Themes of Ruth, Part 1: Covenant Loyalty
In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚 for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.
An important part of Ruth is hesed, covenant loyalty, or loyal love, often translated as “kindness” (for example, in the NASB ’95, CSB, ESV, etc.). This key word is found three times in the book, but it remains a major theme as we see the main characters display this trait and be blessed for it, while other characters ignore their obligations and do not receive a blessing.
Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi
In Chapter 1, Ruth’s loyal love for Naomi is contrasted with Orpah’s. Both Moabite widows leave their home to travel with Naomi, but only Orpah listens to Naomi’s impassioned reasons that they should return home. Ruth, meanwhile, clings to her mother-in-law against reason.
Throughout the book, Ruth displays her passionate loyalty to Naomi. She enters into possible danger to gather food for them. She listens to Naomi’s instructions to gain Boaz as a husband to redeem them.
Boaz’s Loyalty to Ruth
In chapter 3, Boaz agrees to marry Ruth, but there is an obstacle. There is a closer kinsman-redeemer who has the option to redeem Ruth and Naomi’s land and marry Ruth before Boaz has the option.
This other, unnamed kinsman lacks the loyal love that Boaz displays. He lacks it to such an extent that while the author of Ruth believed that Orpah was worth naming, this man isn’t even worth a name.
While most translations have Boaz call this man “friend” (Ruth 4:1), the actual Hebrew term used is something akin to “Joe Schmo,” or “Mr. So-and-So.” This is a clear indicator that whether the author of Ruth knew this man’s name or not, he doesn’t believe this man is worthy of being named in the story. One reason for this might be that while the man wasn’t required to redeem Ruth, he was obligated to do so. Deuteronomy 25:10 tells us that a kinsman who refuses to redeem loses the right to his name.
Boaz, meanwhile, doesn’t share such qualms about redeeming Ruth. We must remember that she is a Moabitess, a hated people-group who had a long history of abuse and attempted abuse of the Israelite people. Boaz has recognized Ruth’s hesed, and displays hesed to her in return by agreeing to redeem her. Scripture does not say if Boaz already has an eldest son, but if he does not, his inheritance would pass to their eldest son Obed, who is also the inheritor of Ruth’s first husband, and therefore may have been “tainted” according to some Israelites. This is the exact reason that “Joe Schmo” refused to redeem Ruth.
God’s Loyal Love
Why is loyal love important? Because it’s a defining attribute of how God deals with those he is in covenant with.
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness
— Exodus 34:6b (ESV)
This phrase “steadfast love” is hesed, an expression of God’s covenant loyalty. When humans display loyalty borne of love for God and neighbor, we are displaying God’s kind of love to us.
As Christians living in the power of the Spirit, we should display this kind of loyal love for one another. As Jesus himself said:
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
— John 13:35 (ESV)
Christianity Is True ✝️
It’s strange but heartening to see an extremely popular and secular YouTube channel put together such a well-produced animated defense of the resurrection of Jesus. I don’t agree with everything they said, but I rarely agree with everything anybody says, so that doesn’t bother me. It’s a great primer to the deep conversations that secular scholars and Christian scholars have been having about the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection over the last 30 years.
- The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach | Michael Licona 📚
- Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority | Jonathan Morrow 📚
- The Doctrine of Christ: The Resurrection (Playlist) | William Lane Craig 📽
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
This short article by Greg Morse is a reflection based on the song “My Truest Praise” (embedded below). Morse writes about a difficult topic: what about those who profess belief but then turn away?
And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.
— Matthew 13:20-21 (CSB)
“True repentance,” argues Morse, “is lifelong.” This does not mean that Christians no longer sin, but that it is impossible for those who have truly received new birth to make a lifestyle of sinning.
In this wonderful article, Professor David Starling exegetes and applies James 3:17 for us.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
— James 3:17 (ESV)
He talks about Christian nationalism and the increased intertwining of politics and a strain of Evangelical Christianity. One argument is to increase Bible literacy by having Christians read more scripture. While that is helpful, Starling argues that what is really needed is a greater quality of engagement with scripture.
This is where James 3:17 comes in. According to James, there is a kind of wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:15) and a contrasting wisdom that is “from above” (3:17). What distinguishes them is not just their content—biblical ideas versus non-biblical or anti-biblical ideas—but the dispositions and motives of those who exercise them and the behavioural outcomes that they give rise to.
