A Teen looks at the Gospel…

Last week Jacob examined the Genesis Flood.

What is the gospel?  What does it mean to ‘believe’ or ‘have faith’?  Was their ‘law’ in the Old Testament and ‘grace’ in the New Testament?  Jacob looks at these questions through the story of Abraham

Next week Jacob examines why the books of the Bible are the ones there. Why not others?  Why these?

How is Ruth & Boaz a unique love story?

If you were to name some classic love stories you might suggest Helen of Troy & Paris (igniting the Trojan War dramatized in the Iliad), Cleopatra and Mark Antony (whose love entwined Rome in a civil war with Octavian/Augustus Caesar), Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast, or perhaps Cinderella & Prince Charming.  In them, history, pop culture and romantic fiction come together in offering passionate love stories that captivate our hearts, emotions and imaginations.

Ruth & Boaz Love Story

Amazingly, the love that sparked between Ruth & Boaz has proved far more enduring and noble than any of these love affairs, and in fact, still affects the lives of all the billions of us living today – more than three thousand years after these lovers met.  Their romance is also a picture of a mystical and spiritual love offered to you and me.  The story of Ruth and Boaz deals with cross-cultural & forbidden love, immigration and the relationship between a powerful man and a vulnerable woman – applicable in today’s #MeToo era.  It becomes a blueprint for us on how to establish a healthy marriage.  By any of these measures the love story of Ruth & Boaz is worth knowing.

Their love is recorded in the Book of Ruth in the Bible.  It is a short book – only 2400 words long – and is well worth reading (here).  It is set about 1150 BCE, making this the oldest of all recorded love stories.  It has been made into several films.

Hollywood movie depicting the Ruth Love story

The Love Story of Ruth

Naomi and her husband with their two sons leave Israel to escape drought and settle in the nearby country of Moab (today’s Jordan).  After marrying local women the two sons die, as does Naomi’s husband, leaving her alone with her two daughters-in-law.  Naomi decides to return to her native Israel and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chooses to accompany her.  After a long absence, Naomi is back in her native Bethlehem as a destitute widow accompanied by Ruth, a young and vulnerable Moabite immigrant.

Ruth & Boaz meet

Bereft of income, Ruth goes out to gather grain left behind by the local harvest crews in the fields.  The Law of Moses, as a social safety net, had ordained harvesters to leave some grains behind in their fields so the impoverished could gather food.  Randomly it would seem, Ruth finds herself picking grains in the fields of a wealthy landowner named Boaz.  Boaz notices Ruth among the others working hard to gather up the grains left behind by his work crews.  He instructs his foremen to leave extra grain behind in the field so that she could gather more.

Ruth & Boaz meet. Much art has been done depicting their meeting
Ruth & Boaz meet. Much art has been done depicting their meeting

Because she can gather plentifully in his fields, Ruth comes back to Boaz’s fields every day to gather left-over grain.  Boaz, ever the protector, ensures that Ruth is not harassed or molested by any of his crews.  Ruth and Boaz are interested in each other, but because of differences in age, social status, and nationality, neither makes a move.  Here Naomi steps in as match-maker.  She instructs Ruth to boldly lay down by Boaz’s side at night after he has celebrated the harvest gathering.  Boaz understands this as a marriage proposal and decides to marry her.

Kinsman Redeemer

But the situation is more complicated than simply love between them.  Naomi is a relative of Boaz, and since Ruth is her daughter-in-law, Boaz and Ruth are kin by marriage.  Boaz must marry her as a ‘kinsmen redeemer’.  This meant that under the Law of Moses he would marry her ‘in the name’ of her first husband (Naomi’s son) and so provide for her.   This would entail that Boaz purchase Naomi’s family fields.  Though that would prove costly to Boaz it was not the biggest obstacle.  There was another closer relative that had first rights to buy Naomi’s family’s fields (and also thus marry Ruth).  So the marriage of Ruth to Boaz hung on whether another man wanted the responsibility to care for Naomi and Ruth.  At a public meeting of the city elders this first-in-line declined the marriage since it put his own estate at risk.  Boaz was thus free to purchase and redeem Naomi’s family estate and marry Ruth.

Legacy of Ruth & Boaz

In their union they had a child, Obed, who in turn became the grandfather of King David.  David was promised that ‘a Christ’ would come from his family.   Further prophecies were given and finally Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, the same town that Ruth and Boaz had met in long before.  Their romance, marriage and family line resulted in offspring that today is the basis for our modern calendar, and global holidays like Christmas & Easter – not bad for a romance in a dusty village over 3000 years ago.

