"RUTH: FROM OBSCURITY TO PROMINENCE"
Ruth, the central figure in the Book of Ruth, is one of the most lovable women in the Bible. And her abiding love embraces the person you would least expect it to, her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi was a Hebrew from Bethlehem--Judah, while Ruth was a foreigner from Moab, a lofty tableland to the east of the Dead Sea. Ruth's name has ever been one of the most popular names for girls. In his compilation of the first hundred female names in America, Elsdon C. Smith places Ruth seventh in the list with an estimated number of almost one and a half million girls bearing the name.
Due to her persistent and tenacious faith, many parents have named their daughters Ruth. Go to any country of the world where the Bible and the Church are available and you will hear of a girl, or woman named Ruth.
There are two books in the Bible, which bear the name of a woman—Ruth and Esther. Ruth was a Moabitess, and Esther was a Jewess. Each in her own particular way and in her own particular circumstances manifested devotion and faithfulness to God.
The name of Ruth is mentioned twelve times in this book, which bears her name. Apart from that she is mentioned only once more in the Word of God, and that is in a very wonderful place and connection—the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 1:5).
Though of a neighboring people, hated by early Israel, Ruth finally won her way into the their hearts as the ideal daughter-in-law, wife, and mother. The people of the little town of Bethlehem admired her, not because of her genius or of her foresight or her great beauty, but because of her womanly sweetness. Her story, which finally culminates in her marriage to Boaz, a man of influence and affluence, is one of the most beautiful romances in the Bible. By the way the meaning of the name “Ruth” is debatable. However, there are two that are closer to the original meaning of the name. The first is “a woman companion,” or “fellow woman.” The second one is “the act of seeing,” “something worth seeing.”
In this message there are several lessons I would like us to learn from Ruth. I would like all of us to pay attention to this message, especially the women as we examine the life of Ruth.
I. A YOUNG WIDOW
At the opening of the story of Ruth as the widow of Mahlon faces an uncertain future. The first glimpse we have of Ruth is as a young wife whose husband had been snatched by the grim reaper (death). Death had already paid a visit to Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, and the father of Mahlon and Chilion. Not only did Ruth's husband Mahlon die, but also Orpah's husband Chilion died. This was a triple jeopardy for Naomi in a foreign land. It was a great loss to these two Moabite women. Famine had brought Naomi, her husband, and two sons to this foreign land in search of greener pasture, but she wished she had not left Israel. Death had dealt a heavy blow and had left a gaping hole in Naomi's life that nothing else seemed to fill the vacuum. However, Naomi is not the only person who has suffered loss. These young ladies have also become widows in an unexpected time. The beautiful thing about Ruth is that the death of her husband did not make her bitter. She was unlike her mother-in-law. From this point on Ruth herself becomes the embodiment of all that is fine in a young widow. We do not hear her crying out at the loss of her husband, but expressing her affection for him in her loyalty to his mother, his people, his country, and his God.
Bereft of her husband, Ruth, as well as Orpah, would be left without material resources of support, and would face the hard and bitter lot of a biting poverty, as many widows do when the breadwinner is taken. Ruth did not seek self-pity; neither did she manifest the bitterness that had gripped the heart of Naomi because of her sad lot. Amid the shadows, Ruth maintained poise and serenity, which even her mother-in-law might have coveted. When happy homes are ravaged by death, it requires grace to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Naomi's self-confessed bitterness over the loss of husband and sons spoke of her lack of faith in God's good providence. However, Ruth being a heathen seems to have calmly consented without protest to the divine will.
II. A FAITHFUL DAUGHTER-IN-LAW
Bound together by a common grief, the three widows found consolation in each other's company. “Fellow-feeling, makes us wondrous kind.” The widowed Naomi, now bereft of her two sons childless, had no links with Moab. As famine has passed in Bethlehem, the decision was made to pull up stakes and return to her own country and people, perhaps with a faint hope that God would prove Himself to be the Guardian of the widows. “Let your widows trust in Me,” says the Lord. What about Ruth and Orpah? Having become too attached to their mother-in-law, who had become a second mother to them, a friend and a counselor, they decided to accompany Naomi to Jerusalem. Naomi used no persuasion, but left the two young widows to make their own decision. Therefore, all the three left Moab together, but on their way they stopped and Naomi urged them to return to their own country, marry and settle down. She did not want these young women to face uncertainty in a foreign land. Orpah, who was too much attached to her own culture and idolatrous practices decided to go back to her own people. Her heart failed, and kissing her mother-in-law she returned to her kindred and to her gods. Many people lose God's best for their lives because they do not want to leave their comfort zones to venture a journey of faith with God. Like so many young widows, she might have concluded, “Somebody else must take care of this bitter old woman. I am still young, and I want to marry again. The mother of my first husband is in my way.”
As for Ruth the choice was different. She loved Naomi and was willing to leave her own land and share the unknown future with the aging woman in whom her life was bound up. Ruth found in Naomi a room for her heart. While many women cannot stand their mothers-in-laws, Ruth became a constant companion to Naomi. Ruth revealed a quiet faithfulness so characteristic of her association with the embittered woman now returning to Bethlehem. Alexander Whyte says that there is not a love story comparable to the love of Ruth for her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Ruth's declaration of love and loyalty for Naomi marks it out as being the purest and most unselfish form of devotion, especially when we remember that Naomi was more than twice the age of Ruth, and that proverbially, it is not easy to live with a mother-in-law.
