The Gospel of Ruth

Mike Moore reviews a book that reveals God as the true hero of the book of Ruth

The book of Ruth tends to be regarded as a light-weight in the biblical canon; the biblical equivalent of chic-lit. Some Bible teachers approach the book as a kind of rustic romance in which a young widow from a foreign land wins the heart of Bethlehem’s most eligible bachelor. At the heart of the story, however, is the God of Israel who is working out his purposes through a Torah-observant ‘man of valour’ who, at significant personal cost, takes the widow of a dead relative in order to perpetuate his relative’s family line according to the levirate law of Deuteronomy 25.

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James, helps elevate Ruth above the level of romantic fiction to serious but readable biblical theology. ‘First and foremost,’ says James, ‘God is the true hero of the story. No matter how captivating the other characters may be, our top priority is to discover what the Bible reveals about God.’ She believes also that the Moabite Ruth’s loyalty to the God of Israel ‘prompts her to challenge the religious status quo and lead others into a whole new realm of allegiance to Yahweh that carries early hints of the teachings of Jesus.’

James describes the book of Ruth’s setting, its characters, and events in a way that reads like a novel. She explains the cultural issues of Ruth’s day, such as the stigma attached to widowhood and barrenness, the destitution felt by
widows in ancient Israel and the biblical custom of ‘raising up a seed’ for a deceased relative. She keeps us engaged even though we know how the story is going to end. With her emphasis on God as the hero of the story, James
magnifies his sovereignty while acknowledging that he allows his people to experience acutely painful situations that they will never understand fully.

To read The Gospel of Ruth is to have your understanding of the biblical book, and the Bible of which it is such a vital part, enriched. The book is a great seasonal gift and if you are a pastor planning to preach through Ruth but feel everything that can be said about it has been said, buy The Gospel of Ruth and have your horizon stretched!

The Gospel of Ruth
Carolyn Custis James
Zondervan. 225 pages. £9.99

This article was first published in the Winter Herald 2014

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