A Friday Reflection: Biblical Hebrew Syntax

 וְהֶאֱמִן בַּֽיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָֽה׃

And he was believing in the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

In this Hebrew verse, the first word וְהֶאֱמִן starts with a וְ (waw conjunction) meaning “and.” The rest of the word הֶאֱמִן is a hiphil perfect verb from the basic root אמן meaning “firmness” or “certainty.”[1] In the hiphil stem it means “stand firm,” “trust” or “believe.”[2] Typically, the hiphil stem describes causative action or the causing of an event by an agent.[3] The hiphil stem is in the active voice, and the key words “caused” or “made” are often inserted. For example, “they caused to kill” or “they made someone king.”[4] However, the hiphil stem may also express a simple action which would preserve the qal stem meaning and negate the causative meaning mentioned above.[5] This is most likely the case with הֶאֱמִן in this sentence,[6] but verbal aspect must also be considered to understand the reason for the hiphil stem and to determine the meaning of הֶאֱמִן.

For this discussion, it is important to focus on two forms of verbal aspect in Biblical Hebrew: qatal and wayyiqtol. The qatal aspect is associated with the perfect designation to express a state or a condition that requires duration or repetiton or to view a situation or action as a complete whole that is temporally undefined.[7] The wayyiqtol aspect involves an imperfect verb plus waw consecutive. In general, an imperfect verb denotes an incomplete action or describes an event without the end in view,[8] but when an imperfect verb is prefixed with waw consecutive, it will be translated with a similar aspect as a perfect verb.[9]

Next, it is important to point out that these two forms are often together in narrative. According to H.H. Hardy,

wayyiqtol verbs depict the mainline events of a narrative. The story is moved along from one event to another using successive wayyiqtol verbs. When additional setting material, contrasting statements, summaries, epexegetical remarks, background information, or any out-of-sequence occurrence is provided, the sequence is interrupted by a switch in verbal form. If this information is also perfective, then the verbal form is qatal.[10]

This is the sequence of the general context leading up to הֶאֱמִן in Genesis 15:6. In the first few sentences of the narrative of Chapter 15, Abram and God are having conversation

(v.2) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.3) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.4) God took Abraham outside and said (wayyiqtol verbs)

(v.5) God said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.6) (Abram) he was believing הֶאֱמִן (qatal verb)

This shows the verbal form switch of Genesis 15:6, but this switch goes undetected in most english versions of the Bible that translate  הֶאֱמִן in 15:6 as “he believed.” This is certainly within the translation possibilities of the hiphil perfect (qatal) form. As mentioned above, the hiphil stem can express a simple action like the qal stem, but the interruption of verbal sequencing points to the writer trying to emphasize something in the narrative. The writer switches to the qatal aspect to emphasize Abram’s belief in the Lord as a complete whole that is temporally undefined. Abram did not start to believe in the Lord at this point in the narrative, rather Abram started believing in the Lord in Genesis 12.  For Abram, believing in the Lord was not a one time thing in 15:6, nor was it finalized at this point, but it was a repetitious process of believing. Thus, an appropriate translation of הֶאֱמִן is “he was believing.” The writer uses וְהֶאֱמִן “and he was believing” to emphasize that Abram’s faith was a journey. His journey of faith wasn’t perfect, but Abram was believing in the Lord, and it was because of this believing that the Lord “counted it to him as righteousness.”

Just like Abram’s faith, the Christian faith is not a one time thing, but a journey of believing. It is a life of trusting in the promises of God. We are living and growing in belief, and we are called friends of God.


Continue reading “A Friday Reflection: Biblical Hebrew Syntax”

The Old Testament Law for Christians

God said to the Israelites, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God (Exod 6:7). Then God gave the Law which set apart Israel from the nations as God’s special people. Obedience to the Law was to be the distinguishing mark of the people of God and it was to be what sustained them in their relationship with God. However, this was a temporary covenant with a new covenant on the horizon which was prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The new covenant to come was to be written on the heart and could be kept by those who walk in the power of the Spirit.

The Law pointed to the coming of Christ and with his coming, the Law is fulfilled. After Christ’s coming, the Law is no longer the distinguishing mark of the people of God. Rather, the people of God are distinguished by their faith in Jesus and by their participation in the Spirit within the new humanity where there is no distinguishing between Jew and Gentile. Thus, the specifics of the Law that separated Israel from the nations are no longer binding for the believer in Christ. There is a discontinuity of the Law, but there is continuity of the principles, values and morality that governed them. In this sense, the Law is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The NT believer is not obliged to carry out all the demands of the Law, but there are many lessons that can be drawn for Christian living from the Law.

