Earlier in the year I read Sarai by Jill Eileen Smith and really enjoyed it, so I decided to dig into another one of her books, Redeeming Grace. The Biblical story of Ruth is my favorite. I’ve always viewed it like an ancient Cinderella, where loss and heartache turns into true love and the couple lives happily ever after. For me, Smith’s interpretation of the story added a whole new layer to this short book of the Bible, and I loved everything the author did with it! Let me give you some examples…
From the first page, we’re thrust into the community of Bethlehem. We see Naomi among the women of the village helping women with births and things like that. Life was good until the famine hit. Then we see the little family pack up and move to Moab, a place where they were the only Israelites in town. I appreciated how the author stayed with the original text and started the novel with Naomi’s family in Israel. From the beginning, we’re introduced to the characters who would become dear friends once Naomi and Ruth returned. And not just that, the author kept returning to the life of Boaz and the struggles he faced during the famine throughout the book, while also covering what Naomi’s family faced in Moab. The whole story felt connected and I liked the compare and contrast between those who stayed in the land (Boaz) and those who left (Naomi/Elimelech).
In addition, while Naomi was in Moab with her husband and sons, I learned things about the Moabite culture that added depth to the story I already knew. In Moab, the people practiced child sacrifice, and the author used the horror of this pagan practice to attract Ruth to the God of Israel. It never occurred to me that a woman would leave the gods of her culture because she despised the practice of killing babies, but the author used this as an example of what could’ve possibly caused Ruth to change religions. Though the Bible doesn’t give specifics in this area, after reading this novel, it wouldn’t surprise me if that were one of the reasons Ruth embraced Jehovah and was okay with leaving her homeland.
Conclusion: I really enjoyed this novel! At first, I wasn’t too sure what I would think of the story. Because Ruth is my favorite Old Testament story, I didn’t want to get my hopes up in case I didn’t like the author’s rendition. Well, no worries there. The story was wonderful! One thing I have learned is that Jill Eileen Smith does a great job of giving you the whole picture when it comes to a Biblical person’s life, and I loved how that worked out in Ruth’s case. When we first meet Ruth, she’s around 14 years old, and we get to see her grow into a woman of faith. The novel covers over ten years of her story. By the time she and Boaz are wed, you really feel like you’ve walked through her life. On the other hand, as much as I liked Ruth’s story, I also liked how the author portrayed Naomi. I don’t know why, but all the Bible commentaries/Bible studies seem to be a little hard on Naomi. We hear so many good things about Ruth and so many, “Naomi left Israel and her God” comments. I guess that’s because Elimelech wasn’t mentioned as much as Naomi was, but still, it’s always bothered me that so much criticism has been made of a woman who probably didn’t have a say in the matter. That’s what I liked about the angle Smith took, she put the burden of responsibility on the husband and then showed the effects of a hard life and how that influenced Naomi’s faith. We see Naomi at her best, as her faith falters and then her restoration. To me, this story was about Naomi as much as it was about Ruth. Redeeming Grace was a great novel and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Biblical Fiction!