The Book of Ruth: Introduction (Part 1) – How Relevant Can a Book of the Bible Be?

Posted: October 16, 2017 in Book of Ruth
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The Book of Ruth: An Introduction (Part 1 of 4)
As we move to a new book of the Bible today, we are thankful for the Book of Ruth. It comes at point in the Bible where you almost thoroughly disgusted with the people of Israel. The last thing we saw in Judges was that the people of Israel had sunk to new lows of immoral behavior. A civil war had broken out because of half-truths, gang rape of a woman to the point of death that followed after men wanting to have homosexual sex with a stranger passing through a Benjamite town. It was a very sordid and ugly time in the book of Judges. As we read through it, the behaviors became progressively worse as the nation of Israel strayed farther and farther from God.

Ruth provides us with a glimpse of goodness in a time of horrible morality in Israel. The book of Ruth shows us many things:

• First, it shows us that even in the worst of times, there are true believers in God who carry out their faith regardless of the moral climate of the nations (Part 1 of 4 of these blogs)

• Second, it shows us that participation in the kingdom of God is not limited by who you are or what you were and that God can use us all no matter where we start from (Part 2 of 4 of these blogs)

• Third, it demonstrates faithful obedience to God leads us to God’s promises for our lives (Part 3 of 4 of these blogs)

• Finally, it teaches about God’s redemptive plan for man (Part 4 of 4 of these blogs)

Ruth is a beautifully written and wonderfully executed book, though it is one of the shorter books in the Bible and deserves full study and attention by us. For today and the next 3 blogs, we will focus on the overall things that Ruth teaches us. Then, we will move into the passages of the book itself.

Today, let us look as the idea that Ruth teaches us that even in the worst of times, there are true believers in God regardless of the moral climate in which they lived. This is a key point in the book and it is a key concept that we must remember in today’s world. Here we see Ruth, Naomi and Boaz as people of faith and obedience in a dark period in Israel’s history. The story of Ruth takes place toward the end of the Judges period in Israel. These were dark days for Israel when “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes”, the oft-repeated phrase in the Book of Judges. But even in the darkest of times for Israel, there were still those who followed God. Naomi and Ruth are beautiful examples of loyalty, friendship and commitment to God and each other. Boaz represents a man who is generous and faithful to the Lord at time when the world may have seemed to have gone mad. Ruth, in particular, is a woman of genuine spiritual character. That she was not an Israelite and she is the shining star in a bleak period in Israel’s moral history reminds us just how far Israel had strayed from God.

What can we learn from this idea presented in this book – that even in the darkest of times that there are people of faith. How timely is that lesson? Just think about our nation right now. Just think about other examples in the Bible of people willing to sacrifice it all for their faith. We begin with Jesus Christ himself. He sacrificed Himself for our sins as part of God’s redemptive plan for man. Jesus was faithful to the Father’s plan regardless of what it would cost him personally. He took on the wrath of God against sin willingly and obediently. He suffered pain and death to achieve God’s greater goal. He did not care whether He was popular. He cared only to speak the truth of God. He cared only to carry out God’s plan, regardless as to what it would cost him personally. Look at Paul. He suffered mightily in carrying the gospel to the nations. He spoke the truth of God regardless of consequences. And without Paul, it is quite possible that you and I as believers would not be sitting here reading this blog right now. Look at the other Apostles. They each gave their lives and died in their efforts to spread the gospel to all the world. In the Old Testament, we see this played out in the book of Ruth.

It is no accident in God’s divine guidance of the formation of the Bible that the Book of Ruth appears right after Judges. In Judges as it ends, we are as believers appalled at the state of the people of Israel at the end of the judges period. Man, it was ugly was it not. The nation had degenerated into civil war that can be traced back to a bunch of horny guys wanting to have sex with somebody regardless of who it was, a guy who throw his mistress to the wolves to save his own skin, and the callousness of a group of men who thought it was socially acceptable to gang rape a woman to death. That these behaviors even existed is evidence that the nation had become tolerant of deviant sexual behaviors and tolerant of “everyone doing what they thought was right in their own eyes.” We scoff at how horrid the people of Israel had become. We are revolted by their behavior and bemoan of what will become of the people of Israel here in this biblical history of God’s chosen people. We find rest and beauty here in the book of Ruth. We find that there are actually people who still love God and obey Him. Even in the darkest of moral climates, we find lovers of God. How relevant is that to us today? Mightily, it is!

