In God’s sacred book, there is a bright spark of light shining on goodness and kindness in the book of Ruth, it takes about fifteen minutes to read. This book is probably one of the most favorite and noted narratives. It is written during the same time as the moral degeneration of the people shown in Judges. Samuel is considered the book’s author. He wrote it partly to show the genealogy of David, people who still had exceptional faith and a sense of responsibility to God’s law. The book of Ruth is a bridge of hope paving the way to David from the book of Judges.
In contrast to the 33 books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Hebrew Bible consists of 24 books. Ruth is found there in one of their three sections called the Writings, the other two are Teaching (what we know as the Pentateuch) and the Prophets. Originally part of that dark book, Judges, it was a respite to read about good people. Later Ruth was placed in the Writings or wisdom section of the Hebrew canon after Proverbs. It’s speculated that she is the Proverbs 31 woman.
Because sweet, loyal Ruth is listed in the genealogy of King David, subsequently she is listed in Jesus’s. Ruth is the great-grandmother of David (Ru. 4:16-17). According to Jewish legend, King David was born and died on the same day of the Jewish festival that is fifty days after Passover, near to the date of what Christians call Pentecost. Adherents to this read the book of Ruth on Pentecost.
The book is about a practical life that points to Jesus as our kinsman, love, and redeemer. Boaz is the symbolic character representing Jesus (Ru. 4:14 ESV), who redeems Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. The themes of loyalty, love, kindness, the value of people and the need to understand one another is what stands out in this book. It’s about the life of a refugee who converts to God as her God. This book tells us that no matter how bad things may be, goodness can exist if we are willing to make an effort. It depicts Jesus’ guidance and providence (Ru. 2:20). It is a contrast between hopelessness and faith.
Ruth is probably the most famous person of the Moab race because of this narrative. Ancient poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens sums up the book of Ruth this way:
“Behold herein a sign of our free will,
By which God wished to make us understand
The path we tread depends on us alone,
And we are free to follow either way.
Two were enjoined to flee from Sodom’s walls;
One goes with hast, the other hesitates;
Each has free will, but each diversely wills.
Each by (their) choice is drawn in opposite ways
Examples can be found in Holy Writ
Mark Ruth and Orpah of the Moab race!
One follows Naomi with trusting love,
The other leaves her. Then no longer bound
By wedlock and the Hebrew marriage rites,
They now were free, but Orpah’s ancient faith
Led her to choose a Gentile mate and rear
The stock from which the fierce Goliath sprang.
Ruth, gleaning in the sunny fields, the hand of Boaz won
And in a wedlock chaste
Brought forth the race of Christ, King David’s line
And linked her mortal progeny with God.”
I come from a military family background, and one of my daughters is married to an Army officer. Ruth ’s declaration of devotion to her mother in law is part of my daughter’s mantra: “…Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay…” (Ru 1:16 a key verse that shows Ruth spiritual confession).
My daughter has learned, like a perennial, to bloom then rebloom where she lands what with her husband’s assignments. The sacrifices a military family endures with the endless moves, separations, and deployments particularly when raising children is hard to understand by the civilian world. My daughter and her family, in their marriage, thus far have faced three overseas military deployments. I remember my dad’s deployments and have raised a family alone due to husbands extensive travel.
A missionary Jim Elliot was killed while in ministry with a remote American tribe. His wife was serving alongside him. She, Elisabeth Elliot said, “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be.”
This same daughter began her own life when her father’s work took him away from home for long periods. Ironically the same thing occurred to her during her high school years when not only did her father’s traveling increase but all her older sibs at this point were off in college or on military assignments. It was just she and me at home. She would joke about who was going to clean the house now that everyone was gone. I said we would get outside help. She then said for me not to worry about me becoming bored what with the other kids gone; she would keep me busy. I told her to thank you but I had a life.
Many aspects in each of our lives shape us as we grow up. There are our education level and our health in developing our social makeup. If one person in the relationship is not as educated or has health issues that the other doesn’t have it takes adjustment. Or perhaps one is more traveled, having more experiences/exposure to different cultures than the other can also have an impact. Social interests could be different such as one prefers active outdoor pursuits and the other not so much. Another dimension needs to be taken into account, like spiritual beliefs. I group these kinds of things under being equally yoked. As my kids approached their marriages, I tried to help them consider these things about their future spouse to consider these differing circumstances beforehand as they will eventually surface in their marriages. I have observed that when both partners are in the same spiritual circle (and good ongoing communication), it trumps all of these considerations. Henri Nouwen says marriage is a call for two people to witness together God’s love.
As the 1960’s pop song I Got You Babe goes “They say our love won’t pay the rent. Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent. I guess that’s, so we don’t have a plot. But at least I’m sure of all the things we got.” That could describe the start of my other daughter’s marriage. It is a pure testimony when love, believing in one another, and being in the same spiritual circle can carry a relationship through the hard times. They got married before things (completed education, economic means, even a job) were in place. As parents, we voiced our concern about not being able to support themselves, but they were determined and of legal age. It wasn’t the best of marriage celebration sendoff as I would have wanted for her from me. I think as parents we may have counseled with their officiating pastor more than they did. Then a baby was conceived at the end of that first year. Through their commitment and determination, all our fears were for naught. They look to have won the hard win with their marriage commitment and determination now over 13 years.
As a mother, I have had concerns (minor in the scheme of things) on how one daughter would adapt with daily common health issues (food allergies and asthma) that my bonus son has but not one associated with my family. She has totally changed her way of cooking to adapt as well as where they live. It was a blessing in disguise that it was her mother-in-law that ended up probably teaching her the most about cooking. As a parent I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I wondered (and prayed) over each child’s marital relationship, how it’s working out, are they able to yoke with each other in the most important area to sustain them?
I have come to an appreciation from the book of Ruth about this season of my life as I continue to master the art of letting go of my kids (again) and letting God. Both my sons have married women who happen to be the only child of mothers who live alone, as do I. One son, in particular, mentioned the intentional forethought and discussion with his intended before their marriage that his mother-in-law would always be cared for. The other son lives that out as well. It touches me to see them opening their hearts like that. In addition to the emotional support of my sons, I also have two daughters, worthy of seven (meaning perfection) sons (Ru. 4:15), so I hardly ever get to a point of feeling neglected. Perhaps their sense of responsibility also comes from when they saw their granny living with us periodically when she was in transition than when I cared for my mother at the end of her life like I saw her do for her mother. It almost goes without saying but not all family take care of their own.
In the book of Ruth, God shows He is not beyond making Himself intimately available in what may seem like the small things in ordinary lives compared to the big moments of history. God nudges, lures and opens a redemptive future in the ongoing drama of everyday joys and sorrows of human history in ordinary time. God has the power to turn desperate situations around and use them for good particularly when accountability and responsibility by people to his precepts are observed.