Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth … I was a youth pastor. It wasn’t quite that long ago, but it does seem like a distant memory. However, I can still recall the makeup of the high school ministry when I first arrived on the job: 15 church kids.
While I believe that it’s entirely possible to develop a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ while growing up in a Christian family that regularly attends church, the students that I inherited were mostly jaded. Their interest in spiritual matters was minimal. Been there, done that.
By God’s grace, one of the apathetic church kids brought a friend with him to the high school ministry. This buddy, Steve, came from an unchurched home.
I immediately liked him. He was an athlete, and we started working out together. Over time, I had the privilege of leading Steve to Christ and discipling him. He was the first in a growing nucleus of new students who turned that youth ministry around. Within a year there were over 100 kids, many of them freshly baptized Christ followers.
You’re about to begin reading the story of an Old Testament “Steve” (if you’re following the Scripture Union daily Bible reading schedule). Her name was Ruth. When the story opens, the “church kids” (aka the nation of Israel) have little interest in a relationship with God. Ruth, an outsider, does.
This would be a good time to pause and remind you that whenever you start reading a new book in the Bible it is important to discover the context (i.e. historical setting) of that book. We just did that a week ago when we launched into Song of Songs. If you’re married, I hope you got as much out of that Old Testament love poem as I did! SOS is a fairly brief book, so we blazed through it in seven days and are on the threshold of another quick read: Ruth.
Don’t start into Ruth without first reading the Introduction to the book in your NIV Study Bible. And as you’re digesting that Introduction, don’t forget to chew on the answers to the five journalistic questions: Who (the book’s major characters)? What (themes)? When? Where? Why (key lessons)? The better you understand Ruth’s context, the more you’ll get out of your Bible reading this week.
Allow me to touch on some of what you’re going to discover in answer to the journalistic questions. I won’t do your homework for you — but I’d like to whet your appetite for some cool stuff in Ruth’s background. Let’s start with the lady herself. (Who?)
Ruth was not a member of God’s chosen people — she was a Moabite. Yet she showed a greater passion for God than most of the people living in Israel at the time.
A couple of other things worth noting about Ruth. She was the great-grandmother of King David. David headed the royal line through which Jesus would eventually come. And speaking of Jesus’ family tree, Ruth is one of four women listed in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1). All four were outsiders. Their inclusion in the genealogy pointed to a coming Savior whose redemption would be universal in scope.
You’re also about to meet Boaz (another Who?). He became Ruth’s husband. And by marrying her, he saved Ruth and her family from heart-breaking destitution. He’s called, throughout the Book of Ruth, a “guardian-redeemer.” I like the older edition of the NIV’s translation of this title better: “kinsman-redeemer.”
“Kinsman” underscores the fact that it was necessary for Boaz to be a relative of Ruth’s in order to legally save her. (You’ll have to read the story for the details.) In this way, Boaz’ life foreshadowed that of his most famous descendent: Jesus. Jesus became one of us (a “kinsman”) in order to purchase our salvation on the cross.
One more tidbit from Ruth’s context — and then I’ll let you start digging for yourself. When? When did Ruth live? Oftentimes, the “When?” of a Bible book doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference in our understanding of that book. But it’s a key to grasping the significance of Ruth’s life. The book begins by placing her story “in the days when the judges ruled.” (Ruth 1:1) The judges led Israel before the nation had kings. And they were, for the most part, a disaster.
The book of Judges — located in the Bible just before Ruth — concludes with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” —Judges 21:25 In other words, things were a mess. And into that mess stepped Ruth — a woman who chose to live a God-honoring life at a time when most others were choosing a different path.
What a role model for us today! If you attend a public school, or work in a secular environment, or have close friends and family who are not Christ followers — you know how lonely it sometimes feels to pursue God. The pressure to conform to everyone else is relentless. Don’t cave in. Learn from Ruth that you must BE different if you want to MAKE a difference.