This is how a pastor once introduced a sermon series on Ruth: “It's a story that shows how ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.’ It's a story for people who wonder where God is when there are no dreams or visions or prophets. It's for people who wonder where God is when one tragedy after another attacks their faith. It's a story for people who wonder whether a life of integrity in tough times is worth it. And it's a story for people who can't imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith. It's a refreshing and encouraging book, and I want you to be refreshed and encouraged…”
There isn’t much that appears to be refreshing or encouraging when we first enter the Book of Ruth.
“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the environment in which we meet Naomi and Ruth. It is a pretty brutal time in the history of Israel, and yet God – as always – is moving…even when His people don’t have eyes to see Him.
In chapter 1, we see the extensiveness of Naomi’s suffering and misery. Famine, her husband’s death, followed ten years later by her two sons’ deaths…the blows just keep coming. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, all react to this suffering in different ways.
Naomi decides God’s hand is against her, and she can’t see beyond her circumstances. Hopelessness overtakes her.
Orpah cuts and runs. She returns to her old gods and her old way of life.
Ruth trusts in God’s goodness in the midst of destitution. She tells Naomi, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” We see a willingness to forsake temporary gain in favor of obedience. We see sacrifice for the sake of faith. She is in it for the long haul. This is a woman who isn’t going anywhere, though the road may be hard.
But ultimately, this story isn’t about Ruth’s faithfulness or love for Naomi.
This story is about God’s faithfulness and redeeming love for mankind.
Perhaps the most important verse in the first chapter of Ruth is the last one: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”
God’s mercy is dripping all over Naomi’s situation, but she so blinded by bitterness, she can’t yet see it. He has given her Ruth, a woman from a pagan culture who has placed her faith in the God of Israel, and in the midst of famine, He leads them to Bethlehem, where a harvest is beginning! And this is only the beginning of the story.
The Book of Ruth is refreshing and encouraging because it invites us to see God’s hand in the midst of tragedy and in the day to day of the mundane.
In The Remarkable Ordinary, Frederick Buechner writes, “It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there…It seems to me…the Bible…is saying how important it is to be alive and to pay attention to being alive, pay attention to each other, pay attention to God as he moves and as he speaks. Pay attention to where…God has tried to take you.”
Wherever you find yourself today, look out the window at the spring blossoms and be reminded that the same God who holds the universe in his hands and brings pink flowering trees out of the winter snow, loves us with an everlasting, redeeming love. No matter how severe his mercies may be, He is still moving. This is freedom, and this truth is at the heart of the story of Naomi and Ruth.