The book of Ruth–located in the Old Testament, in the Bible–is not just a love story.
The book starts out as a tragedy. Because of famine, an Israelite woman named Naomi is forced to leave Israel with her family. They go East into Moab, and over the next ten years Naomi’s husband and two sons die. She is all alone, except for her two Moabite daughters-in-law whom her sons had married.
After the devastation of her family, Naomi is understandably bitter and heavy-hearted. She feels that God is against her. Upon hearing that the LORD (Yahweh, God of the Israelites) has visited Israel and provided food to end the famine, Naomi prepares to head back home–and her sons’ widows try to follow her. She discourages them, urging them to go back to their parents and their gods; at the same time, she blesses them and prays that Yahweh will be kind to them as they have been kind to her.
The daughters are weeping. One daughter kisses her and leaves to return home, but the other daughter Ruth clings to Naomi. She won’t leave her. She tells her that she will not leave her until death parts them, and that “your people will be my people, and your God my God.” She is making a declaration of faith to follow Yahweh.
Why does Ruth want to stay with Naomi? It’s ridiculous, really; because they lived in a patriarchal society, Naomi now had nothing. Logically, Ruth would have been much better off going back to her people in Moab and marrying one of her own. But I learned something this week about Ruth’s conversion.
Ruth had lived with Naomi in Moab for ten years. She had seen her lose her husband and then her two sons. She had seen her undergo some of the worst suffering humans must face; famine, death, loss of loved ones. Yet even at her lowest point, Naomi never lost her faith in Yahweh. She hears of the famine ending in Israel, and she believes that Yahweh is responsible, that He brought His people food. She prays for her daughters, even as she is trying to push them away. Ruth saw Naomi’s great faith, even in her darkest hour, and it caused her to put her faith in Naomi’s God.
I want faith like Naomi. Faith that makes it through really, really difficult circumstances. Faith that shines through to others even when I don’t “feel like it”. What if something good actually came out of the death of Naomi’s entire family? What if Ruth never would have come to know Yahweh without seeing Naomi persevere, albeit bitterly, under the pressure? Ruth, the Moabite woman, who faithfully followed her mother-in-law home…and ended up in the very lineage of Jesus Christ.