I have been teaching in the preschool classes at church for almost 30 years. I have taught a lot of Bible Stories! God has given me a love for Bible stories. They tell of real people who had real problems, just like me. Granted, ancient culture was very different than mine. However, when I look beneath the strange customs, I see women who inspire me. Ruth is one of those women. Seldom in scripture do you see someone so devoted and so unselfish. What is her story and what can we learn from her life to apply to our lives today?
We see Ruth for the first time in the book of the Bible named for her. She and her mother-in-law Naomi are in a desperate situation. Naomi’s husband and both sons died in the land of Moab leaving Naomi, Ruth and Orpah as widows. Naomi was from Bethlehem, an Israelite woman who loved God. Ruth and Orpah were Moabite women (Ruth 1). The Moabite people were an ungodly people. They were a people born in deception as Lot’s daughter deceived him into fathering a child through her (Gen. 19:30-38). The Moabites were a constant source of trouble and temptation for the Israelites. In those days there was no help for widows, outside of family members and friends. There were no Social Security benefits, no retirement plans, and no good paying jobs for women. If your family died, you were purely at the mercy of your friends. Naomi understands her plight and decides to return to Bethlehem, where her friends live. She tries to persuade Ruth and Orpah to go back to Moab to be with their families. Both Ruth and Orpah must have loved Naomi as they both wept at the prospect of leaving. As Orpah decided to return, Ruth clung all the more to Naomi and gave one of the most beautiful verses of devotion written in scripture. “…Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16 HCSB) What motivated Ruth to leave everything behind, go to a place foreign to her and serve a God she had only learned about through Naomi? I believe Ruth saw a real God through Naomi, and she was willing to leave everything behind to serve God and the woman who introduced her to him. Ruth challenges me. I ask myself; am I willing to leave the past behind and wholeheartedly follow God? Can I leave behind my past mistakes, sins, insecurities, and circumstances to follow God? Can I even leave behind good things like home, family and friends, if they are keeping me from following God? Can I joyfully go to live where God wants me to live and let His people be my people, no matter who they are?
I would understand Ruth’s devotion if it had gotten her an immediate change in circumstances. However, when they arrive in Bethlehem they are still poor widows with no one to provide for them. Ruth does not complain; she simply goes to work. She works in the hot sun gathering grain in the dusty fields (Ruth 2). Ruth reminds me that following God is not easy! There are no quick solutions to difficult problems. Whining doesn’t help! I must physically work, while I mentally wait for God’s provision.
Finally, God shows Himself once again as the great provider. God knows what we do not know and works even when we are totally unaware of His presence. Naomi thought God had forsaken her. Ruth just went to work. God directed Ruth to the field of a relative, named Boaz, without her even knowing it. In a beautiful weaving of circumstances, God provided for Ruth and Naomi. Ruth married Boaz who was more than capable of providing for both of them (Ruth 2-4). God will provide for His people; but will I have the courage to follow Him, work hard and have faith in Him even when I can’t see how He is working? Ruth understood this kind of wholehearted devotion. We can also live a life of devotion to God, if we are willing.