In America, one of the first questions strangers ask each other when meeting for the first time is, “What do you do (for a living)?” In the ancient Near East, the first matter of interest was what family, clan, or tribe you belonged to. The landowner Boaz inquired of his men when he noticed a new girl working in the field, “Whose young woman is this?” (Ruth 2:5).
In his wonderful A Loving Life, Paul Miller drives home just how low on the totem pole this 1100 B.C. woman Ruth was. Find her strata at the very bottom of this list:
- King or Judge of Israel
- Tribal leader (Judah)
- Clan leader (Bethlehem)
- Clan sub-group leader (Boaz’s status)
- Older father
- Eldest son
- Male servant
- Female servant
- Female servant lower class
- Resident alien
- Male foreigner
- Female foreigner
Not only was Ruth a female foreigner but also widowed and childless and living with a bitter (at first) mother-in-law. A worldly person might quip: “If it weren’t for bad luck, she’d have no luck at all.”
But this impossible situation makes it all the more interesting—for God. He is the One who delights in elevating the lowest of the low, and “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). God invites you to look around the church and notice what kinds of people He has filled the pews with:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are …” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
If we find ourselves in the category of those described above who are not particularly intellectual or carnally savvy or charismatic or powerful or pretty or wealthy or sought out or socially important, God wants us to know for a certainty that such things mean nothing at all to Him. They are as worthwhile as “rubbish” or, in some translations, “dung” (Philippians 3:8).
Social mobility, in worldly terms, is a gradual and clawing upstream advancement through strata of varying degrees of permeability, toward the top of the totem pole. But the spiritual mobility available to all of us takes Ruth straight from No. 16 to No. 1. She goes from being a homeless Moabite widow to being the grandmother of King David and the ancestor of Jesus. This kind of grace is still at work in the world. God doesn’t look for any of the usual things. He looks for faith working through love. And where that is present, nothing is impossible.