Whenever I think of the book of Ruth, I get a bunch of warm fuzzies in my heart. Verses 16 and 17 from the first chapter were part of my wedding vows, so that’s always my immediate association.
But I started to see a larger message as I read the full account this time. I shared what I was seeing/understanding with my husband and he reminded me this was a message my father-in-law (he’s a pastor in Kuwait) shared with our church the last time he visited the U.S. in 2016. I guess it was a word that was deposited in me a couple of years ago and reactivated when I read Ruth recently. God’s Word never returns void!
Then as I researched a few aspects of the story, I realized that many other people have written in the same vein about Ruth. But that doesn’t take away from its powerful message.
Here is how God’s Word spoke to me:
When famine struck their homeland, Naomi’s family decides to “sojourn” in Moab (v. 1). I get the impression they didn’t plan to be there forever, but Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies in Moab (v. 3). Then her two sons marry Moabite women (v. 4).
I find it interesting that in the context of this famine, the place Naomi and her family left was Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread” in Hebrew. They left this place of God’s provision for Moab, which is the land of Lot’s descendants – not the Promised Land, and not God’s chosen people (although they were distant cousins).
Their mistake is so evident, yet I know I can be blind to this exact blunder in my own life. How easy is it for me to turn away from God’s promise/provision when there is lack or difficulty in my life? Too easy, I’m afraid! How often do I try to find answers/validation/stuff outside of God’s provision? More times than I care to admit.
As you can imagine, things didn’t go well for this family. Their “sojourn” lasted about 10 years and Naomi eventually loses her two sons as well. She is a childless widow in a foreign land – that’s about as bad as it could get for a woman in this society at this point in history.
Are there places in your life where you are waiting for God to provide? I know I am. Taking things into our own hands is so tempting, but better to be without in God’s will than to have plenty outside of it!
Better to be without in God’s will than to have plenty outside of it!
We can be sure that whatever we obtain outside of Him will only fulfill us for a short time. And on the other side of it is loss – loss of God’s best, and if we persist in our own way, spiritual death.
Naomi finally decides to return to her country because “she heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food” (v. 6).
God’s people went through some tough times, but God came through for them. I can imagine the “If only we had stayed” statements running through Naomi’s head. “My husband would still be alive...” and “My sons wouldn’t be dead…” or “I wouldn’t be all alone right now…” The important thing however, is that she doesn’t stay stuck in regret, but rather makes a decision to return to God.
This was no easy trip. It would have taken between 7-10 days. Naomi and Ruth would have had to cross the Jordan River and climb 2000+ feet in elevation to reach Bethlehem. For two vulnerable women traveling alone, I’m sure they were in near-constant danger. And not just because of the rugged terrain, but because they were unaccompanied. Sleeping out in the open (as I imagine they had to) was dangerous even for men in the OT (see Genesis 19:1-5, etc.).
But praise God! They make it.
Turning back to the Lord when we have sinned or walked in our own way can be costly, and humbling. The Bible says that when Naomi and Ruth arrived, “the whole town was stirred because of them” (v. 19) I can imagine Naomi’s embarrassment and humiliation.
Instead of expressing gratitude to God for a safe trip, Naomi blames Him for all of her troubles: ““Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (v.20-21)
When the consequences of our sin catch up with us, it’s easy to blame God. But God is merciful. Even when we face judgment, his love and his mercy pursue us. When we fall short, (which let’s be honest, is often) we should turn to our Heavenly Father, knowing that he is fully good, and he wants what’s best for us.
Thankfully, Naomi’s circumstances begin to change, and so does her attitude. (Maybe I’m being too hard on Naomi? She did come all the way back, which indicates repentance, and obedience. Obedience is big. Perhaps her feelings just needed to catch up with her.)
In any case, you know the happy ending to this story. Ruth experiences protection and provision in Boaz’s field, (Ruth 2:8-9) and eventually he marries her, redeeming Elimelech’s land and providing an heir (Ruth 4:11-15). Someone who would take care of Naomi in her old age. This heir – Obed, was David’s grandfather, and an ancestor of Jesus.
I love what the women of Bethlehem say to Naomi (v. 14-15) when Ruth gives birth to Obed:
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Truly God can work even the most difficult of circumstances for our good! (Romans 8:28) You may be going through great pain or loss right now. And perhaps it is because of some bad choices you’ve made. I know I’ve been there (and because of this fallen nature, will definitely find myself there again). I encourage you not to stay in a place of condemnation. Let Naomi’s story be an encouragement to you. If we turn back to God with all of our hearts, he will restore and bless us beyond what we could have ever hoped or imagined.
This was a long post. If you read all the way through, thank you! How did the book of Ruth minister to you? Please share in the comments!
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash