19–25 August 2018.
Ruth is one of the shortest books in the Bible, but also one of the most beautiful. It’s so moving because at each step of the story we see the profound importance of kindness, compassion, and love. In chapter 1 we see this at two different levels.
First, we see it in the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Too often the relationship between women and their mothers-in-law are hurtful and full of meanness and pain. But we see the opposite in this Bible story. Naomi doesn’t abuse her daughter-in-law, she doesn’t criticise her, attack her, or constantly pick on her. Instead, Naomi treats her daughter-in-law with goodness, kindness, and compassion. She is considerate and thinks first of what is best for Ruth and her future. Is it so strange then that Ruth is so eager to stay together with Naomi, and even willing to leave behind her own people and her own gods to follow Naomi? No; here we see the power that kindness and compassion have. When we treat others well, when we think of their needs, that not only helps us to create good relationships with others, but in Ruth’s case it also helped her be drawn close to God.
But there is a second, deeper layer of truth in Ruth’s story. Ruth is a foreigner. In ancient Israel there was often a lot of hatred and hostility towards foreigners, especially for Moabites like Ruth. In Deuteronomy 23:3–6, the law of Moses strictly rejects Moabites from ever joining with God’s people, and forbids the Israelites from even caring for their welfare and needs. The prophets Ezra and Nehemiah also fiercely demanded that the Israelites never marry foreigners. They argued that foreigners have no place in Israel and that they must all be driven out of the country. Sadly, this type of racism is still far too common in our world today.
But the story of Ruth fights back against this hatred of foreigners. It’s not easy to live as a stranger in a strange land. But Noami and Boaz work against the law of Deuteronomy 23 to care for Ruth’s welfare – and Boaz even marries this foreign Moabite woman. Why do they do this? Why do Naomi and Boaz work against hatred and racism and even the law? Because they know that goodness, compassion, and loving kindness are far more important than race.
In all times during history, people have mistakenly thought that God wants us to hate each other. But the story of Ruth shows us the truth. Centuries before Jesus taught us that God’s expectation is that we must love each other, the story of Ruth already showed us that the most important things in life are kindness, goodness, and compassion for one another.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis