Summary: God offers a future and a hope to all who trust in him more than we treasure earth’s rewards.
In his old radio show, Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee said, “The Book of Ruth is a pearl in the swine pen of the judges.” I’m not sure I would say just that, but these people did live in the time of the judges (about 1100 B. C.), which were not the best years for Israel. McGee also correctly notes that this book is a pearl. In fact, verses 16-17 of chapter one are a pearl among the pearls – Ruth’s vow to go where Naomi goes and die where she dies as a committed follower of God and a member of the covenant community.
Ruth’s words are often recited at weddings, but not properly so. They better fit a baptismal service; these are words of conversion and commitment. God brings Ruth to faith through the testimony of Naomi and her family, and this is her promise not to turn away when testing comes. She chooses to hope in God’s future rather than in earthly pleasures. Let’s read her story from God’s Word in Ruth chapter 1.
[Read Ruth 1.1-22. Pray.]
When the Apostles preached the gospel (as recorded in the book of Acts), they pleaded with people to turn to God.
Acts 3.19-20: Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ [Messiah] appointed for you, Jesus….
Soon a miracle produces an example of this turning:
Acts 9.32-35: Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
The Bible uses this same idea of turning in Acts 11.21 when describing the evangelistic success of the early church: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
In all these examples, God reminds us that becoming a true Christian changes our thinking so that we now move toward God. Apart from Jesus, people naturally move away from God and away from the community of believers. They are not excited by talk about God-things, about devotion to the Bible, or worship and evangelism. Working out the faith with other believers before a holy God is neither interesting nor enjoyable to them, so they move away from that.
The gospel, however, converts: it changes our thinking so that, suddenly, we want to know God. Now the Bible fascinates us, prayer and confession delights, evangelism thrills and worship is the highlight of our week. True believers do not take lightly the holiness of God, but we do now know both that holiness is happiness and that Jesus made a way for sinners to know the true and living God. As a result, we turn – rather than continuing to move away from the Lord and his people, we vow to go where they go and die where they die as a committed followers of God and members of the covenant community.
So a visible and outward effect and sign of conversion is turning toward God. And that is the main idea in chapter one of Ruth. Notice, please, that in twelve times in seventeen verses “turn” or “return” occurs. The change happens after Naomi has spent ten or so years in Moab.
Ruth 1.6: Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard… that the LORD had visited his people and given them food.
Ruth 1.7: 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 1.8: But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house….
Ruth 1.10: And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”
Ruth 1.11: But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me…?
Ruth 1.12: “Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband….”
And after Orpah agrees and goes, Naomi says to Ruth…
Ruth 1.15: “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
Ruth 1.16: 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.”