The book of Ruth, set in the time of the Judges when men did what was pleasing in their own eyes, gives us some insight into the lives of a few faithful individuals in the nation of Israel. Despite the widespread spiritual and moral decline, there were those who worshipped in spirit and in truth and into this scene came a Moabite damsel who embodied the love of God in her care for her widowed mother-in-law.

A difficult choice

Ruth was a Gentile, and no doubt had been a worshipper of pagan gods in her country of Moab, but she had married a Jew who immigrated to Moab during the famine in Israel. Her husband had been sickly and died young and Ruth was now a widow, childless and unsupported, with the responsibility of a widowed mother-in-law on her shoulders. This was a difficult situation.

Things became further complicated when her mother-in-law decided to return to her homeland. The decision was difficult – should she accompany her widowed mother-in-law, sharing her desolation in a strange land, or stay in Moab with her own family and start a new life, free from the past and its responsibilities?

We can safely assume that Ruth came to know the God of Israel as a result of her marriage to Mahlon and association with his family, but her decision to accompany Naomi marks a turning point in her life spiritually – a commitment to join Naomi’s people and serve her God.It held no material prospects for her personally but was an expression of her loyalty and love for Naomi and her God.

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shallbe my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die and there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” (1:16–17)

Two ways, two ends

Ruth’s dedication is heightened and contrasted by Orpah’s lack. Another young woman in the same situation – widowed, childless and unsupported – faced with the same dilemma, made an entirely different decision. Orpah denied Naomi’s needs and the responsibility involved, preferring her own people, her own gods and her own life.

Christ’s words capture the spiritual significance of the two women’s choices: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:24–26)

We hear nothing further of Orpah’s life in the record. There was no profit in her apparent ‘gain’, for she had lost life: whereas Ruth, in sharing the desolation of Naomi, found life and gained the world. These same alternatives face us today and it is clear that only those who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” will find life (Rev 14:4).

It is also worth noting that Orpah did actually commence the return journey to Israel with Naomi.However, she eventually succumbed to Naomi’s entreaties to return to her own people. It was not that Orpah was without care or love for Naomi; it was rather that she loved her own life more than she loved Naomi. This is a poignant lesson for us. We all want to share in the glory and wonder of our Lord’s coming kingdom and have all begun the journey leading to that kingdom – but will we go the whole way? Will we maintain our resolve to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, or will we succumb to the persuasive reasoning of the flesh to seek our own life, and in so doing, lose the hope of eternal life?

Initiative, faith, courage and humility

Once in Bethlehem Ruth showed initiative, faith and courage despite the inevitable hostility she faced as a Gentile foreigner from an ‘enemy’ country (Judg 3:12). “Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace.” (Ruth 2:2)

As a foreigner in the land she did not claim her right to glean (Lev 19:9–10). Rather, Ruth hoped to find grace. She realised her position as “alien from the commonwealth of Israel”, a “stranger from the covenants of promise” and she, who was far off, hoped to be brought nigh by a redeemer – by grace, through her faith (Eph 2:8–13).

Ruth happened to chance upon the field of Boaz and asked permission to glean (Ruth 2:6–7). We can be reasonably confident she was divinely guided to the field of the one who was able and willing to redeem her. What wonderful evidence of “the exceeding riches of his grace” upon this faithful and humble young woman!

The Redeemer and the redeemed

We know how the story progresses, with Boaz granting his protection to Ruth as she gleaned in his fields, and then Naomi advising Ruth to petition Boaz to do the part of the redeeming kinsman. Boaz immediately set about to effect the redemption but had to offer the right of redemption to the nearest kinsman first. This was refused and so Boaz, in the presence of witnesses, purchased the land that belonged to Elimelech and Naomi and the right to marry Ruth.

So we see the redemption of the one who was afar off (Ruth) who was made nigh by the Redeemer(Boaz) who ‘gave up’ his own inheritance and name to raise up the name of another. In this very act of selflessness Boaz unwittingly secured a name which continues today, in the genealogy of the Redeemer of mankind (Luke 3:32).

Do we hear an echo to our own Redeemer who “made himself of no reputation”, who said, “Not my will, but thine be done” in order to “bring many sons unto glory”? Who, as a result of his selflessness, was “given a name above every name … to the glory of God the Father”?

Ruth (the redeemed) was no longer a “stranger and foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). She now belonged to the house of Israel.

God’s astonishing grace for good 

In fact, Ruth was not just a member of the household of God; she became the ‘mother’ of the cornerstone of that very household upon which all the building is fitly framed together. Through this humble, faithful, courageous young woman was born the Redeemer of all.

Ruth’s position in the family tree of Christ Jesus brings home a valuable lesson for us. Just think for a moment of Ruth’s background, and transfer that to ecclesial life today. Here was a young woman from another religion who married an ex-believer who had left the Truth when things got tough, but who subsequently chose to come to Israel to help her mother-in-law.

Imagine the bias against her in Israel – doubts about her sincerity, her knowledge of the true God of Israel, her pagan background! What good could come of such a marriage between an ex-believer and a pagan Gentile?

Despite all this, God worked with a family’s faithless decision to leave the Truth: and out of a marriage with a pagan woman God brought to light the faith of Ruth the Moabitess – a beacon in the nation of Israel at a time of spiritual apathy – who became a ‘mother’ to the Redeemer of all.

Let us never doubt Yahweh’s ability to work good out of a ‘seemingly’ evil situation. Let us genuinely welcome those who join (or re-join) the ecclesia and accept the Father’s choice of servants in His family (Rom 14:4), working together in the household of God.

The story of Ruth strikingly reveals the truth that entrance into the family of God is not by birth or blood, but by the loving devotion of one’s life to the will of God – ‘the obedience of faith’ – and His grace.

“And Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king … of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matt 1:5–6,16)