Rest For the Weary.

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” – Ruth 3:1-13 ESV

Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, have been through a lot. They have both recently suffered the loss of their husbands, leaving them widows in a culture where women had little to no means of caring for themselves. Their move back to Bethelehem from Moab, while a sort of homecoming for Naomi, was a shock to the system to Ruth, a Moabite. There is a sense in which both women are tired and exhausted – Naomi, mentally and spiritually so, while Ruth also bears the effects of physical exhaustion from her tireless efforts to provide food for the two of them by gleaning grain from the fields. The mental and physical weariness of the two women is understandable and an important feature to the story. As chapter three opens, Naomi recognizes that her daughter-in-law cannot maintain the pace she has been keeping.

Chapter two reveals Ruth’s work ethic and commitment to care for Naomi. The supervisor of Boaz’s fields informed him, “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Boaz himself, after meeting Ruth for the first time, informed her:

I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

Protection, refuge, rest. These three words reflect the central motif of the rest of the book of Esther. And the role of kinsman-redeemer, played by Boaz, will factor heavily into how  Ruth, helpless and weary, will find the rest and refuge she is seeking.

In the opening verse of this chapter, Naomi reveals the responsibility she feels for Ruth when she asks her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word, translated “rest”, is manowach which refers to a resting place or a state or condition of rest. The New English Translation reads, “My daughter, I must find a home for you so you will be secure.” This sense of responsibility that Naomi felt goes all the way back to chapter one, when she attempted to get her two widowed daughter-in-laws to return home and remarry.

Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Ruth 1:8-9 ESV

Orpah had eventually returned home, but Ruth had refused to do so, committing herself to Naomi’s care and to the worship of her God. But Naomi knew that Ruth needed a long-term solution to her problem. She was still young and had a long life ahead of her. She could have children and carry on her deceased husband’s name. Ruth was a hard worker, but it was going to be nearly impossible for her to provide for the needs of herself and Naomi long-term. So Naomi turns to the God-ordained option of the kinsman-redeemer provision. It has already been well-established that Boaz was a close relative and, as such, he was a candidate to act as the kinsman-redeemer, providing protection and taking responsibility for the care of these two women. And Naomi gives Ruth detailed instructions as to what to do.

“So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal. When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do.” – Ruth 3:3-4 NLT

There is no indication that what Naomi was telling Ruth to do was immoral or out-of-the-ordinary. Whether this was an established protocol for soliciting the aid of one’s kinsman-redeemer is not clear. But it is clear that Naomi was having Ruth appeal to Boaz for his help, in order that he might provide her with protection, refuge and rest. While he lay asleep out in the field, Ruth was to uncover his feet and legs, exposing them to the cold. Then she was to lay at his feet in a display of submission. When his exposed extremities became cold from the night air, he awoke with a start, only to find a young woman lying at his feet. When he asks who she is, Ruth responds, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV). According to her mother-in-law’s instructions, Ruth pleads for Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer and become her provider and protector.

Boaz is flattered, but informs Ruth that there is another, more viable, candidate. As the widow of Naomi’s son, Chilion, she had closer relative who must first be given the opportunity to act as kinsman-redeemer. If he should refuse, Boaz pledges to redeem her himself.

This entire scene, while strange to our western sensibilities, should remind us of another kinsman-redeemer who made a similar offer. Jesus, as the son of David, spoke to His weary and worn out Hebrew brothers and sisters, telling them, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). He would go on to tell them that the rest He offered was “rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NLT). Jesus was offering them rest from the weariness produced by a life of self-righteousness – attempting to gain favor with God through good deeds, religious rituals and law-keeping. Like Ruth, they were worn out from trying to provide for themselves. But their weariness was spiritual in nature. Paul would later clarify the problem when he wrote: “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). But there was good news: “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16 NLT). 

Ruth was weary and Boaz, as her kinsman-redeemer, could provide her with rest. He stands as a foreshadowing of the One who would be his own descendant and provide spiritual rest and redemption for all those who are weary from carrying the heavy burden of sin and the condemnation is brings. And Ruth, as a non-Jews, stands as a reminder that Jesus’ offer of rest was available to any and all, Jew and Gentile, who would simply come to Him in faith, placing their trust in Him for protection, refuge and rest.

