Perhaps you are familiar with the Old Testament book of Ruth, a 4-chapter story layered with tragedy, blessings, and the reminder to trust God.
Naomi, a Hebrew, along with her husband and two grown sons, forsakes her hometown of Bethlehem to escape a famine. The family settles into nearby Moab (modern day Jordan), for about a decade. But Naomi’s husband and sons perish, leaving Naomi with a broken heart and two grieving Moabite daughters-in-law.
When Naomi hears that Bethlehem is again flush with food, she decides to return home — a rigorous 7-10 day journey across the desert, which she must make without companion or male protection. But one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, stubbornly refuses to let Naomi forsake her: “For where you go, I will go.” When the women arrive safely in Bethlehem, Naomi laments to her old friends, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”
Oh, Naomi, if only you could see the bigger story about to develop through your loyal daughter-in-law!
Through Ruth, God will restore Naomi’s joy, hope, and trust — and cement Ruth, a lowly foreigner, as a key player in Israel’s history. Let’s look at just three attributes that made Ruth usable by God.
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3 Qualities That Made Ruth Usable by God
Ruth Was a Woman of Commitment
We’re not told why Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi, rather than return to her own family. Perhaps she recognizes how difficult life is for poor widows, and doesn’t want Naomi to endure the hardship alone. What we do know is that Ruth feels deep affection for Naomi. “Entreat me not to leave thee,” she begs, “or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
Ruth is all-in. 100 percent. No longing looks over her shoulder.
The contemporary Christian song Burn the Ships, by the band for King & Country, echoes Ruth’s decision to have no exit strategy:
Step into a new day.
We can rise up from the dust and walk away.
We can dance upon our heartache, yeah.
So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships.
And don’t you look back.
Ruth has a lot of time to reflect on her decision, as she and Naomi journey 50+ miles westward across the hot desert to get around the Dead Sea. But from the moment the last of the Moab dust is ground beneath the soles of her sandals, Ruth’s old life is done. Boxed up. Sealed with duct tape. With all bets on Bethlehem and the life she would find there. No comparing her new to her old, no lamenting that “life was better back home.” (A mindset, as an aside, that the Israelites groaning and moaning in the desert for 40 years should have adopted.)
Perhaps the saying “Faith like a child” is appropriate here, as Ruth is certainly trusting in a better future as she focuses on loyally serving and honoring her mother-in-law. (Hold on, Ruth! Just wait!)
Ruth Was a Woman of Courage
Imagine yourself as Ruth. You’ve lost your husband. And now your heart aches at the thought of losing your last connection to him, his mother. It’s an option you’re unwilling to consider. So you pack your overnight bag and water bottle and set off to see what unfolds with Naomi in her homeland. Only this time, you’ll be the foreigner. How will you feed and clothe yourself? Where will you find shelter? A new husband doesn’t seem likely. When Naomi dies, you’ll be left all alone.
Despite her fears, Ruth heads out. Have you had to “pull a Ruth” yet in your own life? Have you been developing your courage to take these big steps?
Perhaps Ruth turns her back on all that she is familiar with because she realizes a truth we highlighted in our recent post on Simon Peter: we must courageously step out of the boat, onto the dark, choppy waters, to experience the bigger life God has for us. Our adventure often awaits beyond our comfort zone.
Ruth Was a Woman of Character
As Joy Burgess writes in her article on Ruth, “Ruth’s story is ordinary. Perhaps that’s what makes it so compelling. She doesn’t come from a famous family. She doesn’t have great riches or great position. Ruth is just a widow – one from an enemy nation, at that. Nothing is going in her favor, but she’s brave, and her faith never wavers. And yet the life of a foreign widow who has nothing becomes so important that it’s included in the Bible and her name recognized in the lineage of Jesus.”
God loves to use “nobodies” to create history. Remember Noah’s start? Gideon’s? David’s? Mary’s?
What Ruth has going for her is her character. We can discern who Ruth is through her words and actions as the story progresses. Ruth displays what the Bible calls the “fruit of the Spirit“: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of the woman Ruth chooses to be, Naomi’s people become her people, and Naomi’s God becomes her God. And she becomes actively usable by Him.
Through God’s provision, Ruth captures the heart of an older, wealthy “kinsman redeemer” related to Naomi. God uses Boaz’s integrity and generosity — his own developed character — to redeem and bless both women. At the birth of Ruth’s son, Naomi again takes joy in her name, which means “pleasantness.” (Way better than bitter.) Naomi had a few things to learn about character from her young daughter-in-law. And a few things to learn about God’s trustworthiness.
Becoming Like Ruth
It’s important that in Ruth, we see ourselves. As BibleStudyTools.com notes, “Ruth strikingly exemplifies the truth that participation in the coming kingdom of God is decided, not by blood and birth, but by the conformity of one’s life to the will of God through the ‘obedience that comes from faith.'”
It’s hard to see that good is coming, if all we feel is pain and abandonment. But we know that God is never idle. As Naomi tenderly cradles Ruth’s infant son, reaffirming her trust in God’s provision, she has no clue that the baby will one day become the grandfather of Israel’s most faithful king, David. It would surely have blown her mind to be told that also through this lineage, Jesus, the Savior of the World, would make His appearance to play His part in God’s master plan.
Like Naomi, we can’t always see how God is working in and through our lives. But we can choose to expect that He is doing good things — despite our circumstances.
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