10 Dec 2021

Four Ways of Becoming Wise Unto Salvation from the Scroll of Ruth

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Contemporary Ethics, Exegesis, Grace, Ruth

The Five Megillot (i.e. Scrolls) are some of my favorite portions of God’s word. The Megillot are Song of Songs; Ruth; Lamentations; Ecclesiastes and Esther. Interestingly enough while working my way through Psalm 87, the story of Ruth came to my mind. So I went back and read the little book.


I have been struck (yet again) by just how “not silent” women are in the Bible. As Beth Allison Barr noted, the women in the Bible are frequently not very “biblical” (as has been traditionally understood). Some of the greatest leaders of God’s people have been women: Miriam the Prophet; Deborah the Prophet and Judge; Huldah the Prophet; Esther the Worship Leader; Anna the Prophet, Phoebe the Deacon; the Song of Songs Wonder Woman just to name a few. In the Scroll of Ruth we have a whole book that is centered on another Wonder Woman of God who breaks the mold of what so many consider to be biblical womanhood. (These women leaders ought to be mentioned and celebrated any time we mention biblical heroes).


There are a number of ways to read Ruth. But the fact that the book is associated with Shavuot/First Fruits/Pentecost is very important. The narrator simply assumes we know the worship calendar by telling us that it was the beginning of the barely harvest and that Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s field until the end of the harvest (1.22; 2.23). This places the action of the story between Passover and Pentecost. This “Pentecost/Shavuot” framework helps to draw numerous Hesed/grace themes to the forefront. (If you have not read Deuteronomy 26.1-15, especially the “Confession of Faith” in vv. 5-11, now is a good time to do so.). On the calendar chasm for modern American disciples see: The Calendar Chasm: World of Israel vs The Modern West.


First. God’s people are reminded that God has richly blessed us with bounty. We live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. But our Story – Ruth – teaches us God has not blessed us alone. The very grace we have received is to be shared with others, including aliens. Grace/Hesed creates koinonia.


The field of barley (=God’s grace) did not belong to Israel but to God, as such Israel could not hoard the free gift. The edges and the seed that fell on the ground was for aliens.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of our harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19.9-10).

But Shavuot/Pentecost states explicitly that Yahweh’s gracious bounty is to be shared at the table with all the “have nots” around.

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he [Jacob/Israel] went down into Egypt, and lived there as an alien … So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. Then you, together with the Levites, and the the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty the LORD your God has given to you and to your house. … leaving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans and the widows, so that they may eat their fill … to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows …” (Deuteronomy 26.5, 10, 12-13).

Levites, widows, orphans, and aliens. Aliens are mentioned three times. God’s people are commanded to be a blessing of Hesed/Grace to the aliens.

Israel was not allowed, by grace, to pick a field bare. One indication that Boaz reflects Yahweh’s Hesed is that he instructs his workers to even pull stalks out of the already bound bundles and toss them to the ground for the sole purpose of making sure Ruth, the Alien, had enough.


Shavuot and Ruth remind us that God loves the world and wants to use us (God’s People) to bless the world. Israel is God’s people, the instrument, the means, by which Yahweh intends to bless all peoples. Yahweh loves the aliens and provides them with “food and clothing” according to that magnificent passage from Moses (Deuteronomy 10.12-22). Celebrating that grace properly requires sharing that grace with aliens, orphans and widows (again see the “confession” to be given at Pentecost in Deuteronomy 26.1-15). Grace here is not mere pleasantries but concrete and specific material realities (in this case sharing the food and bounty of the earth with the alien, who happens to be your enemy!). Shavuot is about grace.


Second. It is difficult to miss that the Scroll of Ruth is about an alien. Not merely an alien. Rather the alien protagonist in the Scroll comes from Israel’s legendary enemy, the Moabites. The word “Moab” occurs in the short book of Ruth six times. The words “the Moabite” occur another six times in the book. In addition the word “foreigner/alien” occurs at least once. It is as if the narrator wants to smack us with “Ruth THE MOABITE!” The writer is saying, “I know we often do not have eyes to see or ears to hear, so I am saying, look at the Moabite, look at the Moabite, look at the Moabite! Ruth the Moabite. Get it.”

The question remains, do we get it?


The Spirit guided author is saying, “God’s people, pay attention to this!” Ruth has three strikes:

1) she is a woman;
2) she is a widow;
3) she is a Moabite!

But the Story of Ruth, especially on Pentecost, thunders the Gospel of Moses found in Deuteronomy (in response to ‘what does God require?”).


Circumcise the foreskins of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the aliens providing them food and clothing. YOU SHALL ALSO LOVE THE ALIEN, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10.16-19).


Ruth is Deuteronomy 10.16 in real life. Ruth reminds us that “we” did not always posses land to plant and grow crops on. Rather “we” too were landless, powerless, aliens. The knee jerk, the default position, response of God’s people is supposed be on the side of Ruth wherever and whenever she is found.


Why?

Because We are Ruth! It is easy to become possessors of grace (as if we own it) rather than dispensers of grace. It is easy to claim grace rather than be possessed by grace. That is grace has taken possession of us. It is easy to fall back into prejudice against the Moabites (of every name). In fact, it is even easy to quote the Bible to justify our lack of grace and generosity. But in Ruth we are shown what God’s Hesed looks like in 3D. (Hesed is the essential identity of God it is on his “name tag” in the God Creed, Ex 34.6). See Exodus 34: Pulse of the Bible. The Moabite, the alien, the enemy, is my neighbor.


Third. The story of Ruth reminds us that God’s story and “my” story are always intertwined. I am not a King David, Solomon, Hezekiah. I am not a prophet like Huldah or Amos. Nor am I an apostle like Matthew or Paul. It is easy to think “little ole me” is not needed, or important, in the grand scheme of things.


Thank God for Ruth the Moabite!

She is not a king.
She is not one of the chosen.
She is a nobody.
She is very much one of “the least of these.”

Yet, unknown to her, the God of Israel was using a nobody alien woman to change the destiny of world itself. She had no way of knowing that HER STORY that is so plain and ordinary is hardly ordinary because God was using her to write HIS STORY. What grace.


This is you and me beloved. There will be volumes in the library of the New Heavens and New Earth that speak of God’s story through you and me. As C. S. Lewis once noted “it is not an abstraction called Humanity that is to be saved. It is you.” Everything God does somehow involves you and me. Therefore everything you and I do is significant. Kings and Messiahs may flow from our lives.


Fourth. Sometimes the aliens are more righteous than God’s own people (cf. Romans 2.13-15). In fact Ruth the Moabite gives Abraham a run for his money in what she does in chapter 1.16-17.


Do not URGE me to leave …
your people shall be my people and your God my God.”


The Hebrew root for “urge” occurs twice more in the scroll, in Ruth in 2.9 and 2.22, where it has the meaning of molest, hassle, or abuse. Naomi is not gently telling Ruth to go away. The “bitter woman” is seriously trying to use any means necessary to dissuade Ruth from following her. But Ruth the alien, and no Israelite could possibly miss this, sounds like Yahweh!


She evokes one of the most deep and central promises of Yahweh that spans the Hebrew Bible: I will be your God and you shall be my people (cf. Ex. 6.7; Lev. 26.9-3; Ezek 36.28; etc) She, in effect, says “you cannot beat me away from you!” Israel entered into the Covenant with Yahweh at Shavuot/Pentecost and the Law was given at Mt. Sinai. Ruth not only sounds like God but she is demonstrating the kind of faith that Abraham had.


At this point Ruth the Moabite literally stands alone in the world. No God has called her. No deity has promised her a blessing. No human has come to her aid. She has broken ties, and left, with her family, country and faith and committed herself to an old Israelite woman who did not want her to be around any more.


This not only mimics what Abraham was called to do, the Moabite seems to genuinely surpass his “leap of faith.” Sometimes, indeed, the aliens can teach us much about the God we claim to know and worship while we dismiss their faith (Naomi did tell Ruth to return to her paganism!, cf. 1.15).


So much is going on in the little book of Ruth. It performs its work of grace upon us gently and subversively. I hope you will take the time to read this gem of a book. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct us in the ways of salvation, to train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work of love to the glory of God (2 Timothy 3.15-16).


Shalom.

2 Responses to “Four Ways of Becoming Wise Unto Salvation from the Scroll of Ruth”

  1. Steve Hopkins Says:

    As usual this is excellent and thought provoking.

    I know you recently had a post on the “calendar chasm” but it would be very helpful if you would post/publish something that would outline/explain all the “Old Testament” festivals/observances and connect their significance to the “New.”

    Maybe that’s a book, not an article. Or maybe point those of us that are interested to a plain-spoken reference that’s already available.

    As you have said numerous times, we are not “getting” NT because we don’t understand the OT.

    Thanks.

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