Today, let’s think about ideas to watch for in this short story that is part of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. As each appears, there are links forward and back in God’s revelation of his person and purposes. The Lord wants us to grasp these, so that we worship him for all that he has accomplished in our salvation in Christ.
We need to know the general way of life under the law (or old covenant). God’s people lived under the law for approximately fifteen hundred years. The law is good, because it provided a way for God to live among his people. But we ought not to glamorize it, since it was a way of life ruled by law (cf. Acts 15:10). Now we live in a better covenant and Christ is our leader by the Spirit, and God lives in us.
The story of Ruth is about an extended family within God’s people Israel. God (Yahweh, the Lord) made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the lives of his covenant people were under the supervision of the law (Torah). The law influences and guides the story of Ruth with its regulations about gleaning, the task of the kinsman-redeemer, and marriage. The question about inheriting the land was important in the old covenant, and also in this story. What we will see in this story is very ordinary people facing very ordinary struggles of life, like food, marriage, children and property. (Is anyone reading this affected by real estate issues?)
The story of Ruth occurs during the time when the Judges ruled (Ruth 1:1). It was a time of turmoil and religious declension. There was famine, foreign oppression, civil war, and danger on the streets. People were living in disregard of God and his laws. But these terrible times were not utterly faithless times. God still had a remnant, chosen by grace (Romans 11:5), and in this story we read about the life of that struggling remnant.
Surprising contrasts – As you read Ruth you will notice many contrasts; for example, Ruth and Orpah, Ruth and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, Boaz and the unnamed relative, God’s purposes and human plans, grief and joy, and for one more, emptiness and fullness. The Spirit of God wants us to view these contrasts and to learn from them.
We must see the place of kindness and redemption in the story of God’s glory. The book of Ruth highlights both these ideas. We will look carefully at them when we come to them, but as you read and reread Ruth, listen to what God is saying.
A great theme is the providence of God. How beautifully this story illustrates the truth of Romans 8:28 and 11:33-36! What do we mean by God’s providence?
- It is God’s present activity in the world. God creates, and then he rules his creation to achieve the story of his glory in Christ. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) put it this way. “God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy” (Chapter 5.1). About a century earlier, the writers of the First London Confession wrote: “God in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good” (Article V).
- In providence God proclaims that God is here, God cares, God rules and God provides, all according to his holiness, wisdom and love.
- In Ruth we read of no miracle or special word from the Lord, yet we discern his unseen hand active throughout the entire story. People make choices, not on the basis of mystical guidance, but against or within the boundaries of God’s word. When they acted correctly, they acted in wisdom and by trusting God for the outcome. In other words, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz lived like you and I must live—according to the Scriptures and by faith. However, sadly unlike our typical responses, they recognized God’s activity. So then, this book is an invitation to become properly spiritual.
These are hard and uncertain times. The economic future for many is bleak, families are in turmoil, horrific violence spreads like a plague, and addictive sins are destroying lives. Our time is like the days that the judges ruled, as people turn from the living God to false gods, and enter into an increasingly desperate meaninglessness because of their foolish choices. Is there hope in such a time? Yes, there is, and that is one reason we need the message of Ruth in our dark hour. Please read the book of Ruth at least four times this week. And as you read, worship the Lord, as he teaches you about his full and flawless worth and glory.
Grace and peace, David