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Unexpected Faith.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. – Ruth 2:14-23 ESV

In verse one we were introduced to Boaz and told that he was a kinsman or relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. The Hebrew word the author used is mowda and it refers to a close relative. This is important, because in verse 2o, Naomi refers to Boaz as “a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And the Hebrew word she used is ga’al, which refers to a close relative who holds the responsibility of acting as guardian and protector for those family members who might be in need.

…to act as kinsman, do the part of next of kin, act as kinsman-redeemer.  (“H1350 – ga’al – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 30 Dec, 2016)

This provision was established by God in the Mosaic Law.

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. – Leviticus 25:25 ESV

It also extended to care for widows. In the book of Deuteronomy we read:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. – Deuteronomy 25:5 ESV

So the kinsman-redeemer was an individual who was required to play a significant and God-ordained role in the lives of those in need. He was to be their advocate, redeemer, protector, surrogate, avenger and benefactor. Strong’s Concordance provides a comprehensive description of the role.

…by marrying brother’s widow to beget a child for him, to redeem from slavery, to redeem land, to exact vengeance.

So when Ruth returned to Naomi and informed her of all that had happened and about her surprising encounter with Boaz, Naomi is thrilled. For the first time in a long time, she was receiving a bit of good news. While she firmly believed that God was the one who had brought all the misfortune on her (see Ruth 1:13), she was willing to see that God was the one who had guided Ruth to the field of Boaz. This had been a divine encounter.

The author goes out of his way to remind his readers that Ruth was a foreigner and not a blood-relative of Boaz.

And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest,’” – Ruth 2:21 ESV

This is significant. Ruth is a non-Israelite. Even though, as a Moabite, she was a distant relative because she descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, she would have been considered a Gentile, a non-Jew. She was not a worshiper of Yahweh. Her people were seen as enemies of the Jews. This makes Boaz’ treatment of her all that more remarkable. He was showing her undeserved, unmerited favor and kindness. But at the same time, he had been impressed with her unconditional love for and commitment to Naomi. He had earlier told Ruth:

“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. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” – Ruth 2:11-12 ESV

Ruth, a Moabite, had been willing to leave her homeland and her family in order to care for her mother-in-law. She had stepped out in faith, casting her lot with Naomi and her God, relying on Him to meet their needs and provide for their future well-being. She could have stayed in Moab and remarried, beginning a new life. But she had told Naomi, “wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT).

There is something familiar in Ruth’s actions. They are reminiscent of what Jesus saw in the lives of the Gentiles among whom He ministered. When Jesus had encountered a Roman centurion whose servant was paralyzed, He marveled at the man’s faith. The centurion fully believed that Jesus had the power and authority to order his servant’s healing and it would take place. And Jesus told His disciples:

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV

Ruth’s faith in God was seen in her commitment to place all her hope for her future in His hands. She was a Moabite widow living in foreign land with her nearest relative being another widow who had no capacity to care for her. And yet, Ruth got up in the morning and headed to the fields, determined to work, but also dependent upon the favor of God.

Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor. – Ruth 2:2 ESV

And God had come through. He had led her to the field of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. God had chosen to show favor on Naomi through Ruth, the Moabite. When Naomi, a Jew, had lost all hope, her Gentile daughter-in-law had stepped up, casting all her worries and cares on the God she had committed to follow. And God must have looked down from heaven and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV).

Why Have I Found Favor?

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 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. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Ruth 2:8-13 ESV

When Boaz had arrived on the scene, he immediately noticed the young woman following behind his reapers in the field. He didn’t recognize her, so he asked his foreman who she was. He replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab” (Ruth 2:6 NLT). He explained to Boaz how she had shown up and asked for permission to follow the harvesters and gather up any grain left on the grown. According to the foreman, Ruth had worked long and hard. “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Whatever business had brought Boaz to the field that day suddenly took a back seat as he became intrigued with this young Moabite woman. There is no sense of sexual attraction or love at first sight in the passage. Boaz had simply heard the stories about his young lady and was fascinated to find her gleaning in his field. He had obviously been positively impacted by what he had heard about her loss and her commitment to accompany Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem. And now, here she was gathering grain in order to feed her mother-in-law. He later told Ruth:

“I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

When Boaz first spoke to Ruth, he called her “daughter,” using the Hebrew term bath, which is a term of endearment. We know from Ruth 3:10 that Boaz was probably older than Ruth and so his use of this term makes sense. It was a common form of greeting used by older men to younger women. At this point in the story, it seems that Boaz’s interest in Ruth is purely platonic and he simply wants to show her compassion and do what he can to lighten the load she taken on of caring for her widowed mother-in-law. He gives her free reign to glean anywhere in his field and a guarantee of his personal protection.

The actions of Boaz leave Ruth a bit surprised. She is amazed at the incredible kindness and favor of Boaz. And yet, that very morning she had asked permission of Naomi, saying, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was chen and it refers to grace, favor or acceptance. And yet, when Boaz treated her the way he did, she fell on her face before him and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10 ESV). She used the same Hebrew word again. She had left that morning hoping to experience grace and favor, but she was surprised when she experienced it. It caught her off guard. After all, she was a foreigner. She was a widow. She was poor. Evidently, back in the land of Moab, the kind of response she had received from Boaz would have been rare or simply non-existent. The very fact that Boaz, a well-to-do Jew, would even acknowledge her presence, let alone show her favor, was mind-boggling to Ruth.

This story is reminiscent of another encounter between a Jewish man and a foreign woman. When Jesus was traveling through Samaria, He encountered a Samaritan woman drawing water at a well. He struck up a conversation with her, asking her for water. She too, was shocked that this Jewish man would notice her, let alone speak to her. She replied to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9 ESV). Jews not only viewed Samaritans as foreigners, but as the lowest of the low. They despised them. And yet, here was Jesus, a Jew, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. And just like Boaz, Jesus would go on to show this woman unexpected and undeserved favor, offering her “living water.” Jesus told her, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). That woman’s life was radically and permanently changed that day. She became a believer in Jesus Christ and discovered the living water that would remove her unquenchable spiritual thirst once and for all.

Ruth too, was about to have her life changed. She was just beginning to experience what grace and favor look and feel like. She was a foreigner. She was poor and had nothing to offer Boaz by way of payment for his kindness. Not only that, Ruth was a Moabite, and as such, she was looked down upon and despised by the Jews. She was even forbidden to enter the assembly to worship the God of the Jews. This poor woman was destitute, defenseless, despised and in desperate need of mercy. And she would find it in Boaz.

As this story unfolds, we will see many similarities between the kindness, grace, and mercy of Boaz and that which we have received from Christ. In fact, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, that we were once in a very similar state as that of Ruth.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

The undeserved favor of God. Those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior have experienced it firsthand. And it is partially the result of Boaz showing favor to Ruth that our Savior was eventually born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as a descendant of Ruth and Boaz. As Boaz showed favor to Ruth, he was actually extending the favor of God to all mankind, paving the way for the arrival of the Messiah and His offer of living water.

Naomi the Negative. Ruth the Resilient.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” – Ruth 1:19-2:7 ESV

These verses are filled with contrasts. The most obvious one is the difference between the two women: Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. They both arrive in Bethlehem, but with radically different outlooks. Naomi had left during a famine, but arrived back during the barley harvest. Conditions back home had obviously improved. But she is so busy dwelling on all that had happened to her in Moab, that she fails to notice or appreciate the improved conditions in Bethlehem. In fact, she is so despondent over the loss of her husband and two sons, that she informs everyone her name will no longer be Naomi, but Mara. Naomi means, “my pleasantness” and Mara means, “bitterness.” She is so upset with her lot in life that she goes so far as to change her name to reflect her outlook. She is bitter and hold God responsible, claiming,  “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (Ruth 1:27 NLT). In her mind, it was God who had opposed her and the El Shaddai, God Almighty, who had caused her to suffer. Her reference to God using the Hebrew name, Shaddai, reveals her belief in God’s all-powerful, sovereign nature. She rightly understands God’s omnipotence, but fails to grasp His lovingkindness. She views God as an all-powerful and somewhat angry deity who wields His power unfairly and unjustly. She sees no purpose in her losses and can find no silver lining to the dark cloud of her despair. She believes her fate is in the hands of God, but she finds no comfort there.

