The theme for the EQUIP Women’s Conference this year was the book of Ruth. It’s a familiar book, especially for women’s conferences, but this time I saw it with fresh eyes. Throughout Ruth runs a stream of kindnes shown from one character to another, and ultimately from God to us.
The story of Ruth starts with Naomi and her husband Elimelech moving from Israel to Moab. Not long after, tragedy strikes this family again with the death of Elimelech and their two sons.
Naomi encouraged both her daughter-in–law to stay in Moab, to find new husbands and rebuild their lives. Orpah follows through with this suggestion and leaves Naomi. She makes the sensible choice in the eyes of the world, looking out for her future comfort and security. Who could blame her? In those times, the main way for a woman to really be secure was to find a husband.
Yet here we see Ruth show extravagant kindness to Naomi. Kindness that makes no sense in the eyes of the world. Ruth forgoes the possibility of finding a husband in Moab and pledges to remain faithful to her mother-in-law. She promises to go where Naomi goes, committing herself to a potential life of poverty and insecurity.
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.
How could Ruth choose an act of such kindness? In her speech, we see that she trusted in the God of Israel. When we know that God will provide for us, we can go beyond the ‘sensible’ choice and follow where the Spirit leads.
There’s another person in the book of Ruth who shows extravagant kindness – Boaz. He notices Ruth gleaning grain in his field and he provides for her. He allows her free access to fresh water and ensures none of the workmen lay a hand on her. He even invites her to eat with him, offering her a privileged position.
Boaz doesn’t just provide her with what the law required. He went above and beyond to make sure she was cared for and protected. He even stepped up to take on the role of kinsman-redeemer.
There was another kinsman-redeemer closer to Naomi and Ruth. This man stopped short of marrying Ruth. According to the custom, stepping in as kinsman-redeemer would mean giving their firstborn son the name of Ruth’s first husband. Also, Ruth herself was from Moab, one of Israel’s enemy nations. Maybe this man wasn’t willing to take on such a heavy responsibility.
Yet, like Ruth with Naomi, Boaz moves beyond the ‘sensible’ choice and redeems Ruth through marriage. He willingly takes responsibility for and vows to protect her with his name.
What motivated Boaz to show Ruth such kindness? Did Boaz love Ruth romantically? The text doesn’t really let us know. But what is clear is that Boaz was a follower of God. It was his faith in God and his obedience to God’s commands to provide for widows that drove his desire to care for Ruth.
We might look at the extravagant kindness shown in Ruth and marvel. Yet, God has shown us even greater kindness. We were in even greater need than Ruth and Naomi; we were spiritually impoverished and outsiders to the kingdom of heaven. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God went above and beyond in his kindness. He offers us not only forgiveness of sins but abundant life and intimate fellowship with him!
In response to the kindness shown to us, we’re then called to show extravagant kindness to other people. We can look out for those who are on the outside and seek to bring them in. Who might be on the outside in our context? Maybe single parents, new migrants, those with mental health issues.
By trusting in God, we can go beyond what makes sense in the world’s eyes and live lives dedicated to welcoming, mercy and kindness.