We’ve been introduced to the mighty man, Boaz, the redeemer of Naomi and Ruth, and now we see more of Ruth and her might.
The Levirate Law
The salvation that Boaz brings to Elimelech’s family is based upon a specific provision in the Old Testament law called the “levirate law.” This provided for a family of brothers where one had died and left no heir. The episode of Judah and Tamar is an early example of this principle (Gen. 38:1-30). Later it is codified under Moses (Dt. 25:5-10). This action is for the preservation of the “name” of the dead brother, but the overarching point of the actions of Boaz is to “redeem” the family of Elimelech.
Covenant Kindness, Might, and Commitment
Notice that Ruth is called the daughter of Naomi and Boaz (3:1, cf. 2:2, 2:8, 2:22, 3:10, 11, 16, 18). The narrative suggests that Boaz is in the process of becoming Naomi’s husband, but this is also more broadly what it means to be part of the covenant people of God. The episode pays particular attention to the “feet” of Boaz (3:4, 7, 8, 14). Uncovering the feet of Boaz can have sexual overtones, but the point is a symbolic action of submission and marriage. Ruth asks Boaz for the very thing that Boaz has already noted about her. She asks him to take her under his wing (3:9, cf. 2:12). Ruth sees the close connection between covenant with God and her family. Boaz is impressed and says, “You have done better in your lovingkindness at the end than at the beginning” (3:10). It’s good to remember that Boaz was probably literally old enough to be her father, and therefore he praises her for her wisdom in not going after some younger fellow (3:10). A woman of wisdom is a KHAYIL woman (Pr. 12:4, 31:10, 31:29), and Boaz says that the “whole gate of the city” knows that Ruth is a KHAYIL woman. Previously, it was noted that this commonly refers to mighty warriors, and frequently, this word is also used to describe the army of some nation (e.g. Ex. 14, Jer. 35:11, Ez. 37:10, etc.), and this is why Ruth is better than seven sons (4:15). One use of this word in other contexts is a description of a woman in labor (Ps. 48:7, Jer. 50:43, Mic. 4:9). Ruth’s covenant oath to Naomi included the promise that where “you lodge, I will lodge…” (1:16). In the interview with Boaz, he instructs her to “lodge” with him (3:13). This is revealing in both directions: this is confirmation of the marriage-like commitment that Ruth was entering in her oath to Naomi as well as the covenant-like request that Ruth is making of Boaz.
Who are you, Israel?
This is the fifth time we’ve had a question of identification: 1:19 (Naomi), 2:5 (Ruth), 2:19 (Boaz), 3:9 (Ruth), and 3:16 (Ruth). Of those five, there are three that are specifically “who?” questions, and they all refer to Ruth (2:5, 3:9, 3:16), progressively revealing Ruth’s character. And this question applies more broadly to Israel as a whole. We already noted that Ruth is being filled by Boaz, and this filling is a reversal of Naomi’s emptiness. This becomes explicit when Ruth comes home to Naomi with barley because Boaz insists that she not return to Naomi “empty” (3:17). Naomi is being filled by Boaz through Ruth. Israel is a nation who will be blessed by their Redeemer through outsiders. Naomi says to wait until Ruth knows what will happen because Boaz will not rest until this proposal has been settled. This word for “rest” is the same used in Joshua and Judges to describe the “land having rest from war” during and after the conquest (Josh. 11:23, 14:15, Jdg. 3:11, 3:30, 5:31, 8:28, etc.). Boaz is acting like a judge to bring rest to the land of Israel through the care of Ruth and Naomi. Throughout the narrative Boaz is referred to as the “man” and Ruth is referred to as the “woman,” and this language suggests that Boaz and Ruth are a new Adam and Eve. Notice that this man, like Adam, goes to sleep and wakes up to find a woman.
Conclusions & Applications
This is a new creation story: the story goes from darkness to light, from death to life, from striving to Sabbath, from barrenness to the birth of a son, and in the center of the story is this reversal story. Ruth the Moabitess is a reversal of Noah’s sons (Gen. 9:20-24), a reversal of Lot’s daughters (Gen. 19:30-38), a more righteous Tamar (Gen. 38), a reversal of the Moabite harlotry (Num. 25:1ff), and in every story there is some sort of Adam made vulnerable in a scandalous situation. And Boaz and Ruth could easily be seen as scandalous, but this all points again to God the Redeemer who became a vulnerable Adam on a scandalous cross and gave a son to another “Mara” (Jn. 19:26). And this is the KHAYIL of God, the power of the cross, and the promise of the gospel that will overrun this world and set all to right.
