the weblog of Alan Knox

Grace and Ruth

Posted by on Sep 10, 2007 in discipleship, gathering, scripture | 10 comments

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 קהל (“qahal”) which is usually translated in the Greek LXX as εκκλησία (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.


10 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-10-2007

    Also, if you follow the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, this act of grace towards Ruth ultimately resulted not only in having the great-grandson, David, but it resulted in the genealogy that led to and included Jesus! Blows the mind!

    I really dig your main point here. We are not only saved by grace, but we are who we are as a body solely by God’s grace. God Himself has done it all (brought us all together as one new man), and He sustains it and He makes it grow. God has fitted the body together exactly as He sees fit.

    “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” (1 Cor 12:4-6)

    “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” (Rom 12:4-6)

    Not that I don’t enjoy your other posts, but this one in particular hits home with me. As I shared with someone recently, if my life were college, “grace” would be my major and “the body of Christ” would be my minor. :) These are my two favorite (so-called) “subjects.”

  2. 9-11-2007

    Really enjoyed this post.

  3. 9-11-2007

    I love this, Alan. Ruth is one of my favorite OT books. Think also of the grace given to Naomi to accept her and be willing to return to Bethlehem in the company of one who was “cursed”.

    I believe that same grace is given to each believer so that we may be more accepting of others.

  4. 9-11-2007

    Alan,

    Great post. Great grace! Enabling, saving, fulfilling grace. The gift of the great God, which accompanies the crimson thread throughout the O.T., throughout the New, throughout His congregation, until the great grace of seeing Him face to face “when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

  5. 9-11-2007

    Joel,

    I’m glad that I could write a post that joins your two favorite subjects! :)

    Thank you also for continuing this discussion. I love the passages of Scripture that you’ve brought into this.

    C Grace,

    Thank you.

    Gordon,

    Yes, all followers of Jesus are recipients of his grace. None of us deserve this. Isn’t that awesome!

    Aussie John,

    Yes! The grace of God saves us, enables us, empowers us, and even allows us to gather together.

    -Alan

  6. 9-12-2007

    have you thought of seeing Dt 23.3 in light of Gen 35.11 and 48.4 where God sets Jacob to a nation and a qahal goyim? This would reduce the tension with Ruth as a Maobite and Dt 23.3

    Also, Israel is usually thought of as a congregation of the LORD in the Torah from ‘edah (root y’d in BDB 417). It would be interesting to see what/if there is any semantic overlap between the two words qahal and ‘edah, looking at their usage in Torah.

    good post. wish i could hear the sermons.

  7. 9-12-2007

    Ed,

    Thanks for the heads up on these passages. I’ll add them to my study. I wish you could be here also. I’d love to talk through some of this with you before I taught it.

    -Alan

  8. 9-13-2007

    try reading r.alter’s book ‘art of biblical narrative’ on the section about moses, jacob and isaac meeting their spouse at the well.
    alter goes on to ruth and its compositional strategy.
    i think it starts around page 50
    its good. explains john 4 well.
    ed

  9. 9-13-2007

    Ed,

    Thanks, I’ll take a look at that book. I have not thought of this in terms of John 4. I’m interested to see how Alter connects it.

    -Alan

  10. 9-14-2007

    oh, he does not connect it but after you read it, you immediately think of john 4. alter talks about the 5 phases of meeting a spouse at a well in the OT. its only 5 or 6 pages but informative and comments on Ruth. gives you a ‘form’ for understanding each occurrance of it OT but never goes to NT. the john 4 passage is striking.