We live in a time in history here in the 21st century where our country and perhaps the entirety of Western civilization has become like the Judges period Israelites. We have no king but ourselves. We pervert God’s Word by ignoring and saying it is out-of-date and no longer applicable to modern man. We have “evolved” beyond our need for God and for His Word. What was once considered the universal truth in the Bible is now discarded so that we can chase after our own desires. That we see fulfilling our own desires as god above God is history repeating itself in our day. We are the book of Judges today. We have forgotten God’s Word because it is inconvenient truths that get in the way of fulfilling our desires. All behaviors that are forbidden by God’s Word are open season and are glorified. In the midst of all that, Christians stand at a crossroads in a culture that is more and more openly hostile to God. We have choices to make. Are we to be faithful to God or do we join in the opposition to God. Do we stand out or join in? Ruth gives us an example of that there are people of faith even in the darkest periods in moral history. We do not have to join in. We have to be faithful to God no matter the circumstances.

What do we value most? Our eternity with our Father in heaven or fitting in with the culture. Even the organized church of today struggles with fitting in or honoring and protecting God’s Word. We as Christ followers must be Ruth, Naomi and Boaz in the face of the immoral hurricane in which we live. We must care more about obeying God than we do about the culture in which we live. We must be willing to demonstrate godly lives in the midst of a godless culture. We must be willing to be faithful to the Lord even when it seems to be out of step with the world around us. We must be willing to be faithful to the Lord when there seems to be no earthly reason to do so. We must have faith in a time when we may see no evidence of why obedience is right this side of heaven. We must trust in the Lord regardless of whether we get earthly benefits from it. We must bow before the Lord and not before the cultural norms of man.

For the book of Ruth, we are thankful. It is an inspiration to us that we see faithfulness regardless of the climate in which the people lived. They loved God and obeyed him even though they lived in a self-seeking, gratify me now society. How much more pertinent can a book of the Bible be?
Amen and Amen.

Here is an overview for the book of Ruth that I adapted from my Old Testament class from when I was in the Master of Christian Ministry program at North Greenville University in the fall semester of 2012:

SUMMARY, KEY THEMES & OUTLINE
The Book of Ruth
I. Title
a. The book is named after one of its main characters, a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and an ancestress of Jesus (4:21-22; Mt 1:1,5).
b. The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is Esther.

II. Background
a. The story is set in the time of the judges, a time characterized in the book of Judges as a period of religious and moral degeneracy, national disunity and frequent foreign oppression.
b. The book of Ruth reflects a time of peace between Israel and Moab (contrast Jdg 3:12-30).
c. Like 1Sa 1-2, it gives a series of intimate glimpses into the private lives of the members of an Israelite family.
d. It also presents a delightful account of the remnant of true faith and piety in the period of the judges, relieving an otherwise wholly dark picture of that era.

III. Author and Date of Writing
a. The author is unknown.
b. Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it is unlikely that he is the author because the mention of David (4:17,22) implies a later date.
c. Further, the literary style of Hebrew used in Ruth suggests that it was written during the period of the monarchy.

IV. Theme and Theology
a. The importance of faithful love in human relationships among God’s kingdom people is powerfully underscored.
i. The author focuses on Ruth’s unswerving and selfless devotion to desolate Naomi (1:16-17; 2:11-12; 3:10; 4:15) and on Boaz’s kindness to these two widows (chs. 2 – 4).
ii. The book presents striking examples of lives that embody in their daily affairs the self-giving love that fulfills God’s law (Lev 19:18; cf. Ro 13:10).
iii. Such love also reflects God’s love, in a marvelous joining of human and divine actions (compare 2:12 with 3:9). In God’s benevolence such lives are blessed and are made a blessing.
iv. It may seem surprising that one who reflects God’s love so clearly is a Moabitess. Yet her complete loyalty to the Israelite family into which she has been received by marriage and her total devotion to her desolate mother-in-law mark her as a true daughter of Israel and a worthy ancestress of David.

b. She strikingly exemplifies the truth that participation in the coming kingdom of God is decided, not by blood and birth, but by the conformity of one’s life to the will of God through the “obedience that comes from faith” (Ro 1:5). Her place in the ancestry of David signifies that all nations will be represented in the kingdom of David’s greater Son.