And we are called to cultivate this excellence in our lives. One of the things that is obvious is how bold and courageous Ruth and Boaz are. They take chances, and they are fearless. Be fearless in uncovering sin: it is scandalous to point out sin or confront sin, and it’s embarrassing to confess it, but you are the army of God. Be fearless in facing hardship and danger: commit yourself to the care of your God, plead with him in prayer, and then worship him with thanksgiving. Be fearless as you face the world: God is saving this world through bringing prostitutes and Moabites into the kingdom. There’s something in the Trinity that loves the scandal of bringing worlds out of nothing, light out of darkness, life out of death. And we are called to follow in this and glory in it.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Note: These are notes for a presentation I gave for the New St. Andrew's College graduate program this week.
Pope Pius II called Barth the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas. He was invited to attend Vatican II, and he is widely considered to be one of the most significant contributors to the modern theological world. He wrote on a wide area of subjects, was politically involved during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. He grew up and studied theology in the milieu of German Nationalism and the modern liberal push in German theology. His break with liberalism with the publishing of his commentary on Romans in 1918 is widely hailed as one of the most significant developments in the theology in the 20th Century. He is loved, hated, denounced, praised, but footnoted prolifically throughout the landscape of modern theology.
In Barth’s theology “there is no Christology as such; on the other hand, it is all Christology.” (Thompson, 1)
“There are, strictly speaking, no Christian themes independent of Christology” (CD II.1).
Speaking of the Apostles’ Creed, we writes, “We could not possibly have given a genuine exposition of the first article without continually interpreting it by means of the second. Indeed, the second article does not just follow the first, nor does it just precede the third; but it is the fount of light by which the other two are lit.” (DO, 65)
“And as for what is involved in the relationship between creation and the reality of existence on the one hand, and on the other hand the Church, redemption, God – that can never be understood from any general truth about our existence, nor from the reality of history of religion; this we can only learn from the relation between Jesus and Christ… That is why Article II, why Christology, is the touchstone of all knowledge of God in the Christian sense, the touchstone of all theology. ‘Tell me how it stands with your Christology, and I shall tell you who you are.’” (DO, 66)
Colin Brown suggests that making Jesus Christ the complete center of everything can actually slide into a certain abstraction problem. Jesus Christ ends up functioning as a “Christ-principle.” (Thompson, 5) Whether Barth is susceptible to this criticism or not, he is clearly at war with this sort of thing throughout his writings. H. Volk suggests something similar to Brown. He says that in Barth “Christology is so much a principle (Prinzip) that there is the danger of systematizing over a wide field… the danger of the use of a principle in a forced way is not far distant. For even in Christian theology Christology can be sued as a principle in such a powerful way that it results in a narrowing of the theological basis and contents.” (cited in Thompson, 6)
This criticism has sometimes been called “Christomonism.” The concern was that an overemphasis on the redemptive work of Christ ignored important doctrines such as creation or the work of the Holy Spirit, etc. Barth answered this question directly in an interview:
"In what specific way, Professor Barth, does your theology avoid being Christomonistic?"
Answer: "Sound theology cannot be either dualistic or monistic. The Gospel defies all isms,' including dualism and monism. Sound theology can only be 'unionistic,' uniting God and man. Christomonism (that's an awful catchword!) was invented by an old friend of mine whose name I will not mention. Christomonism would mean that Christ alone is real and that all other men are only apparently real. But that would be in contradiction with what the name of Jesus-Christ means, namely, union between God and man. This union between God and man has not been made only in Jesus Christ but in him as our representative for the benefit of all men. Jesus Christ as God's servant is true God and true man, but at the same time also our servant and the servant of all men. Christomonism is excluded by the very meaning and goal of God's and man's union in Jesus Christ." (http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/jul1962/v19-2-article2.htm, accessed 11.18.08)
Robert Letham, while generally appreciative of Barth’s work, concedes that “his vigorous christocentrism is certainly exaggerated, almost to a point of a christomonism. While his overall theology is strongly Trinitarian, he hardly did justice to the consistent emphasis in the New Testament that it is God who chose us and the election is particularly a work of the Father (e.g. Eph. 1:4)” (Letham 54)
But for Barth, Creation, Revelation, Trinity, soteriology, and everything else are summed up in the person of Christ, and therefore all truth is found in and through the living Christ (e.g. Rom. 11:36, Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:20).
One of the ways Barth sought to guard against the Christ-principle and/or christomonistic criticisms was by pushing much of his theology in more dynamic directions. The “being in becoming” language is this movement. Christ as event is another instance of the same, and this comes out in Barth’s discussion of the person and work of Christ.
