Happily ever after
Ruth 4: Boaz married Ruth.
It’s a happy ending. The sadness of loss is replaced by a new, glorious day. Ruth, who lost so much, is now experiencing God at work in her life. In Boaz, Lord has a good husband for her. The Lord’s working in ways no one could have imagined. The result is, well, a match made in heaven. God is the God of Second Chances. For Ruth it’s another chance for a happy life. For Naomi, it’s a grandchild, the continuation of her family. Then, one more thing: you see there is more going on here than anyone knows. We finish the story with the future family tree. Boaz and Ruth’s great-great grandson will be a fellow named David who’ll be King of Israel and one of David’s descendants will be Jesus, our Savior. Oh yes, God is at work here.
Take Away: The Lord works at multiple levels providing for things we may never live to see.
People are watching
Ruth 3: Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are.
There’s a lot of cultural stuff in this story that seems odd to me. Apparently, even though Ruth is a widow, she’s still considered to be “married” to her husband’s family. If she marries again, it needs to be “in the family.” Naomi tells Ruth it’s time to act. Boaz is eligible to marry Ruth and he’s shown kindness to her. Maybe even more than kindness is in the air! Ruth makes herself as beautiful as possible and attends his harvest party. As the festivities wind down, Boaz finds a place to sleep and that’s when Ruth makes her move. She quietly lies down at his feet. Again, there’s some cultural stuff happening here that feels strange, but apparently this is a way for Ruth to let Boaz know she’s interested in him. When Boaz sees her there he’s quite pleased and promises to pursue the legal side of marrying her. I find his comment that “everyone knows what a courageous woman you are” to be interesting. Apparently, from the time Ruth arrived with Naomi people have been watching her. She’s not an Israelite; in fact, her people have been sometimes enemies of Israel; so they’ve kept an eye on her. At first, she was possibly even unwelcome but little by little her faithfulness to Naomi, her solid work ethic, and her courage have won them over. People may not be interested in hearing me tell them about Jesus. They may think I’m strange and not worthy of their trust. However, they are watching. As I go about living for the Lord in good days and in bad and as I concentrate on doing the right thing whether or not it’s convenient doors will open for me that were closed in the beginning.
Take Away: A life lived for Jesus will open doors for spiritual conversations with people who have been watching.
Ruth 2: God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!
A ray of sunshine in a dark place
Naomi and Ruth are destitute and alone as they return to Israel. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. They are two widows on their own. Ruth goes out to the fields hoping to find enough left over from the harvest to give her and Naomi something to eat. To her surprise, she finds herself talking to a wealthy landowner who welcomes her and treats her kindly. Upon returning home she tells Naomi of her adventure. It’s then that Naomi makes this wonderful statement concerning God’s grace. “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!” It seemed that way. Naomi has buried a husband and two sons. In Ruth’s surprisingly good day of gleaning, and especially in her encounter with Boaz, she sees God at work. “He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” That, my friend, is pretty good theology from a widow woman living in the dark days of the book of Judges. I’m reminded today that my circumstances aren’t an indicator of God’s work, or lack thereof, in my life. Just because things get hard it doesn’t mean that God has stopped loving me. Naomi is wise enough to recognize this truth, and I need to realize it too.
Take Away: Even in the hard days the Lord, sometimes unseen, is at work bringing good to our lives.
Ruth 1: Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god.
