Psalm 106:24–31; Ruth 4; Luke 23:32–43

Originally published 9/10/2016. revised and updated 9/11/2018.

Psalm 106:24–31: When we read this poem that condenses the 40-year wilderness trek into a few verses, the sense of just how far from God Israel had drifted becomes dramatically clear. Our poet tells us,
And they despised the land of desires,
they did not trust His word
. (24)

This is doubtless a reference to the report of the ten spies sent into Canaan and the eight who told Moses the land was occupied by fierce tribes and recommended against attacking them. Rather than enter into Canaan trusting God would aid them,
they muttered in their tents,
they did not heed the voice of the Lord.

For this disobedience they were condemned to wander 40 years as God,
raised His hand against them,
to make them fall in the wilderness.

We encounter a further catalog of sins that are all described in Numbers:
And they clung to Baal Peor
and ate sacrifices to the dead.

This apostasy against God led to the punishment of the skin diseases that arrived in the camp:
And they provoked Him through their acts,
and the scourge broke out among them,

Today, of course, we would write that off as mere coincidence, but for Israel there is always a quid pro quo for disobedience. The peope are healed only because  of one man’s courage to pray:
Phineas stood and prayed,
and the scourge was held back
. (30)

While the psalmist refers to Phineas’ prayers, it skips over the part where he killed the idol worshippers. In fact, Phineas and his descendants come out quite well in the psalmist’s rendition:
and it was counted for him as merit,
generation to generation forever.

Does the godly of one man carry over from generation to generation? My own view is that each generation and each person in that generation is fully responsible for his or her own relationship with God.

Ruth 4: Boaz sits down with his unnamed next-of-kin. He also arranges for “ten men of the elders of the city” (2) to sit as witnesses to what he is about to say. He tells his next-of-kin, that he has first right of refusal to acquire Naomi’s late husband’s land. Boaz tells him, “If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.” (4).

One of the relatives announces, “I will redeem it.” (5) Cleverly, Boaz goes on to mention almost as an aside that the acquisition of the land includes acquiring Ruth the Moabite who is clearly damaged goods. This seems to scotch the deal when the relative says, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (6) What goes unmentioned but is clearly understood here is that he probably believes that having a Moabite in the family is far beyond the socially acceptable pale.

Following the custom of Israel, the next-of-kin removes his sandal, hands it to Boaz and the transfer of rights to Boaz is affirmed in front of the ten witnesses. Doubtless much to the surprise of the men there, Boaz announces, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance” (10a). While he justifies his intention as acting in “the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place,” (10b) I think there’s little question that Boaz is also deeply in love with Ruth.

The townspeople and the elders bestow a wonderful benediction on Boaz that rings down through the centuries: “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem.” (12) Needless to say, that blessing comes true some fourteen generations later in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem to a certain Mary and Joseph.

Boaz and Ruth “come together” and in a pre-echo of a descendant’s birth fourteen generations down the line, “the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son.” (13) And of course that blessing has come true not only for Israel’s greatest warrior-king, David, but more importantly, for Jesus. Moreover, since Ruth was a Gentile, we know that Jesus’ blood by birth is both for Israel and for all the world.

And in perhaps the happiest ending of any book in the Bible, “Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (16,17)

Naomi, who believed God had abandoned her, discovers that through the unstinting loyalty of a Gentile daughter-in-law, God has been there all the time. A valuable lesson for us as well.

Luke 23:32–43: We turn from the joy of Ruth and Boaz to the grimmest part of Luke’s gospel. Jesus hangs on the cross surrounded “with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (33) The religious leaders believe they have been the victors as they “scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (35) Not only the Jews ridicule Jesus, but Luke gives the Gentiles equal time as “the soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (36, 37)

For me, the two criminals—one mocking and rejecting Jesus and the other stating “this man has done nothing wrong” (41)—are Luke’s symbolic stand-ins for the entire world. In the end, it comes down to a two-alternative forced choice: accept Jesus for who he says he is or reject him outright. Place Jesus first in one’s life or place ourselves front and center. There is no serious middle ground. As much as we Christians would like to accept Jesus but still remain in personal control of our lives, that alternative is unavailable. As Oswald Chambers says over and over, we must wholly abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ—or not.


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