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February 19, 2012
Because of Love
What a great subject!It doesn’t get much better than “LOVE.” Just try to imagine how many songs, books, stories, plays, and movies have “LOVE” as their subject. It boggles the mind! Also mind boggling is the understanding—or lack of understanding—that each person has. Love is one of those enigmatic things that we think we understand, but we don’t; or is it that we think we don’t understand, but we do? The general concept of love may be thought of as an intense, deep feeling. It is worth noting that the Oxford New American Dictionary gives the definition of the verb, love, as “feeling a deep attachment.”
Bible students know that “LOVE” is key in biblical understanding. Remember Jesus said that even the entire Law and Prophets depended on love: “Love the Lord your God … love your neighbor as yourself … on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). The Bible speaks of love well over 400 times, and that does not include instances where love is described without actually using the word “love.” People often have the idea that God in the Old Testament is different from God in the New Testament, The claim is that God of the Old Testament is about punishment and destruction, whereas God of the New Testament is about love. Actually the references and descriptions of love are split almost equally—with a slight edge being given to the Old Testament!
There is a wonderful story and description of love to which an entire book in the Old Testament is dedicated only using the word “love” or “loves” one time. The book is Ruth. Though the main thrust of the story concerns the love of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law, the description of love is so clear that it is often used at weddings to describe the attitudes of those giving themselves to one another: “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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 I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Love seems an unlikely subject when thinking of the timeframe of judges in Israel; the people continued in a cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. There were times when enemies took or destroyed the food supplies. There were periods of famine. This is the backdrop of the story recorded in Ruth.
Naomi and Elimelech were a husband and wife living in Bethlehem. They and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left to sojourn in Moab because of a famine in Judah. While in Moab, Elimelech died. Also, while in Moab, the sons took wives—Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah. A relatively short time later, both of the sons also died: “Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.” (Ruth 1:5).
Hearing news that the Lord had “visited His people in giving them food,” Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem. Both of her now-widowed daughters-in-law cared for her very much and followed to go with her (Ruth 1:7). Realizing that the women were still of age to find husbands, Naomi encouraged them to stay in their own land among relatives and find husbands. In tears, Orpah, kissing Naomi, heeded her words, but Ruth would not relent. Naomi, “When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.” (Ruth 1:18). “So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22). Ruth left the surety and security of her home because of love.
Barley and wheat were staples of the people. Naomi and Ruth needed food, so Ruth asked if she might glean. Gleaning is the collecting of bits of leftover grain from the harvest fields. Those who gleaned occupied a station even lower than that of a servant. Ruth came upon the field of a wealthy man named Boaz who was of the same family as her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech (Ruth 2:1). Boaz took notice of Ruth, seeing that even though she was a foreigner, she cared for Naomi and respected God (Ruth 2:11-12). He protected her and had her stay close to his own servants. Ruth was willing to take a lowly position because of love.
Ruth, desiring the security Boaz could offer for her and Naomi, approached Boaz. As he slept at the threshing floor beside a pile of grain, she went to stay at his feet. Upon awaking, Boaz was again impressed with the attitude of Ruth: “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10). In keeping with the laws, Boaz was second in the family line to purchase the land of his relative, Elimelech, and to take Ruth as a wife to raise children in the family name. The closest relative deferred to Boaz (Ruth 4:6-8), so Ruth became the wife of Boaz. Ruth received a new name because of love.
God enabled Ruth to conceive and she gave birth to a son (Ruth 4:13). What joy for all who knew the family! “Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4:14-15). They worshipped and praised God and the son was called Obed, meaning “worshipper.” Obed was not just any son—he became the father of Jesse, who in turn became the father of David, whose family line brought Jesus, the very Son of God, into the world! Ruth bore a son because of love.
The story of Ruth describes love so completely. More importantly, it helps us see the picture of what the love of God is all about. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). Jesus left His home because of love.
Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus was willing to take a lowly position because of love.
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11). Jesus received a name above every name because of love.
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1Peter 2:24). Jesus bore our SINS because of love.
Remember the song, “Jesus Loves Me”? The statement is true and worth singing about. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
Remember the song, “Footprints of Jesus”? It is an affirmation of our willingness to follow Jesus wherever He goes. Do we have that deep attachment for Him that He has for us—or even the deep attachment that Ruth had for Naomi? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15). What will you do because of love?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.