Tuesday, July 1, 2014

For Better or Worse

by Michael Whitworth

In the Hebrew text of Ruth, there is a beautiful term used to characterize both the love of God for his people and our love for others. The word is translated differently in various translations; the problem is that there is no one English word that completely translates the ideas behind the term. It appears at key moments in Ruth’s story, characterizing her devotion to Naomi (Ruth 1:8; 3:10) and God’s care for his people (Ruth 1:8). Its usage in Ruth 2:20 is unclear; does it refer to God or Boaz? Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional. The word is hesed, meaning “compassion,” “covenant love,” “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “mercy,” or “steadfast love.” And though these translations contribute a lot to our understanding of this word, there is so much more to it. The term hesed entails:

I believe that Orpah should not be demonized for returning home, instead of continuing on with Naomi (Ruth 1:14). The reality is that she made the personally responsible decision. However, while her actions were personally responsible, it still remains that she did not live out the principles of hesed. On the other hand, Ruth exemplified responsibility of another sort in her decision to remain with Naomi. In the Psalms, Israel glorified the God of heaven, “Oh, blessed be GOD! He didn’t go off and leave us,” (Psa. 124:6 The Message) ["Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth" (Ps. 124:6 NASB); "Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth" (Ps. 124:6 ESV). The Message gives a poor and distorted translation of this verse, as it does with every other verse in Scripture.]. In our darkest moments, we can glory in the fact that God will never abandon. He is personally devoted to us for better or worse. To say that his faithfulness to us is extraordinary is, frankly, an understatement. Rather, “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies,” (Psa. 36:5).

Later in the story, Ruth risked public ostracism and physical abuse by gleaning in the fields (Ruth 2:2-3). Concerning the mistreatment that a poor immigrant woman risked by performing manual labor among men 3000 years ago, well… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. In addition, she had no knowledge of how Boaz would respond to her midnight visit and her display of feminine assertiveness (Ruth 3:6-8). However, Ruth knew that there was much to gain by these actions and therefore took a personal risk for the sake of another. Many people are willing to practice unconditional faithfulness in their relationships, but only as long as it does not cost them anything. Biblical devotion, hesed, demands that we be willing to take great risks. If God was willing to risk his son, what is it that we consider “too great a price”? Perhaps for some of us, we bear our cross by regularly sticking our necks out in order to practice hesed to those in need of it.

Though she took a great risk in several situations, Ruth was never guilty of presumption as far as we know. She did not glean in places that were not permissible. During her midnight visit, she did not seduce Boaz into a sordid situation. Rather, in all things, Ruth showed remarkable restraint and respect for others. If we desire to be people of hesed, we should be people who respect both people and boundaries. Ours is a Savior who stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20), but he will never beat the door down [This is a false interpretation and application of this verse, as well as a misunderstanding of precisely Who God is and how He works.]. God’s love is freely given, and he expects that love to be reciprocated, but freely so, never obligatory. God respects our free will to choose life over death, a blessing over a curse, the God of heaven over the gods of the world. [This author fails to understand that unless God regenerates us, we will never choose life over death, a blessing over a curse, the true God over false gods. He fails to understand our precise predicament.] Sometimes true love must exercise extraordinary respect, and no one does this better than the man from Galilee who taught us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), only to submit to the will of an angry mob.

Father, may our lives always reflect, in word and deed, the principles of hesed. May we always reflect your steadfast love. In Jesus’ name.

[Blue text mine.]