Bible Stories for Grownups -

Ruth, Jonah, and Divorce

Ezra 9:1-15, Putting Away the Foreign Wives
Ezra 10:1-44, Putting Away the Foreign Wives
Ruth 3:1-18, 4:9-17, Ruth
Jonah 3:1-4:11, Jonah and the Whale
Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 18:15-17, "Jesus loves the little children"

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Ezra 9:1-15, Putting Away the Foreign Wives (9/28/2009)

Today and tomorrow we are going to read about one of the saddest incidents reported in the Bible. We learned a few weeks ago that after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile, they were pretty clear on two concepts: There is no God but God, and foreigners are trouble. Foreigners are especially trouble when you marry them and start worshipping their gods. Ezra, the primary spiritual leader of the returned exiles, was appalled to discover that some of the men among the repatriated Jews had done just that.

Ezra 10:1-44, Putting Away the Foreign Wives (9/29/2009)

I once had a pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bob Templeton, who ran a series of Divorce Recovery Workshops. He said one day from the pulpit, rather sadly, "I have come to the conclusion that some marriages are worse than some divorces." God hates divorce, but God also hates bitterness, strife, abuse, and abandonment. Sometimes you can't win.

Ezra and the returned exiles were in a no-win situation. They had learned the hard way that worshipping foreign gods was sinful and would be punished. They had also learned the hard way that marrying foreign women was a fast path to worshipping foreign gods. Then Ezra learned that many of the returned exiles had married foreign women. I'd be willing to bet a donut that it was because the percentage of men repatriates was much higher than the percentage of women heading out into foreign parts and an uncertain future tends to be a guy thing. So let's give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume that there weren't enough Jewish ladies to go around. Let's also think about who is worshipping whose god. Did none of the foreign ladies convert to the worship of God? And what did the children do to deserve abandonment by their fathers? Isn't it possible that some of these divorces were worse than the marriages?

None of that mattered to Ezra and his supporters. Foreign women = bad = divorce them = send them and their children away. A very sad time indeed.

Ruth 3:1-18, 4:9-17, Ruth (9/30/2009)

Today and tomorrow we are going to look at two stories that some scholars think were written in their current form as a reaction to Ezra's marriage reforms. "Ruth" is set in the time of the Judges, and in fact the book comes immediately after Judges in Christian Bibles. Even if the story in the form we have it is Post-Exilic, just about everybody agrees that it is based on information from the time of David. There seems to be no serious doubt about whether Ruth was David's great-grandmother.

Many people consider "Ruth" to be the most beautiful short story ever written. There are no bad guys in "Ruth" Orpah leaves her mother-in-law only after she is urged to go back home, and then she leaves in tears. The first kinsman is willing to do his duty to Naomi, only backing out because he fears for the security of his own family's inheritance. There are two outstanding people, however Ruth and Boaz.

Ruth leaves her own family in Moab to return to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. At this point, she had no expectation of ever marrying again, because she could only marry a close kinsman of her deceased husband, preferably a brother, and Naomi is too old to bear children. Furthermore, the two women are impoverished, because they had no husbands to work Naomi's fields and make a living. Then Naomi has a brainstorm: Boaz! He's not only a kinsman, but he's a stand-up guy who's bound to do the right thing. Boaz does marry Ruth, even knowing that under the Levirate law, Obed was the son of Ruth's deceased husband and would inherit all his property. This is why the woman say "a son has been born to Naomi."

The major point of the story comes right at the end, however, in vs. 17: "Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David." This is what makes it sound like a reaction to Ezra. Ruth was a foreign woman, and she was a perfect Jewess and the great-grandmother of King David!

Jonah 3:1-4:11, Jonah and the Whale (10/1/2009)

There is no whale in "Jonah and the Whale." There is a "great fish," but the fish is not particularly important. What is important, and what rarely gets any press at all, is a plant. The plant, Jonah's reaction to the plant, and God's reaction to Jonah's reaction, is the whole point of the story.

Jonah was the most reluctant of prophets. He didn't want to preach to the Gentile city of Nineveh. Why? Because he figured they would probably repent, and then God would forgive them. And they did repent! And God did forgive them! Jonah was extremely put out about the whole thing.

So there he was, pouting in the hot sun, and God sent a plant to give him some shade. Jonah was comfortable and happy he loved that plant. The next day, God sent a worm to kill the plant, and naturally Jonah was devastated and wept over the poor plant. God said, "This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn't do anything for it and you didn't make it grow yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals!"

As I said yesterday, some scholars believe that "Jonah and the Plant" is a reaction to Ezra's marriage reforms. Others don't. If Ruth and Jonah already existed prior to the marriage reforms, then shame on Ezra! He should have known that God loves even Gentiles. If the books came into existence because of the marriage reforms, they were a step forward in understanding God's love for all of us. Personally, I think Ezra was doing the best he could with what he had, and that these two books came along afterward to question politely whether he had gone a little overboard.

Mark 10:13-16, Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 18:15-17, "Jesus loves the little children" (10/2/2009)

Remember that in Ezra's marriage reforms, the foreign wives "and their children " were divorced. This has always made me wonder how all those children were conceived. Anyway, as the final word on Ezra, Ruth, and Jonah, here's another song we learned in Sunday School, one of my favorites:

More Bible Stories for Grownups

Old Testament Stories

New Testament Stories



The Tower of Babel

Noah's Ark

Jacob and Esau

Stories About Joseph

Moses Parts the Red Sea

Joshua Parts the Jordan

Samuel's Call

David and Jonathan - Part 1

David and Jonathan - Part 2

The Lost Tribes of Israel

Hezekiah's Reprieve

Ruth, Jonah, and Divorce

Feeding of the 5000

Three Parables of Jesus

Six Short Stories About Jesus


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