Over the past three weeks of taking a break from my blog, I finished reading Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. Today’s read is a favorite story – the little book of Ruth – and it takes place in the same time period as Judges. The Israelites have settled the land; they’ve had much success but also left several heathen cities and tribes undefeated. Ruth’s story begins with a Jewish man and his wife, Naomi, and two sons sojourning to Moab to escape a season of famine.
Just four short chapters, and yet, Ruth’s story has been recounted often as the quintessential love story. I don’t know about you, but in my head, Boaz is tall, dark, and handsome, the rescuer of the kind and beautiful servant girl who had suffered such loss. It’s definitely fairy tale material, but we know it’s a true story.
Because this is Ruth’s story, we often think of Naomi as a lesser character, but it’s as much her story as Ruth’s. Naomi had no choice but to follow her husband to Moab. While there, he dies, and after this tragedy, her sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Alas, the two sons also die. Naomi is devastated. She lives with her daughters-in-law until she hears that the situation has changed in her hometown of Bethlehem and decides to return.
It’s worth noting Naomi’s outlook at this point. While I don’t get the sense that she blames God, she definitely attributes the tragedies in her life as happening on His watch.
The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me. … the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. … I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty. … the Almighty has afflicted me. (Ruth 1:13,20,21)
Naomi could have grown into a very bitter old lady, had Ruth not been willing to leave her family and accompany her back to Bethlehem. I believe Ruth had already abandoned the gods of Moab and the heathen culture of her childhood long before Naomi decided to go home. Her insistence (the passage often quoted at weddings) that Naomi’s people would be her people, and Naomi’s God, her God wasn’t a sudden change of mindset at the thought of Naomi’s departure. She had grown to love this woman and already referred to God as “the Lord.” In some way, God had impressed upon her that her role was to care for her mother-in-law, even if it meant leaving her familiar surroundings. She had no obligation; she was free to leave and seek out another husband for herself. Yet, she knew God had spoken to her heart and committed herself to go.
We know how the story plays out. Naomi follows the cultural traditions of the Jewish people and secures a husband for Ruth from her own people. Boaz plays the part God has prepared for him as he fulfills the rights of a kinsman redeemer and purchases both Elimelech’s property and inheritance and marries Ruth in the bargain. I’m glad God gives us some insight into Boaz’s character – his kindness and protectiveness of the young Gentile woman who gleaned in his fields. It appears he was significantly older than her, but there is no mention of other wives, and he is humbled and honored by the chance to marry her.
In the end, God gives Naomi the honor of being great-grandmother to someone in the line of Christ. He turns her sorrow into joy, and she spends the rest of her life being cared for in the comfort and love of Boaz and Ruth’s home. How different her story would have been, had Ruth decided to stay in Moab!
What’s the takeaway? God used Ruth to change not only her own story but Naomi’s. When Ruth set out on that dusty road toward Bethlehem, her only purpose was to care for, love, and honor her mother-in-law. There was no promise of a happy marriage. For all she knew, she would live out her days as a widow in a strange land, but she knew God had called her to go without a doubt. Her willingness to do the hard thing changed both their lives.
Sometimes God may take some things away from us. We have the option to become bitter old people or to look around us and see how we can bring life and joy to someone else who may be hurting. God often calls us to set aside our own interests and put the well-being of others first. Who knows what joy and blessing may be waiting on the other side if we are willing to be used as He asks!
Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.