The book of Ruth discloses the hidden programme of God’s providence at work in and through humble people in hard times. Momentous developments occur in obscure situations and we only see their significance as history unfolds. We catch a glimpse of the sovereignty of God in seemingly insignificant events.
Elimelech and his family were not grand personages on the world stage. Afflicted by famine in Judah they emigrated to the country of Moab, for the Israelite a questionable enterprise: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:2). Moab was suspect, a traditional enemy of the people of God. Necessity overruled propriety. Food overcame fear as the prevailing concern. Survival was imperative.
The mighty hand of God was the real force behind the move of this small Israelite household. In its preservation God was in a suave, subtle, and marvellous way establishing the most important household of all, as shall soon be seen. But the immediate outlook was severely grim. Elimelech, his wife and sons, had escaped physical want but not the experience of intense woe.
Elimelech dies beyond his homeland, the sons died without progeny, and Naomi inherited deep sorrow in an alien land. She endured such grief that she concluded that God was against her. She resolved to make her lonely return to Judah counselling her admirable daughters-in-law to remain in their native territory. It was her studied advice and no blame attaches to Orpah for kissing Naomi goodbye.
We do not know the private persuasions of her heart but one supposes she must have gained and cherished a reverence for Judah’s God through the influence of her adopted family. Ten years is a long time to associate with believing folk by whom she was surely loved: “Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband’ ” (vv8-9).
But Ruth is another story. The closing scenes for Naomi in Moab are bitter-sweet - sad but deeply affectionate between a child of God’s grace and two Gentile women. One eventually said goodbye on good terms, the other was so bonded to Naomi that she could not break the tie until death. Naomi suggests several compelling reasons for Ruth to return to her home and rest with a new husband but Ruth rejects her dire warnings. Something urges her to share Naomi’s destiny. It is the divine impulse in her heart. Love for Naomi is the rule of her life and she will not resist it.
The words exchanged between the two women, indeed two widows with dashed hopes, are heart-wrenching. They discuss futures at a defining moment, not just for themselves, but for the ultimate welfare of the whole world.
At the crossroads between Moab and Israel the two ladies have no idea, no hint, as to the historical moment in which they participate, but God is at work in this small domestic decision that no-one else knows of. Here a divinely ordained companionship was sealed for the eternal prospects of God’s chosen ones
Ruth recognized for herself in Naomi “my delight” (her name’s meaning), and she solemnly chose never to be separated from the mother of her deceased and precious husband.
The entire story is imbued with noble feeling and profound love, for it is the shadow, a small human replication, of the divine love of the great Architect of our salvation who is adding to its construction through the human lineage of the Messiah block by block until the chief cornerstone secures it all.
Because God sticks to his purposes Ruth clung to Naomi. God was clinching the plan of rescue for all those who would, by his grace, come to trust in Jesus. God’s business is the reversal of human wrong and misery, the repair of damaged creation and especially defiled humanity.
The existence of Moab was due to Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters. “So both Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today” (Genesis 19:36-37). God is replacing disorder with a beautiful new order to be established through his perfect Son.
When Israel wandered towards its promised land Moab refused it hospitality. Now there is shared hospitality between a Moabite and an Israelite, and as the story of Ruth continues we see why, and as to how, God so ingeniously brings good out of great evil.
We telescope the biography of Ruth to see how, through the guidance of Naomi, she comes to be joined with the wealthy landowner, and relative of Naomi, Boaz (chapter four). Together Ruth and Boaz produce Obed, and Obed was the grandfather of King David, and from David’s royal line came the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God knits together a beautiful design for the rescue of mankind.
A corrupt lineage from Lot is incorporated in the merciful plan of God, signalling the salvation of Jew and Gentile in Jesus. A secret is revealed that God works in mysterious ways in mean circumstances. History, to the smallest detail, moves at the direction of God and through his good governance. The climax of the movement man-ward of his gracious intent arrives in Jesus Christ to whom we must cling with the fierce determination of Ruth, who clung so firmly to Naomi.