Commentary on Psalms 1:1-6

Introduction to Psalms

The english word Psalms is derived from the Greek word ψαλμός (psalmos), and the Hebrew title for the Psalms is תְּהִלִּים (tĕhillîim) meaning songs of praises (Berlin and Brettler, 1265) In the Hebrew scriptures there are 150 praises and has been used as a songbook and prayerbook by Jews and Christian throughout the centuries.  

The psalms have been written by several authors and have been compiled and edited to create a psalter.  Through the use of titles, many of psalms have been attributed to identifiable authors. These authors include David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, Ethan and the Sons of Korah.  David wrote the Majority of the psalms with 73 attributed to him. There are some psalms that are designated as having unknown authorship. Some of the psalms date to the middle of the second millennium BC (2000-1000 B.C.E) whereas others date to the postexilic era (after 539 B.C.E) (Hill and Walton, 274).

Literary Context

The psalms are divided into five books: Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150. This division may reflect the five books of the Law seeing that much is said about the Law in the Psalms. The following is a brief outline for Psalms (Hill and Walton, 278)

I. Introduction (1-2) V. Introspection about the destruction of the temple and exile (90-106)
II. David’s conflict with Saul (3-4) VI. Praise and reflection on the return and the new era (107-45)
III. David’s kingship (42-72) VII. Concluding praise (146-150)
IV. The Assyrian crisis (73-89)

Moreover, the psalms have been classified into types based on their characteristics: Hymns are characterized by songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for His goodness and greatness. Penitential psalms are confessional in nature and focus on repentance of sin with an appeal for mercy and forgiveness. Wisdom psalms offer general insight about life, faith and relationship with God. Royal psalms focus on God’s kingly rule of his people through God’s chosen man, the son of David. Messianic psalms describe a coming anointed one who will restore and save his covenant people.  Imprecatory psalms call out for the judgement of God upon his enemies and the enemies of his people.  Lament psalms voice one’s condition of disappointment, confusion, doubt and disillusionment but also statements of hope and trust (Arnold and Beyer, 307-311).

In view of this background and literary information, Psalms 1:1-6 has an unknown author and date and fits within the whole of the book by acting as an introductory and wisdom psalm inviting individuals to read, meditate upon and use the entire book for the way to the blessed life.

Commentary on Psalms 1:1-6

1   The Hebrew phrase אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִיש (ašre hoǐš) meaning blessed the man (Brown, Driver and Briggs, 81) may be viewed as the start of a beatitude which are scattered throughout the Psalms and appears to have been a widely used literary device in the psalms dated in the post-exilic era. Thus, this may give a hint to the dating of Psalms 1 (and 2 since there is a similar construction at the end) (Mays, 41).  Nevertheless, this beatitude is complex because it first states what the blessed do not do …does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Then, in the next line it states what the blessed do.

2  The commended conduct done by the blessed is engagement in the Law of the Lord. The author writes, But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. The emphasis is on the study of the Torah for the sake of study. This is similar to the instruction given in Joshua 1:7-8 “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left,that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it….”  However, the result of such a focus will certainly keep one away from the way of the wicked and sinner (Berlin and Brettler, 1269).

3   Simile is used in this verse which is defined as “a figure of speech that compares two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ ” (Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Jr, 304). He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither, whatever they do prospers. John of Damascus comments on this type of simile, “The soul watered by sacred Scripture grows fat and bears fruit in due season, which is the orthodox faith, and so is it adorned with its evergreen leaves, with actions pleasing to God, I mean.  And thus we are disposed to virtuous action and untroubled contemplation by the sacred scriptures” (Blaising and Hardin, Faith and Works).

4   Another simile is used but this time it is pertaining to the wicked.  The image is of the winnowing process where the threshed corn is tossed up so that the chaff is blown away. The message is that the life of the wicked is meaningless and without value (Prinsloo, 365).

