RUTH SHOWS GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK
By LESLIE STRADER
The book of Ruth opens with “a famine in the land” – a stark contrast from the common “once upon a time” prologue that points us to palaces and princesses. Ruth wasn’t royalty, and her story isn’t a fairy tale. Ruth was a stranger in a strange land, widowed without a caretaker in sight in the middle of a national crisis.
Verse 1 of the book gives us a time marker for Ruth’s life: “In the days when the judges ruled…”. Flip back one page in your Bible to the book of Judges, and you see a succinct and chilling description of that time in the history of Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
It is into this bleakness that hope arrived. This is God’s way after all, isn’t it? In four brief chapters detailing the life and decisions of a Moabite woman living in the center of the Jewish world, we learn beautiful truths about God:
- God is sovereign and can use any situation to accomplish His will, for your good and His glory.
- God is always at work even when you can see no evidence of that.
- God has a perfect plan for your life, and desires to bless His children beyond what you can ask or think.
Ruth 1:1-5 is a dreary picture of hunger and loss, wandering and hopelessness. And at the same time, it sets the reader up to see God’s hand leading at every turn.
Elimelech moved his family out of Bethlehem where there was a famine (Bethlehem, notably, means “House of Bread”), and into Moab, amongst a people that had been enemies of Israel since they wandered in the wilderness.
While Scripture doesn’t cite the famine or even the family leaving their land and people as the reason, Elimelech and his sons die. Naomi, the matriarch, and Orpah and Ruth, the two Moabite women they’d married, are now alone and vulnerable. The Lord placed Ruth into this chaos, grief, and loneliness on purpose, using circumstances to strengthen their faith and set the stage for His eternal plan to unfold.
Ruth becomes a great gift to her mother-in-law, and she received a precious blessing as well. Verse 16 tells us she came to know Yahweh through her connection to this hurting family: “Your people will be my people,” she says, “and your God my God.” God was on the move in the middle of a mess, turning a desperate situation into good, and blessing generations to come.
The book of Ruth also shows us that God is always at work, even in ungodly times. But in her bitterness, Naomi can’t see it. She says of the Lord, “…the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (1:20-21)
Naomi’s heart of bitterness caused to her forget that “Adonai” – the word she used to describe her Lord and Master – is also “El Shaddai” – the gracious, compassionate, sufficient and supplying God. The Lord mercifully provided Ruth and graciously brought them back to Bethlehem. And in chapter 2, we see God provided a kinsman redeemer – a godly man who stood out in the dark time of the Judges – who willingly took Ruth under the shadow of his wings.
But all Naomi saw is what was right in front of her: no husband, no heir, no food, all wrapped in big wet blanket of bitterness. Thankfully, our sin does not prevent God from accomplishing His will. God is always at work, even when we’re blinded by fear, disappointment, and unmet expectations.
Now, God’s perfect plan and bountiful blessings. How are these truths seen in the life of a Gentile widow and her bitter mother-in-law? In this story, the ultimate blessing is Jesus Himself. Ruth and Boaz marry and have a son named Obed. Obed fathered Jesse. And Jesse fathered a shepherd boy named David.
And Ruth, who once had the whole town stirred up when she and Naomi came back alone (1:19), is now called – likely by the same women who gossiped about her over back fences – a loving daughter-in-law “who is more to you than seven sons” (4:15). “Seven” – the number of perfection completion in the Bible, and “sons” – the greatest blessing a man or woman could receive from God in the ancient world. Through Ruth, the Lord delivered provision that would not only restore and nourish this once-destitute family, but transcend their lifetimes.
The book of Ruth ends here, but those words of blessing echo through time. We live on this side of the Resurrection, and we know Who came next:
“I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely.” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
God used Ruth, the most unlikely character in this story, to bless this little family in spite of sin, unbelief, and bitterness. God did not have to do this; He was not obligated to act based on Ruth’s behavior or character. Ruth had no idea her grandson would grow up to rule all of Israel, and she certainly never dreamed she would be mentioned in the Gospels in the line of Christ Himself, the ultimate Redeemer (Matthew 1:5). This was pure grace flowing from the very heart of God.
The book of Ruth is a picture of the eternal significance of the life of a follower of Christ. No decision is mundane, no relationship is benign, no detail is meaningless. Dr. John Piper says it this way, “God wants us to know that when we follow him, our lives always mean more than we think they do. For the Christian there is always a connection between the ordinary events of life and the stupendous work of God in history.”
Former Abilenian Leslie Strader is a freelance writer in Tyler.