Uncommon kindness, those are the words that caught my attention yesterday morning. A few months ago I switched Bibles and these words were in the study notes, written by Dr. David Jeremiah. He is a very knowledgeable teacher, but it is his love for the Lord that I hear most when he teaches. I found myself in the book of Ruth, reading God’s words and notes written by one of His servants. It is a very short book, but one of my favorites. The book is named after a woman who is part of the linage of Jesus. Her character is one to learn from. I plan on staying in this book for awhile, for she bears a likeness to Jesus in how she daily lives.
Ruth stood in a moment where she had a decision to make. She lived in Moab and married a man from Bethlehem. Her father-in-law and husband died and she remained with her mother-in-law, whose name was Naomi. Because of a food shortage, Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem. She has gotten word from home “that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” (Ruth 1:6). So Ruth, Naomi and the other daughter-in-law start their journey. Namoi tries to convince the women to go back to Moab and speaks a blessing over them. One returns home, “to her people and her gods.” (1:15). Ruth decides to go forward. If she turned back, what awaited her was the grave of her husband, her family and all that was familiar.
Naomi makes another attempt to turn Ruth back towards her home. “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” (1:16). Ruth also made a life changing decision when she chose God that day. Don’t miss this. The matter was settled right then and there it seems, and the two women made their way to Bethlehem. They arrived just in time for the barley harvest. They came from a place where food was scarce, into a town whose name literally means “house of bread”. However, Naomi’s painful losses followed her into town as well. She had not only lost her husband, but her two sons as well. She was hungry for more than just bread I imagine. She must have been starved for joy too.
Her heartbreak was so great that she asked the towns people to call her “Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.” (1:20-21). I wonder what Ruth must have thought when she heard those words? Naomi was not alone because Ruth was right there with her. Grief can make one feel all alone, but that is not reality. God was also with her and had great plans in store. Her return would not be in vain. Neither is ours.
Ruth decides to go and pick up the leftover grain during this harvest time. This provision was put in place early on in order to care for those in need. Ruth and Naomi were in need. Ruth ends up in a field belonging to Boaz who takes notice of her. He asks his overseer about her and is told of her request. “She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters. She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (2:7). Don’t you just love this dear woman? She is well aware of her need, asks permission to take what she has not planted and then works to gather food for Naomi and herself. God provided for their physical need in Bethlehem and more was to come.
God also allowed Boaz to see Ruth’s heart. For when he talked to her and told her to stay in his field, she was blown away. “She asked him, ‘Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?” (2:10). His response is beautiful. “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (2:11). Ruth had suffered a great loss, but look what she did. She cared for her mother-in-law and left everything to continue her care. Uncommon kindness indeed.
In loss we have have two choices as we see in this story. One is to turn bitter and inward and the other is to turn outward in love. Naomi took her choice so far that she renamed herself. Ruth’s choice gave her compassion, a servants heart, an incredible work ethic, gratefulness, courage and favor. Do not miss that both women now have the same God. Because of the choice Ruth made, Boaz recognized a woman of great value. He even spoke a blessing to her. “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (2:12). In his blessing I hear familiar words of a later descendent, King David. “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 63:7). Both Ruth and David knew where help came from no matter the circumstance.
The story continues and Boaz ends up marrying Ruth. They have a son named Obed. Can I just tell you that as I typed his name, autocorrect changed his name to obedience. Obed was the result of one woman’s obedience to a very faithful God. When Ruth left the grave and familiar behind, she had no idea the outcome. Nothing was certain for this dear woman, but she moved forward nonetheless.
I recently read how we can turn certainty into an idol, something we worship. I have been guilty of this before. Uncertainty requires faith in a God we cannot see. Certainty is much more comfortable. Even pain can become something familiar, but the result is bitterness I am afraid. Control will also creep in because to remain comfortable, you have to control what is certain. Fear will also rear its ugly head as one stands guard against change to remain in control. We can stay in Moab, so to speak, or step out in faith and obedience and journey to Bethlehem.
Our God did a wonder here in the life of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. In fact, these words were spoken at the birth of Obed. “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (4:14-15). Love was on display here for all the town to see. What started as uncommon kindness, led to Ruth taking Naomi’s God as her own as they headed towards their uncertain future.
I will tell you this one last thing. Years ago, I was given this verse for the year. “Those who go out weeping; carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:6). When I was handed this verse, my sweet friend asked if I got the right one. I replied “yes” because I had spent years sowing tears over the loss of my mom. I was more than ready to harvest joy. However, the Lord had other plans and more tears to sow. When He is the One in control, the songs of joy do return, no matter how long the sowing takes. I have also found the sheaves to be compassion, kindness, faith, courage, gratefulness and love in abundance.
I believe in the same God of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was given a second chance and her bitterness turned to joy. Ruth was recognized for her care of her mother-in-law and was ultimately woven into the lineage of Jesus. And both women were blessed by one mans uncommon kindness. Our God is a redeeming God!
There isn’t a person out there who does not know loss. It is the response that makes all the difference in how we journey forward. I pray we all follow Ruth’s example. Generations to come will be impacted by our choice. I believe they are counting on us. So, may obedience be the response this new year. May we choose uncommon kindness as we continue to move towards home. If bitterness has been your choice, then I pray the Holy Spirit softens your heart and gives you eyes to see the needs of others. May our Almighty God bless us with favor as we remain faithful. And may we all reap a harvest of joy!
*This picture of our kids is a beautiful picture to me of God’s uncommon kindness.