Person and Work:
“What is needed in this matter is nothing more or less than the removal of the distinction between the two basic sections of classical Christology, or positively, the restoration of the hyphen which always connects them and makes them one in the New Testament. Not to the detriment of either the one or the other… Not to cause the doctrine of the person of Christ to be absorbed or dissolved in that of his work, or vice versa. But to give a proper place to them both.” (IV.1)
“[T]his person does not exist apart from this office, nor this office apart from this person.” (DO, 73)
Barth gets at this connection between person and work when he insists that the “he suffered” of the creed includes the entire earthly life of Jesus from birth to the cross. And this makes more sense as we consider the kind of reception the Creator of the world enjoyed. (DO, 102)
If Christ is the center of Barth’s theology, the cross and resurrection are the center of Christology.
The person of Christ is not first to be established and then his work. Rather, for Barth it is actually the event of the cross that establishes both the who and the what. In particular the doctrine of the two natures of Christ is fundamentally built upon the act of reconciliation and not the other way around. The doctrine of the incarnation is built upon the doctrine of reconciliation. And this seems consistent with the concerns of the early church fathers.
Another way to say this is that what is begun at Christmas is completed at Easter. There is movement in the incarnation. What is established in principle in the Jesus conceived by Mary is moving towards a conclusion. The incarnation is completed in some sense in the cross and resurrection. “[I]ncarnation and atonement enclose, embrace, and interpret each other and are really one though distinguishable” (Thompson, 14).
Another aspect of this discussion is the great lengths which Barth goes through to insist upon the “God-ness” of Christ. Christ is the center of his theology because he is utterly convinced that when we consider Christ, we are dealing with the Triune God. And there are numerous implications for thinking and discussing along these lines.
This means that the incarnation should not be seen as something fundamentally different from the way God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Barth emphasizes this in particular with regard to the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son as the one who obeys and submits enacts this reality in the incarnation according to the will of the Father, in the power of the Spirit. (See McCormack on Barth and Kenosis, cf. Phil. 2) More on this below.
Thus Barth insists: “There is no greater depth in God’s being and work than that revealed in these happenings and under this name” (CD II/2, 54). There is not a hidden “remainder” in God that is not revealed or disclosed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“Who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed himself and his nature, the essence of the divine. And if he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as the God who does this, it is not for us to be wiser then he and to say that it is in contradiction with the divine essence. We have to be ready to be taught by him that we have been too small and perverted in our thinking about him within the framework of a false idea of God.” We need to “reconstitute” our notions of God “in the light of the fact that he does this [i.e. incarnation].” (CD IV/1, 186)
The cross is not merely a symbolic center reflecting the “limit of human existence.” The death of Jesus is not merely another story about the martyrdom of a religious founder. The story of the cross is the “concrete deed and action of God Himself. God changes himself, God himself comes most near, God thinks it not robbery to be divine, that is, He does not hold on to the booty like a robber, but God parts with Himself. Such is the glory of His Godhead, that He can be “selfless,’ that he can actually forgive Himself something.” (DO, 116) This ability to be selfless, to forgive, to part with Himself is what Barth calls the freedom of God.
Barth insists that our definition, our description of God must be built upon the centrality of the incarnation and not something in tension with it. The incarnation is not an afterthought or something particularly different that God does. “Far from being against himself, or at disunity with himself, he has put into effect the freedom of his divine love, the love, in which he is divinely free. He has therefore done and revealed that which corresponds to his divine nature.” (CD IV/1, 186)
And this means that his attributes must be described and illustrated around the incarnation and not with the incarnation become the list of exceptions to the otherwise neat and tidy categories of deity. God’s immutability must not be understood to be at odds with the incarnation. Rather, the incarnation is itself an expression of God’s changeless love and freedom toward his creation, to take both the form of glory and the form of humility, the form of God and the form of a servant. (CD IV/1, 186)
Likewise, God’s omnipresence is seen in the way God dwells in Christ, descends into the lowest parts of the earth, and ascends into heaven. His omnipotence is displayed in the fact that God displays his power even in weakness. His eternity is revealed the fact that he can enter time and remain eternal. And so on.
Reconciliation & Atonement:
“In the doctrine of reconciliation we come to the heart of the theology of Karl Barth.” (Thompson, 47)
Barth dwells on the parable of the Prodigal Son insisting upon a Christological reading which sees God revealing the kind of God that he is. He is the God who goes “into the far country.” By this, Barth means to picture the identification of God with us. This is the fulfillment of the covenant and election. God becomes our brother and thereby identifies with the prodigal nation of Israel.
