The book of Ruth takes place in the time of the judges, a period after the Canaan conquest but before the time of Israelite kings. It was a time of war, violence, idolatry, and spiritual confusion. Everybody did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25). It is in this dark and desperate time that Ruth emerges as a person of loyalty, godliness, and character. She literally “found God;” a God she did not know before.
Many people don’t realize that Ruth was raised in Moab. This means she was a descendant of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Though she was related to the Jews, she was not one of them. Her clan worshiped Chemosh, the god of fire, as well as other pagan gods. But when Elimelech left Bethlehem because of a famine and went to Moab, his two sons married Moabite women. Ruth and Orpah were the women they married. It was through this relationship that these two women were introduced to Jehovah.
Tragically, Elimelech and his sons died. Naomi was the mother-in-law that was left with two daughters-in-law, and they were all three widowed. The two young women no longer had any obligation to Naomi. The text points out that Naomi knew this, so she encouraged both Ruth and Orpah to return to their people and even to their foreign gods (Ruth 1:15).
Orpah went back to her people and to the false gods of Moab, but Ruth refused. We may ask, “Why?” Was it out of pity for Naomi? Was it because she was afraid to be alone? Was it because she felt it was the honorable thing to do? Did she just truly love her?
Ruth 1:16 explains that Ruth not only wanted to be loyal to Naomi, but she wanted to worship the same God Naomi did. Ruth had come to believe in Jehovah and had rejected the pagan gods she was raised to know. Something happened in Ruth that caused her to stay with God and not turn back to her old ways.
The story of Ruth begs the question, “What causes a person to be loyal?” Some people are naturally loyal and others struggle with faithfulness and devotion. We can be faithful in relationships for all the wrong reasons. Maybe we stay because it’s normal even though it’s dysfunctional. We may stay out of fear of being alone or the unknowns that go with starting over. It seems that Ruth stayed for the only correct reason anyone might stay when they had a choice. She stayed because she had learned to trust in the one, true God of heaven.
There are going to be times in our lives when the gods we once worshiped will call us to return. There will be moments of doubt and confusion and unexpected turmoil that may test our faith. We may in these moments lose faith in the God of heaven…that He would allow such devastation to infiltrate the life of peace and comfort we have come to enjoy. It is in these moments that our love and loyalty to God will be most tested. Will we stay? Will we cling to him? Or will we go back into the world and seek fulfillment in its temporary solutions?
Ruth must have learned through her marriage into God’s family that Jehovah would not forsake her. She must have learned that He is the one and only Creator and Sustainer of the universe. She must have learned that difficult times come even to people of God, and that we should not be dismayed by such events. In the choice she made to stay she was both temporally and eternally redeemed.
Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi and to stay with Jehovah was truly heroic. This is why the book of Ruth has been set before us by the Holy Spirit for our consideration. There is a reward that is coming to the people who stay loyal to God.
“In your patience (endurance – ESV) possess ye your souls” – Luke 21:19
AUTHOR: Jeremiah Tatum