May 11, 2009

Extraordinary Grace in Ordinary Life

In the book of Ruth, the ordinary veils the extraordinary. In this true historical account, we see how ordinary people are caught up into the extraordinary grace and mercy of God. The book isn’t about prophets, kings or battles, but it does have a certain kind of romance. It shows how God weaves the beauty of His redemption into both the big picture of history and the minute details of everyday life. It’s packed with meaning. When you look for God’s hidden grace you’ll find it, both in life and in this book.

There are different interpretations for the meaning of the name Ruth, but "friend" and mercy" are the main ones. The mercy of God is a key theme and shown in two ways in this story. Firstly, it shows the dramatic history of the people involved. It shows how Ruth, a Gentile woman, was saved from famine, along with her mother in law, Naomi, only to become an ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ. Secondly, it shows a picture of spiritual salvation, how God’s grace and mercy extend beyond Israel to all people who would believe in Him.

The era of the story is the time of the Judges in Israel. The last verse in Judges sets the tone: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud 21.25 NASB). Today, people act as if moral relativism is some great new philosophy. Well, it’s not, and society is seeing the fruit of corruption and hardship that goes along with it. Though it was a difficult time in Ruth's day, God shined His grace on some people who had faith in Him. We can take this to heart during our own difficult days.

The Remnant and its Return

The story begins as Elimelech leaves his homeland of Bethlehem in Judah and goes to another nation, Moab, with his family because of a famine. It says in verse one He decides to go to without praying about it to “sojourn” in this pagan country until the famine ends. But then in verse 4 it says they end up staying there 10 years. This shows how we are likely to try and solve our problems using human reasoning rather than trusting in God and how small compromises can have long term effects.

Ray Stedman also pointed out how the various names show a picture of fallen man: Elimelech (“My God is King”) had married Naomi (“pleasure”) and they had two children Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“pining away”). Naomi’s husband dies and in disregard for God’s laws (Deut 7:1-3; 23:3) the two sons marry pagan wives (1.3-4). Later, the two sons also die. If we seek the world’s temporary happiness and pleasure above God, we will find it brings sadness, pain and eventually death. But God is in the mercy business and Ruth, the main character, is actually one of the son’s pagan wives. She will eventually become the main recipient of God’s mercy and through her lineage David and the Messiah will later be born.

After these family deaths, Naomi decides to return to her homeland after she hears “…the Lord had visited His people in giving them food.” (Ruth 1:6). The wives of her two sons, Orpah and Ruth, begin to follow her. After a while, Orpah decides to return to Moab and its pagan customs, but Ruth decides to follow Naomi and her God, offering one of the most moving speeches in the Bible: "For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried." The contrast between Orpah and Ruth portrays two people who at first appear to be believers. Their actions reveal which one is really sincere. Ruth’s response shows how people tend to come to faith in God through relationships with other people.

When Naomi arrives back home she announces her name change from Naomi, which means “pleasant/pleasure” to “Mara,” which means bitterness (Ruth 1.20). She explains “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty.” (KJV) She had a full life, a husband and two sons and a cushy life, but then it was all gone. She says “I went out.” Maybe it was a willful decision to leave Bethlehem the “House of Bread” without seeking God’s will. Then she says “the LORD hath brought me home.” She may have been praying more about God’s will and guidance after the loss. Though she feels bitter, like her life is ruined, it’s not.

Finding Grace

Often our lives have to hit rock bottom before we are able to receive God’s grace and redemption. Chapter 2 begins with a side-note, showing how God already had a plan in store, being fulfilled step by step, and Ruth was bout to walk right into it. Ruth 2.1-2 reads : “And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter.” Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel during the time of the barley harvest as desperately needy people. According to laws in Leviticus, Chapter 19, people had the right to glean some leftovers from the fields, and so, with this in mind, Ruth set out, little knowing she would end up in the field of one unique “mighty man of wealth.” Spiritually, this shows how God’s salvation is based on both God’s sovereignty and our free will. God was orchestrating everything but Ruth chose to seek and “find grace.” This seems like a paradox. How can we choose to find something that is given by God’s sovereignty? But this is what scripture shows. Jeremiah 29.13 says “You will seek Me and find {Me} when you search for Me with all your heart.” God's ways and thoughts are higher than ours. (Is 55.9)

Ruth goes out to glean in the field of Boaz and, as she is a’ gleaning, she catches the eye of Boaz. He asks his workers for a background check and is impressed. “Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids.” (2.8 NASB) Boaz is a bachelor and, apparently, quite a bit older, as he calls her “my daughter.” But Boaz was impressed by Ruth’s loyalty to her mother in-law and though she is poor and dirty and working as a migrant worker in the field, Boaz may have already seen her as a potential wife. If so, he had to be very careful because there was a stigma attached to the Moabite people. Deuteronomy 23:3 states "No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord." Maybe he pulled out his pocket abacus and started doing some calculations. “Has it been 10 generations yet?”

