I am preparing a series of messages from the book of Ruth. Consequently I am processing some of the challenges that come with preaching through an Old Testament narrative. Perhaps some of the thinking might be helpful, or at least there can be a sense of conversing together about this important subject. As ever, no claim here to being exhaustive, but hopefully mildly provocative in a good way.
In our church it is fair to say that the majority of messages, from both in-house and visiting speakers, come from the New Testament. This means that the Old Testament is much less familiar turf. As I prepare to preach Ruth, then, I must take that into account.
Less familiar literary context – I have to be careful not to assume anything here. Ruth comes in a period of about four centuries covered by the bleak book of Judges. Here is the jewel on the dark velvet. But I can’t assume folks understand the book of Judges. For some it will be a collection of children’s stories (where protagonist is always portrayed as a full-on hero, whatever the text may hint). For others it will mean nothing at all. So I need to think through how to make sense of the fact that “In the days when the judges judged” is the opening line of Ruth.
At some point I might think about showing where Ruth came in the Hebrew ordering of the canon. Not after Judges (in the former prophets), but after Proverbs (in the writings). Specifically, after Proverbs 31 . . . a wife of noble character, who can find? Again, I can’t just drop that in without confusing people. It will need a bit of explanation, perhaps I might use a powerpoint slide to help visualize the difference. Perhaps.
Less familiar historical context – Not only is the Judges context unfamiliar, so is the culture of this time frame. It is considerably further removed from today than the more familiar world of the New Testament. This is pre-monarchy. This is before the prophets and their impact on the nation of Israel. I don’t want to preach it with assumptions, and have some listeners envisioning the action in the context of the Roman occupation, or whatever.
I need to think through what is pertinent about the context, the culture, the politics of the day, etc. And I need to think through how to communicate that in the messages.