Ruth; the setting

Ruth; a story of faithfulness amidst unfaithfulness

One of my prayer requests at the beginning of the year was to find time to study the Word. I knew it would be a challenge to do so as I entered into motherhood, and so I asked for God’s help and He has been faithful to provide! Having been given a few preaching opportunities is certainly forcing me to make time to dig deeper into God’s Word!

Our church has just entered into a study on the book of Ruth and it is a privilege to be asked to share during the series. I’ve just spent as much time in Ruth the past 2 weeks as is possible with a baba – during feeds and nap times – and I can’t believe how much treasure is held in such a small book. It is a book that is both gloriously simple and wondrously rich. It is a simple story, and yet the more time you spend in Ruth, the more treasure you will find in it.

I’d like to share some of what I’m receiving (gleaning . . . :p) from the book of Ruth with you, too. So let’s jump in and start digging!

Setting the stage

Ruth is very much a historical book, that’s why it is placed with the history books in our Bible, but it also has prophetic undertones and was placed with the prophetical books in Ancient Jewish Scriptures.

We will start our series by looking at the historical context of the book. But we can’t start this series on Ruth in the book of Ruth, as strange as that might seem. Why not? Because the first verse of Ruth (1:1) starts with: “In the days when the judges ruled . . .”, meaning that we must understand what was happening in the time of the Judges, if we wish to understand the context of Ruth.

The time of the Judges

The final verse of Judges ends on an interesting note:

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

This might sound promising: everyone doing what was right in their own eyes . . . not so much, though! It was actually the exact opposite – this phrase was to convey that Israel had gone away from God and His covenant with them. The people rejected God and His ways in order to follow their own desires. They abandoned God’s Law to follow the world’s wisdom.

Whilst it is easy to judge the Israelites when reading the Old Testament, let’s remember that, without Christ, we are all unfaithful sinners. Romans 1-3 shows us that this is common to all of us; we all had unfaithful hearts:

. . .as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

So we see that the story of Ruth took place in a time of national unfaithfulness to God. Judges starts with the children of those who settled the Promised Land – the children of those who saw the miracles of God, God’s provision, and God conquering the land for them; how quick man is to forget God! This also shows us that their fathers were unfaithful in teaching them of God’s ways.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. [Baal became the main god that the Canaanites worshipped]. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. (Judges 2:10-12a)

The people turned from God to do evil. You may have heard of the “cycles of sin” that Israel fell into. There are six distinct cycles in the book of Judges, which show how Israel abandoned the Lord and their covenant with Him:

The sin cycles (they get progressively worse, too):

  1. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 3:7)
  2. And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 3:12)
  3. And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 4:1)
  4. The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 6:1)
  5. The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 10:6)
  6. And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD . . . (Judges 13:1)

It isn’t hard to see that this was a time of national unfaithfulness, yet God remained faithful.

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. (Judges 2:16-17)

Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. (Judges 2:18-19)

Sin cycles of Judges

The idea of God being different in the Old Testament is just plain untrue. The truth is: God is unchanging! The more time you spend in the Word, the more you will have two things confirmed:

  1. God is FAITHFUL; God is gracious
  2. Man in UNfaithful; Man needs God’s grace

So this is where our story begins – in a time of national unfaithfulness to the Lord! This was a very dark time in Israel’s history. They had rejected God to whore (God’s word, not mine) after the false gods of the surrounding nations.

Worshipping the Canaanite gods meant practices such as:

  • Sex and prostitution – particularly with the priests and priestesses to gain favours from the gods;
  • Human sacrifice – particularly babies and female virgins, who were burned alive, again to try and manipulate the gods to man’s will;
  • Rites involving menstrual blood – for example, to fertilise land; and
  • Self mutilation.

We also see from the book of Judges that it was unsafe within Israel at this time. There was:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Violence
  • Genocide/ civil war

All of this amongst God’s chosen people! And of course, all of this is still seen in the world, today, where people have turned away from God and His righteous ways. Mankind is sinful and faithless.

God’s people were meant to be light to a dark world, but instead they chose to live in the darkness. We, too, are called to live as lights in a dark world. Christ told us that we are the light of the world:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5: 14-16)

This is where we’ll end off for today, but as we go through the book of Ruth, I want you to consider whether you are living as light in this dark world. Here are some questions to pray through:

  • Do you live according to God’s Word, or according to the flesh?
  • Are you living a life of holiness, or one of unrighteousness?
  • How are you doing as a public witness?
  • Are you living a life of private intimacy with God?

Are you shining Christ’s light in the world?

Up next: We jump into the text and explore chapter 1 of Ruth.

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