[bible:365] Ruth

Nicolas PoussinI’ve realized trying to catch up was holding me back. It was/is a daunting task, and honestly, I was greatly discouraged by it, and it dissuaded me from even trying. So, I’m just going to skip ahead to where I should be on schedule, and go from there. As for the parts I’ve skipped, I will come back to them, whether it’s retroactive starting next year, or I work on it steadily throughout the year, I will cover Genesis through Revelation. Anyways, on to Ruth!

I find the book of Ruth extremely interesting, particularly how such a short book about how a foreign woman is married to an Israelite (twice I suppose) finds such prominence to be Scripture. It is a remarkable story, and there is a great deal we can learn from it, but amidst great narratives of Israelite history, voluminous collections of poetry from many sources, prophetic words from the Lord, and writings of kings and prophets, this book is unusual.

I think the fact that this book is so unusual hints that it should be looked at closely, as no writing found its way into Scripture by accident.

It is made abundantly clear throughout the book that Ruth is a foreigner, a fact stressed by the author through continual repetition (1:4, 22; 2:2, 6, 10, 21, 4:5, 10). This repetition tells us this is a key part of the story.

In this book we also see the love and faithfulness of Ruth. She loves her mother-in-law Naomi so much that when Naomi tries to send her away, she refuses (how many can say they’d do the same?). She is also faithful to the Lord. When Naomi tells her to go back to her family and her gods, Ruth says she will not, claiming the Lord as her God.

It seems to me that the main thrust of the book comes from seeing these two facts put together: that Ruth is a foreigner, not an Israelite by birth, and yet she is faithful to the Lord and her Israelite family. This is especially highlighted when the setting of the book is considered: “In the days when the judges ruled” (1:1). The time of the judges was troubled and turbulent, as the nation of Israel continually turned away from the Lord, following after foreign gods. This book seems to contrast that with a foreigner who is faithful to the God of Israel.

Many of the laws and practices of ancient Israel were meant to set them apart from their pagan neighbors, and any time those kinds of divisions are enforced there often springs up prejudices and ethnocentricity. And yet this is not God’s intention. The experience of grace does not make that person better than anyone else. Being theologically correct does not make anyone superior to another. Yet this is a common problem among Christians and in the Church. While we do sometimes look at non-Christians as though we were superior to them, the main occurrence of this is within the Church. There are so many branches and denominations within Christianity that it is easy for us to look down on those who aren’t a part of our “brand of Christianity.”

This is not at all God’s desire for the Church, a truth Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 3. God desires a Church that is unified in purpose and in mind, which is hard with so much division among the body. Do I come with a plan for mending this division? Not at all. These are divisions bred of years of self-assuredness in theological distinctions, and there is no easy way to overcome those.

Maybe though, a good start would be to listen to each other. Not listening for ammunition to use in the theology wars, but to truly listen to each other. Maybe then we will stop fighting amongst ourselves, because realistically, our similarities our larger than our differences, and once we realize that, we will be much closer to the unified body that God desires.

And as far as the people outside the church we look down on, maybe those are exactly the people we need in the church. God brings all kinds of people to the church, and who are we to judge?

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

God does not call his people to judge or condemn, that job is in his hands alone. We are called to love, make disciples, and baptize; rather than trying to do it ourselves, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to change people’s hearts.

Points of Interest:

  • Israelite law allowed widows, foreigners and the poor to glean the leftovers in the fields after reaping (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21). Ruth falls into all three categories.
  • A widow left with no children was to be married to her deceased husband’s brother (or close relative if there was no brother). However, the child born to her from that marriage would be her deceased husband’s heir. Hence, if the other kinsman in ch. 4 had bought the field, he would have eventually lost it to Ruth’s child.
  • Another proof of Ruth’s importance: she is one of only 4 women (including his mother) listed in the genealogies of Jesus
  • “Feet” was a euphemism for genitals, so there is a possible sexual factor to chapter 3
  • There were laws and traditions that governed how Israelites were to treat the poor/foreigners, etc., and Boaz goes above and beyond all of them in chapter 2.
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