But Ruth, the Moabitess, seems to have a different perspective. Of the two women, it would seem that she had even more justification to be negative about her new circumstances. She too had lost her husband. She had also left behind her family and friends and moved to a new country with nothing more than her widowed mother-in-law as a companion. She found herself an outsider, a non-Jew living in the land of Israel. And on top of that, she was a woman and a widow, two things that would not be in her favor in the male-dominated society of the ancient Middle East. And yet, Ruth proves to be a beacon of light in the midst of Naomi’s darkened outlook.

With no means of providing for themselves, Naomi and Ruth are left with no other option than to search for grain in the fields after barley harvesters were done. This was called gleaning and it was a God-ordained policy meant to assist the needy. God had commanded the Israelites:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Ruth determined to do whatever was necessary to provide for she and her mother-in-law. She asked Naomi for permission to do something about their dire circumstances, saying, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so” (Ruth 2:2 NLT). With Naomi’s permission, she headed into the fields. And this is where the story gets interesting. The author gives us a not-so-subtle clue that there is more going on here than good luck. “Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3 NLT). Chapter two began with a brief parenthetical introduction to Boaz, telling us that “Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1 NLT). When Ruth went into the fields, she knew nothing of Boaz or his fields. She simply went to glean. Her objective was to find food, not a husband. Her only motivation was survival. But again, the author lets us know that there is something providential going on here. He writes, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4 ESV). It just so happened that Ruth decided to glean in the field belonging to Boaz. It just so happened that Boaz showed up at the very same time Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a coincidence. What incredible timing.

It would be so easy to read the book of Ruth as a fanciful love story, a kind of screenplay  for a Hebrew Hallmark movie, where the down-and-out country girl meets the well-to-do city boy and their lives end happily ever after. But there is so much more going on here than a cheesy boy-meets-girl scenario with a sappy everything-turns-out-okay ending. This is about the sovereign will of God regarding His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth, this widowed, helpless non-Jewish woman is going to become a major player in the divine plan of redemption. In his genealogical record of the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Spoiler alert: Ruth and Boaz do end up together. They get married and have a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. And from King David’s lineage would come Jesus Christ. God would end up making a covenant with David, saying, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). That promise would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose rule and reign on the throne of David will take place in the millennial kingdom.

Ruth went into the field to find grain. But God sent her into the field to find her purpose in life. She would become a major player in God’s divine plan for the redemption of the world and the eventual birth of the One who will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ruth, like Mary, was going to be a vessel in the hands of God to bring about His divine will and accomplish His sovereign plan of salvation. The message given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, sums up the real story behind the story of Ruth. God had far more in mind than providing grain or even a husband for Ruth. He was out to provide salvation to a lost and dying the world.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

 

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was powerful enough to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.

The Wonderful Ways of God.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. – Ruth 1:1-5 ESV

Like many of the Old Testament books, this one bears the name of one of the primary characters whose life makes up a great portion of the narrative. But while Ruth plays a significant role in the story, she was not intended to be the main focus of the story. The special honor goes to God. He is the silent, unseen protagonist of this book, moving behind the scenes and orchestrating events in such a way so that His divine will is accomplished and His plan for the redemption of mankind, developed in eternity past, would come to pass just as He preordained it. This story must be read with a searching eye, looking for the invisible hand of God. And it should be read with an understanding of the larger, overarching story contained in the Bible. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a story about a widowed Moabite girl and her somewhat serendipitous and fortuitous marriage to a well-to-do Hebrew man. But there is so much more going on here.

We are told that the story takes place, “In the days when the judges ruled…” This refers to the period of the judges before Israel had a king. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Judges and the book of Ruth were companion books. Many believe they were written by the same author: Samuel. But there is no solid evidence for the authorship of Ruth. All we know is that it chronicles a period of time when God was using judges to rule over His people. This was a period of extreme turmoil and instability. The book of Judges records the up-and-down nature of the Israelites and their relationship with God. Their faithfulness to Him ebbed and flowed. Their obedience was spotty at best and when they turned their back on Him, God would send judgment in the form of foreign nations. When the people cried out to Him in desperation, God would raise up a judge to lead and deliver them. This would result in a period of relative peace and spiritual solidarity. But in time, the people would rebel again and the cycle would repeat itself. It was during this rather unstable and spiritually volatile period that the story of Ruth took place.

