The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible, and beautifully told, but it is set in dark times. For “the days when the judges ruled” see Jdg.21:25; and Bethlehem had been the scene of one of the grimmest episodes of those days (see Jdg.19). The “famine”, we might well suppose, was a sign of God’s judgment.
Typical of much biblical narrative, the writer doesn’t pass explicit comment on the action of Elimelech, but his decision to leave the land was scarcely a response of faith. Instead of finding refuge under the wings of the LORD (cf.2:12), the family seeks refuge in Moab, a people who had opposed God’s People (eg.Nus.22-25) and oppressed God’s People (eg.Jdg.3:12ff.). And marriage to a Moabite meant exclusion from the assembly of the LORD’s People (Deut.23:3).
Well might Naomi have assumed that “the LORD’s hand has gone out against her” (v.13), as first her husband and then her two sons die. And yet wonderfully in the providence of God his purpose was also to bless, to use their sojourn in the land of Moab to bring Ruth to conversion and into the family of God’s People.
At the heart of the chapter is Ruth’s decision of faith. The choice faced by Ruth and Orpah was not just a matter of home and marriage prospects and family ties, it was a religious choice (so clearly in v.15), and Ruth commits herself unreservedly to the LORD and his people. Her words (vv.16, 17) are sometimes used in a marriage service, but it speaks of a much more profound and significant pledge of allegiance even than marriage, it is a turning to God.
Ruth’s faith stands in stark contrast to Orpah’s, who opts for the gods of the Moabites, but it contrasts too with Naomi’s faith. In Naomi’s acknowledgment of God’s sovereign hand on her life there is a weary resignation, maybe even resentment (vv.20, 21), not the hopeful trust of Ruth. Both have lost a husband and become a widow in a foreign land; as both now return to the Lord, the story will reveal whose attitude is right.
Some possible questions
Sinclair Ferguson makes a helpful comment on the way the book of Ruth in general illustrates how God sovereignly works in all things for our good –
“Finite creatures can never fully comprehend what an infinite God is doing. Those who always sure of the details of God’s plans need to be treated with some suspicion – they may be in for a shock! But here in the book of Ruth, God allows us to see the kind of thing he does, so that we may trust him when we see similar patterns being woven into our own lives.
At the time, of course, what God was accomplishing in the lives of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz was far from clear to any of them…. More than that, right at the end of the story, the author shows how God was doing far more than they could have realized during their lifetimes.”