The story of Ruth is a familiar tale about loyalty, honor, romance, and God’s provision. Most Christian women are probably more interested in Ruth’s husband, Boaz, than the heroine herself, but Ruth is a woman whose life we should all venture to study. Her story has been retold and revered for sundry years in countless books and sermons about womanhood and singleness. Ruth was mentioned while I was conversing with another sister in the faith about marriage. Since then I was inspired to study Ruth and discover lessons we can glean from her life as we continue to embark on this Good Thing Training.
Class is in Session!
Setting the Stage
In the beginning of the first chapter, a devastating famine has struck Bethlehem. In order to ensure his family’s survival, a man named Elimelech leads his wife, Naomi, and two sons to the land of Moab. Elimelech eventually died, leaving behind his wife and children. His sons, Mahlon and Kilion, took for themselves two countrywomen as wives, Ruth and Orpah. Ten years later, Mahlon and Kilion both died, making Ruth and Orpah childless widows. Naomi, grieving the deaths of her husband and sons, decides to return to Bethlehem after receiving word that God had replenished the land with food. Her daughters-in-law offer to accompany Naomi on her journey, but Naomi insists they stay behind where they can remarry. Naomi attempted to discourage the young women from joining her in Bethlehem, which leads me to our first lesson from Ruth.
“…her selflessness because she had the opportunity to leave after her husband died. She could’ve gone back to the land of her people, remarrying could have been her primary concern. She wasn’t about that.”
- Ruth chose singleness
And they lifted up their voices and cried again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. Ruth 1:14, LEB
Naomi was insistent upon the young women remaining in Moab because she knew that their chances of remarrying were more likely in the land of their fathers. At that time, women who were widows were often victims of abuse and neglect. It wasn’t unlikely for a widow to be considered insignificant or an unworthy cause in the community. It was honorable for a woman to be married and Naomi was aware of the life that widowhood would offer Orpah and Ruth. She knew that the covenant of marriage would cover and protect them.
Ruth was willing to forsake the opportunity for love and remarriage. This is a powerful truth because there was nothing glamorous about widowhood. Ruth didn’t have any children, she was probably still very young which would have made her an eligible choice for marriage. Yet her loyalty to Naomi compelled her to sojourn to Bethlehem, a foreign land where the possibility for remarriage was neither guaranteed nor promised.
There are often times in our lives as women when we would rather have love than anything else. We value romance and endearing sentiments that make us feel treasured and adored. It’s important to know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring love, romance, and marriage. God is love, His heart exhales romance into our spirits, and He created marriage.
However, the profundity lies in Ruth’s heart toward singleness: she would rather practice faithfulness in the life of her dead husband’s mother than to indulge her own desire to be a wife. What a sacrifice! Consider how it must bless God’s heart when we willingly commit to follow Him even when there is no guarantee that He will grant us every desire of our heart. Ruth didn’t follow Naomi out of obligation, but out of love and loyalty. In the same manner, we should have that intense commitment for God. Our hearts should be settled on following after Jesus in such a way that every other desire pales in the light of His glory.
“Being content with one’s singleness is a process that takes work and intentionality. It’s not something that one should expect to happen overnight, especially if just exiting a meaningful relationship. But even in a world obsessed with love and relationships, it is completely attainable. For most people, it will require a complete paradigm shift as well as a complete surrender to Christ. The paradigm shift is needed because even in Christian circles, contentment in singleness is often thought of as a cover-up by someone who secretly hates singleness. [A paradigm shift requires] …a complete surrender to Christ because He is the one who changes us and gives us complete joy in Him and Him alone. When Christ becomes our Superior Pleasure, we find out that as long as we have a fulfilling, personal relationship with Him, contentment in singleness and in life in general, comes as a result.”
