Tim Keller, in his excellent lectures on 'Preaching to the Heart' talks about how there is often an excess of meaning in the narrative parts of Scripture that there isn't in say, prophecy and epistle. I think this is why the narrative parts of scripture are my favourite to read (ooh different every time) but probably my least favourite to preach (aarrgghh different every time). It's also why i love the book of Ruth.
We went through Ruth in Sunday school this morning. It's just about...just about possible to read it all in sections, preach and be done in forty five minutes. Just about. William Cowper's words 'behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face' probably don't apply to any book of the Bible as well as they apply to Ruth.
So what of the excess of meaning? What do we learn from Ruth?
1) Ruth story is our story. Ruth was a foreigner, an outside, an outcast. She was away from God, outside His people and His blessing. She didn't know Him. Boaz redeemed her. He not only redeemed her and bought her into Israel, though him she becomes an ancestor of Jesus. Spurgeon says that Jesus is our glorious Boaz. He brings us in from the wilderness, He brings us into God's presence, God's place, with God's people. Jesus is our kinsmen redeemer
2) Sometimes the way we feel about God's work in our life is wrong. Sometimes we look at our circumstances, and whats left of our hopes and we say with Naomi 'the Lord's hand is against me, do not call me sweet.' This was how it looked for Naomi. No husband, no sons = no one to provide for her. These were terrible times for Naomi. Was she judged by God. I don't know. I wrestled with this this week. I think we can say with confidence that Elimilech was judged for going to Moab, and his sons were for marrying Moabite women and Naomi suffered as a result, but was she herself judged? The question of whether Naomi was right in 1:20-22 is what the rest of the book exists to answer. It really should be named for her!
3) In the darkest of times personally, God is working. We must never allow the wall that our circumstances form around us to judge God and His work. We have no need to ever despair because of what we can or can't see around us. God was marvellously at work in Naomi's life when she was in despair, Ruth, Boaz, her redeemer Obed, nourishment in old age, hope for her future. All these things God was working in her life despite of her despair.
4) Linked to this, in the darkest times of national history, God is at work. Judges was a dark, horrible, pagan time. God was at work bringing about His purposes in them. His plan was not disturbed and has never been disturbed by mans sin. And what a plan this was that God was bringing about. Ruth is in Jesus' line. She is great King David's great grandmother. God's purposes are being fulfilled in the worst of times. In the worst of times God was bringing about the birth of His Son. In the worst of times, He was doing the greatest thing ever.
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