The opening verses introduce us to Elimelech and provide us with an extremely important detail about his life that can be easily overlooked, but that would have been like a red flashing light to the books original Hebrew audience. We are told that Elimelech was “a man of Bethlehem in Judah” and he and his sons were “Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.” This is an extremely important point and is vital to understanding the true import of this story.

On his deathbed, Jacob blessed each of his twelve sons, but gave the following blessing to his son, Judah:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:10 ESV

His words carried a prophetic pronouncement of a king who would come from the tribe of Judah. While this blessing would be realized in the life of David, a descendant of Jacob, the prophet Micah, long after David was dead and gone, provided details regarding another king who would be born in Bethlehem just as David was, and rule over the nation of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:2-5 ESV

The prophet, Jeremiah, would give further details regarding this future king:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. – Jeremiah 23:5 ESV

So when we read that Elimelech was a member of the tribe of Judah and a native of the city of Bethlehem, it should gives us pause. It should act as a warning sign that there is something going on in this story that is far greater than might normally be expected. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, are forced to leave their homeland because of a famine. The mention of this natural disaster should remind us of supernatural and sovereign oversight of God over His creation. This is not the only time in Scripture that a famine has played a significant role in God’s providential plan. A famine was the cause of Abraham’s flight into Egypt (Genesis 12:10). His son, Isaac, would also find himself facing a famine, but would be commanded by God not to go to Egypt (Genesis 26:1-5). Years later, Isaac’s son, Jacob, would be commanded by God to take his entire family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land (Genesis 46:3-4).

Now we find Elimelech and his family facing yet another famine and being forced to flee for their lives – this time to the land of Moab. The Moabites were close relatives of the Jews, since Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). Moab was located to the east of Judah, on the other side of the Dead Sea. It was evidently a very fertile land. In fact, we read in the book of Genesis, that when Abraham gave his nephew, Lot, the father of the Moabites, the first choice of all the land, he chose well.

And Lot lifted up his ” eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. – Genesis 13:10-11 ESV

So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave Judah for Moab and settle there, intending to wait out the famine in Judah. But Elimelech dies, leaving his wife a widow, living in a foreign land. In time, her two adult sons take wives from among the Moabites – “one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth” (Ruth 1:4 ESV). And then, ten years later, the two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws alone and without any source of provision of protection.

These opening lines are a divine setup for what is to come. This is not a case of fate or bad karma. This is not about three unlucky women and their series of unfortunate events. It is the story of God and His divine, supernatural, all-powerful and providential plan for the coming of the Messiah. In the middle of the genealogy of Jesus provided in the first chapter of the book of Matthew, we read, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Then it concludes: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). Jesus was a descendant of David, but He was also a descendant of Ruth, a widow from Moab. And the book of Ruth provides us with a glimpse into God’s orchestration of His sovereign will and unstoppable plan for the future redemption of a list and dying world.

But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.

 

God Meant It For Good.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. – Genesis 50:15-21 ESV

Jacob dies and immediately his sons begin to worry. They fear that Joseph, who they sold into slavery and who now rules over them as the second-most powerful man in Egypt, will take revenge on them now that their father is gone. They assume he was only biding his time until Jacob was out of the picture. They wrongly believe that Joseph, out of love and respect for their father, had been unwilling to give his brothers what they deserved. But now that he was gone, all bets were off. Or so they thought. They even concoct a story saying that, on his deathbed, Jacob had given them a message to give to Joseph. It was Jacob’s dying wish that Joseph forgive his brothers for their sin against them. Nowhere else in the text does Moses record that this conversation ever happened between Jacob and his sons, so we can assume that it was a fabrication, a lie concocted by Joseph’s brothers in an attempt to save their own necks from the hatred they believed Joseph still harbored for them. But they were in for a pleasant surprise.

