The traditional interpretation of the book of Ruth is a beautiful love story between the eponymous Moabite and Boaz, the wealthy Israelite landowner. But this book is not a Disney movie. In Finding God in the Margins, Carolyn Custis James reveals a bracing, more relevant interpretation of this Old Testament book. In this excerpt from Finding God in the Margins, we see how this ancient narrative speaks directly into many of the problems facing society today.
The story of Ruth and Boaz
Where the book of Ruth lands in the Bible is significant. In the Jewish Bible, the book of Ruth is located after the book of Proverbs as a beautiful example of wisdom living, a.k.a. living in the fear of God. In the Christian Bible, Ruth follows the book of Judges and precedes 1 Samuel. Viewed at the macro level, this narrative forms a sturdy bridge between the “years when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1) and the monarchy of King David (4:18–22). At the micro level the story centers on urgent family issues and Ruth’s reinterpretation of three Mosaic laws: gleaning, levirate, and kinsman-redeemer. Ruth lives on the hungry side of the law, so her perspective differs dramatically from Boaz’s. His willingness to listen to her (which is one of the jaw-dropping aspects of this story) moves him from the letter to the spirit of the law. As a result, a hungry widow is fed, and a dying family is rescued.
The original readers of the book of Ruth and people living at that time would notice what is happening in this story at both macro and micro levels. But a third, cosmic level is only recognizable from the vantage point of the New Testament and beyond, for God is working through the lives of ordinary and socially insignificant individuals to advance his purposes for the world.
Framing the book of Ruth as a Job story brings this ancient narrative into the twenty-first century. Suddenly this is a story about the real world in which we live, where trouble often strikes unexpectedly and the God who has the power to prevent our sorrows doesn’t stop it. Naomi is voicing questions that come to us all. Suddenly her story and her questions belong to us too. We have a stake in how the book of Ruth plays out. The story that follows—the bold initiatives of Ruth and the astonishing responses of Boaz—will take us into uncharted territory, where this harmless-looking little story, like the red pill in the Matrix, will awaken us to a whole new world and a whole new way of being human that will reconfigure our lives and leave us longing for more. It will raise the bar for what it means to live in a fallen world as God’s child—as his image-bearers. It presents a startling vision of the kingdom potency of male/female relationships and will inject rich hope, purpose, and significance into the veins of the most God-forsaken, hollowed-out human soul.
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In his endorsement of Finding God in the Margins, Scot McKnight says, “Finding God in the Margins is not for the faint of heart: this book will sideswipe you with admonishment when you least expect it and then turn a word of grace into redemption.” This Transformative Word volume is available in all formats. Discover a radical gospel way of living in the book of Ruth—get Finding God in the Margins today!
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