Berkouwer says, “Through the man Jesus Christ, God himself is revealed as the divine subject in the work of Christ. This conception brings us to the heart of Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation… For Barth, the truth of the whole of dogmatics rests on this God himself.” (cited in Thompson, 49)
“The way of the Son of God into the far country is the way of obedience… the first and inner moment of the mystery of the deity of Christ.” (CD IV/1)
Again, Barth insists that the humiliation, the suffering, and death of Jesus is the revelation of God, and therefore it rests upon the way the Son submits and obeys the Father in the Spirit. But how does this not slide into some form of subordinationism or modalism? Barth says that ironically both of these errors actually push obedience out of the center of God by their formulations. The former is based upon an actual inferiority while the latter has no differentiation allowing such an economy.
The other heading that Barth uses to describe the atonement is “The Judge judged in our place.” Barth says that a judge is “Basically and decisively ... the one whose concern is for order and peace, who must uphold the right and prevent the wrong, so that his existence and coming and work is not in itself and as such a matter for fear, but something which indicates a favor, the existence of one who brings salvation.” (CD IV/1)
Barth cannot get over the fact that Jesus is not only God with us, but he is supremely God for us. And this comes to the fore in numerous ways, not least the crucifixion and death of Jesus. “In this humiliation, God is supremely God … in this death he is supremely alive,” such that “he has maintained and revealed his deity in the passion of this man as his eternal Son.” (Cited by Thompson, 69)
Kenosis: If Christ is the person who does what God does for us then the act of incarnation is in startling ways a revelation of the way God is in himself. For God the Son to take on flesh, humble himself in obedience to the point of suffering and death, is for God-Father-Son-Holy Spirit to be revealed as he is. The Son who submits to the Father in eternity is the Son who submits to the Father in the flesh.
This answers two extremes: The more orthodox Chalcedonian definition can tend to suggest (though not necessarily) that what happens in the incarnation is fundamentally different from the way God is in eternity. And while orthodoxy insists upon the perfect union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ, there is still a certain amount of tension which tends to push in heretical directions (e.g. docetism or apollinarianism). Yet what Barth insists that this is the polar opposite of the truth. What God does and who God is in the incarnation is in some sense the supreme expression of who he is and what he does. Likewise the less orthodox modern attempts to reconcile vere deus and vere homo have resulted in displacing attributes of God or man (usually the former).
Barth’s Doctrine of Scripture
The supremely personal nature of the event of the incarnation comes to bear on Barth’s description and understanding of Scripture. A static relation-less “being” of Scripture would be an inaccurate revelation of Christ since that is not the way Christ is. While Barth’s doctrine of Scripture would be less careful than we might prefer, his use and appeal to Scripture clearly indicates that it is the supreme and infallible authority in matters of faith and practice. But they are the supreme and infallible voice of the living and active Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 5:39).
It seems to me that one of the greatest needs of the Church at large is a recovery of and thereby a thorough repentance with regard to the fifth commandment.
The command to honor father and mother is not limited to merely honoring mom and dad. Honoring father and mother applies to all lawful authorities. Civil magistrates are fathers and mothers, pastors and elders are fathers and mothers, teachers, employers, principles, police men, uncles, grandparents, older siblings and all others 'over us' in our lives are fathers and mothers due honor and respect and as far as possible obedience.
Strikingly, one of the places where we are in the greatest danger regarding our keeping of the fifth commandment is in some of the most conservative, family-values sorts of homes and communities. In the Leave-It-To-Beaver outposts of conservative Christianity there is frequently a robust disregard of authority that is being lived out by moms and dads, and the lesson is being learned fabulously by their children.
So this is the drill: Dad leads the family, mom teaches the kids, bakes amazing dinners, and the kids all generally obey and are respectful. The family is all squeaky clean. But when any lawful authority imposes upon mom and dad, the reality bursts out into the open. So for example, when the elders of a presbyterian church do not allow the young children of this family to partake of the Lord's Supper, the parents throw a pietistic hissy-fit, cause a ruckus, and leave to find a church that will allow them to do what they want.
And of course it is all done with somber faces and pious tones. There are solemn conversations about following the conscience and submitting to Scripture, and all the rest.
But the kids are busy taking notes: "Always get your own way. If they say 'no,' throw a fit and leave."
Or maybe the issue is baptism or education or taxes or in-laws or grandparents.
