Our God is the God of new creation; no matter how far back we’ve gone, his grace is sufficient for new life. Ruth and Naomi learn this early in their story.
As Mara and Ruth return to Bethlehem, we are faced with a crisis. Mara has turned her back on God, accusing him of being unfaithful to his covenant promises. Yahweh had promised Israel that had they kept his commands, they would prosper in the land. Mara, thinking herself to be in the right, accuses God of being unfaithful to this promise.
Ruth, on the other hand, is faithfully clinging to Mara. Though she has been rejected, in some ways, by her, Ruth is still faithful to her mother-in-law. By extension, she finds herself faithful to Mara’s god. Is the only faithful one in Israel a Moabite?
But here is where God turns this story around; bringing salvation out of unfaithfulness and love out of bitterness. There are three key phrases to note:
1. Who returned from the country of Moab.
Something is stirring here; a new movement, not seen before. As Israel becomes unfaithful (the rebellion of Benjamin, the faithless Levite, the slaughtered concubine), sin is wrecking havok on the covenant people of God. Though Yahweh had promised to bring blessing to the nations through Abraham’s family, Abraham’s family seems content to live in disaster.
Despite this, God’s covenant promises still stand. The Gentiles are coming in to Israel to be blessed, whether Israel likes it or not. The Gentiles still know that Abraham’s covenant family has the key to blessing, even when Mara cannot see this. Israel’s fortune is about to shift, dramatically.
2. at the beginning
“In the beginning”. This is one of the most eschatologically phrased statements in the Bible! In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Creation from nothing, only God’s voice and the whole world existed. “This is the beginning of the genealogy of Jesus Christ”, says Matthew. The new Adam has come to bring new creation in the year of Jubilee! “In the beginning was the Word”, John teaches. The Word existed in the beginning: the voice of the Creator has been speaking for time immemorial (and before that, when time did not exist as quantum physics understands it).
Here is a new creation. Famine has done a number on Israel: her people are leaving in droves. Israel needs to be created afresh to bring food to her people in order to save the Gentiles. But it is always God who acts in the beginning.
3. of the barley harvest
Traditionally, Israel knew the beginning of the barley harvest at Pentecost. In the world, Pentecost was the time in which Israel would go out and reap the fields. They would bring in the barley, leaving a gleaning at the edges for the poor.
Little did Israel know that God was doing his own reaping. The field of the world was ripe, so God was gleaning the Gentiles of the world. The first fruits were coming in: Ruth was the first newborn from among her sisters in the Gentile world. Because Yahweh had visited his people (1:6), they were again a land of milk and honey.
Where Ruth begins with a famine, her first chapter ends with a feast. Naomi went out full, and came back empty, only to find the blessing of the Lord again. Chapter 1 is salvation history en nuce: from feast to famine. Where there is famine, God visits with bread and the nations.
Famine strikes at the beginning of Ruth. Yahweh acts by visiting his people, restoring their food. As the Gentiles poor in, Israel reaps her bread. When there was famine, Yahweh acted by visiting his people, giving them the Bread of Life (John 6). As the bread is broken and served among Israel, the nations come in at Pentecost to hear about this food to save them from their famine (Acts 2).