Definitions and Stories, Redemption and Incarnation (Ruth 4)

“What I have found over the years is that the effort to define things, at the beginning, almost always reveals that what we thought we were dealing with is merely the tip of an iceberg.” —John Piper, Living in the Light

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” —Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

“You see, that what we are doing today as we look out upon our current religious modes of speech, is assisting at the death bed of a word. It is sad to witness the death of any worthy thing, —even of a worthy word. And worthy words do die, like any other worthy thing—if we do not take good care of them. How many worthy words have already died under our very eyes, because we did not take care of them!” —B.B. Warfield, “Redeemer” and “Redemption”

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” —C.S. Lewis

I believe there are two central places in the Old Testament where “redemption” isn’t simply defined, but made real. It’s the difference between reading a definition and experiencing the reality. It’s one thing to read what baklava is, another to taste it. Stories can take us higher than definitions up to the very cusp of experience. The law’s definitions of redemption are true and nourishing, but there are two narratives that make redemption walk before us. The definitions themselves are enmeshed in one of the narratives and help make sense of the other. The stories are the exodus and Ruth.

Each story has unique elements. In the exodus, God redeems His people with a mighty arm, with wonders of judgment, and with the blood of the Passover lamb. He redeems them out of slavery to the promised land. In Ruth, Boaz, acting as a kinsman redeemer, restores land, a widow, and a name. These things were precious because of God’s redemption in the exodus. Every slap of the foot on the dirt of your inheritance given you by God was a sign of the covenant. Boaz, at cost to himself, in covenant love, redeems these things that had been lost.

Some are shy to say Boaz is a type of Christ. Even if you are cautious, do you think all those laws about the kinsman redeemer were simply utilitarian? Boaz is a type of Christ for the same reason Josiah is. Josiah was a king. Boaz is a kinsman redeemer. Jesus is the King. Jesus is the kinsman redeemer.

I think this is the unique element Ruth adds to our picture of redemption. The Redeemer must be a kinsman. He must be one of us. If there is to be redemption, there must be incarnation. Jesus became the Second Adam so as to create a new humanity in Him. He is our elder Brother, who paid the redemption price to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus took on flesh so that He might have representative union with His bride. Our debts became His. His wealth became ours. He took our sins. He gave us His righteousness. But to make this payment, He must take on flesh. To make this payment, He must also be God. Exodus tells us God redeems by blood. Ruth tells us that the blood will be that of the Son made flesh.

Dumb, but not THAT Dumb

Naomi’s instructions to Ruth are as dark and mysterious as the night she sends her out into. “What?” is the proper Biblical response to this plan. Previously, Naomi showed concern for Ruth’s safety during the day, and now she sends her out into the darkness. Bathed. Anointed. To lie at the feet of a man enjoying the fruits of his labor, with a heart merry with food and drink. Do you remember the backstory of the Moabites (Genesis 19:30–37)?

While our hearts should sink with disappointment and be charged with anxiety as we read this narrative, and while sin should always be recognized as nonsensical, we shouldn’t be shocked. Don’t be so naive as to think that some sins only became common following the sexual revolution of the ’60s.

Beware of the person who wants to go back to some golden age. They’re dangerous. There are two reasons we shouldn’t long for some idealist lost nostalgia. First, no such golden era ever existed. Second, the saints are a people of the future, of the age to come, and of hope. There has never been a pure age. In colonial New England, bundling was a common practice wherein the suitor of a young lady was bundled up in a bag with his head sticking out to sleep next to his potential spouse in the home of her parents. Weddings sometimes necessarily followed. Jonathan Edwards condemned and preached against the practice.

We shake our heads at Naomi, but we readily send our daughters out into the night, dressed alluringly, with young men of far lesser character. We send them out, not to find a single suitor, but simply to have fun with a serial number of non-committals. “Modern American dating,” writes Voddie Baucham, “is no more than glorified divorce practice. Young people are learning how to give themselves away in exclusive, romantic, highly committed (at times sexual) relationships, only to break up and do it all over again.” We treat our daughters like prostitutes and authorize our sons to pursue the woman folly. We are not teaching our sons and daughters to tell the story of Christ and His bride. We’re letting them role play Satan’s whoredom.

Targetless dating is as dangerous as targetless shooting. If two young people want to spend great amounts of time together, alone, at night, and their aim isn’t covenant, what is it? Lust! Jesus makes it clear what it is when a man looks on a woman with desire outside of covenant. Yes, Naomi’s plan is dumb, but give her this, it isn’t 20th century dumb, and it certainly isn’t 21st century dumb.

Reading Providence (Ruth 2)

“So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.” —Ruth 2:3 (ESV)

Things happen, but things never just happen. Can you picture the wry smile of the author as he pens this line? Can you see the Spirit’s joy as he moves the human author as his pen? Can you see God’s smile as he etches these events in history?

It is not as though God does the big stuff like famine and harvest and leaves the dust to settle where it will. It isn’t as though God sits in the comfort of the air conditioned cab of his tractor, mindful of acres of work but oblivious to the ant mound he just plowed over. God isn’t so big that he passes over the details. He is so big no detail is passed over.

We must look at all reality through these eyes. This was indeed a divine moment—as every moment is. We mustn’t presume, but we must believe in providence. Presumption occurs when we think we can read providence and that it is a story about us. “It was a divine moment—a God-thing. I saved thousands of dollars.” Funny how me-centered your God-thing is?

John Flavel said that “the providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards.” The author wrote this story from the vantage point of the Davidic covenant. We read it from the vantage point of the new covenant. Don’t presume to be able to read the events of your life with the same kind of clarity.

Nonetheless, believe that there is a God ordering all events, some more significant, others less so, but all ordered for His purpose without one ant marching out of place. Providence isn’t meant to be understood but believed. Our confidence and joy in God’s sovereign goodness flow not from our understanding the details God’s plan, but knowing a God of all understanding has a plan to exalt the King of His people.

A Beat of Hope Interrupting a Dark Rhythm (Ruth 1)

“In the days when the judges ruled…”

These were grim days. The evils of the latter kings and the exile to come were but the harvesting of idolatrous seeds sown only a generation after the death of Joshua. Here is the dark rhythm of Judges:

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals (Judges 2:11).”

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth (Judges 3:7).”

“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD (Judges 3:12).”

“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died (Judges 4:1).”

“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years (Judges 6:1).”

“The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him (Judges 10:6).”

“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years (Judges 13:1).”

As you advance through the book, the minor key persists, but a motif of hope is added:

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6).”

“In those days there was no king in Israel (Judges 18:1).”

“In those days, when there was no king in Israel… (Judges 19:1).”

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).”

The hope is a king.

Set in the midst of these local military leaders, these flawed superheroes, you have the pastoral setting of Ruth. It is a welcome reprieve from the violence and evil of Judges and a hopeful transition to the era of kings.

In the midst of such sin, we see the beauty of God’s grace. Here, God’s providence takes the ordinary stuff of life and brings extraordinary mercy to his people. God’s sovereignty works in the regular hurts and glories of all His saints towards the same end we see in Ruth—the glory of His King. The King who will turn the hearts of His people back to God.