And my suspicion is that the consequences may frequently be worse in good, Christian families. The greater the order, the better the lesson is learned. The more engaged the kids are, the more likely they will get the point. The more strictly they are required to "obey dad" while this is going on, the more clearly they will get the point.
And so ironically, the home where the fifth commandment is most fervently venerated on the surface may in fact be the breeding ground for some of the worst dishonor, some of the most flagrant disrespect and disobedience.
Friday, November 14, 2008
My son spoke his first proverb last night:
"A fighting family is sadder than being eaten by a T-Rex."
Another variation includes Velociraptors.
Note: I posted another version earlier, and my son informed me that I was wrong. So here is the revised and corrected version.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Throughout his Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, Bucer refers to the adoration of the host as artolatreia, that is, "bread worship."
He also says that the reason the early Church Fathers called the Eucharist a sacrifice is because all the faithful were expected to bring offerings and alms, and they were placed on the table in the assembly. Out of these sacrifices of praise, the bread and wine were taken, given thanks for, and shared as the communion in the body and blood of the Lord. But these alms and gifts were meant to be for the poor and needy and strangers in their midst and community. Thus, the Eucharist was a sacrifice for the life of the world on a number of levels.
"He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Lk. 14:12-14)
Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have sent your only Son to be our life and light. We thank you that you have also given us His Spirit. Grant us grace now to hear your word rightly, to love you more fully, and to walk faithfully before you.
We considered the sharp contrasts last week between Ruth and Naomi, and yet we have also noted that despite Israel’s failures God is still visiting his people, still giving bread to the hungry (1:6, 22). The point is that God’s people always need a great Savior, and this “Mary” will bring life to Israel though the birth of a son.
Boaz the Relative
Boaz was the son of Rahab of Jericho (Mt. 1:5, cf. Ruth 4:20-21, Josh. 2:1ff), and this gives us some important insight into who Boaz is and what makes him such a “great” and “mighty” man (2:1). Gideon and Jephthah were also called “gibor khayil” (Jdg. 6:12, cf. 1 Sam. 9:1, 1 Kg. 11:28, 2 Kg. 5:1). Khayil can also mean “competent” (Gen. 47:6). Boaz contrasts sharply with Elimelech: his name probably means something related to “strength,” but it is clear fairly quickly that his strength is in his generosity, in his kindness, and in his diligence. Boaz did not leave the land when times got tough, he trusted God through the difficulties expecting to be raised up in due time.
Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to glean in the field (2:2). There was a “field” around every city which was divided according to the inheritance of various families (e.g. Lev. 25:34). Certain portions of the field might be sold in hard times, but they would be returned in the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:13-17, 28-31). The idea of gleaning behind the harvesters is part of Israel’s legal code for the protection of the poor (Lev. 19:9-10, 23:22, Dt. 24:19-22). The “field” in Bethlehem is contrasted here with the “fields” of Moab (1:1, 2, 6, 22).
Ruth says that she wants to go into the field in order to gather after one in whom she finds “grace” (2:2). This is the same word used to describe the “grace” that Noah found in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). It is this very expression that Ruth uses when she bows down before Boaz (2:10, 13). Boaz calls Ruth his “daughter” (2:8) and entreats Ruth to stay with his “young women” (2:8-9). This attention that Boaz shows Ruth is fairly extraordinary, but Boaz is most impressed with Ruth’s commitment to the God of Israel, “under whose wings” she has come for refuge (2:12). The “wings” of God is a reference back to the Exodus when God bore his people on “eagles’ wings” (Ex. 19:4, Dt. 32:9-12) as well as the wings of the cherubim that overshadowed the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place (Ex. 25:20, 37:9). To be under the “wings” of Yahweh is to be covered in blood, in the care of his covenant. Boaz’s kindness extends further when he invites her to eat with him, giving her more than enough (2:14), and she is “filled” despite Naomi’s emptiness. Boaz also orders that his men not only allow her to gather after them but that they intentionally leave extra stalks for her (2:15-16). As Ruth “clung” to Naomi (1:14), Boaz now instructs Ruth to “cling” to his young women (2:8) and young men (2:21), and she does (2:23). Salvation is found in clinging to the people of God.
Conclusions & Applications
Ruth returns to Naomi “full,” and Naomi cannot help but bless Yahweh who has not forgotten his covenant mercy and kindness (2:17-20). This is of course a huge reversal of her previous statements (1:20-21). But this is what grace does, and we should be hungry for more.
