(Nathan Lewis is preaching this sermon series at Chehalem Valley Presbyterian Church in Newberg and at Evergreen Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, Oregon, October – November 2008.)
“Searching In Vain for Providence”
What makes a story good? Is it the content? The suspense, the intriguing characters, and good winning out? Is it the writing style? Powerful imagery, command of language, and aesthetic structure? C.S. Lewis gave to us not only his Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy but also the finest story of the 20th Century, Till We Have Faces, the retelling of the Myth of Cupid and Psyche. His understanding of a good story is related to his conversion from atheism to Christian faith. Lewis was known among his friends to consider myths, ancient stories, to be “lies and therefore worthless, even though they breathed through silver.” One of his friends, J.R. Tolkien finally convinced him that the true and central myth is the truest of all stories and that this master story was the reliable and accurate history of God redeeming his people. In his autobio-graphical work, Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes, “Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” For Lewis a good story is one connected to the master story. It rings true.
What makes the Book of Ruth the perfect short story? It is related in its powerful images, themes, and story line to the master story. The story of Ruth is the story of bitterness turned to joy. Naomi searches in vain for the good life finding only bitterness. But in the end she is surprised by joy. This story is the discovery of the God who cares for the common person. He is the God of the widow, the foreign alien, the hungry and the depressed. It is a love story, as the Reverend Iain Campbell has preached: “The Book of Ruth is a book about love. And, inasmuch as that is so, it reflects the theme of the Bible, because the Bible too is a book about love. The unifying message of the Scriptures is that God is love, and that God has loved — loved with such intensity and depth that he gave his Son to die for a lost, sinful and unlovely world. Perhaps that is why Martin Luther said that the Bible in miniature could be read in John 3:16 — the great statement that God loved the world to such an extent that he gave his only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The story of Ruth does not make any of its points in a preachy style delivering morals as if the art of storytelling is of no consequence unless a moral lesson is overtly presented. No glaring signs are included telling the reader: Stop! Repent! Look! Here is God! Don’t be bitter but be joyful! The preacher should be so blatant but the storyteller, if he is to spin a good story is subtle and allows the experience of his characters and the choice of his descriptions suggest the conclusions in the mind of the one who listens. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. in his book, Reading Between the Lines, suggests that a story might be more effective than abstract discourses or straightforward exhortations in delivering a moral education. He writes, “The Bible, above all, offers not only abstract doctrines but stories. When we hear or read a story that stirs us, we want to play a part in that story.” Robert Hubbard Jr. writes of the Book of Ruth, “The book is, after all, profoundly human – a story with down-to-earth features with which one can easily identify. Indeed, readers immediately see themselves in the story.”
Having presented the overarching themes of this story, it seems a bit trite and mundane to descend into its details but that is where we are now headed. While Naomi and her family search in vain for Providence, we do not search in vain for it in the details of this story that moves us from emptiness to fullness, from bitterness to joy. The first set of details in (1-5) prompt us to face the hopeless setting for this story. This hopelessness exists at the largest societal level and at the intimate familial level. On the societal level, the storyteller begins by saying, “In the days that the judges ruled there was a famine in the land.” This was a dark chapter in Israel’s history. So unstable were these generations that the overarching description given of them in the Bible is “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Such societal instability is similar to our present experience. The result of such relativity and situational ethics is confusion, hopelessness, and bitterness. To make matters worse, a famine withered the land and impoverished the people. This worst of situations, “every man for himself,” produces selfish and desperate behavior. An ordered society founded upon stewardship and mercy, like the system Joseph managed in Egypt, can bring people together to survive a famine. But when individualism and relativism reign, the society fractures and it becomes difficult for people to pull together, putting bread in the mouths of others.
On the familial level we read of one man who did what he thought right in his own eyes. His name, “Elimelech,” means “My God is King.” He decided to immigrate to Moab, a neighboring nation untouched by the famine. He was a good man in that he provided for his family, his dear wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. In Moab, an enemy worse than famine visited this family. Death visited Elimelech and for ten years his widow, Naomi lived with her two sons and their Moabite wives. Then Death visited her sons leaving three widows. Moab enjoyed a robust economy while Israel suffered famine, but Moab did not enjoy the merciful laws of Israel caring for the alien, widow, and orphan. On a familial level destitution gave way to despair.
The second set of details in (6-14) lead us to the first inkling of hope. Naomi hears in Moab that the “Lord had visited his people in Israel, giving them food.” Naomi and her family had left Israel searching in vain for providence. Now at the end of her rope she hears the first inkling of hope, the good news that God is alive and that he has come close to his people to care for them in their time of need. Not wishing to cause her daughters-in-law any more grief, Naomi tells them to return to their Moabite families as she plans to return to her hometown, Israel. This suggested final separation completes the tragic end to the family. Naomi’s words to Orpah and Ruth, break our hearts with grief, even though Naomi tries to lighten them with wry humor. She views herself to be empty and useless. Why should her daughters-in-law remain with her? She has no future to offer to them.
Even though Naomi has heard the good news of divine providence, that “God has visited his people and given them food,” she is stuck in her bitterness and says to Orpah and Ruth, “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Have you ever been so bitter? Have you ever believed that God was against you? Even at this tragic point in the story, there is an inkling of hope. Are we able to hear the whisper of hope in the midst of our sufferings? Are we able to catch a glimpse of God at work? How would you respond to the first hint that God is for you and not against you?
This first chapter of the story is saturated with the tears of three widows. The worldview is dominated by Naomi who sees no way to keep the family together: “The hand of the Lord is against me.” Orpah embraces Naomi’s despairing conclusion. She kisses her goodbye and returns to her childhood home. It is Ruth’s response that grips our attention and keeps the story alive. “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth refuses to end the family based upon the dismal view of Naomi. She cannot speak her love at this point for she is overcome by weeping but she can express her love in an embrace that will not let go. Bitter Naomi has one shred of hope left: “The Lord has visited his people and given them food.” This shred of hope is good enough for Ruth because she loves her mother-in-law. Ruth is willing to put her faith in this one shred of hope.
