We are going to begin a new study in the precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?
First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Writings. When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:
- It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Tm 3:16-17)
- It is true (Jn 17:17; cf. Ti 1:2)
- It is a Christ-focused message (Lk 24:27, 44-47)
- It is spiritually profitable (Ps 19:7-11)
- It must be listened to with faith in God (Heb 4:2)
Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
- Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
- Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in my life?
- Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare me to serve Christ and others better?
With these ideas in mind, let us continue with an overview of Ruth.
You can read the entire book of Ruth here.
I. General facts
A. The author and date of writing are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth investing time in.
B. Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5).
1. The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz.
2. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it is a story about Naomi. (Due to time constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth four times this week!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.
C. The book of Ruth has always been accepted as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Lk 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets.
1. From the time of the LXX, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some of the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.
2. The older arrangement placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls is read at each of the five major festivals.
|Passover||Song of Songs||Scroll of Love|
|Feast of Weeks||Ruth||Scroll of Kindness|
|Ninth of Ab*||Lamentations||Scroll of Suffering|
|Feast of Tabernacles||Ecclesiastes||Scroll of Vexation|
|Festival of Purim||Esther||Scroll of Deliverance|
* Destruction of Jerusalem
The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.
II. Ideas to watch for in this short story
A. The general context of life under the law covenant
1. The story of Ruth is about an extended family within God’s people Israel. God (Yahweh, the Lord) made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the lives of his covenant people were under the supervision of the law (Torah). The law influences and guides the story with its regulations about gleaning, the task of the kinsman-redeemer, and marriage. The question about inheriting the land was important in the old covenant, and also in this story. What we will see in this story is very ordinary people facing very ordinary struggles of life, like food, marriage, children and property. (Is anyone here affected by real estate issues?)
2. The story of Ruth occurs during the time when the Judges ruled (Ru 1:1). It was a time of turmoil and religious declension. There is famine, foreign oppression, civil war, and danger on the streets. People were living in disregard of God and his laws. But these terrible times were not utterly faithless times. God still had a remnant, chosen by grace (Rm 11:5), and in this story we read about the life of that struggling remnant.
B. Surprising contrasts – As you read Ruth you will notice many contrasts; for example, Ruth and Orpah, Ruth and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, Boaz and the unnamed relative, God’s purposes and human plans, grief and joy, and for one more, emptiness and fullness. The Spirit wants us to view these contrasts and learn from them.
C. The place of kindness and redemption in the story of God’s glory – The book of Ruth highlights both these ideas. We will look carefully at them when we come to them, but as you read and reread Ruth, listen to what God is saying.
D. The providence of God – How beautifully this story illustrates the truth of Rm 8:28 and 11:33-36!
1. What do we mean by God’s providence? It is God’s present activity in the world. God creates, and then he rules his creation to achieve the story of his glory in Christ.
a. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) put it this way. “God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy” (Chapter 5.1).
b. About a century earlier, the Baptist writers of the First London Confession wrote: “God in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good” (Article V).
2. In providence we say that God is here, God cares, God rules and God provides, according to his holiness, wisdom and love.
3. In Ruth we read of no miracle or special word from the Lord, yet we discern his unseen hand active throughout the entire story. They make choices, not on the basis of mystical guidance, but within the boundaries of God’s word, by wisdom, and by trusting God for the outcome. In other words, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz lived like you and I must live—according to the Scriptures and by faith. However, sadly unlike our typical responses, they recognized God’s activity. So then, this book is an invitation to become properly spiritual.
Conclusion: These are hard and uncertain times. Apparently sound investments are slipping away, prices are climbing, people are losing their jobs, families are in turmoil, violence spreads like a plague, and addictive sins are destroying lives. Our time is like the days that the judges ruled, as people turn from the living God to false gods, and enter into a more desperate meaninglessness because of their foolish choice. Is there hope in such a time? Yes, there is, and that is one reason we need the message of Ruth in our dark hour. Please read the book of Ruth at least four times this week. And as you read, worship the Lord, as he teaches you about his full and flawless worth and glory.
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.