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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ruth part 1: Understanding the times.

(Updated: 18/06/2014)

Judges 21:25 - Ruth 1:1 (English Standard Version Anglicised)

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons."

 Why study Ruth?

Because it is relevant to our day, to our church, to our current situation therefore it is the book for us over the next few meetings.

In what ways it is relevant will become clear as we study the text together. I am sure there are many blessings contained within for us and also many reminders as to how if we get it wrong then the results can be far reaching.

Ruth can be summed up as the account of a family in great distress. The book can be summed up by three funerals and a wedding. It carries many surprises for us as to how God works out His plans even through a family that some today might term as dysfunctional.

Before we study any book of the bible we should always get a little of the background in place. That might to some seem to be a little boring and unnecessary but all events recorded in the bible take place at a certain time and in certain real circumstances. The events are what they are because of what has gone before and what was happening at the time. The teaching contained within the account is directly related to the events taking place. Therefore it is not merely of interest that we look at the background:


If we do not get the background in place we will most probably go off on theological tangents that are probably true but are not necessarily what Ruth teaches us. It is what Ruth teaches us now that is of great importance and so we pray that we handle the word of God correctly and that He blesses as we consider what it says to us.

Our first study will set in place what the text begins with:

  • In the days when the Judges ruled.
  • There was famine in the land.
  • A man of Bethlehem went with his family to Moab.

(Ruth 1:1)
Let us go back to the beginning for a moment and follow something of revelation history. The Jews refer to the first five books of the Old Testament as the Torah. It is believed that Moses wrote these books which are often referred to as the Law by both the OT and NT. These books record the events of creation, the fall, God's choosing of a people and their setting apart as a nation. There are of course many ups and downs and many lessons to be learned as we read and study. God's law for mankind is contained within these five books and also taught within is His accepted way for man to worship both as individuals and also corporately for all who belong to Him. The end of the historical journey contained within is the peoples release from slavery in Egypt to freedom across the Red Sea.

The book of Joshua follows on in which is recorded Moses' successor Joshua leading the Nation of Israel into the promised land.

Judges follows on from this and records a time approximately 350 years after Joshua led the people into Canaan. The events of Judges took place around 1400 BC. They were turbulent times when the nation was under threat from outside enemies who were attempting to take over the land and also there were times of famine.

The question we have to ask concerning this is: “Why is God allowing His people to suffer in such ways?”

The book of Ruth is a helpful insight for us to see the bigger picture of what is happening as from God's perspective. We also live in days when we are constantly asking the “Why?” question. We ask it concerning the events in the world and within our country but we also focus it down to our own family and even within the local church.

Why is God allowing the things that are happening to us?”

Tradition teaches that Samuel is the author of Ruth and scripture tells us that the events recorded take place during the time of the Judges.

The account of Ruth took place at a time when there was UNRIGHTEOUS LIVING just prior to the KINGDOM being established.

So what do we learn from this first verse?

  1. The events took place in the days when the Judges ruled.

Look at Judges 21:25: In preparation for this study I read a Jewish commentary concerning this verse and was quite shocked at how it was interpreted. The author went to great lengths to make what is clearly a negative into a positive. He looked at Jewish character and decided that doing what is right in our own eyes is really a compliment because the Jews would only see what is right,. But does that add up to either the events during the period of the time of the Judges? Human nature is the same whether it be Jewish or Gentile when we are said to do as we please or what is right in our own eyes is a clear description of selfish living. Scripture teaches both in the OT and NT that all have sinned and that all fall far short of God's intentions. The Holy Spirit of God reveals the selfish or sinful heart of the nation at this point by telling us that everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

How does this impact upon the church locally?

  1. There was famine in the land.

Deuteronomy 11 is God's instruction to His people that they must remain faithful to Him in all of their ways. The result of faithfulness is security and provision in the land but the promise of God for unfaithfulness is a lack of security and a withholding of provision. Judges is all about attacks from outside nations. The raiding of food-stocks etc and also as we see from our verse a time of famine. There is no doubt that God is applying His covenant curses to the nation but as Ruth reveals He is still working out His Sovereign purposes in surprising ways. I simply cannot see how the reality of the events that were happening can ever be interpreted as a compliment to the ways of God's people at the time!

Is there a New Testament equivalent of the covenant curse for the church? If so how does it work out for us?

  1. A man of Bethlehem went with his family to Moab.

There are two ironies in this verse:

  • Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” The man ran away from the place of provision in order to be provided for in a foreign land. God is always faithful to His promises and so if Bethlehem is not providing the basic needs of life then something has gone wrong. It is clear that the promised covenant curses are taking effect. Israel are going hungry and blessing is not available. 
  • Moab is the second irony in the story. Read Genesis 19:30-38. Moab the father of the nation was a son of Lot who was conceived through a drunken incestuous relationship by Lot with his eldest daughter. Lot, as we remember, was Abraham's nephew and was rescued in the nick of time from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we look at how the Moabites fight with the Israelites later, and lead them into sin, one can't help wondering why God bothered to save Lot and his daughters. It seems that only evil ever results.

    As we follow the Moabites through the Bible to the time of the Judges, God uses them, like He used the Philistines, to punish the Israelites when they fall away. When the Israelites call out to God, He brings forth a judge to rescue them from their oppressors. 

    Read Judges 3:12-30

    Irony of ironies, from Ruth there is going to come the great king David (who will later conquer and subjugate the Moabites) and from David will come Jesus, the Messiah. So if we follow Jesus' lineage back far enough, we come to his ancestor Moab, who was born of incest. It is amazing how God can use whatever He chooses in order to fulfil His purposes.

    The greatest irony of all is found in Deuteronomy 23:3-6. Moabites are excluded from the assembly of the Lord. That is the Law so how do we reconcile the man taking his family to Moab for provision? Had the Lord let them down? Did God lead them into the land of the Moabites for the provision that He was impotent to provide? We will discover wonderful truths as we study this love story contained in scripture at this turbulent time of the Judges.

    When rebellion against God abounded grace abounded much more as we shall see. Grace does not come cheaply; a high price was paid by this family for the situation that they found themselves in but yet God was clearly working out His purposes.

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