Be Committed: Commentary on Ruth and Esther

The books of Ruth and Esther are the only ones in the Bible named for women. The two women lived in different times and came from very different backgrounds. So why did Warren Wiersbe group them together in his commentary, Be Committed (Ruth and Esther): Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost? He says:

Why do we bring these two women together in this study? Because, in spite of their different backgrounds and experiences, both Ruth and Esther were committed to do the will of God. Ruth’s reply to Naomi (Ruth 1: 16–17) is one of the great confessions of faith found in Scripture, and Esther’s reply to Mordecai (Est. 4: 16) reveals a woman willing to lay down her life to save her people. Ruth and Esther both summon Christians today to be committed to Jesus Christ and to do His will at any cost (pp. 15-16).

And then Dr. Wiersbe says something he has repeated in many of his commentaries: “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence but obeying in spite of consequence” (p. 16).

Ruth lived during the time of the judges, before Israel had kings. She was from Moab, people who were enemies to Israel. But her in-laws had come to Moab from Israel during a time of famine. Ruth had married one of their sons, but over time her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law all died. Ruth had come to believe in Naomi and Israel’s God, and she traveled with her mother-in-law, a bitter and broken, Naomi back to Israel.

The only recourse the women had for food was for Ruth to glean in someone else’s fields. The law at that time told farmers not to harvest every single piece of produce they grew, but to leave some for the poor. Ruth “happened” upon the fields of kind Boaz (one of my favorite OT people), who told his workers to leave some extra on purpose for her.

Near relations had the right to redeem the land of their deceased relatives, but part of the deal was marrying the widow. The nearest relation to Ruth’s husband was not willing to do this. But Boaz was the next nearest relation, and he was willing. Thus Ruth and Naomi were taken care of, and Naomi’s joy returned with the birth of her grandson–who became the grandfather of King David.

There’s much that could be said about this wonderful book. One point Wiersbe makes is this:

It is encouraging to see the changes that have taken place in Naomi because of what Ruth did. God used Ruth to turn Naomi’s bitterness into gratitude, her unbelief into faith, and her despair into hope. One person trusting the Lord and obeying His will can change a situation from defeat to victory (p. 43).

Esther lived hundreds of years after Ruth. Israel went through several kings, most of whom did not follow God. After much warning and preaching, with little response, God sent His people into exile in Babylon, which was later conquered by Persia. After 70 years, many Israelites were permitted to go back to their land. But Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, were among many Jews still in Persia.

Mordecai raised Esther because her parents had died. The pagan king, Ahasuerus, dismissed his wife for reasons found in Esther 1. His advisors encouraged him to gather the virgins of the land and . . try them out, and then choose from among them a new bride. Esther was one of the young women, and she happened to be chosen as the new queen.

Neither Esther nor Mordecai were known to be Jews at first. Wiersbe talks about the possibility that this may have meant they were not living according to God’s laws, because even the dietary laws would have separated them from other people in the land. We don’t know if this means they weren’t being faithful or if there were other reasons their nationality was not known. There also would have been problems with Esther, as a Jew, marrying a Gentile, and of course with her sleeping with the king before they were married (though she may not have had a choice about that).

At any rate, one person knew Mordecai was a Jew: Haman. Haman was a high official and hated that Mordecai would not bow to him like everyone else did. He was so angry, he plotted to kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews. When he proposed this to the king, oddly, the king agreed without much discussion.

One interesting thing about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned once. But His fingerprints are all over the book. The suspense and irony of how God delivered the Jews from destruction is one of the most exciting stories in the Bible.

The highlight of the book is when Esther goes before the king to petition his protection for her people. According to the law of the land, if she came uninvited to see him, and he refused her, she could have been killed. But after fasting and praying for three days and asking others to do the same, she determined to go. Her “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) has rung through the centuries as an example of doing what’s right and what’s best for others despite what happens to us.

Both of these books show God’s guiding hand in the lives of His people, individually and as a nation. One encouragement to me was that God did this despite and even through a pagan king and an enemy to His people.

Finally, there is a powerful personal message in the book of Esther; for Esther, like Ruth, is a beautiful example of a woman committed to God. Ruth’s “Whither thou goest, I will go” (Ruth 1: 16 KJV) is paralleled by Esther’s “And if I perish, I perish” (Est. 4: 16 KJV). Both women yielded themselves to the Lord and were used by God to accomplish great things. Ruth became a part of God’s wonderful plan for Israel to bring the Savior into the world, and Esther helped save the nation of Israel so that the Savior could be born (p. 79).

