Summary: God weaves our lives through many turns on the upward call.
Freight trains cannot climb very steep hills. In fact, 4% would be near the absolute limit of any freight train. (Show as 4 cm lift on meter ruler.)
Steepest road in the United States? Canton Avenue, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a grade of 37%, meaning that for every meter of horizontal distance traveled, the elevation changes by 37 cm. (Show with Amazon box and meter ruler.) May not look steep, but must be paved with concrete because asphalt would flow down on hot days! If you tried to climb this hill, you would see quickly how steep it really is.
When I went with the boy scouts to Colorado, we climbed some steep hills. One of the ways we did so was with trails that formed a zig-zag pattern instead of going straight up the mountain. The zig-zag trail (sometimes called a switchback) protects the hill and trail from excessive erosion. Switchbacks also make it easier to climb steep hills.
Sometimes people want to climb straight up instead of walking the longer distance of the trails weaving road. Is this type of “short-cutting” a good idea? Why not? It kills vegetation and loosens soil creating terrible erosion. Hikers have a motto: Leave No Trace, and part of that requires they stay on the designated trail.
So too with God. We may want to short-cut the path he makes us walk. But Proverbs 3 says, trust in the Lord with all your heart, and he will direct your paths. They will end at the top, where we should be, with great joy. If we only trust and stay the path.
Charles Dickens well-described the mixed feelings created by the French Revolution when he began A Tale of Two Cities, with these memorable words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
We feel similarly when reading the book of Ruth. This splendid short story certainly drags us through the emotions of the best and worst of times.
Events open with the simple phrase, “In the days,” a warm, inviting line, like “Once upon a time,” sure to make us sink into our comfy chairs in preparation for a great tale. Our hearts say, “Surely the best of times.”
But the next words frighten us: “when the judges ruled.” That is not good – the judges ruled in a time of lawlessness, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. It was the worst of times for the people of Israel – this is bad.
But the story is set in Bethlehem, in Judea, a favored placed, blessed of the Lord. The name Bethlehem means, House of Bread – a town of satisfaction and contentment – that is good!
But there is a famine – the house of bread is bare – and the family of Elimelech is forced to flee to Moab, where the true is God not worshipped. There Elimelech, the husband of Naomi and father of Mahlon and Chilion… dies. This is bad!
No, it’s good – the death of the father prompts Naomi to marry her two sons off to fine women: Ruth and Orpah, and they live there 10 years. Yes, this is good.
No, it’s bad – Mahlon and Chilion die. Naomi is left without her two sons and her husband. Oh, that’s bad.
No, it’s good – it forces her back to Bethlehem, where the Lord has visited and given the people food. That’s good.
No, it’s bad – Orpah wants nothing to do with a God who cannot be trusted to make the lives of his people comfortable and easy. She stays in her country, with the hopes of creature comforts and present day success. That’s bad.
No, it’s good – because Ruth makes a true and radical commitment to follow God and to be part of the covenant community with Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 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.” Wow, that’s good.
No, that’s bad, because Ruth and Naomi are now widows without means of support. In fact, Naomi is so upset over the circumstances that she rejects her own name (which means pleasant), and tells her friends from now on to call her Mara, bitter. Oh, that’s bad.
No, it’s good, because God provided for widows and the poor through the law of gleaning, which Naomi intends to take full advantage of. It’s good?
No, bad: it was not safe for a beautiful young woman to wander the fields alone during these days. In fact, Naomi worries that Ruth may be assaulted by farm workers. That’s bad!