Judging and Judgment at Work

The book of Ruth shows us an island of shalom in a world of chaos.

Judging and Judgment (4)

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. Ruth 1.6

An enclave of shalom
The primary purpose of the book of Ruth is to point to David as the legitimate king of Israel. The years following the book of Judges saw the people of Israel clamoring for a king, so that they could be “like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8.5). The problem, of course, was that God never intended Israel to be like all the other nations, but to be a holy people, a royal priesthood, and nation possessed by God and suffused in all its people and parts with His shalom. He gave them His Law precisely to facilitate this and to ensure that Israel would stand out as a nation to be admired and emulated (Deut. 4.5-10; cf. Mic. 4.1-8).

By the time the people got around to seeking a king such as Moses had promised, their judgment had drifted so far from God’s Word that they could only think of kingship as all the other nations practiced it – a strong man to keep them safe from their neighbors. So, naturally, they selected the tallest, handsomest, and most promising of their young men, a man with powerful resources, to be king over them (1 Sam. 9.1, 2).

But Saul was the wrong choice. He was not descended from the line of Judah, as God had specified their king should be (Gen. 49.8-11), and the people selected him on the basis of outward appearance, rather than inward character and disposition. Saul’s forty-year reign would be little more than a repeat of the book of Judges, this time under a king who feared the people more than he feared God (1 Sam. 13.11, 12).

When Saul died in battle, a civil war erupted in Israel between Saul’s descendants and loyal followers, and those of David. The struggle dragged on for seven years (2 Samuel 1-4).

Everyone knew that Samuel had anointed David to be king. But, always eager to capitalize politically on some putative stain or blot, the followers of Saul undoubtedly tried to discredit David by pointing out that he had Gentile blood in his lineage, and that at more than one place in his pedigree (cf. Ruth 4.18-22).

The writer of the book of Ruth intended to silence that objection to David’s claim by setting his genealogy in the larger perspective of God’s divine initiative and covenant. His purpose was to show that the chaos of Judges led to David through the shalom of God granted through the people of Judah (cf. Ruth 1.1, 6; 4.22). And in the process of accomplishing this brilliant literary stroke, the writer gives us a glimpse of the work of judging as God intends it to exist among His people.

Judah and Boaz
As if to make known His opinion concerning the chaotic, every-man-for-himself situation of the book of Judges, God sent a famine throughout the land of Israel (Ruth 1.1). That famine got the attention of the people of Judah, who appear to have seen it as a wake-up call to repent and return to the Lord. After many years, the Lord “visited” the people of Judah by lifting His famine and allowing their harvests to abound. 

When Naomi heard this, she immediately made plans to return to her homeland, believing she would find shelter, provision, and comfort from the bitterness God had visited upon her in the land of Moab.

When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem of Judah, they found a community abounding in the blessings of God. Harvests were abundant (Ruth 1.6). A great landowner like Boaz observed the statutes of God’s Law in the stewarding of his land and the treatment of his workers. He treated his workers with great dignity and respect (Ruth 2.4). Boaz made sure the laws about poor people gleaning were faithfully observed (Ruth 2.1, 2). He warned his workers to respect Ruth as a woman – though a Moabitess – and not to interfere with her person or labor (Ruth2.9, 14-16). He understood God had allowed this Gentile woman to be incorporated into His people, and he was determined to let her find full refuge, safety, and flourishing under his Law-honoring protection (Ruth 2.11, 12). The situation on Boaz’s estate was one of shalom. Not even surrounding farms or neighboring families knew as much of this blessedness as he did (cf. Ruth 2.8, 9, 22).

God had indeed visited His people, and faithful people like Boaz understood that the proper response to God’s grace was to take up His Law in judging all aspects of their lives, so that grace and mercy (the meaning of “Ruth”) might find a continuing home among them.

Judges in the gates
In Ruth 4 we see the judgment of God at work with respect to matters affecting the shalom of the community. Boaz decided to marry Ruth, but he knew that, following the Law of God, another was ahead of him in the legal line to take Ruth as a wife and inherit her dead husband’s property (Ruth 3.10-13; cf. Deut. 25.5-10). He would not act outside the Law of God in this matter, so he proceeded as the Law prescribes, trusting in the Lord to show what is just and conducive to ongoing shalom. He gathered his “opponent” in this case for a hearing before the elders of the city.

Boaz brought the matter before the judges of the community, assembled in the gate, where everyone could watch the proceedings and learn how the process of exercising just judgment operates. There being no statute that spoke directly to Boaz’s situation, the judges interpreted the existing Law into the situation and made a judgment that pleased everyone, most of all, God.

The shalom of Bethlehem remained unbroken. Indeed, it was reinforced and enhanced by the sound judgment of Boaz and the elders of the city, further adorned by the agreement and blessing of their neighbors (Ruth 4.11, 12). 

God was at work in this community for shalom, and therefore the offspring of this story of grace and renewal must certainly be the one God has chosen to bring His shalom to all His people (Ruth 4.22).

But even David was not God’s final answer, not His final key to bringing sound judging and judgment to His people, and with it, His promise of ever-increasing, everlasting shalom.

For reflection
1.  The writer of Ruth seems determined to connect David to faithfulness in keeping God’s Law. Why? Why should that matter to us?

2.  Shalom grows out of the combined sound judgment of people who are living under the Law of God. Can we expect to know God’s shalom apart from His Law and all His holy Word? Explain.

3.  Bethlehem in the time of Ruth and Boaz provides a glimpse into the coming Kingdom of God, where our eternal King rules according to His Word unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Why do you suppose we don’t see more of the shalom of God in our day?

Next steps – Preparation: What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? What specific actions will you take today to pursue thatshalom-laden ideal?

T. M. Moore

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This week’s study is part 1of a 4-part series, To Judge the World. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 1, Judging and Judgment. Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?

An excellent companion to this series is our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. Here you’ll discover the basis on which Christians learn to judge with righteous judgment. You can order a copy by 
clicking here.And when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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