Archives For Ruth

Dwell on Christmas and the first things that captivates your thoughts are the gifts under the tree.  However, long before the cups of hot cocoa around a fire of crackling-ambers there was the anticipation of something bigger than what material could offer.  The event we celebrate as Jesus’ birth was the righting of wrongs and Isaiah, long before the gospels, (7:14) was told of a virgin who would bear a son and that his name would be called Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”).  David, long before Isaiah, talked about a king who reign on a holy hill (Zion) and that all who take refuge in this person would be blessed (Psalm 2).  Ruth, long before David, had her world rocked when her husband died but was able to wed Boaz who became the father of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David where the lineage of Christ comes from (Ruth 4:17).

In Isaiah there are four servant songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12) that define the chosen one who will bring justice to all nations and that he will be a light to all nations but will do so through suffering and ridicule.  If that does not stir you to praise then think about this very carefully:

Imagine being displaced from your home to a foreign nation only to be oppressed, mistreated and forced to serve as indentured servants.  You hear a prophet declaring to you that “from the root of Jesse” will come hope for the nation of Israel (see Isaiah 11:1) but it has not come yet.  So days, weeks, months and years pass and still there is no mashiach (Hebrew word for Messiah meaning “anointed one”) and your hopes grow stronger in anticipation with each passing second.  You long for something better to make everything complete as it was said (or at least told) to you from the Rabbi.

This was the state for Israel and then…just as it was prophesied…God came to this world and Mary bore a son and named him, Jesus.  Imagine growing up listening to teaching after teaching about this mashiach who would redeem mankind and now He is here!  Now He is here.

So how do we respond to this?  Look at how the angels responded:

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  (Luke 2:13-14).

I think that is an excellent starting point.  Worship!  The moment God came down to be with us is the moment where everything suddenly became right and now the plan was established for the salvation of all souls.  Tom Wright, in Simply Christian, words it best.

“So what is Christianity about then?  Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all of this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus.  He has done it.  With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all.  A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut.  It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up.  We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.  In particular, we are all invited—summoned actually—to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.  In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”[1]

That echo comes from one source…the birth of Jesus.  Rejoice friends…Salvation is here! 

[1].  N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (New York: HarperOne, 2006): 92.


His name is Ted Mackenzie and he is my hero.  He also happens to be my father and for many reasons  I am thankful for him but probably the greatest quality I admire in this man is his devotion to me and Donnie no matter what.  I was a problem child for most of the 22 years I lived with him.  Detentions, suspensions, F’s on my report card, blatant disobedience, and a host of other things.  However, he stuck with me even in the hard times.  I imagine the most difficult thing for my dad to do was to watch me fail time after time when he knew there was so much more potential in me.  I remember a particularly rough moment in my life and I started crying and ran away, dad chased me and I ran in the basement and tried to run away from him and he held me in his arms and started crying.  I cried some growing up and I am sure Dad did as well but that was one of the few times we cried together.   

Dad, for me, was much like Boaz was for Ruth (obviously in a different connotation but you understand).  Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew goel). The kinsman-redeemer in Israelite culture was the closest relative who would redeem their kin in times of trouble so that the women could have a chance in a male-dominated society (this is too short of a synopsis so click here for more information).  In short, Boaz sought to redeem Ruth but the problem was there was a kinsman-redeemer who was nearer to Ruth in kinship than Boaz (3:11-12).  Ruth tells the news to Naomi and this is her reaction:

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.  For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”  (3:18)

The New Living Translation renders the word “wait” as, “Be patient” but the Hebrew word for “wait” is yashav and literally means to “sit or to dwell.”  In the most literal sense Naomi is telling Ruth to sit there while Boaz (and God!) tries to consult the nearest kinsman-redeemer.  This may seem like a moot point to you but for Ruth this is her whole world.  This is her one chance and now she has to wait.  

Sound familiar?  Some of us have gone through some of the worst pain we have ever had to face.  We did not ask for it but it came nonetheless.  People keep telling us, “Everything is going to be all right,” yet we see none of that!  All we see is pain…


an empty side of the bed…

an empty desk in a classroom… 

the sound of silence where laughter and joy once roamed. 

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.”    That’s tough.

I remember the phone call very well that I received when I was a junior in high-school.  It was one of my best friends from Marietta, Georgia named Ryan on the line (at the time I was living in Chattanooga, TN).  This was great since we hadn’t talked in months and so I looked forward to the conversation but  I could tell something was wrong.  My best friend when I lived in Marietta was my next-door neighbor Johnny Struck.  We did everything together and that included good things but often bad things.  When I moved to Chattanooga we remained close but drifted apart somewhat and so we lost touch.  Ryan told me on the phone that day, “Robbie, I don’t know if you have heard but Johnny is dead.”  I don’t remember anything else Ryan said to me but I do remember being shocked at the time.  I told my parents and I remember my dad looking at me asking if I was ok.  I said I was but I wasn’t.  I never was told about the funeral and to this day I have not grieved properly for Johnny.  The weeks and months that followed Johnny’s death (without getting into details) were nothing short than providential. 

Ruth and Naomi at this point cannot see the big picture.  It makes no sense what has happened to them and being women they have now way of providing for themselves and so they are at the mercy of God’s will.  A woman today could more than likely get a job and provide some reasonable amount of income for her family but back then it did not happen that way.  Women were secondary to men and who you were was about who you were married to and what you owned.  Naomi and Ruth had little to nothing.  But…the barley harvest was beginning (1:22).  We pick up the story in chapter two where Ruth and Naomi simply need grain either to sell to get money or for food on their table.  Ruth offers to go pluck some grain in a field where someone would let her do so.  Naomi lets her and we come across a particular verse:

So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.  AS IT TURNS OUT, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimilech.  (2:3)

“As it turns out” is not simple mishap or happenstance but it is descriptive language to describe that this is something God is doing.  God seems to be almost guiding her paths for Elimilech was Naomi’s husband and thus Naomi and Ruth would be from that particular clan.  As it turns out ;), Ruth meets Boaz and she is allowed to pluck grain as she wills and furthermore Boaz provides protection for her while she gleans in the fields.  When she returns to Naomi with all of the grain Naomi  is amazed when she finds out Ruth makes contact with Boaz.  To the point she says this:

“The Lord bless him!”  Naomi said to her daughter-in-law.  “He has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead.”  She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman redeemers.”  (2:20)

We will not go into the specifics yet of what she is talking about but as we close this post I want you to pay attention to one thing.  Naomi has gone from proclaiming the Lord’s hand as the source of her troubles (1:14, 20-21) to now proclaiming the Lord as the source of her blessing.  Contradiction?  No way…she is holding to the ancient truths that God is in control of all things and that what is happening now in their lives has no other source than God’s steadfast love!  His providence is at work…this has been a long struggle for Naomi and Ruth and we must see that this did not happen overnight…but God is still at work. 

He will redeem them…He will redeem us!  We shall see this tomorrow in part 3.

I was reading in the obituaries where a 9-year-old girl who was a member at the White Bluff church of Christ recently passed away after a long battle with cancer.  This came after hearing the news that Mickey Bell, a preacher for the churches of Christ with three boys (2 of whom I knew personally) lost his courageous battle with cancer.  Then yesterday one of my students was particularly bothered by something so I asked what was going on and they told me that they learned that just yesterday (Saturday) one of their friends was killed in a motorcycle accident.  My heart aches for the families and friends who are left picking up the pieces of their broken lives.  Sometimes grief is easier when it is anticipated but when something comes upon us so sudden and so quick we are left with questions, doubts and pain.  Death comes upon us all but it is hard to see death come to those who are (from our perspective) so young.  So what are we to do with the pain, the questions, the confusion and all the pieces scattered out like bits of broken glass? 

I read the book of Ruth this morning and it was such a positive read since I just concluded the book of Judges.  Ruth starts out with tragedy though if you remember the story.  A woman by the name of Naomi loses her husband and 10 years later loses her two sons.  She is left with her Moabite daughters-in-law and nothing else.  Her pain is immense and the anguish must be too much.  She appeals to her daughters to “pick up the pieces” and quit waiting around for something to come up (Ruth 1:11-13).  Naomi’s words ring with emotion describe her emotional state: 

“It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me” (1:13).   

Now as a minister or a counselor we would want to discourage someone from saying that but what is clear by the narrator of this story is that they neither say this is false or true.  They leave it uup to the reader to decide and that is tough.  Did God do this?  We are simply not told.  Orpah returns to her land and her gods and Ruth refuses to leave Naomi.  They travel back together to Bethlehem and all the towns people gather to see this woman who has gone through so much.  I imagine it is like when you pass a wreck on the interstate and you don’t want to look but you do it anyways because it is so horrible.  If you lost your husband and two sons…it is horrible.  Note what Naomi says again:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.  “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”  (1:20-21)

Again, we are left with no answer to the validity of Naomi’s comment…just our own set of questions and perhaps our own set of answers.  The picture Naomi paints is hardly one worth looking at.  She goes from having everything to losing it all and according to her it is the Lord’s fault.  Her, Ruth and Orpah (wherever she goes) is simply left to pick up the pieces and find meaning in their broken lives.  Things do not make sense.  But something happens that gives us a clue that God begins to work in their brokenness:

So Naomi returned…accompanied by Ruth…arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.  (1:22). 

I understand that this is setting up what will happen in the next chapter but I also believe this is a subtle hint that for Naomi and Ruth, this is the beginning of God doing something amazing in their life.  For us (especially for the families and my student) the pain is real right now and no words will comfort…but God is at work in the midst of even the most painful of situations. 

Part 2 is tomorrow.