Summary: God works his sovereign will with never failing skill for the good of his people who trust him for his grace.
Trivial Pursuit. Lowest score ever in bowling organized league play? Mike Kappa, Racine Wisconsin: 2.
Nothing wrong with playing game; but careful lest our lives be trivial. How do we know what is important? Some people think it is receiving mention in the paper. WSJ. But the Bible says something different. Pleasing God and serving others. So every time you see this game, you think: this is fun, and it is a chance to think about how I decide if my life is trivial.
Read Ruth 4.13-22. Pray.
Churches like ours tend to spend much time and derive most ideas from technical and doctrinal parts of the Bible. If you look at the web pages of lots of PCA churches (as I have done on several occasions), you will find Paul’s letters more frequently preached through than the parables of Jesus; Romans taught more often than Ruth; many more series on the doctrinal distinctives which split the Protestants from the Roman Catholic church (called the “Solas of the Reformation”) than you will stories of the Patriarchs. We prefer our religion in the form of systematic theology and doctrinal statements.
In the three volume systematic theology by Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Paul’s letters are cited thousands of times; Ruth only garners three mentions. In volume 1, page 64, Turretin notes: “The Gospels and Paul’s epistles shine with far greater splendor than the book of Ruth or Esther; but yet it is certain that in all are these arguments of truth and majesty.” A few pages later in the same volume, Ruth is again cited, this time to show that in Bible days, relations by marriage could be referred to as if they were blood relatives: “… as Naomi calls her daughters-in-law ‘her daughters’ (Ruth 1.11-12, the common mode of speaking).” The only other mention is in a discussion of whether Levirate marriage practice violated the laws of consanguinity. When a woman’s husband died, the laws of Israel said that the man’s nearest relative should marry the widow and give her a son to keep the inheritance in the family line. Turretin briefly discusses whether this practice violated the law prohibiting the marriage of a relative.
Ruth also fares poorly in other doctrinal theologies. Both Boice and Berkhof mention Ruth only once; Berkhof in a list of examples of how Bible words may not be related to God at all: “According to the Scripture the word ‘grace’ is manifested not only by God, but also by men, and then denotes the favor which one man shows another, Genesis 33.8,10,18; 39.4; Ruth 2.2; 1Samuel 1.18; 16.22.”
The book of Ruth describes people who lived obscure and seemingly unimportant lives. The author weaves a grand tale (to be sure), but provides no systematic theology. In fact, God himself makes only a cameo appearance in the story, and once only, in Ruth 4.13, are we told that God does anything. God’s name is mentioned a few times, yes, by Naomi in a complaint and by others in wishes for happy blessings and in greetings. But God plays a minor, two-bit role in the story.
So Ruth can be difficult to appreciate. But that is to our detriment. In this short book, God shows real people who live out their faith in honest ways, and unbeknownst to them, are written into a grander drama. Let’s start with Ruth since the book is named for her.
Ruth 4.13: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.” With those words, Ruth’s redemption is complete and she takes her place as one of the most perfect examples of the church. Who is Ruth?
• She is a foreigner, not born into the people of God, a critical distinction in Old Testament Israel. Passover marked and made the Jewish people, and about it God said to Moses in Exodus 12.43: “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it….” The Jews were a separate people; aliens, strangers and foreigners were looked upon with disfavor or disgust.
o But the New Testament says that all people are foreigners before conversion: Ephesians 2.12: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” We are Ruth!
• More than a foreigner; she is an enemy, a Moabite. Deuteronomy 23.3-6: “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor… to curse you…. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.