Ruth: Love and Faith in Action
Nov 1, 2018 · Robin Basselin
Comprised of only four chapters, the book of Ruth tells a short, but epic story of love, devotion, and unwavering faithfulness. We might be tempted to think of the characters in this story as larger-than-life beacons of exceptional faith. However, by doing so we’d miss a key part of the story. The characters in the book of Ruth are not especially exceptional. They are relatable, everyday people like you and me grappling with life’s difficult situations and decisions.
When we first meet Ruth, she faces an impossible decision. Recently widowed, should she remain in the safety of her homeland or commit herself to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, to the far-off land of Judah? Later, when faced with exacting situation after situation, Ruth must continue to discern what God would have her do. Though a woman of meager means and very few options, Ruth’s example reveals how God can use our consistent acts of ordinary faithfulness, devotion, and love to further his extraordinary plan of salvation.
Ruth’s Devoted Love
Naomi and Ruth’s situation is dire, and the options before them are bleak. Years before, Naomi, her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons fled from their homeland of Judah to Moab to escape a famine. But now, years later, Naomi’s husband, and her two sons have all died, leaving Naomi and her Moabite daughters-in-law widowed, vulnerable, and without any substantial means of support.
Maybe you can relate. Have you ever lost your job or been on the edge of financial ruin? Maybe you’ve lost a spouse or child, and cannot imagine how you could possibly go on. In her sorrow, Naomi makes the difficult choice to embark on the long and dangerous trek back to her homeland to throw herself on the mercy of her people. Holding out little hope that she will thrive back in Judah, she begs her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to return to their families and stay in their homeland of Moab. Orpah does the sensible thing and returns to her family, but Ruth does not. At this moment we glimpse one of Ruth’s most defining characteristics: her devotion.
Ruth 1:14, says that Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but that Ruth clung to her. I’ve always loved both the physicality and emotive nature of this word. I like to envision Ruth desperately enfolding Naomi in her arms and squeezing, almost unbearably tight, to not only console Naomi in her weariness, but also to communicate that she could not, and would not, ever let go. The word translated as clung in this passage is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how a husband must unite with, or cleave unto, or be bonded with his wife. It’s the same word used in passages like Joshua 23:8, when Joshua urges the people to cling to God, just as they had in past trials. Ruth’s act of clinging to Naomi is a reminder to all of us that even in our times of desperation and seeming abandonment, God calls us to cling to him, his promises, and his people.
This is not to say that this kind of clinging is easy. It’s not. Ruth’s choice to commit herself to Naomi is fraught with anxiety and loss. Not only must she leave her family, but knowing the tumultuous history between Moab and Judah, she recognizes that living in Judah means living among a people who would likely see her as a second-class citizen at best and an enemy at worst. Yet, in the moment, she does not flinch. Ruth loves her mother-in-law, and through her relationship with Naomi, Ruth has also encountered and come to love the one true God. So, Ruth declares to Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16b). Like Abraham, Ruth is willing to leave behind the land of her birth and step out in faith, with only Naomi and God to cling to.
If you are struggling today in uncertain circumstances, what might it look like for you to step out in faith like Ruth? How might you cling to God, his promises, and his people?
Ruth’s Tenacious Faith
Ruth’s decision to cling to Naomi and step out in faith is just the beginning of her story. Once in Judah, Ruth continues to live out her devotion to both Naomi and God. In her own sorrow, Ruth must have been tempted to simply give up or to withdraw herself from society’s glares and judgment. However, she does not. Her love for Naomi and God is too great. She does everything that Naomi asks of her and lives according to God’s law. With bold humility, Ruth sets out for a landowner’s fields to glean, to pick up what the harvesters have left behind. She does not complain. She is not proud, and she doesn’t concern herself with what others might think. Ruth simply obeys God’s law and accepts what God provides.
Imagine you are Ruth upon arriving in Judah. She must have felt ill-equipped to deal with the enormity of her situation. She had suffered so much loss and yet, must still shoulder the responsibility of caring and providing for Naomi. All of us can relate to feeling overcome by suffering or paralyzed by the complexity of our situation. Ruth did not have a grand plan for how to overcome her problems on her own. Instead, she simply chose to take the next right step and do the next right thing.
First, Ruth gleans, following God’s law, and so finds favor with Boaz, the owner of the field. Then, when Naomi tells her to return to Boaz’s field, she does so. And finally, Naomi urges her to make what seems like a bold and possibly scandalous gesture, telling Ruth: “when [Boaz] lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do” (Ruth 3:4). Ruth is new to the faith and culture of the people of Israel. Like us, she may not fully understand the implications of what Naomi is asking her to do. But she loves Naomi and not only trusts her but also God’s law. And so, she obeys. She lays herself at Boaz’s feet and boldly asks him to care for her and Naomi (his kin), according to God’s law (Ruth 3:9).
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Looking backward on history, we know how the story ends for Ruth. Just as God used Ruth’s faithfulness to provide support for Naomi, he also used Boaz’s faithfulness to redeem Ruth’s and Naomi’s situations. When Ruth boldly asked for his care, Boaz followed God’s law carefully. He made small, faithful decisions all along the way—to start with, just leaving grain in the field for gleaners, then by honoring Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law with lavish amounts of grain and food (Ruth 2), and finally by accepting Ruth’s bold proposal (of marriage, as it were) to be her and Naomi’s kinsman redeemer (Ruth 3).
After marrying Boaz, Ruth gave birth to a son named Obed. For her, this was likely a period of joy that she never imagined on that day in Moab when Naomi begged her to return to her family. Indeed, God had blessed Ruth’s devotion, her boldness, and her commitment to do the next right thing (even in the face immense suffering). However, God did so much more through Ruth than she would ever know. Her great-grandson would be King David, and generations later, from her family line, would be born our Savior, Jesus Christ. Imagine, the redemption of the whole world was brought about, in part, through the intense loss, suffering, and then bold devotion of an ordinary widow from a foreign land.
Today, if you are experiencing a time of great struggle or sorrow in your life, know that God is with you. Take encouragement from Ruth’s example of tenacious faith, devotion, and love. If you cling to God, his promises, and his people, he will meet you in your need wherever you are. Lean on God’s guidance and reach out to family, friends, or your pastor as you discern your way forward. And remember, you don’t have to have it all figured out. Just continue to take your next right step and God will do the rest! If you’d like to learn more about God’s presence and provision in the lives of Ruth and Naomi, download Groundwork’s 4-part study “Ruth: Surprised by God’s Providence.”