Naomi tells Ruth that this man Boaz is their Near Redeemer (2:20). This word describes God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 6:6, 15:13), and forms the basis upon which Israel is to live like freemen: A redeemer is one who frees a slave (Lev. 25:47-55), buys back land or an inheritance (Lev. 25:25-34), or even avenges murder (Num. 35:9-29, Dt. 19, Josh. 20:2-9). Redemption is also an act of substitution before the Lord (Lev. 27:14-34). And the one appointed to these tasks was a near relative (Lev. 25:48-49).
Ultimately, all of this is about our Lord Jesus who is our Savior-Brother, our Near Redeemer (Ps. 19:15, Is. 43:1, Tit. 2:14, 1 Pet. 1:18). And this is good news for our families (Mk. 3:35), and it means that we have become Kinsmen-Redeemers to one another and to our communities, to the lost, to the hungry, to the barren, and to the bitter.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: King Father, you have truly blessed beyond anything we could have expected. You sent your Son to die for us while we were still sinners. While we were still your enemies, you came for us. You claimed us as your family, your relatives, and you intervened on our behalf. We thank you and praise you and ask you to give us the grace to live this way for others both those in our own families and all of our neighbors. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, singing…
Friday, November 07, 2008
When Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, the whole city is in an "uproar" because of them (1:19). The word for “uproar” is used to describe armies in panicked confusion (Dt. 7:23), the shouts that accompany the ark of the covenant (1 Sam. 4:5), the acclamation of a king (1 Kg. 1:45), and the noise of a multitude (Mic. 2:12).
Why does the writer tell us this? What is it about the return of Naomi that produces this response? Or is this a word that is meant to tip off readers to a particularly important typological meaning? If the latter, what?
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
In a series of talks on the book of Ruth, James Jordan discusses the history of Israel in the book of Genesis. He suggests in particular that God wanted Israel down in Goshen in Egypt in order to protect them from the worst of the pagan influences in Canaan. He cites the various failures of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, and suggests that this was due to the influence of the Canaanites all around them. But because the sons of Israel were shepherds they would be kept at arms' length and despised by the Egyptians, and this would be good for Israel. They would be less influenced by their open enemies and at the same time enjoy the best of the land and grow strong as a nation. Clearly, despite all of Israel's weaknesses and later failings, this is exactly what happened leading up to the Exodus.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Not necessarily something new here, but still a few thoughts that occurred to me.
One of the ways Jesus saves us and redeems our lives is by turning our stories of pain, suffering, and hardship into pictures of Jesus. Our epistle lesson in the liturgy yesterday was from 2 Cor. 4, and Paul seemed to be making that very point about his own apostolic ministry. As the apostles preach the gospel they are proclaiming the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God..." When the apostles preach, they preach Christ Jesus, and that declaration somehow participates in the original creative command that "light shine out of darkness" such that hearts that are filled with darkness can at the proclamation of the gospel be suddenly filled with the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
The very next line is Paul's point: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul goes on to describe the sufferings and hardships of the apostolic ministry, but he insists that it is through these hardships that God is "working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). In the present circumstances of life whether there be pain or suffering or confusion or heartache, Paul insists that the face of Jesus is being revealed so long as the gospel is being proclaimed and the resurrection is kept in view (2 Cor. 4:4, 14).
And this has two implications: First, it is because of the incarnation that this is even possible. That our lives can be pictures of the life of God is only possible because God has become flesh and dwelt among us. He has a story of suffering, hardship, rejection, and death. Because of the incarnation, our stories of hardship become icons of Christ.
And the second point has to do with icons. Paul tells us here that the glory of Christ, the face of Jesus is seen in "earthen vessels" that are hard-pressed, perplexed, forsaken, struck down, in individuals who carry about in their bodies "the dying of the Lord Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:10). Paul says "for we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." Here again, we have the apostle insisting that if you want to see Christ, if you want to see the face of Jesus, look at faithful missionaries who are persecuted throughout the world, watch a faithful wife who dies for her husband and children, watch a faithful deacon whose life is poured out for the sick, the disabled, and the poor of his community.
True icons are not serene, glowing faces of men and women floating in a sea of warm, ethereal gelatin. Icons have scars and fears, they are earthen vessels with bodies that are perishing, and most importantly, they are alive, carrying around in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in their mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:10-11).
I want to consider a broad overview of Hebrews through the title “Son” that opens the book (Heb. 1:2).
