I was preparing for a speaking engagement and spent time studying the character and story of Ruth. In her story, one can see what it means to have love and faith. Also, clearly display for all to see is the sovereignty and love of God.
The story of Ruth takes place during the period of Judges. It begins in a foreign land. The central character, Ruth, is a native of Moab, a neighboring country of Israel and one which was disliked. The Moabites were kin to the people of Israel but the story is shady and obscene, for the tribe descended from Moab, the son of Lot, born of an incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). To escape a famine, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their family had left Bethlehem and moved to Moab. But then tragedy hits when Elimelech dies. This leaves his wife, Naomi, with her two sons as her support and care for her. Her sons marry Moabite women and all seems well. But, as fate would have it, a decade later both sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law to survive on their own. At this time in history, in this place on the globe, unmarried women faced a life of poverty and ruin unless their family was nearby to care for them. Naomi did not have family near. She was in a foreign land and was left with her son’s wives, Orpah and Ruth.
Because of her desperate situation, Naomi Decides to Return to Bethlehem (1:6-7). She urges her Daughters-in-law to return to their families and stay in Moab (1:8) for she declares that she no longer has sons to offer and the hand of God is against her (1:11-13). After a time of distress and discussion Orpah leaves but Ruth refused to depart (1:14). Ruth states, “…Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Naomi returned to Bethlehem with Ruth as her companion (1:19-22). Upon her return, one can hear the depth of despair when Naomi states…. “Do not call me Naomi [pleasant]; call me Mara,[bitter] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” This reflects the bleakness of their situation. Words like despair, desolate, and hopelessness all come to mind when one looks at their situation. However, in these two women, we see a very different responses for Ruth chose love and hope while Naomi bitterness and anger.
Naomi and Ruth had returned to the homeland of Naomi looking for a way to survive. One such way, which was a custom of the times, was the act of gleaning a field. This was a practice described in the Bible where one would collect leftover crops from farmers' fields after they had been harvested. Ruth, seeking to find a way to provide for her and Naomi, chose to glean from a nearby field. In God’s sovereignty, the field she chose to glean from the field of a Jewish man by the name of Boaz. In the story, we see Boaz to be an honorable man who was kind to Ruth (2:1-23).
Now, Boaz also happened to be a relative of Naomi’s husband. Naomi saw hope in this situation, for Ruth through the “kinsman redeemer” custom. A kinsman redeemer was literally someone who redeems what is lost. In this tradition, it was the responsibility of male relative to act on behalf of their relative who was in need. So, Naomi instructs her as to the way present herself to Boaz asking him to be her redeemer (3:1-9). Boaz accepts her proposal (3:10-18). Boaz follows the law as to kinsmen redeemer and eventually, willingly takes Ruth as his wife (4:1-13). Together Boaz and Ruth bear a son named Obed (who had a son named Jesse, whose son was David, whose lineage would produce Jesus).
The book of Ruth is simple yet profound. In just four chapters, the author paints a picture of God’s redemptive love. Ruth is a woman of enthusiasm, optimism, gratitude, and humility. We see in her a deep love and loyalty to her mother-in-law. We see her follow the traditions of God's people. We see placing herself in the hand of God, for Ruth chose to follow Him when she follows Naomi, saying, “…your God [will be] my God (1:16). In a series of divinely appointed circumstances, God moves in the life Ruth, a Moabite, to show his love. In this story, we clearly see a God who is faithful and loving and a woman who emulates these characteristics. Ruth is clearly an exemplar, an excellent person whom we can emulate.
So what? Will we learn from the story of Ruth? When life comes at us, what will we choose the road that is easy to follow or the hard road? Now, let us be honest, the Christian life is not all peaches and cream, storms do come and hit hard. We can choose to get trapped in hopelessness, in anger, or in self-pity. We can feel distant from God or separated from his love. We can do all this or we can see it as an opportunity to lean into God. We can see the positive, we can choose to look for God, we seek to walk through the storms of life with the trust and force of character seen in Ruth. When others suffer, will we condemn and ignore or will we be like Ruth toward Naomi? Will we look at the world and see it as choosing sin or as a world filled with sin-sick people? Many are lost in sin, struggling with feelings of hopelessness, isolation, or despair. We may be the one dealing with it or the one who is a witness to it. The question that likes what will we do? You know, each of us and Ruth are not that different, we both will encounter the difficulties of life but if we call ourselves Christians, we both serve a just, loving God who is involved in our lives.