April 28, 2017
Scripture and Commentary, April 29 and 30
Ruth 1, John 10:1-21
Ruth 2, 1 John 5
Commentary, Ruth 1
The book of Ruth is beloved for its literary beauty, but few understand its theology. It begins in the turbulent time of the Judges; the time of people like Deborah and Samson, during which the Hebrews, deep in sin and unbelief, are being attacked by the Canaanite tribes, and starved by famine. It is a famine in Israel that causes Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel and travel to Moab.
Remember that Israel is called by God to be His people and to love and serve Him in the land He gave unto them. It is sin for Israelites to desert their homes and people to live among the Gentiles, and it is sin for them to marry their sons to Gentile women. It is the sin of unbelief, of not trusting God to keep His promises, of not trusting Him enough to keep the Covenant and leave the rest to Him. As in so many things, the names and places have changed, but the story remains the same.
We see here a gradual and intentional move away from the Covenant of God toward the pagan views and lifestyle of the Gentiles. Elimelech and Naomi may not have rejected God entirely, but they are comfortable being part of an idolatrous people and having idolatry in their home and family. In spite of their move, Elimelech and his sons die in the famine, leaving the three women to cope alone.
When Naomi hears there is food in Israel she determines to go home. This is not a return to God, against whom she is very angry (13). It is simply a move to find food. Knowing her Moabite sojourn would be a hindrance to some of the Israelites, Naomi conveniently becomes a Hebrew again and tells her daughters in law to leave her. This is difficult, for there is obviously great love between them. It is partly due to her love that Naomi tells the wives to return to their own people. They are young and will be able to find husbands in Moab, but taking financial obligations to support a wife and her mother in law might not be the first choice of a young Moabite man.
So the story of Ruth begins with sin and its complications in the lives of these people. It also begins with Naomi's decision to return to Israel, but we need to understand this is not a desire to return to God and His Covenant; it is merely a decision to go where she might find food.
Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one. She says to those who greet her that she "went out full." She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law. She had family, love, and hope. Now that is all gone. She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food. She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20). Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20). Or has He? It was Elimelech and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen. It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God. It was they who married their sons to Moabite women. It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them. God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today. "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want. Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty. What else should we expect? How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?
What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her in grace. It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God. It is calling her back to the Covenant. God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20). Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you." It is as though God is saying to her;
"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin]. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God. This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life. It is a habit of the mind and soul. It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10. Make it your habitual way of life. This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.
Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God. In it we see the conversion of Ruth. She has been an idolater. She has been an alien and a stranger to God. Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life. But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God. She joins the Covenant people. She moves to the Promised Land. She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.
Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth. We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world. We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself. We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is a call to return to Him and turn away from her sin. And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace. All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.
Commentary, Ruth 2
Naomi may have returned to Israel empty, but God has much good in store for her. By his providence He works all things to good for His people, and He will bring good to Naomi in spite of her sin and lukewarm faith. By His providence He brings Naomi into contact with her wealthy brother in law, Boaz. It is not Naomi who makes plans to glean the fields of Boaz, it is Ruth (2:2). Ruth even dares to hope Boaz will be favourably disposed toward her. By God's grace, he is. It is not chance that brings him from Bethlehem. It is not chance that causes him to see this unknown woman gleaning in his field. It is not chance that he feels kindly toward her and gives her far more than simply the leftovers of the crop. It is Providence. God causes Boaz to learn of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and of her leaving the land of Moab to join herself to Israel (2:11). By God’s grace, Boaz is given the intention to be an instrument of His good will toward her (2:12-13).
There is much to learn of God's grace in this passage. We, like Naomi have sinned and strayed from God like lost sheep. We have dwelt among the heathen and neglected our duties to God. Our rebellion has been costly, for we have reaped what we have sown and we have found ourselves empty in our souls. But God is rich in mercy. In His Providence He has brought us to our Kinsman Redeemer and into His house and home. He has given us all that He has, as an adoring husband to his loving wife. We came to God empty, but He has made us full.