The storyteller does not lead us to assess Ruth to be any better than Orpah. Both are Moabite, both have equally suffered. Both mourned the loss of their beloved husbands and both loved Naomi. What made Orpah kiss her mother-in-law goodbye and return home overwhelmed with grief? What made Ruth cling to Naomi as if she would never let her go? This is the first hook in the story arresting our attention. This first inkling of hope and Ruth’s surprising response of enduring love as subtle as an lingering embrace in contrast to a goodbye kiss is the first masterful technique of the storyteller luring us to listen further. But it is more than technique. It is a story connected to the master story, a story that does more than hint at hope. It is a story connected to our stories. We can identify with Orpah and with Ruth. We weep with them. We have felt to some degree the emptiness and bitterness of Naomi and we long for our personal stories to be connected to a master story of hope. There is little difference between the next person and us. Our sufferings are similar. Why do some of us kiss and walk away while some of us cling to a shred of hope?
This morning I did what I have never done in the past – I opened my MacBook and accessed my Facebook account. One of my fellow college students living out of state told me that her husband, another one of our classmates, had been angrily beating her and their three children over the past 16 years. My shock and grief was intensified by my receiving over these years ornate Christmas cards, the finest of the season – better than the ones you have mailed to me. Enclosed would be an annual family photo – picture perfect. As college students we would tease this man for having perfect hair and the purest and deepest bass voice in the choir. On the surface everything seemed to be perfect, but at home and beneath the façade bitterness, anger, confusion, and abuse actively reigned. The Bible is full of stories of broken people redeemed by God. Indeed most Bible stories tell of sin, dysfunction, and desperate need. The Bible is for people like my dear friends; it is for people like you and me who need to be redeemed out of our bitterness, confusion, and sin. Our stories of brokenness need to be connected to some shred of hope.
This story is inseparably connected to the best news we could ever imagine. The God who once visited his people to give them bread has now given himself as the Bread of heaven. Naomi returns to her hometown, Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Centuries later a baby boy would be born in Bethlehem and he would declare to the leaders of Israel, “I am the bread of life! He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” The shred of hope that prompted bitter Naomi to return to Bethlehem leads far beyond her personal return to joy. This shred of hope leads to the fulfillment of all hope. The coming of Jesus was to fulfill the words of the Prophet, Isaiah:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
“Return to the House of Bread”
The Book of Ruth is a short story about common people suffering impoverishment and death then eventually enjoying the fullness of life. Sinclair Ferguson said, “The Book of Ruth is not a work of deep theological reasoning like Paul’s epistle to the Romans, yet it is full of theology. It is not a magnificent symphony on the work of Christ like the Gospel of John, yet it ultimately points to the coming of Christ. It is not full of vivid apocalyptic imagery like the book of the Revelation, yet is traces the details of God’s working in the unfolding of the events of history. It is not basic instruction about the kingdom of God like the Sermon on the Mount, yet it contains important lessons about life in that kingdom….The Book of Ruth is part of the biblical narrative of redemptive history….Apparently the story of a small and insignificant family, it is actually one of the building blocks in God’s preparatory work as he sovereignly directed history towards the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Ruth, clinging to her mother-in-law, Naomi, as they pause on the road returning to Bethlehem, finally speaks. Her beautiful, poetic speech forms a powerful contrast to the bitter terse speech of Naomi. Along with the Israelite listening to the stories of his heritage, we are thrown into disequilibrium. Naomi, the member of the household of Israel, God’s chosen people, is bitter and angry towards God while Ruth, the Moabite, prohibited from entrance into the tabernacle of God, not only embraces the God of the Covenant but expresses his love and grace to the unlovely.
As Ruth embraces Naomi, looking into her eyes to deliver her words which remain classic to this day, we wonder, “How is it that Ruth can express such a depth of loving devotion for a bitter mother-in-law? What has Ruth discovered about Naomi’s God that is in any way attractive? Ruth never knew Naomi in her happy days. After Naomi’s husband died, her sons married and so, Ruth entered the household greeted by a widow in mourning. Ten years later, Naomi’s sons died intensifying Naomi’s bitterness and anger against God. What is the source of Ruth’s love for Naomi let alone for Naomi’s God? My answer to this question is the first sermonic point:
When God graciously converts us, it is truly a work of his own resulting in surprising acts of faith and piety in us: We devote ourselves to care for the unlovely and bitter; We embrace a God who is misrepresented yet is nonetheless the loving God who keeps his covenant promises.
Ruth was able to devote herself to Naomi as God worked within her giving her desire and initiative to do so. God can do the same for us. He can enable us to love the unlovely, to be patient with the bitter, and to have mercy on the doubting.
Iain Duguid writes, “Each of these statements of Ruth ratchets up the level of her commitment a notch higher. Ruth was not merely relocating her home to go somewhere geographically less pleasant…that would be a noble self-sacrifice; this is far more. She is committing her life to Naomi, body and soul, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. In so doing, she is also committing her life to Naomi’s God, whom she calls as a witness by his personal name, the Lord. She is even willing to die and be buried in Naomi’s land – the land of Naomi’s God, not the god of the Moabites. Given the intimate connection between land and deity in the ancient Near East, and the importance of proper burial for a restful afterlife, this was the ultimate commitment in the ancient world. She further binds herself to do this with an oath of self-imprecation. If she reneges on her promise, she invites the Lord – Naomi’s God – to stretch out his hand to strike her down. Here is an astonishing act of surrender and self-sacrifice. Ruth was laying down her entire life to serve Naomi.”
Ruth was able to devote herself not only to Naomi but also to Naomi’s God. Once again we are left puzzled. In the story Naomi, as the chief spokesperson for her God, supplies Ruth with a dismal view of the divine. She has said, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Naomi believes that all of her suffering is the work of God who must be personally against her. Why would Ruth desire to follow such a God? If this were your only knowledge of God, would you not remain in Moab with Orpah? Would you make a life-long commitment to follow a God who robs you of your loved ones, leaving you destitute? If this God’s only spokesperson is your bitter mother-in-law who can not see beyond her own loss and pain, who repeatedly tells you to go home and not even think about following her and her God, would you nonetheless commit your life to her God?
