Does God Still Move in The Darkest Times, or is He Hiding? #Ruth #227
Hello friends and happy Monday! We have six chapters to read through today, so I’d better skip over the lame intros and hit the ground running, which – as an extreme night owl, I gotta say that I almost never hit the ground running. Kudos to you morning people. Our Bible passages for the day are Ruth 3 and 4, Psalms 11 and 12, Jeremiah 38 and Acts 28.
And now, as promised, it is time to focus on the book of Ruth – the first book of the Bible I ever read from beginning to end. I can’t remember my initial reactions as a child reading the book, but I can tell you that there are some customs in Ruth that sure seem weird to me as an adult American living in 2020. We could spend a lot of time discussing those customs and what they meant in that culture, but I don’t know that it would be time well spent to do that. Human customs come and go, and that’s great. I am sure we have weird customs now that will seem quite odd to those living 50-100 years from now, but so be it. In some ways, we are all a product of our time and culture. I wore pants made out of parachute material in the 1980s, and used to put a penny in a slot on the top of my brown dress shoes in the 70s – who am I to judge a courtship ceremony that involves laying down next to a sleeping man, and uncovering his feet? Actually, you know what? I’m going to go ahead and judge it that is weird, my old school Hebrew friends.
That said, Ruth is not a book about strange courtship customs that are foreign to us. It is not a book that is about the endearing friendship between a mom and her daughter-in-law either, though that is the backdrop of the story. Ruth, at its core, is a book about the goodness of God and the unfolding of His sovereign plan in the darkest of times. Think about the setting of Ruth – during the period of the Judges, which is a book that is almost painful to read there is so much sin, apostasy and wicked things in it. Not only that, but think about the individual story we are reading. Naomi is really the star of Ruth, and she loses her husband AND her two sons, leaving her lonely, devastated and completely embittered. What is God doing in the midst of this? Only saving the world through for eternity! Let’s listen to John Piper on God’s sovereign purpose in the darkest of times. As you listen, perhaps let it lead you to ponder what God might be doing right now in the midst of our dark pandemic times!
According to 1:1, the story took place during the time of the judges. This was a 400-year period after Israel entered the promised land under Joshua and before there were any kings in Israel (roughly 1500 BC to 1100 BC). The book of Judges comes just before Ruth in our English Bibles and you can see from its very last verse what sort of period it was. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” It was a very dark time in Israel. The people would sin, God would send enemies against them, the people would cry for help, and God would mercifully raise up a judge to deliver them. Again and again the people rebelled, and from all outward appearances God’s purposes for righteousness and glory in Israel were failing. And what the book of Ruth does for us is give us a glimpse of the hidden work of God during the worst of times.
Look at the last verse of Ruth (4:22). The child born to Ruth and Boaz during the period of the judges is Obed. Obed becomes the father of Jesse and Jesse becomes the father of David who led Israel to her greatest heights of glory. One of the main messages of this little book is that God is at work in the worst of times. Even through the sins of his people he can and he does plot for their glory. It was true at the national level. And we will see that it is true at the personal, family level, too. God is at work in the worst of times. When you think he is farthest from you, or has even turned against you, the truth is that he is laying foundation stones of greater happiness in your life.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust him for his grace.
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
I think that’s the message of Ruth.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
One more thing – did you notice that Ruth was set in Bethlehem? That’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Here’s Spurgeon on the connection between Ruth/Naomi and Jesus:
First, it seemed necessary that Christ should be born in Bethlehem, because of Bethlehem’s history. Dear to every Israelite was the little village of Bethlehem. Jerusalem might outshine it in splendour; for there stood the temple, the glory of the whole earth, and “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth was Mount Zion;” yet around Bethlehem there clustered a number of incidents which always made it a pleasant resting-place to every Jewish mind; and even the Christian cannot help loving Bethlehem. The first mention, I think, that we have of Bethlehem is a sorrowful one. There Rachel died. If you turn to the 35th of Genesis you will find it said in the 16th verse—“And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath; and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.
t his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave, that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.” A singular incident this—almost prophetic. Might not Mary have called her own son Jesus, her Ben-oni; for he was to be the child of sorrow? Simeon said to her—“Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” But while she might have called him Ben-oni, what did God his Father call him? Benjamin, the son of my right hand. Ben-oni was he as a man; Benjamin as to his Godhead. This little incident seems to be almost a prophecy that Ben-oni—Benjamin, the Lord Jesus, should be born in Bethlehem. But another woman makes this place celebrated. That woman’s name was Naomi. There lived at Bethlehem in after days, when, perhaps, the stone that Jacob’s fondness had raised had been covered with moss and its inscription obliterated, another woman named Naomi. She too was a daughter of joy, and yet a daughter of bitterness. Naomi was a woman whom the Lord had loved and blessed, but she had to go to a strange land; and she said, “Call me not Naomi (pleasant) but let my name be called Mara (bitter) for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.” Yet was she not alone amid all her losses, for there cleaved unto her Ruth the Moabitess, whose Gentile blood should unite with the pure untainted stream of the Jew, and should thus bring forth the Lord our Saviour, the great king both of Jews and Gentiles. That very beautiful book of Ruth had all its scenery laid in Bethlehem. It was at Bethlehem that Ruth went forth to glean in the fields of Boaz; it was there that Boaz looked upon her, and she bowed herself before her lord; it was there her marriage was celebrated; and in the streets of Bethlehem did Boaz and Ruth receive a blessing which made them fruitful, so that Boaz became the father of Obed, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. That last fact gilds Bethlehem with glory—the fact that David was born there—the mighty hero who smote the Philistine giant, who led the discontented of his land away from the tyranny of their monarch, and who afterwards, by a full consent of a willing people, was crowned king of Israel and Judah. Bethlehem was a royal city, because the kings were there brought forth. Little as Bethlehem was, it was much to be esteemed; because it was like certain principalities which we have in Europe, which are celebrated for nothing but for bringing forth the consorts of the royal families of England. It was right, then, from history, that Bethlehem should be the birth-place of Christ.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856), 26–27.