Saturday, June 8, 2013

Covenantal Envy in Ruth 1:6-18

"Then Naomi arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But she said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!' Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, 'No, we will return with you to your people.' But Naomi said, 'Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.' Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, 'See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.' But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where 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. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.' And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more."

 I am thinking about this passage as I prepare to substitute for the teacher of my Sunday School class tomorrow.

 It seems to me that the key verse for understanding the Book of Ruth is here, the latter part of the sixteenth verse of the first chapter: "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Note that I am not turning the book into an allegory, but rather seeking the purpose for including this historical event in the inspired text. Note the parallel phrasing here with the covenantal declarations of God: "I will be your God and you shall be My people," such as in Exodus 6:2-7, Leviticus 26:6-13, and Ezekiel 36:22-28. In those passages, it is Jehovah speaking in the first person of the covenant which He Himself is initiating, i.e., the Covenant of Grace. In contrast, Ruth is speaking only in the second person, referring to Naomi's people and Naomi's God. That is because she is speaking as one outside that covenantal relationship.

This is actually within the revealed purposes of God's covenant. In Deuteronomy 4:6, He says to Israel, "Keep them [i.e., the Law] and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" Also Ezekiel 36:15-23, "And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord GOD. The word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before Me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out My wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned My holy name, in that people said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.' But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 'Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.'"

 Having ignited this envy among Israel's pagan neighbors, how did Jehovah then satisfy it? I think the clear clue is verse 2 of Ruth 1: "They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah." That little tidbit reminds us of I Chronicles 4:4, which says, in passing, "These were the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah, the father of Bethlehem." Then Micah 5:2, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." And its fulfillment in Matthew 2:6. This a shadowy connection to the coming of the Messiah, who was given to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6 [compare Luke 2:32], and Acts 13:47). And the writer of Ruth (probably the Prophet Samuel), brings this down to genealogy. From the marriage of Ruth and Boaz came Obed, the grandfather of David, and thus the lineal ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! Thus, this one literary work demonstrates the covenantal envy of Israel's pagan comptetitors, in the purposes of God, and His sovereign satisfaction of that envy centuries later. I love it when Scripture strands come together like this!

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