Surveying the Text: Ruth

Introduction:

The book of Ruth seems like a quaint little story, off by the side of the road, but it is actually a crucial part of the story of the coming Messiah. The fact that these events were recorded long before the arrival of David shows the sense of expectancy that attends this story.

The Text:

“And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (Matt. 1:4–6).

Summary of the Text:

When we do research in our family tree, which is usually an innocent activity, we are not generally looking for the horse thieves. We like to find distinguished ancestors, like the great great-grandfather who held Robert E. Lee’s horse at Appomattox. But among the Jews it was different—their interest in genealogies was rooted in their desire to find a distinguished descendant. A good portion of the Old Testament consists of telling us the story of how God was narrowing down the options, leaning into the future. First, He chose Abraham (Gen. 12:1). Then from Abraham’s sons He chose Isaac over Ishmael (Gen. 21:12). After that, so that God’s sovereignty might be highlighted, He chose the youngest twin Jacob over his brother Esau (Gen. 25:23). Jacob had twelve sons, and one of them had to be “the one,” and it was Judah (Gen. 49:10). Tamar had twins by Judah, and Perez pushed out ahead of Zarah the firstborn who had the scarlet thread tied to his wrist (Gen. 38:30).

Achan was a great prince in Israel, who caused Israel to stumble by his covetousness (Josh. 7:1), and he was removed from the messianic line by means of execution, his whole household perishing with him. That house was cut off. A distant cousin to Achan named Salmon, a cousin from a rival house, was a man descended from Perez, and we should not be surprised when Salmon married Rahab, the woman who marked her household by means of a scarlet rope (Josh. 2:21). Salmon and Rahab had a son, whose name was Boaz.

And after Boaz married Ruth, we are still leaning forward, yearning for the Messiah to come. The thing to note about this is that messianic expectation is not something we project backward with the benefit of hindsight. They looked forward, with the benefit of promises.

What was the blessing given to Boaz through Ruth by the people of her city, and by the elders?

“And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman” (Ruth 4:12).

And Boaz was like Perez, making his move in the back stretch.

“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (Ruth 4:18–22).

So we have narrowed it down quite a bit further. We have now come to the one who would give his name to Jesus. Jesus was the son of David (Rom. 1:4), He was Jesus ben-David, or, as we would put it, Jesus Davidson. This is what the book of Ruth is about.

Zeal for the Law:

One of the things we learn from this book is that David’s ancestors were pious and devout, even during a time when Israel as a whole frequently was not. The law was given to Israel, and we see how the law is honored by them. The laws concerning gleaning are honored by Boaz (Lev. 23:22). The laws about the kinsman-redeemer were honored (Lev. 25: 25, 47-49). The laws concerning inheritance are carefully followed (Lev. 25:23). The laws concerning solicitousness for the alien are observed (Deut. 10:18). Remember that zeal for the law is nothing other than zeal for love.

Empty and Full:

The book is about loss and restoration, about emptying and filling again. Bethlehem, the house of bread, suffers a famine. Elimelech and Naomi go to Moab. Their two sons marry there, but Elimelech dies as do his two sons. Naomi is left desolate, with two Moabite daughters-in-law. There is an ancient rabbinical midrash that says Ruth and Orpah were sisters, daughters of the Moabite king Eglon, the one assassinated by Ehud. There is no biblical warrant for this, but it helps us identify other assumptions we may have had about Ruth that are equally unsupported.

Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, both of them with empty arms. But the barley and wheat harvests are good—a master image of abundance and filling—and their arms and hearts are filled, in ways beyond imagining.

The harvesters work gathering in the grain. Ruth works hard also, gathering in what she is able to glean. Boaz makes sure extra grain is available for Ruth, so that she may gather much. In addition, Boaz expresses the wish that God would gather Ruth under His wings (Ruth 2:12). Ruth echoes that language in the next chapter when she asks Boaz to spread his garment over her, gathering her in (Ruth 3:9). Boaz does so, but also gathers six measures of barley to give her. And at the culmination of the book, Naomi gathers Obed to her arms so that she might hold on her lap the grandfather of the greatest king Israel would ever have. Naomi, who had been bitter and empty, was now privileged to hold in her arms all the promises of God.