5-6   These verses are an example of a chiastic pattern in Hebrew poetry.  Chiasm is a structural form where the word order of a subsequent line appears in reverse order to the previous line (ab/ba) (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Jr.,298). (v.5) Therefore the (a)wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the (b)righteous (v.6) for the Lord watches over the way of the (‘b)righteous, but the way of the (‘a)wicked will perish. The contrasting between the righteous and the wicked reaches its culmination and those who walk the way of the righteous will remain in the secure and loving arms of the Lord, but for those who walk the way of the wicked will have have no future with the Lord and perish as a result.

Works Cited

Arnold, Bill T, and Bryan Beyer. Encountering the Old Testament : a Christian Survey. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2008.

Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd ed. Oxford, NY : Oxford University Press, 1999.

Blaising, Craig A, and Carmen Hardin. Ancient Commentary on Scripture. Psalms 1-50. epub edition. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon : with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic : Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  Peabody, MA : Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

Hill, Andrew E, and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Pub. House, 1991.

Klein, William Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Revised and Updated ed. Nashville: TN:, Baker Academic, 2004.

Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Louisville, KY : John Knox Press, 1994.





The People of God: Part 5 of 7 Promise of a New Covenant

Throughout the history of the Israelites, they were plagued and sickened by divided loyalties, mistrust, unfaithfulness and disobedience. Instead of living “shema” (Deut 6:4-9) and leaning into their identity as the people of God, the Israelites constantly turned away from God and rejected their belonging in favor of self-preservation and self-sovereignty.[1] They struggled with being a people who reveal to the nations the glorious name, ways and character of creator God. They failed in being a people who brought God’s life-giving blessings to the nations. Thus, they were not worshipping and serving God or partnering with him in his redemptive and restorative mission.[2]

In view of the Israelites ongoing dilemma, God sends his messengers, the prophets, to get the attention of his people. Instead of giving up on his people, he shows his steadfast love by drawing them back to him through judgement and through messages of life and hope. The prophets speak messages focused on God’s sovereignty with the aim that Israel would recognize that their sovereign God should govern all their “doings.” The prophets confronted the sins of the Israelites and counseled them to change their behavior towards others. God speaks through Isaiah saying, “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause” (Isa 1:16-17).

Moreover, the prophets announced both judgment and hope. They announced God’s judgement as a warning for the people to turn back to God. This message of judgment ultimately resulted in exile, “but even in the midst of sin, judgement and exile the prophets proclaimed YHWH’s grace-filled, unaltered commitment to [his] mission.”[3] God still desired that his people participate in his restorative mission by being the instrument that “bring[s] life-giving blessing to all the nations.”[4] Thus, the prophets speak a message of hope “that somehow, someday YHWH will accomplish his intentions for the people by doing for them what they can’t do for themselves. YHWH will deal with the human dilemma of divided loyalties by transforming the people’s character so that they can live out their identity as the instrument of the divine redemptive mission.”[5]

This involved the promise of the new covenant. Through Ezekiel, God says, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant I will establish and multiply them and will set my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Ezek 37:26-27). Through Jeremiah, God says,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer 31:31,33).

God promises a new move that will further his redemptive and restorative mission in the world. He gives his people hope that they will be forgiven of their sins and receive a new and clean heart. They will have a new spirit which will allow them to enter into a close personal relationship with God and to fulfill their God given mission.[6]

[1] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 166. [2] Kelle, Telling, 165. [3] Kelle, Telling, 165. [4] Kelle, Telling, 165. [5] Kelle, Telling, 168. [6] Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 483-485.


The People of God: Part 4 of 7 Gatherings

The Israelites were chosen, called and formed as the people of God and obedience was the governing principle of life within community, but the Israelites were often disobedient and struggled to keep their part of the covenant. They faced several challenges and temptations that disrupted their devotion and relationship with God. In response, God gathered his people at times to remind them of his goodness and greatness, to reiterate the covenant and to encourage and strengthen them in obedience and in the renunciation of other gods. Three significant gatherings throughout the Israelites history are the gathering at Shechem, the gathering of Josiah and the gathering of Ezra.

