“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalms 37:5).
The book of Ruth has always amazed me. Within it we find deep implications for covenant love amid physical distress. Ruth is evidence that waiting upon the Lord, trusting in his sovereignty, is not a standstill; but rather, it is a place of refuge and hope. Ruth is a beautiful example of what Psalm 37:5 looks like in the flesh. This acrostic wisdom psalm details how the patient heart that hopes in God will not be disappointed. Underneath the worst circumstances, God was acting for his people…for Ruth.
Some background information: Naomi and her husband, Elimelech of Bethlehem, go to the country of Moab due to a famine in their land. Elimelech dies and their two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The two sons then die as well, leaving Naomi with no immediate familial aid.
Naomi entreats her daughters-in-law to return to their people. She basically tells them that she is hopeless for them. She couldn’t provide them with children. God’s hand was against her she perceived. Ruth’s response is extraordinary:
“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. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth bound herself by an oath not only to Naomi but to The Lord. She made it clear that she was willing to stick around until death parted them. I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been. Constantly being around the mother of her deceased husband, reminded of him each day…yet Ruth was apparently not guided by circumstances. She was guided by covenant love, no matter how long that kept her waiting for calm in the storm.
Naomi wasn’t just being dramatic in 1:11-13. Life with her would be chock-full of difficult times. For Ruth, it meant going to Bethlehem with Naomi and leaving her people behind. This commitment was marked with uncertainty. Couldn’t she have returned to her people and remarried? Wouldn’t it have been easier to go back to Chemosh, the main Moabite god? All the what-ifs didn’t deter Ruth, however. She was willing.
Her mother-in-law was grief stricken and not the ideal partner through this journey. In 1:20-21, they reach their destination and Naomi’s response to the people of Bethlehem is far from comforting. Call me Mara. That translates as bitter, which ironically is the opposite of Naomi which means pleasant. Who would want to enter into a foreign land, taking up the faith of your traveling elder, all to simply hear her exclaim that her God is actually against her? Utter confusion. Distress. The need to flee and do it quick. These would seem to be legitimate responses; however, they wouldn’t be evidence of covenant love. Ruth patiently remained.
Ruth then requests to glean in the fields of Boaz, one of the redeemers within Naomi’s family. In chapter 2, we see God sovereignly acting for Ruth as she stays committed to Naomi. The Lord was with Ruth as she patiently gleaned in the field of Boaz. I would imagine this work tedious and nerve-wrecking as one was gleaning for livelihood. Yet, Boaz takes notice of Ruth. He has heard of her faithfulness to Naomi. He ensures her that she is safe in his field and he will make sure that she is without need. Ruth worked diligently through the end of the barley and wheat harvests (2:23), remaining with her mother-in-law through her labor. God arranged these circumstances, yes for the individuals involved (revealing his faithfulness to Naomi though she assumed herself forsaken), but more than anything, to bring a Redeemer for more people than just Ruth and Naomi.
Then we have Ruth approaching Boaz for marriage at the threshing floor. Guided by her mother-in-law’s instruction, Ruth presents herself to Boaz in the night- a daring act to say the least. She finds favor with Boaz who states that he would surely redeem her if the nearest redeemer does not do so. Ruth reports to Naomi who them responds, “wait my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today” (Ruth 3:18).
Patience. Breath in faith. God is acting.
As the story continues to unfold, we see Boaz redeem Ruth. They wed and Ruth gives birth to a son. “Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15).
We truly see a “restorer of life” come from this bloodline. Not just Ruth’s immediate son, but Jesus (Matt. 1:5). God was present in all of that, acting in love and for his glory in Ruth’s immediate distress but also for the distress of all humanity. He used a foreigner, a Moabite widow, to bring about the Messiah that would call people from every tribe and tongue unto himself.
Through Ruth’s life, we see a patient daughter, setting her gaze on promise rather than instant gratification. We see Ruth personify a characteristic that is sparing in most: long-suffering. She didn’t wallow in the loss of her husband and believe that God had led her to a stalemate. She followed Naomi’s guidance and God acted. He did not forsake her. He was there through the waiting. He was working through the days of great grief, through the gleaning, through uncertainty.
So with that, what does this all mean for us? Well, we are on this side of the Cross. We know what has occurred on our behalf. We read in the bible how God has acted for us in Christ. Our hope is in that. Our reward is in salvation and the promise of his return. We patiently wait in this earthly tent, making the promises of God pillars in life, and we wait…pressing on in all the mundane here and now, finding hope. Ruth shows that the things that just so happen to occur in our lives are part of a divine plan. Instead of coincidence, we see providence. We gain a theology of suffering, realizing that the Christian life is not marked by smooth-sailing. So when all of our expectations fall through, we are guided by covenant love instead. Just as God acted for Naomi and Ruth, he has acted and is acting for us. And unlike any earthly covenant, the one made with Jesus and his bride is unbreakable and unending.