We work hard to make our presentations of God and his gospel as attractive as possible. We think that if we play the trendy music, give out candy and balloons, and paste smiles on our faces, that people will love our God and flock to him, choosing to embrace him. But in this amazing story, Ruth converts from Moabite paganism to the covenant of Yahweh, the one, true God of Israel, as she interacts with the most miserable of evangelists. What are we to conclude? Only this: In the end, it is God alone who woos our hearts, who moves our wills, and who wins our devotion. This is an internal work of the Holy Spirit imperceptible to others until we act in faith and love.
In sharp contrast to Ruth’s beautiful words stands Naomi’s bitter terseness. As Ruth and Naomi enter the gates of Bethlehem, the whole village buzzes with excitement. The storyteller says, “the whole city echoed with excitement over them.” We can see the news spreading quickly gathering the women to get a look at their long lost friend. With one voice the chorus of women says, “Can this really be Naomi?!!” We are caught up in this surprising moment ready for the feast but then, Naomi speaks and squelches the celebration before it can begin. “Don’t call me Naomi! Don’t call me lovely! Call me Mara. Call me bitter.” This is not merely an wrinkled woman mourning the loss of her tight, flushed cheeks of youth. Naomi says, “Call me bitter because I left here full and Yahweh has brought me back empty…The Lord has testified against me and El Shaddai has heaped all this trouble on me.” Robert Hubbard Jr. writes that it is at least significant that Naomi does not attribute her misery to chance or fate, but instead to the divine Person, the Covenant God of Israel. With the women of Bethlehem we were ready to celebrate but Naomi speaks and the crowd falls silent and disperses. Perhaps one whispers to another, “Give her some space; what a tragedy; O Lord have mercy: See the suffering and hardness upon her face; hear the bitterness in her voice.” There will be no feast; this widow has returned from famine and death and she has unresolved issues with God.
We pause here for a second sermonic point: Even though this story has a happy ending, the storyteller does not rush over the tragedies or the characters’ responses to the common curse in this world as if they did not exist or that the true follower of God lives as if tragedy does not occur and hurt us.
It is not a mark of spirituality to face the death of a loved one by skipping the mourning and saying to everyone around us: “She is in a better place; Really, I am happy and I am rejoicing in her home going.” Whatever happened to a period of mourning when we cry out to God, “Why? Why, O God, have you taken from me my beloved? Why have you allowed death to rear its ugly head? I never knew that it could hurt so deeply. I am afraid, I am bitter, I am distressed, I am brought low and I am numb. Leave me alone. Don’t call me lovely; call me bitter and get out of the streets; quench the barbeques, put down your tambourines and let me find refuge in my dusty, cold house.”
Don’t you wish that we could identify this storyteller, fly her out to Oregon, build a fire, sit down in the starlight and hear her tell the story to us one more time? Do you think Naomi is the author? Is it Ruth? Who was able to capture the drama so powerfully in so few words in such powerful imagery? Who was able to anticipate the words of the Apostle Paul, “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” This storyteller doesn’t rush to the happy ending but builds the story teaching us to weep with those who weep.
As Sinclair Ferguson observes, “Naomi’s and Ruth’s story well illustrates the words of another barren woman who lived by faith – Hannah, the mother of Samuel.” She prayed in the house of the Lord:
The Lord kills and brings to life;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up;
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with princes
And inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s
And on them he has set the world.
The gospel tells us not only the triumph of Jesus but also his sufferings. He suffered death and hell. He was brought low; “He who was rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake became poor.” The gospel, the best news in the world, includes the passion of Christ. Yes, the cross and grave are empty – praise be to God! But the gospel is also the gruesome shedding of the blood of the Lamb – thanks be to God! We kneel before the cross and mourn the death of Jesus who bore our sin and punishment; we kneel in deep contrition until the final day. We confess with our father Job in his suffering, “I know that my redeemer lives.” But we also confess with him, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
“Refuge Under God’s Wings”
The first setting of the story of Ruth is famine, bitterness, and hopelessness in Moab. The second setting of Bethlehem replaces famine with barley harvest, bitterness with loving kindness and hope of a new life. Ron Hubbard Jr. writes, “The setting is an idyllic one – the smell of fresh grain, the songs of happy harvesters, the pride of the landowner in his field…. Ruth and Boaz emerge as people of extraordinary character, people whose ‘hesed’ (kindness and loyalty) is to be emulated.”
The story’s turn toward hope is summed up in Chapter Two in the words of Boaz: “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Have you found shelter under God’s wings? This imagery harkens back to the Song of Moses in which he likens God to an “eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions.” 1,100 years later, Jesus would lament over Jerusalem saying, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” This imagery describes the loving divine providence – God’s loving care and protection of his children. As the story of Ruth unfolds we learn much about God’s loving care and protection of us.
Firstly we learn that Providence is purposefully the work of God rather than coincidence and luck. The storyteller says in (3) “So Ruth 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.” The storyteller says, “By chance she came to the field belonging to Boaz.” The storyteller says it with the wink. Before the action of the story continues in Chapter Two, the storyteller tells us that the new character in Chapter Two, Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s husband and that he is a worthy man. Then the action begins. Ruth goes out into the harvest. She has no personal contacts; she has no specific destination; She is willing to subject herself to the merciful laws of Israel allowing her to work rather than to beg for food. Is it coincidence that she stumbles upon Boaz? To the contrary, Boaz believes that Yahweh, the God of the Covenant has directed her. He says, “the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Secondly, we learn that Providence often comes to us through our own willingness and actions. Would you be willing to do what Ruth did? She committed to a life-long submission to a bitter, bereft widow. She gave up her nation, culture, and family. She humbled herself to manual labor and charity. She exposed herself to danger in the fields of men. God cared for her and protected her as she took these actions and risks.
Ruth single-handedly went to work in the barley harvest. Notice in (2) Naomi’s response to Ruth’s request to glean. As Brett Avant writes, “Naomi, on the other hand, can’t even muster enough strength to get out of bed. She seems to be still in this state of despair. She only says two words – two words in Hebrew – ‘go ahead, my daughter.’”
