But Naomi said to her two daughter-in-law, “Turn back, each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt kindly with the dead and me!” Ruth 1:8 NJPS
Deal Kindly – Once before we noticed that hesed is the crucial term of the story of Ruth. We discovered that hesed is relational, transitive, reciprocal and obligatory. It is always about persons. It is always passed on from one to another. It always includes similar action toward the initiating party. It is always expected.
But what you might not have noticed in the interaction between Naomi, Ruth and Boaz is that God uses hesed to overcome generational curses. Hesed is teleological, that is, its meaning is derived from the end it produces, not simply from the acts in the chain of events.
You know Ruth’s story, or so you think. But unless you know Ruth’s lineage, you don’t know the cosmic role of hesed. Ruth is a descendent of Moab. Moab is the child of Lot and his oldest daughter – a child of incest and a sworn enemy of Israel. In fact, Deuteronomy 23:3 and Nehemiah 13:1 both proclaim that no Moabite shall ever enter the tribe of Israel. Never! Never! Never! Then what do we do with Ruth? Ruth married an Israelite (Mahlon, cf. Ruth 4:10), the son of Naomi, when the family was outside Israel in Moab. But when Ruth proclaims allegiance to Naomi and travels with her to Bethlehem, she is a forbidden foreigner. She might serve Israel’s God, but Israel’s God has given a law that prevents her from ever joining the community.
Enter Boaz. You might think Boaz is the heroic rescuer, but he also has a story from the past. According to Matthew’s genealogical record (Matthew 1:1-16), Boaz is the son of Salmon and Rahab. Rahab? Wasn’t Rahab the ex-prostitute Canaanite woman from Jericho? What is she doing in this line? And that isn’t the only hiccup in Boaz’ lineage. Matthew also tells us that Salmon comes from the line of Judah and Tamar. Yes, Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah who posed as a prostitute in order to be impregnated by her father-in-law when he refused to allow his youngest son to fulfill the role of the levir (Genesis 38). The son of Judah and Tamar is Perez, a name that means “breach.” So Boaz stands on one side of the breach between Abraham and Lot, and Ruth stands on the other side. One side is a Jew with a tainted past. The other side is a Moabite with a checkered beginning.
The story of Ruth is about how hesed heals it all. The story of Ruth is about how God shows favor on those who act as He would act regardless of their past, and how God brings about Israel’s greatest king because of hesed shown by outsiders! Ruth and Rahab demonstrate kindness and mercy when there is no obligation to do so. Their acts change the trajectory of Israel’s history and heal wounds that have been festering for generations. Hesed overcomes ethnic animosity and prejudice, restores relationships fractured by past sins and promotes God’s purposes in the world. The hesed of Rahab and Ruth is the foundation of the incarnation, the line of the Messiah.
Ruth’s story is not simply a love story between a man and a woman. In fact, a careful reading of the text doesn’t suggest that either Boaz or Ruth is motivated by our idea of love. This story is an account of the power of hesed, a power that restores not only what is present but also what was long ago deemed unforgivable. This story demonstrates that what is past is not finished. Restoration can still occur for those things that we never thought could change. Hesed is trans-generational in both directions.
Perhaps there is someone in your past who needs restoration, someone who isn’t even alive today. Perhaps your demonstration of hesed can heal wounds from long ago. Perhaps it is never too late.
Topical Index: hesed, Ruth, Boaz, Rahab, Moab, Judah, Tamar, Ruth 1:8