As Joshua 24 portrays, God used Joshua to gather and speak to the Israelites at Shechem where he reminded them of the divine events that took place “long ago” (v.2) and that took place in their midst. Then, Joshua states, “…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). After a community dialogue, the people declared “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24). With this, the covenant was renewed, and the people of God encountered God and leaned into their belonging to God and to one another.[1]

Six hundred years later during the time of a divided kingdom and the Assyrian occupation, Jerusalem was filled with idolatry, impurity and corruption; however, King Josiah “[i]n the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, he began to seek after the God of his forefather David” (2 Chr 34:3), and he was led by God to institute reforms by purging Jerusalem and Judah of all its idolatrous elements and all its priestly corruption (2 Chr 34:3-4; 2 Kgs 23:5-13). During the restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law was discovered and read to King Josiah. After hearing the Book of the Law and consulting with God through Huldah the prophetess, Josiah was used by God to gather the people so that they could hear the Book of the Law and encounter their God (2 Kgs 22; 2 Chr 34:29-30). Then, Josiah “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kgs 23:3). Once again with steadfast love, God called his people to himself and met with them through the reading of his words which reiterated covenant relationship and refocused the Israelites’ worship, service and mission.[2]

Many centuries later, the Israelites had entered exile but eventually were returning to Jerusalem after the King of Persia commissioned the rebuilding of the temple. During this time, Ezra organized the gathering of the people where he read the Book of the Law (Neh 8). This led the people to worship God and to confess their sins. They were reminded that God is one who is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Neh 9:17), and so they renewed their covenant with God and took an oath “to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes” (Neh. 10:29). During this time, God was at work in calling his people to be “under his rule in his place”[3] to further his missional purposes.[4]

[1] This paragraph is influenced by Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 39-49.[2] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 52-71. [3] J.G. Millar, “People of God” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 684. [4] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 76-83.

The People of God: Part 3 of 7 Formation and Mission of Israel

Being God’s people, the Israelites had to learn how to live as God’s people because “to be God’s people entails being a certain kind of people, a God-kind of people, whose foremost quality is holiness.”[1] Thus, God initiated the formation of the Israelites by teaching, shaping and maturing them through the giving of the Law, through divine acts and through life experiences.[2] God desired that Israel would develop into a peculiar community with a distinguished character in order to serve as a particular instrument within God’s restorative mission.[3] Initially, God instructed Israel that they were to worship and serve him as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). They were “to be a holy community that fulfills a priest-like role for all the peoples of the world.”[4] In other words, God called Israel to be his messengers and intermediaries “bringing life, flourishing and hope to people, places and circumstances.”[5]

Furthermore, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments as the words for ongoing covenant dialogue. If the Israelites were to be the people of God, they were to keep their part of the covenant by following God’s words.[6] As they participated in the covenant dialogue they would experience “life and prosperity” (Deut 30:15), wisdom and understanding (Deut 4:4-8) while being a signpost of God to the nations (Deut 4:4-8, 28:9-10).

Thus, part of the Israelites’ formation was that they had to embody holiness as God is Holy (Lev 11:44-45) and to learn and live the language of “shema” (Deut 6:4-9). Leviticus 11:44-45 states, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 states,

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. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The people of God underwent formation so that they could be in right-relationship with the holy God and participate as God’s doorposts in his redemptive and restorative mission.

[1] Elmer A. Martens, “The People of God” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, edited by Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 242.[2] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 25. [3] Kelle, Telling, 83. [4] Kelle, Telling, 88. [5] Kelle, Telling, 89. [6] Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 16.


The People of God: Part 2 of 7 God Chooses and Calls a People

With the fall and downward spiral of humanity, the beginning of God’s redemptive and restorative mission is revealed. Genesis 3:15 announces the proto-euangelion (first gospel) with the initial proclamation of the future “serpent head crusher” who by his suffering forms a new humanity. Moreover, God reveals his mission by choosing to enter into a covenant with Noah and calling him and his family into the life saving ark (Gen 6:18). After the flood, God reiterates his cultural mandate (Gen 1:28) by calling Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and to exercise authority over the earth (Gen 9:1,2). They were to worship God by depending on him, and they were to serve him by participating in his mandated mission. By covenanting with Noah, God commits to a new, long term plan to redeem and restore people into right-relationship with himself.[1] The establishment of the covenant enabled Noah and his descendants to encounter God in new ways and to experience the reality of belonging to God and to each other.

However, after the tower of Babel, the people were scattered due to their desire to make a name for themselves (11:4), but out of this scattered people, God again chooses and calls a people into covenant relationship with himself. This began with Abraham and Sarah where God promises to make Abraham’s name great, to make him into a great nation, to bless him with land and to use him as “the instrument of life-giving blessing to the world.”[2] Here, God chooses and calls one person “who then expands into a multitude of descendants, for the purpose of participating in God’s redemptive work in the world.”[3] This is a significant development of God’s mission, and it is the foundation for one’s understanding of the rest of the overall biblical story.

