Almighty God, give us grace to boldly speak of your amazing love. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
As we’ve been journeying through the Story together, with the goal of understanding the whole scope of God’s plan from Genesis through Revelation, this week brings us to the story of Ruth.
In some ways it’s the easiest episode so far: the chapter was only 7 pages, there’s really only three characters, and it’s a pretty simple story of people showing kindness even in adversity.
But, we have to be careful not to read it as a self-contained story; like everything else we’ve read this fall, we see it in a new light – we see so much more depth – when we see how it connects to the ongoing work of the one true God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Moab: A bizarre twist
If we stop to think about it, Ruth should strike us as a really weird story. Maybe we’re too familiar with it to really be struck with just how bizarre this story really is.
Israel has strayed once more. God had been raising up judges to guide his people, but his chosen family – called to be a holy nation – were doing just the opposite. They’d forget the covenant, they’d fail to teach it to their children, they weren’t strong and courageous, and soon enough they’d find themselves worshipping gold, or bronze, or carved stones, running from temple to temple – not to worship, but to find bodily pleasure.
Israel has disobeyed to the point that the promised land – that land where they would eat milk and honey without toil – had dried up. This is no accident: this famine, like several we’ve read about before, is meant to remind God’s people that we don’t and we can’t ever rely on our own strength; no matter what, we must acknowledge that it is God alone who provides.
And in that famine, a family – a man named Elimelech and his bride Naomi – leave home from Bethlehem, and seek food elsewhere.
But they don’t go just anywhere. They go to Moab.
And if we think back to the earlier chapters, “Moab” should ring a bell.
Moab is not a happy place. Moab is not the sort of place any Israelite is eager to be found. Israel and Moab are enemies, and have been since Israel first avoided walking through their land after the Exodus, generations before.
Balak, we read earlier, was the king of Moab who hired a prophet to curse Israel (you might remember the whole talking donkey incident that followed!). And then it was Moabite women who overcame the Israelite army by leading the young men astray.
More recently, during the time of the judges, Moab had taken Israel hostage for 18 years, as Israel forgot the God who led them miraculously out of Egypt, and turned themselves over to be enslaved to someone else.
Things are so bad in Israel, that Naomi’s husband goes there.
The God who Redeems
But, God is faithful, and his perspective and knowledge of the big picture is far beyond what we could even imagine.
From any one human perspective, we might not see how God is working out the salvation and redemption and restoration of humanity, but we can rest secure in that fact that, if God said to Adam and Eve that the son of man would one day crush the serpent’s head, he’ll do it.
And, what was the promise made to Abraham? Yes, he would have land and he would have many offspring. But, much more importantly, God promised that through Abraham, through Israel, all the earth would be blessed.
And God doesn’t forget his promise… that’s the central message of the book of Ruth.
A blessing to all nations
Sometime during the famine – scripture doesn’t give us all the details – Israel returns to the Lord, and God provides food for his people. It’s such a big deal that word spreads to the surrounding countries, and all to God’s glory.
Even over in mighty Moab they hear that the God of Israel has miraculously intervened.
Naomi, a helpless widow, is going to pack up and go home – surely some relative will take her in. But those two young widows, her daughters-in-law, they’re free to stay. They’re not Israelites, they’re Moabite women. Naomi certainly can’t provide for them; and their husbands were born abroad – it’s not like they have any friends back in Bethlehem.
But, having heard of God’s provision, and having seen the example of Naomi’s faith even through the death of her husband and her two sons, Ruth has made up her mind: she’s not going to do what was socially expected; she’s not going to do what was easy; she’s going to journey with this helpless older widow, and she’s going to put her trust in the God of Israel.
Now, with all of that background, maybe it’s becoming a little more clear as to why Boaz is hailed as being exceedingly gracious and kind. Young Ruth isn’t just any widow gleaning in his field: this is a Moabite. ‘We hate Moabites’. ‘Moabites curse Israel. Moabite women were the downfall of our army. Moabites enslaved us for 18 years!’ And here she is in our field?
Yes, says Boaz, and make sure she’s well provided for. Don’t send her around to another field – they might hurt her. Out of a famine, God has provided overflowing storehouses and leftover food on tables – let her take some home.
…and as we read this, the bells should be ringing in our ears: God’s promise and God’s desire is not just to bless Israel. God’s plan is to bless all nations.
As they hear of God’s glory they will turn from their idols, they will turn from trusting in the might of men or swords or the size of their storehouses, and they will come and worship the one true God who created heaven and earth, and they will be blessed.
And what follows then for Ruth, as odd as the details of an arranged marriage may sound to our ears, is a story of adoption.
Ruth, who sought to follow the one true God – even though she’s a Moabite, an enemy of Israel – is adopted into God’s family. She’s no longer a stranger, no longer a foreigner dependant on the charity of others.
No, she sought the God of Israel, and she was adopted into the family of God’s people.
And then, in the biggest twist of all, God makes an incredible statement. Yes, God had called Abraham and his descendants to be his people. But the promises aren’t inherited by blood – Abraham had faith, and that was accounted to him as righteousness.
Israel was born into these promises. But, to remind us that it is by faith, not by birth or anything else, God adopts Ruth, a Moabite woman, into his family.
And Ruth has a child. And, tell me, who is Ruth’s great-grandson?
King David, who defeats the Philistines and brings peace to Israel.
God, by faith, adopts a Moabite, makes her part of his story, and uses her faithful offspring to do what faithless Israel hadn’t been able to do before.
…But the Word of God doesn’t just promise to bless the nations. He promises to crush the serpent’s head when He takes up residence among us as our friend and brother, the son of man: Jesus, the descendant of David.
Ruth, a Moabite widow, a helpless foreigner, becomes the ancestor of Jesus: through whom, death, sin, shame, and all the devil’s lies are crushed through the one perfect sacrifice of the Son of God.
It’s an incredible story.
…but how did it all start? What made it all possible?
Word of God’s goodness reached Moab.
Ruth couldn’t believe unless she heard. There needed to be those thousand tongues telling of God’s goodness to all people; there needed to be prople willing to sing of those 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord.
Friends: there are people all around us who worship all sorts of gods. People all around us who have pledged themselves to all sorts of idols that they think can give them fulfilment, or can take away – or at least numb – the hunger that they have inside. God’s desire is to bless all nations, but he’s calling you to be part of that.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a missionary or hold up a sign on a street corner.
No, not at all. What it does mean is that, when God provides, when God gives comfort, when God proves that his wisdom is better than our wisdom, we have to be quick and bold to give him the glory; He’ll do the rest, as he did with Ruth.
Whoever first spread that news that God had provided food would never know what God had planned… just like you and I can never imagine what God has planned for the poor widow across town, or the struggling kid across the street.
But that’s not for us to figure out! God will adopt any who come to him in faith.
But they need to hear before they can believe – they need those thousand tongues to sing 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord.
And that’s the work he’s given to us. May he make us bold: for, like Ruth, we’ll never know what incredible things God has in store, if only we’re ready to give him the glory, now and forevermore. Amen.