Forming Faith Blog

Ruth: God’s Hesed (October 13, 2019)

A woman holding an elderly woman's hand, showing hesed or steadfast love.
Responding to God’s Love

Two weeks ago, God heard the people of Israel as they were suffering in Egyptian slavery. By way of the courage of two Hebrew midwives, Moses’ mother, sister, and even the Pharaoh’s daughter, God raised up a leader to lead the people to freedom. With a mighty hand, God began to lead these refugees to establish a place of their own (the problem of the current residents of Canaan notwithstanding). The people needed guidance, so God gave them the Torah on Mt. Sinai. God showed great love (hesed) for the people, and the Torah showed the people how to respond to this love by loving God and each other.

Hesed

A key concept in the Hebrew Bible is that of hesed. There is not a simple, direct way to translate this into English; it is sometimes translated “steadfast love” or the term invented for this “loving-kindness.” The idea is about love within a covenantal relationship, used often of God’s unwavering love, mercy, and grace for a disobedient people. People can also act with hesed toward each other. One such example is in the character of Ruth.

A Story about Hesed

Ignoring the arguments about the historicity or lack thereof for these characters and events, it is clear that the Book of Ruth is a short story. Others have described this book as a story demonstrating what hesed looks like. What is remarkable and wonderful about this story is how the author chooses to go about this demonstration.

Heroes (Who Are Women)

Ruth is one of only two women to have books named after them in the canonical Bible, and in fact, these two are the longest treatment of women at all there. Of the women in the Bible, not many are active outside the roles of wives and mothers. The judge Deborah is a great example of a hero, and then there are Esther and Ruth. While Esther is married (kind of), her actions in saving her people are well outside a standard marital role. Ruth ends this story married, but everything, even that, is in service for Naomi.

Disadvantaged

As much as I like the Book of Esther, Ruth is one of my favorite books in the entire Bible. Ruth is a hero in ways that Esther is not. Not to discount Esther’s great courage, but she also comes from a place of great privilege. She starts out as a beautiful woman and becomes queen in part because of that beauty. On the other hand, Ruth comes from a culturally disadvantaged place. She is a woman, which was a disadvantaged position in that society. In addition, she was a widow and therefore had no culturally honorable way to provide for herself economically. To top it all off, she was a foreigner, from the despised nation of Moab.

An Example of Hesed

It is remarkable that Ruth gets a story in the Bible about her, but even more so that a culturally disadvantaged woman teaches us about God’s love. I think that not only is Ruth a paragon of love for us to emulate, but she also represents God’s hesed for us. The love and kindness shown by others in the story (Naomi and Boaz) are in response to Ruth’s initiative, her devotion toward Naomi.

She is strong, decisive, and powerful in this story. She works within the context of the culture, but in doing so she challenges it. You can see this story as a metaphor for God’s radical love for Israel, with this foreign widow representing God. Again, consider that. A “powerless” foreigner gave an unconditional promise of love and loyalty (hesed) to a woman in need and went to great lengths to care for her. That sounds like someone I know.

Free Resource

The free activity this week, “Serving Refugees” is a shortened version of the spiritual practice portion of our Living the Word: Small Groups discussion guides for this entire three-week unit. Starting with the deliverance from Egypt, we have seen refugees in the whole people of Israel, and this week, in Naomi’s family. People are still forced to leave their homes or living situations with the hope of a better and safer place. Take time to learn about refugees and see how you can help, as a congregation or individuals. Share the love with them that God gave to you!

Faith Formation Strategy: Multisensory

No matter our context, whether at church or in the home, in a classroom or sanctuary, our goal is to form faith in others. But, in order to have this influence on others, we must first engage their interest. One way to engage interest is to engage the senses. Here’s a test: go through your worship service or lesson plan. How many of the senses are being represented and how well? And, your everyday “seeing” doesn’t count. You can add multisensory aspects to whatever your context is. Adults, youth, and children can be engaged by the same activity!

Go out to love and serve the Lord!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

Be sure to download our free Narrative Lectionary 2019-2020 Planning Tool, NL Readings Overview, and Scope & Sequence