God’s covenantal promises continued to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, who was renamed Israel, and from his twelve sons descended the twelve tribes of Israel. These “children of Israel” are those who are the people of God, and God decisively chooses and calls them his people while they were enslaved in Egypt. Exodus 6:6-7 states,

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (ESV).

And later in Exodus 19:4 God says to Israel, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8 explains that God chose Israel “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” because he loved them and kept the oath he swore to their ancestors. These passages emphasize the sovereign and loving nature of God in choosing and calling a people, and this is what set them apart as unique people among all the other people of the Ancient Near East. The Israelites encountered and belonged to the one, true and loving God.[4] They were the people of God.

Continue reading “The People of God: Part 2 of 7 God Chooses and Calls a People”

The People of God: Part 1 of 7

In Hebrews 11-12, the author lists the “people of old” (11:2) and describes them as the people of God who lived “by faith.” The author retells the ancient story of God and his created, chosen and called people who are now part of the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1). This story of the people of God throughout the generations informs and encourages God’s people in any generation; however, the author explains that God’s story and purposes for his people are fully realized in the life and ministry of Jesus. Thus, the people of God should fix their eyes on Jesus and follow his example of devotion, service and mission. They should look with hope to the day when they will be “made perfect” (11:40) and when they will enter “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22). In essence, the author of Hebrews is presenting a biblical theology in this section, drawing together the entire biblical narrative while using the theme of the people of God.

In similar fashion, the next several posts will retell the biblical story while presenting that the biblical theme of the people of God is at the heart of biblical theology. The entire biblical story tells of God’s involvement in creating, choosing and calling his people. Therefore, the people of God are those who encounter and belong to God and who are called to worship, to service, to mission and to hope.

The Protological People of God

In the opening chapters of the biblical narrative, God reveals his unique and high point of creation through the forming of the first man and woman. God intimately “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). Then, God lovingly took a rib from the man and made the woman (Gen 2:21-23). God created the first man (Adam) and woman (Eve) in his image so that he could enter into loving relationship with his creation. This first couple was to depend on God as an act of worship and to partner with him through service by overseeing creation and furthering God’s purposes for it. They were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Thus, God’s intention for his protological people was to live in loving relationship and cooperative partnership with him and each other while experiencing his manifold blessings and abundant life.[1]

However, following this remarkable vision of God’s intention for his people is a crucial turn in the story’s plot. Genesis 3 depicts “the great human crisis”[2] that threatens God’s intention for his people and begins the unraveling and downward spiral of humanity and creation.[3] The story in Genesis 3 describes “a self-serving move made by humanity out of a sense of distrust and fear and in an effort to secure its own control, survival and well being”[4] resulting in the distortion and fracture of the relationship with God and with one another. This is visible through the stories in Genesis 4-11 that recount the “rebellion, violence, bloodshed, and destruction”[5] perpetrated by humanity which ultimately leads to the isolation and insecurity of humanity. The people who once encountered God and experienced a sense of belonging with him and with each other were engulfed in their own self-sovereignty and self-reliance.[6]

[1] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 42. [2] Kelle, Telling, 43. [3] Kelle, Telling, 43. [4] Kelle, Telling, 43. [5] Kelle, Telling, 43. [6] Kelle, Telling, 54.

Commentary on Ruth 3

Within the framework of the book of Ruth, chapter three acts as a pivotal moment in the story because although Naomi and Ruth, with all the best intentions, develop a plan for marriage and security for Ruth, the outcome of the story depends on Boaz’s response to Ruth’s proposal. The following outline details the suspenseful moments of chapter three.

