By: Sarah Norman
Ruth is a well known story in the Bible and in this world of Disney that we live in, it's easy to paint Ruth with the Disney brush as a princess who met her prince charming. Ruth was in a difficult place. She met a wealthy man who brought her out of that difficult place, married her and they lived happily ever after. It's a nice story. One we've seen on screen or read in books often. But if that's all we see in this story, we miss the most important aspect...God's redemption for his people.
Sodom and Gomorrah, another well known, but not fairy tale story, is the backdrop of Ruth's beginning. These cities were so wicked that God knew they would never choose him over their sins so they needed to be destroyed. Abraham fought against this, knowing his nephew lived in Sodom. He didn't want to see the destruction of any innocent people so he began bargaining with God on their behalf. God said he would save the whole city if there could be 10 righteous people found, but there weren't. Lot and his family were the only ones saved.
Once Lot and his daughters were safely away from the destruction of the cities, his daughters grew worried that they would no longer be able to marry and have children, therefore have heirs to carry on their family line. His daughters decided to get him drunk and then both have sex with him in that drunken state. From this encounter came Moab, and then the Moabite people. These people were a blight on Israel's history. They were outcasts. They descended from sin. Israel thought they were beyond redemption. But Ruth's story shows different.
The story of Ruth occurs during the time of the Judges. The last verse in the book of Judges sums up the time of Judges very well. Verse 25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” We see this perhaps most clearly in Judges 19. A Levite and his concubine stop to rest for the night in Gibeah which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. A man asks them to stay in his house for he knew what would happen if they stayed in the town square. While eating dinner that night, a mob of men from the city came and wanted to rape the Levite. Instead of giving up the Levite, he gave up his virginal daughter and the Levite's concubine. The women were raped and abused all night, to the point of death for the concubine.
This story is very reminiscent of what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah and what ultimately led to their destruction. They wanted to rape the angels who visited Lot. That part of the story had a better ending as the angels were spared and these women were not. This story, when read by itself is heartbreaking and outrageous. It's difficult to see God anywhere in this story and difficult to see why God would allow such horrible things to happen. Israel expected the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah after what happened. And that is definitely what they deserved. They deserved to have sulfur and fire rain down on them for the wicked abuses that occurred. But thankfully, God does not always give us what we deserve. There is a reason why God is God and we are not.
At the beginning of Ruth, there was a famine so a man named Elimelech moved his family, his wife Naomi, and his 2 sons to Moab. They saw the judgment that God was bringing on Israel, and perhaps were afraid of total destruction like what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah so they jumped ship before anything could happen. But while in Moab, Elimelech died. Naomi's sons married Moabite women, then her sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. These were three women, destitute and alone in a society that didn't value women and where it was difficult for women to find legitimate work to earn money for food and lodging.
Naomi heard whispers of the end of the famine in Bethlehem. She believed that perhaps she could find family and help there, so she decided to go back. She tried to tell her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. They were still young, they could still marry and have children and a life. Orpah decided to do this, but Ruth stayed. In Ruth 1:16 she says “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Ruth came from a pagan people. Maybe she knew their history of origin or maybe not, but she knew they did not follow the God of Naomi, the God of Israel. She lived with Naomi and knew she was different. Ruth knew Naomi had something and was going toward something that she would not have if she stayed in Moab. There, Ruth became a follower of God. She declared her allegiance to the God of Naomi, declared that she would worship Him. And here is where our redemption story comes in.
Ruth was a Moabite, an enemy of God's people. Naomi didn't want to return with a Moabite woman because she did not believe she would be accepted, she didn't believe God's redemption could extend to Moabites. But God had a different plan. God's redemption is for all people and we see that clearly in Ruth's story.
Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem and we learn here why God did not destroy Israel like he did Sodom and Gomorrah. His plan was to bring redemption to his people in an unlikely way. Ruth meets a man name Boaz and eventually marries. She becomes the great grandmother of King David and eventually Jesus comes from her line. Jesus is the Savior of the world, who defeated death, defeated sin and redeemed not only Israel but everyone who is willing to follow Him.
Israel deserved destruction. The story in Judges is just one that was written down, but that story was likely a common story. Is the world we live in much different? Do we value life more than the Israelites did? Do we follow God more or better than what the Israelites did? No we don't, but what we learn from this story is that God is full of mercy. God does not give us what we deserve. God is giving us as much time as he can to turn to Him. We all deserve destruction, we all deserve death, we all deserve Hell. But in God's infinite mercy that is not what we get. When we have a relationship with Jesus, who came from Ruth, we find our redemption in Him. In this world that's full of sin and pain and death, we can look to the story of Ruth and see hope. In this story that is so heartbreaking, we see redemption in what God did for Ruth, the Moabite woman, the despised, the outcast, the marginalized. And just as Ruth did, when we follow God, when we turn to God a midst all the things of this world that we could follow, we find our redemption. God is the God who can redeem even the most despised, the most outcast, and the most marginalized, if we only look towards him.