Themes of Ruth, Part 6: The Providence of God
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.
In this last part of this series of themes of Ruth, I want to explore the theme of the providence of God. It pervades this book.
What is providence? Providence is God’s divine direction of his creation. He may direct it through obvious means (such as miracles) or, more commonly, through apparently natural means that result in God’s desired outcome.
God’s Providence through Famine
In the very first verse, we learn that there was a famine in Bethlehem. How does that relate to God’s providence? First, while it’s not made clear in the text, I think it’s a safe assumption that God caused the famine. This is the period of the Judges when everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). Given the identification of the period of the judges and the famine, it seems likely that this famine was a punishment on Israel for faithlessness.
The phrase “there was a famine in the land” in Ruth 1:1 only appears in two other places in the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 12:10 and 26:1. The first drove Abram to Egypt, while the second drove Isaac from his home. Despite both men’s faithlessness in these situations, God brought blessing. Drawing on this phrase, the author of Ruth assumes that the reader will hear the echo of Genesis.
And there are links. If God had not caused this famine, Ruth would never have come to Israel, and the genealogical line of David and Jesus wouldn’t have existed. Despite the faithlessness of Elimelech, God brought blessing upon his whole people through the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz. God knew the choices that Elimelech, Ruth, and Boaz would make and used these vessels to accomplish his purposes.
God’s Providence in Ruth Finding Boaz
In Ruth chapter 2, Ruth asks her mother-in-law, Naomi, for permission to go into the field and find someone who will allow her to glean grain (v2). After receiving permission she goes into the field. Verse 3 says:
So Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family.
— Ruth 2:3 (CSB)
God’s providence is seen again in Ruth’s “happening” upon Boaz’s part of the field. In the story of Ruth, bad things happen to faithless people (such as Elimelech), and good things happen to faithful people (like Ruth and Boaz).
The wisdom literature, such as the book of Proverbs, makes it clear that living a faithful and good life leads to good things happening to you. Often, we may see this as the providence of God. And often, God does bless those faithful to him and to others. God has designed his world to bless those who live in line with his good character, and to bring judgment on those who do not.
But other wisdom literature, such as parts of the Psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes, make it clear that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the brokenness of this world hurts even those faithful to God. And sometimes God allows that to happen to accomplish greater goods.
That is a difficult truth to believe when we face hardship and pain, but we can trust in God’s goodness. Whether or not we see God’s goodness in this life, eternity is the truest, best good. So we can say with Paul:
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
— 2 Corinthians 4:17 (CSB)
God’s Providence in Boaz’s Meeting the Other Kinsman
Once Boaz has agreed to marry Ruth, there is an obstacle: another kinsman is closer to Naomi and therefore has first right of redemption. In 4:1, the CSB doesn’t quite translate this correctly. The CSB simply says, “Soon the family redeemer Boaz had spoken about came by.” A more literal translation would say something like “just then, the kinsman-redeemer he had spoken about came along.”
Boaz is not passive in his pursuit of Ruth, and it’s certainly God’s will and providence for this marriage to be. So Boaz is proactive in faithfulness and God provides the rest to complete the situation as he wills.
With Boaz, we need to trust God and do good. Boaz did what he could do in pursuit of the good.
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Christianity Is True ✝️
The charge that there are forgeries (books claiming to be written by one author but written by another) in the New Testament canon is now commonplace in academia. The books most commonly marked as forgeries are the “Pastoral Epistles,” Paul’s two letters to Timothy, and his letter to Titus.
I don’t believe that we need to be worried about books like Bart Ehrman’s “Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are,” and the arguments that Manning puts forward do a good job of explaining why.
Ryan Leasure continues his series on Gospel authorship with the Gospel of Mark. Most Christians have probably never challenged the authors of the Gospels and may be surprised to learn that skeptical biblical scholarship challenges those names.
There are many reasons to accept that “Mark” wrote the gospel of Mark. First, we must ask “what Mark?” The Gospel of Mark never says, but it’s usually thought to be John Mark from Acts 15:36-38.
Leasure gives us four lines of early (within 200 years) external evidence that Mark wrote Mark. For example, from Papias:
This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.
So John Mark, after leaving Paul, supposedly went to help Peter. But is there anything in Mark’s Gospel to confirm this? Leasure gives us more investigation into Mark to show how Peter’s voice and testimony are all over the Gospel. For example, the fact that Peter’s name appears more frequently in Mark than anyone else:
The name Simon/Simon Peter/Peter appears twenty-six times in Mark’s Gospel. This number, of course, does not refer to the other Simon’s in the narrative. No other disciple even comes close. James is mentioned twelve times, John ten times, and Andrew three. Moreover, Peter is present throughout most of the narrative from 1:61-14:72. The lone exceptions are 6:14-29; 10:35-40; 14:1-2, 10-11, 55-65
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
There are over a dozen references in the Old and New Testaments to “books” in heaven. The idea of such books extends back to Sumer and Mesopotamian (“tablets of destinies”). In this episode, we trace the lineage of the idea through ancient Near Eastern examples, the Old Testament, 2nd temple Jewish texts, and the New Testament. Are these records “real time” record keeping? Proof of predestination?
