Archive for the ‘love’ Category

FAITH

 

Faith is the ability to understand that the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture truly exists, to want that God to exist, to the point that enough Scripture is read and digested to understand intuitively that God does, indeed, exist. Faith also accepts as real and welcome the work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers. Moreover, faith involves the ability to appreciate that a better world exists, the spiritual one in which God plays such a vital and loving part. Faith includes the ability to value valor over wealth. Faith is explained in a noble manner in that great Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders received witness. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaks. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

“By faith Noah . . .By faith Abraham . . .By faith Isaac . . . By faith Jacob . . . By faith Joseph . . . By faith Moses . . .

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And these all, having received witness through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Abel’s offering to God was more excellent than Cain’s because of his more noble understanding of what would be pleasing to God, which came from his greater faith. Even back then, Abel understood that God Himself would have to die sacrificially in the place of fallen and helpless mankind to bring him back into fellowship with God. He knew that and sacrificed an animal, one of God’s creations, in honor of that future event, long before Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac and Moses instituted the Passover in commemoration of that same great sacrifice that Jesus made.

Cain failed to understand that same helplessness of man; he thought that he could please God through the fruit of his own labors. There are sects that attempt to do that today: storm the gates of heaven through their own efforts.

Enoch pleased God through his faith. His translation from Earth into Heaven without death was equivalent to what we look forward to today: the rapture of the Church, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus Himself stressed the importance of faith, often attributing the faith of those whom He healed to their restoration. In Luke 18:42, Jesus heals a man, and then tells him that he was saved through his faith:

“And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

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IN THE BEGINNING

 

Near the very beginning of Scripture, in Genesis 1:26 and 27, God asserts that man was created in His image:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Commentaries on this passage commonly interpret the likeness of man to God to involve qualities of character. That they do not include gender and gender-based love in their descriptions, despite the obvious intent of Scripture to include this feature, is a deliberate and unjustified attempt to equate purity with chastity, as I’ve noted elsewhere. They simply don’t address the most important underlying issue, which is that man’s character at his creation reflects the character of God.

The Reformation Study Bible, for example, describes the similarities between God and man at his creation as possessing intelligence and creativity, the ability to communicate and relate to others, and moral uprightness. Regarding man’s morality, the commentary does not go into details, other than to acknowledge that this faculty was diminished in man’s fall from grace. Other commentaries are similarly vague.

The details are important. The regenerate man, he who has been born again upon his acceptance of the selfless act of Jesus Christ on the cross, and has received the indwelling Holy Spirit as Jesus promised to His followers, is capable of much more than the moral uprightness commonly thought of as being peaceful, avoiding “sinful” behavior, and not indulging in troublemaking. The more important qualities of his regenerated character as aided by the Holy Spirit include faith, courage, selflessness and compassion for others.

These four qualities sometimes occur together in events so profound as to define the person. When they do, they display nobility of the high order associated in wartime with recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The reading of the recipient’s deeds that led to the receipt of that medal often causes weeping in the audience due to the extraordinary greatness of the heroic action that is being cited.

That is the greatness of God’s character, and the character in His image with which He endowed us at creation.

Psalm 22 describes the agony of crucifixion; Isaiah 53 describes the humility and suffering imposed on Jesus for our sins; and the Gospels affirm these forecasts.

The Gospels and the various letters of the New Testament place the same expectations on the followers of Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus claims that some will do even greater works than Him:

“Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.”

Jesus was able to make that assertion because after His resurrection and the subsequent Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given by the Father in great measure to Jesus’ followers in the Upper Room of Acts 2. The Acts of the Apostles bears witness of the amazing healings, resurrections and transmission of the Gospel message performed by Peter, Paul and others. That they managed to do so under severe persecution is even more remarkable.

Or is it? Are the acts of the Apostles remarkable despite the persecution they were forced to endure, or are they remarkable because of that persecution? There has been talk in some Churches that many of those first gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer apply, for one very flimsy reason or another, the excuse most often put forward being that the gifts ceased at the final canonization of Scripture, and the establishment of Churches throughout the known world, rendering that Power from God no longer necessary. This point of view is called cessationism, for the cessation of the gifts. It is most prominent in those Churches having no outreach and whose attendance has been limited to Sunday services of a ritualistic flavor. Here there is no challenge requiring faith or courage, nor any exercise of selflessness or compassion. Here there is no manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not because the gifts have ceased, but because the Church has abandoned its fervent love of God.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as necessary today as they were in that Upper Room. Societies that have suppressed Christianity for decades and even centuries are re-awakening to Jesus’ message. Their need to hear the Word of God is just as urgent as those societies of the First Century that had never heard the Gospel. In Africa and China, for example, the underground Church is spreading like wildfire, and multitudes of these repressed people are being harshly persecuted. But the Holy Spirit is working signs and wonders there, just as in the Book of Acts, and Churches continue to grow.

