Chapter 10 continues seamlessly: These Pharisees are not the true shepherds of Israel – they are thieves and robbers, ruling harshly over the flock, using the sheep for their own benefit, and having no meaningful relationship with them. Ezekiel 34 refers to the false shepherds of Israel and, in exasperation, God says that he himself will become the Shepherd of his Flock and will rescue them, shepherding them with justice and kindness. Jesus, in claiming to be the Good Shepherd is therefore knowingly claiming to fulfil Ezekiel’s prophecy and in so doing, he is claiming to be God himself!
Jewish shepherds knew their sheep by name and their sheep were familiar with their voice, and so followed willingly (in those days they followed and were not driven). Jesus was the true, permanent shepherd, not a thief and not a hired man. As such, he cares for us and is even prepared to die to save his flock!
Jesus is also the gate to the sheep pen, the only way to enter into the safe place of the pen. Humanly speaking, Jesus is the only way that a person can be saved, and his intention is to give us a full and abundant life, as we entrust ourselves to him. This life can come only by means of the Shepherd’s death and resurrection – and amazingly Jesus himself has the authority and power to lay down his life and to take it up again. When later he dies on that cross, he is doing not only his Father’s will, but also his own too!
Who is represented by the ‘Other Sheep’ (v16)? It seems clear to me that Jesus means the Gentiles – whom he has had virtually nothing to do with; theology that is later explained in Ephesians 2:11-22, and particularly verses 14-16. There are not two universal churches, but just one, and it is only via that united church – that single flock – that Jesus will bring salvation to the world. It also means that if orthodox Jews are still looking for their Messiah, there is only one place to find him!
Another thing about Jesus’ flock: He gives them eternal life and they shall never perish – no-one can snatch them out of his protection. That is a great source of comfort as a believer, to know that you are secure in the arms of God and that your salvation is assured, whatever circumstances may arise in the future. For good measure, Jesus emphasizes that God the Father has given us to Jesus as a gift and that we are also in the Father’s protective hands. This is not a contradiction as long we realize that Jesus and the Father are one ‘substance’ (but two persons). Our eternal security is not dependent upon us keeping our grip on the Lord, but on his grip on us – which is a wonderful truth! When my children were young, and held my hand to cross a dangerous road, they may have imagined that they were holding on to me, but ultimately, I was holding on to them!
Jesus told the Jewish teachers that if they wanted proof that he was the Son of God, then all the evidence needed was found by looking at his miraculous works; they are evidence enough. But decisions about whether to follow Jesus are not made merely with the understanding – or else the vast majority of the Pharisees would have converted – it is a decision to submit one’s will and one’s whole life to the Lord of Lords that is the ‘big deal’. Even Jesus himself has warned us to count the cost first!
RUTH 1, 2, 3 and 4
The Book of Ruth should maybe have the title: “Ruth of Moab and Boaz of Bethlehem”, since Boaz is as vital a character as Ruth is. The story starts so sadly: a close male relative of Boaz marries, has two sons, and they emigrate to Moab, where the sons marry Moabite women. Then all the males in the family die, one after the other, and Naomi, the wife is left to look after Ruth and Orpah in Moab.
Ruth, having pledged her life to Naomi, returns with her to Bethlehem and there is a desperate need for food. In those days, in the absence of state funding for the poor, the only option was to ‘glean’ for barley and wheat scraps from the fields of those where harvesting was taking place. The poor were permitted to pick up anything left behind by the harvesters, but not to actually touch the standing grain. So Ruth sets out to spend many exhausting days picking up small scraps of barley, in the hope that she and Naomi would have sufficient to just about avoid starvation.
By God’s grace, she arrives as Boaz’s land and works behind his harvesters. Boaz arrives and sees her. Being a generous and compassionate man – and being a single man – he goes beyond what is expected of him to make Ruth’s task much easier and much more fruitful. Her mother-in-law is very surprised to see her laden with food and grain upon her return home and realizes that this was no average day’s gleaning! Excitedly she learns that Boaz, a close kinsman-redeemer, owns that land, and she realizes that this is hers and Ruth’s chance to achieve social and financial security. Kinsmen-redeemers were close relatives who were officially appointed to care for the needs of widows and orphans in families; also, as stated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, they were expected to marry the childless widows and to have children with them in order to continue the original family lines.
Ruth chapter 3 is clearly a marriage-proposal ritual that was well understood by both parties. Boaz considered himself very blessed to be singled out for marriage by Ruth (much younger than him) and he promised to perform all the necessary legal transactions – at the city gate where all this business traditionally occurred – for a land transfer and marriage to occur. (See chapter 4.) Another citizen, who was an even closer kinsman-redeemer, declined to exercise his options in this regard (to the delight of Boaz) and so Boaz married Ruth and purchased the land from Naomi, giving her financial security for life. And then, a child was born to them, named Obed. It all ends happily ever after!
This book of the bible is much more than just a love-story starring a generous, gracious man and a beautiful, faithful woman. The focus on the ‘kinsman-redeemer’ is a foreshadowing of the redemption that comes to us from Jesus Christ. Isaiah 41:13-16 says:
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. 15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them and reduce the hills to chaff. 16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel”.
We all need redemption, and we all find it in Jesus Christ, who is able to restore us in every way, as we yield each and every part of our lives to him. Just as Ruth’s request of Boaz was not presumption, but faith; by faith and calling upon the Lord, we too obtain an eternal redemption-relationship with him.
Boaz was the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David. Without his intervention, the greatest king that Israel ever had would not have been born. Furthermore, the greatest ancestor of King David was, of course, Jesus himself (on his mother’s side). We must realize that the small acts of kindness and mercy that we make in our routine daily lives can have momentous unseen consequences that are of eternal importance. Boaz had not even read the Book of Ruth – you could argue that he was more the author than the reader – and yet his actions led directly to the Saviour of the World being born. Let’s take encouragement from what God can do through each one of us!