When viewed from outer space, the earth has a deep gash running from the foot of Mount Hermon on the Lebanese-Syrian border into the Dead Sea. This gash is the Jordan River Valley. Three millennia ago, this valley was an extension of the Syrian-African Rift Valley with its thick and wild jungle. It lays between the drought- and famine-stricken hill country around Bethlehem and the fertile mesas of Moab. When Elimelech immigrates to Moab, he takes his wife and two sons through this valley in hopes of a better future on the other side. Years later when Naomi returns to her homeland, she faces the jungle as an aging woman without a husband, sons, or any hopes for a better future.
The book of Ruth is a historical drama set during the era of the judges, when Baal worship and shrine prostitutes occupied the Promised Land. Israel’s twelve tribes fight their indigenous neighbors and their tribal kinsmen with increasing and often unreasoning brutality. In contrast, Ruth’s setting among the landowners and peasants of Bethlehem conjures scenes of nature’s bounty, pastoral beauty, and civic order. Ruth is a love story that still sparkles after three thousand years. The central characters are quietly heroic and gently romantic.
But Ruth isn’t found in the Hebrew Bible for its literary or dramatic value. The book considers the relationship between God’s providence and human action as characters respond to natural disaster, death, destitution, and despair. Ruth describes a short but significant episode in the long story of God’s redemption. God transforms a woman from the kingdom of one of Israel’s most ferocious enemies into Jesus’ ancestor. As people who hear news of destruction and loss on a daily basis, we need to hear the promise of this ancient love story.
In what ways have you seen God at work in the aftermath of a disaster?
God, we are surrounded by loss. Our devices scream with news about disasters, destruction, and death. Help us trust that you are with us. Strengthen us to be faithful witnesses to your gracious mercy and steadfast love. Amen.