“Son of God” in Biblical-Theological Overview
Adam was the first son of God (Gen. 1:27-28, Lk. 3:38). Seth and his descendents were sons of God (Gen. 5:1-3ff, cf. Gen. 6:2). Being the son of God has to do with ruling and guarding God’s creation. After the Fall, the sons of God are the line of promise, the “seed” of the woman promised who would crush the “seed” of the dragon (Gen. 3:15). While Noah is a new Adam (Gen. 9), this theme picks up with the patriarchs and the need for Abraham to have a son. After Isaac, the theme of the “firstborn” comes to the fore with Esau and Jacob. The firstborn receives a double portion (the birth right) inheritance in order to care for his father’s family and take over the household when the father is gone. Israel is explicitly called the firstborn son of God (Ex. 4:22), and this “firstborn” theme picks up in the Passover narrative (13:1-2) and God later explains that in place of all the firstborn of Israel, the Levites have been chosen (Num. 8:14-18). Of course the Levites “have no inheritance,” because their inheritance is in the house of God (Num. 18:21ff). This gives us a picture of the calling of the “son of God” to be a ruler over the household of God, but this rule is displayed in the sacrificial ministry of the tabernacle where “sons of the herd” are offered (Lev. 1:5, 14, 4:3, 14, 5:7, et passim). The “son of God” is to rule the world from the house of God through the blood of self-sacrifice. This begins to get at the calling of Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6). The “son of God” theme picks up again in the Davidic covenant applied to Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and is also found in Ps. 89:20, 24-27 applied to David himself. There is finally an emerging angelic element to the title “son of God” particularly in Job (1:6, 2:1, 38:7) and perhaps also in Daniel (Dan. 3:25). This suggests an eschatological or glorified trajectory to mission of the son of God. This is perhaps the prophetic aspect of that title as well. A helpful summary of the calling of the son of God seems to be found in Ps. 110:1-4 where kingly and priestly duties are found in the same person just like they were found in Melchizedek. Yet, what remained for Melchizedek and all of those who approached this mission (e.g. Samuel, David, and Solomon), was the glorified, eschatological, and resurrection reality which is dimly pictured in the ministry of angels (Mt. 22:30). The problem with all the previous “sons of God” is that they don’t have the ability to be the self-sacrificing Priest-King and come back unscathed. They all fail and eventually die.
So What About Hebrews?
In the first few verses it seems obvious that the writer is working with all of this Old Testament theology in view. The Son is greater than the angels (1:5-14), and all things have been put in subjection under him (2:8). Furthermore, this Son has been made like all the other “sons” in order to bring those “sons to glory” (2:10-18). This Son of God is (not surprisingly) a High Priest who has been given his Father’s house (3:1-6). Sabbath and rest has everything to do with building the house of God and giving rest to the land (Dt. 25:19, Jos. 21:44, 2 Sam. 7:1, 1 Chr. 22:9), and it all reminds us of Noah who was a new Adam, the son of God. Jesus is the new Noah/Joshua/David/Solomon who has given rest to the people of God (Heb. 3:7-4:13). But High Priests do not simply appoint themselves; not just anyone can be the firstborn Son of God. He must be appointed (Heb. 5:4). So Christ was appointed High Priest through being a Son (5:8), but he was perfected and learned obedience through his suffering, death, and resurrection and became like Melchizedek (5:8-10). The Son without genealogy, without beginning or end is a superior Son to Abraham and the sons of Levi who paid him tithes (7:1ff). Of course Jesus is from Judah, and the only way a priest could come from a different tribe is if he were something better than any human priest has ever been, someone with the “power of an endless life,” someone who “always lives” (7:16-17, 20-25). This is a completely new kind of covenant because this High Priest serves in the “true tabernacle” in the heavens (8:1-2). And the writer recognizes that it is the Son’s duty to build the house of God and carry on its mission in the world (9:1-10) which is the redemption of the world, and Jesus has done this in that He is the true Son who offers Himself which is far greater than the “sons of the herd,” those bulls and goats which could not take away sins (10:4). He is the true King who rules by laying his own life down. The “sons of the herd” did not continue to intercede for sins, and their blood was shed continually proving that they were not sufficient (10:5-18). But we have a High Priest over the house of God whose blood is a new a living way into the Most Holy Place (10:19-23).
The Son who Makes Sons
Hebrews opens suggesting that the Sonship of Jesus is directly related to what God intends for humanity (2:11-12, 16-17, 3:1), and this is affected by the obedience and suffering and perfecting of the Son, who has become the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (5:9). To be a son with the Son is to be His brother and to be promised a Priestly-Kingly inheritance with Him. This means that we are called to imitate those brothers/sons that have gone before us in faith (Heb. 11), and we must expect to be treated as sons by our Father (12:5-11). We must not imitate the evil sons of the past like Esau who sold his birthright and inheritance (12:16). We are called to live in the reality of God’s fire-presence in our midst. We are the sons of God in the Son, and we have been brought to the new house of God, “the church of the firstborn,” the new tabernacle, and God’s Spirit-Fire presence is sanctifying us (12:18-29) and this means living like sons of the house of God and carrying on the order and mission of the house (Heb. 13:1-17).
