Worth Reading–February 29, 2012
Here is Tim Challies on the significance of a postscript.
Don’t Skip the Postscript!
By Tim Challies
I spent much of my day yesterday wrestling through a couple of biblical genealogies (and enjoying every minute of it). I found myself reflecting on the end of the book of Ruth where we encounter a short but powerful genealogy. But before I get there, I want to remind you of the final scene in Ruth.
As the book comes to a close, we are given a glimpse of a little scene that is fun to picture in your mind. Boaz has married Ruth and the Lord has blessed them with a child. It seems here like after the child is born, the women of Bethlehem gather the baby and bring him to Naomi’s home to announce the birth and to celebrate with her. The women carry the baby from Ruth and Boaz’s house and approach Naomi’s home dancing and celebrating, taking joy in her joy. They come to her praising God, fully aware that this child is proof of God’s covenant-keeping favor. They even declare that Ruth is more to Naomi than seven sons, that Ruth is more to Naomi than the perfect family with perfect sons. That’s quite a tribute!
In a legal sense this was Naomi’s child; he was born of Ruth, but it is the child of Naomi and Elimelech, the child who will carry on the family name. Naomi will now serve as a kind of foster-mother, helping to raise this child. You can picture Naomi weeping and worshipping as she takes the child from the women and pulls him to her chest. So many promises are fulfilled, so much love expressed, so many prayers answered. God has been faithful to his covenant. He has given an heir and he has restored the land.
And they lived happily ever after. The story of Ruth began with Naomi leaving the land with her husband and two sons. Naomi suffered almost unbearable tragedies, but here she is at the end, cradling that little baby to her chest—that little baby who is God’s declaration that he is a covenant-keeping God, that he loves Naomi, that she has not been forgotten or forsaken. Naomi has experienced the deepest kind of emptiness, but here she is full, restored, whole.
Kind of, but not really. The narrator has one little surprise left for us. He has held one thing back that he will include in a postscript.
Before we get there, it’s worth pausing and considering the story without its postscript. If there was not another word to Ruth, what would we learn from it? We would see God quietly ordering all things to fit his plan and to bring him glory. He has transformed Naomi, he has called Ruth out of darkness into light, he has faced Boaz with a challenge and allowed him to prove his godly character and to be a display, a reflection of the love of God. He has answered prayer and given hope and remained faithful to his own covenant promises. All of this and so much more has been displayed in just a short story.
We would also want to observe that even the most mundane of moments, the millions of little circumstances that make life what it is, each of these is a sacred moment, an opportunity for God to work and an opportunity for us to trust and serve him. There on the road to Bethlehem Orpah walked away from Naomi, she walked away from God and all his promises, while Ruth declared her allegiance to Naomi and Naomi’s God. It could have been a forgotten moment, but it was sacred, a moment of worship. Ruth went out into the field to work, the most mundane of tasks, but there she encountered Boaz. Boaz went into his fields to oversee the labor and spotted a foreign woman, doing the lowest job there was. And in that moment he extended favor to her; the most normal moment became the most significant.
In these ways and so many others God used the small circumstances to bring about his purposes, to contribute to the unfolding of his plan. When you believe that God is sovereign, you must also see that there are no mundane, insignificant moments in life. Boaz had no idea that helping Ruth gather barley would lead to him fulfilling Naomi’s need for an heir. Every moment, every circumstance, is an opportunity to serve God, to declare your allegiance to him, to proclaim your trust in his promises. This is true when we work and worship, when we fellowship and commute and check email and eat dinner and go shopping and give birth and everything else that makes life what it is. We can’t choose the moments and the circumstances that God will use to unfold his plan. All we can do is be faithful with every moment he gives us. God is always there in the background, at work, on the move, even or maybe especially when we do not see him.
That is Ruth without a postscript. There is a lot we can learn. But as it happens, there is a postscript that begins to show God’s fulfillment of even greater promises. And we see that the author has one final, parting shot. It comes in a strange form—the form of genealogy—a list of names of fathers and sons. Those verses essentially say, “Oh, by the way, this little baby, this little boy…it’s the grandfather of the great king, David.” This isn’t just any baby. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David, the king.
That must have been exciting to the people who first encountered this book. Ruth was probably written during the reign of David when people were contesting David’s kingship and the story declares that though David’s great grandmother was a Moabite, she was an Israelite in the truest sense. This is not just some abstract story, but a story about the king’s family. The king is worthy of his calling. He is worthy of the throne. He is a true Israelite. A true king.
The Lord kept his covenant, he continued to bless his people. He even provided them with a king, one who would take them past the era of the judges and rule over them as the Lord’s representative, as the king God declared “a man after my own heart.”
That is amazing. Let’s not lose the wonder of it. Naomi and Ruth and Boaz are all related to the king, they are all royal. That’s a great surprise at the end of a story, but it’s not enough. It answers Naomi’s need for an heir but it does not answer her deepest needs. Naomi was a sinner, a person who was in rebellion against God. As good as Ruth and Boaz were, they too were still sinners, still in rebellion against God. Naomi’s need for provision, her need for an heir to perpetuate the family name, her need for land and family—all of these things were simply emblems or pictures of her much deeper need. She needed more than an heir; she needed a Savior, someone who could make her right with God.
So why then are we left with a genealogy, a list of fathers and sons? We tend to skip over these genealogies, don’t we? But maybe we just don’t taken the time to really ponder them, to really understand them.
There is a genealogy in the New Testament, in the book of Matthew, that repeats this one from Ruth, it encompasses it. It’s much longer and this bit of it fits right into the middle. It begins with Abraham. It goes from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah to Perez and on through Ram and Amminadab and Nahshon and Salmon and Boaz. “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth,” it says. And from Boaz and Ruth it goes to Obed and Jesse and David the king—the king of Israel. But it doesn’t stop there. It keeps going. David fathered Solomon who was the father of Rehoboam who was the father of Abijah, and on it goes, generation after generation, through Jehosaphat and Joram and Uzziah and Ahaz and Hezekiah and then on to Zerubbabel and Azor and to a man named Eleazar who fathered a man named Matthan who fathered a man named Jacob who fathered a man named Joseph who was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is called Christ, anointed one, Messiah, Savior, King eternal, King immortal, King invisible, King of the Jews, King of the nations, King of kings, Lord of lords, Lord of glory, Lord of all, Redeemer.
And there, there is the best surprise of all. Here is God’s better fulfillment of his better promises, God’s deepest answer to our deepest needs. This is where we have such an advantage over the people who first encountered the book of Ruth. To understand the book you have to put yourself in their world, to get into their minds, so you can see the story through their eyes. But now they long to see through our eyes, so they can learn how this story truly ends. They saw the big surprise that Ruth and Boaz were great grandparents of the king. But what they couldn’t see—though maybe they suspected it or hoped for it or longed for it—is that from this line, from these people, would come the Messiah, the full and ultimate and final redeemer.
And when you understand that, the story just explodes in meaning and significance. Now we see it—the true need, the true famine, the true fullness, the true Naomi, the true Boaz, the true heir, the true Son, the true redeemer. It is Jesus who is the great surprise at the end of this story, the great climax to the tale, the great hero, the greatest answer to all the prayers and longings, the deepest answer to the deepest need. It’s all about him.