"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hide and Seek in the Book of Ruth

God’s sovereignty and steadfastness can be seen in the Book the Book of Ruth in numerous ways. There is a particular focus on God, especially by the characters. Of the 85 verses, 23 verses mention God, and only two of these are narrator’s comments. The characters themselves are aware that God in his sovereignty, orders events, and they rely on Him to do so. God is seen as working throughout the Book, bringing about his plan for the once threatened family of Elimelech. God’s faithfulness can also be seen in his loyalty to his people, his refusal to abandon them, and his rewarding of their faithfulness. The most pertinent Hebrew word here is hesed, understood to mean “steadfast love,” “kindness,” or “mercy.” The word appears three times in Ruth, usually translated as “kind” or “kindness,” but it should be remembered that hesed carries strong undertones of loyalty and commitment. In God’s case, this involves his commitment to his covenants with his people.

Paradoxically, God’s hiddenness is a theme in the Book where the characters are so focused on God’s reliability. God’s presence and guiding hand are more hidden than in many other biblical books. It is not that God is missing from the Book, but that the narrator uses restraint in explaining his actions, referring to God only twice (as noted above). Seemingly told from a human viewpoint (as events might have seemed to the characters or their contemporaries), events that might have easily been attributed to God are assigned to people or even chance. For example, see 2:3 where it is said “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz.” In 3:18, Naomi says, “Wait, my daughter until you find out what happens.” Thus, God’s hand is to be searched for in the affairs of everyday life, in the turns of events for God’s faithful people. His presence is one of constant and steadfast involvement, not merely a dramatic “hit and run” type.

Inclusiveness is seen in the clear message that God’s kindness is not limited to the Israelites. Ruth stands with a group of other foreigners, including Melchizedek, Rahab, the Ninevites of Jonah’s day, and Namaan, who knew or worshipped Israel’s God. She is one of four women, along with Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba, mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. These illustrate the covenant promise in Genesis 12:2-3, that people would be blessed through contact with Abraham’s descendents and their God.

Theology of the monarchy is demonstrated by concern for the line of David in 4:17b and 4:18-22. The last word of the Book is David, showing interest in the great King, and by extension, the monarchy of Israel. A major concern is for the lineage of Elimelech, which is threatened with eradication. In showing how his name was preserved, it goes further to demonstrate how it became a part of the great lineage, so crucial centuries later. Interestingly, it shows that God’s choice of David had its roots much earlier than David’s time. The hidden works of God on behalf of David began during the lives of his ancestors. Judah occupies a prominent place in the Book of Ruth, significant in that Judah was the tribe to whom it was promised, among other things, that kings would spring forth from its descendents (17:6, 16; 35:11).Ultimately,the Lion of Judah would be revealed, but not in the Book of Ruth. He is hinted at in Boaz, the "kinsman-redeemer" of the Book.

So we see that God is consistently present, constantly weaving together the threads of lives and nations, to ultimately redeem his beloved people and creation. Even when it appears that God is not present, or his presence seems hidden, He is both near and active. We are inchworms crawling across a tapestry, making sweeping assumptions of eternal import based on the quarter inch of thread before us. God's view is sweeping. He has it covered. He is trustworthy.

Smile, as you move forward in your quest for intimacy with Him. He is weaving something good from it all. Even the dark threads are somehow essential to the design.

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