Have you ever heard someone, who thinks he is quoting the Bible say erroneously, “God helps those who helps themselves”? The error beyond this quote never appearing in the Bible is that God does not necessarily add his help to those who work to fix their problems and meet their own needs. God is not in a matching program: If we do our initial 50% he will match with his 50%; we do 98% of the work and then God makes up the final 2%. Rather, it is more accurate to say that God works within us, enabling us to do what is necessary toward our care and protection. God gave to Ruth the resolve to care for Naomi and for herself. God gave her the courage step out into the world full of dangers and injustice to eek out an existence.
Thirdly, we learn that Providence graciously comes to us through other people who are instruments of God. We meet Boaz an instrument of divine providence. From him we learn how to be instruments of divine providence. He takes God’s blessing into his fields daily. He says to his laborers, “The Lord be with you!” and they answer, “The Lord bless you!” Can you imagine such a work place where God’s name is not only revered but his blessing is lovingly passed from one to another? To remove reference to the God of the Covenant Blessing does not produce equity but hopelessness. To acknowledge the Providence of God in all spheres passes the peace and teaches masters to consider their common laborers as equal receivers of divine blessing.
Boaz as an instrument of God protects women. He is mindful of them to the extent that among the many female gleaners, he spots a new one. He inquires of her and speaks kindly and respectfully to her. In (9) he tells her that he has commanded his men to respect and to protect her. He tells her that he will provide for her water as she works. In (14) he invites Ruth to share his bread and wine. He gives to her roasted grain until she is satisfied and then gives her more to take home. He commands his men to respect her, not to even taunt her or treat her with disdain. He tells them to purposely drop more grain in their harvesting to make her work easier. O, if all men were so polite, courteous, and respectful of women! To whatever extent we men do so, we become instruments of divine providence.
Boaz encourages Ruth by divulging that her love for Naomi has not gone unnoticed. Indeed, it is the gossip of Bethlehem. This is a providence beyond supplying the basic necessities of life. Through out the story, but especially in Chapter Two, Ruth is identified as “Ruth the Moabite.” Boaz and his fellow villagers know that the Moabites descended from Lot’s drunken and incestuous union with his daughters. The nation of Moab emerged as a idolatrous culture, destructive of women through the Baal and Asherah cult. The Moabite rule was selfishness. Its king and people refused to help Israel along her way from her miserable wilderness wanderings to the fertile land of Canaan. The Mosaic law thus barred a Moabite from worship in the tabernacle and temple of God. Only a Moabite who renounced his Moabite way of life to embrace the ways of Yahweh could enter into the corporate worship. The law of Moses also commanded through its immigration laws the benevolent treatment of foreign aliens, even Moabites. Boaz treats Ruth lawfully and graciously.
Boaz never speaks to Ruth about the sordid past of her people. Instead he graciously applies the law of God for her well-being as it is required of him as a land owner and member of the tribe of Judah. Instead he speaks of her coming to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He says to her in (11) “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given to you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Finally, we learn that God’s care and protection of us instills hope in others for whom we care. Ruth returns home after her day at work. Naomi sees the food and comes alive. Now she is talking a mile a minute, full of questions. Her bitterness dissipates and she begins to pass the blessing of God upon others. In (19) she says, “Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” In (20) she says, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” What a complete conversion! The same Naomi who said, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me,” now is able to say, “…the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Is this not the conversion from bitterness to hope that we desire in our lives? God’s kind providence is working a deeper grace in our lives. His provision of bread is connected to his provision of the bread of life. The apostle Paul writes to the Church at Philippi, “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Naomi not only received a handout, but also her hope in God. She needed both. She was willing to settle for a handout. But God graciously gave to her a handout plus hope. What are you settling for? The God of Naomi gives to you more than you could ever imagine. Thanks be to God! Amen.
“Promise of Redemption”
We have reached the climax of this perfect short story. Robert Hubbard Jr. writes, “This chapter relates the climatic turning point of the entire story. Indeed there is no higher level of dramatic tension and suspense than here.” The climax is marked by the question, “Who are you?” asked twice. Boaz asks Ruth, “Who are you?” and her response helps us to identify the source of redemption. Naomi asks Ruth, “Who are you?” and her response reveals to us the promise of redemption. Both the content and the storytelling make this the perfect short story. Masterfully, the storyteller builds the dramatic tension and suspense and he/she has the literary sense to do so at midnight!
Naomi has come alive. Ruth has returned with food and favor from the fields of Boaz, and Naomi abandons her view of an angry God who is working against her. She excitedly confesses that God has shown kindness. God has not forsaken the living or the dead. And so, Naomi begins to hatch a plot. Believably, she devises a scheme of romantic entrapment. Her plan is risky, morally faulty, and audacious. As the story unfolds our blood pressures rise and we expect at any moment the plan to go wrong. With our hearts pounding we should take to heart this lesson: God works to redeem us in spite of our imperfect even compromised schemes and plots.
Naomi’s motives are pure and her premises are sound. But her schemes remind us of the adage: the means do not justify the end. Iain Duguid echoes overwhelming Hebrew language analysis by noting that virtually every single word in (4) has a range of more than one meaning creating sexual innuendo. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Tremendous risk is involved in this scheme in which Naomi and Ruth together participate – risk to Ruth particularly. But there are also serious questions, unsettling questions, about the risk to which Naomi is prepared to expose Boaz. Perfume, night-time, good food and wine, the warm physical closeness of an attractive woman… what man could miss the apparent message? Perhaps Boaz would be safe meeting Ruth in his field under the noonday sun when his workers casually (or perhaps enviously) gaze his way. But at the darkest hour of the night, with the sensuous aroma of a sweet perfume, when physical attraction is awakened and opportunity near – would a man not find himself tempted, and is that not the central part of the plan?” Ferguson also writes of Naomi’s scheme that it “can hardly be glossed over or sanitized by the notion that it is simply was simply a traditional custom with nothing unusual about it at all.” The storyteller has a greater purpose than to tell of Naomi’s plot of entrapment. The greater purpose is to show that God works to redeem us in spite of our imperfect even compromised schemes and plots.
