Sometimes God presents basic truths about life in simple, straightforward statements like many of those we find in Proverbs. Other times, though, God isn’t so straightforward. Sometimes, He simply tells a story and leaves it up to us to distill the underlying principles or concepts. The genius of that method is that we not only get to see the truth God wants us to absorb, but we also see how it applies in the lives of real people. There’s one such story that might give our minds and hearts a break from the electoral pandemonium going on right now, and it reveals a principle we need to remember. The simple lesson and its application are wrapped in one of the most beautiful stories God ever chose to share with us.
A Historical Perspective ~ In order to see the point we want to make in the context that God presented it, we’ll have to journey in our minds to Israel back to the days of the Judges. The period was characterized by recurrent cycles of widespread idolatry and spiritual rebellion. Those episodes always resulted in disastrous consequences which, in turn, prompted pleas for deliverance. God graciously responded to those pleas again and again and raised up leaders that He empowered to guide His wayward people back to Him. Against that unstable backdrop, God chose to unfold a love story with profound implications which He presented to us as the Book of Ruth.
The land of Israel was in a time of extended drought when God focused His attention to a family of the tribe of Judah, a man named Elimelech, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons. The drought had brought them to a point where something had to be done if they were to survive. They and their two sons felt forced to leave their home in Bethlehem and move to Moab in order to find food to sustain their family (Ruth 1:1-2).
A Series of Tragedies ~ At some point during the 10 years or so that they lived in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi with only her two sons to help support her. Eventually, the sons each chose a wife from among the local Moabite girls. One was named Orpah. The other’s name, which as you know, turned out to be Ruth, the title of this Biblical record of her story. That may have been a bittersweet time for Naomi. She was probably happy that her boys had found wives, but God had a long-standing issue with Moab, and there were restrictions about Jewish relationships with their people.
Whatever happiness may have surrounded the marriages, Naomi’s trials weren’t over yet. Both of her sons also eventually died and took the primary source of the family’s financial security to their graves with them (Ruth 1:3-5). The one bright spot was that news came from Israel that the drought was over back home in Judah. So, Naomi decided that with neither a husband nor male children to support her, the only hope left was to return to Bethlehem where she still owned a home and property.
Beauty in the Midst of Sadness ~ The scene depicting Naomi’s departure from Moab is one of the most dramatic and touching episodes in the Old Testament (Ruth 1:6-17). As Naomi was wrapping up tearful goodbyes to the young women she had welcomed into her family, something unanticipated happened. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, said farewell, and headed back home to rejoin her family, but Ruth would have none of that. Instead, she made a decision that was somewhere between ethnically untenable, personally illogical, and culturally unthinkable. She basically declared to Naomi, “You aren’t going anywhere without me.” Her eloquent and powerful declaration is often quoted at weddings and other events highlighting deep emotional and spiritual commitment. She said to Naomi,
Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever 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. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me. Ruth 1:16-17 (NKJV)
It was barely harvest time in Bethlehem when Naomi returned home. In order to help support them, Ruth asked for permission to glean dropped heads of grain behind the harvesters, as poor people were allowed to do back then. As it happened, she found herself gleaning in a field owned by a wealthy man named Boaz, an influential and godly landowner (Ruth 2:1-23). What followed was more than a coincidental set of circumstances. It was a providentially guided “happenstance”, and the Hallmark movie people would, no doubt, love to own rights to all the screenplays that have grown out of the story that followed.
To cut to the chase, in accordance with cultural tradition and Ruth’s unusual situation, she was actually the one who proposed to Boaz, but it was only after he had displayed his interest and signaled his intentions toward her. They clearly wanted to be together, but there were traditions, customs, and legalities that stood in their way. In order to claim Ruth as his bride, Boaz had to “redeem”, i.e., “purchase” Naomi’s property, which she was offering for sale, in order to have money to live on. That offer was legally restricted to Elimelech’s male relatives alone, beginning with the closest one, and included a mandatory marriage arrangement with Ruth. The problem was that there was a relative closer than Boaz who was also a candidate.
A Dramatic Meeting ~ The story becomes tense when Boaz arranged a meeting with the only other man who had a shot at the deal. To make the purchase procedure legally binding, Boaz gathered what amounted to the city council. When Boaz confronted the other candidate about Naomi’s offer without mentioning Ruth, he immediately said, basically, “Yeah, I’ll take it.” Then Boaz played his last card and revealed that the transaction was a package deal. When it was clear that acquiring Elimelech’s legacy was contingent upon also marrying Ruth, it was, as Boaz had hoped, a deal breaker for the man. He saw her as an unnecessary complication, and the impact that a relationship with her would have on his life was unacceptable. The other benefits of the offer were appealing, but he didn’t want Ruth cluttering up his world.
A Life-altering Relationship ~ Two guys were confronted with the same deal, and Ruth was the key to both of their decisions. They aren’t the only ones facing a decision where one singular element makes all the difference. We also have an offer from God that can make us recipients of some of the most incredible benefits imaginable, but for many, it gets glitchy when they discover that, like the offer in our story, it’s a package deal that includes a life-altering relationship.
We’re living in a time when our days are filled with conflicting claims, depressing predictions, and rampant uncertainty on all kinds of levels about things we can’t control. It’s time to go back to basics and remember that our hope for the future, both for ourselves and the country, doesn’t rest on our political decisions. Our personal and national welfare rests solely on our response to God’s offer. The abundant life He promises isn’t guaranteed by some ideological or political manifesto. All of heaven’s treasures are contingent on one thing; i.e., what we’ve decided to do about Jesus.
In our story, Boaz saw Ruth as the most wonderful example of beauty, courage, character, and faithfulness he’d ever seen, and in spite of his wealth, life would be empty without her. Boaz saw Ruth as all that his heart really wanted, but the other guy couldn’t see her as anything but an obstacle to his lifestyle and his personal list of priorities. In our case, what the future holds for us personally and ultimately for our nation as a whole will come down to how we see Jesus Christ and what we do about Him. In Him we have everything, and without Him, nothing enduring remains. John said it about as succinctly as it can be said,
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly to this article through Twitter.
- “It’s time to go back to basics and remember that our hope for the future, both for ourselves and the country, doesn’t rest on our political decisions. Our personal and national welfare rests solely on our response to God’s offer.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Our welfare rests solely on our response to God’s offer. The abundant life He promises isn’t guaranteed by some ideological or political manifesto. All of heaven’s treasures are contingent on one thing – what we decide to do about Jesus.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Boaz saw Ruth as all that his heart really wanted, but the other guy couldn’t see her as anything but an obstacle to his lifestyle and his personal list of priorities.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “What the future holds for us personally and ultimately for our nation as a whole will come down to how we see Jesus Christ and what we do about Him. In Him we have everything, and without Him, nothing enduring remains.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “John said it as succinctly as it can be said, ‘And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV)’ ” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)