The book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories ever told. It is a bright spot in a dark period in the history of Israel. It begins in a time of terrible famine in Israel during the period of the judges. In order to escape the famine and find food, an Israelite man from Bethlehem named Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and his two sons to the country of Moab. While there, Elimelech died. Naomi was left to fend for herself as a widow, a refugee, and a single mom. Tragically, her sons soon followed their father in death, but not before they had married Moabite women.
The three women, widows all, learned the lesson that everyone eventually learns: life can change in an instant. Tragedy strikes, health fails, situations are altered, and the resulting change can be very hurtful, pushing your faith to the limit. There are no rules for how to make it through a time of grief or loss or tragedy, but Naomi’s example is a good place to start. Though she did not know why these things were happening to her, she knew who was in control: “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (v.13), “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me…the Almighty has brought calamity on me” (v.20-21).
It may not sound like much, but faith begins like that: believing that your life is not a series of random events. God is in control (even when life seems out of control), He has a plan, and He is sovereignly directing the events of your life. There is something comforting about confessing that. Naomi’s honesty and bluntness about her pain, including nicknaming herself Mara (in Hebrew, Mara means “bitter” while Naomi means “pleasant”), were signs of emotional health borne out of genuine faith.
Naomi heard that the famine in Israel was over, and so she headed back home to Bethlehem. Evidently she had a good relationship with her daughters-in-law, and though it would mean living alone, she released them from any obligation to go with her. She explained to Orpah and Ruth that a future with her would be bleak — she was beyond childbearing years. She could not provide other sons to marry them (a reference to “levirate marriage”, a practice explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 that obligated a dead man’s brother to care for his widow). The young women were heartbroken, but they knew it was true.
Orpah returned to her family (and to the idols of her pagan religion), but Ruth refused to leave Naomi. In a beautiful and poignant statement, Ruth essentially renounced all connections to home and country and committed herself to Naomi for life (v.16-17). Her commitment not only included living with Naomi, relocating with her, and remaining a part of her family, it included embracing Naomi’s God, too. In that moment Ruth was becoming a believer in the one true God, the God of Israel.
When the two widows arrived in Bethlehem they may not have sensed it, but God was up to something special. It was the beginning of harvest time (v.22), and it was also the beginning of a time of grace and blessing. Like Naomi and Ruth, you may be going through a difficult time — but God isn’t finished with you. Today might begin a new season of new beginnings in your life, so trust God and get ready!