Worth Reading–October 18, 2011
The Greatest Short Story Ever Written
I am not a literature expert by any means, but I do like good literature, and in my opinion the book of Ruth is the greatest short story ever written (sorry Edgar Allen Poe). The short story that is the book of Ruth has all the elements that make a great short story. It has twists and turns, the element of surprise and suspense, and probably the greatest element in all great literature is the theme of redemption. The redemption theme presented in this story works out on a personal level for a few of the characters, a national level for the nation of Israel, and on a cosmic level as the redemption promised in this book reaches out to all peoples though out all ages.
All the elements of a great short story in about three pages of the Bible. You have a family leaving a famine plagued land in search of the greener grass of Moab only to find tragedy grow out of their complacency as they take root in Moab. Thinking they had all they needed, the family of Elimelech grow comfortable with their new life and surroundings. After several years of “living the good life,” God reminds them of what they left. Tragedy mounts as the three men in the family die seemingly unexpectedly. Stripped of all that seemed to matter, Naomi now widowed and bereft of her sons due to their untimely deaths, she looks up and finds God calling her home. Though she doesn’t recognize it yet, God is lovingly calling Naomi home. Despite their lack of trust in his goodness before, God is tenderly leading Naomi back to him. He is also leading someone else, someone who would seem to be of little significance, but it is the person for whom the book is named. Ruth determines to leave her home and return with Naomi despite Naomi’s pleas against it. Ruth is committed, not just to her mother-in-law, thought that is certainly commendable; she is committed to Naomi’s God. One may recall the beautiful proclamation of commitment of Ruth in chapter 1
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)
Just in the first chapter, we have a family turning from God in the face of suffering through famine who goes to a foreign and pagan land. This family enjoys seeming success and happiness as the family expands in the marriage of the two sons, all seems well. Tragedy strikes in the death of Naomi’s husband followed by the death of both her sons and we find a woman who has no where else to look but up, she is in the depths of despair and what does she find but a loving God calling her home. As I said, Naomi doesn’t recognize it yet, but God is powerfully at work in her life. Naomi sees herself as empty, she sees her circumstances as punishment from God, but if she could just see that little break in the clouds she would see the marvelous deluge of God’s grace that is about to be poured upon her. I love how this chapter ends. There is a poor, depressed woman in Naomi decrying all that is happened to her telling all that God has brought her back empty. The blinders of suffering are on her right now, but consider how the chapter ends:
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22 ESV)
So she has made the trip safely, she is with her dearly devoted daughter-in-law, and it is the beginning of barley harvest. Knowing how the story ends, we want to shake Naomi at this point and say, “Wake up! Look around you! See all that God has done and is doing in your life!” Yet, we often forget to apply this to ourselves. We so often forget that we are no different than Naomi as we face the dark seasons of our life. We so often have those same blinders on as we experience pain and suffering in the midst of trials.
Things are definitely looking up for Naomi and Ruth as they return to Bethlehem, and while Naomi needs a little more help in seeing that God is working all things together for her good, she will soon come around to see the grace and love of God being poured out upon her. The second chapter begins with Ruth offering to go to work for food. She understands that they need grain to live and that sitting around moping will accomplish nothing. Naomi consents and Ruth providentially comes to the field of Boaz. Boaz is a well-known and well-respected member of the city and he has heard of this woman who returned with Naomi and in this chapter we see Boaz take compassion on the foreigner. While many might have made it hard on Ruth, Boaz extended a most gracious hand to Ruth and Naomi by allowing Ruth to glean in his fields and come away with a pretty substantial haul (the ESV estimates that it was 22 liters of barley-that is 11 bottles of soda). Well, the light comes on for Naomi as she realizes who Ruth has worked with. Boaz is a close relative of Naomi’s husband. Naomi knows the custom and that if this kinsman redeemer will redeem Ruth then all hope is not lost. Ruth continues to work in Boaz’s field until the end of the barley and wheat harvest, and during this time, Naomi can’t help but notice the great favor that Boaz has extended to them. Like a typical mother-in-law, she begins plotting for Ruth’s “well-being.” Chapter 3 brings about a most decisive turn of events. Naomi encourages Ruth to go after Boaz. Ruth listens to Naomi and essentially asks Boaz to marry him. Boaz knew the custom of the times as well and is especially touched that Ruth has not gone after the younger men. Boaz is also a righteous man who knows there is another relative closer than he. Chapter 3 ends in great suspense. Boaz is going to meet the other redeemer and offer the land (and all that goes with it) to him, and if he will redeem it then Boaz is content that right has been done.
The final chapter begins with Boaz in the city gates gathering the appropriate witnesses and looking for the other redeemer. He lays out his case before the redeemer; that Naomi is seeking to sell her land and that Boaz is interested in redeeming it if the closer redeemer doesn’t want it. The suspense mounts as the nearer redeemer says yes! He will redeem the land. The story has just taken a dramatic turn but fortunately short stories can’t play these suspense’s out for too long, otherwise they wouldn’t be short stories. Well, another twist immediately pops up as Boaz tells the redeemer that is good, but “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5 ESV). This proves to be a deal breaker for the nearer kinsman and he opts out as he would impair his own inheritance if he did that. The story can now continue as we all want it to with Ruth and Boaz getting married and everyone living happily ever after. However, there is still a big question about Ruth. She can marry and Boaz can take care of her, but what about carrying on the inheritance. Boaz seems to be an older man and Ruth was married for possible 10 years before and bore no children. Does the story end with disappointment? Of course we know that with God nothing is impossible. The happy ending continues as verse 13 says, “the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” Then the awesome ending to the book as the attention returns to Naomi. Remember Naomi at the beginning of the story has come home “empty” and has no hope for her future; see what the woman say to her now, “ Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15 ESV). A prophetic pronouncement in this blessing upon Naomi. Naomi, see, God has not left you without a redeemer. God has not taken your family away. God has not brought an end to his plan for your life, or for all his people. See, Boaz is part of an important genealogy that appears throughout Scripture. Boaz and Ruth have a son named Obed, but it is not this son that will redeem Naomi, and it is not just Naomi that will be redeemed. There is a greater Son, a far off grandson to Obed that will come and redeem all the people of God, who will restore life to us and who will greater than seven sons to us. Jesus will come from this line, as the end of chapter 4 tells us, Obed is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Hope is not lost, Naomi, no here in your time hope is restored. God is still working and not just for Naomi, but for all his people. The Messiah will come. For us, Hope has come. The Messiah, Jesus came into this world to redeem a fallen and broken and desperate people to himself. He has miraculously done that for me by calling me to Him, and He wants to do it for you as well. Where is your hope? The only sure hope rests in the redemption accomplished for us in and through Jesus Christ. He came into this world and not lived as one of us, but he died for us that we might experience the same outpouring of grace, the same redemption that is pictured for us in the story of Ruth, the greatest short story ever written.