George Guthrie writes, “Large portions of the Old Testament come to us in the form of stories. They call us into a world both foreign and familiar, challenging us to find our place in a big story different from the small, boxed-in set of our personal, time-bound, culturally conditioned tales. They call us to enter God’s grand story, which tells what He is up to in the world” (Read the Bible for Life, pg 77).
Like portions of the Old Testament, the book of Ruth is a story.
It has all the qualities of a good story: a stark setting, betrayal, disappointment, death, suffering. It has tension- racial tension, financial tension, and sexual tension. The “bad guy” at the beginning of the story turns out to be the “good guy” at the end. It is ultimately a love story.
So how do we “study” a book like Ruth? How could the simple telling of a story that happened thousands of years ago make an impact on our lives today?
First, we understand that the main character in every story in the Bible is God. When we read a passage (whether narrative, poetry, law, or epistle) we ask the question, “What does this teach me about God?”
Second, we remember that narrative passages are descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. Meaning they describe what happened, not what should always happen. We don’t read the book of Ruth as a how-to manual for what to do if there is a drought. Or what to do if your husband dies. Or even step-by-step instructions on how to woo a man. We read it like a story, as it was intended to be read. It is a true, inspired, sanctifying story, but a story none the less.
After we find God and understand the story is not prescriptive, we are able to better see ourselves. After answering what the passage teaches us about God, we ask what God wants us to do based on what we read. We see God’s love for widows and take a minute to write a note to a widow in the church. We see His providential plan for Naomi and Ruth and trust that no matter what situation we are in, God has a plan for our lives. Ultimately, we see Christ, who is in the family linage of this poor, young Moabite widow.
God’s Word is living and active. That includes the stories written thousands of years ago. We are praying that this month’s study of the book of Ruth will teach us all more about God and His love for us!