The Bible shows the world as it truly is and at times, it’s not a pretty picture. Reading through the book of Judges proves to be disconcerting as one encounters the outworking of sinful man. Whether we are referring to graphic violence (cf. Judg. 3:21-22, 4:21), human sacrifice (cf. Judg. 11:29-40), or rape (cf. Judg. 19:22-30), it is clear that the book of Judges is not for children. The closing line sums up the essence of the book, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25) This is one of the reasons the brief book of Ruth is a breath of fresh air as we move forward in our Bibles.
Taking place during “the days when the judges ruled,” (Ruth 1:1) the book of Ruth reassures the reader that faithfulness to God remains even in the darkest of times. Drs. Hill and Walton explain: “Rather than Israelites abandoning their loyalty and deserting the worship of Yahweh for other gods, the story portrays Ruth acting out of loyalty and embracing Yahweh, denouncing other gods, even as that which becomes the Davidic line hovers on the brink of extinction.”
Being a fairly short book at only four chapters in our modern Bibles, Ruth is a beautifully constructed narrative that covers multiple emotional scenes within a brief amount of space. Kennedy writes, “The story as a whole in amazing brevity, [achieves] superb balance between the absence of details and the presence of all essentials.” It is the mixture of the engaging love story, covenant loyalty and faithfulness, and God’s gracious providence that has made the book of Ruth much beloved among the people of God.
As the story opens, we are introduced to a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi. Together they are driven to the country of Moab by a famine in Judah. This Ephrathite family from Bethlehem remains in the land long enough for their two sons to marry woman of Moab. After a span of some time, Elimelech and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion die, leaving the women as widows.
Recognizing that her only hope is to return to her homeland, Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to stay behind in Moab and remarry. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, responds, “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.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
It is when the women make it back to Bethlehem that the story really begins to move forward. At first, Naomi, in her bitterness, seems as if she wants to give up all hope for life even as Ruth hopefully stays by her side. Again, this is not a story that is intended to simply teach a moral. but to show how real people deal with hardship and how God is faithful to them when it seems like all is lost. However, the question remains, “How will God provide for Naomi and Ruth?”
Question 15 of the Baptist Catechism of 1693 asks: “What are God’s works of providence?” to which the answer given is: “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.” Meaning, God is not a distant, derelict Father, but is intimately involved in daily care over His creation. God governs and preserves His creatures through ordinary, daily means. His activity in events and circumstances may not be explicitly seen or understood, however it is certain. An example of God’s continuous providential care can be seen within the circumstances found in the book of Ruth.
Ruth and Naomi’s problems begin with the basic need of food; yet ultimately the need is for family. How will the family line of Elimelech continue? When they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth decides she will go to the fields to enact the gleaning laws, which seems like a very normal choice, given the woman’s destitute state. As she heads out to the fields, the narrator comments that “[Ruth] happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” (Ruth 2:3) The text literally states “as chance chanced” Ruth came to this particular field to glean. Did Ruth come to this field simply by an act of luck? Iain M. Duguid explains: “Only, as the narrator is inviting us to see, there was no such luck driving this chain of events. This was all part of a higher plan. It was nothing less than a divine appointment that brought Ruth to the fields of Boaz.” The hand of God leading this situation in order to bring about His purposes in the lives of these individuals.
The book of Ruth is a lovely and inspired story that shows us God’s daily provision and care of His people. Even when the people of God fall into times of calamity, He is there and His care is never ending. The beauty of Ruth is found in its simplicity and fullness. The story is simple, yet the richness of its teaching and purpose has great depth. Ruth teaches God’s people how to trust the Lord through suffering, it teaches how to believe in God’s providential care even in the midst of life’s greatest storms. Finally, Ruth is a piece of God’s great plan of redemption in action. Through these brief events, we see a glimpse of Christ, God’s promises made flesh. Ruth will continue to be comfort and joy for the people of God until we all see our Kinsman Redeemer face-to-face.
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By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