And the multitudes who are coming to God in the midst of their persecutions are growing in faith, courage, selflessness and compassion. They are well-pleasing to God and worthy of their future spiritual marriage to Jesus Christ.

We in societies in which Christians are comfortable may not be as fortunate as we think. Perhaps we should ask, even plead, for the Power of the Holy Spirit, even if it means our physical discomfort and danger. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:24,

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”

If Jesus had to suffer for our sakes and was hated by the world, how should we expect not to encounter those same conditions? Perhaps, over the centuries, many sincere Christians were able to live out their lives in comfort and security. Perhaps they were fortunate, or perhaps not. But I know that personally, I’d like to have some things in common with Jesus. Provided, of course, that I am able to maintain my faith.

SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

 

Christian news outlets seem to have a common theme these days – a lamentation over the decline in Church attendance. This same theme can be seen in the frantic way that some Churches are trying to keep their flocks: daycare, latte machines, happy messages. Given the manner in which the Church seems to be falling away despite the almost hysterical attempts of pastors to stop the outward flow, it’s natural to wonder whether the exiting masses really ever understood what they had signed up for. Maybe those who evangelized them didn’t give them the big picture. Maybe the neophytes expected to get some blessings out of the deal, of the material kind.

Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

“Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures it for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended. He also who received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received the seed in the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it, who also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

I see this falling away as a good thing. Those who had accepted a materialistic Jesus, expecting Him to come promptly down the chimney bearing goodies or handing them a check from Publishers’ Clearing House, were worshiping a different god than Jesus anyway. I’ve seen Church spokespersons leading such people astray with blatant misrepresentations of who Jesus actually is, and what He actually represents. You can still see them on television hawking their wares. I once attended a Church where a young couple participated with fervent prayers for the removal of a cancer that was afflicting the wife; when she eventually died, the husband refused to come back to Church.

Jesus never promised such things; rather, He treated the material world with disdain, focusing instead on the spiritual world to come. In John 18:36 and Matthew 6:24, Jesus made this clear:

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.”

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Those who received the Word of God in good soil are of a different sort. After the pseudo-Christians have left the fold, these others will remain, whatever the circumstances that try to draw them back into secular society. They see a more noble Jesus, and in their staying the course God in return is developing them into a people having a common trait, the possession of valor.

God will indeed shower them with blessings, but of a more spiritual nature. God will clothe them in riches of character, endowing them with an abundance of faith, courage, selflessness and compassion, those qualities that Jesus will treasure in His Bride, the Church. Just like Jonah, they will enjoy the spiritual companionship of souls that they have rescued with a true knowledge of God.

“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you. So Jonah arose, and went to the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes . . . And God said to Jonah . . .And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

GOD’S MERCY TOWARD PETER

 

I’m grateful to God for Jesus’ having selected Peter to be a disciple. I can’t speak for anyone else, but before the Holy Spirit got hold of him, Peter was a lot like me – willful, impetuous and slow on the uptake. With some spectacular exceptions, he never quite seemed to get the point of what Jesus was saying. Worse, he denied Jesus to save his own neck. Not just once, but three times. It’s there in the Gospels in all the sordid details. In Matthew 26:33-35, for example, Peter, as usual, thinks that he’s good enough to follow Jesus on his own merit. He can do it all himself without help from God. Jesus rebukes him for that, saying that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Sure enough, as Jesus was being abused by the religious “authorities”, Peter denied any association with Him three times. At the sound of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done and was devastated by his own lack of faith.

The lesson, of course, is that without God we can’t do anything, even come to Him. Peter’s failure of faith was made all the worse by Jesus statement in Matthew 10:33,

“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father, who is in heaven.”

After that Jesus was crucified and died, leaving Peter to fret, and continue to do so as he thought, for the rest of his life over what he had done. But Jesus didn’t leave Peter in that state. Instead, the resurrected Jesus came back to Peter, as recorded in John 21. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him, each time following Peter’s affirmation of love with the command to feed His sheep. In those three exchanges, Jesus forgave Peter three times for his denials, thus canceling out the terrible consequences of what Peter had done. But it didn’t end there.

Beyond the forgiveness, Jesus also was sharing with Peter something of immense importance. He was including Peter in His own acts of speaking His Word to mankind, in that act increasing the Church. The first account of Peter’s fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, after he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, is given in Acts 2:22-41. In that account, Peter’s bold exhortation resulted in the salvation of three thousand souls. It may be seen in that first fulfillment of Jesus’ command that when Jesus talked about feeding His sheep, He wasn’t talking about material food. Instead, the food of importance was the spiritual one, speaking the words of the Gospel to the salvation of souls. Having followed the prophet Jonah in ducking away from God, Peter was now following that same prophet in voicing God’s displeasure with sin and exhorting the people to righteousness.

In the second instance of fulfilling Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, Peter again spoke before a crowded audience, this time bringing five thousand souls to salvation through the Word of God.

In the third instance, Peter became involved in dialogue with the Italian Cornelius. This act, of course, involved the mighty, loving Arm of God, the Holy Spirit, who had to overcome Peter’s Jewish attitude of repulsion by Gentiles to accomplish that task.

In fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to feed His sheep, the first time Peter speaks the Word of God to the salvation of three thousand souls. The second time Peter feeds Jesus’ sheep with the Word of God, five thousand souls are saved. Until this time, the Church was pretty much limited to Jews. (Even the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by Philip was probably a Jew, Ethiopia having enjoyed a long Jewish history extending back to Solomon and the queen of Sheba.) Now comes the third time that Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, obeys Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, as described in Acts 10, and this time, after healing another lame man and raising Tabitha back to life in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter through the Word of God extends the Church, and salvation with her, to the entire Gentile world.

The immediate importance of this fulfillment by Peter of Jesus’ threefold commandments to feed His sheep, beside its obvious demonstration of God’s merciful love, is the support it gives to the assertion that God not only welcomes but desires the active participation of Peter, and consequently of mankind itself, in the sharing of His grand plan of salvation. Man is thus a participant, albeit with the necessary input of the Holy Spirit in the process, of his own salvation. Can anything demonstrate more fully than this the loving intimacy of sharing with which God relates to mankind?

THE SHEKINAH GLORY

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul asserts that the Church is a temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit:

Know you not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.

The facts embedded in these passages are no surprise to Christians, who generally accept without question that believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and comprise, as the Church, a holy temple. What some of us may not be aware of is that this temple and its indwelling by the Holy Spirit was represented numerous times as the Glory of God in the Old Testament. An example taken from 1 Kings 8:6-11 is given below:

And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the house, into the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread forth their two wings of the place of the ark, and the cherubim covered the ark and its staves above. And they drew out the staves, that the ends of the staves were seen out in the holy place before the inner sanctuary, but they were not seen outside; and there they are to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.

A passage of the same flavor can be found in Exodus 40 regarding the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

Interesting as this passage and others like it may be in their apparent correlation with Paul’s understanding of the Church as constituting a temple and of its being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they’re still not all that surprising. It’s not a difficult reach, in this context, to view Solomon’s temple as a type representing the Church and the Glory of God descending upon it as representing the indwelling Holy Spirit. Nor does it conflict in any way with our conventional understanding of Scripture.

This situation changes rapidly when we investigate the meaning of the phrase “Glory of God”. In the original Hebrew this Glory that Paul understands to be the Holy Spirit is named “Shekinah”.

There still is no problem so far, because in the English language nouns lack gender attributes. Not so, however, for the Hebrew language. The noun “Shekinah” does possess a gender attribute, which is female. Turning to the Internet, the Wikipedia entry for “Shekinah” begins as follows:

“Hebrew [Shekinah] is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew ancient blessing. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God, especially in the temple in Jerusalem.” An accompanying figure shows the Shekinah, or the Glory of God, indwelling the temple as described in 1 Kings 8.

Noting the female gender of this indwelling Shekinah, we find here by comparing the indwelling presence of the Glory in Solomon’s temple with the description in Ephesians 2 of the Holy Spirit indwelling the human temple that Scripture itself, by furnishing this direct comparison, supports an interpretation of the Holy Spirit as a female Entity. This does appear to conflict with conventional Christian thought, as driven by the use in Scripture of the male pronoun in reference to the Holy Spirit. I fully explain in the novel “Buddy” why that viewpoint of conflict is actually a misperception.