- Ruth was willing to forsake lesser gods to follow Almighty God
And she [Naomi] said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:15-16, ESV
It is important to remember that Ruth was a Moabite. Moab was the son conceived by Lot and one of Lot’s daughters (see Genesis 19:30-38). The Moabites and the children of Israel were not allies or friends. A commentary I read noted that it wasn’t an abomination for Israelites to marry Moabites, but the Moabites were restricted from the assembly of God (see Deuteronomy 23:3-6). These two groups were commonly in conflict with one another throughout Biblical history. The Moabites served pagan gods, one being Chemosh. In Ruth’s decision to follow after Naomi’s God she had to leave every other god in the dust. Ruth not only abandoned her family and her homeland, but every ounce of familiarity she had ever known. Ruth pointedly tells Naomi that she would adopt her God as her own, denying her allegiance to any other god or ideology. We should learn this lesson: When we decide to follow God, we must leave every other contrary idol, lifestyle, desire, and way of thinking behind. Ruth didn’t know the God of Naomi, but in faith she willingly followed Naomi to an unfamiliar place in hopes of encountering an all-powerful God. Let us be encouraged by Ruth’s example and let go of any old memories, relationships, or behavior that will not benefit us in the next season of our lives. It takes a desire for holiness to pursue God, but it takes great faith to leave lesser gods behind.
- Ruth was unwavering
Naomi urged the girls to go back to Moab twice, after which Orpah decided to return. Ruth, on the other hand, remained at Naomi’s side. It takes a determined person to say no to someone they love and respect. Naomi was a mother figure to Ruth, yet Ruth was unrelenting in her decision to stay. Usually, if a respected mentor advises against something we have decided to do, we change our minds about our decision. Ruth was fully persuaded that she would join Naomi in Bethlehem and did not bat an eye underneath Naomi’s admonitions. Neither was Ruth shaken when Orpah turned back, and once again Naomi gave Ruth permission to leave, but Ruth held steady. She didn’t alter her position because her friend changed her mind.
“When people see qualities in you, they realize you would be a good fit for someone else. They want you to be a blessing for someone else. Naomi realized that [Ruth and Orpah] had more to give, [that] their time [for love] was not up.”
We should never base our willingness to obey on our friend’s approval or company. Following hard after God may mean that you have to leave some friends behind. When you both encounter an opportunity to be obedient, and your friend turns back, keep pressing! Don’t relent! Obedience is always worth the journey. Be faithful and obey the Lord’s call for you to go deeper in your relationship with Him. Ruth simply obeyed and followed God out of devotion to Naomi, but she had no idea that Boaz was on the other side of her obedience.
- Ruth’s obedience orchestrated opportunity
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, returning from the countryside of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest of barley. Ruth 1:22, LEB
Sometimes God beckons us to tread on unknown terrain in order to lead us to a place of unmerited favor. Naomi and Ruth arrived to Bethlehem in time to receive the harvest–the good of the land. Ruth’s obedience and willingness to follow God positioned her to walk into a season of reaping and harvesting. How could Ruth partake of the harvest without first sowing? She wasn’t a citizen of Bethlehem, and she wasn’t a child of Israel; the fruit of the harvest was not hers to possess. Yet, she arrived in time to receive the good of the land. Ruth was planting seeds on the journey along the way–seeds of obedience and faithfulness. Had Ruth turned back, she would have missed the harvest. Had she allowed Naomi to discourage her or Orpah to influence her, she would have missed the harvest. Naomi meant well, but it’s better to follow God’s direction rather than man’s suggestion. Society sometimes says that marriage is the only way to gain significance, and that it is better than being single. Naomi originally discouraged Ruth’s choice of intentional singleness, but Ruth knew that following God would be more beneficial than marrying a Moabite who serves pagan gods. When Ruth chooses to follow the authentic God, He leads her a fruitful place, a new home, and to Boaz. Ruth had no way of knowing that with each step away from Moab, she was aligning herself to the path that would lead her to her future husband… and the God who had captured her heart.
Stay tuned for Lessons from Ruth Part II as we delve into the second chapter of Ruth together.
Question: Which lesson from this post would you consider to be the most difficult? Why?
Special thanks to Miss Brittany Boulware for her contributions to this blog post. Please visit her blog: The Beautiful Ashes, and follow her on Twitter: @Beautiful_Ashes.
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