I just finished Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson. I wish I had had this book when I preached through Ruth in the Spring of 2007 (chap. 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, chap. 4). Originally given as a series of addresses presented to the English Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales back in 1996, he was asked to adapt them into written form. It took some time, but he ‘just happened’ to come across his disk of the material and finished the project.
This exposition is neither overwhelming to the lay person or too simplistic for the pastor looking for substance. As usual, Dr. Ferguson is like a mother bird, digesting difficult material and regurgitating it for the benefit of the average person. He does not avoid, nor get mired in, Hebrew and the historical background. There is enough to make his points clear, and not so much you lose that point.
Ruth is a story of grace and providence; or put another way how God graciously acts for His glory and our good in providence. Ruth, Naomi and Boaz aren’t sure what God is doing until after the fact. The same is true for us as well. We are often prideful and presumptuous, thinking we know what God is doing. But His purposes are not crystal clear until after the fact- sometimes LONG after the fact. In this case, the little romance is cute but meaningless until we see that first David and then many generations later Jesus himself are the purposes God has in view as He works to bring Ruth to Himself by faith, into Israel and eventually into the home of Boaz.
There is much to chew on here if you are in the midst of a difficult providence. But I get ahead of myself. He begins with an introduction that points us to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. On the basis of this passage, and its context, he says we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:
- What does it teach us?
- In what areas of our lives does it rebuke us?
- What healing, restoring, transforming effect does this teaching have?
- How does this section of Scripture equip me to serve Christ better?
Ruth teaches us that God is at work, for our good, even when it looks quite the opposite. It, among other things, rebukes our impatience, unbelief and presumption. It reminds us that “behind a frowning providence he hides a shining face”, and that “the clouds you so much fear will break with blessings upon your head (to quote William Cowper, whom Ferguson does often).” It teaches me to trust and persevere, being faithful to obey even when obedience does not make sense. This is important to me as I wait, seemingly for too long, for those clouds to break with blessings on my head. Door after door closes in my face … but I digress.
“They may know that God is sovereign, but they have no idea how he will demonstrate his sovereignty. That is the position we ordinarily occupy in our own lives. We do not have direct access to the mind of God to know the details of his plans and purposes.”
At the end of the book he includes a letter from John Newton concern the guidance of God. This is helpful to dispel many of the misunderstandings about how God guides us.
“For this purpose, he has given us the written word to be a lamp to our feet, and encouraged us to pray for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, that we may rightly understand and apply it. … In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and love the Scriptures.”
While God is at work through providence, we are to be faithful in fulfilling our various responsibilities as the occasion arises. We have the mind of Christ on the basis of the Scriptures, not esoteric knowledge. This is the tack Ferguson takes throughout the book- our task is not to discern the secret workings of God’s will, but to discern how his revealed will applies to our circumstances. But even when we mess things up, we can be certain that God will still accomplish our purposes. Elimelech and Naomi should not have left the promised land, but God’s people should have returned to him since the famine revealed they had gone astray. But God’s purpose is to convert Ruth the Moabitess. But what is at stake is not simply her eternal fate, but the eternal fate of all who will trust God for the Redeemer shall eventually come from her line.
“That is why we can be quietly confident- not because we know exactly what God is doing in this unpredictable world, but because we know that what is unpredictable to us is already predicted by him. He has written his purposes for us in his own book, and numbered out days before one of them was given birth or saw the light of day.”
Ferguson connects the story with the covenant (Deuteronomy), with Genesis, the Exodus, the Parable of the Prodigal Sons etc. He looks at this story within the context of all of Scripture, and uses many passages to shed light on what we see in Ruth. He also includes a nice section about the role and use of law. Obedience is not the same as legalism. As Christians, we should strive for obedience- not to gain merit before God, but to please and honor him out of love for he has first loved us.
Additionally he talks about the role of our flesh when we become impatient.
“If God does not do things speedily enough for us in our way, then we will take matters into our own hands. We devise our own ways of bringing to pass what God has promised to give to us. We refuse to wait for him to bring his own purposes to fruition.”
And like Abram using Hagar as a surrogate, we make a right mess of things. God is still committed to his purposes and plan. He will see them through, despite the cost of His Son. But we see that often God works despite us rather than through us.
So, this little book by Sinclair Ferguson is highly recommended to those who not only want to understand the Book of Ruth, but also how God works in our lives that we might continue to trust, wait and obey while God works to accomplish His grand purposes in the midst of our suffering, loss, hardship, disappointment, joy, success etc.