We must never think that the days of great opportunities are all past. Today, God gives to His people many exciting opportunities to “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap” (Ezek. 22: 30 KJV), if only we will commit ourselves to Him. Not only in your church, but also in your home, your neighborhood, your place of employment, your school, even your sickroom, God can use you to influence others and accomplish His purposes, if only you are fully committed to Him (p. 80).

Be Transformed

Warren Wiersbe divided his commentary on the gospel of John into two books. The first was Be Alive (John 1-12): Get to Know the Living Savior. The second is Be Transformed (John 13-21): Christ’s Triumph Means Your Transformation. The first twelve chapters of John “focus on our Lord’s public ministry, especially the signs (miracles) that Jesus performed and the messages that grew from them” (Location 150, Kindle version). Chapters 13-21 share more of the private ministry of Jesus with His closest disciples, “preparing them for their future service when the Holy Spirit would come and empower them” (Location 150). Chapter 13 opens with the Passover meal the night before Jesus was betrayed where He washes the disciples’ feet and institutes what we call the Lord’s supper (communion). The rest of John details Jesus private discourse with the disciples that night, His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

John shares his purpose statement in John 20:31: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” “The basic theme of John’s gospel is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the very Son of God, and all who believe in Him receive eternal life (20: 30–31). John’s subject is the deity of Christ. John’s object is to lead people into the life—eternal life, abundant life—that only Christ can give. John is both a theologian and an evangelist” (Location 150).

John attests to Jesus deity not only through His many signs, or miracles, but through other witnesses, through Jesus’ “I am” statements, through His fulfillment of the Old Testament festivals and prophecies about Himself.

John said throughout the first part of his book that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come. Then in John 12:23, at this transition between public and private ministry and the week leading up to the cross, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus says a little later, in verse 27, ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

As I mentioned in Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled, Wiersbe points out that Jesus comforted and reassured the disciples that though He was about to leave the earth, they had the Father’s love and care, the peace Jesus gave them, the comfort and ministry of the Holy Spirit within them, access in prayer, and a home in heaven to look forward to.

He then teaches them to abide in Him, as a branch abides in the vine (John 15). “The key word is abide; it is used eleven times in John 15: 1–11 (‘continue’ in John 15: 9 and ‘remain’ in John 15: 11). What does it mean to ‘abide’? It means to keep in fellowship with Christ so that His life can work in and through us to produce fruit. This certainly involves the Word of God and the confession of sin so that nothing hinders our communion with Him (John 15: 3). It also involves obeying Him because we love Him (John 15: 9–10)” (Location 777). “This abiding relationship is natural to the branch and the vine, but it must be cultivated in the Christian life. It is not automatic. Abiding in Christ demands worship, meditation on God’s Word, prayer, sacrifice, and service—but what a joyful experience it is!” (Locaion786).

Jesus tells them more of the work the Holy Spirit will do in their lives (John 16) and then offers up His wonderful “high priestly prayer” to the Father for us (John 17).

Then John tells of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, His encounter with Pilate, His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, appearances to Mary and the disciples..

A few other quotes from Wiersbe’s commentary:

To “keep” His commandments means to value them, treasure them, guard them, and do them. “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23: 12) (Location 559).

Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning “with strength.” We usually think of “comfort” as soothing someone, consoling him or her, and to some extent this is true. But true comfort strengthens us to face life bravely and keep on going. It does not rob us of responsibility or make it easy for us to give up. Some translations call the Holy Spirit “the Encourager,” and this is a good choice of words. Parakl ∑ tos is translated “Advocate” in 1 John 2: 1. An “advocate” is one who represents you at court and stands at your side to plead your case (Location 587).

Shalom—peace—is a precious word to the Jewish people. It means much more than just the absence of war or distress. Shalom means wholeness, completeness, health, security, even prosperity in the best sense. When you are enjoying God’s peace, there is joy and contentment. But God’s peace is not like the “peace” that the world offers (Location 662).

We do not study the Word of God in order to “argue religion” with people, or to show off our grasp of spiritual things. We study the Word to see Jesus Christ, to know God better, and to glorify Him in our lives (Location 1133).

“Be of good cheer!” is one of our Lord’s repeated statements of encouragement. Literally it means, “Cheer up!” There is the “good cheer” of His pardon (Matt. 9: 1–8), His power (Matt. 9: 18–22), and His presence (Matt. 14: 22–27). Here in John 16: 33, He announces the “good cheer” of His victory over the world. We are overcomers because He has first overcome for us (Location 1318).