Picturing a Greater Love Story

The chivalry and respect with which the rich and powerful Boaz treated Ruth, the destitute foreign woman, is a model contrasting the harassments and exploitations now common in our #MeToo day.  The historical impact of the family line which this romance and marriage produced, detectible every time we note the date on our devices, gives this love story an enduring legacy.  But the Ruth & Boaz love story is also a picture of an even greater love – one you and I are invited into.

The Bible describes us in a manner evoking Ruth when it says:

I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ (Hosea 2:23)

The Old Testament prophet Hosea (ca 750 BC) used the reconciliation in his own fractured marriage to picture God reaching out to us with His love.  Like Ruth who entered the land as one unloved, but then was shown love by Boaz, He desires to show His love even to those of us who feel far from His love.  This is quoted in the New Testament (Romans 9:25) to show how God reaches wide to love those far from Him.

How is His love shown?  Jesus, that descendant offspring from Boaz & Ruth, is God come-in-the-flesh and is thus our ‘kinsman’, just as Boaz was to Ruth.  Jesus paid our debt of sin to God when he was crucified on the cross, and thus he

gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:14)

As Boaz was a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid a price to redeem Ruth, Jesus is our ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid (with his life) to redeem us.

A Model for our marriages

The way Jesus (and Boaz) paid to redeem and then win his bride models how we can build our marriages.  The Bible explains how we establish our marriages:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wifeas he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33)

As Boaz and Ruth established their marriage on love and respect, and Jesus’ care for the church is a model for husbands to love their wives sacrificially, so we do well to build our marriages on these same values.

A Wedding Invitation for you and me

As in all good love stories, the Bible concludes with a wedding.  Just as the price that Boaz paid to redeem Ruth paved the way for their wedding, the price that Jesus paid has paved the way for our wedding.  That wedding is not figurative but real, and those accepting his wedding invitation are called ‘The Bride of Christ’.  As it says:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  (Revelation 19:7)

Those who receive Jesus’ offer of redemption become his ‘bride’.  This heavenly wedding is offered to all of us.  The Bible ends with this invitation for you and me to come to His wedding

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

The relationship between Ruth & Boaz is a model of love that is still making itself felt today.  It is a picture of the heavenly romance of God who loves us.  He will marry as His Bride all who accept His marriage proposal.  As with any marriage proposals, His offer should be weighed to see if you should accept it.  Start here with the ‘plan’ laid out in the beginning, here to see how serious He is, here how the Redeemer would pay the price, and here to see how it was predicted long beforehand so we can know it really is God’s Proposal.

Another adaptation of the Book of Ruth in a short movie

Palm Sunday: Passover Plot or Providence Program?

Jesus arriving on a donkey - Palm Sunday
Jesus entering on a donkey – Palm Sunday

People around the globe today are commemorating Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Jesus was crucified when he rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey as the long promised Coming King.  It is recorded in all of the Gospels as a watershed event which set in motion the crisis of that Passover Week.

I believe the Gospel for several reasons, but very high up on the list are the widespread, diverse and testable prophecies that, in spite of the vanishingly impossible odds, are fulfilled sometimes hundreds of years after the prophecies were first written down.  I had shown how Daniel (ca 550 BC) had predicted the interval of time to the coming of this awaited King.  This was fulfilled precisely on that Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Because of the long time span involved – over 500 years – this meant that the chance that his birth would even just fall in the proper time frame for there to be a chance that he could be around to ride into Jerusalem would itself be startlingly improbable.   Jesus could not have humanly engineered the timing of such a scope.

But the gospel writers do not focus on this timing when they record the events of that Sunday.  Instead they direct our attention to the book of Zechariah (ca 520 BC) and explicitly tell us that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey he was fulfilling the prophecy given in Zechariah that:

Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.  (Zechariah 9:9)

Now this fulfillment that the Gospel writers trumpet had never really impressed me for the simple reason that it seemed too easy to plot a ‘fulfillment’.  All that Jesus needed to do was to read Zechariah and recognize that to get a ‘fulfillment’ he would need to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The timing of his entrance aside (which I think is impossible to explain naturally), it would be a simple matter for Jesus to plot his entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover festival and make sure he came in on the donkey as per Zechariah’s script.  And being a lowly peasant it would be easier for Jesus to hatch such a plot than for him to procure a war horse – the steed of choice when kings make their entrances.  So could that entry simply be explained as the plotting of a man using an ancient script to ride a Passover exuberance?

