No, this post is not about two women. Instead, it is about one woman – Ruth – and how the grace of God impacted her life and, through her, the lives of many people. In a few weeks, we will be studying the Book of Ruth. And, as I’ve started studying, I’ve recognized how God’s grace drips from every word and episode.
On the surface, the short Book of Ruth connects the times of the Judges to the times of the kings in Israel’s history. Canonically (that is, reading Ruth within in the canon – especially the three-part canon of the Hebrew Bible), the Book of Ruth offers commentary and explanation concerning the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31. But, thematically, I think we learn something much more from this short story.
Ruth is from Moab. When we read the Book of Ruth, we are reminded that she is a Moabitess more than ten times. Why would the author continue to refer to his heroine as “the Moabitess”? I think he did this as proof that God was demonstrating his grace toward Ruth and his grace towards Israel. And, this was not just any grace, but a grace than transcends the law.
In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the children of Israel about God’s commands and about how God had brought them through the desert. Remember, the generation that left Egypt refused to enter the promised land, so they were forced to wander around the desert until that generation died. Now, a new generation was about to enter the promised land. But, this generation was not witness to the amazing miracles that God performed in order to release his people from captivity. As Moses reminded them about God’s provision, he also reminded them about a few warnings, such as:
No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever. (Deuteronomy 23:3-6 ESV)
Thus, according to the law, Ruth was not allowed to enter “the assembly of the Lord”, and since Ruth’s family were Moabites, Ruth’s descendants (for at least nine more generations) would not be allowed into “the assembly of the Lord” either.
Interestingly, the word translated “assembly” is the Hebrew word ×§×”×œ (“qahal”) which is usually translated in the Greek LXX as ÎµÎºÎºÎ»Î·ÏƒÎ¯Î± (ekklÄ“sia – “assembly”). Thus, according to the law, neither Ruth nor her descendants would be allowed to gather together with God’s people.
But, something happened. When you read through the Book of Ruth, you find that God does not deal with Ruth and her descendants according to the law. Instead, he deals with her according to his grace. In fact, in Ruth 4:22, we find that Ruth is David’s great-grandmother. Not only does David assemble with God’s people, he is also responsible for calling God’s people into assemblies.
When we gather together with God’s people, do we realize that we are not together because we deserve to be together? Do we realize that we are not God’s children because of our abilities, talents, resources, or even our good looks? Do we realize that the only reason we are part of God’s kingdom if because of God’s grace?
We often quote Ephesians 2:8-9 to remind us that we are saved by God’s grace. Sometimes, we even add Ephesians 2:10 to remind us that any works that we do are actually done because of God’s grace. But, when we continue to read that chapter of Ephesians, we also can see that the only reason that believers can come together in unity is because of God’s grace:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV)
Why are we one new man (people)? Because of grace. Why are we fellow citizens (of the kingdom) and members of God’s household (family)? Because of grace. Why are we being built into a temple of the Lord, that is, a dwelling place for God? Because of grace.
I’m excited about our upcoming study of the Book of Ruth, because through this book we are going to be reminded continually of God’s grace. Every time we get together with other believers, and as we look around at the different faces, and as we remember the different stories about how God is working in their lives, let’s remember God’s grace and thank Him for bringing us together and allowing us to be part of his family.