Three figures huddle on a narrow footpath, indistinguishable in their robes and veils. Scant provisions and meager belongings lie in bundles at their feet. Behind them is the dusty village that was once their home. Before them is a jungle-filled valley. Naomi, the eldest, is leaving her losses in Moab and heading home to Judah. The younger women, Orpah and Ruth, must decide whether their futures lie west, in a Judean exile, or east, with their people and the traditions they know. Childless and homeless, they weep at this silent crossroads of their lives.
Go back each of you to your mother’s house, Naomi urges. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me (v. 8). This Judean widow, facing a long and dangerous journey, releases her daughters-in-law from any further obligation to her.
The Hebrew word hesed translates as “kindness” or “kindly,” and describes that extraordinary behavior that includes loyalty, faithfulness, and loving kindness. Katherine Doob Sakenfeld describes three characteristics of hesed. First, this action taken on someone’s behalf is essential for their survival or well-being. Second, only the one who takes this action is in a position to save the person. Finally, hesed takes place only within the context of a positive relationship. Naomi does all she can for her beloved daughters-in-law, then commits them to the hesed of God.
The central characters in this book each display hesed and present the intersection of God’s provision with human action. What if Naomi had not released her daughters-in-law to make their own decisions? What if Ruth had not insisted on making her home with Naomi? What if Boaz had been disinclined to welcome a barren widowed foreigner into his community and later his home?
When have you been the recipient of hesed? When have you extended hesed to someone else? How is God’s providence dependent upon our hesed?
Merciful God, open our eyes to the opportunities to participate in your provision for others. May we demonstrate hesed to them. Amen.