Amazing Grace!

Joshua base imageAmazing Grace for an outsider!

Rahab – Ruth – Naaman – Nebuchadnezzar

Without special relationship they stand condemned (Eph 2:11-13, Josh 23, Hos 1:2-3)
but God saves!

 

 

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Rahab acceptance into Israel is not unique. The common impression is that Israel
excluded outsiders from God’s people. But several other “outsiders” figure prominently in Israel’s history.

 

1. RUTH
Ruth is one of the best known.She was a Moabitess who married into an Israelite family during their temporary stay in her country. Her husband died, but rather than remain and remarry in Moab, she moved to Judah with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. There she experienced life as an “outsider” —a foreigner from one of Israel’s competitor countries, a woman in a man’s world, and a childless widow in a world of married couples with children.

 

Several times calls her “Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 1:22; 2:21), we are reminded that she is “not from around here.” Her vulnerability as an outsider comes into sharp relief when Boaz, her family benefactor (and eventual husband), twice instructs his male workers not to mistreat her (2:15, 16).  But her loyalty to Naomi ushers in a remarkable reversal of fate. The childless, widowed foreigner becomes the wife of
Boaz, a leading citizen of Bethlehem (4:9-12), and bears Obed, grandfather of the great King David.

 

In short, through God’s providence and her own stunning commitment (1:16—17), she moves from outside Judah to inside one of its prominent families. She becomes a full-fledged Israelite spiritually by her faith and sociologically by her marriage.

 

2. NAAMAN
The Syrian general Naaman also moves from being an outsider to
insider (2 Kings 5).  But his story is significantly different from Ruth’s. As head of the Syrian army, royal confidant, and popular war hero, he was part of his country’s upper crust. But a terrible skin disease plagues him.

 

A young Israelite woman captured during a raid works for his wife. She advises him to seek healing from Elisha the prophet in Israel. Initially, he angrily rejects the prophet’s prescription—to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan—as offensive. At his staff’s urging, however, he obeys and on the seventh time healed.

 

The experience proves to him that Yahweh is Cod, and he is converted (v. 15). But now comes the surprise: Naaman the convert has to return to Syria where he faces a more complex future as an Israelite than Ruth in Bethlehem. In a poignant gesture, he requests a two-mule load of Israelite soil to build a dirt altar to Yahweh back home (v. 17). Since his job requires him to ceremonially bow before the god, Rimmon, he asks
in advance for Yahweh’s forgiveness for that apparent idolatry (v. 18).

 

Elisha sends him home with a reassuring word—in essence, not to worry” (v. 19). The reassurance dispenses a moment of amazing grace: God accommodates Naaman’s evident sincerity and unique circumstances.

 

In theology and worship both Ruth and Naaman belong to Israel, but in national identity and geography Naaman remains a Syrian.  Naaman shows that it is possible to be an “insider” in belief but an “outsider” in culture.

 

3. NEBUCHADNEZZAR

Nebuchadnezzar is an outsider who comes close to the kingdom but does not quite make it! He tells the astounding story of Cod’s dealings with him in Daniel 4. He dreams of a gigantic, lusciously leafy fruit tree—a typical biblical symbol for a thriving kingdom (cf. Dan. 5:22-23; Ezek. 17:23; 31:6; Matt. 13:32). But divine judgment causes this tree to be cut down (Dan. 4:14). Daniel explains that the dream decrees the king’s own fate. He is to lose his grip on power and his mind (4:25, 33). The once mighty monarch will live for a long while among
cattle, grazing on grass and drenched with dew. 

 

But, the king reports, when he came to his senses, when he humbly bowed before the sovereignty of God and praised his greatness, God restored both his mind and his role  (v 34-36). His report ends where it began, with a personal testimony acknowledging the supremacy of God’s kingdom over all human ones (v. 37.

 

But notice that unlike Ruth and Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar simply refers to “God” and never invokes God’s personal name “Yahweh”.  He is a deist.  He accepts the power and authority of God without knowing any relationship with him. His repentance and faith are real.  But he lacks the warmth of relationship in God that Ruth and Naaman have.

 

Lessons for an insider!

 

•“Not like us” people meet God (v11, Deut 4:39)!

•“Not like us” people need our welcome (6.22-25)

•“Not like us” people will bring us encouragement (v24, Matt 1:5)

 

Rehab’ legacy

•To look at Rehab is to look at oneself (1 Cor 6.11)

– Our confrontation with sin leads to our appreciation of God’s amazing grace.

– Our salvation saves us from self-righteousness (Ezek 16.2-43)

– What radical choice for the Kingdom will I take?

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