by Crystal Easom
Crystal is a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She is interning with Gospel Justice Initiative and hopes to attend law school after graduation.
The book of Ruth is a narrative following a vulnerable immigrant finding mercy from God. Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, was an economic immigrant to Moab with her husband and two sons during a drought in Israel. The sons married and life was good. Then the tragic deaths of every man in the family left their three widows vulnerable. In the ancient world, women were not economically active; there was no proper way for them to earn a living independent of their husband or father. With limited options, Naomi decided to return to her homeland whose time of economic hardship had ended. Ruth moves with her, emigrating from Moab to Israel in loyalty and love for her mother-in-law.
Along the way, Ruth makes her well-known declaration of lifelong loyalty to Naomi: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go… Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17). Even while Ruth declares her intent to assimilate permanently in nationality, society, and in faith, she is still identified as a Moabitess – a vulnerable foreigner – throughout the rest of the book.
Ruth’s narrative falls after God established the Law in the Mosaic covenant to both protect the Israelites and set them apart as a holy nation unto himself. On four occasions, the Law commands the Israelites to treat foreigners well: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself… I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34. However, even though the Law was well established, Ruth lived during the period of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25, 3:7). Though God had instituted his Law for the good of his people, without a king there was no centralized enforcement. The time was evil and the justice that was enacted – particularly as seen within the final chapters – was cruel and unwise, creating its own injustices.
Ruth entered this nigh-anarchy as a vulnerable single woman accompanied by an elderly woman… and God was merciful. By God’s providence, she happened to glean in a field owned by Boaz, a righteous man and close relative of Naomi’s, who ensured both her protection and provision for her in the channels available, first as a land owner and then later as her kinsman-redeemer.
Ruth, the Moabitess, was outside the covenant God made with his people and was without power, influence, or importance. She was living apparently destitute, relying on a provision for the poverty-stricken Israelites to sustain herself and her mother-in-law. In God’s just mercy, God chose to bless her in his kindness, protect and provide for her in his justice, and honor her as a part of the lineage of his king and ultimately his Son. Ruth 4:21, Mt. 1:5.
Throughout Ruth, God works by providence but he works through people. The men and women in Ruth interacted with their situation with initiative sourced from a knowledge of God’s character, his heart for justice, and the channels and principles he had established for it. Seeing Ruth’s need, Boaz took the initiative and met it in the ways he could as permitted first by his position as a field owner and then as his position as her kinsman-redeemer.
I recently returned from studying in Israel. I recall standing atop Mount Bental in the Golan Heights. From that peak, we looked north-east into Syria. UN peacekeeping troops stood to my left and before us lay a war-ravaged land. I saw homes collapsed upon themselves and stores abandoned. No level of magnification could find signs of life in the town because, well, it was no longer there. The families fled the conflict, leaving behind the land they knew and the home they had kept. While I stood, I heard the resound of the artillery that robbed their homeland. Families fled to neighboring countries, to underequipped and overpopulated refugee camps constrained by the politics of giants, lost in the incomprehensible enormity of the statistics. These men and women await justice as their children grow up lacking their home, lacking stability, lacking peace. Most of these Syrian refugees are not believers and are thus also lacking God: his salvation, his assurances, his peace.
As I studied the Syrian refugee crisis last year, it stood out that the state is not going to be able to solve this. Without a holistic solution, the problems that exist tend to create more problems. No issue is single-faceted and people cannot be healed as numbers. God cares deeply for each individual. Just as he knows each of us to every intimate corner of our being, every guarded secret, every fear and hope; he knows each of the over four million Syrian refugees. God saw Naomi as a refugee in Moab and he provided for Ruth as an immigrant in Israel. These issues of injustice tug at our compassion and spur our spirits. Ruth received God’s justice; through Boaz, he brought healing and restoration and a future.
Let us today act to be among the hands who bring God’s restorative justice to a hurting world.