Monday, December 5, 2016

A Christmas Love Story

Note: The following article was originally published in The Prophetic Round-Up, Abilene, Texas, November-December, 1987, edition. My thanks to Editor, Sam "Shmuel" Peak for permission to reprint articles I have written for the Round-Up. I have slightly edited this version to tighten some parts and to clarify others.  May the Lord use it to encourage and edify many. (All Scripture references in this article are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)

Valentine Michael Smith came from Mars with a whole new idea about love and inter-personal relationships. When he tried to explain his idea to earth people, he developed an almost cultic following. And he incited a great deal of opposition. Particularly since his idea was not too different from many of the modern group sex philosophies. Robert Heinlein tells about Smith's cult and its influence in his revolutionary novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. (1961, 1991)

Another stranger in a strange land reveals a deeper, more profound, more lasting concept of love. A young woman named Ruth, a worshipper of the Moabite god Chemosh, left the only homeland she knew to come to Israel. There she became a noteworthy ancestor of Jesus Christ Himself. Ruth did not bring a new concept of love with her. Instead, in her experience in the house of Naomi and in the grain fields of Boaz, Ruth discovered a new kind of love and a new kind of life transcending all boundaries--racial, ethnic, geographic. And ultimately her love story is the story of God's love revealed in Christ Jesus. Check out some of the similarities.

For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Ruth, the author describes her marriage to Boaz. Among the characteristics similar to the story of Jesus there is first the focus on the divine activity surrounding the birth of her child. Before Ruth and Boaz even consummated their marriage, the people prayed for a special offspring, and openly acknowledged that her seed would be a gift from God. Repetition in the text reinforces the conviction of divine activity surrounding the conception and birth of Obed. "Let thy house be like the house of Pharez...of the seed which the Lord shall give thee..." (Ruth 4:12, italics mine), the people cried out to Boaz. Later, when Boaz "went in unto [Ruth], the Lord gave her conception and she bare a son." (Ruth 4:13, italics mine) While the conception of Obed was not a miraculous virgin conception like that of Jesus, yet it did result from a direct act of God within the womb of Ruth. God had  intervened to assure a male offspring that became an ancestor of Jesus; and as a result, significant in the Messianic teaching of God's Word.

A second characteristic is the significance of the offspring. In the hope of Israel, Ruth's seed had to be a son so he could "raise up the name of the dead...that the name of the dead be not cut off from his brethren...." (Ruth 4:10) The Hebrew Scriptures which we call the Old Testament contain little teaching about immortality and eternal life as we understand them. The patriarchs believed in a literal resurrection, as Job 19:25-27 indicates, but knew or understood little about it. To them, immortality meant perpetuating one's name and inheritance through one's offspring. And for this kind of immortality, only a son would do. This explains the prayer of Boaz in Ruth 4:10. It further explains the gravity of Onan's sin in Genesis 38:8-10, because unlike Boaz, Onan essentially cut off his brother's name. It was not a "sexual sin" as such, but rather a willful refusal to honor the inheritance of his dead brother. Boaz, on the other hand, intentionally chose to continue the name of Mahlon, Ruth's dead husband by marrying Ruthann producing a child in the name of Mahlon. More important in the history of Israel  is the fact that any son born to a household might in fact be the promised Messiah. As the last few verses of Ruth indicate, Obed was not the Messiah; but he kept the line alive in the providence of God and became an ancestor of Christ. Thus he insured, or rather God insured through him, that the "son that is given" (Isaiah 9:6) would eventually appear.

The place of Obed's birth provides yet another important analogy. "Do thou worthily in Ephratah," the people said to Boaz, "and be famous in Bethlehem." (Ruth 4:11) As the first part of the book shows, the home of Boaz as well as the home of Naomi lay in the little village of Bethlehem. So, although the text does not explicitly say so, it implies through this blessing of the people on Boaz that Obed was born there, too. Bethlehem, five miles southeast of Jerusalem, held fond memories for all Israel. Jacob buried Rachel there. David held his coronation there. Here Ruth and Boaz settled there to raise their family. And later the prophet Micah would proclaim of Bethlehem, " though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2) Not only was Bethlehem to become famous, but Boaz's son was to become famous in Bethlehem, meaning he would receive great acclaim, renown, or appellation. Nowhere does the Scripture reveal Obed achieving renown. But from Bethlehem, his grandson David rose to become the most famous king of Israel. And from his seed came Jesus, the most worthy character in all history. And both these ancestors of Jesus were born in Bethlehem (see 1 Samuel 20:4; Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4)

Fourthly, surrounding the birth of the child were two items of vital significance in redemptive history. The women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman...." (Ruth 4:14) In Old Testament theology, the term kinsman is one of the most important terms. It refers to more than just a relative of any kind, but to one who is a close relative. Robert Strong translates it "next of kin" to stress its importance. Some commentaries note that in many contexts the writers combine the ideas of relationship and redemption and indicate the kinsman is a "kinsman-redeemer." It is used in the Book of Ruth this way; and in subsequent Jewish theology, ga-al (the kinsman-redeemer) is one who buys back the property of a relative who may have lost it through negligence, debt, or some other means. The ga-al buys it back to keep it in the family. He delivers his relative from danger, from judgment, or from his enemies. So, in Ruth, the people blessed the Lord because he has provided Naomi with a redeemer. And He has provided us with a Redeemer in the ancestor of Ruth, Jesus Christ, who adopts us into His family so He can actually be our "Kinsman- Redeemer."

The second aspect of redemption history in the story of Obed is the effect of redemption. The kinsman-redeemer becomes "a restorer, and a nourisher of... old age." (Ruth 4:15) These terms indicate that God has caused life to strengthen as it aged, or more literally to "turn back" as though becoming youthful again. And "to nourish" means to maintain and to guide. In Jesus Christ, we have one who redeems life, restores its power, maintains its vitality, and guides it unto Himself.

Finally, the child of Ruth and Boaz contributed to building up of the house of Israel (Ruth 4:11). God had promised Abraham a seed that would number as the sand of the sea. Not only was Israel to grow in number, but also to develop a quality of life surpassing that of the surrounding nations. God had commanded them to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Obed, whose name means "worshipper," was to aid in the development of Israel along these lines, lines of holiness and quality of life. And since he fell into the lineage of the Messiah, he contributed to the greatest building up of Israel spiritually. He was the grandfather of David to whom God had made the promise of an everlasting kingdom. And of his descendant, Jesus, the wise men from the East came to Jerusalem inquiring "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2) Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1: 1) inherited that everlasting kingdom; and even before His birth, the angel told Mary, "the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:32b-33, italics mine)

At this Christmas season, let us, too, worship Him who in love came to Bethlehem to inherit that everlasting kingdom and to be the Kinsman-Redeemer of all who trust Him for life.