Joseph, displaying a profound grasp on the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, tells his brothers they have nothing to fear. First of all, Joseph assuages their concerns by letting them know that revenge is the prerogative and purview of God. Even if he was still angry with them, Joseph knew he had no right to enact judgment or to seek revenge on his brothers. In asking the rhetorical question, “am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19 ESV), Joseph reveals his understanding of and respect for God’s rule and reign over any and all. He portrays a humble and quiet confidence in God’s unwavering rule over the affairs of his life. During his forced exile from his family, Joseph had been able to see first-hand the remarkable proof of God’s providence in so many ways. Enough time had passed that any lingering anger against his bothers or desire to seek revenge had been replaced by a peace with his circumstances that came from a growing trust in God’s providence. God was in control. So much so that, in Joseph’s estimation, what his brothers had meant for evil, God had intended for good. This is one of the most powerful statements regarding God’s providence found anywhere in the Scriptures.

“Behind all the events and human plans recounted in the story of Joseph lies the unchanging plan of God. It is the same plan introduced from the very beginning of the book where God looks out at what he has just created for man and sees that ‘it is good’ (tob, 1:4-31). Through his dealings with the patriarchs and Joseph, God had continued to bring about his good plan. He had remained faithful to his purposes, and it is the point of this narrative to show that his people can continue to trust him and to believe that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).” – John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in Genesis-Numbers, vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

With the simple words, “God meant it for good,” Joseph spoke volumes concerning the rule and reign of God over the affairs of men. He does not excuse his brothers’ actions, but instead clearly states that what they had done to him was intended by them for his harm, not his good. Their intentions had been evil. But God, as part of His divine plan, had hijacked their intentions, redeeming their sinful actions to accomplish holy and righteous will. The Hebrew word Moses used is chashab and it carries the idea of a carefully calculated plan or intention. Sick and tired of their Joseph’s favored position with their father and his dreams and visions of superiority, the brothers had “devised” a plan to rid themselves of Joseph once and for all. But God had bigger and better plans. It had been His plan all along that the descendants of Abraham would end up in Egypt. Years earlier He had told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13 ESV). God had intended it all for good. Every bit of it. From Joseph’s undeserved betrayal by his brothers to his false arrest and imprisonment. The events of Joseph’s life were not the result of fate or chance. He had not been the lucky winner of the lottery of life. He had been under the sovereign control of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who had a plan in place long before Joseph or his brothers had been born.

Joseph had developed an expanded vision of the affairs of life. He had learned to look beyond the immediate circumstances and view things from a divine perspective. Which is what led him to say that God had intended, planned, and orchestrated Joseph’s life,  “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). Joseph knew it was about much more than him. His life had a God-ordained purpose that was far greater and bigger than his own success or failure. This wasn’t about his personal comfort or convenience. It had little to do with Joseph’s position or prominence, except for the fact that God was using Joseph’s rise to power to “preserve the lives of many people.”

As Christians, when we read Paul’s words in Romans, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV), we tend to have a bit of skepticism about them. We silently doubt whether they are really true. We wonder if ALL things really do work together for good. We question whether we have ever seen Paul’s words proven true in our own lives. But the problem seems to be that we want to define what “good” means. We want to dictate to God what it is we want Him to accomplish in and through our lives. And we demand that any good He brings about must be to our advantage and within our lifetime. It must be according to our terms. But Joseph knew better. He had learned that God’s will was far greater than his own. He had ascertained that the ways of God sometimes entailed difficulty, betrayal, disappointment, awkward moments of seeming abandonment by God and prolonged periods of waiting. But God was always at work. His divine plan was always active and moving towards its ultimate conclusion. All things really do work together for good. But sometimes that good is not what we might expect. It might not always come about when or how we want it to. God’s definition of good was about far more than good things happening in Joseph’s life. Joseph’s rise to power was not about his own comfort and convenience. It had a much more expansive and far-reaching purpose behind it. Joseph understood and accepted his role in God’s sovereign, providential plan. He was content to be used by God, leaving the definition of “good” up to God. He was fully confident that his life was in God’s hands and that anything and everything that had or would happen to him was within the will of God. God had a greater good in mind. He had a bigger plan in place. His will was not limited to the days of Joseph’s life or the land of Egypt. It went well beyond the sons of Jacob and the tribes of Israel. God had a plan to bless all the nations of the earth and to bring salvation from something far more devastating than a famine. God had in mind the sins of mankind and the salvation of the world in mind. And all that He has done or will do is intended for good.