Those who are opposed to any attempt to place a feminine label on the Holy Spirit would insist that in the original Hebrew, any gender can arbitrarily be placed on an inanimate object. They miss an obvious point: the Holy Spirit is not inanimate.

This gender attribute in 1 Kings 8 was simply lost in the translation from Hebrew to English, which could have been a result of the lack of gender precision in the English language. But there is an associated gender misrepresentation in Isaiah 51:9, 10 that appears to be more deliberate. What the translators did in that passage was to substitute the grammatically incorrect ‘it’ for the gender-correct ‘she’ in reference to the Shekinah. In their desire to maintain a fully masculine Godhead, they neutered the female.

The inclusion of femininity into the Godhead endows our vision of God with a greatly enhanced attribute of love. The pervasive notion of an all-masculine or genderless God denies that beauty to Him and the other Members of the Godhead and renders Him alien to us.

NAOMI

 

In the Scriptural story of Ruth, read and recited every Shavuot (Pentecost) in the Jewish community, Naomi returns in sadness and poverty to her homeland in Israel following the deaths of her husband and two sons. She brings with her Ruth, her daughter-in-law who refused to leave her. Another daughter-in-law, Orpah, remains behind in Moab. A love story awaits Ruth in Israel, where she and the wealthy Boaz meet, are attracted to each other and marry. A son, Obed, is born through the union. Obed himself eventually gives birth to Jesse, who, in turn, is the father of David. The genealogy continues from there to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which list the forbears of Joseph and Mary, respectively, earthly parents of Jesus Christ.

The story of Ruth is a love story on multiple levels. At the most direct level, it involves Boaz and Ruth, Jewish and Gentile ancestors of Jesus Christ. At a higher level, Ruth represents the Church while kinsman-redeemer Boaz represents Jesus Christ, demonstrating the love involved in that spiritual union. Naomi is far more than a mere extra in this beautiful passion play, representing none other than the Holy Spirit. In my novel Buddy, I was moved by these representations of Ruth and Naomi to point to their relationship with each other as an answer to a theological question that I had posed:

“In Deuteronomy Chapter 6 is found one of the most beautifully hope-filled passages in the entire Bible. Moses, being guided by the Holy Spirit, addresses the nation of Israel, saying,

“’Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’”

“The practical implications of this one sentence are immense. Jesus in Matthew 22 called it the great commandment, to be observed above all else, and by repeating it during His incarnation He extended its application beyond Israel to the Church as well. It tells us that we can love our God with all our hearts, which means that we were created to do just that. It also implies that God can love us back, for love is not unidirectional.

“The theological implications of that commandment are no less profound. It means that Jesus’ work on the cross was a demonstration of his love. Yet further, it says that our God is one, forming the basis of our monotheism, despite later passages that amply demonstrate His Trinitarian nature.

“Therein lies a question of exceeding import to every person who wishes, in obedience to Jesus’ words in Matthew 22, to love God: how can God be one while being several?

“In the book of Ruth is found another beautiful passage that has tugged at the strings of countless hearts over the centuries since it was written. It has evoked tears and inspired poems and love stories and been held up as a golden example of devotion and loyalty.

“‘And [Naomi] said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.

“‘And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me’.”

“These words of Ruth were originally directed to her mother-in-law Naomi, but, as in all Scripture, they were written under the direction of the Holy Spirit, who had in mind a much greater application, one in which both Ruth and Naomi were but types. Embedded in this song of Ruth, as a matter of fact, is an answer to the question of our monotheism toward a Trinitarian God. The answer itself is quite beautiful as well as being a wonderful promise to mankind.

“Ruth, I would say, is a type of the Church; and Naomi of the Holy Spirit. Therein is the answer: the link between God as One and God as a Multiplicity is love within a perfect Family setting, as Paul declared in his letter to the Ephesians:

“’For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and his church.’”

“The connection between Naomi and the Holy Spirit suggests a love of God that is so beautifully magnificent as to dwarf His other attributes. It is a story that begs to be told, and I attempt to tell a part of it here. The medium that I use for this treasured task is a novel that chronicles the extraordinary love that God shows toward four severely handicapped individuals, two having an affliction of the body and the other two of the heart. Many of the events described in the novel are based on fact.”