Ruth responds in (5), “All that you say I will do.” The storyteller builds even more dramatic tension in (5-9) by telling us of Ruth’s willingness and intent to follow Naomi’s scheme to its detail but failing to do so at midnight as she blurts out her amazing response to the question, “Who are you?” Remember, Naomi’s plan ends with Ruth, having presented herself to Boaz, quietly doing whatever he would tell her to do. Ruth executes the plan with precision. At midnight, Boaz is startled and roused from his slumber, he sees the blurry form of a woman and drowsily says, “Who are you?” It is in Ruth’s midnight response that we glean a most beautiful and useful insight concerning the source of redemption.
According to Naomi’s plan Ruth was not to engage in any conversation. Naomi was hoping for some other kind of interaction, certainly not any talk. But Ruth for some reason decides to make a statement. A good number of scholars believe that she proposes marriage to Boaz and they may be correct. What is apparent is that Ruth supplies more of an answer than the drowsy Boaz solicited. She could have simply answered, “I am Ruth,” continuing with Naomi’s plan, but she says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant for you are a redeemer.” Ruth spills out everything; now there is no hope for romantic entrapment. Ruth says to Boaz, “Spread your wings,” which is the language of marriage, but it is also the language of divine care and protection. Indeed in biblical language God’s loving care for his people is inseparably connected to the language of marriage. Ruth may be proposing marriage, but she is most certainly reminding Boaz of his words he spoke the day before in his fields to Ruth: “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Ruth makes one of the storyteller’s most powerful points in bringing ever so close divine providence to its instrumental means. How does God take care of us? How does he spread his wings over us to protect us? Most usually God does so through mere human beings, instruments of his providence. How will God provide food for Naomi and Ruth? Through a mere man, Boaz. How will God provide meaningful relationship and family for Ruth and Naomi? Through the secondary means of a man.
Ruth says, “Spread your wings over your servant for you are a redeemer.” Not only divine providence but divine redemption makes use of secondary means! In the end, this story is about the ultimate Redeemer who pays our ransom for sin, uniting us to our just and holy God. It is a story about the necessary and human means through which this holy Redeemer was born into our world to purchase many sons for glory. At midnight Ruth tells Boaz that he is an instrument of divine redemption. The law of God makes provision for him to restore one clan of his tribe ended in death. It is a provisional law, not required of him. It is a merciful law that provided in the ancient world what life insurance, health insurance, 401ks, titles to home and land, gold coins, and remarriage provide in the modern world. In short Ruth says to Boaz at midnight: “You have the opportunity to be God’s human instrument to save Naomi and me from our plight.” And so, we learn from this courageous woman: As we appeal to mere instruments of redemption let us remind both the instruments and ourselves that God is the Redeemer. This is a better way than entrapment! The law of God given by Moses is most merciful to the entrapped woman and the man. If Naomi’s plan would have been born out, the Mosaic law would have provided for Ruth and Boaz to go to the city gates the next morning to be immediately married, the elders of the town their witnesses. The sexual consummation at midnight would have been considered the cause for such a hasty wedding – a shotgun wedding as we would call it here at the end of the Trail. According to the law of God, there would be no lingering shame. The sins of the night would be corrected by the morning ceremony. This is what Naomi was hoping would occur. But a better plan emerged as God moved upon a pagan widow to remind a son of Bethlehem that he could use another portion of God’s law to redeem a house gone down to death and mourning. I contend that Ruth did not know much if anything about the kinsmen redeemer laws. What she knew is that this kind man Boaz had used the beautiful language of God protecting her as a bird would spread its wings over its chicks, and she reminded him at midnight that God might be calling him to be his instrument of redemption in her life. With Ruth, then, as we appeal to mere instruments of redemption let us remind both the instruments and ourselves that God is the Redeemer.
Boaz having worked late and having fallen into sleep, is startled, awakened, with no time to form a response, let alone a plan to implement the midnight request of Ruth. Nevertheless, his response is a beautiful plan, one of moral integrity and enduring love. He immediately picks up on Ruth’s connection of their conversation of the prior day and their midnight meeting. The day before Boaz had told Ruth that her kindness to Naomi had not gone unnoticed but had captured the admiration of the entire village. At midnight Boaz blesses Ruth for an even greater kindness – giving him the opportunity to be her kinsmen redeemer. There is a wrinkle – a closer relative has first rights to execute the provisional law. But Boaz is going to take care of this and the whole plan first thing in the morning, in public, at the city gates! From Boaz we learn that there is a right way to get God’s work done. In (10-13) we learn that God’s plan for our redemption is a public affair and good news for everyone. In the morning light before the entire village Ruth’s redemption shall come. It is all well and good for the law of God to say, if you consummate your marriage prior to the ceremony in the dark of midnight, you can go to the city gates in the morning and be free from guilt and shame. But everyone in town knows why you have come hastily to the gates and for the rest of your life, even though they know better, everyone in town will that you put the cart before the horse. And so, Boaz has a better way: Tonight we get a good night’s rest and in the morning we will do this legally before God and man. To make this story merely about marital affairs, pre-marital sex, and public wedding ceremonies would be to do a great disservice to the storyteller. The greater lesson is that God’s plan for our redemption on every level is a public affair and good news for everyone. Redemption is not a private matter. It is legal; it is public; it is a cause for celebration. “Go tell it on the mountain! Over the hills and everywhere! Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”
Finally, in (14-18) we learn that God will not rest until he makes good his promise of redemption. Boaz as a type of Christ works diligently and completely to redeem his beloved. In the morning, Boaz pours out a gift of 80 pounds of barley into Ruth’s shawl. It is so heavy that he helps lift it to her shoulders. For her protection Ruth leaves early in the morning returning home with this weighty gift upon her shoulders. Naomi asks Ruth, “Who are you, my daughter?” Most translators have responsibly altered the question to read, “How did you fare, my daughter?” thinking that this legitimate translation makes more sense. However, Hebrew word for Hebrew word, Naomi’s question is identical to Boaz’s midnight question, “Who are you?” The storyteller has purposely used these identical questions to mark the climax of the story. Why would Naomi in the morning light ask Ruth, “Who are you, my daughter?” Simple and potently Naomi is asking: “Are you a widow in morning or are you a bride in the morning light?” Who are you? Are you the benefactor of my schemes? Or did it fall flat? Are you a woman who intimately knows Boaz and now has a claim on him? Or are you a spurned foreigner? Who are you? Ruth tells Naomi everything that Boaz had done for her, showing her the 80 pounds of barley and repeating his words, “You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.” How well he suspected Naomi behind the midnight call! Nevertheless, Boaz gives surety of his promise to redeem. The gift sustains the hope of Naomi and Ruth that Boaz will not rest until he has settled the matter of their redemption once for all at the city gates. Naomi gets the message and says to Ruth: “The man will not rest but will settle the matter today!”
