Summary: Contrast two kinds of faith in Ruth chapter 1
Ruth 1 – two kinds of faith
Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Bible.
Ruth is a story about ordinary people, going through the vicissitudes of life. In the story of Ruth, we encountered a family (husband and wife: Elimelech, Naomi, their two sons: Mahlon and Kilion; and their wives: Ruth and Orpah) dealing with daily issues:`
• Considering migration
• Struggling through tough economic times
• Death and birth
• Looking for a husband, getting married.
Ruth is a heart warming story. There are no bad guys in Ruth. All the characters behaved reasonably, they all thought about the wellbeing of others.
Ruth is also a story about two kinds of faith, two kinds of faith with three contrasts:
A faith based on human wisdom and planning.
The story begins with Elimelech taking a decision to migrate to Moab with his family.
Many of us are also migrant. We can strike a chord of resonance with Elimelech.
1997 is a special year of significance to people from Hong Kong. Those who lived in HK in 1970s, 80s and early 90s faced the decision to migrate because of 97 – the year that HK returns to China.
Some migrated because of economic reasons (like Elimelech), some migrated because of their children’s education, some migrated because of security, some migrated because of fear of the unknown future (wanting some stability and certainty).
No doubt Elimelech would have considered similar factors as well and took them into account before he decided to migrate to Moab with his family. It is ironic that a man whose name means “God is king” (Elimelech) when he made a life changing decision, left God out of it.
Most immigrants probably work out fine in the new countries (including Australia), but some don’t, like Elimelech. V2 simply says “Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died”. The Bible does not say why. Not only that, Elimelech’s sons, after they married the Moabite women Orpah and Ruth, and lived in Moab for 10 years, also died. This means that the family of Elimelech suddenly has only three widows, without the bread winners to support them. They faced a very bleak future.
Then Naomi heard “in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” (v6). The tide has turned. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
Again let us think of the modern day equivalent: those who migrated here because of 1997, after the return of HK to China, things turned out to be quite OK in HK after all. HK continued to prosper, in contrast, countries like Australia went through a period of tough economic times in the 80s with high unemployment. Many of those migrants have second thought, some returned.
I mentioned these not to pass any judgment to those who chose to migrate or those who chose to return. Often, they would have considered the pros and cons and made the decision with the best interests of their families in mind.
This was how presumably why Elimelech decided to migrate to Moab in the first place We can tell at least two factors in v1: the judges ruled – there was lawlessness and political instability in Israel; and there was a famine in the land – economic hardship).
This was also presumably why Naomi decided to migrate back to Bethlehem. V6 “when she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aids of His people by providing food for them”.
The rationale behind those decisions is not necessarily wrong except they are made based on human wisdom. If we plan for our future only based on our wisdom, some times it will work out, some times it won’t.
A faith based on trust in Yahweh (God).
When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, she urged her daughters-in-law not to go with her. This again shows Naomi really is a kind hearted person. Her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth, unlike her, will have nothing to gain by going to Bethlehem with her:
1. Unlike Naomi (she is at least returning to her home country), Orpah and Ruth will be going to an alien land with no assurance of their future.
2. Orpah and Ruth both have their own homes (v8 “go back, each of you to your mother’s home”). Unlike Naomi, Orpah and Ruth have their mother’s homes to return to.
3. Orpah and Ruth are also young (compared with Naomi), they can always remarry and start all over again (v9).
After weighing up the pluses and minuses, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good bye and returned home.
But then Ruth shows us another kind of faith. When Naomi asked her to return to her own people like Orpah, this is Ruth’s response: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (1:16-17)