Ruth – part 5

Although we still have one chapter to go in our Ruth series (see this week’s previous posts), at the end of chapter 3 we stopped to ask what this ancient story of romance has to do with us. We don’t want to go down the Men are from Israel, Women are from Moab path (yes, it’s a real book), or turn it into a moral lesson about dating etiquette. So we asked the question: what does this story tell us about God? (After all, the Bible is primarily about him!)

The first thing that struck me about the story of Ruth was how it’s a great picture of how God intended his people to act. You know all those boring and slightly confusing laws in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Ruth is the story of some of those laws in action.

On Wednesday we already read the one from Leviticus about not harvesting everything from your fields, so that poor people and foreigners can glean what’s left behind. Here Boaz provides an example of that law and how it plays out in real life. It’s more than a law: it’s an expression of God’s kindness!

But it’s not the only law on display in this story:

Lev 25:25 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.

The intention behind this law was so that property couldn’t end up in the hands of the rich few. The part of the promised land – the inheritance that God gave each clan in Israel would remain within the clan. In fact, even if there were no guardian-redeemer to buy the land back, every fifty years – in the year of Jubilee – the land would return to the original family anyway. Once again, it’s not just a law: it’s an expression of God’s kindness in looking out for those who become poor.

And this law:

Deut 25:5-6 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

This was to address two issues: providing for the widow who has no children to support her, and to ensure that her husband’s line would continue. Again, a law grounded in God’s kindness – his unfailing love – for the marginalised and dispossessed.

But as we noted earlier, Boaz doesn’t simply discharge his duty. Even allowing for his probable interest in Ruth, Boaz is portrayed as a godly man who goes beyond what is required. He joyfully enters into the spirit behind the law, and displays God’s kindness to a poor foreigner.

In Matthew 5, Jesus says:

5:17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.’

Boaz’s actions at some level point us to Christ. Or perhaps more accurately, Christ would point us to Boaz – as an example of the kind of thing he was getting at in the Sermon on the Mount.

What Boaz does on a small scale, fulfilling certain sections of the law, Jesus does completely, fulfilling the whole law. And when we read on in Matthew – the Sermon on the Mount that we looked at back in September – we see Jesus calling people to do essentially what Boaz did: to go beyond the letter of the law, and keep the spirit of the law. To live out God’s kindness to others in an extravagant, over-the-top fashion: even to the point of loving your enemies, doing good to those who hurt you, turning the other cheek when insulted – even going to the cross to redeem those who are in outright rebellion against you. That’s extravagant kindness, extravagant love:

Tit 3:4-5a But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

So what do we do in response? We respond the way Ruth did to Boaz’s kindness:

2:13 ‘May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,’ she said. ‘You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.’

That is, we humbly acknowledge the kindness God has shown to us in saving us – even though we don’t deserve it.

And secondly, we live out that extravagant kindness toward others. Not because ‘it’s the law’, but because of what Jesus has already done for us. How extravagant are you when it comes to looking after the poor, the foreigner, the outcast? Do you give to the poor what’s left over, out of a sense of obligation? Or do you joyfully give even the good bits, with a heart that overflows with God’s kindness?

A true response to God’s extravagant kindness might see us not just put our old and worn-out clothes in the charity bins, but every so often buy something brand new and give it to a person in need. It would see us bless those who are on the fringes of society, who are difficult to love – not just with token charity, but genuine attention and friendship. It would see us consistently act in the best interests of those who consistently hurt us. It would see us be kind to others so that they would see the kindness of God in us. Just like Ruth saw the kindness of God in Boaz.

We’ll look at a second aspect of application on Monday.

To think about

How have we responded to God’s extravagant kindness?

How can we show God’s extravagant kindness to others? Be concrete, and decide to do something over the weekend to put this into practice.

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