What a picture of our beautiful Redeemer, Jesus Christ! We are his spotless bride whom he has loved with a never ending love! He pursued us and did not rest until he had settled the matter of our redemption. He went to the city gates with a cross on his back; he fell beneath its weight, but he did not rest until he had settled the matter of our redemption. He stumbled to Golgatha outside the city gates. He spread his hands to the nails; He cried out in agony, “I thirst!” But he did not rest until he had fully completed our redemption. Only as divine justice was fully satisfied did Jesus cry: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he rested, our redemption accomplished. At the climax of the central and most perfect story in all history, Jesus settled the matter in one day.
Ruth 4: 1-12
The Book of Ruth has all the elements of a good short story. At midnight the redeemer Boaz promised redemption to Ruth. He said, “Get a good night’s rest and in the morning I will not rest until I settle the matter.” How many of us toss and turn in the dark night of the soul worrying whether or not the promise of redemption is true. The storyteller masterfully constructs the story so that we might enter into these common human experiences of trust vs. restlessness and faith vs. doubt. In the morning, Boaz takes his seat at the city gate, the location of legal transactions in his village of Bethlehem. Boaz summons his relative, the potential redeemer to sit at the gate with him. Oddly, Boaz does not call out his name, but calls him “friend.” Actually, he calls out a little Hebrew rhyme, “peloni almoni,” which is equivalent to our saying in English “Mr. So-and-So.” Certainly Boaz knew his relative’s name and calling him “peloni almoni” was hardly appropriate for the formal legal proceedings facing the two of them. Most likely, the storyteller inserts this greeting to protect the identity and reputation of this man who would show that he was interested in real estate but not particularly eager to show mercy and charity to strange family members.
My first reflection from this portion of the story is this: While many of us are interested and invested in pursuits that in some way benefit ourselves, redemption is a selfless act benefiting the orphan, the widow, the destitute in need of a gracious act.
The contrast between Boaz and his unnamed relative is sharp and convicting. Boaz most likely did not sleep a wink that night on the threshing floor. All night he constructed a shrewd plan for the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. So far in the story we have been led to think about the love growing between Ruth and Boaz and we are anticipating a marriage. Perhaps Boaz takes us by surprise as he sits at the city gate and begins to talk about real estate. His plan shows his knowledge of the Mosaic Law. He refers to the property redemption laws recorded in Leviticus 25. This portion of the law is full of mercy – environmental mercy providing rest for the land preventing erosion and depletion of the soil. These laws continue to show mercy for the person who has fallen under the bondage of financial debt. Every 50th year is the Year of Jubilee when the land rests and all debts are cancelled, plots of land returned to their original owners. The law at this point becomes detailed in its provision of the redemption of property. The first statute emphatically states that all the land actually belongs to God. The following statutes are provisional not binding. If my relative becomes so poor that he must sell his portion of the land, he has the right to buy it back as he can afford to do so, or he must wait until the Year of Jubilee when the land by law must be returned to him. If my relative remains impoverished, I have the legal opportunity, as his closest relative, to redeem the land at any time, preserving its ownership within our clan and tribe. It becomes part of my family’s inheritance but from its value and profits I care for my impoverished relative restoring him to financial stability and hopefully to the title of his land.
In the presence of the quorum of ten elders he has summoned to the gate, Boaz informs them that Mr. So-and-So is the closest relative of Naomi, who has a plot of land for sale. Mr. So-and-So has the right to purchase it and work out the details of profiting from it until the Year of Jubilee. Boaz makes it sound as if it were a nice and neat opportunity. He only mentions the land as if to bait his relative. Certainly the relative would know the details of the law or better yet the intent of the law to show mercy and charity to others. Perhaps Mr. So-and-So was indicative of his generation, “those who did what was right in their own eyes,” and had largely ignored God’s merciful laws of redemption. What seemed good to him at the city gate this particular morning was a plot of land for sale. Boaz calls him to state his interest before the assembled legal witnesses. Boaz will redeem the land if Mr. So-and-So is not interested in doing so. The man is eager to do so: “I will redeem the land!” Boaz has been careful to only mention the names of Naomi and her deceased husband, Elimelech. Naomi is an elderly widow and so, her care would be minimal and other portions of the Mosaic Law may not apply. “Sure! I’ll redeem the land! Sweet deal!” Like Mr. So-and-So many of us are interested and invested in pursuits that in some way benefit us, but redemption is a selfless act.
At this point Boaz surprises his relative with the name of Ruth and cites another portion of the Mosaic Law. If Mr. So-and-So purchases the land, he will be responsible for Ruth, a younger widow, young enough to bear children, to preserve the lineage of her deceased husband’s clan. Boaz cites the laws recorded in Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 whose intent is to preserve the clans and tribes of Israel. Mr. So-and-So would be responsible to take Ruth as his wife and give her a son. At the next Year of Jubilee the plot of land would revert to Ruth and her son by law. Were Naomi, the elderly widow the only destitute relative, then at her death, Mr. So-and-So, his wife and children would become the heirs of the land. If Mr. So-and-So declines to act upon this provisional law, then Ruth has the right to go to the city gates, pull Mr. So-and-So’s sandal off his foot and spit in his face. In the presence of the elders she publicly says, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” His penalty is public shame. Mr. So-and-So apparently doesn’t know the law. This man who moments ago said, “I will redeem it!” now says, “I cannot redeem it! Lest I impair my own inheritance! Take my right of redemption yourself for I cannot redeem!” Many of us are interested and invested in pursuits that in some way benefit us, but redemption is a selfless act, a gracious act. With Mr. So-and-So we must say, “I cannot redeem!”
