I have been reading aloud the Bible – including the Four Gospels, some of the Five Books of Moses, and now some of the Writings. It is a slower kind of reading, and a more social one, which allows me to see different things as more significant.
For the difference between Luke and John, and Genesis and Exodus, those pairs are more similar than they are different. The Gospels tell directly of Christ. The Five Books of Moses tell of Him through his works in history – in repentance and the pilgrimate from sin. The Writings of Ecclesiastes and Ruth tell of him in a different way – the completion of desire.
The search for desire, and the completion of it, are told from direct personal testimony in Ecclesiastes:
I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself;
I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, man’s delight.
a testimony that ends in exhaustion, even for intellectual exploration
The words of the wise are like goads and like nails driven in – from the composers of collections, given from a certain shepherd. And more than these, my son, beware: of making many books there is no end, and much chatter is a weariness of the flesh. The last word, all being heard: fear God and keep his commands, for that is all humankind. Since every deed God will bring to judgement, for every hidden act, be it good or evil.
But that hope – that there is still God and His commandments – is expressed in another way in Ruth. Here again, the pursuit of physical pleasure, but here properly ordered:
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her,
“My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”
And she said to her,
“All that you say to me I will do.”
So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet.
And the story has a happy ending. Totally in keeping with the conclusion of Ecclesiastes but subverting it – there is no end of books, because of the richness of the rod of Jessee has no end.
And Boas took Ruth the Moabite, and she became his wife, and he came to bed with her and the LORD granted her conception and she bore a son. And the woman said to Naomi,
“Blessed is the LORD, Who has not deprived you of a redeemer today, and let his name be proclaimed in Israel. And may he be a restorer of life for you and a support for your old age, as your daughter-in-law, whom you love, has born him, who has been better to you than seventy sons.”
And Naomi took the child and placed him in her lap and became a nurse for him. And the neighbor women called a name for him, saying
“A son is born to Naomi,”
and they called his name Obed – he was the father of Jesse father of David.
It is this sense of exhaustion, of hyper-completion, that John refers to when he paraphrases Ecclesiastes in his account of the Gospel:
This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
The Gospels (and works based on them) likewise emphasize the reality of repentance and the pilgrimage from sin, but they are also love stories. As C.S. Lewis and Hans urs von Balthasar have written, the love of God is the completion of erotic love as much as friendship love or familial love. Indeed, the earthly miracles of Christ began with a wedding:
Jesus said to them,
“Fill the jars with water.”
And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them,
“Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.”
So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him,
“Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
and, it seems, ends with one as well:
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying,
“Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me,
‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’”
And he said to me,
“These are the true sayings of God.”
And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me,
“See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”