We must be “open to reason,” (epieikes in the Greek) which Starling argues is primarily a “judicial and political” word. A Christian who is epieikes thinks critically, thinks in nuances, listens well and is slow to speak, seeks to persuade with reason, not rhetoric, and is not quarrelsome.
Think about our witness to the world if that was a defining characteristic of Christians today.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
The Sufficiency of Scripture: From Biblical Word-Views to Reformational Worldview | Kevin J. Vanhoozer 📃 →
What does it mean for the Bible to be “sufficient”?
Is scripture sufficient for us modern Christians living in an age of “climate change,” “systemic racism,” and an “infinite spectrum of genders”? Some argue that the Bible seems inadequate for these times.
Or is scripture sufficient in the sense that we need nothing apart from the Bible? Should we get rid of our commentaries, professors, and interpreters, and rely solely on whatever we determine the “plain reading of the text” to be? Some Christians believe so.
Dr. Vanhoozer breaks down these views and how we should understand the sufficiency of scripture. He particularly uses the context of the Reformation’s thinkers to help us understand sufficiency. This article is difficult, but worthwhile because the topic is just that important.
Competent readers of Scripture need to be alert to which domains a particular biblical text is or is not authoritatively addressing. For it is possible to hyper-extend the sufficiency of Scripture by, say, assuming it provides answers to every question we might ask of it. The Reformers never thought the Bible ought to be the exclusive source in every domain of knowledge (e.g., rocket science). Many topics partake of “mixed domains”: both Genesis and the Human Genome Project have something to contribute to the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Yet Scripture is sufficient to serve as the creaturely medium of divine discourse: just these texts have been set apart as Holy Scripture, adequate for the purpose for which they are given. That purpose is to provide diverse word-views on God’s plan “to sum up all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10), his living Word become flesh (John 1:14).
Vanhoozer finds a middle ground between the two. We should not solely look to scripture to answer every question, because scripture is not trying to answer every question. But neither should we ignore scripture’s insight into the domains it does care about, such as our human identity.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Critical Race Theory in the Culture and the Church (with David French) | Think Biblically with Sean McDowell and Scott Rae 🎧 →
Critical Race Theory is, perhaps, the most polarizing cultural issue in America today. If you don’t embrace it, you will be branded as a racist, while if you do, you will be branded a Marxist.
David French is a classical evangelical Christian who has seen racism first-hand. His family adopted a girl from Africa, and they’ve seen the racism she (and) they experience first-hand. French finds in the academic discipline of Critical Race Theory some constructive criticisms of viewing America as a “post-racial” or “colorblind” society, but he also recognizes that when CRT is taken to the worldview level, it becomes dangerous.
I strongly recommend this thoughtful dialogue.
Read and Reflect 📖
Should we have friends who disagree with us? In 2020, American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. At the time, articles were discussing the liberal Justice’s friendship with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
In an age of political hyper-partisanship, when even natural families are strained or torn apart because of differing political views, it was (and is) strange to see two powerful people with opposing political views be friends.
Eglinton uses this friendship as a springboard to talk about the friendship of Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck and liberal skeptic Christiaan Snouck.
Despite the astonishing contrasts between their beliefs and lives, Bavinck and Snouck remained in regular contact—both in person and by letter—during their lives. From their letters, it is clear that both valued “critical friendship,” and believed that one’s insights soon grow dull when surrounded by those who think in the same way.
A truly sharp thinker, they believed, needs a close friend whom he can trust, but who does not share his most basic assumptions. Bavinck once described their friendship as that of “opponents who are also friends.”
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
This is a few weeks late, but I found this song from Christian jazz vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd fascinating. I encourage you to watch the video, look at the art, listen to the music, and read the stories in the Rabbit Room article linked below.
I’ll admit that I’m not very familiar with jazz music, but I think that gaining familiarity with the heritage of African American music in America is a good thing.
Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more weepin, (don't you know), no more weepin
No more weepin over me
And before I'd be a slave
I'd be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
- Oh, Freedom: Words & Music for Juneteenth | Ruth Naomi Floyd 📃
- Hutchmoot: A Theology of the Blues & Belonging | Ruth Naomi Floyd 📽
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ—to him be the glory forever! Amen.
—Romans 16:25-27 (CSB)