In any event, he offers her water to drink and food to eat and even asks the workers to pull some extra barley out of the bundles and drop it for her. Ruth is happy to have found this bit of grace and seems content simply to ride out the barley season with this arrangement and these little perks.

In this story, Boaz represents Messiah and Ruth, His bride, the church. As Boaz first showed grace and favor to Ruth, scripture shows “We love Him because He first loved us.” I Jn 4.19.

A Serious Matchmaker

When Naomi hears what happened, the light bulb goes on. “Isn’t Boaz our kinsman? (3.2)” Before you can say “matchmaker,” Naomi is telling Ruth to get a beauty treatment, well, at least the basics, a bath, some fresh oil and a fresh change of clothes. Ruth is into the plan and agrees to go along with it "All that you say I will do." Spiritually, these three things are aspects of the new-birth in Christ (Eph 5.26, I Jn 2.27, Is 61.10). For Ruth, Boaz has brought new hope of a new life. It makes the story really amazing to realize Ruth is re-born through a redeemer and eventually a redeemer will be born through her, her ancestor Mary (Lu 3.32). Naomi, apparently, was in the know as to what exactly a “kinsman” redeemer was and what had to be done in order to get a quick courtship off the ground. The main idea was that this kinsman redeemer could buy the land in Bethlehem back that they had lost when Elimelech and his sons died.

Naomi was no joke, she was a serious matchmaker, and Ruth “did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her.” After Boaz had eaten and lay down, Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions “She came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down.” This isn’t your usual conversation starter, but it seemed to work. “He said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative." Ok, it's getting wierder by the minute. But, in reality, this act by Ruth was a bold request for marriage. This expression is also used for God’s relationship with Israel: "I spread the corner of my garment over you" (Ezekiel 16:8). According to the law, as a relative he was obliged to marry her because she was widowed, in order to carry on her husband’s family name and estate (Deut 25:5-10).

The Two Redeemers

Boaz is flattered by Ruth’s proposal but explains there is a closer relative who has the first right to marry her and redeem her land. The next morning Boaz goes to the city gate to meet the man and explains that whoever redeems the property must marry Ruth also. Upon hearing this, the man takes off his sandal and gives it to Boaz, a sign that he has given up his rights to the property and Ruth. And so Boaz and Ruth are married and have a son, Obed, who fathers Jessie, who fathers David, and so on.

This lineage from Ruth can be traced to both Mary and Joseph. There is some confusion about the two lineages. Joseph’s is named in Matthew chapter one, where his father is named Jacob (Mat 1.16) while Mary’s lineage is named in Luke 3. It says “as was supposed” Jesus was the son of Joseph, but this supposition was not true. The lineage here is really traced through Mary. In Jewish custom, a woman’s ancestry was given in the husband’s name.

The New Testament also describes how there are two redeemers, “the law” and Christ. The law demands perfection in order to be saved. But because we could never be perfect, it’s not a real option. Christ, however, offered His own perfection in our stead. He lived a sinless life and died on the cross redeeming us by His own blood. The Bible explains how we are legally bound and married to the law but in the new-birth we die to the law in order that we may be married to Christ. (Ro 7.3-4)

Even as Boaz redeemed lost land and betrothed a widowed bride, the book of Revelation shows how Jesus will redeem the fallen earth and betroth a re-born bride. Revelation 5 describes a scroll which is a title deed to the earth. It has writing on both sides, "within and on the backside," which identifies it as a deed subject to redemption. The earth was forfeited by the sin of Adam and can only be redeemed by one who is sinless. Only Christ qualifies to redeem it, as shown in Revelation 5.7. Revelation Chapter 19 describes the marriage supper of the Lamb with His redeemed people, the wedding between Christ and the Church. And then in Revelation 20, it shows the millennial reign, when the Lord and His people will reign together for a thousand years on the earth.


Ruth is an inspiring story because it shows how God’s grace is always operating, even though we may not be aware of it. His plan of redemption is unfolding though we may not fully understand it, as promised in Romans 8.28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God’s ultimate purpose is the redemption of His people and the earth itself and it’s exciting to see it and be a part f it. Whatever you do through relationship with Christ has significance that will last beyond your lifetime.

Be encouraged to know there is extraordinary grace in ordinary life. Ruth was both a recipient of God's grace from Boaz and a channel of God's grace to Naomi. Jesus showed that we are to freely give to others, the kind of grace He gives to us, like the sun that shines day by day and the rain that waters life (Mat 5.45). There's no formula to receiving it, otherwise it wouldn't be grace. It's something we don't deserve, and never will, but He gives it anyway. Though God's grace is available to everyone, as believers we can frustrate it by having a legalistic outlook (Gal 2.21) or by being stingy with the grace He has already shown to us (Lu 6.38). You can put a dam in a river and it won't stop the water, but it will simply frustrate the flow and divert it. We can ask oursleves "Do I hinder the flow of God's grace through my life?" Another way to frustrate God's grace is to take any of the credit for what He does in you and through you. (Is 48.11). May all be done for God's kingdom and God's glory.

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