Ruth – her name means “beautiful friend”
Her story is found in the Book of Ruth in the Bible
Ruth is standing at a crossroads. Literally. Will she turn back, play it safe and stay in her homeland? Or will she risk all, step out in faith, and travel with Naomi to Bethlehem? The logical decision is to head back home to Moab – back to her family, friends and all that is familiar. There’s not much chance of remarrying and having children in a country where she will be a poor widow, despised and rejected because of her race. Her sister-in-law, Orpah, gives in to Naomi’s persuasive arguments and turns back to her people and to her god. But Ruth takes the risk. She clings to empty, bitter Naomi and says:
Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.
I love that Ruth’s famous words – oft quoted at wedding ceremonies everywhere – were actually spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law; one of the most maligned and trickiest relationships to negotiate ever. In our culture mother-in-laws are the punchline for a joke.
“Two men were in a pub. One says to his friend, “My mother-in-law is an angel.” His friend replies, “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.” OR God said, “I can’t be everywhere so I created Mother.” The devil said, “I can’t be everywhere, so I created Mother-in-Law.”
On Moabites and Mother-in-laws…
I’m married but I’ve never had a mother-in-law (MIL). Not really. My husband was 10 when his mom died. His dad didn’t remarry until my man was heading out to college, so his step-mom never got chance to “mother” him. When we got married, she was pregnant with my hubbie’s youngest sister and I had our first child a year later. (Aunt Sarah was only 1 year older than her niece, Naomi. Yes, I confess, I named my daughter Naomi Ruth. I’m a bit fond of this whole story).
Instead of enemies, my MIL and I became friends, raising daughters together. She never got into that whole “you’re not good enough for my son” thing. She was loving and supportive; an incredible role model. She loved and trusted God and encouraged that belief in her children and grandkids. She was a one of a kind of woman whose sudden death grieved me deeply. She inspired the same kind of love the biblical Ruth had for Naomi. I think if she and I had been standing at those crossroads I could’ve said Ruth’s words…
“Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live I will live.” Ruth’s wherever was Bethlehem. A place where she would always be known as “Ruth the Moabitess.”
What does it mean to be a Moabitess? (If you’re interested, check out this artifact that confirms the biblical text regarding the Moabites – The Moabite Stone)
- Your People/My People – Remember Lot’s Wife? Her daughters were just as unbelieving as their mom. Fearing they’d never have children, they got their dad drunk and slept with him. Moab was the son of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter. (Genesis 19) Not a great beginning for Ruth’s people.
- Your God/My God – Moabites were called “the people of Chemosh” – their angry, bloody god who demanded human sacrifice to gain his favor. God called Chemosh the abomination of Moab. It’s easy to understand why Ruth may have been interested in the God of Naomi who is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
- Enemies – When the Israelites were in their midst of their wilderness wanderings, Moab would not let them pass through their country. God had said to the Israelites: “Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.” But Moab and Midian, both relatives of Israel, had no such injunction against attacking Israel. They joined forces to try and harm Israel by hiring Balaam to curse them. But God would not allow Balaam to curse. Balaam helped anyway by encouraging the Moabites to send treacherous women into the Israelite’s camp to seduce the men away from God.
- Unwelcome – Moabites were not welcome “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever.”
Ruth the Risk-taker
They say with great risk comes great reward. Ruth is proof.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6
Your God will be My God – Ruth made a statement of faith. She believed in Naomi’s God. Actually she showed more faith that Naomi and her husband had. Instead of running away when things got tough, she risked taking the long and perilous journey with Naomi. Then she risked going to glean in the fields in order to provide for her mother-in-law. It was dangerous to be around the men gathering the grain but God sent her to the right field and to the right man, Boaz. She risked following Naomi’s crazy advice. It was pretty “bold and unconventional” going to the threshing floor and laying at the feet of Boaz – essentially proposing to him. She risked marrying an older man.
What did Ruth get for all this risk? Great reward. A husband. A future. A baby. A blessing for Naomi. And she ends up in the line of Christ.
How is Jesus Involved in the Story of Ruth?
Ruth is one of several Gentile women in the line of Christ. In her story we get an Old Testament glimpse of what Jesus would accomplish in the New Testament: salvation for all who would believe on His name, whether Jew or Gentile. Ruth is a preview of Ephesians 3:6 which says: ” …the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
The book of Ruth is read aloud at the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Pentecost or Shavuot (aka the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, and the Latter Firstfruits) is celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. Shavuot is traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel. To Christians it is the festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter.
Questions to Ponder
- Ruth left all that was familiar to follow God. What risks have you taken for Him?
- Have you ever continued to gently love a friend who was as cranky and bitter as Naomi was or did you just stay away from her?
- Scripture says Ruth happened to go to the right field at just the right time. Have you seen God’s hand working in your life in similar ways?
Let’s pray Ann Spangler’s prayer: Lord, thank you for the blessing of friends who, by sharing their lives with us, double our joy and halve our sorrows. Help me to cherish the friends you’ve given me and to become the kind of friend others will cherish; a woman who listens, encourages, and keeps confidences; a woman who knows how to laugh and how to cry who is loyal, forgiving, and loving. Amen.
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Ruth: God rewards those who believe.