The heart of Ruth 2 is found in verse 20. Naomi is suffering through the dark night of the soul. She seems to have had an exceptionally close and happy relationship with her family. Now her beloved husband is dead, along with her two dear sons. The people who made her life worth living have been ripped from hear heart, and her grief at this loss is almost unbearable. Added to this grief is the loss of her home and income, so that she is plunged into poverty so deep she becomes a beggar who has to rely on charity for her food. She knows that, if her neighbors are not charitable, or if food is scarce, she and her daughter in law will face death by slow starvation in the coming winter.
It is difficult for us to imagine the deep, deep sorrow, anger, and despair that grips Naomi's heart, though we can see how it would be compounded by her nominal faith. But a spark of Godly hope is ignited within her when she sees the food brought to her. Ruth has brought not only grain, but also a significant portion of the meal given to her earlier that day (2:14 & 18)-19). She hears the good tidings that Boaz has provided an abundant supply of food for them (2:15-16, 21-23). But verse 20 is the real turning point in Naomi's life. Learning that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz, Naomi realises it is the Providence and Grace of God that took Ruth to the fields this day. Her words, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead," show that Naomi realises God intends to heal her wounded soul and restore her heritage in Israel. Boaz is required by Covenant Law to marry Ruth and provide children to inherit the property of her husband's father. He also has the wealth and power to redeem the property and return it to Ruth, and to Naomi. Naomi's words express her conversion. In these words, she confesses her faith in God, and takes her rightful place as a daughter of the Covenant.
In a very real sense, Boaz is a picture our Redeemer-Kinsman, our Lord Christ. He has power and the will to provide for the needs of life and to redeem us from the poverty in our souls. As God, through the kindness and faithfulness of Boaz, healed Naomi of the wounds in her soul and made her a child of the Covenant, Christ heals our souls and makes us children of grace. As Boaz had the power to redeem the property of Elimelech and make Naomi, Ruth, and her children heirs of land in Israel, Christ has power to redeem our souls and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Naomi realises God is working out the redemption of her property and her soul. Thus she gives thanks to God for His kindness to her, the living, and to her husband and sons, the dead. Their heritage in Israel will continue.
Ruth 3, Jn. 10:21-42
Ruth 4, 2nd and 3rd John
Commentary, Ruth 3
The events of the third chapter of Ruth seem strange to modern Christians. To put them in chronological order we see that the harvest is over and the time to thresh the grain has come. Boaz has dealt kindly with Naomi and Ruth, and it is due to him that the women have been able to gather enough food to keep them well supplied until the next year's harvest. Boaz, who lives in Bethlehem, has come to one of his threshing houses to winnow the barley, meaning to separate the grain from the hull and bits of leaves and stalks, called, "chaff." That part seems plain and normal to us, but what is this sneaking around in the dark and uncovering Boaz's feet? It is simply this; Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her and to redeem the property of her husband, which is now under lease to someone else, due to Naomi's poverty (4:3).
According to Old Testament law, the brother of a man who died without children was to marry his brother's widow, and father a child who would inherit the land and property of the deceased man. This was done so that the name of the deceased would continue in Israel, and that his family would always possess his portion of the land. According to Old Testament law, the land of Israel was given as a heritage to the people. Therefore, it could not be sold, but could be leased out until the year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original owner or his heirs. An Israelite usually only leased his property out because of severe financial problems, so there was a provision that a near kinsman could buy back the lease and return the property to its rightful owners. This was called "redeeming" the land.
When Ruth went to Boaz at night, she did nothing immoral. She simply asked Boaz to marry her. That is the meaning of verse 9. Had Boaz spread his "skirt," or, blanket over her, he would have been asking her to lie beside him as his wife, and they would be considered married. Boaz specifically did not invite her, but rather turned her away telling her that a nearer kinsman had the duty to marry her, but he would certainly do so if the other man consented.
