Ruth’s story is simple, but arguably that is what makes it so compelling. She is brave, trusting, and selfless - an inspiring trio in the context of our faith.
The book of Ruth has been on my reading list for a long time. Many of my friends have encouraged me to read it, telling me how much they admire Ruth’s strength and feminine heart. Let me tell you – Ruth does not disappoint. She is brave, confident, and has so much to teach us - men and women alike. From her roots as a simple Moabite widow, she becomes an essential character in the powerful story of salvation we read in the Bible.
Let’s first take a look at her story (in a nutshell). In scripture we learn that a famine in Cana forced a woman named Naomi, along with her two sons, to leave Bethlehem and travel to Moab. Enter Ruth. Ruth marries Naomi’s son, Mahlon. The two are married for 10 years before he, and his brother, pass away, leaving Ruth widowed and childless. With no family left in Moab, Naomi encourages Ruth to return to her parents and find a husband who can take care of her. However, Ruth refuses, saying,
“Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do the same to me [as He has done to you], and more also, if anything but death separates me from you.” (Ruth 1: 16-17)
Thus, the two return to Bethlehem together, where Ruth is forced to work in grain fields so that they might have enough food to eat. It is there that she meets Boaz, a wealthy man who lets her glean off his wheat fields. When Naomi discovers Boaz has taken a liking to Ruth, she hatches a plan for Ruth to marry him. The plan is successful, and Ruth marries Boaz. The two are eventually blessed with a son named Obed (the grandfather of King David).
Long story short – Ruth’s story is simple, but arguably that is what makes it so compelling. She is not from money or power, she is a widow - and from an enemy nation at that. Nothing goes in her favor. She never experiences the kind of spotlight moment where God’s voice thunders down. She also isn’t gifted with any life-changing miracles. Yet, her faith never wavers. Ruth leads an ordinary, challenging life that is shaped by her faith and guided by her God.
So what can we learn from Ruth?
There is Always Hope
First, there is hope even in the most devastating times of our life. Ruth and Naomi have both experienced tremendous loss in their lives. They arrive in Bethlehem destitute, devastated, and heartbroken. They had no plan, but they did have faith. Naomi voiced that God had already, “dealt very bitterly,” with her, yet she did not stop hoping in her future. Ruth too chose to lay aside her pain, leave her home and her family, and journey with her mother in law to a new place. Both women clung to the belief that better days were ahead. They embodied a phrase I so often find myself sharing: God doesn’t show you gold, then give you silver. When devastation enters our lives, it is easy to lose hope. However, this is when we need faith and hope the most. Hebrews 11 reminds us,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Our faith is based on that which we have not seen. We lead this life knowing that the best is always to come. In a short-term sense, this means that, as we read in the book of Ruth, even when we can’t see beyond our pain, we can have hope that our story isn’t over: our God is waiting to give us our “gold”. In a long-term sense, we live this life knowing that our future lies in an eternity with our savior when we die, and that eventually Jesus will come again.
We Are Not Our Past
Second, we also learn from the book of Ruth that our past is not the final destination when we trust in God. Ruth was a Moab – a woman of an enemy nation. The journey to Israel with her mother-in-law must have been intimidating, to say the least. A childless widow from a country that made her an outcast in Naomi’s – she had every reason to retreat into her shell and lead a life of obscurity. However, Ruth left her family and her country behind, refusing to let her past define her future. She believed there was still life left for her to live. She knew she had a purpose.
It can be easy for us to slip into the trap that our past defines us, but this is simply not true. Your past is not your final destination when you make a choice in faith. Sure, your confidence may waver, but God’s plan for you will not. Shame and fear will keep you in the dark, hiding a beautiful future from you. Thus, it is important to know that we are not defined by where we’ve been. We are defined by the way in which we move forward – the way in which we travel onwards on the path to sainthood.
Doing The Right Thing
Finally, the book of Ruth shows us that doing the right thing often takes sacrifice. Naomi reminded Ruth that she was free to leave and return to her family, her gods, and to search for a new husband. However, Ruth refused. In that instance not only did she show her dedication to her mother-in-law, she proved her dedication to our God, the God of Israel. To leave her previous life behind was a huge sacrifice, but her commitment to her new journey was a beautiful, selfless act that reflected the love of Christ.
We will rarely find that the right thing to do is the easiest to do, but that is why we must buckle down on our decisions. God is calling us to sainthood, and we know from the stories of the saints that our path there will not always be easy. Like the saints before us, we must learn to sacrifice, to give, and to love above all. Like Ruth, we are called to prove our dedication to our God amidst the strife that may lie ahead of us.