Human history began in a garden (Gen. 2: 8ff.), and the first sin of man was committed in that garden. The first Adam disobeyed God and was cast out of the garden, but the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15: 45) was obedient as He went into the garden of Gethsemane. In a garden, the first Adam brought sin and death to mankind, but Jesus, by His obedience, brought righteousness and life to all who will trust Him. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2: 8). History will one day end in another garden, the heavenly city that John describes in Revelation 21 and 22. In that garden, there will be no more death and no more curse. The river of the water of life will flow ceaselessly, and the tree of life will produce bountiful fruit. Eden was the garden of disobedience and sin; Gethsemane was the garden of obedience and submission; and heaven shall be the eternal garden of delight and satisfaction, to the glory of God (Location 1629).

It is a sad thing when well-meaning but ignorant Christians take up the sword to “defend” the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter hurt Malchus [the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter cut off), something no believer should do. Peter hurt the testimony of Christ and gave the false impression that His disciples hate their enemies and try to destroy them. (Note our Lord’s reply to Pilate in John 18:36.) (Location 1713).

The cup He prepares will never contain anything that will harm us. We may suffer pain and heartbreak, but He will eventually transform that suffering into glory (Location 1737).

God does not reveal new truth to us if we fail to act on the truth we already know (Location 2005).

I enjoyed spending time in December thinking of Jesus birth in the context of the rest of His life and ministry and teaching in John. Dr. Wiersbe, as always, was a helpful companion.

Be Alive: Get to Know the Living Savior

I veered from my Bible reading plan because I wanted to be in one of the gospels over December, and because the plan had not taken me through John in the last few years.

Warren Wiersbe divided his commentary on John into two books, the first being Be Alive (John 1-12): Get to Know the Living Savior.

Each of the four gospels presents Jesus from a different aspect. John’s gospel portrays Jesus as the Son of God.

John shares different titles for Jesus: the eternal, incarnate Word of God (“Much as our words reveal to others our hearts and minds, so Jesus Christ is God’s ‘Word’ to reveal His heart and mind to us”–p. 20); the light of the world; the eternal Son of God; the lamb of God; the Messiah, long promised and prophesied in the Old Testament; the king of Israel; the Son of Man; the good shepherd, the water and bread of life, the door.

When John shares some of the miracles Jesus did, he “seeks to share the inner meaning—the inner significance—of our Lord’s works, so that each miracle is a ‘sermon in action” (p. 38). “Our Lord’s miracles were testimonies (John 5: 36), giving evidence of His divine sonship; but they were also tests, exposing the hearts of the people (John 12: 37ff.). The same events that opened some eyes only made other eyes that much more blind (John 9: 39–41)” (p. 44).

One theme through John’s gospel is Jesus’ “hour.” Throughout, Jesus says His hour was not yet come. Then it was at hand, then it finally culminated in His death for us.

Another theme is that Jesus loves and came to die for the world, not just the Jews.

One of John’s major themes is that Jesus is the Savior of the world, not simply the Redeemer of Israel. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1: 29). “For God so loved the world” (John 3: 16). The Samaritans rightly identified Him as “the Savior of the world” (John 4: 42). He gave His life for the world, and He gives life to the world (John 6: 33). He is the Light of the World (John 8: 12). The universal emphasis of John’s gospel is too obvious to miss. Jesus will bring the “other sheep” who are outside the Jewish fold (John 10: 16; and see 11: 51–52) (p. 190).

The crowds at first flocked to Jesus for His teaching and His provision. They hoped He would throw off Roman oppression and set up His kingdom. Some believed and became loving followers of Christ. Many began to fall away when He spoke of the cost of discipleship and when it became clear that He was not the type of Messiah they had envisioned.

The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the law of God, but they missed the Savior portrayed in the law.

When a person starts to resist the light, something begins to change within him, and he comes to the place where he cannot believe. There is “judicial blindness” that God permits to come over the eyes of people who do not take the truth seriously. (The quotation of Isa. 6: 9–10 is found in a number of places in the New Testament. See Matt. 13: 14–15; Mark 4: 12; Luke 8: 10; Acts 28: 25–27; Rom. 11: 8.) It is a serious thing to treat God’s truth lightly, for a person could well miss his opportunity to be saved. “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55: 6)” (p. 194).

John’s gospel is a full and rich portrayal of Christ. There is so much in it, I am not surprised Wiersbe took two books to cover it. I look forward to the next one.