“Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
These words may sound vaguely familiar to you. This quote from the book of Ruth has been repeated during wedding ceremonies around the world. Perhaps the words are taken out of context when spoken between bride and groom. Why? Because this was the pledge Ruth made to her mother-in-law. Why? Well, let’s revisit the story to see why.
To read her story go turn to the book of Ruth in the bible. It’s just four short chapters tucked between Judges and 1 Samuel.
Ruth’s story was set right in the midst of the time when the judges ruled in Israel. And let me tell you, the time of the judges was no picnic. It was a time when Israel had no king and was in dire need of prophets. They wandered so far from God. At times, coming back to God in repentance, only to turn around and fall back into the same pit of destructive, sinful behavior. The people of Israel, God’s chosen people, were suffering defeat because of their spiritual weakness. They even went so far as to worship images of Baal, and Ashtoreth, and the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. They no longer served the LORD at all (Judges 10: 6-7). The last sentence in the book of Judges tells us that, “In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT).
During this time of anarchy in the nation of Israel we are told the story of Ruth. On many levels it is a love story. A story of redemption.
And so Ruth begins.
“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” (1:1).
This man was Elimelech and his wife was Naomi, their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. Because their names are pointed out to us in scripture, we should take a look at their meaning as it foreshadows their part in the story.
Naomi means “pleasant” or “my delight” and it seems, at least in the beginning, that this is a good description of her character and perhaps her countenance.
Elimelech means “ my God is King”. Which tells us that Elimelech was a believer in the One True God. And even though his name refers to the everlasting God, he dies suddenly (1:3).
After their father’s death, the two sons married Moabite women. Orpah and Ruth.
Mahlon means “sickly” and Kilion means “frailty”. So it’s no surprise that after they had lived in Moab about 10 years they both died.
And so we find three heartbroken women left clinging to one another in their grief. When Naomi hears that the famine is over in Judah she decides to go back home. And so the three women set out on the road leading to Judah.
Along the way Naomi urges her daughter-in-laws to return to their own families. Orpah, whose name by some accounts means “double-minded” decides to return to her own family in Moab. But Ruth pledges her love and loyalty to Naomi. She is willing to leave all that she has ever known to live with her grieving mother-in-law and worship the true God of Israel.
Ruth means “lovely” or “a site worth seeing”, and it also is the word for “friendship”. How fitting as she was truly a lovely young woman capable of rare friendship. She proves the sweetness of her character and loyalty by sticking by her mother-in-law, even as Naomi begins to slip further into the bitterness of her own grief and renames herself Mara, which means “bitter”.
A side note here: Naomi, whose name means “delight” tried to change her own name to more fully express the bitterness of her life as she saw it at the moment. When was the last time you tried to rename yourself according to your own unfortunate circumstances, or even your own poor choices? Let’s not play the name game. The enemy of your heart is the accuser…and he’s a liar. Don’t fall for his name twisting shame game. Walk into the fullness of who God says you are!
As we continue in the story we find Ruth realizing that in order to live they needed food. Fortunately it was harvest time. Seeing that her aged mother-in-law was unable to work, she went out and joined the poor gleaners, gathering leftover grain in the fields. The field she finds herself working in belongs to a rich and godly landowner, Boaz. By Jewish law she could have gleaned in any harvest field. But by God’s providential hand she is in the field of Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.
Boaz grows to love and admire Ruth. According to the Jewish law, when a woman became a widow, the nearest male relative could be called on to act as “ kinsman redeemer”. He was responsible to act for a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need of vindication. And so Boaz, as kinsman redeemer, bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon and married Ruth in order to carry on the family name.
By the way, Boaz means “in strength”. In God’s strength Boaz was able to bring redemption from tragedy in the lives of both Ruth and Naomi.
Ruth and Boaz give birth to a son, Obed which means “a servant who worships”. Perhaps his name paints a picture of his mother’s heart. Obed became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of King David. Ruth’s name is included in the geneology of Christ Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
Naomi is no longer bitter when the town’s women say to her, “May this child restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you loves you so much and who has been better to you than seven sons,” (4:15)! Better than seven sons! In scripture the number 7 symbolizes completion. Naomi had returned to her hometown feeling incomplete. Her life, interrupted by the death’s of her husband and sons. Now her life was complete. The bitterness, gone. In its place is the blessing and delight of having a grandchild and the promise of security in her old age.
I can’t begin to include all of the lessons to be found in this treasure we have been given in the book of Ruth. It is a clear picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
In the time of the judges, when people were doing whatever they thought was right in their own eyes, we encounter Ruth. A young Moabite widow willing to turn from her pagan heritage. A lovely and loyal friend, who chose to follow the true God of Israel. She chose relationship over the religion of her own family and town of Moab. She chose relationship with the LORD in a time of religious apostasy in the very nation of Israel. In Ruth’s story we see God’s sovereign grace and love. We see God’s providential provision. In her redemption we see the picture of Christ and His Bride the church. The story of the gospel with an unlikely sinner in need of a Savior.
We, too, seem to be living in a time when people are doing whatever seems right in their own eyes. We have a choice to make...
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
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