This coming Sunday, we’ll step back into the world of the judges of ancient Israel. Only this time, we’ll be launching into the book of Ruth. That’s one of the reasons I chose it, by the way, and not just because it follows the book of Judges in our English Bibles. The story of Ruth is set some time during the 400 year period of the judges. The author of the book of Ruth tells us so, and with the book of Judges fresh on our hearts and minds, I believe it’ll make the remarkable story of Ruth all the more impactful. Beyond that, there are several other reasons to explore this short story of romance and redemption.
First, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to us to peek behind the curtain of the ordinary of our everyday lives. There are no obvious miracles in the book of Ruth. There are no blinding appearances by heavenly beings. There are no larger than life characters in its four chapters like there were in the book of Judges. There is only the pressing need for food that drives an unimportant family from Bethlehem to seek sustenance in a foreign and potentially hostile land. There is death. There is mourning. There is love. There is work. There is hunger satisfied. There is a marriage proposal. There is a wedding. There is a birth. Indeed, for a book of the Bible, the little book of Ruth is decidedly “normal,” just like the great majority of our lives, and that is its beauty. For in it God shows that despite all appearances to the contrary he is most certainly at work in and through the ordinary comings and goings of the everyday lives of his people, often times doing more than we could possibly ask or imagine – like paving a long and winding road right through the little book of Ruth, a road that would eventually lead to the birth of the Savior of the world.
Bottom line: The book of Ruth is a beautiful reminder that the most important things going on in the world probably aren’t the most important things going on in the world, when it comes to God’s work in the world. After all, it wasn’t the mighty judges who ended up in the lineage of King Jesus. It was the little family of Elimelech from the little town of Bethlehem.
Second, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to watch him move mysteriously in, through, and behind all things – even the hard things – to bring about good for his people. Only five verses into the book and Naomi is a destitute widow. She is without her husband, without her sons, and without any means of providing for herself and her daughters-in-law. Things look bleak. But there’s a reason all of this occurs within the first five verses. We’re not supposed to focus our attention on the first five verses. We’re supposed to see the seriousness of Naomi’s situation and focus our gaze on the unfolding, redemptive plan of God that takes glorious shape throughout the rest of the book of Ruth.
As I’m sure it did not for Naomi, in the midst of her misery, God’s sovereignty won’t always make sense to us, especially when we’re in the furnace of affliction, but Ruth’s four chapters invite us further up and further in, and give us something of a bird’s eye view, rather, a God’s eye view, of the story of Naomi. She encounters tremendous suffering, yes, but her God was at work in her suffering to redeem and restore not just her but really and truly the whole world through her descendent, Jesus Christ. In his book A Sweet and Bitter Providence, John Piper writes of Ruth: “The most prominent purpose of the book of Ruth is to bring the calamities and sorrows of life under the sway of God’s providence and show us that God’s purposes are good.” When we suffer, we need to be reminded of this truth, and the book of Ruth is designed to put it in front of us in living color.
Third, the book of Ruth is God’s invitation to see the person and work of Jesus and his astonishing love foreshadowed, woven throughout the story, that we might be moved to worship and adore him. In John 5:39, Jesus makes it clear that the Old Testament is about him, which means we ought see signposts in the book of Ruth pointing us toward his person and work. Indeed, his is the incarnate love of Ruth, who embodies God’s covenant commitment to Naomi through her own commitment to remain with Naomi for the rest of her life. His is the generous and liberating love of Boaz, who goes above and beyond what is required by the law to provide for a needy foreigner and her destitute mother-in-law. His is the loyal love of a covenant-keeping God who delivers Naomi from the valley of the shadow of death and raises her to new life, giving her a new family and new future. The book of Ruth is but one chapter in the grand story that the whole Bible is telling, a story with Jesus Christ at the center, and we’re reading the Bible rightly only when we see its many threads coming together in the beautiful tapestry of God’s redemptive work in his beloved Son.
Finally, the book of Ruth is a divinely inspired picture of what it looks like to love well. It’s a story of God’s love and devotion on display in the people at the center of the story. Through Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, God is showing us what love for other people looks like in the lives of those who have been changed by his love. Together, all the characters in the story perform a symphony of sorts, painting for us with their decisions and their obvious acts of kindness a vibrant picture of a love that is self-forgetful, sacrificial, devoted, compassionate, generous, protective, thoughtful, and loyal. As the characters in the book of Ruth love, we look on amazed at God’s love on display in them, and we are challenged to love in kind, as those who have experienced firsthand the love of God in Jesus Christ. And to be sure, such a love is no easy undertaking.
The book of Ruth tells us that loving as God loves requires: 1) the very strength and presence of the Lord himself, 2) an unwavering commitment to die to self, to personal dreams and desires, 3) with no expectation of being loved in return. This is precisely how Ruth loves Naomi, and it’s how we are called by our God to love those he has placed around us, even as Christ loved us. Near the end of his excellent book on Ruth, A Loving Life, Paul Miller writes: “Everything Ruth does – from walking through the gates ignored and unthanked to giving her newborn son to Naomi – is a function of her love for Naomi. She risks her honor by lying at the feet of Boaz, alone and vulnerable, in order to restore Naomi’s family line. By marrying an older man she almost assures herself that she will again be a widow. This complete absence of self reflects the mind of Christ.” (155)
In a very real sense then the book of Ruth gives us the opportunity to do exactly what Psalm 107:43 invites us to do: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” I hope you’ll join us at MountainView Church over the next five weeks as we walk through the book of Ruth and do just that – consider the steadfast love of the Lord.