November 22, 2017

Fullness and a Future

Ordinary Time Bible Study 2011
The Book of Ruth (12, conclusion)

The story of Ruth, Yohanan

All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman.”

So Boaz married Ruth and had sexual relations with her. The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. The village women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he become famous in Israel! He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the child and placed him on her lap; she became his caregiver. The neighbor women named him, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. Now he became the father of Jesse – David’s father!

These are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron was the father of Ram, Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nachshon, Nachshon was the father of Salmah, Salmon was the father of Boaz, Boaz was the father of Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David.

• Ruth 4:11-22, NetBible

The story of Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi ends with a surprise. Not only does this book give us an exemplary tale of people who show extraordinary love (hesed) toward one another that God providentially uses to overcome adversity, but in the end we discover that this story is also a piece that fits perfectly into a much larger puzzle.

We receive a clue that this is coming when we hear the blessing that the people of Bethlehem pronounce upon Boaz and his bride (4:11-12). They evoke the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel and pray that Ruth will be as fruitful as Rachel and Leah, mothers of the twelve tribes. Furthermore, they point to the line of Judah and express the hope that the family will be like that of Perez, who was born through Tamar. The mention of Judah and Tamar may have caused the audience to reflect on the similarities between that story and what had happened in the case of Ruth. Both women were foreigners who showed unusual courage and took bold initiative to save their family line from extinction. And in the end, both perpetuated the royal seed of Judah.

Tamar, Daughter in law of Judah, Chagall

Fullness
The story of Ruth comes to its satisfying conclusion when the new couple has a child and they present him to Naomi, the one who had lost everything. Now the empty one has been filled again. Though her family and future hope had been taken cruelly from her, new life has been born her home and the days to come hold promise once more.

The author paints a poignant picture when he says, “Naomi took the baby [lad] and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, ‘Now at last Naomi has a son again!’” (4:16-17a, NLT)

This brings the story full circle. Naomi had lost her “lads” in Moab, but now through Ruth, a “lad” has come to brighten her household again. And it is all because a “kinsman-redeemer” and a daughter-in-law who proved herself to be “better than seven sons” went beyond ordinary righteousness to risk love.

However, this wonderful turn of events does not complete the story. It turns out that there is an even more auspicious reason to celebrate.

Future Hope
The second part of verse 17 gives the story its final, “Aha!” For here we discover that we are indeed reading a story of historical significance — “And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.” (4:17b, NLT) The Book of Ruth, which began as a tale of family tragedy in exile, turns out to be a page from King David’s family scrapbook! This story of a small, suffering family in Bethlehem is revealed as a key connecting link in the line that leads to the throne in Jerusalem, to the house of David, and ultimately to the Son of David, the Messiah.

Thus the book of Ruth completes the story of the Torah, in particular the patriarchal narratives of Genesis. For the story told there of Abraham and his family has as its main theme the identification of God’s chosen “seed,” through whom God will restore his blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). The author of Genesis weaves narratives that identify the seed (descendant) of Abraham as the seed of Isaac (not Ishmael), and then as the seed of Jacob (and not Esau). Of Jacob’s twelve sons, we learn that the blessing is to be passed on through the seed of Judah (Gen. 49:8-12).

David playing harp, Chagall

By the end of Genesis, we know that it will be a child from the family of Judah (which was perpetuated through the actions of Tamar) who will hold the “scepter” and to whom “the peoples will give obedience” (Gen. 49:10) — in other words, this one will be king.

At that point in the Biblical narratives, the Torah’s fascination with this promised child/king fades and our attention is turned toward Moses, Egypt, the Exodus, the covenant at Mt. Sinai, the wanderings in the wilderness, and life in the Promised Land. It is the Book of Ruth that brings our focus back to the chosen seed. The royal one who will restore God’s blessing to the world from the tribe of Judah will be a son of David.

So the book ends, like the major sections in Genesis, with a genealogy. And in the end, the hope of Israel is spelled D-A-V-I-D.

And so it is that people of extraordinary love (hesed) play their part in bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Comments

  1. In Matthew 1 we read that Boaz was the son of Salmon and Rahab, who was the woman who was saved out of Jericho. There were four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the Hittite’s wife) and they were all outside the nation of Israel.

    • Am I right in thinking that nowadays it’s only those who have a Jewish mother that are recognised as true Jews? In which case, this just helps to demonstrate that God does not play by our religious rules…