Ruth: God Works for Good

In a culture that has stereotyped mothers-in-law to be unreasonably demanding meddlers, bothersome women to be tolerated …we know that’s not true….. the story of Naomi’s tragic losses and the great love shown her by both of her daughters-in-law may seem unrealistic.

So, let’s put things in their perspectives.  In ancient Hebrew culture all a woman needed was a husband and sons to take care of her. So, Naomi was all set. She was living the abundant life of God’s promises, even when famine struck, because her husband made the decision to move to Moab, where they enjoyed years of contentment.

But the loss of her husband and sons meant Naomi was nothing. Had nothing. A woman alone was as good as dead. Naomi experienced a paradigm shift – from having everything and being a respected woman in the community, to having…to BEing…nothing. Naomi’s losses left her completely insignificant in civil stature. On her own she would be left to beg for scraps under tables.

The outlook was not quite as bleak for Orpah and Ruth. Still within their child-bearing years, we can assume their families – fathers or brothers, would take them into their households and perhaps set them up with nice Moabite men to ensure their futures.

Now here’s what I love about the story of these 3 women. Left to their own wisdom and resources, each of them chose love over self.

Naomi knew what her future held if she were to be totally alone, yet she encouraged Ruth and Orpah to return to their families  – to return to the possibility of abundant life in their separate futures.

Orpah, out of her deep love and respect for Naomi, chose obedience over her initial desire to remain with Naomi.  She obeyed Naomi and returned to her family.

RUTH, though, out of her deep love and respect for Naomi, chose to serve as Naomi’s companion, comfort, and sustenance in Naomi’s later years, sacrificing her own potential for abundant living to fill a little bit of the emptiness in Naomi’s life.

Her love for Naomi was Ruth’s strength, from which she mustered courage and conviction to live into an unknown future faced with scarcity and loneliness as Ruth herself aged.

But there’s an even greater shift at work here. In ancient culture, each people had its own god. So, a person’s ethnicity determined which god they worshiped, for life.  In a time when the idea of religious conversion hadn’t even been conceived, Ruth, in her declaration to Naomi, took on a new ethnic identity, a new people, along with faith in a new God.  

This was a complete upheaval of societal expectations. Surely, God was working in Ruth, who was not even Hebrew, but claimed by God just the same.

So, what was God up to through this whole scenario?  Naomi claimed the hand of God was against her. In chapter 1:20 of Ruth’s book, Naomi, on her return to Bethlehem said to the people, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara (Bitter), for the Lord has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

I would love to say to Naomi, “Really? Did you come back empty? What about Ruth?  Do you not sense God’s hand in her decision to stay with you?

As many do today, Naomi experienced difficult times and believed it was God turning against her.

But God promises to be with us and will not turn against us. God is faithful and just, slow to anger and quick to console! God does not cause bad things to happen in our lives, no, God pours out love on us, and nothing can separate us from God.

So, God was there with Naomi and Ruth.  Just as God is with us. God works for good in all things! We can look for God’s agency in our lives, influencing, guiding, and encouraging, bringing us along through the darkest days, through times of scarcity and into a future meant for good.

God’s promise is for good and not for harm. We know how things turned out for Ruth and Naomi – they went from bottomless grief and emptiness to love and abundance. A future with hope is ours as well.  Thanks be to God! AMEN

Deacon Kirsten Kessel