The story of Ruth begins with a famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem, moved his wife Naomi, and their two sons, to the country of Moab. Shortly after their arrival, Elimelech died. Naomi was left to raise her two sons in a foreign all alone. This fact gives us insight into her character. She was a survivor. Naomi understood the need to persevere through difficult times. She did not allow her trial to destroy her. Instead, Naomi managed to use her circumstances to gain strength.
Eventually, both her sons married Moab women. They dwelt in this foreign country for about ten years, until even more adversity hit. Both of Naomi’s sons died. Without any men left as a covering or to provide for her, she decided to return to Israel. She shared her plan with her daughters-in-law and encouraged them to return to their own mother’s house to remarry. One daughter-in-law did as Naomi requested, but the other young woman, Ruth, begged to follow her back to Bethlehem.
“But Ruth said:
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)
Naomi’s name means pleasant. But upon returning to Bethlehem, she spoke ill of it when greeted by those who remembered her. Persevering for so many years had taken a toll. Sorrow, exhaustion, loss, and the hardship of survival had planted seeds of bitterness and discouragement. Fortunately, God is merciful and soon turned things around for Naomi.
“But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Ruth 1:20-21 (NKJV)
There are times when heartache, loss, and the unexpected will turn our lives upside down. One minute, life is in sync and the next minute life is a mess of broken shards at our feet. Stunned, we stare at the broken pieces of our life, amazed at the sudden quickness of the adversity. We have choices when life delivers a sucker punch: Fight back, give up, move on, adapt. Thankfully, we have the blessed assurance that no matter what we decide to do, God is with us.
God was with Naomi when her husband uprooted her family and moved everyone to a foreign land. God was close by when Naomi buried her husband and did her best to raise two sons. God was near when her two sons died and she laid them to rest. God walked beside her as she traversed back to Israel.
Hard times are not permanent, as we see in the book of Ruth. God does not leave us out in the rain forever. Eventually, the clouds of our storm depart and the sun begins to shine. A trick to perseverance is to hold on to hope. Hope for a better life. Hope in God’s ability to change our shattered life into an even lovelier life. Adversity should not define us, but it should transform and elevate our character.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
I wonder if Naomi would have lived out her remaining years in Moab if her husband and sons had not died. Their deaths were the catalyst for her return to Bethlehem. The losses in her life certainly provoked significant change and action.
God was near Naomi when Boaz noticed Ruth gathering heads of grain in his field.
“Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And they answered him, ‘The Lord bless you!’ Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?’ So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, ‘It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.’” Ruth 2:4-6 (NKJV)
God was close to Naomi when Ruth found favor in the eyes of Boaz.
“So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’
And Boaz answered and said to her, ‘It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.’” Ruth 2:10-12 (NKJV)
God was at hand when Naomi wisely advised Ruth to sleep at the feet of Boaz and ask for his covering as a close relative.
“And he said, ‘Who are you?’ So she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.’ Then he said, ‘Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.’” Ruth 3:9-11 (NKJV)
“ And she said, ‘These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” Ruth 3:17 (NKJV)
Boaz married Ruth and from their union a son was born. They called his name Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Naomi went to Moab with three men and returned to Bethlehem with Ruth, a daughter-in-law. Through Ruth, Naomi became the great-great grandmother of King David. Naomi’s season of heartache and hardship ended with a season of much joy and privilege.
“So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also, the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Ruth 4:13-17 (NKJV)