Outline of Chapter 3

I. Naomi and Ruth create a plan for security through marriage of Ruth to Boaz (3:1-5)

II. Ruth approaches Boaz at the Threshing floor with a marriage proposal (3:6-9)

III. Boaz responds (3:10-15)

  1. He blesses and commends Ruth (10)
  2. He positively responds to Ruth’s proposal (11)
  3. He mentions another kinsman-redeemer more closely related (12)
  4. He protects Ruth overnight and gifts barely in the morning (14-15)

IV. Ruth returns home to Naomi, and they debrief (16-18)


In order to understand chapter three, the concept of a kinsman-redeemer should first be explored. The Hebrew word used in 3:9,12 is גֹאֵל (gōēl) (2:20  מִגֹּאֲלֵנוּ miggōălēnû) and is derived from the Hebrew verb גָאַל (gāal) which may be defined as “1) act as a kinsman, do the part of next of kin a) in taking a kinsman’s widow b) in redeeming from bondage c) in redeeming a field d) claim as kinsman e) the avenger of blood.”[1] Thus, a kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who had the responsibility, right or benefit to step up or intercede on behalf of a relative who was destitute, at risk, facing crisis or in need of vindication.[2]  The concept of the kinsman-redeemer is established and described in the pentateuch of the Hebrew scriptures in the form of covenant obligations to redeem land (Lev 25:25), to redeem the enslaved (Lev 25:47-55), to provide an heir (Gen 38:8-10; Deut 25:5-10), to avenge a death (Num 35:16-21) and to be a trustee (Num 5:5-8). The Kinsman-redeemer reflects God’s concern for the poor, widow and oppressed (Ps 68:5-6; 72:2-4; Prov 23:10-11).

Commentary on Ruth 3

1-5  Naomi shows parental responsibility and duty towards Ruth, her daughter in law, by seeking a secure and permanent home for Ruth. Moreover, she wants to see Ruth experience all the blessing of marriage.  Naomi understood that she would one day die, and she could not fathom the idea of Ruth (a Moabite) being a widow in a foreign land.[3] This was her concern in 1:8-9 where she said to Ruth and Orpah, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband” (NIV).  With the prospect of a kinsman, Naomi develops a plan becoming the answer to her own prayer for Ruth.  This is a theological theme throughout the book of Ruth in that God and humans work together.  God providentially orchestrates circumstances and humans are to recognize and seize the opportunities.[4]

6-9   Ruth follows the Naomi’s plan and goes to the threshing floor where Boaz is lying at his assigned traditional area for winnowing.  It may have been a custom for individuals to sleep by their barely piles after festivities in order to guard them until the next morning when it would be carted and taken away.[5] After arriving at the threshing floor, events unfold according to Naomi’s plan; however, Ruth breaks from the script that Naomi had laid out for her to say.  Naomi’s main concern was to find a husband for Ruth, but when Ruth invokes the kinsman-redeemer custom to Boaz, she reveals her continued loyalty and commitment to Naomi since the results of the custom would benefit Naomi significantly by eventually receiving an heir and through the redeeming of her land.[6]

10-15   Boaz’s response is filled with blessing and commendation towards Ruth, and he grants her request due to her honorable reputation. Boaz considers Ruth as a peer and certainly views her as a good match for marriage. However, while Boaz acknowledges that he was a kinsman-redeemer, he mentions another kinsman-redeemer more closely related.  With this notification, Boaz shows that he is a man of integrity.  By being cautious regarding the custom, Boaz is further protecting Ruth and her legal claims in Israel.  He wants to make sure that whatever benefits Ruth receives in the future will be seen as legal rather than as a scandal. Boaz instructs Ruth on the following steps in the process, and then he continues to reveal his protective and kind nature by keeping Ruth close throughout the night away from the drunken festival attenders and by gifting her with barely in the morning.[7]

16-18   Ruth returns home to Naomi and gives an account of the night.  Ruth explains all the things that Boaz did for her and shows Naomi the generous gift given by Boaz which may have been a hopeful sign for the future⎯ “Naomi’s emptiness (1:21) may yet be filled.”[8]  Naomi instructs Ruth to wait which is a stark reversal of her prior instructions to act. As farmers wait for their crops, so Ruth is awaits the fruit of her efforts.  This is similar to waiting on the Lord for him to bless his people.  The matter is in the hands of the Lord, and in the next chapter he will work through Boaz.[9]


Ruth chapter 3 is teaching that in the ordinary circumstances and events in life, people can witness and experience God’s action and provision. Individuals should have faith in God and when opportunities arise that are divinely orchestrated, they should move to action because God works through their actions. Ultimately, God is sovereign and after individuals have done all they can do, they should wait on the Lord and trust in his faithfulness and loyalty.