Fullness of Christ:

When we come to Christ as supplicants, we come with nothing. When we cry out for salvation, we are crying out for something we do not have. But notice how Boaz responds to Ruth’s request. Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer, and he does not put a mercenary construction on Ruth’s request. He is (probably) twice her age, and he could easily have interpreted her request as the move of a gold-digger. But he did not. “And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10).

The fact that we need to be saved by Christ alone does not mean that we might not be tempted to look for salvation elsewhere. When people try to save themselves, when people try to figure out for themselves what kind of help is most suitable for them, then they do what Boaz praises Ruth for not doing. She went where there was real help, not where there was apparent help—younger and good-looking help. Ruth was a woman who walked by faith.

State of the Church 2014

Introduction:

One of the things that characterizes the writings of the apostle Paul is his regular practice of giving thanks to God for the saints of various churches he was writing to. Not only does he thank God for them, but he insists on telling them that he thanks God for them.

The Text:

Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;” (Eph. 1:16). “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Col. 1:3). Also see 1 Thess. 1:2, 3:9, and 2 Thess. 2:13.

Summary of the Text:

God gives us gifts in one another, and through one another. We are the body of Christ to one another. The recognition that God is behind all of it is central. When Paul gives thanks, he gives thanks to God. All the good works that we do for one another are repurposed gifts, redirected gifts. God first gives, and then as a consequence of this, we are able to give. But we can only give biblically if we ourselves are a gift. When we give, we are imitating God who always gives Himself in the gift. So this is why we render a two-fold thanks. When we say thank you, we say thank you first to God, and secondly to the instrument in God’s hand. We do good works because we are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10)—we render gratitude and glory to Him, but this in no way takes away from the gratitude we render to our fellow servants. Rather, it recognizes the true source of all good gifts. No true Christian wants to be an autonomous gift; we should all want to be the gift of one to another.

Christmas Eve 2014

As Christmas, we celebrate the great occasion when the infinite Word became a finite baby. Not surprisingly, Christmas time is therefore a time to reflect on this staggering paradox—the one who spoke the galaxies into being is the same one who was held by a woman, cooing at her, not knowing how to speak at all. That is what happened.

But the paradoxes don’t end with what God did. We also find great paradoxes in why He did it. In fact, the mysteries only get deeper the more we think about it. When the great king of all the universe stooped to become one of us, it would be natural to assume that He did this because He wanted to gather us all up for His service. He is the great king, and we were to be made His minions.

But again, this is close to being the reverse of the truth. There is an element of truth in it, as we will see in a moment, but we have to be careful to hold it rightly. Jesus did not come to earth in order to make us His servants. Rather, He came to earth in order to become our servant. He came to be a servant, not a great king with a multitude of servants.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”” (Mark 10:44–45, ESV).

Christmas was the beginning of the great offer, where God comes down, not to demand service, but to offer service. Jesus Christ took on a human body that was capable of dying so that He could give His life as a ransom for many. He came to give Himself away; He did not come to seize or grab anything.

Now there is glorious good news in this, but something still sounds wrong. Something is off. If God is our servant, then what is to prevent us from demanding obeisance from Him like so many selfish graspers? The answer to this puzzler is found in the fact that God did not just reverse who the master is and who the servants are, but rather He completely transforms the nature of authority and the nature of service. The question is not just who is in authority?, but also what is authority like?

Born of the Virgin, Mary

Introduction:

The doctrine of the virgin birth does not so much show us Mary’s absence of a relationship to a man—although it does do that. This doctrine centrally points to her Son’s relationship to God. Jesus was born the normal way, but He was not conceived the normal way. This tells us something of His identity as the holy Son of the Most High God.

The Text:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).

Summary of the Text:

The text before us has a double meaning. King Ahaz, despite his resistance to it, was being given a word of reassurance by the prophet Isaiah. He was worried about an alliance between the Syrians and the northern kingdom of Israel. Isaiah tries to reassure him, and tells him that he can ask for any sign he pleases (vv. 10-11). Ahaz refuses to do so in a display of faux humility (v. 12), and so Isaiah gives him a unilateral, unasked-for sign.

