Ruth: Chapters 1-4
It was the run up to Christmas 2002 and my wife and I were in our house in Chicago with our four children. Suddenly we heard the sound of people singing Christmas Carols outside in the street, an activity that almost always draws people to the window to have a look. However, these carollers were not just passing-by but rooted to the spot on the grass outside our door as if they were singing just for us. Then on closer inspection we realised they were all people from our church, so we rushed to the door and went out to greet them. What a lovely gesture we thought. When they finished singing one of them stepped forward, wished us happy Christmas and gave us an envelope. We thanked them very much and then they dispersed. Back inside we opened the envelope and there was a message- “We hope this will enable you all to fly back to see your family in England next year!” together with a big financial gift. Needless to say we were absolutely blown away by this act of kindness. It helped to make that Christmas even more special than it would have been.
Having just finished a short sermon series on the Book of Ruth I have been personally impacted week after week by the thread of kindness that runs through the whole book and the power of kindness to change the hardest of hearts. So before proceeding take a few minutes (less than fifteen) to read all four chapters of Ruth.
The Source of Kindness (1:16-18)
Ruth may have been someone born with a positive temperament and a glass half-full personality. She may have been blessed with a generous disposition. But the real source of what we see in her life is how she experienced God’s kindness towards her. She had worshipped the many gods of her native Moab (1:15) but had become a believer in Israel’s God. “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (1:16). We do not know how or when her conversion took place, but she had tasted the grace of God and that changed the whole trajectory of her life. Christians do not have a monopoly on acts of kindness and sadly sometimes Christians can be put to shame by an unbeliever’s generosity. However, when we taste the unmerited love of God towards us in Christ, it results in a change of heart as God’s Spirit is now at work in us. It was the kindness of God that moved Ruth to unconditionally commit herself to her mother-in-law Naomi and leave her own family, land and people behind.
The Impact of Kindness (2:11)
In an age when it is more often than not acts of violence, greed and selfishness that hit the headlines, how refreshing it is to hear of acts of kindness. They so often leave a profound impression on others. None of us will forget Captain Tom (Now ‘Sir’ Tom) doing laps of his garden in April in the run up to his 100th birthday to raise money for NHS charities. His sacrifice and kindness was aimed at raising a modest £1000 but eventually netted almost £40 million (with tax). What an inspiration! Ruth’s radical display of kindness had not been lost on others either. In her first conversation with Boaz he said- “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband- how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (2:11) Some people go to great lengths to ensure people know what they are doing in service of others. This is not God’s grace at work but a longing for human approval. But for others, like Ruth, their actions do the talking not them and others sit up and take note.
The Power of Kindness (2:20)
Although the book is named after Ruth, the story of her mother-in-law Naomi is very prominent. She went away with her husband and boys to Moab because of a famine in the Land, but Naomi was widowed and a few years later both sons died too. When she courageously walks back into Bethlehem, she was a very different woman- “Don’t call me Naomi (meaning sweet). Call me Mara (meaning bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (1:20-21) She was angry with God because her life had not panned-out how she’d hoped. There are plenty of ‘Naomi’s’ around. It’s hard to show kindness to bitter and angry people. But Ruth cares for Naomi and goes out to work to provide for them both, and Boaz’s kindness towards Ruth also impacted Naomi. Eventually this results in a huge change- “The LORD bless him! (that is Boaz) Naomi said to her daughter-in-law.” He (referring to the LORD) has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead.” Naomi’s heart is softened by God through his people’s kindness towards her. Who might you display such radical kindness towards?
The Legacy of Kindness (4:15)
The story ends with Boaz and Ruth marrying and giving Naomi an heir, Obed. The women celebrate with Naomi- “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he (Obed) become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (4:14-15) In such a male-orientated culture, where the emphasis was on male offspring, the women end by commending the love of Ruth as being better than seven sons (seven is a number of completeness). And the legacy of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi in giving her Obed, is seen in the fact that Obed “was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (4:17) ….. “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matt 1:16). So from the unlikeliest of backgrounds comes God’s King, the Saviour of the World. ‘Born to raise the sons of earth; Born to give them second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing: ‘Glory to the new-born King.’ What a legacy of Ruth’s kindness and it all started with God’s kindness to her. Praise Him!!