Last time we looked a bit at the time period that Ruth was set in. In summary: the story of Ruth occurred in a very dark time in Israel’s history. Israel had rejected God to worship the false gods of their Canaanite neighbours. With that background knowledge, let’s start getting into the book.
The book of Ruth starts with an Israelite family, headed by Elimelech, a farmer of the tribe of Judah, and his wife Naomi, moving to the nation of Moab because of famine. This makes sense during the time of the Judges, as famine was one of the curses God promised to send on His people if they broke their covenant. There were blessings for obedience, but curses for disobedience – you can see Deuteronomy 28 for the covenant conditions. Many scholars speculate that the story of Ruth occurred during the time of Gideon, when the Midianites ravished the land.
Now, Moab was an interesting destination choice by Elimelech. Sure they were close to the tribe of Judah, but the Moabites were enemies of Israel. So much so that God had decreed that no Moabite was to be allowed into His people! Let’s pause for a moment to consider Moab’s history with Israel:
Genesis 19 tells us that Moab was the Son of Lot by incest:
Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. (Genesis 19:36-37)
Moab were the people who hired the prophet Balaam against Israel before Israel had taken the Promised Land. The Moabites responded in fear to Israel’s success against the Amorites (Numbers 22). But Balaam could not curse Israel, for God would not let him. The Moabites hired him to curse Israel, but Balaam had to bless them (Numbers 22-24).
Furthermore, Numbers 25 tells us that Moab later seduced Israel into idolatry against the Lord:
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. [Peor was a mountain in Moab. Ba’al became the primary god worshipped by the Canaanites.] And the LORD’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3)
In Deuteronomy 23:3-6 we learn that God banned Moabites from His congregation – forever! – and commanded Israel not to seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as they lived. Yet God also honoured Lot’s memory by protecting their land from Israel; Israel was not to contend with Moab in battle, or take their land for a possession (Deuteronomy 2:9).
Not only were Moabites not allowed into the congregation, no Israelite was allowed to marry a Moabite (Deuteronomy 7 and 23, Nehemiah 13, and Ezra 9). Bear this restriction in mind when we get further into our story!
But when your family is starving, you go where there is food!
Back to the story . . .
The family move to Moab, but then Naomi loses her husband, Elimelech. The two sons of Naomi and Elimelech marry Moabite women and the family live in Moab for 10 years. Then tragedy strikes again . . . Naomi loses her two sons, too. In the midst of her grief, Naomi heard that God has let up the famine in Israel. She naturally wanted to return to her people.
In the culture of the day, a married woman became part of her husband’s family. Naomi’s daughters-in-law were now her daughters, and should have returned with her. But Naomi does a selfless thing – she tries to send her two daughters-in-law back to their parents.
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” (Ruth 1:8-10)
We see from this that they had a close relationship with one another. Naomi was loyal to her daughters-in-law, and they to her. Naomi eventually convinces one of them, Orpah, to return to her family, but the other – Ruth – clings to her.
This is when we come to verses often heard at weddings, but they impart far more than that:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. 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 deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth is willing to give up everything to stay with her mother-in-law. Don’t miss what Ruth was leaving behind:
- Security – she was going to a new land, destitute: no husband to protect her, no husband to provide for her, no home, no land, nothing!
All she would have was an elderly mother in law to care for. What do we see of Ruth’s character through this?
- courageous, and
- has come to know God!
Wow! Ruth, a Moabitess, came to know the True God. We see this in the oath she takes – to the True God Almighty, not one of her Canaanite gods – to cling to Naomi until death. This shows us something very important about Naomi – she had introduced Ruth to the Lord. In a foreign country, Naomi had remained faithful to the True God. So much so that Ruth had left her nation’s false gods to serve the LORD. Furthermore, to exact this change, Naomi’s character had to be so upstanding that both her daughter-in-laws were willing to enter into poverty and uncertainty in order to remain with her. Naomi shone the true light whilst living in dark times.
We can’t study the Word without asking what it means for our lives. The more time I spend in Ruth, the more I am challenged by two questions:
1) Am I shining God’s light brightly in this dark world?
We must come back to Christ’s words in Matt 5:16:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Are you living as light? Do people meet God through your life?
And what is this light that others see? What else, but a godly character? What else, but Christ in us? Which leads to the second question:
2) Is my character growing in godliness?
What is your character like? In particular, ask yourself what your character is like in the midst of hard times!
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:1-6)
What is character? The root Greek word in Romans 5 is “dokimē” (dok-ee-may). It means to test, or prove trustworthy through trial. Dokimē comes from the same word as “dokimos” (dok’-ee-mos), which means to be approved or made acceptable after being assaulted! So character is the part of our nature that remain true and steadfast in trials, suffering, and temptation.
The character talked of in Romans 5 can only be proven true through testing. So character is not what we say we are, or pretend to be before other people. It is also not what other people label us as. Character is the part of our being that remains steadfast when tested. It is what remains when the Silversmith allows us to be placed in the fiery furnace:
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. (Malachi 3:3)
Ask yourself: How is my character developing?
- What trials are you currently going through?
- What situations test you?
- What are you enduring?
- What struggle or hardship do you face?
Now ask God how He is developing your character through it. Can you, like Paul, rejoice in such trials?
Up next: Ruth 2