Ruth

Many of us know the story of Ruth. It’s been held up as a testimony of hope. Out of suffering and tragedy, comes redemption and restoration. In particular, we focus on Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi and God. But Ruth’s story is not just a love story of Ruth and Boaz. If you read it again you’ll notice it actually starts and ends with Naomi. With that in mind, we begin to see that Ruth is actually a story about suffering and hardship and seeing God in the midst of it.
 
The Book of Ruth is in a crazy time of history. Ruth comes right after Judges. Literally the verse before the Book of Ruth says “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). Yikes. If everyone is doing whatever they want, I’m sure there must have been a lot of chaos and trouble. Especially for women. On top of the world being chaotic, Naomi loses her husband and sons. The whole reason they left Bethlehem was to not die of starvation and yet they die anyway. Life for Naomi at this time sucks. She is in a foreign land without any male relatives at a time where being a widow and childless meant you were truly forsaken by society. So when she hears there is no longer a famine in Judah, she decides to go back to her people. She isn’t going to make her daughter-in-laws come with her, because Ruth and Orpah still had families they could return to. Their chances of survival were better away from her.  

“…it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” -Naomi to Ruth and Orpah (Ruth 1:13 NKJV)

Naomi thought that God must have turned away from her. And yet, she refers to God as YAHWEH, the one who promised to be faithful to His people. Maybe she said this sarcastically, but maybe some part of her deep down knew this to be His true character. Yet God does indeed show His faithfulness to Naomi through Ruth. Ruth is loyal, determined to stay by Naomi’s side, and loves her dearly. It is through Ruth’s character and story, that Naomi can begin to believe that God is who He says He is. That is why it’s so important to have community. They can help provide for you like Boaz and they can minister to you by reflecting God like Ruth.

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
(Ruth 1:20-21 NKJV)

In the depths of despair, Naomi could only focus on the negatives of these fresh events and she painted the past in a positive light. Instead of remembering that her family left because of a famine, they were full. Instead of having a devoted daughter-in-law by her side, she said she was empty. So instead of being Naomi (meaning “pleasant”) she becomes Mara (meaning “bitter”). It is our perceptions that affect what we believe to be true and keep us from seeing God’s goodness beside us in the midst of tragedy.

Also in the passage above, Naomi uses the word “Shaddai”, the God that is all-sufficient, to describe God. She admits that she knows He is what she needs. In this we see a common experience. We know God’s character and who He says He is, but we don’t really believe it or know His heart. It is in suffering that we begin to see this gap of knowledge and experience for how big it really is, and that is when we need to believe God’s word the most.
 
Many people ask “why?” in the midst of these situations. We think that if it could all be explained, then we can finally rest. We equate knowledge with peace, instead of going to the Prince of Peace. As long as we are on Earth, we probably won’t know why these exact situations happened to us in particular. But it’s not about understanding. If we could understand everything and had the wisdom of the universe, then we wouldn’t need God. And then we begin to realize, we are utterly dependent. Nothing is truly in our control. That realization can be scary. So instead of admitting that we can’t do life on our own, we search for why. Because then we don’t have to admit that we are weak. This is nothing new. Ever since that fruit was plucked from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we’ve been drawn to replacing our intimate relationship with God with knowledge instead. It’s interesting that the tree was that of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of “evil” or “despair” or “suffering”.

In saying that, I also want to remind you that even before Eve got the fruit, she doubted and questioned God with the serpent’s prompting. We were capable of that even before the fruit was eaten and sin entered the world. So, God is not at all surprised by our doubts or our questions. He just wants us to go to Him and tell Him about it, instead of listening to other sources. There is no shame in asking your Father questions and sharing your doubts, go to Him though instead of running away. He will cover you and redeem and restore you, like how he did in Naomi’s story.
 
So back to Ruth, it is at this point that they begin living in Bethlehem and it just so happens that Ruth is gleaning in the field owned by her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. Coincidence, I think not! Naomi realized redemption was near and so she acted. She allowed herself to receive the opportunity God was placing in front of her. Although she was bitter, she was still looking for God. It was this reception of God’s goodness that enabled her to then help set Ruth up for success. We need to be on the lookout for God’s plan so that we can partner with Him in bringing it about, just like Naomi. Thanks to Naomi’s counsel, Boaz was prompted to redeem their family. In doing so, Naomi went from childless widow to grandmother of Obed, who would become the grandfather of David whose lineage leads to our Messiah and Redeemer.

“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative…” (Ruth 4:14 NKJV)

“And may [Obed] be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age… ” (Ruth 4:15 NKJV)

I hope that Naomi’s story can be a source of hope and comfort for you. Remember that in the midst of hardship and suffering, God can still be found if you are seeking Him wholeheartedly.

Author | Rachel Jones

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