Flannelgraph Preaching (Part 3)

Part two gave the first of four critical truths in the Book of Ruth that cannot be communicated by mute flannelgraph cutouts: Ruth the Moabite points to Christ. Continuing now with the second and third points: genealogy and Providence point to Christ.

  1. Genealogy points to Christ:

“Flannelgraph: The Genealogy Series.” Not a bestseller, even if it were a sequel. All the cutouts seem to look the same. Fuzzy. Olive skin. Middle Eastern look. Repeat. Not too tall. Not too short. Just right.

One of the errors in reading the book of Ruth is that some people forget to read the book in one sitting. While I love expository preaching, there are times when this type of delivery can divide the book into pieces and detract from the whole story. The end of Ruth is actually the beginning. Ruth must be read all at once. The book of Ruth pushes and drives toward the climax of the story. Just before “The End,” we read:

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. (Ruth 4:18–22)

Why list the genealogy at the end of Ruth? Leon Morris writes:

It is an interesting fact that though David is the greatest king spoken of in the historical books, and though he is looked on by subsequent generations as the ideal king, there is no genealogy of him in I Samuel. There he is simply “the son of Jesse.” The book of Ruth closes with a genealogy running back to Pharez, the son of Judah. It is suggested that the book was written to supply the missing genealogy.1

Kings need genealogies so that they are considered legitimate. Yet if ever a group of people should be deemed “illegitimate,” it must be the Moabites. To be fathered out of wedlock pales in respect to incest initiated by daughters. Thus, in society and in Jewish culture, Ruth is illegitimate.

Who could have imagined that David would descend from Boaz and Ruth? Boaz, yes, but Ruth? Amazingly, Ruth is included in the scriptural family tree of Matthew’s Gospel:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah. (Matt 1:1–6, emphasis added)

The ultimate King David, Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, comes via the ancestry of Boaz and Ruth. The lineage of Jesus contains Moabite blood. Matthew says that you cannot understand Jesus without grasping Abraham, and then he goes on to say the same thing of Ruth.

Jesus identified with sinners. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus ministered to sinners. Jesus forgave sinners. Jesus’ family tree was populated with sinners. Jesus descended from sinners. Jesus died a sinner’s death. Yet Jesus was holy, blameless, and not a sinner. Jesus was the sinless second Adam and perfectly obeyed the Father. Could sinners be forgiven if Jesus had died at the feet of sadistic Herod? If Jesus had been massacred with the rest of the male children under two, would heaven be open for sinners? No, because Jesus needed to live a life of obedience in the place of sinners. Listen to Paul:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal 4:4–7)

Preach the representative Jesus from Ruth!

  1. Providence points to Christ:

Most Christians can hardly observe God’s providence in their own lives let alone on a flannel backdrop with a small, yellow disk representing the sun and some brown ground representing the sand and dirt of Moab. A tumbleweed here and a goat there. Providence is invisible because God is invisible. God exists and God works, but like the wind, only the effects of his work can be seen and understood by humans.

Christians regularly hanker for miracles, signs, and wonders when they should be reflecting on the nature and scope of God’s providential workings in history, which includes their very own lives. Providence seems oblique and dark when looking into the future. We only know God will be in our future with his grace, but we do not know the twists and turns that the sovereign Lord ordains. Often circuitous, usually sprinkled with difficulty, God extols his glory in time and has the believer’s good in mind. In that order. Providence becomes clear looking backwards in time. Observe God’s dealings with you. See God in Ruth.

The hero of the Bible has always been Jesus. What does Ruth teach us about Jesus? How does Ruth point to Christ the Lord? Ruth is not important for who she is intrinsically, but for whom God arranges for her to providentially meet. Keith Mathison illustrates the providential workings of God in Ruth, saying:

Whereas the book of Judges portrays the nation of Israel in an almost exclusively negative light, the book of Ruth indicates that covenant faithfulness did continue to exist during these years and that in the midst of this time of turmoil God was providentially preparing to raise up a king. . . . God is providentially preparing the family through whom David will come. As part of his preparations for the monarchy, God extends his blessings to a gentile Moabite woman and brings her into the covenant community. Among the descendants of this Moabite woman will be her great-grandson David, and ultimately Jesus himself (Matt 1:5–6). The book of Ruth clearly teaches that God has not forsaken Israel during this time of widespread apostasy, and he has not forgotten his promises.2

An infinite amount of flannel could not unveil the truths of God that Mathison describes from Ruth. God is sovereignly working because God is supreme, and he is immutable. It should not take long for the reader to figure out that God is working in the days of the Judges. Ruth’s narrative regularly punctuates God’s involvement in the lives of people:

Would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me. (Ruth 1:13)

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20–21)

The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! (Ruth 2:12)

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” (Ruth 4:11–12)

God is sovereignly working and controlling every event in the lives of the people in the book of Ruth. The only way the reader can recognize invisible Providence is because the writer supplies the details of God’s total control. Even the word, “LORD,” or Yahweh, is listed seventeen times in Ruth (Elohim is used only three times and Shaddai is found twice), signifying God’s living and active presence in the lives of his covenant people. God superintends Boaz to redeem all because of the Messiah’s redemption. God rules over redemption. Peter highlighted the Messiah’s preexistence in 1 Peter 1:20–21: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Looking back, we understand that God, in eternity past, always had the plan to send the Son. It makes sense that such an eternal plan would pop up regularly and often in redemptive history.

God’s kind providence is so prominent in Ruth that it nearly overshadows the need for a kinsman-redeemer. Close, but not quite. Do you know where to buy any invisible pieces of flannel?


  1. Leon Morris, Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary: Judges Ruth (1968; repr., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 241.
  2. Keith Mathison, From Age to Age (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R, 2009), 90–91.

Editor’s note: This essay was originally published in Evangelical White Lies, NoCo Media, 2016.

You can find this whole series as it publishes here.


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    Post authored by:

  • Mike Abendroth
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    Mike Abendroth (MDiv, DMin) is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church (West Boyleston, MA), where he has served since 1997. He is host of No Compromise Radio and author of Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers (2007), The Sovereignty and Supremacy of King Jesus (2011), Things that Go Bump in the Church (2014), Discovering Romans (2014), Sexual Fidelity (2015) and Evangelical White Lies (2016). He is married with with four children. When not enjoying his family he is often found on a bicycle.

    More by Mike Abendroth ›

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