Ruth. In this Old Testament book, God has given us the account of a woman in the Old Testament who goes from living a normal life (in those days) to being absolutely destitute, and then to finding new life and fulfillment in the promises of God. It’s a beautiful story! Even if you stop reading right here, take the time to go to the Bible and read the entire story of Ruth. It’s a short, easy read and it’s absolutely wonderful.
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.
3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
“In the days when the judges ruled” speaks of a time in Israel’s history before they had their first king, King Saul. At this time, the nation was governed by judges, some were good and some were not very good. The account in the Book of Judges gives us a reference point in history’s timeline.
In these first three verses we learn that there was a Hebrew man from Bethlehem – Elimelech – who had a wife and two sons – Naomi, Mahlon, and Chilion respectively. We also learn there was famine in Israel at that time so they traveled to Moab in hopes of finding a better life. There in Moab we see that Elimelech dies, leaving behind his wife and two sons.
In our world today we see similar circumstances happening don’t we? We hear about refugees fleeing famine and starvation in one country and moving to another in hopes of finding a better life. Some of these refugees come to America where they have some real opportunities to make better lives for themselves and their families.
This is not unlike my own ancestors who left Italy and Germany to find hope in America. However, as we go through the book of Ruth we will see that the real hope for anyone lies in the Lord; not in any particular country and not in any other person.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
~ Psalm 62:5
And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in you.
~ Psalm 39:7
Our hope, our only hope, is in the Lord.
4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years,
5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. ~ Ruth 1:4-5
The father had passed away . The two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, each had a desire to start a family of their own. So they each took wives for themselves named Orpah and Ruth. Then each of the sons passes away, creating a sad and difficult circumstance for these three women. Three women left without husbands in the middle of a famine was not an easy situation.
There are many accounts that we can find in the Bible where men and women were in a situation where they felt like they had absolutely no hope. The wonderful news is that everyone has hope! We each have hope in a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always with us. He is right here with you and with me, just waiting for us to call out to Him.
– Look at the woman at the well with Jesus in John 4
Read the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery and then imprisoned in Genesis 39-45
– Find the stories of King David, Abraham, Moses, Samson, and so many others.
Each of them at one time or another was in a place where they could see no hope in their situation except for the hope they had in the Lord. In this story of Ruth, we know that Ruth came from the country of Moab and was not even a Hebrew believer. Yet we will see in the coming studies that she finds hope in the one true God!
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food.
7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.
~ Ruth 1:6-7
Naomi hears in the fields that God has given food to her people – the Hebrews. Naomi seems to be a woman who still holds on to her faith in the God of the Israelites in that she understands “the LORD had visited his people and given them food”. We may wonder why God didn’t give food directly to Naomi and her family?
God directs each circumstance in our lives much like a conductor manages an orchestra. The conductor gives the musicians direction in an incredibly coordinated production in order to bring about one beautiful piece of music. Like the conductor, God uses the situations in our lives with amazing precision and coordination to draw our hearts to Him. We can see God’s actions in our lives in so many different ways that, all together, cause us to look to Him.
In Naomi’s life, God allowed famine and starvation. He coordinated the entrance of two young women into her life. The Lord allowed her husband and sons to die. He then supplied food to the Israelites only.
All through the Book of Ruth, we can see God’s hand in the lives of Ruth and Naomi. In chapter 1 we watch as Naomi follows God’s lead and returns to her home and to His people – Israel.
“So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.”
God was orchestrating all of the different things in the lives of Naomi and Ruth to bring them to a new place of faith and trust in Him. As He was conducting this orchestra, He was molding and shaping them into the women He wanted them to be. How beautiful is that!
But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~ Isaiah 64:8
I have never felt more like clay in the hands of the potter than these last three years. God has done some incredible things in my life and in our lives as a family to get us to a place where we can be used in ministry. He completely orchestrated the situations in our lives as a family to get us to a place where we can be useful to Him in ministry. If He had called me three years ago, I wouldn’t be in the same place!
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
~ 2 Timothy 2:20-21
Right this very moment, God is working in YOUR life and in mine to make us more useful for His work. Right now. Today. God is working in you and me to cleanse us from what is dishonorable. He is setting us apart.
All we need to do is to call on Jesus as our Savior and accept the free gift of His death on the cross as taking the punishment for all our wrong. When we do that, just praying a simple prayer of saying “yes Lord I accept you as my Savior”, we take the first step on that path. He will begin to work in your life in incredible ways!
8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.
9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
~ Ruth 1:8-9
Naomi is given wisdom and determines to return to her home country. However, she also attempts to help her daughters-in-law by giving them what seems like good advice: “Go back to your mother’s house.” She encourages each of them to return to their own native family home in Moab where they can be taken care of. As we will see, one daughter accepts her advice, and the other refuses.
10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?
12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons,
13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
~ Ruth 1:10-14
Orpah listens to Naomi and departs. Ruth not only refuses what seems like great advice, but the Bible says “Ruth clung to her”. Often in our Christian walk, we hear from the Lord in ways that don’t seem to make much common sense. Sometimes in these situations, people around us will give us advice that seems like wisdom. The Bible is full of stories of people that followed God on a path that everyone around them believed to be destructive.
David versus Goliath. Moses versus Pharaoh. The Hebrews with their backs against the Red Sea. What hope do we have to cling to? We have Jesus. In God we have all the hope we need. He is the conductor of the orchestra. As the God of the universe, He holds our future in His very hand. He is trustworthy. We can rely on Him and we can count on His mighty hand to save us.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
~ Ruth 1:15-18
Isn’t it wonderful that Ruth chooses not only Naomi to follow, but she chooses Naomi’s people, and she chooses the God of Naomi. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” What a beautiful statement. When we choose to accept Jesus as our Savior, we are choosing to identify ourselves as “His people.”
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ~ Romans 10:8-9
That’s exactly what Ruth was doing. She was proclaiming out loud to anyone and everyone that she was adopting into the family of God. Each of us has that choice today. I made that choice many, many years ago. All along that path, God has been the conductor of the orchestra in my life. He has coordinated the events in my life to make me more and more useful to Him.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
~ Ruth 1:19-22
Naomi still doesn’t quite understand how her life is being used in God’s eternal plan. She has no idea what is coming in the next chapters of her life. Right here in this moment, she is discouraged and depressed.
“The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty…the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
That happens so often in each of our lives doesn’t it? For some, it seems to happen every single day. Discouragement. Depression. Terrible circumstances.
But God has an incredible way of bringing those things into our lives that mold us, shape us, and change us to make us more useful for His kingdom.
Many have heard this verse and it is so true!
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare[fn] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
However, many folks have not seen the next two verses which speak to exactly what we are talking about:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
~ Jeremiah 29:12-13
God has a plan for you and for me. His plan for each of us includes a future and a hope! He does this by orchestrating the people and events in our lives to bring us to that point where we call upon Him.
He wants you to seek Him with “all your heart”.