The book of Judges is an action-packed, gruesome book. It is God working on a grand scale, working through men and women to conquer armies and kingdoms, all so He can bring about salvation for His chosen people, a people who don’t deserve that salvation. Over and over again.
Throughout the book we have fat kings being stabbed through the gut in surprise strikes from a left-handed warriors. We have tent pegs driven through the skulls of Canaanite generals, the ritual sacrifice of 70 brothers to secure a tenuous, and very temporary, throne, the super-heroics of one man killing a small army armed with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey and the Spirit of the LORD.
The book of Judges ends with the raping and killing of a concubine, an event that sparks a civil war that nearly wipes out one of the 12 tribes. The final verse of the book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
In the context of all of this mayhem, we get to the book of Ruth. This small book zooms in on the lives of a just a few people, the scale isn’t near as large, and the most action packed scene is a conversation that takes place at the gates of Bethlehem. But the LORD is working through these people, and he orchestrates a salvation that is no less impressive than what we read of in Judges.
The theme of the book of Ruth is a word that is used over and over again. Hesed. This is a word that is often translated as lovingkindness. The ESV translates it as “steadfast love” in many of the Psalms, just like the part of Psalm 103 that was read for us just a few moments ago.
But we don’t actually have a word in English that encapsulates its meaning adequately. It’s a relational term that seems to wrap up all of the positive attributes of God.
It’s going beyond all obligation. Going way beyond what any reasonable person would expect. Showing love and kindness without any thought of advantage one might gain in the exchange. Hesed never asks “What’s in it for me?” It is beyond even covenant faithfulness.
God continually acts with hesed toward his people. He is constantly going above and beyond to not only save, but bless His people. Even now, God doesn’t save us through Jesus so we can stay alive to beg for table scraps. No, He saves us, and then raises us up to sit at the table of the king. He makes us like sons in his household. And this is nothing we should expect, because it’s nothing we deserve.
Even getting the scraps from the table would be an infinite mercy for us. Grace beyond grace. But God acts with hesed toward His people.
And in the book of Ruth we will see destitute people on the brink of ruin, raised up and blessed beyond their imagination.
And the book is driving toward this moment, because we see several people use the word within the story. We’ll highlight those when we get to them, but we will see that all of uses of the word refer in someway to the title character of Ruth. Indeed, Ruth is God’s primary instrument in this story to show hesed toward a poor, grieving widow.
In Psalm 107, the final first, the psalmist instructs us:
“Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love, (the hesed), of the Lord.”