Waiting for the Rest That Still Remains, Arie C. Leder. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2021.
Summary: A consideration of the theology of the former prophets, including the Book of Ruth, considered through the lens of rest.
The books known as the former prophets, including the Book of Ruth, constitute both a significant amount of material in the Old Testament, and cover the history from Joshua preparing to cross Jordan to the heights of the reigns of David and Solomon, the divided kingdom, apostasy, and conquest of first Israel and then Judah, with the people in exile in Babylon–seven centuries.
Is there a theological thread that ties it all together? Arie C. Leder proposes that the thread is one of rest. The center point is Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:56 in which Solomon praises God “who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised.” This book explores this theological theme, connecting this back to Genesis through Deuteronomy, considering the echoes of this theme in the New Testament as well as implications for the church today.
After four chapters laying the groundwork, Leder devotes a chapter each to Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel and Kings. In Joshua we witness the Lord giving the land of Canaan into their hands but at the end, not completely at rest from their enemies. Rest would hinge on their faithfulness to their covenant vows at Shechem. Sadly, Judges reveals a nation that chooses to do what is right in its own eyes rather than keep covenant. They rob themselves of rest as God abandons them to their enemies, and their own internal conflicts. Amid the chaos, we focus in on Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth. Naomi returns to the land of promise bereft, except for Ruth who has abandoned her family, home, and gods to embrace those of Naomi. But most of all, Boaz shows the covenant faithfulness in extending his wings of protection over Ruth, and Naomi, establishing the line of kings. They find rest, and so much more.
The land who lacked a king finally receives one in the books of Samuel–first Saul, who fails to obey the word of God wholeheartedly, and then David, the man after God’s own heart. This doesn’t mean sinlessness, and results in unrest in his own house, but his humbling himself in repentance means not only pardon but rest from his enemies all about, a gift to his son Solomon, who builds the temple where the ark of the covenant rests. Leder unpacks the prayer, noting six petitions in the promised land, and a seventh that prays toward the land, recognizing the possibility of exile. Then, beginning with his own reign and the gods of his foreign wives, Solomon sets the precedent interrupted only by Hezekiah and Josiah of following foreign gods and leading Israel astray both in worship and covenant obedience. And they no longer find rest in the land but must pray from Babylon.
While a remnant returns, there is a sense in which exile has not ended and rest still remains to be found. Yet, there is a kind of rest even in exile, whether for Israel or for the church, found in remaining in the promise, the covenant of God. Leder draws upon this covenant framework as a guide to what may be appropriated from these ancient texts. Often, the former prophets are neglected, apart from a few selective texts often subjected to moralizing sermons. Leder helps us connect these books to the rest lost in Eden to the sabbath rest for the people of God in Hebrews and the new garden city of Revelation. This is good biblical theology that invites us to look at these books with new eyes and recognize afresh the wonder of a collection of so many works that weave together into one story.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.