Ruth is a little 4-chapter book sandwiched between the Old Testament books of Judges and First Samuel. It’s a tiny, insignificant story – a story without big characters, miracles, or battle victories.
In the story Naomi and her husband Elimelech left their home town of Bethlehem because of a serious famine, fleeing to Moab, southeast of Bethlehem. Their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, accompanied them – four people in the little party. After settling in Moab, their two sons married Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth.
Being a famine refugee is bad enough, but more bad luck accompanied the troupe, and by verse 5 of the first chapter, all of the men in the family died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law bereft of husbands and financial support.
Today Naomi would have gotten a job, gone back to school, or filed for Social Security, possibly even remaining in her adoptive country, Moab. But not in Naomi’s time. In order to survive she had to go back to her homeland where kinsmen could help her survive.
Orpah and Ruth lovingly tagged along with Naomi as she made her way back to Bethlehem, and it appears they would have consented to live permanently with Naomi in a land that was foreign to them. But on the return trip Naomi intervened and told them to go back home to Moab. She believed there were more opportunities for them with their respective families.
Orpah was the most compliant of the group. She agreed with Naomi’s wisdom about returning to Moab and immediately turned around. There was nothing inherently wrong with Orpah’s choice; maybe she thought she stood better odds of finding a husband in Moab. Maybe it didn’t seem as risky. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
Naomi was no spring chick. She was at a time of her life when she should have been enjoying her grandchildren, but instead she resembled an Oklahoma dust-bowler making her way to California and hope. Naomi decided to take a new name – Mara. It meant “bitter” and described how Naomi felt about her life at that moment. No joy here.
Ruth was the optimist of the group. She couldn’t imagine her life with anyone but Naomi and signed up for the adventure. The extent of Ruth’s commitment was evident in what she said to her mother-in-law.
“Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” New Living Translation, Ruth 1:16–17.
As the rest of the story unfolds, Ruth entrusts her life to Naomi, so great was Ruth’s respect for her. That obedient trust led her to Boaz, a wealthy community leader, and to marriage. The child, Obed, that came from the marriage was the great grandfather of the greatest king (David) that Israel had for 100’s of years.
The book of Ruth ends with a family tree. Only at that moment does the significance of Ruth’s life become apparent. What began in famine and flight ended in Gospel. Ruth was one of the luminaries in the family that eventually gave birth to Jesus.
If there is a moral to the story, it might be this. Never assume that you know where events in your life are heading. Sometimes they take radical turns and lead to destinations never imagined – especially when God is involved as God was with Ruth.