A family of refugees moves into her neighborhood and over time she falls in love with and marries one of the sons. Her in-laws often surprise Ruth. Their ways are different than hers. Most unique is their religion. They have but one God and they tell many stories of his deliverance of their people and his love for them. Their laws are just and intended to protect the weak. Even as Ruth is becoming a part of this family, the family begins coming apart. First, her father-in-law dies. Then her brother-in-law passes away and soon after that her own husband dies. In time, her broken-hearted mother-in-law declares that she’s releasing the wives of her two deceased sons. The young women can marry again and start life anew. As for her, it’s time she returns home. How sad: she left her homeland with a husband and two fine sons. Now she’ll return alone. Ruth is having none of this. In Naomi she has not only a mother-in-law but also a friend. Beyond that, going back to her old life, now that she’s had had a glimpse of something better, is unthinkable. So we come to her beautiful statement of commitment. She will cast her lot with Naomi. She will be her friend and she will make Naomi’s values and Naomi’s God her own. I wonder if my life, even in the face of heartache, has the potential to cause anyone to say, “I will serve and love the God you serve and love.”
Take Away: There’s something attractive about a God-centered life.
A candle shining in the darkness
Ruth 1: It was back in the days when judges led Israel.
The stories in Judges get darker and darker, with the final one, the one about the Levite’s concubine, being the worst of all. It’s not only a story of civil war but one which also highlights just how terribly women in general are treated in this distant day. Then I turn the page and find myself reading a beautiful, gentle love story. Even in the midst of diminishing worship of God and the resulting lowering of morality in general, I find that God is still working in the lives of those who will walk with him. I see that some people aren’t absorbed by the common culture. Instead, some are noble and kind and generous even when, because of that, they are totally out of step with their society. This is a wonderful reminder to me as I reflect on my own culture — a culture that seems committed on removing God from all public life; a culture that “calls the darkness ‘light’ and calls the light ‘darkness.’ There’s still the possibility of purity and Christian gentleness, even in my culture. Not only is it possible, but a small, unnoticed act might just impact the world in ways I can never imagine.
Take Away: Even in the midst of a corrupt culture we can live clean, beautiful lives in Christ.
Judges 20: How did this outrageous evil happen?
The final story in the book of Judges is about as dark and evil as it can get. It concerns a man and his concubine. The story contains deviant sexual behavior, rape, and murder. The result is a civil war in which the tribe of Benjamin is practically wiped out. One question asked during the story should ring in our ears: “How did this outrageous evil happen?” How did the descendants of Abraham, this miraculously freed nation of slaves, these recipients of the Ten Commandments, these people chosen to be God’s very own come to this? The answer is “self and sin.” Their faith hasn’t been passed on to their children. Their heroes become more and more flawed. God is forgotten and their society begins to unravel. The writer of Judges concludes in the famous epitaph of the book: “At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. I’d better not read this with a detached sense of superiority. I live in a society in which “doing whatever one feels like doing” is the norm. We want a convenient God who does our bidding, but leaves us alone the rest of the time. When Israel tries that the result is disaster. Do we really think we can get away with it?
Take Away: Whether we’re talking about an individual or a nation, it’s foolish to attempt to live apart from God.
Grasping at straws
Judges 17: Stay here with me. Be my father and priest.
Things go from bad to worse as I progress through the book of Judges. The lofty mountain top encounter with God through his servant Moses of centuries before is forgotten as is Joshua’s declaration of faithfulness to God. The light of the promise made by their ancestors at the Red Sea and then at the Jordan River is nearly extinguished. Judges is a downhill book. There are occasional heroes but they become fewer and fewer. The heroes we do find become more and more flawed. Here’s the story of Micah and his hired Levite priest. In this spiritual night, there’s a hunger for God, but it’s so broken and disfigured that we hardly recognize it. Using God to get wealthy or for the purpose of fortune telling is the order of the day. The tribes that were so united under Joshua and Moses are now fragmented politically and greatly influenced by the pagans of the land. The tug of war over who gets the priest is a pitiful reminder of the result of spiritual emptiness. In spite of the uniqueness of this story, I think it’s being lived out in my own culture. People who think they’re beyond needing God grasp at anything that promises to satisfy their emptiness. As I see the pitiful people of this distant day fighting over the Levite priest, I’m reminded that our message of “God with us” is the one the world desperately needs today.
Take Away: There’s a hunger in our lives that can only be filled by the Lord.