Opening Prayer: Our Father, I ask that you would be with us now by your Holy Spirit, your Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and therefore we ask that you would cut us open. Reveal our hearts, expose our sins, and make us more like Jesus that we may share in his life and be equipped to serve those around us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
We noted last week that Elimelech had all the appearances of faithlessness. This week we consider the significant contrast between Ruth and Naomi.
Naomi is Israel
Notice how the trek back to Bethlehem proceeds: Naomi and her daughter in-laws begin to return to Judah (1:7), and only after this journey has begun, does Naomi send Orpah and Ruth back. This creates a double meaning to the word “return.” The word “return” is used 12 times in Ruth 1 and just three other times in the book. Return may mean going back to Bethlehem or going back to Moab. Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth are between the lands, and this creates a sort of wilderness situation between Moab and the Promised Land. Remember that Israel came out of Egypt a “mixed multitude” and now Naomi has too, but instead of welcoming the gentiles, she seeks to send them home. Notice that Naomi’s attempt at getting Ruth and Orpah to turn back to their “mothers’ houses” is based upon arguments that specifically remind us of Sarah. She says that there are no more children in her womb, meaning that her womb is past child bearing. She also says that she is too old for a husband. Finally, she insists that even if she had a husband and could bear children, even if she conceived twin sons that very night, Ruth and Orpah don’t want to wait for them. It’s impossible, Naomi says. And Naomi stands for Israel in the days of the judges when they have despaired in their sins.
Ruth is Israel
But God visits his people with salvation through sometimes surprising means. Somehow Ruth has come to know Yahweh despite the dysfunctional family she married into, and she is determined to “cling” to Naomi (1:14). This is the same word used to describe the way a man is to cling to his wife (Gen. 2:24), but this language is also used in Deuteronomy to contrast faithfulness (4:4, 10:20, 11:22, 13:4, 30:20) and unfaithfulness (13:17, 28:21, 28:60). The calling of Israel has been to fight idolatry and assimilate gentile believers into their midst but to make no covenant with unbelievers (Dt. 7:2). The irony is that while Naomi’s family disobeyed and made marriage covenants with Moabite women, Ruth is a gentile who is “clinging” to Naomi in order that she might “cling” to God (1:16-17). And now Naomi is trying to send Ruth back to her pagan family, back to her “gods” (1:15). She doesn’t mind gentiles when they might bring her something in return, but she tries to get rid of them when they don’t seem to serve a helpful purpose. Nevertheless, Ruth swears loyalty to Naomi, Israel, and to the God of Israel, and she “returns” from the country of Moab (1:22). This is all the more striking because she is a member of a people that God has cursed vehemently (Dt. 23:3-6). Naomi can only speak about her bitterness, but Ruth binds herself in a marriage-like covenant to Yahweh and his people. Ruth is doing what Naomi and Israel should have been doing all along. The pagan is more righteous than the Israelite. In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth is found in the “Writings”, amidst the Wisdom Literature, and one easy connection is this contrast between Naomi and Ruth, a woman of folly and a woman of wisdom (compare Pr. 9:13, 14:1 with 1:20, 9:1-6, 31:10ff).
Conclusions & Applications
While Ruth is clinging to what God has given to her, Naomi is clinging to her bitterness (1:8, 13, 20-21). Bitterness, Hebrews says, is a root that when it is grown defiles many (12:15), and bitterness, Moses insists, is the opposite of the covenant loyalty required by God (Dt. 29:14-18).
In one sense, we are always “returning” somewhere. Our lives are full of turns and returns. The only question is to where are we turning, where are we returning to? The word “return” is important in Scripture because the most important “turn” is the turning of repentance (e.g. Ez. 18:30-32). Ruth shows us an example of tenacious and heartfelt repentance. Naomi shows us an example of expedient repentance. Who are you?
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you have not turned away from us, but you have come near us in Jesus and that you have given us his Spirit. Give us new hearts, O God, turn us and we will be turned. Give us new spirits, and we will be saved. Turn us that we may live. And we ask in particular that you would deal with us. Root out our sins, dig out our bitterness, and cast far away from us. Give us courage and grace to cling to you and never let go. And we ask this in the strong name of Jesus who taught us to pray, singing…