Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. (Ruth 1:1-4, NASB)
Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days. (Esther 1:1-4, NASB)
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was (H)the greatest of all the men of the east. (Job 1:1-3, NASB)
The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3, NASB)
We all love our stories. I believe part of this lies in the fact that our Creator loves His stories as well. In fact, His Word to us is, when examined from beginning to end, one continuous story. It is comprised of many smaller stories, to be sure, along with accounts of history, prophecy, and doctrine. Many of the books in the Bible seem very succinct in their mission and focus. Others cover a broad range of subjects. But the one thing they have in common is their part in the Story God is providing for us. Among these books, four stand out to me as some of the most wonderful examples of "story" ... and each one starts (almost) with a classic "once upon a time ..." setting. And, for me, each one echoes a theme reflecting the character of God in a special way.
The book of Ruth, as we have it organized in our Bibles, comes as a breath of fresh air when you consider it along with the book of Judges. It falls somewhere in that timeframe, based on the opening lines, but instead of a tale of constant cycle of disobedience, crying out, and rescue, it tells the story of a man, his wife, their sons, and two women whom they marry in a foreign land. In the end, the story of Ruth shouts out the redemptive compassion of our God for those who are faithful to Him. And almost as an "extra reward", we find Ruth - a former outsider from Moab - named in the ancestry of King David ... and ultimately King Jesus!
Esther, while clearly displaying God's faithfulness and preservation of His people, does so without even once mentioning His name. If you are looking for a story filled with mystery, intrigue, scheming, and political coup then Esther has it all. And this young, Jewish girl is willing to risk her very life to be part of God's plan. The story reaches its climax at the second dinner party and then turns on its heels as Haman finds his own end on the very gallows he built to eradicate the hated Jews.
Job is a mystery and a puzzle to many. There would even be some who question why the story is told to us. We know where it takes place, but we don't get much perspective on when or why or anything else leading up to the opening of the tale. To me, the story itself is almost as inexplicable as the God who is magnified in it. When I read or hear Job, I come away with a renewed sense of awe - God really doesn't owe me an explanation about anything. He is working on a level so far above what I can comprehend, I can only fall down with Job and worship Him, trusting that He is good beyond good even when I cannot understand what He is doing.
And then there is Jonah. Alone among all the prophetic writings, this story is less about the prophecy than it is about the story of a man who is bent on having it all his own way. He wangles and weasels through the story, reluctantly bearing the message of a gracious God who is so ready to grant a second (and third and fourth) chance to people ... just because He loves us that much. Sadly, as that story ends, we have no indication whether or not Jonah took that lesson to heart.
My travels on this Crooked Path are great opportunities to not only read and hear God's stories, but to understand my own part in His Master Story. Every day ... every step provides the opportunity to know His heart better and to follow after Him with renewed purpose.
- Do you hear His Story in what you read and see around you?
- What is God trying to say to you, right now, where you are? Are you willing to listen and know your part in what He is doing?
- Do you stand ready to learn from His Word, and to see how all of it, working together, calls out from the heart of our Father?
NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.