God’s work of restoration
I wonder what the word ‘restoration’ conjures up for you? For me, it is the work of The Repair Shop, a BBC series where we see craftsmen and women restoring beloved items brought in by members of the public. Some arrive in such a poor condition that it is hard to imagine how they can ever work or look presentable again, but in the hands of an expert in the repair shop, a miraculous transformation takes place. It is painstaking work; sometimes they have to literally take something apart piece by piece, and often the items are fragile and need careful handling. The care the craftsmen and women take to restore these items and bring to life things that have been neglected, broken or unusable for years is marvellous. They know the stories behind the items and there are often tears on both sides when the owners return to collect their prized possessions.
I realise some of my favourite stories in the Bible are stories of restoration. Indeed, the overarching story in the Bible is how God seeks to restore his relationship with his people, culminating in his amazing plan of salvation through Jesus.
‘The overarching story in the Bible is how God seeks to restore his relationship with his people.’
In God’s restoration plan, things don’t simply go back to how they were; he delights in improving, making better and going beyond what we can imagine. His restoration work is breathtaking.
One such story concerns Naomi, who we read about in the book of Ruth. When we first meet her, she is married with two sons and the family are moving to Moab, seeking to escape the famine in Judah. Things do not go well and, over the course of the next few years, Naomi becomes a widow and also has to bury her two sons. She decides to return home and is accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth. The arrival of the two women causes quite a stir in Bethlehem. Naomi is barely recognisable, broken by grief and despair, but her return to her hometown is the beginning of a restoration story that sees her stepping into a new future, with a new family and a rich life to look forward to.
What I love about Naomi’s story is that God’s restoration work is done quietly, behind the scenes, using ordinary people and ancient laws about land ownership and the responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer. There are only two occasions in the narrative when God is described as directly intervening in events – first, when he comes to the aid of his people by providing food for them (Ruth 1:6) and, second, when he enables Ruth to have a son (Ruth 4:13) – nevertheless, God’s involvement in the unfolding events is implied throughout.
‘Naomi’s return to her hometown is the beginning of a restoration story that sees her stepping into a new future, with a new family and a rich life to look forward to.’
Support for the broken
Like the experts in The Repair Shop handling a fragile object, God begins by giving Naomi support. This is primarily through the kindness of her daughter-in-law, Ruth. There is a bond between these two women that goes beyond shared grief. Ruth has seen something in Naomi that made her willing to leave behind everything and everyone she knew to seek an unknown future in Judah. She wants to make her home among Naomi’s people and to know Naomi’s God (Ruth 1:16).
The women arrive ‘as the barley harvest was beginning’ (1:22). This means Ruth is able to take advantage of the Jewish tradition of gleaning, which allowed the poor to gather leftover grain in the fields. And she just happens to be working in a field belonging to Boaz, a distant relative of Naomi and a kind and righteous man.
With all the supports in place, we see how God begins to restore Naomi’s faith and hope as she recognises God’s provision (2:20), takes the initiative to secure a future for Ruth (3:1) and then waits (3:18), confident that God’s laws of land ownership and Boaz, their kinsman-redeemer, are working for them.
A much bigger story
But the story doesn’t end there. God doesn’t just repair what was broken, his restoration gives Naomi a whole new future. The women who gather around her list the blessings they see in her life. She has a family who will care for her in her old age, a loving daughter-in-law and now a child who, according to Israelite law, would be countered as a descendant of Naomi, so the family line is saved from extinction (4:14–15).
And there’s more. The short genealogy which ends the book of Ruth explains how Naomi’s grandson became grandfather to King David, Israel’s shepherd king and an ancestor of Jesus. So, Naomi’s story is part of a much bigger story – God’s restoration plan for the whole of humanity.
‘Naomi’s story is part of a much bigger story – God’s restoration plan for the whole of humanity.’
Naomi’s story is a beautiful example of God’s restoration work and was a great blessing to me when I faced a period of loss and the future looked very uncertain. I took great comfort from the fact that God worked very quietly and, for a while, unrecognised in Naomi’s life. It encouraged me to trust in God’s restorative work in my own life, even when it seemed that nothing was happening.
Naomi’s story also teaches us that God’s restoration work can be done through ordinary circumstances and ordinary people. This might be disappointing. Very often we don’t want ordinary from God, we want instantaneous, dramatic and supernatural – or we think we do – but what might we miss if we’re looking only for the next big thing?
Naomi’s experience encourages me to consider how God might be working through the people around me, the society I’m part of and the place I live, and to recognise both his provision for me and the possibility that I might play a part in his restorative work in someone else’s life. How amazing is that?
‘I took great comfort from the fact that God worked very quietly and, for a while, unrecognised in Naomi’s life.’
God is always at work, and he is always ready to repair and restore what has been broken, neglected or spoiled. May we be quick to recognise his work in our lives and in the lives of those around us.