise having been a part of them all of my life?

One of my choir member’s wives is deaf. She teaches school in a regular school setting. She is amazing. She doesn’t ever hear her husband’s voice – and it is amazing.

Pause. What do I really value? Pause. What do I really covet? Pause. What do I really worship?

I continue to pray and ponder.

Prayers along your journey.


Deuteronomy Helps: Peterson and Maps

Several have remarked how helpful these are in your reading.  So, continuing on with Eugene Peterson and The Message, we embark upon Deuteronomy.  Peterson’s excellent introduction is bellow.  Following that, there are three different maps that show where exactly the Hebrew wandered.
Prayers for understanding and patience as you reading,
Deuteronomy is a sermon – actually a series of sermons.  It is the longest sermon in the Bible and maybe the longest sermon ever.  Deuteronomy presents Moses, standing on the plains of Moab with all Israel assembled before him, preaching.  It is his last sermon.  When he completes it, he will leave his pulpit on the plains, climb a mountain, and die.
The setting is stirring and emotion-packed.  Moses had entered the biblical story of salvation as a little baby born in Egypt under a death threat.  Now, 120 years later, eyesight sharp as ever and walking with “a spring in his step,” he preaches this immense sermon and dies, still brimming with words and life.
This sermon does what all sermons are intended to do:  Take God’s words, written and spoken in the past, take the human experience, ancestral and personal, of the listening congregation, then reproduce the words and experiences as a single event right now, in this present moment.  No word that God has spoken is a mere literary artifact to be studied; no human experience is dead history merely to be regretted or admired.  The continuous and insistent Mosaic repetitions of “today” and “this day” throughout these sermons keep attentions taut and responsive.  The complete range of human experience is brought to life and salvation by the full revelation of God:  Live this!  Now!
The Plains of Moab are the last stop on the forty-year journey from Egyptian slavery to Promised Land freedom.  The People of Israel have experienced a lot as a congregation:  deliverance, wanderings, rebellions, wars, providence, worship, guidance.  The People of Israel have heard a lot from God:  commandments, covenant conditions, sacrificial procedures.  And now, poised at the River Jordan, ready to cross over and possess the new land, Moses preaching his great Plains of Moab sermon, makes sure that they don’t leave any of it behind, not so much as one detail of their experience or God’s revelation:  He puts their entire experience of salvation and providence into the present tense (chapters 1-11); he puts the entire revelation of commandment and covenant into the present tense (chapters 12-28); and then he wraps it all up in a charge and a song and a blessing to launch them into today’s obedience and believing (chapters 29-34).
“Let’s go.”

Numbers: Eugene Peterson

Bible in 90 Days: As I barrel toward Deuteronomy in my reading, I’m working through Numbers.  Here is Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Numbers from The Message:

Becoming a truly human community is a long, complex, messy business. Simply growing up as a man or woman demands all the wisdom and patience and courage that we can muster. But growing up with others, parents and siblings and neighbors, to say nothing of odd strangers and mean enemies, immensely complicates the growing up.

The book of Numbers plunges us into the mess of growing up. The pages in this section of the biblical story give us a realistic feel for what is involved in being included in the people of God, which is to say, a human community that honors God, lives out love and justice in daily affairs, learns how to deal with sin in oneself and others, and follows God’s commands into a future of blessing. And all this without illusions.

Many of us fondle a romanticized spirituality in our imaginations. The “God’s in his heaven/all’s right with the world” sort of thing. When things don’t go “right” we blame others or ourselves, muddle through as best we can, often with considerable crankiness, and wish that we had been born at a different time—”Bible times” maybe!—when living a holy life was so much easier. That’s odd because the Bible, our primary text for showing us what it means to be a human being created by God and called to a life of obedient faith and sacrificial love, nowhere suggests that life is simple or even “natural.” We need a lot of help.

We need organizational help. When people live together in community, jobs have to be assigned, leaders appointed, inventories kept. Counting and list-making and rosters are as much a part of being a community of God as prayer and instruction and justice. Accurate arithmetic is an aspect of becoming a people of God.

And we need relational help. The people who find themselves called and led and commanded by God find themselves in the company of men and women who sin a lot— quarrel, bicker, grumble, rebel, fornicate, steal—you name it, we do it. We need help in getting along with each other. Wise discipline is required in becoming a people of God.

It follows that counting and quarreling take up considerable space in the book of Numbers. Because they also continue to be unavoidable aspects of our becoming the people of God, this book is essential in training our imaginations to take in some of these less-than-romantic details by which we are formed into the people of God.

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