This week's lesson comes from the Book of Ruth. But why is this little book in the Old Testament important? It contains no great moral teaching.
Ruth tells the story of an Israelite woman named Naomi, who moved to the land of Moab during times of famine. Her two sons married Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth.
When Naomi's husband and two sons died, she decided to move back to Israel. Ruth decided to accompany her. Ruth met and married Boaz, a relative of Naomi's husband. Boaz and Ruth are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
The primary importance of the Book of Ruth is to explain a link in the line of David (and through him to the Messiah) and to show an example of the inclusion of a foreigner into the faith community of Israel.
Ruth is mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1. Ruth and three other women are mentioned in this genealogy, which usually only included men.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho whose life was spared by the conquering Israelites for hiding their spies. The widow Tamar acted the part of a prostitute to get her father-in-law, Judah, to do his duty to her. Bathsheba committed adultery with David, got pregnant, married David after he had her husband killed and gave birth to Solomon, who was to become the next king.
Ruth had no moral issues like these others, but was a Moabite, a people generally forbidden to join the people of Israel at this stage of their development.
The inclusion of Ruth and the other three women is intended to show us that God included all kinds of people in the line of the Messiah and will accept and include all kinds of people in his church today.
The inclusion of foreigners into God's people is a special concept for us at First Baptist Church. Our church was founded by German-speaking immigrants, many of whom came through the Dakotas. Services were held exclusively in German at first, and the German language persisted into the 1950s in a Bible class. As people gradually assimilated into American society, the church shifted to the English language and the ethnic mix of the congregation widened.
Carrying on the same value of ministering to immigrants, today we have a Spanish-speaking congregation as part of our church, which helps first-generation immigrants in the same way.
We have a predominance of Caucasians in our church, but several of them were born in foreign lands such as Canada, Holland, Poland, Russia and Germany. We also rejoice to also have firstor second-generation people from Mexico, Korea, Japan, China, Fiji, Liberia and the Philippines.
We see a fulfillment of what Ruth represents in our becoming more of a multi-ethnic congregation, experiencing God's concern for the whole world.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's description of what a church should be in Colossians 3:11, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." All of this is hinted at in the inclusion of Ruth into the people of Israel and the line of David.
You can hear Week 9 of "The Story" on Sunday at five Lodi churches — Vinewood Community, Temple Baptist, First Baptist, Emanuel Lutheran and Ham Lane Church of Christ.
Steve Newman is pastor of First Baptist Church in Lodi.