If there was ever a person in the Bible that had to adjust to a whole new world (and there are a few!), Ruth would be near the top of the list. In fact a whole book of the Bible is devoted to her story. The opening chapter of Ruth describes the situation. After the conquest the Israelite tribes have settled in their designated territories but they have not completely rid the land of its former occupants as the Lord commanded. During this time, roughly 1100 B. C. the judges are administering cases and serving as military deliverers when oppression arises (Jud. 2:16; 4:4; Ruth 1:1).
In an ironic twist of events a famine breaks out in the territory of Judah, specifically Bethlehem which means “House of Bread” and the family of Elimelech (God is my King) decides to pack it up and move 30 miles across the border to the land of Moab. The Moabites were descendants of Lot (Gen. 19:30-38). They were considered enemies and cursed when they did not help Israel after the Exodus (Dt. 23:3-6). During the time of the judges they took advantage of the instability and dominated Israel for 18 years at one point (Jud. 3:12-14). As pantheists they worshipped a number of “baals” (Num. 25:1-5) but the chief and most detestable of their pantheon was Chemosh whom they offered their children to on a regular basis (2 Ki. 3:27). One has to wonder what Elimelech was thinking when he relocated there, especially since Moab means “waste”. It was a dubious decision and he certainly wasn’t living up to his name! We are never told how Naomi, his wife, felt about the decision to move, but we do know how she feels the way life played out in Moab. After the death of her husband and her sons she changes her name from Naomi (pleasant) to Mara (bitter) when she decides to return to her homeland (Ruth 1:20).
But while all seems lost, there is a glimmer of hope. Naomi has one bright spot in her life, her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. They are both loving and devoted to their mother-in-law. After the deaths of her sons Naomi points out that their prospects in Bethlehem are minimal to none and she encourages them to remain with their families when she returns to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:8-13). Widows had very little prospect for survival if they did not have family to help care for them. Since Naomi is uncertain about her family’s situation in Bethlehem common sense dictates they stay in Moab. Orpah chooses to stay but Ruth begs to go (Ruth 1:14-18). Their names reflect their choices: Orpah= cloud; Ruth= drop of water. Like many of the names mentioned in this book these names offer an interesting reflection the predicament Naomi faces. If you were facing an uncertain future wouldn't you rather have a drop of water, than a cloud? That’s just my observation!
As Ruth adjusts to the cultural nuances in her new home (deftly guided by Naomi I might add), her character traits remain unchanged. She listens to Naomi and does as she’s told which results in her being noticed by Boaz who eventually makes her his wife (read the rest of the book if you don’t know the details!). In a time when the nation of Israel struggled to be faithful and true to their God, Ruth’s faith and loyalty to Naomi stood out- especially since she came from Moab! It could be said that these characteristics foreshadow a future descendant of hers, that is Jesus (Mt. 1:5; Lk. 3:32). As a devoted Son, He remained faithful to the Father’s will (Jn. 6:38-40). It is no surprise then that He will be known by these attributes when He returns (Rev. 19:11).
The major cultural backdrop upon which the story of Ruth takes place is the harvest. As commanded in the Mosaic Law, Boaz allows the poor to glean around the edges of his field. This is where Ruth catches his eye due to her loyalty and gentle spirit. It is a reason to examine our own attitudes and actions as we go through our routines day in and day out. How do we compare to Ruth? If we need a checklist, Gal. 5:22-23 is a great resource. Aided by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, others should see these traits without question. You and I may be adept in adjusting to a whole new world in technology, but more importantly the Spirit should be changing us within, adjusting us to be more like Jesus. How are you measuring up?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 5/28/2017