By Rosie Moore.
I’m fascinated by the names on my mom’s massive family tree* dating back to King John of England (1119-1296). But the name that intrigues me most is Lady Jane Grey –born 1537, beheaded 1554, “Nine-days Queen” of England. This 17-year old heroine of the Reformation was sent to the gallows at the order of her cousin, Mary (aka. Bloody Mary). Her crime? Being a pawn in a family power struggle. No father or relative came to rescue her in the Tower of London. Neither could her noble title or family name save her. But this is what Jane wrote for her younger sister, Katherine, in the flyleaf of her Greek Bible:
“This is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. . . . And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.”**
Although my distant ancestor died young, leaving no descendants, Lady Jane now lives in ‘eternal joy’. She chose to hide herself beneath the wings of Christ and her inheritance remains safe with her Redeemer. But Jane Grey reminds me of another young woman called Ruth. She lived, not in 1550AD but in 1550BC. Not in England but in Israel. Bethlehem was no safe place for a widowed refugee during the time of the judges, a time when almost every man decided for himself what was right, with no regard for God (Judges 2:11-12; Judges 17:6). Like Lady Jane Grey, Ruth’s life was hard and dangerous. Both women had little influence over their own destiny. But their legacy led straight to Christ, their ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer (Matt 1:16).
This is the first in a two-part devotion on the book of Ruth. Please read this amazing little book and see for yourself the embryos of the gospel on every page.
Ruth’s risky choice
Ruth replied (to Naomi), “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Here is a Moabite widow who chooses to follow her mother-in-law to Bethlehem– hardly a welcome home for a penniless, landless, family-less widow from Moab. Add to that Ruth’s responsibility to care for her despondent mother-in-law, battered by famine, immigration and the loss of a husband and two sons. The Elimilech family was hardly a safe bet.
I can hardly imagine what it was like for Ruth to leave behind her identity, security, community, marriage prospects and childhood gods to become a covenant daughter of Israel. Orpah, her sister-in-law, made the easy choice, but Ruth chose Yahweh’s protection over everything else (Ruth 1:14). “My people, my God…there I will be buried.” There’s nothing abstract about her fierce, action-backed pledge to the God of Israel and His covenant promises. And it cost Ruth everything to take refuge under His wings. It meant becoming a refugee.
Ruth’s refuge and rich reward
11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).
Isn’t it just like God to use Boaz as the answer to his own blessing over Ruth in verse 12? Boaz himself becomes God’s instrument of protection. A chapter later it’s Ruth who asks Boaz to cover her with his wings as her kinsman-redeemer: “Boaz said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (garment) over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).
Wings! What an extraordinary picture of refuge and protection. Listen to what Moses and David wrote about God’s wings in relation to his people:
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by….Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Ps 61:4)
And listen to what Malachi says of the coming Messiah that God would send:
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2).
Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus calling to the Israelites of his day, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)?
And doesn’t Ruth sound a lot like believers who would leave their houses, families and lands for the sake of Christ’s name, but would receive a hundredfold in return and inherit an eternal home? (Matt 19:29)
Surely Ruth’s risky choice is the same choice each of us faces if we’re to take hold of God’s promises and make them our own? Rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, noble or nobody, none of us can save our own lives. And there’s only one way to take refuge under God’s wings: It’s to admit our sin and ask to be covered by Christ’s righteousness. It’s to die to self and trust only in Christ as our Redeemer (Matt 16:14). And it’s to live the rest of our lives for Him, tucked securely beneath His wings of mercy (Matt 16:25). Like Ruth, we’ve got to realise that we’re pilgrims, strangers, exiles in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11-12). For sure, it’s not a safe bet. But if you asked Ruth, she would tell you that it’s worth the risk! For without God’s wings of mercy, we will have no covering for our sin and no protection on God’s day of judgment. We desperately need a Kinsman-redeemer to remain safe on that day.
Although Ruth didn’t know much about Yahweh, and lived 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, she seemed to understand that the God of Israel gives grace to anyone who turns to him and embraces Him by faith. The little she knew about Yahweh gave her enough confidence to abandon every other source of identity and safety, and to cling to Him. Next week we will look at how Ruth’s faith is richly rewarded: From famine to fullness, from rags to royalty, from widowhood to a wedding. The story of Boaz and Ruth is the gospel in seed form. Know for sure that whatever your human heritage or family name, being part of God’s family tree is all that counts in the end.
*A great-uncle spent the better part of his life researching the family genealogy, which features me and my siblings as a mere scribble in the bottom corner. The irony is that a rat has been nibbling at the edges of the massive paper scroll, as if to demonstrate that a human lineage doesn’t ultimately matter!