The Triumph of Extraordinary Grace

In the light of the present crisis in Philippines, my mind turned to the story of a people in another place and era. The Old Testament book of Ruth is a touching story of God’s extraordinary grace at work in ordinary folks even though they lived in the most chaotic and confusing time of the Judges. In this book, we see the theme of ‘hesed’ (Hebrew word for loyal devotion and kindness) running through like a golden thread in an exquisite embroidery. On one hand, it stressed that Yahweh practices ‘hesed’ toward His people. When famine struck the land, God stepped in by providing food for them (Ruth 1: 6). Naomi’s wish (Ruth 1: 8) appealed to this divine trait and signalled that the story’s outcome would result from divine devotion to those who do ‘hesed.’ Though 4: 14 lacks the term ‘hesed,’ yet its praise of Yahweh’s provision of ‘gõ’?l’ (kinsman redeemer) in essence praised His kindness toward Naomi. Far from abandoning her, the story adds further testimony to the claim that Yahweh is a God, ‘merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness (hesed) and truth’ (Ex. 34: 6). On the other hand, the story also highlighted even more emphatically the value of human ‘hesed.’ Naomi’s wish first sounded this theme. In her view, the familial loyalty shown by Ruth and Orpah toward “the living and the dead” has earned a commensurate act of loyalty from Yahweh. In Boaz’s own wish for Ruth, he also stressed that Ruth’s kindness merited full repayment from Israel’s God (2: 12). Furthermore, the generous provision of food by Boaz represented a down payment on the ‘wages’ due Ruth for her hard work. Indeed, Naomi praised Boaz for the ‘hesed’ he had shown Ruth (2: 20). Later when Ruth sought a marriage to benefit not herself but Naomi’s family, Boaz praised her for even outdoing her earlier kindness which was finally paid in full in her marriage, motherhood, and membership in Israel. Her final gift of Obed to Naomi signalled even greater payment that was due her. That reward probably was Israel’s later admiration of Ruth as David’s ancestor (Matt. 1: 5).

The lessons from this story are that the acts of human kindness shown to family and to God will not go unrewarded. Further, both Boaz and Ruth model the truth that God uses the faithfulness of ordinary people to do great things. Let us keep doing ‘hesed’ to all and especially to those who are in need.

“Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” (Rom. 12: 20, 21 Msg.)

Rev. Mark Tay