By Jason Harrison
I remember a conversation with my brother in which he was telling me about his “timeline of grace” as he called it. It records all the ways God has shown you grace in your life. My brother said something that has stuck with me. He said something like, “What’s amazing is that the times I struggled the most with sin are also the times I experienced God’s grace the most.” That’s the definition of grace: Undeserved kindness amid unfaithfulness.
The book of Ruth is one of the most enjoyable and intriguing stories ever written. It contains tragedy, intrigue, plot twist, and the ultimate happy ending. Yet the context of the book is a dark time during Israel’s history. It’s a story during Judges when “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
It’s clear if you have read Judges that Israel was being unfaithful to God. Their sin was at its height. But the story of Ruth shines forth specifically in this context. A thread through the entire story is that God showers grace, blessing, and favor on his people despite their failures. Each act of the story exposes this.
The first act reveals God’s kindness in bringing food to Bethlehem (1:6). The land was under the throes of a famine, likely a sign of judgment. And there is nothing in the text to show that Israel had repented, nor did their remorse occasion God’s return. Instead, it appears to be sheer grace. Not only that, but God’s grace also brings Naomi back to Bethlehem and moves Ruth to extend kindness to her mother-in-law. Grace amid unfaithfulness.
The second act shows God’s grace in providentially leading Ruth to Boaz’s field (2:3). Their showing kindness to one another point to God’s kindness. Boaz shows favor toward Ruth in supplying her with more barley than she needed (2:17). Boaz also recognizes Ruth’s kindness toward Naomi (2:11). Naomi praises Boaz for showing Ruth kindness (2:20). You receive God’s grace in the kindness of his people, even though you don’t deserve it. You have failed again, and you feel defined by what you’ve done. Yet again and again, he lavishes you with grace. And sometimes that grace comes through others.
In the third act, God shows his grace in preserving Ruth and Boaz’s character. During a potentially risqué situation, God sustains them to stand pure (3:6-15). However one takes this passage, the potential for sin is easy to see. Their righteous behavior stands out against the backdrop of other Old Testament failures. In this setting, Boaz praises Ruth for making “this last kindness greater than the first.” The story heightens her kindness in two ways: by the risk of proposal and by potential barrenness in marrying an older man. Finally, Ruth’s marriage proposal reflects the kindness of the One who is faithful to his people. God's grace protects. Sometimes we are slow to give thanks to God when he keeps us from sin, but his grace leads us away from temptation.
In the fourth act, the words of the Bethlehem women reveal God’s grace. Their words signal God's blessing of Naomi. In chapter one, Naomi accused God of unfaithfulness (1:21), yet he restored her to the highest blessing. The women of Bethlehem celebrated his kindness and loyalty in giving her Ruth and a son (4:14-15). God turned her emptiness to fullness. He can do the same for you. However dark your story is, it cannot turn away God’s grace.
Wherever you are in your story, notice God’s grace in your life. And know that even in your darkest days of deep regret, he restores hope to the hopeless and keeps his promises. Your sin could not deter God's grace in sending Christ to die. What makes you think it can deter his grace now?