The Bible: the power of narrative

The Bible uses many genres but the most common one is narrative. The many stories of the Bible populate our literature and our imaginations.

Mention the prodigal son and heads nod. We understand the one who wandered away but then returned to a joyous father.

wheatheadsWe know the good Samaritan, who defied cultural bigotry to extend a kind and sacrificial hand to another in need.

Let’s look briefly at a powerful story that packs a bigger punch than you might first think.

The book of Ruth, at first glance, seems to be a sweet romance with a nice moral to the story. But let’s go deeper into this amazing narrative.

This is the story of a Israelite woman, Naomi, who travels with her husband and sons from their hometown of Bethlehem in the midst of a famine to the land of Moab. While they live in a foreign country, the husband and sons die.

A woman in that culture without a husband or son was destitute, unable even to transact business.

Left devastated, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, determines to follow her and so they return with Naomi complaining about what God has stolen away from her.  She calls herself Bitter and says that she left Bethlehem full and now returns empty.

Ruth, a foreign widow – and her status couldn’t be much lower than that – goes out into the harvest fields to gather up the grain that has fallen to the ground. She took on a servant status out of kindness to Naomi, picking up heads of grain as food for Naomi and her.

While in the fields, she is noticed by the field’s owner, who is impressed with her commitment to Naomi. He extends kindness by providing protection while allowing Ruth to gather in his field.

As it turns out, this owner, Boaz, is a family member – and one who is qualified to rescue Naomi from her problems – perhaps by buying her land or perhaps through marriage to perpetuate the lineage.

There are a number of subtleties in the process but in the end Boaz marries Ruth, provides her with a son that legally is Naomi’s lineage, and heads up the line of King David – and ultimately Jesus.

The book allows Naomi to blame God of cruelties, including afflicting her with emptiness. Yet the book ends with Naomi nurturing her newborn grandson, with Ruth and Boaz both deeply devoted to her.

We get to see how Naomi’s perception of God’s nature changes as we follow her story. Where Naomi says she returns empty, the reader immediately is shown that she returns at the time of an abundant harvest. That harvest symbolizes the fullness God has ahead for her.

The story of Ruth unveils kindness in many ways: from Ruth to Naomi, from Boaz to Ruth, and from God to Naomi.

Naomi thought she understood how destitute her life had become. But she would soon learn the true nature of God, that of abundance and goodness. He restored a family – and her second family became a royal lineage.

The women of Bethlehem, who heard Naomi blame God for her empty status, remind her after the baby’s birth that God provided a redeemer, renewed her life and would sustain her in her old age.

In the end, this sweet romance reveals the kindness of God. That’s the power of narrative.




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