Wrestling with Truth October 9, 2011

Voices from the Book of Ruth

[Read chapters 1 through 4 of Ruth]

On a rather warm summer day, before the invention of air-conditioning, I attended the wedding of Tom and Beth in a church just south of Boston.  As a part of their marriage vows, Beth turned to Tom and I heard her recite these words from Ruth 1:16

” . . . for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord also do so to me, and also more, if aught but death part thee and me”  (KJV)

The story of Ruth speaks to me of faithfulness and of commitment.  Ruth is a person of commitment in the midst of many examples of the lack of commitment.

At the end of Joshua (24:15), we hear Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites:

” . . . choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the Gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

and the people respond: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; . . . . We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

Joshua says: “You will not be able to serve the Lord . . . ” but the people affirm: “. . . we will serve the Lord.”

Yet, by the end of Judges in 21:25 we hear the final comment of the writer:  “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Near the beginning of I Samuel, we read of the apostasy of Eli’s and Samuel’s sons and the disobedience of Saul.

In between, we find the beautiful story of Ruth, and note particularly her sense of commitment to a mother-in-law and to a God who was not her own.

The understanding of commitment expressed here can be heard in three voices:

1.   THE FIRST VOICE EXPRESSES THE COMMITMENT OF A HUMAN TO ANOTHER

Here is companionship, the love that binds us in human relationships.  We can hear in the words of Ruth, spoken to Naomi, a sense of deep loyalty.  Her “for wherever you go, I will go” statement expresses the true faithfulness of human relationships.  It might range from the affection of two boys out in the woods somewhere establishing a “club” and signing their mutual commitment in their own blood; to the love of a retired couple who, having pledged themselves to each other fifty years before, look back on a life of faithfulness.

It is found in the marriage covenant and also in other deep human loves.  It is almost like an oath, the swearing of a vow.

Orpah has been persuaded to return to her people and her gods but Ruth has a love for Naomi which transcends that which she feels for her own family and her own religion.  Ruth is ready to make a permanent commitment.

Here, in this voice, faithfulness is to be found in a commitment to a person near us.

2.   THE SECOND VOICE EXPRESSES THE COMMITMENT OF A HUMAN TOWARD GOD

This is a searching for the ultimate; a seeking to answer the great questions of life; a consecration of self to the true God.  Ruth, in contrast to Orpah, turns toward Naomi and her God away from the gods of Moab.

Hear it again:

“Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”  (NKJV)

I can hear a person consecrating himself to God with this statement as a prayer, a creed.  Here is a transcendent understanding of commitment; faith in a God beyond us.

To stop here, however, would be to present a truncated, limited, and inadequate view of faith and of God.

3.   THE THIRD VOICE EXPRESSES GOD REVEALING HIMSELF IN LOVE TO FINITE HUMANS

God’s revelation makes true commitment possible.  God’s word not only asks for commitment but gives the grace and power that makes that commitment possible.

This is an expression of the incarnation, God becoming human . . . God committing himself to us to the extent that he is willing and actually does become man.  We see this in Jesus’ coming as a baby — taking on human flesh.  We also see this in Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:  “although [Jesus] existed in the from of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Here, in this voice, faithfulness is not only to be found in the commitment of God to us as humans but also in God’s divine intervention in human history.

Here, in this book, where we encounter the explanation of the family heritage of King David, we also encounter the idea of a kinsman-redeemer.  Ruth’s commitment in the midst of unfavorable circumstances finds response in God’s provision of a redeemer.

Who is the redeemer?  Obviously it is Boaz, but then again, is he the only redeemer?

In Ruth 4:14, the women say to Naomi:  “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel . . .”

Who are they talking about?  Boaz?  Or, could they be talking about God as redeemer?

They could also be talking about the baby, Obed, as the redeemer.  Note Ruth 4:15 which reads: “May he also  . . . “

Will he, Obed, be the source of redemption in Israel?

The ultimate question then, is where are you seeking redemption?  Who is your redeemer?

Where will a redeemer be found?  Our true redeemer will be found only in Jesus Christ.

Listen to the voice of God in Jesus our redeemer as Horatio Bonar reminds us so eloquently:

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.

TLT

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