Monday, August 09, 2004

Ruth 1-God At Work In The Ordinary

As I spent time preparing for the book of Ruth, I must admit that I was caught a little off guard with how the book struck me. I guess more appropriately, I was not expecting Ruth to strike me so forcefully. All in all, it has been impressed upon me that Ruth is about the providence and grace of God, not in spite of the simple and pastoral setting of Ruth, but because of it. As I put my notes together for the first study, I decided that a good way to categorize Ruth is “God in the Ordinary.” Through the lives of the characters we are able to watch as common people deal with their lives and how they and God interact.

I guess what strikes me most about Ruth is that it is very much like my life. It has been noted that there are no miraculous events in the book-there are no floating axe heads, no arms growing out of stumps, and no cracking of the sky for the audible voice of God. In fact, if the reader is caught up in looking for God in the spectacular (either in Ruth or in their own lives) they will miss God entirely. Again, that sounds a lot like my life. A common mistake that Ruth will try to correct in us is that we cannot equate the ordinary with the unimportant.

For an mp3 file of the entire Study, visit here. I would like to make just a couple of observations about the beginning of the book.

A character that can easily be looked over is Naomi. After all, the book is about Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately, David. But we should not loose sight of what God does in her life through the course of the book. Chapter 1 serves as a wonderfully crafted insight into her life and state of mind. It begins with famine and a family exodus, and it closes with the return of the barley harvest and a homecoming and what happens in between those bookends is undeniably tragic. Naomi, almost mysteriously, looses her husband and two sons and is left without family in a foreign land.

How does Naomi respond to tragedy? She says that the Lord’s hand has gone out against her (vs. 13) and later she attributes all the tragedy in her life to God alone, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty….The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (vs. 21) That reaction has a familiar ring for me. I think it is easy for people to blame God for misfortune and tragedy, and yet, it is not so easy for people to thank God for blessing. Nonetheless, at this point in the story, God is Naomi’s enemy. At least, that is how she sees it. As chapter 1 closes Naomi may be home in Bethlehem, but she has become embittered against God.

If, however, we fast forward to the end of the book and look at 4:17, we see that things have changed, and given other conversations through the book, we discover that Naomi and God have been reconciled, so to speak. The question then is, how did God go from being Naomi’s enemy to her friend?

I think the answer lies in Naomi’s relationship with Boaz. Her sentiments are revealed in statements like, “The Lord bless him!...He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” (2:20) Keeping with the nature of the book, Naomi’s relationship with God is not reconciled through a vision or a dream or a prophet-she is brought back to God through the kindness and faithfulness of another. In more common terminology for us, Naomi’s relationship with God is restored in large part through the Christ-likeness of another believer.

Ultimately, Naomi should not have blamed God. God does not curse or tempt even though His plan can feel like it from time to time. But even while Naomi is caught up in her bitterness, God takes the time to reach out to her through the lives of common and ordinary people. God wraps His arms around her through the kindness and loyalty of Ruth, and restores her family and livelihood through the generosity and love of Boaz.

May we see God in the ordinary things of our lives, and may we be God’s grace and love to those He beings across our paths!

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