Summary: When we are faithful to God, God will be faithful to us, and amazing things will happen!
Many of us are quite familiar with the story of Job. In the Bible, Job is the guy God chooses to prove to Satan the faithfulness of God’s followers. The result is that God repeatedly “tests” Job, making his life extremely difficult, in order to show Satan how he remains faithful through it all. Over the course of a year, many hardships unfold for Job; though he is a prosperous man, he loses all of his possessions, including all of his livestock. Then Job’s ten children die when his house is crumbled by a mighty wind. Then later, Job is struck by a plague of boils that infects his skin. But through it all, Job remains faithful and never curses God.
Though in the book of Ruth all of the devastation comes at the beginning of the story; in many ways, this story of Naomi and Ruth reminds us of Job. These women, particularly Naomi, have suffered far more than they deserve. Plagued by famine, Naomi’s husband moved his wife and two sons out of their homeland and into the hostile territory of Moab. Without getting into all the details, just suffice it to say that there was no love lost between Moab and Israel. They were age-old enemies, and only the most desperate of Israelites would cross the borders into Moabite territory. So it was that Naomi found herself in not only a foreign, but also hostile, land when her husband died. The widow now has no means, no friends, and two sons to care for. We don’t really know how long they were there in this sorry state, but in time, both sons marry Moabite women. Yet they, too, eventually die. Now Naomi is not only a widow in a foreign and hostile land with no means and no friends, she also has no immediate family. All this unfolds right at the beginning of the story, so it is really no surprise that Naomi begins to question the God of Israel. Like Job, Naomi does not curse God, but she does believe that God has cursed her.
We can only imagine that Naomi must have felt as if there was nothing left to live for. So it’s not really a surprise when Naomi decides to head back to Bethlehem and encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their own homes too. Naomi has lost hope, and you can’t really blame her. Where she sees no future at all for herself, she must believe that there is at least some hope for Ruth and Orpah to start life anew. But Ruth will not hear of it. As Orpah heads back to her remaining family, Ruth issues one of the most beautiful declarations of faithfulness in all of Scripture: “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”
Who could argue with that? Naomi certainly doesn’t, she resigns herself to returning to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. And so begins Naomi’s journey out of the black hole of her time in Moab and on to a new life. Even as Naomi continues to stew in her own misery, though; Ruth, in her extreme faithfulness, gets busy. She is now the foreigner in a hostile land, and she is a widow on top of that. Though she lives in Naomi’s household, they have no means of support because they are both widows. They are the poorest of the poor. So Ruth heads to the fields to glean what the harvesters have left behind so that she and Naomi have at least some sort of sustenance.
Indeed, Ruth could have created an entirely different life for herself. She could have remarried and fostered a posse of offspring in her homeland of Moab. But, instead she devoted her life to Naomi, and now she is having to do the back-breaking labor necessary to keep them both alive. She was just doing what she had to do because she was a committed and faithful woman. She obviously cared about her elderly mother-in-law immensely. Who could know that her efforts would pay dividends for her, too? This is the life of faith, really. Sometimes our faithfulness means we suffer through extreme trials. And sometimes our faithfulness means that God blesses us richly. The most important thing, though, is that we always remain faithful.
Now, despite all their suffering and sadness, Ruth and Naomi are on the road to blessing because Boaz takes notice of Ruth as she gleans his field. It seems that with her pledge and commitment to Naomi, Ruth has been incorporated into the Israelite community. We can discern this because, though Boaz is told that Ruth is a Moabite, that doesn’t seem to matter to him. He doesn’t view her as less of a person, quite the opposite, actually. He makes special arrangements for Ruth. She is not only to be allowed to glean his field in peace, without any threat from the male harvesters, but the harvesters are also to give her water if she needs it, and even some of the harvest itself.