c. As an episode in the ancestry of David, the book of Ruth sheds light on his role in the history of redemption. Redemption is a key concept throughout the account; the Hebrew word in its various forms occurs 23 times. The book is primarily a story of Naomi’s transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz.
i. She moves from
1. emptiness to fullness (1:21; 3:17),
2. from destitution (1:1-5) to security and hope (4:13-17).
ii. Similarly, Israel was transformed from national desperation at the death of Eli (1Sa 4:18) to peace and prosperity in the early days of Solomon (1Ki 4:20-34; 5:4) through the selfless devotion of David, a true descendant of Ruth and Boaz.
iii. The author thus reminded Israel that the reign of the house of David, as the means of God’s benevolent rule in Israel, held the prospect of God’s promised peace and rest.
iv. But this rest would continue only so long as those who participated in the kingdom — prince and people alike — reflected in their daily lives the selfless love exemplified by Ruth and Boaz.
v. In Jesus, the great “son of David” (Mt 1:1), and his redemptive work, the promised blessings of the kingdom of God find their fulfillment.

V. Literary Features
a. The book of Ruth is a Hebrew short story, told with consummate skill. Among historical narratives in Scripture it is unexcelled in its compactness, vividness, warmth, beauty and dramatic effectiveness — an exquisitely wrought jewel of Hebrew narrative art.
b. Marvelously symmetrical throughout (see Outline), the action moves from a briefly sketched account of distress (1:1-5; 71 words in Hebrew) through four episodes to a concluding account of relief and hope that is drawn with equal brevity (4:13-17; 71 words in Hebrew).
c. The crucial turning point occurs exactly midway.
d. The opening line of each of the four episodes signals its main development
i. (1:6, the return;
ii. 2:1, the meeting with Boaz;
iii. 3:1, finding a home for Ruth;
iv. 4:1, the decisive event at the gate),
e. Meanwhile, the closing line of each episode facilitates transition to what follows (see notes on 1:22; 2:23; 3:18; 4:12).
f. Contrast is also used to good effect:
i. pleasant (the meaning of “Naomi”) and bitter (1:20),
ii. full and empty (1:21),
iii. and the living and the dead (2:20).
iv. Most striking is the contrast between two of the main characters, Ruth and Boaz:
1. The one is a young, alien, destitute widow,
2. while the other is a middle-aged, well-to-do Israelite securely established in his home community.
3. For each there is a corresponding character whose actions highlight, by contrast, his or her selfless acts:
a. Ruth — Orpah,
b. Boaz — the unnamed kinsman.
v. When movements in space, time and circumstance all correspond in some way, a harmony results that both satisfies the reader’s artistic sense and helps open doors to understanding. The author of Ruth keeps his readers from being distracted from the central story — Naomi’s passage from emptiness to fullness through the selfless acts of Ruth and Boaz (see Theme and Theology).
vi. That passage, or restoration, first takes place in connection with her return from Moab to the promised land and to Bethlehem (“house of food”). It then progresses with the harvest season, when the fullness of the land is gathered in.
vii. All aspects of the story keep the reader’s attention focused on the central issue.
viii. Consideration of these and other literary devices will aid understanding of the book of Ruth.

Outline

I. Introduction: Naomi Emptied (1:1-5)
II. Naomi Returns from Moab (1:6-22)
a. Ruth Clings to Naomi (1:6-18)
b. Ruth and Naomi Return to Bethlehem (1:19-22)
III. Ruth and Boaz Meet in the Harvest Fields (ch. 2)
a. Ruth Begins Work (2:1-7)
b. Boaz Shows Kindness to Ruth (2:8-16)
c. Ruth Returns to Naomi (2:17-23)
IV. Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz’s Threshing Floor (ch. 3)
a. Naomi Instructs Ruth (3:1-5)
b. Boaz Pledges to Secure Redemption (3:6-15)
c. Ruth Returns to Naomi (3:16-18)
V. Boaz Arranges to Fulfill His Pledge (4:1-12)
a. Boaz Confronts the Unnamed Kinsman (4:1-8)
b. Boaz Buys Naomi’s Property and Announces His Marriage to Ruth (4:9-12)
VI. Conclusion: Naomi Filled (4:13-17)
VII. Epilogue: Genealogy of David (4:18-22)

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