Monday, 21 June 2010

Chosen - In Him

The Book of Ruth is a wonderful story of redemption. It is set during the period of the Judges in Israel. This was not a good time in Israel's history. Instead of fully possessing their inheritance the third generation following Joshua decided to make compromises. They enslaved those they conquered and made detente with those who were too difficult to defeat.

Throughout that period Israel goes through the cycle of idolatry that leads to some form of domination by their enemies. They then repent and cry to the Lord who raises up a deliverer, a judge. They gain victory and do well for a period, usually the lifetime of the ruling judge and then fall back into idolatry. Then the cycle repeats itself. Within this scenario we have the story of a family who are finding things tough. There is a famine in the land, one of the judgements promised by the Lord in Deuteronomy for disobedience. Elimelech and his wife Naomi move to Moab with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.

Now Moab doesn't feature that well in the Bible. The Moabites were descended from Lot's incestuous relationship with his eldest daughter. Deuteronomy says that Moabites, (and Ammonites, descended from Lot's incestuous relationship with his youngest daughter), could not enter the congregation of the Lord for ten generations, Deut 23.3. Neither of them helped Israel during their time in the wilderness, even though they were related. They also hired Balaam to curse Israel - hence this prohibition of them participating in Israel's worship.

Yet Elimelech makes the decision to take his family there. His name means 'My God is King'. There is a certain irony here; for names in the Bible reflect something of the call and destiny God intends on a persons life. Yet this man leaves his native town of Bethlehem because of a famine. He refused to accept God's discipline in his life and pursued a new life in Moab. Clearly he thought things would turn out better for him and his family there. In fact he died and Naomi was left with her two sons.

There names are not so promising. Mahlon means listless, no drive, no passion and Chilion means weak or fragile. These two brothers marry Moabite women and after ten years of living in Moab they both die. The typology is significant. Elimelech chose another King and died. He reproduced sons with no passion and weak and they too died. Better to be in a place where bread is scarce and God is King than to try and make a life for yourself without God reigning.

The whole episode reflects his lack of trust in God to supply for him and his family. He led them into disobedience and everyone suffered. Naomi, whose name means pleasant was left with two dependent daughters-in-law and no husband or sons to provide for her. By the end of the chapter she blames God, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (meaning bitter) for the Almighty has deal very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord has brought me home again empty", Ruth 1.20-21.

Naomi's return to Bethlehem, (meaning house of bread), is prompted by a rumour in Moab. She heard that "the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread", Ruth 1.7. This meant there had been a harvest. The famine must be over. Hope rose in her heart. There was no inheritance for her in Moab, only death and disappointment; not even any grandchildren. so she begins her journey by encouraging her daughters-in-law to stay and find new husbands. Orpah and Ruth are the two women in question. Their names too have significance. Orpah means, 'one who turns back' and Ruth means companion or friend.

Their names of course also reflect the choices they make. Orpah kisses Naomi but Ruth clings to her. Ruth's dogged refusal to leave is expressed in her amazing declaration; "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go I will go; And wherever you lodge I Will lodge; Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts you and me", Ruth 1.16-17.

From this statement we can infer a number of things about Ruth:
1. She was devoted to Naomi. This mother-in-law was worth having around. She had made a profound impact on Ruth. Of the whole family who went to Moab she is the survivor, implying that her move to Moab may well have been out of obedience to her husband, rather than a personal preference. Ruth was impressed with the way she had lived and her hope for what was now happening in her home town of Bethlehem.

2. She adopted the Jewish people, (in her heart), before they adopted her; "Your people shall be my people". That is amazing considering that she would have been looked down on by most Jews at that time. But her evaluation of Israel was based on her knowledge of Naomi. What an impact Naomi had on her! It speaks volumes to me of the impact we can have. Many times conversion takes place because someone sees what God is like in us and they find it attractive. That's how it is meant to be.

3. Despite Naomi's warning to Ruth that she might never be able to remarry and pursue a "normal" life, Ruth decided to leave her homeland, her culture, her security and her status to join the Jewish people. On the face of it all she could expect was a life of poverty. Yet she embraced Naomi's faith in God. She chose the Lord as her God and made this vow in His name, "The Lord do so to me....". She chose God and ends up being 'chosen'. What is even more amazing is that she does all this without the promise of any benefit.

There is a strong belief by many that we believe because we are chosen. Augustine said this in the fourth century. In effect God decides who will or won't be saved. If this choice is rooted in God's sovereignty we call this Calvinism. If it is rooted in God's foreknowledge we call it Arminianism. (These two names represent the two reformers, John Calvin and Jacob Arminius, who originated these theological positions, though in fairness to Calvin the five points of Calvinism goes beyond anything he wrote or taught).

The story of Ruth challenges us to think differently. God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The essence of the covenant was that the Lord would be their God, they would be blessed and become a great nation, receive a land and be a blessing to the nations. The normal way to be part of this covenant was to born into it. Ruth was an outsider. Throughout the book she is referred to as 'Ruth the Moabitess'; seven times in fact. She has not been 'chosen'. But Ruth chooses Naomi's God. She made a choice that in itself merited her nothing. Yet in the unfolding story we see God is in the background making it possible for her to be part of the covenant people because of the actions of a 'Kinsman Redeemer', Boaz, whose name means, 'In him is strength'. She becomes chosen because she becomes joined to Boaz, a chosen one.