In sharp contrast to Mr. So-and-So, Boaz is able and willing to redeem to such a selfless degree that he reminds us of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of all of God’s children. Boaz knows the law and he executes it unto redemption. To an even greater degree for our redemption, Jesus perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the entire law of God so that the divine demand for perfect obedience might be met. Boaz has in heart and mind the destitute, the widow bereft of love and security. He works shrewdly, diligently and legally for the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. To an even greater degree Jesus has in heart and mind the destitute, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the hopeless, the depressed, the confused, the sick and the impaired. Jesus works shrewdly, diligently and legally to redeem us from all that entangles us in this world. Boaz covers his relative’s shame at the city gates. Boaz does not leave Mr. So-and-So to Ruth pulling off his sandal, spitting in his face and saying in the presence of the elders and the entire village, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house!” Instead, Boaz allowed Mr. So-and-So the dignity of pulling off his own sandal, handing it to Boaz thus giving him the right to redeem the land, Naomi and Ruth. Boaz willing and able to redeem covered the shame of his relative who was unable to do so. To an even greater degree Jesus covers our shame in his redemption. When we fall short of doing the right in public view Jesus stands in our place, takes our responsibility and redeems what we cannot redeem.
Finally we hear the chorus of the villagers. Well-meaning, the chorus bestows two blessings upon Ruth and Boaz, rehearsing its tribal history. They don’t seem to realize that they cite two of the historic incidents embroiled in human sin and dysfunction through which God has preserved his redemptive line producing Christ. And so, the lesson from chapter 3 reprises: God works to redeem us in spite of our imperfect even compromised schemes and plots. But at this point in the story, with these two citations before us, I can say it even more strongly: God works to redeem us in spite of our sins. Undeniably true, God established the 12 Tribes of Israel through Jacob siring children born by Rachel, Rachel’s handmaiden, Leah, and Leah’s handmaiden. The Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament nowhere and in any way condone polygamy. Jacob wound up with his harem through the schemes of Laban, his pagan father-in-law and his own personal disobedience. Nevertheless, God graciously works to redeem us in spite of our sins. The villagers say, “May God bless you like he blessed Rachel and Leah.” The biblical accounts of these two women are full of their rivalry and misery. Truly the only blessing in these two sisters’ lives was the hope of redemption through their children. The irony in the joyful chorus is that Boaz and Ruth have chosen the better way. They have not done what is right in their own eyes but they have trusted God through the dark night of the soul and walked into the dawn of his redemption.
The second blessing drips with even more sordid irony. The story of Judah and Tamar is the story with more connections to the story of Ruth than any other biblical narrative. You can read it in all its detail in Genesis 38. Concisely, Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law, who wed Tamar to his oldest son, Er, who was such a bad egg that God requires of him his life. Judah then wed Tamar to his next son, Onan, who refused to do his part to help Tamar conceive a son. Because of this Onan died. Judah’s third son was too young to be married and Judah was afraid that if he did marry him to Tamar that he would also die and so Judah told Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house.” Rather than taking his advice, she disguised herself as a prostitute and lured Judah who was on a business trip. She gave birth to Perez! This is the history of the lineage of Bethlehem a village in the tribe of Judah! This is the lineage of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, the Redeemer of the world arising from the tribe of Judah. God works to redeem us in spite of our sins. But the good news is even better than this: God redeems us because of our sins. He died to pay for our sins and he rose from the grave to purchase many sons and daughters for glory. The work of redemption is already accomplished in the life and death of Jesus. Now the benefits of redemption unfold to all of us who wait for our final and complete redemption. Our Redeemer knows each of us by name and he is at the right hand of his heavenly Father where he mentions us by name. None of us in Christ are Mr. or Ms. So-and-So. Jesus said of his relationship with us: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name.” Concerning our redemption Jesus has said to us who live in these last days, “Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near.”
“A Son has been Born!”
Ruth 4: 13-22
The perfect short story of Ruth has a surprise ending. The story is not ultimately about the marriage of Ruth to Boaz, but it is the story of the transformation of a bitter, nearly dead woman into a vibrant lady carrying for a newborn baby! It is the story of Naomi. But it is also the story of a baby boy. The storyteller surprises us further by adding a genealogy revealing to us that this is the story of King David’s lineage! This may be a story about the entire nation of Israel. It may a story about us! Dr. Gene Edward Veith Jr. wrote, “The Bible, above all, offers not only abstract doctrines but stories. When we hear or read a story that stirs us, we want to play a part in that story.” Robert Hubbard Jr. writes of the Book of Ruth, “The book is, after all, profoundly human – a story with down-to-earth features with which one can easily identify. Indeed, readers immediately see themselves in the story.” The surprise ending strongly beckons us to receive the story as our own, to observe the interconnectedness of community and generations within the Covenant of grace.
The lessons latent in the story are encouraging and refreshing. Subtle yet powerful we consider them. They are not spoken boldly by a prophet but artfully presented by a master storyteller. The first reflection I have gleaned from the end of the story is this: God is the ultimate giver of all good gifts including children. The story of Ruth concludes with the gift of a child. God gives a baby boy to Boaz, Ruth, Naomi, Bethlehem, to us! The apostle James said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights in whom there is no shifting shadow.” Children are a gift from God.
We have struggled to love children for generations. In my grandparents’ day, children were to be seen not heard. In my parents’ day, children were considered an imposition, a by-product to be discarded, a nuisance. Such destructive views remain but they are changing. Even Hollywood stars are getting pregnant, keeping their babies and quitting the limelight and laser-lane life to tenderly rear them. The superstar Madonna refuses to let her two precious children watch TV and prohibits them from hearing her songs or from reading about her sordid career. Adoptions have increased in recent years. Couples who thought that they would not have children are conceiving in their forties and fifties. Organizations aiding disadvantaged and abused children are multiplying. For many of these individuals, couples, and organizations, the conception and birth of a child is the pinnacle of human creativity and productivity. The poet and songwriter who wrote that in the face of the little child we see the very face of God is lost upon a rising generation of parents who look into the face of their babies to see their own potency and potentiality.
