THE BOOK OF RUTH CHAPTERS 1 – 4)
… DON’T URGE ME TO LEAVE YOU OR TO TURN BACK FROM YOU. WHERE YOU GO, I WILL GO, AND WHERE YOU STAY, I WILL STAY. YOUR PEOPLE WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND YOUR GOD MY GOD. (Ruth 1: 16) … AND NOW, MY DAUGHTER, DON’T BE AFRAID. I WILL DO FOR YOU ALL YOU ASK. ALL MY FELLOW TOWNSMEN KNOW THAT YOU ARE A WOMAN OF NOBLE CHARACTER. ALTHOUGH IT IS TRUE THAT I AM NEAR OF KIN, THERE IS A KINSMAN-REDEEMER NEARER THAN I… (Ruth 3: 11 – 12).
– MATTHEW 1: 1 – 17 … THERE WERE FOURTEEN GENERATIONS IN ALL FROM ABRAHAM TO DAVID, FOURTEEN FROM DAVID TO THE EXILE TO BABYLON, AND FOURTEEN FROM THE EXILE TO THE CHRIST. (Matthew 1: 17)
– 1 CORINTHIANS 13 … LOVE IS PATIENT, LOVE IS KIND… IT ALWAYS PROTECTS, ALWAYS TRUSTS, ALWAYS HOPES, ALWAYS PERSEVERES… LOVE NEVER FAILS… (verses 4, 7, 8)
Goethe described the book of Ruth as “the loveliest love story… among the epics and idylls of the past”, which indeed is a way of looking at it, but from a Christian point of view the Book of Ruth has some far more important messages for believers, demonstrating the kind of love and faithfulness that God has towards us and what He desires from us in return. A deeper MEDITATION on this undeservedly neglected Book of Ruth will help us to see not only its place but also its role in the context of the whole Message of the Bible. I hope and pray, it will give us the support and strengths to believe, – despite of all the testing and challenging aspects of the threat and fear of Coronavirus – that God is always with us and His LOVE, will bring us Salvation in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as He promised.
The story opens as famine has hit Bethlehem, forcing Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, to move east to Moab with their two sons: Mahlon and Kilion – to live there. The sons marry two local girls, Ruth and Orpah, during this time but then – one by one – Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi, Ruth and Orpah widowed.
The region of Moab was around 50 miles south-east of Bethlehem, beyond the Dead Sea, the southern part of what today is Jordan. Biblical accounts give a negative portrayal of Moab the man and his descendants. He was born as a result of incest between Lot and his elder daughter (Genesis 19: 36 – 37). A Moabite king tried to curse Israel using Balaam (Numbers 22), and Moabite women led Israel into idolatry (Numbers 25). Since then, Moabites were seen as enemies, and friendship with them was strictly forbidden in Israel (Deuteronomy 23: 3 – 6). The author of the Book of Ruth makes sure this fact is not forgotten by referring to Ruth continuously as a “Moabite”.
Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and begs her daughters-in-law to stay behind. Orpah is convinced, but Ruth pledges her devotion to Naomi, forsaking her own gods and her people, turning towards Naomi’s God and Israel because of her loving-kindness. In Bethlehem, things are not good for the two. Naomi is feeling down and out, and Ruth is reduced to gleaning in the barley fields. There, she meets a man named Boaz, who offers her gleaning privileges. Boaz also happens to be a relative of Naomi’s late husband, which is very important, since Boaz would have an obligation by the Law to marry Ruth and provide for her as family. When Naomi hears about the meeting, she tells her daughter-in-law to visit Boaz at night in secret and lie at his feet. Boaz is pleasantly surprised by Ruth’s interest in him and tells her that he would love to marry her as a “kinsman-redeemer”- according to the Law- but there is another relative with even closer ties to her in-laws. As it turns out, this random relative is more interested in buying some land that Naomi has, renouncing his claim on Ruth, so Boaz is free now to marry her. Soon, they have a son and Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son”. And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Examining the Genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 1, we can see how wonderfully God used these people, – including “the Moabite Ruth”, – to bring Salvation even to “the lost”.
The whole theme of the Book of Ruth is LOVING-KINDNESS, – in Hebrew: HESED. This word has a much wider meaning in the Old Testament. It is used as kindness or love between people, of piety of people towards God, as well as love or mercy towards humanity. It is frequently used in Psalms. It occurs 248 times in the Hebrew Bible. In the majority of cases HESED is translated into English as MERCY (149 times), KINDNESS (40 times), LOVINGKINDNESS (30 times), GOODNESS (12 times), KINDLY (5 times), MERCIFUL 4 times), FAVOUR (3 times) and GOOD, GODLINESS, PITY (once each). HESED is used as God’s positive attitude towards His chosen people, and is found in Psalms (23 times), but also in the Prophets: four times in Jeremiah, twice in Isaiah and once in Hosea. Some more recent English translations of the Bible use STEADFAST LOVE instead of “loving kindness, which was considered somewhat archaic, or – as our New International Version – simply LOVE. In Judaism, the English translation is the shorter “love”, -generally standing for ethical virtue.
In the Book of Ruth, HESED is present in the actions of each protagonist who goes beyond what is legally required. It is through this expression that the Law provides Redemption, a pagan woman becomes part of God’s People, and a SON IS BORN, then, through David, that will culminate in the person and ministry of Salvation for all, in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Book of Ruth is an integral part of the central message of the Bible, as God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3: 16).
God works in mysterious ways, – we regularly say. In these far-from-easy times of struggle with Covid-19, I believe, that deepening the role and understanding of LOVE,- in the context of our Christian faith as God’s nature and our response to God,- will help us to overcome, strengthening our indispensable belief that God will never leave us, nor forsake us. Blessed be His Name forever. Amen.
Give thanks to God for His loving-kindness, goodness, guidance, support and protection which He gives you, and for the ways He blesses you. Bring before Him in your prayers all, for whom you are concerned. Pray for those who still keep our country going: NHS–doctors and nurses, care-home staff and the ambulance-service, Governments and Parliaments, both in London and in Edinburgh, Police, food-industry, delivery drivers and for all those whose love and help makes life easier in hospitals, shops and in every aspect of human relationship. Ask God’s comfort and healing for all those who have lost loved ones. Pray for children and parents, overstressed relationships and for those who are alone and feel abandoned, losing their sense of hope. Remember all care-home residents in their unusually difficult times. Ask God’s blessing and peace for all Christians, congregations, Presbyteries, Churches, as well as for people of other faiths, or none. And… keep on praying and believing through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Do not forget THE LORD’S PRAYER, to sum up all our needs before God: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN…
LOVE DIVINE, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down, fix in us Thy humble dwelling, all Thy faithful mercies crown. Jesus, Thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love Thou art; visit us with Thy salvation, enter every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast; let us all in Thee inherit, let us find Thy promised rest. Take away the love of sinning, Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver; let us all Thy grace receive; suddenly return, and never, never more Thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, serve Thee as Thy hosts above, pray, and praise Thee, without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love.
Finish then Thy new creation: pure and spotless let us be; let us see Thy great salvation, perfectly restored in Thee, changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU, HE IS MIGHTY TO SAVE. HE WILL TAKE GREAT DELIGHT IN YOU, HE WILL QUIET YOU WITH HIS LOVE, HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU… AMEN.
(Zephaniah 3: 17)