Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More on Ruth

I’ve finished reading Sinclair Ferguson’s exposition on Ruth, Faithful God, and it certainly lives up to the praise lavished on it over at Amazon. It’s a little book, but in the short space he’s given Ferguson helps us enter Ruth’s world, pays careful attention to the text, shows where it ultimately points to Jesus and makes pastoral insights throughout. The book has as its genesis a series of talks given at the conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales and it shows. Happy to commend this to anyone seeking to understand Ruth better!

Anyway, more thoughts on Ruth (initial thoughts here), with help from Ferguson and others…

Covenant background – God’s people will be blessed if they were faithful to their covenant promises and vice versa. That a famine was occurring was a warning sign from God that his people were drifting away from him, and a call to repent. God is asking his people to come back to him. But Eliminech decides to take his family away from God and into Moab instead; maybe he thought that it would just be for a brief time, but before you know it, the sons are grown up and marry Moabite women! Ruth 1 has a sad beginning; they move away from famine, but they do not escape death.

Naomi’s decision to return (the act of returning being given great emphasis in chp.1) is a sign of her repentance. God is merciful – he “provides food” (1:6), literally “gives them bread”. Bethlehem in fact literally means “house of bread”. Of course Naomi et al. would be unaware of it, but hints of how God will ultimately shows his mercy, through Jesus the bread of life, are there. Why did Naomi ask Ruth and Orpah to go back? Surely she wanted them to know Israel’s God? But Naomi is actually asking them to count the cost, following this God will not guarantee comfort. Not to mention that it will be difficult for them in a foreign land where Moabites were generally not welcomed. Ruth’s memorable quip is in fact a sign of her own faith. It’s a transfer of allegiance. Ruth 1 ends with a harvest, again hinting at a turning point in the plot.

Ruth 2. Ruth just happens to stumble onto Boaz’s field, and Boaz just happens to arrive at just the right time – God must have been smiling then! What about Boaz’s charity? He gave her loads of barley to take home. Again the theme of famine to abundance is there. God is shown to be a faithful God who keeps his promises. Following him is costly, but it is also worth it. “Blessed are those who thirst and hunger after righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6) And of course, Boaz is probably smitten as well!

Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer, a guy who might have potential rights over Naomi’s property and be expected to look after her. Boaz and his God-centeredness is an example we can emulate. Ferguson puts it nicely here: “In Boaz law and love are one.” He understands obedience to God can be delightful (shades of Piper?). Law and gospel issues are also interesting to think about in Ruth, although since I am fairly clueless on the topic I wouldn’t go there now. Ruth probably was unaware of Boaz’s position, but Naomi isn’t!

Ruth 3. I thought this was the most difficult chapter to understand. What’s going on here? Ferguson suggests that Naomi, in her enthusiasm to get Ruth and Boaz together and also improve her own security, is impatient and rash. Others disagree. Ruth is still regarded as of noble character (v.11). Ambiguity! But in any case, Boaz still acts honourably at this point, knowing full-well that there is another kinsman-redeemer who is a closer relation. A positive picture of relationships characterized by integrity, patience and trust is painted. Christians can rest in the purposes of God and in Jesus, our Redeemer. Naomi herself adopts a more patient gesture of trust by the end of chapter 3: let’s see what happens. God is working as much in day-to-day, ordinary life as in more extravagant, miraculous offerings.

Ruth 4. The closer relative counts the cost, he can’t do it. Boaz does! His selflessness comes through. Again, obedience is not for him a millstone. Happy endings all around. No more barrenness! Just another sign of God’s faithfulness, as he was to Sarah, to Hannah, to Elizabeth.

Ferguson says that Ruth is multum in parvo, much in little. I think he’s right!


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never thought of Ruth in that way, especially the themes of return/repentance.

7:54 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Glad I could help us see that. If you can get hold of Fee and Stuart's How to Read the Bible Book by Book, their section on Ruth is helpful in orienting you to read this little but quite amazing book!

10:47 pm  

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