[1] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs, “גָאַל”  BDB 145. [2] Stephen J. Bramer, “Kinsman-Redeemer,” in EDBT 456-456. [3] Hubbard, Ruth, I. The Proposal Itself “a. Naomi’s Clever Plan” [4] Hubbard, Ruth, I. The Proposal Itself “a. Naomi’s Clever Plan” [5]John H.Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary : Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 2000), 279. [6]Hubbard, Ruth,  I. The Proposal Itself “b. Report of Ruth’s Compliance” [7] Hubbard, Ruth, I. The Proposal Itself “b. Report of Ruth’s Compliance” [8]Gerald West, “Ruth” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, eds. James D. G. Dunn, and J. W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans,  2004), 211. [9] Hubbard, Ruth, 2. Interlude: Ruth Reports to Naomi “b. Naomi’s Response”

The Book of Ruth

The book of Ruth is a short story located in the Hebrew scriptures. The author of the book is anonymous and some have proposed that it was written by a gifted woman who had mastery of literary art and access to the oral or written tradition of David’s family.[1]  The date of the writing has been debated with no overwhelming decisive evidence, but suffice it to say, most scholars agree that based on references to David in the book (4:17, 22) the earliest date would be ca. 1000 B.C. The latest date would be sometime prior to 164 B.C. based on its acceptance into the canon of the Hebrew scriptures.[2]

The book of Ruth focuses on three main characters: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This warm and endearing story that has down-to-earth qualities in which readers can relate. In fact, some have classified its genre as an idyll due to the lack of villainous characters and its portrayal of simple, common people living a rustic life.[3]  The story engages several elements of the human life (i.e. tragedy, famine, grief, loneliness, despair, exile, loyalty, love, redemption).

The story is set in the day when the judges ruled (1:1) which is during the time after the death of Joshua and before the rise of Saul as king of Israel.  This time was defined by disorganization and many failures by the Israelites.  They ceased to remove the Canaanites from the land which resulted in continual interaction with Baal worshippers and their fertility rites. The Israelites were constantly tempted to forsake their God and worship Baal.[4] Thus, apostasy and covenant ignorance ran rampant leading to all types of sin, lawlessness, darkness and oppression among the people.[5] In the book of Judges there are two refrains that describe the period 1) “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). 2) “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).  This was the historical context in which the author of Ruth tells the story about a people who were loyal and faithful.

While God is referred to only a few times in the book, his presence and involvement is witnessed throughout the story as he moves and works in the ordinary and everyday events of his faithful people. God shows covenant loyalty and provides for the characters in the book of Ruth.  Through these individuals, David is eventually born and established as king, and this lineage ultimately brings forth Israel’s promised messiah.

 Outline of the Book of Ruth

The book begins by introducing a Bethlehem married couple (Elimelech and Naomi) and their two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) and due to the famine in Bethlehem the family moves to Moab (1:1-2). While in Moab, tragedy strikes the family with the deaths of Naomi’s husband and two sons (1:3-5). As a result, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and her loyal and committed daughter in-law, named Ruth, returns with her (1:6-21). At the beginning of chapter two, there is a brief introduction of a man named Boaz followed by a narration about Ruth gleaning for food in Boaz’s fields (2:1-7). When Boaz notices Ruth in his fields and hears about her character, he shows favor, blesses and protects her (2:8-17). Ruth returns home to Naomi with grain and gives a report about Boaz and her work (2:18-23). Chapter three begins with Naomi and Ruth discussing a plan to get Ruth married to Boaz (3:1-5). Thus, Ruth approaches Boaz at the threshing floor signaling her availability of marriage (3:6-9). Boaz responds to Ruth (3:10-15), and then Ruth returns to Naomi, and they debrief (3:16-18). Next, Boaz goes to the town gate presenting the kinsman-redeemer situation (4:1-8), which results in Boaz purchasing the property and claiming Ruth in order for her to become his wife (4:9-10). The elders and the people witness the purchase and bless Boaz and Ruth (4:11-12). Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son, named Obed (4:13), and Naomi is redeemed and blessed (4:14-17). The book concludes with a genealogy of David, highlighting Boaz and Obed in the lineage (4:18-22).

[1] Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989) EPUB edition, Introduction, “Authorship and Date.” [2]Hubbard, Ruth, Introduction, “Authorship and Date.” [3] Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 184. [4] J.P. Payne, “Judges, Book of” in NBD³, eds. D. G. W. Wood, I. Howard Marshall, J. D. Douglas, and N. Hillyer. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 627. [5] Hill and Walton, A Survey, 184.