After our series in Hebrews, we’ll be doing 2 short series in Jonah & Ruth. Both Jonah and Ruth are somewhat unique books in the Old Testament, and share some commonalities and contrasts: They both are vivid stories which are told in a 4-scene structure, they both deal with the themes of faithfulness and the gospel’s implications for “outsiders”. But, whereas in Jonah, his unfaithfulness and hypocrisy is displayed, in Ruth, faithfulness and integrity are displayed. Whereas in Jonah, the gospel reaches out to include outsiders, in Ruth, the gospel is displayed and lived out by an outsider.
Here is a brief overview of what I see as main ideas in each book (with much indebtedness to Douglas Stuart’s commentary on Jonah, and Daniel Block’s commentary on Ruth):
Jonah: Compassionate God
1. Don’t be like Jonah: Jonah is unique among the prophetic books for 2 reasons. First, the focus is on the prophet rather than the message. While other prophet books give some insight into the prophets themselves, the main focus is on what they preached. In this sense, Jonah stands out and fits more with the stories of Elijah and Elisha than with prophetic books themselves. Second, the emphasis in the prophetic books (and the stories of Elijah and Elisha) is on the faithfulness of the prophets, who preach boldly and stand firm amidst rejection from an unfaithful, rebellious people. Jonah, however, is unfaithful: he runs from God’s call; Jonah is hypocritical: he receives God’s salvation himself but doesn’t want to see others receive it; Jonah is self-centered: he is more concerned about his own temporary comfort than the well-being of 120,000 people; Jonah is self-righteous: he has no compassion on “the undeserving”, but in fact resents God when God’s compassion extends beyond himself, and especially when it extends to his enemies. We are often like Jonah. Remember the gospel; don’t be like Jonah.
2. Be Like God: Although the book focuses on the actions and person of Jonah, the real question of the book concerns what God is like. And the answer is that God is a compassionate God. In the words of Jonah himself, God is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”. Being recipients of this compassion should lead God’s people out of their sinful self-righteousness and self-concern to show and extend compassion to others. We are no better than the outsider and no more deserving than the Ninevite. Christians are people who have received God’s compassion; Christians must be people who display God’s compassion, even (especially!) to those they might be tempted to consider undeserving of it: outsiders, enemies, “sinners”. After all, that is what all of us were to God before receiving his grace, of which we are utterly undeserving. And so, because God is a compassionate God, the gospel was always meant to move outward.
Ruth: Faithful God
1. God is There: God is a present & faithful God to his people. In Ruth we see God’s sovereign and providential hand, present to care for his people, even in the ordinary, even in natural events, even in chance occurrences, even amidst people’s planning, even through the legal systems and social customs of the day. God is present in blessing; he is present in suffering and tragedy, bringing about his gracious redemption and working together all things for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).
2. God’s People Should Reflect God’s Loving Kindness: In our English bibles, Ruth comes right after Judges, and quite a contrast to Judges it is. Where in Judges we see idolatry, unfaithfulness, and sin abounding (especially among the leaders of Israel), in Ruth we get a glimpse into a small town where God’s ordinary people live lives of faithfulness and love. Judges reminds God’s people of their need for a King, and Ruth is a defense more specifically of David’s kingship, as David’s ancestors (even the “Moabite”) are portrayed in such a positive light. In fact, even though Ruth is not a native Israelite, she embodies Israelite ideals more than any of the Judges by being a reflection of God’s loving kindness to Naomi, a vulnerable widow. Further, Boaz shows God’s loving kindness to Ruth, though she is an outsider. And so, God’s people should be people who reflect God’s loving kindness and show genuine concern for the welfare of others, especially to the vulnerable, and even to the outsider.