Thoughts on the Book of Ruth

The Old Testament Book of Ruth has much to teach us today with regard to important issues like: faithfulness, commitment, loyalty, providence, and grace. But I want to address one of the prominent themes in this book; it’s a theme that cannot be argued away, it cannot be excused or trivialized or pushed under a rug. The theme I am referring to is God’s love for ALL people. How easy it was for the Hebrew children to consider themselves God’s chosen; to become exclusive, and to shun those “not like them.” How easy it is for us to do the same today! If we’re honest, we often feel a sense of entitlement and privilege as Christians, don’t we? The dangerous doctrine of election begins to blind us to the realities of God’s love for all people: we begin to see ourselves and those like us as “in,” and everyone else as “out.”

The Book of Ruth is considered by many scholars to have been written sometime between 400-200 BCE, after the exile, and during a time of renewed nationalism when Israel was again trying to define herself as a people (over and against, unfortunately, everyone else). Ezra and Nehemiah were calling the people to steer clear from mixed marriages, to avoid those “others” who did not belong. Along comes the writer of Ruth to remind the people that God used one of those “others” to bring hope and healing to the nation by being the mother of Obed (the father of Jesse, the father of David!) God used a Moabite woman (oh those despised Moabites!) to become the grandmother of the greatest king of Israel! The writer of this wonderful story obviously wanted the people to remember that God is not in the business of selecting a specific people group to represent him on this earth; he is in the business of redeeming the WHOLE world: all people groups, all nations, all races, all genders, all ages, all colors, all lifestyles, all hairstyles, all religions, all worldviews, all political affiliations, etc. etc. etc.!

It may be that Naomi was ashamed to bring Ruth home to Bethlehem with her – sort of the way we feel when someone walks into our church that doesn’t look like us, or act like us, or smell like us. Perhaps the people of Bethlehem stared at Ruth and talked about her behind her back as she went about working in the fields alone in order to provide for her and her mother and law. How often do we stare and talk about the “foreigners” among us? The ones who don’t quite measure up to the status quo? The ones who aren’t like us?

Boaz is the real hero of this story. He doesn’t care if Ruth isn’t a Jew (although the implication is that she willingly chose to follow the God of the Jews when she chose to follow Naomi home), he simply chose to show love and compassion and mercy to the young foreigner. Boaz is the God character in this story. The name Boaz literally means “strength,” and I can’t help but hear the words of Paul echo in my ears: “when I am weak then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10). Paul says this in the context of a speech on humility. I think this idea of humility is a key. It is so easy for us to become pride-full about our status as God’s children. Now don’t get me wrong, we are called to rejoice in the Lord because of our new identity, but we are never called to keep our faith to ourselves and huddle together with others just like us keeping the “other” people at arms length for fear of contamination.

The Book of Ruth reminds us that God is a God of love for ALL people. It’s a reminder that he uses ALL people in a variety of ways.

May we strive to show that kind of love to ALL the people we encounter throughout our day today. The Ruth’s of this world are waiting for us to show them what true Christianity really looks like!

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