Bible Focus: Ruth
During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was left without her two children and without her husband.Ruth 1:1-5 CSB
Imagine that you were to make a comprehensive list of all the family and friends that you currently have. Picture writing them all down: casual friends and close ones, blood relatives and in-laws, those you talk with on special occasions and those you talk with all the time.
Now imagine having that whole list of people in front of you. How many of them are so devoted to you that they would move with you to an unfamiliar place? How many are so faithful to you that they would move to a place where they wouldn’t know anyone except you?
I suspect that list of family and friends just became very short. There aren’t many people in our lives who are willing to uproot their own life to support us and be with us. But if we are fortunate enough to have those who feel that way about us, then we probably feel that way about them too.
In a much greater way, whether we realize it or not, God feels that way about us. God has taken drastic measures to show us his faithful love. The stories of sacrificial relationships in the Bible–and in our own lives–point to the God who was willing to lay down his life for us.
During the time of the judges, the Israelites spiraled away from God in their idolatry and disobedience. God wanted to show them faithfulness, and he repeatedly did so, but they responded to his mercy with even greater unfaithfulness. Into this incredibly dark background came the story of Ruth.
Ruth was not an Israelite by birth. She was a Moabite woman. Ruth married an Israelite man whose family had moved from Bethlehem to Moab seeking relief from a famine. But then her husband’s father, her husband’s brother, and her husband all tragically passed away. There was no one left from her husband’s family except for her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Naomi heard that the famine was over, so she decided to move back to Bethlehem. Naomi specifically released Ruth from any responsibilities she might feel towards her, and urged her to build a new life among her Moabite relatives. But Ruth refused, giving a forceful statement of faithfulness to Naomi:
But Ruth said, “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.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.Ruth 1:16-18 ESV
Ruth returned to Bethlehem with Naomi at the time of the barley harvest. Ruth went searching in the fields for leftover grain that she could collect and bring home to Naomi. In doing so, she encountered a landowner named Boaz, who happened to be a close relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech. Boaz spoke kindly to Ruth, offered her food and water, and ordered his men to treat her well. Ruth was overwhelmed by his kindness and kept returning to work in his fields.
Naomi took notice of Boaz’s attention to Ruth. Naomi also realized that Boaz had the right to purchase Elimelech’s land and care for them both, if he was willing to marry Ruth. So eventually, Naomi guided Ruth to make an invitation towards Boaz.
One night, at Naomi’s advice, Ruth dressed in her best clothes, approached Boaz while he was sleeping at the end of the grain pile at his threshing floor, and laid down at his feet. When Boaz woke and discovered what she wanted, he promised he would do everything he could to marry her. There was only one obstacle: there was a relative to Elimelech closer than Boaz. This relative would have to decline his rights before Boaz could purchase Elimelech’s land and marry Ruth.
As soon as possible, Boaz found the relative and explained the situation. At first, the man wanted to claim his rights and purchase Elimelech’s land. However, when he discovered he would have to marry Ruth, he declined, for he was unwilling to risk sharing his estate with her and her descendants. So Boaz immediately purchased the land and married Ruth. They had a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of David, who became Israel’s greatest king.
Here’s the good news. The story of Ruth and Boaz is a small demonstration of the kind of faithfulness that God wants to show to us. Ruth didn’t have to move away from everything she had ever known, but she moved with Naomi anyway. Boaz didn’t have to risk the status of his own estate, but he married Ruth anyway. God didn’t have to sacrifice to rescue us from our sin, but he sent Jesus anyway.
Why would each of these demonstrate such faithfulness? The reason seems obvious: love. Ruth really loved Naomi. Boaz really loved Ruth. And God really loves us.
Featured image from Steven Lasry on Unsplash.