There may be yet another level to this story, a prophetic one. Ruth and Orpah, both of Moab, were married to Naomi’s Jewish sons, who may be thought of as representing the marriage between Church and Jesus in the material domain. Naomi continues to represent the Holy Spirit, at this point indwelling the members of the Church. As the crisis unfolds with the death of the sons representing Jesus and the subsequent persecution of the Church, that part associated with Orpah falls away back to the Gentile-secular world, while that part associated with Ruth follows the Holy Spirit into fellowship with a revived Israel and union with the resurrected, spiritual Jesus, represented by Boaz.

RUTH

 

The little book of Ruth gives us one of the loveliest stories in the Bible. In it, one may find strong representations of Jesus, the Church, and the Holy Spirit all interacting harmoniously and lovingly, as we ourselves can anticipate in our future spiritual relationship with God. At a higher level than the tale itself, Ruth plays the role of the Christian Church, while Boaz represents Jesus Christ. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi is sometimes mistakenly misrepresented here as Israel or an individual, but in truth the story carefully and deliberately places her in the role of the beautiful and noble Holy Spirit.

This narrative that begins with such desolation of spirit finds Naomi returning from Moab back to her homeland in Judah, having lost her husband and two sons. The loss, emotionally wrenching as it is, also places her in jeopardy of starvation. As she begins her sad trek back, she releases her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth, having lost their husbands, to return to their families in Moab. Amid much tearful keening over this parting, Orpah sets off back to her family. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to part. In her adamant insistence on staying with Naomi, she delivers the following immortal words of devoted love as she clings to her beloved mother-in-law:

“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you; for wherever 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, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and also more, if ought but death part you and me.”

Naomi must have imparted to her daughter-in-law Ruth much wisdom and understanding, particularly of the loving nature of God. She also demonstrated this love through her own interaction with her daughters-in-law. Ruth was able to internalize this profound heart knowledge, returning this love with the fervor that Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:37 and 38 as He echoed the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5:

“Jesus said to [the Pharisee], You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

Upon her arrival at Naomi’s homeland, Ruth’s circumstances rapidly began to change as God Himself returned Ruth’s love for Naomi with unforeseen blessings. Ruth’s departed husband had a close relative in the wealthy Boaz, who showed an interest in her from the first time he laid eyes on her. Appreciating that interest, Naomi gave Ruth an understanding of Jewish law, under which a close relative of a widow’s late husband could claim her as his own wife; moreover, Naomi also gave Ruth advice on how she might win his affection. In a few short but stirring paragraphs the tale becomes a love story between Boaz and Ruth, with the romance culminating in their marriage. The union produces a child, placing Ruth firmly into the Jewish fold as grandmother to the great King David. In the first chapter of Matthew, Ruth is further honored with inclusion into the bloodline of Jesus Christ.

Much later in time, the Apostle Paul echoes this union between Boaz and Ruth in Ephesians 5:31 and 32:

“For this reason shall a Man leave his Father and Mother and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”

We of the Church have a beautiful and noble Mother-in-law as well. In fact, She is the same Person who Naomi represented to Ruth: our wonderful, loving Holy Spirit. With Her guidance, the Church shall marry Jesus and will participate, as the beautiful story of Ruth suggests, in a fully-gendered relationship with Him, and that also will bear fruit, as plainly described by Paul in Romans 7:4:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

This romantic relationship is beautifully captured in the Song of Solomon, which describes anything but the brittle sterility of a non-gendered union.

The marriage between Boaz and Ruth reprises an earlier marriage that also foretold the union of Jesus Christ with His Church. This was the marriage told in Genesis Chapter 24 between Isaac and Rebekah, wherein Isaac was a figure of Jesus and Rebekah represented the Church. This union also bore fruit in the twelve Patriarchs who formed the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel and in Judah carried the bloodline to Jesus.

Appropriately, during the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, called in Hebrew Shavuot, it is traditional to read the Book of Ruth. This tradition links the Pentecost with the Holy Spirit through Naomi and her representation. Since the Holy Spirit rushed in to indwell believers at the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, the Feast of Pentecost has even more directly honored the Holy Spirit among Christians. Yet further, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit was foretold in the coming upon the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple of the feminine Shekinah Glory, as described in Exodus 40 and 1 Kings 8. I note this connection in the Introduction to my novel Buddy, and expand on it in my book Marching to a Worthy Drummer.