Zechariah’s Prophecy in context

So let’s take the trouble to read the original Zechariah prophecy in its full context and consider such a ‘Passover Plot’ conspiracy.  Here it is:

9 Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.

10 I will remove the battle chariots from Israel
and the warhorses from Jerusalem.
I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,
and your king will bring peace to the nations.
His realm will stretch from sea to sea
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
11 Because of the covenant I made with you,
sealed with blood,
I will free your prisoners
from death in a waterless dungeon.
12 Come back to the place of safety,
all you prisoners who still have hope!
I promise this very day
that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. (Zechariah 9:9-12)

What jumps out is the bizarre change of scope that spans these few sentences.  The king enters Jerusalem on a donkey (v9) and then his rule will extend to ‘the ends of the earth’ (v10).  And God will seal a covenant ‘with blood’ such that prisoners of death will be freed (v11).  Zechariah saw and predicted something of far greater scope than just an entry to a city on a donkey.  According to Zechariah, tied with this entry would be a new worldwide program as well as a new destiny for ‘prisoners of death’.

And who might that be?

Today, the news outlets across Canada are reporting on the sudden and unexpected death of the recent Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.  He was considered one of the most successful and influential finance ministers in Canadian history.  He retired three weeks ago in the media spotlight to transition his career.  Today he is dead and his sudden and abrupt death has shocked and saddened everyone.  I submit that he is a ‘prisoner of death’.  Though he had been chief of the finance department, his success and prominence there gave him no advantage in this department of death.   And we too are all following along right behind him – not knowing when or how we will die.  We all are ‘prisoners of death’!  Zechariah was writing this 2500 years ago for you and me.  He was telling us that someone was going to come who would free us from this prison.  But how?  Zechariah explained long before Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem that it would be done by God making a covenant ‘sealed with blood’ (v11) – echoing the sign of the Passover Blood and the release from death that Isaac experienced in Abraham’s sacrifice.  A few short days after Jesus rode into Jerusalem atop his donkey on Palm Sunday he did indeed inaugurate a new covenant and then literally sealed it with his blood.  And three days after that he rose from the dead.  The doors of that prison which holds us all busted open.  The fact that Zechariah could see it so long before it happened indicates that the entry of Jesus on the donkey was not the desperate plot of a pitiful man, but rather it was a key sign marking a Providential Program for the largest jailbreak imaginable – to spring all of humanity from the prison of death.  The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey was prominent for the gospel writers precisely because they saw it as a key sign marking that larger Providential Program that Zechariah had sketched out 500 years earlier.

But what about this rule that Zechariah wrote would go to the ‘ends of the earth’?  Jesus never ruled – the prophecy is in error, critics will charge.  But to think of ‘ruling’ solely in political or military terms is to miss the most powerful rule of all – the personal allegiance of a one’s heart freely given in worship.  Though Jim Flaherty was a senior member of the party that ‘rules’ in Canada, he never had that kind of rule over one single person in the entire country.  But Jesus at his trial calmly claimed that he would one day get this rule – worship – from people around the world.  Here we are two thousand years later with Palm Sunday inaugurating Passion Week which will be celebrated in worship by people around the world, in all nations, in a multitude of languages.  From that point of view Zechariah’s prediction of a rule ‘to the ends of the earth’ was indeed fulfilled by that peasant carpenter who rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey so many Sundays ago.

But what about the removal of all weapons of war from Israel (v10)?  That certainly has not happened. In fact today Israel is one of the most weaponized countries in the world!  True enough.  But that prediction is anticipating the conclusion in this Providential Program.  We are not there yet.  We are now at the stage exemplified in v12 where the plea and offer is going out to all us prisoners of death to come to his place of safety.  The news and offer of the ‘jailbreak’ is going around the world and many are choosing to take it.

In the context of this larger Program, Zechariah predicted that this King would make another entrance.  He wrote

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.  (Zechariah 13:10)

The one that had been pierced and had died, and in so doing had sealed that covenant with his blood, will come back!  It is a hope I have, and some may charge me with naïvity for keeping it.  But given that Zechariah was bang on with both the details and the outworkings of that entrance on a donkey, it is simply a reasoned leap to trust that this Second Entrance in this greater Program of Providence will also one day come about.  And when it does, I want to be part of the jailbreak.