I know you have heard of David, of “David and Goliath,” who later became “King David of Israel.” But have you heard of David’s great-grandmother, Ruth? A whole book in the Old Testament is devoted to her life, and it is Ruth’s story today that is our “Boost from the Bible” for this week.
Back in the early years of Israel, a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their 2 sons fled from Israel due to a severe drought there. They fled to a country adjacent to Israel, Moab. There, the two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Things seemed to be going well.
We know what that’s like, don’t we? Things were going fairly well for most of us until March came. Then came the virus and with it, death for some. Likewise, in our story, death came suddenly to Naomi’s family. Her husband, Elimelech, died, as did their two sons. Later, when Naomi returned to Israel – to her hometown of Bethlehem – she informed the women there, her old friends, not to call her “Naomi,” which means “Pleasant,” anymore. Instead, she grimly added, call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.” She told them this because, she said, “the Almighty God has dealt bitterly with me. I went away from Israel full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me ‘Naomi’ when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
In this book of Ruth it is said that “the whole town of Bethlehem was stirred” by the arrival not only of Naomi but of one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, who had come with her. You see days earlier, as Naomi was about to begin her journey back to her hometown of Bethlehem, Naomi had told both her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab; Orpah obeyed Naomi and stayed with her people, AND with, Naomi noted, Orpah’s “gods” – the gods of Moab. But Ruth, though OF Moab, refused to leave both Naomi AND Naomi’s God, the God of Israel.
Now this becomes a crucial point when we read Ruth’s explanation TO Naomi concerning exactly WHY Ruth is willing to leave her own home and go to Israel. “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!” Ruth exclaims to her mother-in-law. “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Notice here in this passage that the writer of the book of Ruth wants us to know that Ruth is not only being loyal to Naomi but also Ruth is being loyal to the God of Israel – the God to whom she was introduced BY Naomi. So, this is a faith decision as well for Ruth.
As the book of Ruth continues, we see Ruth utilize her faith to act in such a fashion that she, first: works hard gleaning for food in the field, so that she and Naomi have enough to eat; second, that Ruth impresses the people of Bethlehem with her hard work and kind demeanor; and third, she impresses Naomi, who in turn helps her daughter-in-law (whom she now calls her “daughter”) to woo a rich cousin named Boaz who, according to Jewish law, is supposed to marry Ruth and provide children for this family of Naomi’s that had looked to be near its end without leaving any posterity. And, as we read the rest of the little book of Ruth, we see that it all ends well, as Boaz and Ruth marry and have a child while the populace of Bethlehem look on admiringly as they see Naomi happily dandling her grandchild on her knee.
This is such a great story of a family surviving a near catastrophe that it should be an inspiration for our OWN families in the midst of THIS great challenge. During this time we are all doing what we can for our families. We are connecting more to them online and by phone; we are making sure that those in our families who are in need of food or companionship are getting it in any way possible without spreading the virus. Most of us are closer to our families than we have been in a while. It seems that difficulties in life can really bring us together. That’s part of our faith in God.
That the Book of Ruth is a “family book” is proven in two ways that also connect to what we are going through right now. First, the book ends by reminding its Israelite readers that this important family line, the Perez line, began when Tamar, the widowed daughter-in-law of Judah, went to Judah and became pregnant by him and had twins, one of them being Perez. Boaz was the 4th generation great-grandson of Perez, who, with Ruth, continued this family line from the past – this important heritage – even through great challenges and difficulties.
Historian David McCullough often reminds us that we are descendants of long lines of generations of peoples who also came through great tribulations (whether we are aware of that or not) just for us to get to where we are today. And, just as they got through THEIR tribulations, so we can get through OURS, with God’s help. In my own genealogical work I think of several of my great-grandparents – the Irishman Patrick O’Flyng, who survived Valley Forge in the Continental Army, an army that gave us our American Freedom; George Hewitt, who was part of Sherman’s Army in Georgia that conquered Atlanta so that Lincoln could be re-elected and the Union survive; Freedom Strong, a colonial woman who, as a pioneer, raised many children and built up her wilderness family; Nettie Olson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants who survived sacrificing two children to World War Two. They and others in my family line struggled and survived to give ME a future…and we are doing the same for our descendants, both physical descendants and spiritual descendants, today.
That’s the second point of the Book of Ruth. This story would be like any other story of that time – a nice story but not recorded for posterity – but, you see, Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents to a famous person, to David, who not only slayed Goliath and became King of Israel but was also given a promise from God that from DAVID’S line would eventually come the Messiah…who ended up being Jesus of Nazareth.
Just as what Ruth did laid the foundation for a future with Jesus in it, so we can, by our courageous actions now, lay the foundations for a bright future for everyone who comes after us – not just in America but on all the Earth. Remem-ber, Ruth was a foreigner, from Moab, and yet she contributed as much as any Israelite could to the making the Jewish Messiah. We, too, are called by God to do as much as we can for the WHOLE human family, for, as God said in the Bible, “Of one blood God made every people,” and we see in Ruth the wonderful talents and abilities that are in EVERY human being, no matter WHERE they are from. We are those who had to endure the COVID era; what will our legacy be? Will they say of us as Boaz said of Ruth: “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge”? I pray that they WILL say that of us, I really do! Amen!
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