Categories
Theology

Reading Ruth: Four Themes to Keep in Mind

Ruth is a literary masterpiece. Death. Suspense. Love. Brokenness. Redemption. Often we think it is mainly about a romantic encounter between a strong man-hunk and an unworthy pauper girl. That’s in there, of course, and it certainly adds to the drama. The author knew what he was doing–it draws us in!

Ruth is, however, mainly about God and his activity and purpose. Here’s four themes to keep in mind as you read the book.

  1. God welcomes non-Israelites into his covenant. From the outset of the book, the author makes clear that Ruth is a Moabite (1:4). She is referred to as “the Moabite” throughout (2:2, 6, 21, etc.). God is not anti-Gentile. So long as the non-Israelite is devoted to Yahweh, he welcomes them into the covenant. God does this with Rahab in Joshua and with the Ninevites in Jonah.
  2. God works through ordinary means. There is not one mention of a miracle or vision or angels in Ruth. Rather, God works through the everyday means of ancient Israelite culture. Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz’s field and Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (2:3). God also directs events from behind the scenes through Naomi’s plan for Ruth to seek out Boaz on the threshing floor (3:1-5).
  3. God graciously guides a particular family’s life. Naomi was all but hopeless after her husband and sons died, as she may not have an heir to continue her line. Boaz, too, did not have an heir of his own. Yet by the end of the book, after Boaz and Ruth marry, Naomi is redeemed and Ruth’s son becomes Naomi’s heir (4:13). In this way too, Boaz is given a child. Naomi’s friends give God all the glory (4:14-15).
  4. God sovereignly works out his redemptive plan. Boaz and Ruth’s son is not merely an heir of Naomi. The son, Obed, becomes the father of Jesse, who is the father of David (4:17). Thus Obed begins the Davidic line, which will eventually bring David to the throne. More than that, God works in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz so that David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ, would become the Redeemer of all God’s people.
Categories
Life Ministry

One Reason John Piper Writes

Piper wrote a blog about his 2010 writing leave. I thought his last reason for why he writes was particularly cool — and down to earth.

Finally, there is an inner impulse that I cannot explain that drives me to write. I would write if there were no possibility of publication. I have hundreds of pages that no one has ever seen but me, and it would not matter ultimately if they were destroyed. I wrote them not to be published but because there is an impulse from within.

Categories
Life Theology

What Lizard Needs to Be Killed in Your Life?

C.S. Lewis writes about the necessity to kill sin, and the pain that can come with it, in The Great Divorce:

I saw coming toward us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains

‘Of so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no god, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came–which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

‘Oh–ah–look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here–well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time. May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please–really–don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’

‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’

‘Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be most silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.’

‘There is no other day. All days are present now.’

‘Get back! You’re hurting me now.’

‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.’

‘Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.’

‘This moment contains all moments.’

‘Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me in pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would have all been over by now if you had.’

‘I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?’

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

I saw coming toward us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder.  Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ.  Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily.  What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.  As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience.  ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said.  It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him.  He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile.  Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

‘Of so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him.  His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes.  I’m off,’ said the Ghost.  ‘Thanks for all your hospitality.  But it’s no god, you see.  I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came–which he insisted on doing.  Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that.  But he won’t stop.  I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

‘Oh–ah–look out!  You’re burning me.  Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first.  I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard.  ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question.  I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it?  I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here–well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time.  May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance.  Please–really–don’t bother.  Look!  It’s gone to sleep of its own accord.  I’m sure it’ll be all right now.  Thanks ever so much.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that.  I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now.  I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’

‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’

‘Don’t you think so?  Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully.  I honestly will.  In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day.  It would be most silly to do it now.  I’d need to be in good health for the operation.  Some other day, perhaps.’

‘There is no other day.  All days are present now.’

‘Get back!  You’re hurting me now.’

‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you.  I said it wouldn’t kill you.’

‘Oh, I know.  You think I’m a coward.  But it isn’t that.  Really it isn’t.  I say!  Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor.  I’ll come again the first moment I can.’

‘This moment contains all moments.’

‘Why are you torturing me?  You are jeering at me.  How can I let you tear me in pieces?  If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew?  It would have all been over by now if you had.’

‘I cannot kill it against your will.  It is impossible.  Have I your permission?’

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite.  Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

‘Be careful,’ it said.  ‘He can do what he says.  He can kill me.  One fatal word from you and he will!  Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever.  It’s not natural.  How could you live?  You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now.  He doesn’t understand.  He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing.  It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us.  Yes, yes.  I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams.  But aren’t they better than nothing?  And I’ll be so good.  I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again.  I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent.  You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t.  But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right.  It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you!   Go on, can’t you?  Get it over.  Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me.  God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth.  The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

Categories
Life

Old Testament Names Are Part of Scripture Too

During a team time earlier today with our project here in Johannesburg, we were reading Numbers 13. That’s the story about Joshua going into Canaan with the other men of Israel to find out what the Promise Land is all about.

As we read, we came across some difficult Hebrew names. To my surprise, after the reader stumbled over the first name, she skipped the other three and continued on reading the next sentence. She kind of giggled. Everyone else joined in the laugh. After all, the names are hard and it’s embarrassing to butcher the pronunciation.

I’m not trying to criticize the reader because I realize that the Old Testament can be a tongue twister. However, I think it was a reminder to me of a larger problem in our Christian culture. The problem is two-fold. First, we don’t consider the Old Testament “as inspired” as the New Testament. We would never confess that, but we might secretly hold to that belief. Think about how much Christians actually read and discuss the Old Testament.

Secondly, we don’t recognize the significance and importance of how personal the Bible really is. These names represented real people with real lives and families, who really served the Lord and really died to go to be with him. The Bible is intensely personal and crazy-hard (albeit small) lists like the one in Numbers 13, along with lengthy genealogies elsewhere show, before anything else, that people matter to God.

Don’t be in a rush to get through the name lists. Slow down and do your best. It’s a part of Scripture just as much as John 3:16. He created these people. He loves them. He used them to build his kingdom. Let’s glorify God and honor their legacy by reading their names fully, confidently, and with delight.

Categories
Life Theology

Seeing the Gospel in Good Books

I’m reading The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs, founder and Resident Scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theology Seminary.  A few days ago, a quote caught my eye.  The funny thing is that it has nothing to do with evangelism, but about how good books point us to Christ:

Great literature deals with the human condition in all its sorrow and in all its joy.  It asks the difficult questions that confront all human beings and sometimes answers those questions accurately.  This is so whether it is a Christian or a non-Christian who is writing the book.  People live in God’s world whether they acknowledge Him or not, and they are made in His image whether they believe in Him or not.  Therefore they are constrained by the reality around them and the reality within them to wrestle with truth (p. 119).