ABOUT THE STORY OF RUTH
Ruth is a delightful, heart-felt, heart-warming, and deeply satisfying book. It is a down-to-earth tale about feast and famine, life and death, sojourn and rest, bitterness and joy. It begins with empty stomachs and profound loss, as Ruth and Naomi find themselves outside the blessings of God. It ends with restoration and the birth of a child, as a woman who was outside finds herself welcomed in. It is a simple love story that takes us deep into the purposes of God, and it gives us a refreshing picture of his covenantal love at work in the struggles of life. We want our own lives to have significance as we live them in the presence of God, and at times, because we might not have a mountain-top encounter like Elijah, or see miraculous healings, or witness the dramatic defeat of evil, God’s purposes can feel hidden, his presence distant. The book of Ruth reminds us that God is involved and in control of life’s ordinary affairs. He works through the everyday faithfulness of everyday people to bring about his plan of salvation, meant for the blessing and restoration of all peoples.
The story of Ruth picks up where the book of Judges left off, a book that ends on a terrible note of sexual violence and civil war, in a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Against this dark backdrop of rebellion and sin, the characters we meet in the little town of Bethlehem shine forth as remarkable examples of what it looks like to walk in covenantal faithfulness with the Lord. In a sense, the book of Ruth answers two very important questions: what will God do about Israel’s rebellion in Judges?; and: are there any left in Israel who follow the Lord? Despite Israel’s persistent sin, we see that God does remain faithful, and out of his faithful provision in the midst of Ruth and Boaz’s faithfulness, restoration comes, and Obed is born. From the line of Obed, David will be born. And from the line of David, a messiah will be born, the redeemer of the world. Even in the midst of the darkness, God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.
ABOUT THE STORY OF ELIJAH
At first glance, it is difficult to see the connection between Ruth and 1 and 2 Kings. The stories are nearly 300 years apart. One deals with fiery prophets and bloody battles, the other with farmers and the starting of families. But the deeds of Israel’s kings, and the prophets who come to them, all spring out of the covenant which God makes with Ruth’s great-grandson, King David. David, like his grandfather Obed, is a redeemer and answer to prayer, but the LORD has greater things in store than even them. In 2 Samuel 7 the LORD commits himself to the rule of David’s household, and promises that
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
In the earlier chapters of 1 Kings, the beginnings of this blessing are seen in abundance. There is rest, bounty, peace and flourishing just as God had promised. But after Solomon’s devastating collapse, as the kingdom falls apart, we realize that Solomon is not the one whom God promised to David. As 1 Kings progresses, our hopes for the covenant are challenged, and the massive failures of the kings of Israel and Judah lead the people further and further into idolatry.
The book of Kings is a long story on the tragic decline of Israel’s monarchy, seen through the lens of the covenant which God laid out for his holy people in Deuteronomy. The book of Kings ultimately answers the question, “In light of God’s covenants with his people, how did it all go so wrong? How will God’s promises be fulfilled?” All of the necessary pieces are in place, yet we see one failure after another. By the time we get to the end of 1 Kings - where our series begins - Israel is at one of its lowest spiritual points ever. King Ahab, who rules the Northern Kingdom from Samaria, is a spineless wretch who despises God and his word, and is only concerned with his own power and comfort. As our story begins, the people of God seem hardly better off than during the time of the judges. It is into this situation that God commissions his prophets: men of God who speak the word of God. God in his mercy sends Elijah and Elisha to remind Israel that there is one God alone, who lives, speaks, and acts, and that even in the midst of the darkness, his purposes cannot be thwarted.