(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal. Ruth 4, verses 7-8.
Strange customs seem to be a hindrance in understanding the Bible. Let’s be honest: that’s just the way it is. There’s this whole thing about taking off a sandal and exchanging it as a legal transaction. Or there’s that thing about marching around Jericho 7 times and blowing horns so the walls would fall down. There are the Urim and Thummim, which were stones (dice, or possibly stones marked with the Hebrew symbols for ‘yes’ and ‘no’) used by priests to make some decisions (divining God’s will). We can talk about funeral customs, wedding traditions, the meaning of rank, and status, and even using the words “I am” and how, even today, Jews don’t write the word “God” but, instead write “G-d” because it would be blasphemy to write God’s name (or even a representation of it).
Yet how many of our customs seem strange? The other day, I was watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Do you remember the movie? In it, aliens make contact with humans. They communicate via simple musical tones and hand gestures, the point of them being to convey the message ‘we want to be friends.’ Do those gestures seem strange? They shouldn’t. There are areas of the world where even a handshake is not understood even though it’s a common greeting in the West. What would aliens think about today’s customs?
Saying “OK” isn’t a universal thing. People even 20 years ago (and many senior citizens today) don’t communicate via heads-down text the way so many young people do today; if you go to Azerbaijan, I’m sure people communicate differently. Two thousand years from now, perhaps people will look back on 2014 and, in piecing together how we lived, talk about customs like taking off your hat for the national anthem, putting your hand over your heart when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, holding the door for a lady, or our other quirky customs and traditions to help explain how we lived.
What’s the point? The point is that it isn’t always easy to understand what the Bible is saying. The best way to interpret Scripture is to use other parts of Scripture first and foremost. If you don’t understand something, seek out an answer first somewhere else in the Bible. I don’t know where the unique Hebrew custom with the sandal came from, but I do know that my concordance points me to several other verses to explain it. Using God’s word to explain itself is the surest way to seeking understanding of things that, on the surface, may seem difficult to discern.
Lord, help me to understand.
Read Ruth 4.