An End and a Beginning.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. – Genesis 49:28-50:14 ESV

Even though Jacob and his family find themselves living in the land of Egypt and Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had been told by God that they would remain there for 400 years (Genesis 15:13-14), the land of Canaan looms large in this narrative. Canaan is the land that God had promised to give Abraham and his descendants. He had told Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT). Isaac, the son of Abraham, and Jacob, his grandson, had both received personal assurances from God that they would receive the land of Canaan as part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. This inheritance from God, which had yet to be realized, had been passed down from generation to generation. The promise of the land was an ever-present reality in their lives. The promise made to Abraham was constantly on their minds.

“This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

So when it came time for Jacob to die, he made his sons promise to bury him in the land of Canaan, alongside the remains of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah. In essence, this was the family burial plot. It had been purchased by Abraham from the Hittites many years earlier in order that he might bury Sarah, his wife. Moses records the transaction for us:

Then Abraham bowed low before the Hittites and said, “Since you are willing to help me in this way, be so kind as to ask Ephron son of Zohar to let me buy his cave at Machpelah, down at the end of his field. I will pay the full price in the presence of witnesses, so I will have a permanent burial place for my family.” – Genesis 23:7-9 NLT

Abraham would pay 400 pieces of silver for the cave and the surrounding land.

So Abraham bought the plot of land belonging to Ephron at Machpelah, near Mamre. This included the field itself, the cave that was in it, and all the surrounding trees.  It was transferred to Abraham as his permanent possession in the presence of the Hittite elders at the city gate. Then Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, there in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre (also called Hebron). So the field and the cave were transferred from the Hittites to Abraham for use as a permanent burial place. – Genesis 15:17-20 NLT

Notice the number of times that the reference is made to a permanent burial place. The land, while still occupied by the Hittites, was part of the territory God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. While God had not yet fulfilled that part of His promise, Abraham went ahead and bought land because he believed that one day God’s promise would be fulfilled. He knew that it would be a long time before that happened, so in the meantime, he wanted a place where his family could bury their dead. And he wanted that place to be within the land of promise.

So upon Jacob’s request, Joseph and his brothers took the body of their father and headed to “the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 49:30 ESV). And they were accompanied by a large number of Egyptian dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. – Genesis 50:7-8 NLT

There were even Egyptian chariots and horses. It was quite a funeral procession. And there were so many Egyptians in the caravan, that the Hittites just assumed that it was the funeral for an high-ranking Egyptian official.

So Jacob was buried, with much pomp and circumstance. He was placed in the cave, alongside his father and grandfather. But his sons returned to the land of Egypt where they were destined to remain for more than 400 years. And yet Jacob’s death and burial are meant to act as a hopeful reminder of what is to come. His demise was not the end of the story. That trip to Canaan to bury Jacob was a dress rehearsal for another journey that would be taken by his descendants, four generations later – a huge collection of individuals numbering in the millions. When that day finally arrived, Moses tells us:

God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” – Exodus 13:18-19 ESV

Even Joseph would demand that his remains be returned to the land of Canaan, and centuries after his death, that is exactly what would happen. The promise of God would be fulfilled and the people of Israel would be freed from captivity and led by God Himself to the land of Canaan. Abraham’s death had not been the end. Isaac’s death had not derailed God’s intentions. The deaths of Jacob and Joseph had not brought God’s plans to a screeching halt. They were just the beginning. God was far from done. His promises were bigger than one man or a single generation. His blessings were intended span the generations and to impact the nations. What appeared to be the end was simply the beginning of greater things to come. As God would tell the Israelites while they suffered in captivity in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). God has plans based on His promises and there is nothing that will stop His plans from taking place and His promises from being fulfilled. And Jesus Himself has promised us, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).

 

In the Days To Come.

