Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Introduction to Ruth

God wants all to believe in Him, no matter what ethnicity or nationality they belong to. He covenanted with Abraham and his descendants that "in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3) and that all peoples would be drawn to the one true living God.

The book of Ruth gives us a snapshot of God's desire to redeem all people to Himself. This book takes place during the time of the Judges, which, as we have seen, is marked by spiritual and moral decay. The book of Ruth shines as a glimmer of hope against this dark backdrop.

Ruth was a pagan, born of the Moabite people, and thus is outside of the covenant community of Israel. She marries a Jew, who goes to live in her country, and through her husband and mother-in-law Ruth learns something of the one true God. When her husband dies, she comes to a crossroads: her mother-in-law Naomi decides to return to Israel. It is expected that Ruth will stay with her own people, yet Ruth responds with the famous words, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also, if anything but death parts you and me". (Ruth 1:16-17).

And so Ruth and Naomi return to Israel, an old widowed woman who has lost both her sons with her pagan daughter-in-law. Things look bleak for them with very little means of support or hope for the future. Yet God's providential hand will graciously redeem them from their plight in a remarkable way.

Through a series of circumstances Ruth meets Boaz, a close relative of the family who exercises the right of the "kinsman redeemer". This individual was a close relative who had the financial resources to rescue a poverty-stricken family member, stepping in to save that relative from slavery or from having to sell the family's ancestral land. Boaz not only redeemed the land that Naomi was about to sell, but he also took on another kinsman-redeemer's responsibilities - the obligation to to provide an heir for Ruth's deceased husband, as dying without an heir to carry on the family name was considered a great tragedy. To prevent this, the brother of the deceased was expected to marry the widow and produce a child, a process called "levirate marriage" and outlined in the books of Moses. Although he was not the nearest relative, Boaz nobly fulfilled these responsibilities by purchasing the land, marrying Ruth, and fathering a son, Obed, with her.

A lovely story, but why is it included in the Bible? There are several good reasons:

1. It shows God's willingness to adopt Gentiles (non-Jews) into his covenant family.

2. It spotlights a godly woman of character. It is one of two books of the Bible named after a woman (Esther is the other). This woman, though born a pagan, receives the high honor of being in the bloodline of King David, King Solomon, and ultimately, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ! She joins other unlikely women in Jesus' geneology: Tamar, who conceived through deceiving Judah (who was withholding the levirate duty from her) and Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who helped the Israelite spies in the book of Joshua. In Ruth, God gives great honor to someone whose condition appeared hopeless: pagan, widowed, and childless. Our God is a redeeming God!

3. This brings up the final, broadest point: God is a redeemer. We, like Ruth, were once in desperate straits through our sin. We were far away from God, cut off from his covenant life. But God sent Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer, who joined the family of humanity that he might buy us back, take us as His bride, and adopt us into the family of God.

Praise God for Jesus, our faithful Kinsman-Redeemer!

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