In our story, the women of Bethlehem elated with the birth of Ruth and Boaz’s baby offer a blessing to God. The chorus says to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord!” There is no doubt in Bethlehem that Boaz is the father and that Ruth is the mother of this precious baby. The storyteller says, “Boaz went into Ruth and the Lord gave her conception.” Mother and father are instruments but the ultimate Giver is God. He opens the womb.
The women of Bethlehem say, “A son has been born to Naomi!” In our view this sounds a bit odd. Has not a son been born to Ruth? Our individualism is always with us. This is my choice, my body, my baby. I will decide what to feed him, how to raise him, educate him. He belongs to me and to me alone! But the women of Bethlehem have a different view. They see God giving a son to Naomi, the bitter barren widow who has returned to them to discover that the hand of the Lord has not gone out against her but has drawn her into his redemption, restoring to her life, family, and hope. With the women of Bethlehem, including Naomi, we discover that God is the ultimate giver of all good gifts including children.
Reflecting upon the giving of this son to his grandmother, we stumble upon a second lesson: In the Covenant community, children belong to all of us and ultimately to God.
Not only do the women say, “A son has been born to Naomi!” but they name the baby boy! Is it not the parents place to name their baby? Once again we suspect that these women of Bethlehem are a bit intrusive and we think that they ought to mind their own business. But the truth of the story is that this baby belongs to the whole of Bethlehem. In the covenant community children belong to all of us. They are our legacy of faith. They grace our worship gatherings with childlike faith. They enrich our fellowship with honesty, love unabashedly expressed, and entertaining pounding of feet and wiggling.
There is a little boy in our church family who does not know his birth mother. He knows the adoptive love of his family and he is one of the greatest encouragements his pastor enjoys. Every Sunday he bounds out of worship to meet me on the porch, to shake my hand and to ask me my home address and to inquire after which company collects the Lewis family trash. On most Sundays he has also rehearsed an anecdote betraying to me the consistent and tender love of his mother, father, brother and sister. This precious boy belongs to them. But he also belongs to me and he belongs to our church. He belongs to us!
Adelynn Williams belongs to her Mommy and Daddy, and there are four people here today who will tell you that the story before us also makes it quite clear that she belongs to her grandparents. But Adelynn Williams also belongs to us, her Church. Today we have vowed to come along side her parents to help them in raising her up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In the Covenant community, children belong to all of us and ultimately to God. Ultimately, Adelynn Williams belongs to God.
The women of Bethlehem name the baby boy born to Ruth and Boaz. They name him “Obed,” a name that is a shortened version of a longer name meaning “servant of Yahweh.” This little boy is a servant of God. Ultimately, he belongs to God. Truly, this is the name of each and every one of us who are united to Jesus Christ, the Servant of God. We belong to God.
The storyteller concludes in supplying us with a genealogy. At first we might think this to be a strange ending of a story but then we discover that it is the genealogy of King David. We discover that God has purposes for our children greater than their obedience and service of us, beyond their life spans to serve future generations. Obed belongs to his beautiful parents, the model of covenant love; he belongs to his grandmother restoring her to the land and community of Israel; he belongs to Bethlehem reminding them of God’s merciful preserving of their clan generation after generation. The storyteller surprises us with a divine purpose of Obed’s life – he is the grandfather of King David. Obed’s life has meaning and purpose beyond what he could have ever imagined in his lifetime.
The storyteller presents a selective genealogy dropping out several generations, recording 5 pre-Mosaic generations and 5 post-Mosaic generations, ten in all – ten being the number of communal completion. In the fullness of time God has provided his covenant love toward the redemption of his children. It may be that the storyteller’s purpose has been to make an argument for the reign of David, at the time of David’s ascent to the throne. If this is indeed the case, then the argument is clearly the covenantal faithfulness and preservation of God who perfectly, at just the right time provides for his people a prophet, priest and king.
We know the story of Ruth and Boaz. We know the story of Naomi. We know the story of Jessie and his son, King David. All we know of Obed is that he was the son Ruth bore and that he was the pride and joy of his grandmother. We know that he had a son, named Jessie, who sired the king of the golden age of Israel, the king to whom Yahweh promised an heir who would sit upon his throne forever. Undoubtedly, the details, relationships, and experiences of Obed’s life had meaning and purpose. But none of these compare to the divine purpose of Obed’s life unfolding after his death in the birth of King David, in the birth of David’s son, Solomon to whom the nations flocked. In the fullness of time, the greater Son of David was born in Bethlehem. It is this Son of David who sits enthroned above at God’s right hand ruling the nations and advocating for the children of God. This Son, the Lord Jesus is the greater purpose of Obed’s life. Obed was one pearl in the string of redemptive history. Through him and many others Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Restorer of Life has come to be our elder brother. In Christ our lives serve a greater purpose spanning generations, reaching beyond our life spans.
We do not merely say, “My son is going to accomplish what I have dreamed of doing but never had the opportunity to do, what I have failed to do…. My daughter is going to stand on my shoulders and accomplish more than I could ever do.” We do not push our children to do our will but instead we teach them to do God’s will. Ultimately, our children are not given and purposed to fulfill our dreams, to do our bidding in the end. They belong to God who has given them to us as stewards of his unfolding kingdom in this world. With our children we live in these last days pursuing the mission of Christ Jesus to glorify his heavenly Father to the very ends of the earth. We proclaim to our children the gospel declaring them to be free and holy through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We raise them to pursue all fields and endeavors in gratitude of God their Redeemer and Restorer of Life.
None of us this side of the Nativity of Jesus can listen to the women of Bethlehem say, “A son has been born to Naomi!” and not hear the prophet Isaiah say, “For unto us a child is born!” We hear the angel say, “For unto you is born today in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”