Ruth never swerved from her unselfish purpose during the many trials that followed. Nor did she ever complain because she had given up everything, her country, her relationships with young friends, or her chance to marry a man of her own country. She had given all of them up in a quiet resolution in her heart. The matchless beauty of the character of Ruth appeared when she cried, “Entreat me not to leave you.” Ruth refuses to abandon her mother-in-law in spite of Naomi's insistence. In our age characterized by a number of strained relationships, broken homes, and lack of love, it is most refreshing to go back to the charming picture of loyalty found in the person of Ruth, the Moabitess.
The young and beautiful daughter-in-law and the old and wise mother-in-law now turned their faces resolutely toward Palestine (Israel). The journey was less than 120 miles, but this distance represented a long, fatiguing, and dangerous trek in this period thirteen centuries before Christ, especially for two lonely women who had neither money beyond their barest needs nor protector.
III. A DETERMINED CONVERT
In spite of her heathen background and her association with the degenerated tribe of Moab, Ruth became a devout worshiper of the true God. Perhaps Ruth parted company with idol worship during her short marriage with Mahlon. Perhaps her husband told her of the greatness of Yahweh, the covenant keeping God. From now on the Hebrews would be her people, and Naomi's God will be her God. Her newly found faith constrained her to say; “Only death would separate you and me.” Had Ruth returned with Orpah to Moab and to obscurity, she would have returned to the altars of Baal (idol gods). Had she accompanied Orpah to Moab, you and I would not be reading about Ruth today. She would have been forgotten completely. But now with God in her heart, Ruth longed to live with those people “whose God is the Lord.” Faith burst into the light of day, took the form of quiet, humble service, and remained untainted by any trace of pride or of spiritual haughtiness. Ruth is an instance of natural affection that leads to true faith in the living God.
The firm decision of Ruth to follow the Lord, and to identify herself completely with His people, brought her a rich reward, when she became the ancestress of the Savior, who came into the world to save idolaters and sinners of every race. With her surrender to the claims of God, Ruth's beauty of heart, generosity of soul, firm sense of duty and meekness were sanctified and were used to place her winsome portrait among the immortals. There are thousands of Christian parents whose heavy load would be lifted if only their children would come home one day confessing, “Your God shall be my God, your people my people.” This miracle of conversion happened in the heathen heart of Ruth, and God is still the same today as when He won the young widow of Moab for Himself.
A HUMBLE GLEANER
When they reached Bethlehem, in order to support herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth performed the lowliest of tasks, that of following the reapers and gathering up the fragments of grain, which fell and were left behind for the poor. Without the least feeling of self-pity or dread of a difficult task, Ruth gleaned all day in the hot sun, returning to Naomi joyfully at the end of the day with her small harvest. Naomi was not only humble she was also a hard worker.
Back in Bethlehem, Naomi was reminded of how her afflictions had changed her. Some friends are not sympathetic at all when adversity visits you. These friends found it hard to believe that this was the beautiful woman who had left them ten years before. At that time Naomi was clothed so well, but now she is clad in a poor and sorrowful dress. Her brow was wrinkled and her back bent, but by her side was the “foreigner” to share her sorrow and to taste any joys that might come to her. At first it seemed as if they were to remain desolate and uncared for, but fortunately it was harvest time, and the golden sheaths were being gathered. When your life is clouded by the fog of winter, do not despair but lift up your eyes to the God who provides food for the sower, because soon there will be spring and harvest time. "Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). God is about to turn things around for both Naomi and Ruth. God is about to turn their weeping into dancing. God is about to turn their night into day but Naomi did not know. When adversity strikes your life as a child of God, do not give up on God, because God causes all things to work together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
IV. AN HONORED MOTHER
God smiled upon the marriage of honorable Boaz and virtuous Ruth, and blessed them with a son whom they named Obed, which means, "Servant who worships.” As Ruth was the servant who came to worship Yahweh, we can imagine her son's name as being expressive of her own conversion from idolatry. Through the birth of Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who, in turn was the father of King David, Ruth found herself numbered among the elect, and God wove the thread of her life most intricately into the web of the history of His people, both before and after Christ.
Those of us who are Christians praise God for Ruth's inclusion in His portrait-gallery, for she was the ancestress of Him who, by His death, brought us near to God. It was from Boaz, an Israelite without guile, and from Ruth, who became an Israelite not in race, but in mind; not in blood but faith; not by tribe but by virtue and goodness, that Jesus came as the most perfect expression of all graces.
From Ruth's outstanding qualities of unselfishness and loyalty we learn that such virtues are the only foundation upon which true happiness can be built. Without them, abiding friendship is impossible, home ties are loose, and the social structure weak. Ruth also teaches us that attractive graciousness is worth cultivating; and that racial hatred and religious bigotry can be solved by a right relationship to Him who made of one blood all nations.
Love had worked the miracle in Ruth's life. She was beloved by all because she was so lovable. She had proven that love can lift one out of poverty and obscurity, love can bring forth a wonderful child, love can shed its rays, like sunlight, on all whom it touches, even a forlorn and weary mother-in-law. Ruth's love had even penetrated the barriers of race.
Therefore, let the love and faith of Ruth speak to you to embrace God, who welcomes people that are open to Him. God is not a respecter of persons. He receives everyone who comes to Him by faith.