Seeing God's Redeeming Work Every Day

Learning from Boaz, Ruth, Naomi and Their Community of Faith

Stresses and Joys in Everyday Life: Ruth’s Times

In an agricultural economy in times of political upheaval, famine is equivalent to modern recession and depression. Elimelech and Naomi survived famine by moving their family from Bethlehem to Moab, across the mountains and valleys of the rugged Judean wilderness to the opposite side of the Dead Sea for a decade. The hardships of moving involuntarily increased for Naomi when Elimelech died a foreigner. Joy from the marriages of her sons Mahlon and Chilion was quickly overshadowed by losing them prematurely.

Good news finally arrived about food back home. Naomi set out to return with her daughters-in-law but had second thoughts about putting them through the same experiences of loss she had in leaving her home (Ruth 1:8). She could not have further offspring from her bloodline. Naomi lost a daughter-in-law when Orpah turned back but experienced the comforting support of Ruth's devotion and faithfulness to go on with her to her land, her people and her God. Naomi left with a family of four and returned as two widows. Nevertheless, there was love waiting for her in Bethlehem where "all the city was stirred because of them" (1:19).

Naomi's family was a great relief. Boaz, who must have experience the stress of famine at home with many to provide for, proved to be a wise employer for his harvesters and caring provider for Ruth and Naomi. He saw Ruth as "a woman of excellence" (3:11) even though she saw herself as an unworthy foreigner (2:10). Naomi was joyful over learning Boaz cared for Ruth as she had for her mother-in-law. Ruth trusted and obeyed Naomi.

Tense family dynamics and further uncertainty surfaced when a close relative more concerned about his own inheritance (4:6) declined to redeem Elimelech's and marry Ruth. Boaz met with the elders and community at the gate, a place of meeting, governance and decision (4:1, 11). He stepped in to literally redeem Naomi and Ruth's past and future and preserve Elimelech's name and honour. The community leaders and witnesses wished them success, honour and a good name. Amidst the ebb and flow of life's stresses and joys, in the days of the Judges when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes," Boaz and Ruth bore a child to a family line with a bright future.

Our Times

We live in times of political and economical upheaval and uncertainty. Famine is still a reality. Recession forces people to move great distances to find work. Elimelech's family moved about 100 kilometres, today many move thousands more away form their families.

On the plus side, families and friends can stay more connected than ever now across distances. We live in a time of separation and connectivity. Though parts of the western world have aging populations, some countries in the developing world have young populations.

It is a surprisingly contemporary phrase: many still "do what is right in their own eyes" at the expense of others. God is not on the horizon of many as He was frequently absent from the minds of Israel's leaders in the days of the Judges. Yet every day in our time, every month, and every year, archaeology in Israel unearths more evidence proving the accuracy of the Biblical record. God's fingerprints are all over the history of Ruth's time. He is present in our time as He was in Ruth's.

Seeing God's Redeeming Work Every Day

One of the most beautiful and intriguing dimensions of the powerfully and clearly written book of Ruth is the intertwining of the stresses and joys of everyday life with people's perceptions about what God is doing. Boaz, Ruth, Naomi and their community of faith all make profound statements about God's providential redeeming and disciplining work and, by extension, what He is like.

Naomi credits God with visiting His people and giving them food (1:6). She must have heard this through the grapevine of the community of faith in Israel extending to Moab. Naomi believes that God can "deal kindly" with her daughters-in-law as they have with her (1:8). The Lord can "grant that you may find rest" (1:9). Coincidentally, the judge Gideon called the altar he made, "the Lord is peace" (Yahweh Shalom; Judges 6:24).

Naomi also believed "the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me" (1:13). He had sent her out "full" but "the Lord has brought me back empty" and "the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me" (1:21). Themes of discipline, emptiness and fullness are present, as is the bigger picture of what God is doing, but this is harder for Naomi to see in her loss and pain. Ruth also perceives God's power to discipline in her vow of faithfulness until death (1:17). She sees the bigger picture of God's sovereignty over the community of His faithful people: "your God" will be "my God" (1:16).

Boaz knows the Lord is with His people and tells his harvesters/reapers so;; they in turn say, "The Lord bless you" (2:4). In three key verses (2:11-13) where Boaz acknowledges Ruth's faithful love, he sees that God repays people and richly rewards their work. The God of Israel gives them refuge under His wings (2:12). When she learns of Ruth's connecting with Boaz, Naomi also acknowledges that the Lord blesses people and "has not withdrawn His kindness to the living and to the dead" (2:20). Her hope is redeemed. Boaz wishes further blessings from the Lord upon Ruth (3:10) and acknowledges the Lord as the living God (3:13). He sees God's ability to redeem situations and is willing to assume for himself the role of kinsman redeemer. Redeeming is a key theme of Ruth and the verb is used twenty times in this short book.

The elders and all the people of the community at the gate perceive that it is the Lord who enables women to conceive and bear children who are His offspring (4:11-12). They pray God would make Ruth as fruitful as Rachel and Leah, the "builders" of the house of Israel (i.e. the house of Jacob's family of the twelve patriarchs) and as fruitful as Boaz's fifth-great grandfather Perez. The narrator affirms the Lord enabled Ruth to conceive (4:13). In a powerful foreshadowing, the faithful women acknowledge God's hand in providing a redeemer for Naomi (4:14) and the grandson she had given up on seeing. The narrator concludes by recounting the importance of Ruth's new family's line that leads to David, king of Israel and forefather of Jesus Christ, God's ultimate Redeemer.

Living a Redeemed and Redeeming Life

Slowly but surely in the midst of the stresses and strains of everyday life, God can redeem hopeless situations, bring good out of bad and replace emptiness with fullness. He brought Naomi and Ruth through famine and Jesus to eternal joy after the cross. The same perceptions of God that saw Boaz, Ruth and Naomi through their challenging times can see us through today.

God is the one who provides relief for our physical and spiritual famines. He often uses people close to us to do it. He may use foreigners. We can also be his agents of redemption for others near and far away. God redeems people and makes them part of His scheme of redemption. He has a worldwide network of people to restore others whose immediate pain and loss blur the bigger picture. He deals kindly with the broken hearted (cf. Psalm 34:18) and provides rest for the weary (cf. Matthew 11:28-30). The God of Israel is still a refuge today. His promise, "those who honour Me I will honour" (1 Samuel 2:30) is true in Ruth's life and today.

God disciplines for the purpose of salvation and spiritual growth. Truthfulness to one's word, faithfulness, fidelity and commitment are essential to solid relationships with God, family, friends, fellow workers and community. The bigger picture of God's providence and eternal purposes should drive the desire to be the best and do the best we can. Ruth shows there is always a path of righteousness and love even through tense family politics and in unrighteous times when everyone does what is right in their own eyes instead of God's.

God is the living God who lives with His people corporately in the community of the faithful. Elders and the wisdom of age are as important now as in Ruth's day. God uses them to guide His people and make decisions for their spiritual growth. God works through the body of Christ and families, the two most enduring circles of spiritual and social safety He has established. The principles of redemption in Ruth parallel many in the New Testament in all arenas of life: our churches, families, workplaces and schools. Living a full redeemed life has redeeming effects in the situations we live through while looking forward to our ultimate redemption in Jesus, the Saviour from Bethlehem and the offspring of Boaz and Ruth (Matthew 1:5).

Paul Birston

May 2012©

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