It is significant that the Hebrew word for kinsman can also mean "redeemer." To marry his brother's widow a man would also redeem his property for his heirs if it had been leased to another. Thus, Boaz is addressed by Ruth as her near kinsman and redeemer. We see here a picture of the love of Christ for His Church. He is her redeemer who purchases her place in the Kingdom of God. He is also her husband who loves her for eternity.
Commentary, Ruth 4
Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and found the man who was a closer kinsman than himself. This man was willing to redeem the property of Naomi until he learned he would also have to marry Ruth. Marrying her would mean the property would not belong to him, but to Ruth's children. He would, therefore, be buying the property for Naomi, Ruth, and Ruth's children. This was the intent of this custom. It served to keep widows and children out of poverty, not provide extra land to those who could afford it. This man was willing to redeem the land when it appeared it would profit him. When he saw it would not, he passed it on to Boaz. Thus, Boaz received the right to marry Ruth and provide for the prosperity of Naomi and Ruth.
This is very important for it secures the place of Naomi and Ruth in the Covenant people of God. They have a share in the heritage of Israel, which symbolises that they have a "share" in God. They are truly now part of Israel, the redeemed of God.
We have come to the close of the book of Ruth. It is very tempting to spend time on the details of the events in today's reading, but let us instead go right to the major points of the passage.
First, the conversion of Ruth is complete. In the beginning of the book she was a pagan citizen of one of the bitterest enemies of Israel, Moab. In today's reading she is the mother of a child who inherits the property of Elimelech and Naomi, and of their sons. In the beginning she was an alien to the people of God, and to the promises of God given to Israel. Now she is a full citizen and participant in them. She is fully a daughter of the Covenant. So here is a woman, who grew up outside of the Church and without instruction in the Scriptures, who is welcomed into the Church by the grace of God. Thus, it is faith, not background that makes one a child of God. A person who has never yet been in Church is as welcome as those who have been raised in it. They, like Ruth, may freely come to God.
Second, the conversion of Naomi is complete. Naomi is back in the Covenant people, with a grandchild who will carry on the family name in Israel. More than this, she is reconciled to God. At the beginning of the book she was in sin and unbelief. Now her faith is as real as her place among the Covenant people. She, too, is a true daughter of the Covenant and child of God. Naomi was raised in Israel, with all the blessings and opportunities to know God and learn the Scriptures that the Hebrew people enjoyed. Yet she gave only lip service to God, preferring to follow the ways of the world. Many today, having the same opportunities, throw them away as Naomi did. Raised in the Church with countless opportunities to learn the Scripture and know Christ, they fritter away their opportunities in youth, and, in adulthood, and form the habit of neglecting the Word and House of God. They may retain a nominal belief in God. They may even try to live moral lives and have great respect for the Bible. But their hearts are not in it. When Christ commands them, "Follow Me," they draw back and ask, "How far?" Naomi was such a person, but in today's reading she has turned to God in true faith. All who have followed Naomi's example away from God may also follow her example back to Him. Those who do will find God as willing to welcome them as He was to welcome Naomi. Draw nigh unto Him and He will draw nigh unto you.
Third, God chose Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David. She was David's Great Grandmother. One of the main points of the book of Ruth is to show the life of the immediate forbearers of David, and to serve as an introduction to the call and life of David as king of Israel.
Fourth, the guiding hand of God is always upon His people. The time in which Naomi and Ruth lived was a chaotic time of rampant sin and open rejection of God. Some Israelites, like Elimelech and Naomi, left Israel to dwell among the pagans. Others simply incorporated pagan ideas and values into the Old Testament faith. Both actions were wrong, and their practitioners paid dearly. But God did not desert Israel, nor did He allow their sins to stop His plan to bring all things together in Christ. He brought David into the world by His providence and grace, and through David's line, the Saviour was born, in "the fulness of the time."