The rising power of Assyria was a real problem. In 738, the king Tiglath-pileser started to move against Syria and Israel. Judah wanted to stay out of it, and so Syria and Israel tried to depose Ahaz in order to force Judah to join their coalition. That is what Ahaz was worried about. The sign being given to Ahaz was not the sign of a remarkable conception, but rather the sign of a remarkable fall of the nations he was so worried about, within a very short time frame. A woman would conceive, but before her child had grown to the age of ethical discretion, knowing to refuse evil and choose the good, the kings that Ahaz was so worried about would both be gone. Before that child got to the age of being able to eat solid food, this northern challenge to Ahaz would be removed. The woman is unnamed, but she was clearly known to both Isaiah and Ahaz—it could have been one of their respective wives, or some other woman known to them.

Persevere In What?

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #175

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1–2).

Paul now comes to his great summary of gospel truth. He declares to them as brothers the gospel that he had previously preached to them. Their response to this preaching was two-fold—they had received what he had declared, and they had taken their stand in what he had said. This gospel—preached and received—was a gospel that would save them, provided they kept what he had said in memory. If they had not kept this gospel in memory, then their belief would have been in vain.

I am not saved from drowning by having had a lifejacket on once. I am saved from drowning—if I am in the water—by putting on a lifejacket and by keeping it on. This is why we hold to the perseverance and preservation of the saints, which is not exactly the same thing as “once saved, always saved.” Of course, if someone is truly once saved, then they are truly always saved. That is true enough, as far as it goes. But there is a category that Paul knew about—believers who had believed “in vain”—who would fit very nicely in the modern category of someone who got saved at a revival once and who has been cavorting with the devil since then. We believe that the elect, once regenerate, will in fact persevere to the end. But they will, by God’s grace, persevere in holiness to the end.

The Light from Galilee of the Gentiles

Introduction:

Sometimes familiar words run down well-worn grooves. The words from our text have graced countless Christmas cards, but at the same time it is important for us to realize that this doesn’t make them any less true. But, as the truth of Scripture, it is given in such a way that whenever we come back to it in faith, regardless of how familiar it might be to us, we can always find fresh glory.

The Text:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: And the government shall be upon his shoulder: And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, To order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice From henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Is. 9:6–7).

Summary of the Text:

The condition of Israel is set out at the last part of chapter 8, and it is the same condition that the world was in—great darkness (Is. 8:22). Behold trouble and darkness, and dim anguish. But light is coming—this will not be like an earlier affliction (Is. 9:1). In Galilee of the nations, the people who were in that darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9:2). Galilee had two sections, upper and lower Galilee. Upper Galilee is called Galilee of the Gentiles because it was the borderland, and had many Gentiles living there. This was close to Tyre and Sidon, and was the area where Solomon had given 20 cities to the Phoenician king Hiram. Coming back to the text, God has given them great joy (Is. 9:3); He has broken the yoke of oppression that was on them (Is. 9:4). All military gear shall be rolled up and burned in a fire (Is. 9:5).

And so we come to our two verses. The child had been first promised two chapters earlier, when the prophet told us that Immanuel, God with us, would be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14). Now we learn more about Him. A child is born, a son is given. The first thing mentioned about Him is that the government will be on His shoulder. He will have a series of glorious names—Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). The increase of His government will have no end, and it will be the government of the throne of David. It will be established and well-ordered forever and ever. All of this will be done by the zeal of the Lord Himself (Is. 9:7).

Spiritual Darkness:

The darkness spoken of by the prophet is a spiritual darkness, a moral blindness. The darkness was so profound that men in the grip of it could not see this text.

When Nicodemus challenged their right to condemn Christ without a hearing, they called him a dummy. “They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52). Nicodemus was being so stupid—no prophet comes from Galilee. Then how was it that the people walking there had seen a great light (Is. 9:1-2)?