- Main text: Ruth 1:1-17
- Accompanying text: Mark 3:33-35
What this passage means to us
“The book of Ruth contains a wonderful love story, which, while set in the period of the judges, contrasts greatly with the general chaos and disobedience of that period” . The book of Judges is not an easy read, and records acts of war, violence, murder, idolatry and rape, and the book concludes by saying, ‘in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). Yet in amongst all this bad news, we have the story of Ruth. The story of an outsider; her trials, her faithfulness to Naomi and her rescue out of her helpless situation into a new life. The stories of Ruth and Naomi are not the kind of story that makes the headlines, but they are stories that gives hope to those in our world who struggle daily just to survive. Stories that many of us can relate to, where God’s reveal his presence through the people in our lives as opposed to miraculous signs and events.
The passage begins with a famine in the ‘House of Bread’, which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word Bethlehem. The locations immediately has significance for Jewish and Christian readers; Bethlehem is the birth place of both king David and Jesus Christ, and both can trace their lineage to Ruth. With a famine in Bethlehem, Elimelek and his family become refugees fleeing hunger and poverty and, like many today, seek refuge in a foreign land. Moab is a surprising destination as the Bible does not have many positive things to say about Moab (e.g. 2 Kings 3:26-27), and leaving Judah risks the safety of Elimelek’s family and seemingly questions the Lord’s ability to provide for Israel. The move ends in disaster with Elimelek’s death, followed ten years later by the death of his two sons, leaving behind his wife Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law.
The death of her family leaves Naomi in a difficult place, with questions often faced by both widows and widowers. What future does the future hold? Where does she belong now? Who will provide for and help her in later life? Hearing that the famine has been lifted in Bethlehem, Naomi decides to leave Moab return to her homeland. The surprising twist though is that her two daughters-in-law choose to accompany her, leaving the land they had lived in all their life in for Judah. In doing so they choose to trade place with Naomi, and become the sojourners in a foreign land.
Naomi at this point, urges her daughters-in-law to turn back, as she had no other sons for them to marry and accompanying her would leave them poorer off “because the LORD’s hand has turned against’ her (1:13). Naomi’s belief that God had turned against her is so strong, that she later names herself Mara, meaning ‘bitter’ (1:20). In the darkness of her circumstances, Naomi fails to see God’s blessing in her two daughters-in-law, and it is through her relationship with Ruth that Naomi will eventually experience the fulness of family again and recognise God’s blessing in her life (4:14-17).
In an emotional farewell at this point, one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law leaves her to return to Moab, but Ruth stays with her and declares her commitment to Naomi, to Israel and to the Lord. Verses 16 and 17 are the best known verses in Ruth, and a beautiful description of faithfulness and commitment – all the more powerful because they come from an outsider. These are not empty words (as the rest of the story of Ruth goes on to prove), but a declaration of Ruth’s costly love towards Naomi and towards God.
In our lives these words gain greater significance when we can see how God has shown this same faithfulness and commitment to us in Jesus Christ. God does not turn away from us. In the Incarnation he makes humanity a part of who he is, and follows us where we go – even following us to the grave. Just as Ruth declares that death could not separate her from Naomi, God has refused to let death separate us from him (Rom 8:35,38-39).
In this declaration, Ruth chooses to be more than just Naomi’s daughter-in-law, she chooses to become Naomi’s daughter, bound together by love, not legal convention. Likewise, when “God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us” , God reveals to us the depths of his love; that he has chosen to make us, his creation, his beloved children.
Context and storyline
“The book of Ruth has been called ‘a summer’s morning after a night of wild tempest’. So sweet does it seem in contrast to the blood-curdling narratives which precede and follow it that the tendency is not think of it as history at all, but as some kind of poetic interlude” . The story of Ruth is a story of grace and love, and the next three chapters see Naomi and Ruth rescued from poverty by the actions of Boaz, acting as a kinsman-redeemer, a type of Christ.
The book of Judges suggests that the darkness of the time of Judges was in part because there was no King in Israel, but the story of Ruth speaks powerfully to the need for a King not just to bring law and order, but also to demonstrate love and compassion and to remember the widows, the orphans and the foreigners…
- Ephesians 2:11-22
- Deuteronomy 25:5-10
- Matthew 1:1-17
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and References
- K. Lawson Younger Jr., NIV application Commentary: Judges & Ruth (Zondervan, 2002). Olive Tree Digital Edition.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Press, 1996). 37.
- Gordon J. Keddie, Even in Darkness: Studies in Judges & Ruth (Evangelical Press, 1985). 109.