Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ruth


The book of Ruth is set in the time of the Judges which means that the society was characterized by everybody doing whatever they thought appropriate. There was very little national political or cultic control. We also know that God would let the Israelites have some slack, and then when they got too far out of hand, He would either send a famine or have some other tribe or country attack somewhere, so that the Israelites would appeal to God, elect a judge over them, and return to God. When they had returned, God would set right whatever was lacking in His blessing of them.

It is in this atmosphere that we have the story of Ruth and we know that there is a famine in the land so that Naomi's family moves to another land for food. And it is there that Naomi's son finds a Moabitess for a wife. This is interesting since good Israelites weren't supposed to marry outside of Israel, but he does. In this place of shelter, Naomi loses her husband and her two sons, and she decides to return to Israel. Ruth as we know, decides to go with her and Naomi eventually agrees.

So they go home. Ruth dedicates herself to caring for Naomi and comes to the attention of Boaz, a somewhat distant relative of Naomi. Boaz eventually gets the family's permission to redeem Naomi's land and Naomi and Ruth come with the land. Boaz and Ruth get married and we find that Ruth becomes the grandmother of David.

So what do we discover about God in this story where He isn't even mentioned? There are a few items that we can discern based on our knowledge of God.

--While God may discipline His people, He is with them in that punishment, He provides for them in the midst of it, and they usually come out of it in better shape than they entered. Along these lines we can see the blessing of Abraham and Isaac in Egypt and Moab, Noah, Job, and David. Our God is a faithful God who doesn't leave His people. He is always with them.

--God has always accepted people who weren't "part of His people." Ruth is the heroine of this story. She's a Moabitess who's dedication to Naomi displayed personal character and steadfastness that is characteristic of our God. She had a heart like God's and as such, was used by God in a way she probably couldn't see or understand.

--God uses what appear to be calamity to work His purposes. Naomi's son, even though he dies early in the story and does not reappear, is used by God. It is he who marries Ruth, and it is his death that allows Ruth to eventually marry Boaz. I suspect that Naomi and Ruth didn't see that hidden blessing in his death, but God worked through it to bless the world.

--God often uses these non-God's-people to bless His people and the world. This is important. Often God's people seem to think they're special and are due blessing upon blessing because of their standing with God. From time to time, God's people remember that their purpose is not self-aggrandizement, but the blessing of others. If our standing with God nets us riches, gifts, and capabilities, it does so only so that we can in turn bestow blessing on other people. But this point is a bit different still. God blesses and uses those who are not recognized as His people to work His will. These "not of us" people are used by the Creator of the Universe to work His will. If they have Godlike character, He blesses them in so using them. Ruth is going to become a Mother of God. Through her will come not only David and Solomon - and every other royal descendant, but Jesus of Nazareth as well.

--God uses sinners to work His will. Boaz can represent another woman in the story as he is a descendant of Rahab, a woman who could not be described as a woman of God for much of her life. Having worked as a prostitute, she hides the Israelite spies and by her faith is saved from destruction. Here we find that through her, and this Moabitess will come the Savior of the world.

The story of Ruth is really only about a few regular, run of the mill folks, who live in community and try to get along without too much fuss. No one here is described as "great" although Boaz has some money and gets more apparently. But he's not going to show up many more times in Scripture. And yet, God works through these average people to literally save the world.

Toward the end of Hebrews 11, the writer finally says he's run out of time to rehearse all the other great people of faith. He's had time to mention Rahab - he gives her a couple lines, but he doesn't have time to describe David, Samuel, and a few other people that we recognize as "big guns." And he mentions some no-name people as well including women who received back their dead. There are at least two that we can identify: the Shunamite woman and the widow of Zarapheth. And then a few lines later the writer says "...the world was not worthy of them."

Amazing isn't it? That in this list of great people, the writer mentions unnamed women and says the world wasn't worthy to have them grace the planet. Old women who lived in backwater places, without names, who got to witness first hand the precense and power of our God. And in the story of Ruth we have three more women who would normally have gone unnoticed, two of which become ancestors of our God.

Often times we wonder if our lives and what we do really matter a whole lot in the big scheme of things. We want to know that we are special, we want to know that we are making an impact, we want to know that we are God's people because He blesses us. The fact is, God uses normal, everyday people like you and me to work His will in this world. We may not understand how it might work, we may not understand why we have to go through stuff, we may not understand how God could use us when it doesn't seem we amount to much, but use us He will if we seek Him and have His character.

The grace of our God extends to all people in all circumstances not only to save them, but to let them participate in His saving and blessing of the world.

Let Him use you as you live today.


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