The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was known as a Levirate marriage. Redemption is a feature of this type of marriage. It was a duty taught in Deuteronomy (25:5–10). The custom required a close relative, (the kinsman), to marry the widow of the deceased in order to continue his family line. Interestingly, Ruth is not Elimelech’s widow and Boaz is not his brother. Therefore, some scholars refer to Boaz’ duty as “Levirate-like” marriage. The implication is that the closest relative to Elimelech should marry Naomi to raise up a son. In this story there is a relative even closer than Boaz who must first renounce his claim. Naomi was past childbearing age and so Ruth is nominated by Naomi as the one to carry on the family line.

Moreover, the Israelites understanding of redemption included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and the law of Leviticus 25:25 required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, who has a prior claim than Boaz, meets him at the city gate and at first says he will purchase the land. Upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife he withdraws his offer. (His decision was probably a financial one since a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi).

This left the way for Boaz to step in and become Ruth and Naomi’s "kinsman-redeemer". The outcome is a marriage that leads to the birth of a son, Obed, which means servant. This man is the father of Jesse, who in turn is the father of David. Thus Ruth is found in the geneology of Jesus, Matt 1.5-6. The outsider has become an insider - by choice. The choice in and of itself did not secure her status but it did express faith and God always responds to faith. That's how we get saved. It's why we can say we are 'elect' or 'chosen'.

I have often asked myself why Boaz was so gracious to Ruth. Perhaps it was because his mother too was an outsider who showed faith, Rahab the harlot. And like Ruth she too appears in the geneology of Jesus, Matt 1.5. Two outsiders who show faith and become insiders. Two women who are not chosen who become chosen by aligning themselves with the those who are chosen. In Rahab's case it is even more astonishing as the Lord had assigned all the Canaanites to utter destruction; yet Rahab and her family are preserved. God always honours faith. Boaz knew this story well. It was part of his story and I suspect made him more disposed to show kindness to Ruth.

This is a wonderful picture of what Jesus has done for us. In Eph 1.4 says; "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be Holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will".

Not that the text says we are cosen 'in Him', not chosen to be 'put in Him'. Jesus is God's elect son, 1Pet 2.4. He is chosen and precious. Not chosen to be saved but chosen to be Messiah, God's rightful King. To be joined to Jesus is to be joined to His election, to share His choseness. This is what God has predestined. Faith in itself merited us nothing, but God not only chooses to forgive our sins and credit us with righteousness when He sees faith, He also gives us the status of fully adopted sons; and the down payment of the Spirit is the guarantee that we shall share the inheritance of Jesus, beginning with a resurrection like His. The Spirit is called the Spirit of adoption, Rom 8.15,23 to emphasise this reality.

Predestination is not about who will get saved, but about what God has planned for those who are saved; a plan that reaches back before the foundation of the world. The word is mentioned four times in the NT, twice in Eph 1 and twice in Rom 8. On both occasions it is the future of the saints that is being discussed. God's good pleasure to see us stand before Him Holy and blameless. Our Kinsman redeemer Jesus has made this possible. He does this despite our lowly origin, our foreigner status. He responds to faith in us, sharing His destiny and inheritance with us; "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne", Rev 3.21

Many in Israel took for granted that they were descendants of Abraham. John the Baptist saw people display this attitude and he hit it head on; "And do not think to yourselves to say, 'We have Abraham as our father'. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones", Matt 3.9 They needed more than a blood connection to truly experience the blessing of salvation; they needed faith in God's word. This is what Jesus looked for; and the places He found it present and absent, astonished Him; Mark 6.5-6; Luke 7.9; Matt 8.10. Gentiles showed more faith than most Jews and Jesus marvelled.

This challenges me. Have I resigned myself to the way life is or am I continuing to live in faith and believe God for all the good things He has promised to those who love Him? I have more revelation than Ruth and look at the steps of faith she took. Being chosen does not mean being passive. Rather it is a challenge to rise up in faith and become all that God has ordained for us to be. Being chosen doesn't automatically mean everything is going to turn out well. It means I have been given a role, a responsibility and a unique opportunity by God. My part is to put faith in His evaluation of me and trust Him to lead me into my full inheritance.

One last thing to consider. Our calling is in Christ. Once united to Him we share His destiny. It is a coprporate calling. Some years ago I moved to Denmark. Our children all went to Danish schools and within three months were all fluent in Danish. Our youngest daughter has lived half her life in Denmark and half in the UK. She didn't make those choices. They were made 'in me'. I took the decision. God made a decision to 'elect' His Son and 'in Him' I share His election. Faith in Him positions me to be part of His election. And that is where the blessing is. Further, it empowers me to be a blessing to others.

Take a lesson from Ruth. Join yourself to those, like Naomi, who are journeying in the 'house of bread'. Ruth embraced the choice of another and made it her choice. It led to her becomeing 'chosen' and that brought forth amazing blessing. As we embrace the will of the Father we do so, not through blind obedience, but because, like Ruth, we have been impressed by the character and life of those who follow God. The choices you make today have the power to effect the destinies of others tomorrow. So, like Ruth, make them in faith. Follow those who follow God. The impact will live on after our lifetime and go beyond what we can imagine, Eph 3.20.