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
    listen to Israel your father.

Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father’s bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
    O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
    and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
    and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
    and scatter them in Israel.

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
    and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
    he shall become a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.

Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that a resting place was good,
    and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
    and became a servant at forced labor.

Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

Raiders shall raid Gad,
    but he shall raid at their heels.

Asher’s food shall be rich,
    and he shall yield royal delicacies.

Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.

Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    in the morning devouring the prey
    and at evening dividing the spoil.” – Genesis 49:1-27 ESV

Jacob was nearing death and he wanted to pronounce a blessing on his 12 sons. This event probably brought back all kinds of memories for the aging patriarch as he recalled the blessing he had received from his own father, Isaac, many years before.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

He could not have helped but think about Joseph and how all the nations surrounding Egypt had come to him, bowing down before him and depending upon him for grain in order to survive the famine. He had seen his own sons bow down before Joseph, honoring him as their superior. And even though he and his family had been forced to flee to Egypt to escape the famine, they had been awarded the best land of Egypt, and had no shortage of grain and new wine.

So as Jacob prepared to bless his own sons, he was fully aware that much of what he was going to say would have far-reaching, future-focused ramifications. There would be a prophetic nature to his blessing, impacting future generations of his descendants. His 12 sons would each become 12 tribes – the 12 tribes of Israel. Some, as the blessings will illustrate, will play a more significant role than others. Some will be relegated to relative obscurity, for a variety of reasons. The tribe of Judah, from which the Messiah would come, would be elevated to a place of prominence, past his older siblings, Reuben and Simeon. Jacob’s blessing of Judah sounds eerily similar to what Isaac had said of Jacob himself: “your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV). Then Jacob went on to say, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him” (Genesis 49:10 NLT). Both David and Solomon would be from the tribe of Judah and they represent the glory years of Israel’s political and military might. But Jacob’s words will be ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, when He rules and reign over all the earth in His millennial kingdom.
Jacob’s words to his sons are predictive and prophetic in nature. While somewhat based on each son’s unique personality and characteristics, the blessings uttered by Jacob are God-ordained, providing a glimpse into the future of not only his sons, but their descendants. When Jacob said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come,” he was letting his sons know that his words would need to be viewed from a long-term perspective. Much of what Jacob says did not take place within his sons’ lifetimes. In fact, many of his words have yet to take place. His sons and their descendants would live in the land of Egypt for more than 400 years. Four generations would call Egypt home before they would find themselves redeemed from captivity by God and returned to the land of Canaan. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness would precede their entrance into the land of promise – all because of their own failure to believe God. Their eventual entrance into the land would be marked by disobedience and failure to follow through on God’s commands. And while they would eventually occupy the land and grow into a mighty nation under the leadership of David, they would eventually see their mighty nation split in two because of the moral and spiritual indiscretions of David’s son, Solomon. God would divide the kingdom into two nations: Israel and Judah. And in time, both nations would be conquered and destroyed by pagan nations, with their citizens taken into captivity – all because of their refusal to honor and obey God.
You can see in Jacob’s descriptions of his sons that they represent a range of personalities and character traits. His 12 sons represent the good, the bad and the ugly of Israel’s future. And yet, God will accomplish His divine will through them and in spite of them. His will will be done. Israel would become a great nation. That nation  would eventually be divided. Those two kingdoms would end up in captivity. But God would eventually restore them. He would send His Son to be born as one of them. They would reject Him as their Messiah. He would die at their hands, labeled as a blasphemer and treated like a common criminal. But God would raise Jesus from the dead and restore Him to His rightful place at side. And one day, God will send His Son back to finish what He began.
The book of Revelation records John’s vision of the end times, when Jesus, the Lion of Judah, will finalize God’s plan and usher in His own kingdom.
“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5 NLT
Of the Lion of Judah, it will be sung:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” – Genesis 5:9-10 NLT

In the days to come. We are prone to live with a present-focused perspective. Even our concept of the future is restricted to our own lifetimes. We have a hard time seeing past the present and our own presence. And yet, God is future-focused. His plan is based on what is to come. What is and what has been both find their meaning in the what will be that God has prepared for His people. The best is yet to come.