Tessa Afshar on the Story of Ruth and New Beginnings

Tessa Afshar is the multi award-winning author of historical and biblical fiction, and non-fiction. Her books have been on the Publishers Weekly, ECPA, and other bestseller lists, and translated into eleven languages. Tessa has a Master of Divinity from Yale university where she was elected to serve as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship. Today, she shared with us about her women’s Bible study about Ruth, The Way Home: God’s Invitation to New Beginnings (winner of the Christian Book Award in Bible study, 2021).

What first drew you to the story of Ruth?

Eight years ago, I was researching the book of Ruth for my novel, In the Field of Grace. The more I read the story, the more it captivated me. The story invited me into deeper courage, persevering faith, and healthy attachments. It invited me into healing and forgiveness. It invited me to give up my offense against God. I could not wait to share these lessons with others who, like me, are hungry for the “more” of God.

Throughout The Way Home, you introduce readers to biblical words as they were used in the original language. Why is it so important to look into the original meanings of these words and how can it change the way we read the Bible?

The Hebrew language has fewer words than English. As such, the root words used in the Old Testament are sometimes richer in meaning than we can experience in the English translation. For example, the Bible uses the Hebrew word dabaq in reference to Ruth several times. In English the word can translate as cling, hold tightly, hold fast, or cleave.

Examining dabaq more closely in Scripture, we discover that this is an important quality to God. Four different times in Deuteronomy, the people of God are told to dabaq to God. He is looking for men and women who are able to hold fast to him, to cling to him. And Ruth displayed this quality over and over again in her daily decisions! Ruth’s story becomes an invitation to us to learn to dabaq rightly in our own daily lives.

How does the story of Ruth teach us to see Christ in the Old Testament?

The Hebrew word goel, translated as “redeemer,” refers to a specific relationship in the Old Testament. When a person was sold into slavery due to poverty, a goel, or redeemer, would use his own resources to ransom the enslaved person, and restore them to freedom. The same principle worked for land. If someone lost their land, a redeemer would use his own resources to purchase back the property on behalf of the impoverished relative, without requiring repayment.

Of course, the goel relationship in the Old Testament is a beautiful foreshadowing of Jesus, who is our ultimate redeemer.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz is a goel. Again and again, we see him act in ways that point to Jesus: in the grace he shows Ruth, in his kindness, his protection, his provision. Like Ruth, we have our own Boaz-Goel. Our kinsman redeemer paid our debt, died our death, and redeemed us from our slavery.

There are other references to Jesus in this story. Even the structure of the book of Ruth points to the Christ. The first verse in Ruth tells us about a famine. Ruth’s story starts with hunger and lack. It starts with insufficiency and need. The last word in the book of Ruth is a name: David.

The original listeners to this account would have immediately understood what David stands for. David is the first king in Israel to unite the tribes and expel all of its enemies from its borders. During David’s reign, there is prosperity and sufficiency in the land, because the Philistines and Canaanites can no longer attack and steal the crops whenever they want. So the book of Ruth begins with hunger, but it ends with a person who is the answer to that hunger.

Those of us who live under the new covenant recognize something more about David. David points to the Messiah. The Son of David. And we know the identity of that Messiah – His name is Jesus. One of the names by which Jesus refers to Himself is the Bread of Life.

The book of Ruth starts with famine. But it ends by pointing to the Bread of Life!

We all experience a variety of famines in our lives: emotional, spiritual, financial, relational. The book of Ruth is a reminder that every one of those famines will find its perfect provision in the Bread of Life, Jesus, our Lord.

On the surface, the book of Ruth may seem to just be a love story in biblical times. Why is Ruth and Naomi’s story so important for us now?

First, the context of the book of Ruth is important. This is a story that takes place during the time of Judges. You don’t have to study the book of Judges for long before you realize this period was rife with brutal failures and sin. Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi all choose to live godly lives in a foundering generation. Are we willing to do the same?

Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi all choose to live godly lives in a foundering generation. Are we willing to do the same?

From their story, we also learn that personal choices matter for the Kingdom of God. God’s hand is consistently at work to fulfill His eternal plans, and each one of us has a role to play. Ruth carved her name into the bedrock of history using the chisel of extraordinary love, without ever fully understanding her importance to the Kingdom of God. We are invited to do the same even though, like Ruth, we are unlikely to fully recognize the impact our lives may have on this earth.

The subtitle of The Way Home is “God’s Invitation to New Beginnings.” What encouragement do you have for someone who feels unready for a new beginning?

New beginnings are sometimes preceded by a painful ending. I think the part of the title we need to focus on first is God’s Invitation. Can we trust God even when something we long for is taken away? Even when doors close? Can we trust Him when He invites us to start new? Boaz had to trust God when he was suddenly presented with a new wife. Ruth had to trust God when she was invited to a new faith, a new home, a completely new life. And Naomi had to trust God for a new lineage. What is the new in your life? Can you trust your heart to God in the midst of it?

Learn more about Tessa’s latest release, The Way Home: God’s Invitation to New Beginnings.