Ruth and Naomi Part 2 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
When Naomi and Ruth reached Bethlehem, the neighbors said, “Has this Naomi come home again”? She said, “No, call me Mara, for my name is now bitterness.” Even though they were home, there was no work and no security. But, Ruth was young, vigorous, and healthy and decided she would do what she could to meet their needs. She did what was probably the only thing she could do; she went into the barley fields during harvest and gleaned behind the harvesters. Gleaning was a type of welfare system that helped the poor. During the harvest, the farmers would leave some of the grain standing, so the needy could pick it for food or to sell for money to buy food. That’s what is meant by “gleaning.”
It was there in the barley fields that Ruth got the attention of the workers and then the owner of the field, Boaz. He passed the word to the harvesters, “Leave a little extra for her.” When she went home that night, in her apron she carried a half bushel of barley. Can you imagine how excited the two women must have been! But that was nothing compared to Naomi’s excitement when she learned the name of the man who owned the field and who had been so generous to her daughter-in-law.
Boaz was a kinsman of Elimelech, and that had great implications. You see, Israel had an ancient law called the kinsman-redeemer. It said that if a woman’s husband dies, and she has no children, then one of her husband’s relatives can marry her. But that’s another part of the story.
Naomi’s life is a model of the way God works through a woman who moves forward, even in the midst of tragedy and trial, actively seizing every opportunity God provides rather than waiting passively for something to happen. But, Naomi had not always responded appropriately during hard times. Even though she acknowledged God’s working in her life, she misjudged God, for example, when she said that she left Bethlehem full. Actually, it had been the emptiness of famine that had driven her family away from their homeland.
Next, she accused God of bringing her back empty, and indeed she had lost her husband and sons, but in their place, God had given her Ruth, a devoted daughter-in-law. By focusing on the negative, Naomi became so bitter that she could not see the good and positive plans of God at work in her life. But, Naomi lives on the pages of the Bible as a true heroine. Her strong faith during years of hardship and her careful tutoring of her young protégé Ruth under difficult circumstances shows that she is a woman of deep spiritual understanding.
The result of her wisdom shines throughout the Scriptures, even today. Ruth is another very special woman. She willingly accepted an unsettled future and bound herself by a solemn oath not only to Naomi, but also to the God of Israel. Ruth officially joined the people whose God was Yahweh. He had become her God as well as Naomi’s. Their lives were now linked together forever by a common faith that extended beyond passing companionship.
Abraham left home after being commanded to do so, by God. But, Ruth left her pagan homeland on her own initiative, despite the protest of her mother-in-law, in order to come under the “wings” of God. Ruth offered herself first to Naomi and ultimately to God.
Ruth’s Conversion to Faith in Naomi’s God.
Ruth was a gentlewoman and a woman of faith. She gave up her family, her nationality, and her gods in order that she might give her allegiance to Naomi and to Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel.
I wonder why Ruth gave up her home to go with Naomi. The text doesn’t really tell us, and so we are left to our imaginations. I wonder if it was the quality of life she had seen in the family of Elimelech and Naomi that attracted her. Or it could be what she observed in Naomi when she lost her husband and sons. Maybe it was the way Naomi handled grief that caused Ruth to feel such an admiration for her mother-in-law that she wanted to know her God and embrace her faith. Ruth promised Naomi that
she would go wherever she went and wherever she lived, and that Naomi’s people would be her people, and Naomi’s God would be her God. In so doing, Ruth clearly proclaimed her desire to become a follower of the Lord and of the people of Israel.
Ruth’s vow not to leave Naomi was in itself a confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She said, “Entreat me not to leave thee” meaning “do not insist that I return.” Her words are probably the strongest expression of personal commitment by one human being to another found anywhere in Scripture. Without a doubt, it reveals a genuine spiritual decision and the character of Ruth’s determination to do what was right. Her correct decision would lead to untold blessings in the future! It is a testimony to the influence of her mother-in-law that Ruth was willing to entrust herself to the God whom she worshiped
They Lived Happily Ever After
The lovely story was played out. The young woman gleaning in the barley field caught the eye of the owner. She went home to tell her mother-in-law that his name was Boaz and discovered that he was a kinsman. This meant Boaz could claim Elimelech’s property, including his daughter-in-law Ruth, and Ruth would have security and know love again. But there was a complication.
Boaz was not the next of kin; he was not first in line. A drama was played out at the city gate. Boaz and his relative bargained back and forth. Boaz said to the next of kin, “Would you like to redeem Elimelech’s property?” “Oh yes, sure I would,” he said. “Along with the property you must marry Ruth, his daughter-in-law,” Boaz replied. “Not so fast,” said the next of kin. You see, if he married Ruth, the law of the kinsman-redeemer would necessitate that their children, not his other children, would inherit Elimelech’s property. That would complicate his inheritance. So he backed down. Then Boaz acted promptly and claimed the property and Ruth’s hand in marriage. Like all good love stories, it came to a happy ending.But the rest of the story is this. In the course of time, Boaz’s and Ruth’s son Obed would have a son named Jessie, and Jessie would have a son named David, the great king of Judah from Bethlehem. With the passing of centuries, one of the descendants of Ruth, also born in the village of Bethlehem, was Jesus, who was none other than the Messiah.
The story of Ruth teaches us about the divine intervention of God in the lives of ordinary people. The next time you read Romans 8:28 remember the story of Ruth. And the next time you read the story of Ruth, remember Romans 8:28: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
This verse does not assert that all things are good or that all things work together for good for all people. Rather, the great promise is that God will overrule and work even through the tragedies caused by sin’s presence in the world, to accomplish His purposes in the lives of those who love Him and who have responded to His call. Those who have responded to His call consist of the family of God. Therefore, the promise of all things working together for good is given to a specific group, those who respond to Him in faith; that is, those who are in Christ Jesus and are justified by His blood.
The world, in general, does not have this promise. God’s purpose is to make His children like His Son, and He will succeed. How does He do it? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us and guides us as we pray, and the circumstances of life work for our good, no matter how painful they may be. T. J. Bach wrote: “The Holy Spirit longs to reveal to you the deeper things of God. He longs to love through you. He longs to work through you. Through the blessed Holy Spirit you may have: strength for every duty, wisdom for every problem, comfort in every sorrow, and joy in His overflowing service.” God can bring good out of suffering, grief, disappointment, and loss. If you don’t believe that, just look at the cross!