Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.

14. Ruth

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 14.  Ruth

Ruth 1:16,17   But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

These words spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, are perhaps some of the greatest declarations of loyalty and faithfulness spoken in the Bible. In the Gospels, at one point, the apostle Peter said to Jesus when all others were abandoning him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68,69)  He had heard Jesus and recognized something special in Jesus and that was in no one else, so he was not going to leave it. But what was it that made Ruth reply as she had. Let’s note their circumstances.

Naomi and her husband had fled Israel when a famine struck. They went looking for food elsewhere and found it in Moab, a people who lived to the east of the Dead Sea. The record has it that they were descendants of one of Lot’s daughters (Gen 19:37).It had been the Moabites who hired Balaam to curse Israel, and for that reason Moses banned them for ten generations from entering ‘the assembly of the Lord’ (Deut 23:3,4).

Now there hangs the question mark. It doesn’t appear to prohibit marriage to a Moabite but if one did, then you would be excluded from participating in the rites and ceremonies of Israel, at least for ten generations after Moses. It would appear they are still in that period of prohibition which adds more to the significance of some of the things that happened. While living in Moab, where they appear to have settled, first Naomi’s husband dies, then Naomi’s two sons marry two Moabite women. Tragedy strikes the family and the two sons die. Is this judgment on the unfaithfulness of these three Israelite men for having abandoned Israel? We aren’t told, but Naomi is left with two daughters-in-law. When she hears that the famine is over in Israel she prepares to return to her homeland and tries to get the two daughters-in-law to remain in their own land. Perhaps she has in mind the probation we have already referred two. The first daughter agrees and remains, but the other, Ruth, makes this amazing declaration of loyalty.

Again we ask, what was it that made Ruth make such a declaration? A similar declaration was later made by Ittai the Gittite to king David when Absalom revolted and David had to flee. When David encouraged him to remain behind Ittai replied, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” (2 Sam 15:21)  It is the same loyalty. Indeed David’s words, that provoked this response, show an even greater similarity to this present situation: “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you.” (2 Sam 15:19,20) The previous verses shows that the Gittites were a contingent from the Philistines who had collaborated with David (v.18).  The Philistines had long had dealings with David and I believe it is fair to suggest that Ittai recognized greatness in David,  hence his declaration.

So back to Ruth, what was it that made her make this declaration? Now there is something strange about the book of Ruth and, although it explains how Ruth came to be part of the Messianic line (see Matt 1:5) and become the great grandmother of King David, there is no mention of God’s activity in Ruth and yet the multiple activities that bring this about, we have to say, are a demonstration of what theologians call the Providence of God (the behind-the-scenes working of God). What we don’t know because it is not said, and perhaps because Ruth the Moabitess probably would not recognize it anyway, is if the Lord spoke directly to Ruth to prompt her to feel as she did. It is a possibility, but we just don’t know.

Another possibility comes to the fore when we note her actual words: “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”   Your God, my God? Using the covenant name, LORD, Yahweh, the I AM?  All this suggests that Naomi had talked about her home life, or at the very least the reputation of Israel was well known in Moab. Either way, Israel appeared to be doing what they were designed to do and attract the world. Clearly, in our above examples, Jesus attracted Peter and David attracted the foreigner, Ittai. It is just possible that that something about Naomi attracted Ruth’s heart, for it is very much a heart declaration.

Yet a further possibility is that Ruth felt concern for Naomi, who had lost her husband and then her two sons in an alien environment. If that is so it suggests she is a young woman of compassion. Again, whatever it was, the Lord used it to draw her together with Boaz (later in the book) and become part of the Messianic blood line. Everything about this story says that Ruth is a woman of immense grace who finds a husband in Israel who is equally full of grace. From our vantage point in history, what is so incredible about this is that the Lord happily takes Ruth into the life of Israel and highlights her presence by a record in Matthew’s genealogy.

Perhaps this should not be so surprising when, in that same genealogy, we read immediately before, Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” Rahab of course was, at the best an innkeeper and, at the worst, a prostitute, and whichever, a Canaanite! She is another illustration of someone outside the chosen people who was drawn into them and is given a special place in the Messianic family tree. Perhaps that made it easier for Boaz to act as he did in wooing Ruth. Over both ‘transactions’ hangs the grace of God who has a chosen people but also a heart for the whole world. He will receive whoever will come to Him.

If the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had been around at both those times they would no doubt have rejected both Rahab and Ruth, and as for the thought that both these being foreign women, women from nations that practiced idol worship and did not know Yahweh…. well!  But God’s grace is bigger. If we look down on people who are obviously outside the kingdom (at the moment), “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12,13). I like the way the Message version puts it: It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.  Excellent! So be careful how you think of others!

In your own life, don’t be surprised if God uses the irreligious around you, people who do not seem to conform to your expectations. It may be they have a stronger heart for the Lord than you and me. The ‘Wise Men’ or Magi (Mt 2:1) fit into that category. Definitely not ‘proper’ people to be involved in the nativity story and as for being led by astrology and a star…well! But God is bigger than us. Rejoice in the wonder of that grace and pray that your may be enlarged to see His hand at work in those around you and the general affairs of the world.

12. History Rewarded

Meditations in Ruth : 12. History Rewarded

Ruth 2:10   At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

Boaz has shown great kindness in his approach to Ruth and this evokes the response in the verse above. There are times in our own histories where we go through life thinking it is not very significant and yet it is laying the ground for something that may happen even years later. That ‘groundwork’ can be either negative or positive. If we treat someone badly or have a bad break-up in a relationship,  that can so often come back to haunt us later in life. On the other hand, on a positive note, if we treat someone well and build a good relationship, that may come back to bless us in later years.

What is now happening to Ruth, we are about to see, is built on her behaviour in the years before now. But Ruth is amazed at how nice Boaz is being to her, especially as she is not part of the community of Israel, she is a foreigner. Perhaps back in her own country this would have been unusual behaviour. We do sometimes take for granted things that are culturally good in our own country assuming it is so worldwide, but it isn’t necessarily so; in fact it is often very different in other parts of the world. So Ruth wonders.

And so Boaz explains: Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (v.11) It is easy when casually reading a story to fail to realise the significance of things happening. We did note earlier on in these studies that common sense suggested that the two daughters-in-law returned to their own people, their own culture and their own familiar gods, but if they had done that it would have left now elderly Naomi entirely on her own and defenceless and prey to goodness knows what on the journey back.  Ruth had given up her past and committed herself to going with Naomi together with all that that might entail. That was no cheap commitment, and Boaz understands that. He recognizes that she had cared for Naomi – “what you have done for your mother-in-law” and that she had given up her old life to go with her – “you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”   Those two things counted in his value system, and he appreciated her for it.

But he’s also a godly man and therefore he invokes a godly blessing over her: “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (v.12) i.e. may God do you good for the good you have done (to Naomi), and may coming to live in this land bring all of His goodness on you.

When invoking a blessing, it is always important that we  comply with the revealed will of God or spiritual principles that operate. Right from the outset in the Ten Commandments we find, “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul takes this command into New Testament Christianity: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:1-3) Note how he refers to it as the first command that comes with a promise which he reiterates in a wider world context. Honouring parents may include honouring parents-in-law and Ruth has certainly done that.

Thus Boaz emphasises the principle that if you honour, protect, and care for your parents, you will receive God’s blessing, God’s goodness. Note also in passing the strong emphasis that Boaz is making. This is not just a rule or principle of life, it is something that God Himself specifically does to reward or honour those who comply with and conform to His will. It points to the Lord and emphasises to Ruth that because she is now in Israel and has been acting righteously, she can expect the One True God to cover her with His blessings or His goodness. It is easy to miss this but living in God’s kingdom isn’t just about us conforming to His will and following His leading, it is also about Him specifically acting into our lives to bring goodness. It is not chance and it is not some mechanical rule, it is God expressing His love in practical ways to us. He delights to do good for us and when we are living in accordance with His will, then opens the way for Him to come with His goodness and do and bring good to us.

For Ruth this started back in Moab when she chose to go with Naomi. That was a good starting point, but it continues when she comes into the land and goes out into the field to find provision for Naomi and herself. These are righteous acts and they will be rewarded by the Lord. This ongoing story about Ruth, is not just random chance, it is built upon her righteous responses to the circumstances before her. we should remember that the same applies to us: whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, will we act righteously? Remember, those circumstances may appear quite negative, as they certainly were for Ruth, but the Lord looks to see if we will respond righteously in them whatever they are. As we look to Him and commit ourselves to Him, we will never be disappointed, for He will always bless us, He will always bring His goodness to our lives. Hallelujah!