When it comes to reading through the Bible in a year, Ruth is one of those books that typically gets a day or two of reading. It is a brief respite of the blood and civil decay of Judges, before moving on to the adventures of Samuel and David.
To often Ruth is limited to a nice Cinderella story. Typically pegged as a daughter-in-law whose shining example is of her love for her mother-in-law. Ruth is that, but a whole lot more. Ruth is a leader, an incredible leader, an incredible grace driven leader.
I discovered that reality when I read Carolyn Curtis James book, The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. James transforms the story by opening up the Hebrew meaning of the background, the words, and most of all the story of God and His grace at work.
James showed me that the book is told from Naomi’s viewpoint, not Ruth’s. The tragedies that hit Naomi move from famine to the death of her husband and two sons. What takes a couple of verses in the Bible are years of suffering and grief. At one point Naomi wants to change her name. Naomi means “Pleasant”. She wants to be called “Mara ” meaning “Bitter”. She will learn to never give up on the grace of God (and neither should we).
When Orpah makes the common sense decision to stay in her country, Ruth shows great dedication in her famous words in Ruth 1:16-17, “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 my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth clings to Naomi, but even more she clings to God and she leans into His grace. The Hebrew word is Hesed, it is often translated steadfast love or in this book as “kindness”. But in New Testament terms we know it as grace, and grace is the fuel that fires Ruth’s leadership. Grace should be our fuel as well.
Ruth has no advantages in this Bethlehem culture — a foreigner, a female, a widow who has been unable to bear children. What she does have is God and His grace and she leads from that strength to fulfill God’s purpose. For Ruth goes all in with God. She holds nothing back.
The other significant character in the story is Boaz. He encounters Ruth and her grace-led dynamic, and he too is one who leads from grace. What a combo they will be.
Ruth pushes the gleaning laws of the day a bit, but we discover that Boaz is a man of integrity, of character and of grace. The gleaning laws stated that harvested fields should be left open to gleaners, but Boaz in grace invites Ruth to harvest. The letter of the law said, “Let them glean.” The spirit of the law, the grace of Boaz says, “Feed them.” He reminded me of the care of the Good Samaritan, who recognizes in grace that the one in need is his neighbor and the response needed is grace and mercy.
Throughout the book, Naomi wonders why. James compares Naomi to a female Job. God’s answer is Ruth and His grace.
The goal of grace will not simply be caring for the needs of Naomi, or carrying on a family line. Even more God realigns the lineage of His Son through a Moabite woman who lives and leads out of grace. For in leadership always remember God’s grace has a bigger picture and purpose in mind than present day circumstances whether they be Pleasant or Bitter.
Leading from a grace dynamic affirms that God is in control and from that grace lives out the Great Commandment of Jesus (a descendant of Ruth and Boaz) to love God and to love one’s neighbor. For first you receive grace and then you learn to lead from grace to transform the lives of others.
That’s how God led me to find leadership grace in the book of Ruth. What is He leading you to discover in the story of Ruth?