I love these kinds of podcasts that trace an esoteric biblical concept through the Old Testament and other ancient near-eastern literature. This is a good one.
- The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible | Michael Heiser 📚
- Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness | Michael Heiser 📚
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Church History Corner ⛪️
Duke University Christian Historian Kate Bowler researched this book for many years by immersing herself in the American prosperity church (also known as Word of Faith, health and wealth, or name it and claim it theology). To paint with too broad of a brush, this theology says that it is always God’s will for you to be immediately healed of any physical or mental ailment and to be prosperous financially. When we don’t see those things, it is due to our lack of faith, not due to an unwillingness on God’s part to provide it.
This theology is relatively new, dating to the 1800s, and Bowler traces its lineage from “new thought mind power” to Christianity and into the powerful, perhaps dominant, force it is today in American Christian thought. Then Bowler, who does not hold these theological commitments, writes graciously about her experiences in these churches and her understanding from interviewing dozens of parishioners and pastors in this theology.
Whether you believe prosperity theology fully, partially, or not at all, or if you don’t know what to believe, you will find the story she tells fascinating and informative.
From the back of the book:
Kate Bowler's Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today's hugely successful prosperity preachers. Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta's 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as "the smiling preacher," with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine one of America's most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women's empowerment guru; and many others. At almost any moment, day or night, the American public can tune in to these preachers-on TV, radio, podcasts, and in their megachurches-to hear the message that God desires to bless them with wealth and health. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.
- Kindle Edition 📱
- Audible Audiobook 🎧
- Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved | Kate Bowler 📚
- The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities | Kate Bowler 📚
- No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) | Kate Bowler 📚
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
My way of summarizing the Bible’s teaching on this topic is to say that the sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart. This functional definition considers the action itself, the content of the corrupt communication, the situation in which it occurs, and perhaps most importantly, the motivations of the people involved.
Gossip is the opposite of the gospel. In the mouth and the ear of a gossip is a morsel of bad news, not the good news.
No one wants to be gossiped about. So why do we gossip? Because like all sin, it feels good. We like to show off our knowledge of other people’s failures. We like to hear others’ failures and to judge them.
Mitchell then breaks down the three areas of his definition:
- Gossip is bearing bad news
- Gossip is behind someone’s back
- Gossip is out of a bad heart
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Karen Prior, Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, digs into the question of whether it’s possible for systemic racism to still exist, which some Christians resist.
Some people resist the existence of systemic racism because it’s a concept popularized by critical race theory, an academic framework with links to Marxist theories, postulating that “race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”
But one need not embrace critical race theory — I certainly don’t — in order to recognize that systemic racism exists and has ongoing ripple effects that can’t always be identified or contained. Just as you don’t have to be a feminist to acknowledge that sexism exists or be a postmodernist to understand the power of stories or be an environmentalist in order to put your trash in a can instead of on the side of the road, you don’t have to support critical race theory to see the lingering effects of racial injustice today.
If you still don’t believe in systemic racism, let’s talk about the sexual revolution.
Dr. Prior writes about the sexual revolution and how most conservative Christians would agree that the sexual revolution has become systemic in our culture. This is an important point, because it shows how if we don’t desire to receive and participate in the message that sex is the highest desire we should seek, we need to leave television and movies, music, and most other American culture behind. It has infected our laws, advertisements, and much more.
Ideas that take root in a culture — whether intentional or inadvertent, conscious or unconscious, incidental or systemic — have an influence that is uncontainable. This is, in fact, the very premise of the culture wars that have been fought by evangelicals for decades, which show no signs of letting up.
American Evangelical Christians have been fighting against the sexual revolution since it began in the 1960s. We (I include myself in that group), have fought against free (as in uninhibited, no-consequence) sex, abortion, and more. The comparison that Prior makes doesn’t prove that systemic racism still exists (though part of Dr. Prior’s article briefly points to some links in favor of that case), but I think it does show two things.
First, systemic injustice exists in America in at least one way. Second, Christians are involved in fighting that systemic injustice. Christians shouldn’t, therefore, object in principle to the concept of systemic racism in America.
As Christians, we must be committed to justice because we serve a God of Justice. Let us be quick to listen and learn, and slow to speak. Let us try to set aside our preconceptions, and discern carefully. Being wrong on this issue has the grave consequence of being in opposition to God’s character of justice. Let us seek the true and good in all things.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Former Anglican priest (now Anglican theologian) Sam Allberry is open about his homosexual desires. When he chose Jesus, he realized that those desires could not be fulfilled, and so he has lived in singleness ever since. This is a high and difficult bar.
But the truth is that Jesus’ bar for all of us is difficult. This is especially true in the middle of the sexual revolution. If you want to be challenged while you learn about how to better disciple our LGBT brothers and sisters, this is the podcast for you.
- Video Podcast and Transcript 📽
- Is God Anti-Gay? | Sam Allberry 📚
- 7 Myths about Singleness | Sam Allberry 📚
- @SamAllberry Twitter Account 🐦
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
— Matthew 5:7 (CSB)