It may be an exaggeration to say that, like the book of Ruth, the Bible begins with a funeral and ends with a wedding. But hopefully a pardonable one. The story of humanity does begin with death and loss, and ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb and the beauty and intimacy of an eternal family. Naomi, by the end of the first chapter, has a bitter heart and empty arms, but by the end of this sweet short story, her arms have been filled with a grandson who is like a son to her, and her heart has been restored by the love of her daughter-in-law and faithful kinsman redeemer. We have seen God's lovingkindness modelled by each of the main characters in the story. Ruth's commitment to go with Naomi, Naomi's desire to provide for Ruth, and Boaz's tender generosity all point to the God who is working behind the scenes. Can the work of God end in anything less than new life?
Early in the book, we noted how different the faithfulness of the Moabite Ruth was from the wicked Israelites in the period of the Judges. But of course, that is too broad of a brush. God has always maintained a people for himself. He told Elijah that he had preserved thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his church. The whole world was bathed in wickedness before the flood but Noah still stood for the Lord. God is never without witness. So when we come to the genealogy at the end of this book and find that Ruth is the ancestor of no less than King David himself, we should not really be surprised. The covenant keeping, faithful God, preserved the lineage of the King with whom he would enter a new covenant.
Even more importantly, the promises God made the David were not the last word to David's line. David's descendant, Jesus, came into the world as a direct descendant of this Moabite woman, who had been a widow and was redeemed by Boaz. He was the heir of Naomi, who had called herself "bitter," and yet learned to remember that life could be sweet. How much more do we, as children of God, need to realize that his lovingkindness always breaks through. God has a plan to use the pain, the sorrow, and the apparent chaos of our lives for something beautiful. It began with death, but it ends with new life!
Discussion idea: Why do you think God chose to include this short story in the Bible? What would we miss without it?
Prayer focus: Thank God for the people he has used to demonstrate His lovingkindness in your life.
Key Verse: Acts 18:10
Big Idea: The churches of Jesus have unexpected allies.
Many storytellers, with a wink and a nod, bring every character back for the great finale. In The Lion King, Timon and Pumbaa show up as some unlikely allies to fight Scar. In Great Expectations, every ostensibly minor character is actually a major one. Most of us learn quickly that real life has a lot more loose ends. But as we read Acts 18, we realize that in God's world, nothing happens without a purpose. In Corinth, Paul makes two important allies, Priscilla and Aquila. They had moved out of Italy (about AD 49) because the conflict over Christ had caused dissension among the Jews and Caesar had expelled them all from the capital. The king's harsh edicts placed two people in Paul's path that would have a wide-reaching impact for God's Kingdom. Although Paul faced a lot of opposition, God reassured him not to worry: God was with him and there were many people in the city Paul did not know about. When the persecution reached a fever pitch, the local ruler's laziness protected Paul and he was able to complete his ministry there.
When he left Corinth, Paul took Aquila and Priscilla with him to Ephesus, where they stayed and eventually discipled Apollos, who became an important ally of Paul's and figure in the development of the church at Corinth. Paul then traveled on, strengthening the churches that had already been established. Every thread pulled together to make a path for the gospel to be spread and for God's servants to be brought together. In your life and mine, there may be threads that we never see the end of, but none of them are loose. God is weaving them all together into a master tapestry, to showcase the beauty of Jesus and make us like Him. There are no accidents, so we can be grateful for everything. We are never alone because God can raise up friends in unexpected places and unexpected ways. No one knew that better than the apostle Paul, who saw the friends Christ raised for Him and was surely an unexpected ally himself.
Discussion Idea: In 1 Kings 17, Elijah was convinced that he was God's last faithful servant, but God reassured him that there were hundreds more. Why are we so prone to feeling alone? If we know God is in control of every circumstance, how will that affect the way we respond to those kinds of situations?
Prayer Focus: Who is someone God has placed in your life for your good and His glory that you can thank Him for today?