On the Judah Road
Sometimes we make one decision that changes our lives forever. That’s what Ruth did, and God blessed her.
I’d like to tell you about a girl who grew up 30 centuries ago and made a decision so momentous it not only secured her place in history but also the future of mankind—including yours and mine. She probably never knew the significance of her choice on that ordinary day on the road to Judah.
She grew up in Moab, east of Israel and the Dead Sea, where Jordan lies today. The Moabites worshiped Chemosh, an evil god of their own invention and to whom they sacrificed their children in a religion that traded on human depravity, corruption, and fear.
Into this culture was born Ruth. Did she sleep securely at night? Or did she lie on her little pallet, fearfully envisioning a favorite cousin screaming or a playmate being torn from her mother and offered to Chemosh? Was a sibling of hers taken for a sacrifice? As she matured, did she witness anything to make her question the belief system of her people?
We’ll never know, of course. But this was the pagan culture of Ruth’s youth. She was a Moabitess who likely knew no other way to live.
Enter the Israelites
As time passed, four people entered her world. They had traveled to Moab from Bethlehem Ephrathah in Israel to escape the famine that was ravaging the land. The family consisted of Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech may have been a devout believer in Yahweh, and Naomi may have been pleasant and fun because their names mean “my God is King” and “pleasant,” respectively.
After a while, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi alone with her two sons (Ruth 1:3). If their names characterized them, Mahlon was sickly because his name meant “sick,” and Chilion was a complainer because his name meant “pining.” Yet Ruth and Orpah married them. Ruth wed Mahlon, Orpah wed Chilion, and pleasant Naomi became their mother-in-law.
During the 10 years her sons were married, Naomi may have treated her daughters-in-law to fascinating accounts about her homeland and her God, the One who created the universe in six days and made a dry path through the Red Sea so her people could flee from slavery in Egypt. Perhaps she told them how God had fed the Israelites with manna from heaven and made water gush from a rock. Or how He made the walls of Jericho, on the other side of the Dead Sea, collapse in a heap.
Naomi worshiped the God who provided commandments designed to help people and keep them from hurting one another. Chemosh, on the other hand, didn’t provide anything. All he did was receive the charred bodies of innocent children.
Then tragedy struck. Mahlon and Chilion died. Now each of the women stood by a grave in Moab. Alone, with no one to support them, they faced destitution.
Entreat Me Not
In the ensuing days, Naomi heard the Lord had visited His people with bread. The famine was over. God was blessing her homeland, and she wanted to return to Bethlehem.
Ruth and Orpah no doubt loved their mother-in-law and immediately agreed to accompany her. Naomi was touched. She apparently loved these girls, as well. However, if they left Moab, they would become the foreigners. How could she wish that situation on them? “Go, return each to her mother’s house,” she implored. “The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me” (v. 8).
Naomi was telling them to turn around and go back to their childhood homes. Her wish was for them to remarry and for the God of Israel to grant them rest. She kissed them tenderly, “and they lifted up their voices and wept” (v. 9).
Still, they did not want to leave her: “Surely we will return with you to your people,” they begged (v. 10).
But Naomi told the girls she could not provide more sons for them to marry. She finished her second entreaty to them with a heartbreaking cry of grief, accusing her God of going out against her (v. 13). Sobbing, Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye. But Ruth clung to her. The words that poured from Ruth’s soul are among the most beautiful in all of Scripture. They not only reveal her devotion to Naomi but her willingness to submit her life to the God of Israel:
Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me (vv. 16–17).
In a surprising declaration, Ruth invoked the proper name of the world’s one true God, Yahweh (LORD), “the existing one,” and promised, “The LORD do so to me and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” It seems that Ruth had come to know God.
Naomi slowly released herself from Ruth’s embrace. She probably noted the swollen eyes, red with pleading and agony. Perhaps she even reached her wrinkled hand up and cupped Ruth’s face, her cheeks stained with tears and grime from the road. I like to think the older woman smiled, hooked her arm through Ruth’s, and headed resolutely in the direction of Bethlehem.
The Blessing of Surrender
Young Ruth’s decision on that dusty road millennia ago was one of complete surrender—not only to Naomi, but also to the God of Israel. It equaled a declaration of love (though the word love never appears in the book of Ruth, despite the fact that love pervades every chapter).
Did Ruth have any idea her commitment would continue a series of events that started in eternity past and would affect the entirety of civilization? Did she know that hundreds of years earlier, when God promised Abraham all families of the earth would be blessed through his seed, that she would have anything to do with that blessing? She was a foreigner to the covenant nation of Israel, a widow, a Moabite, and a Gentile.
Did Ruth know that by submitting to Yahweh, she would be maneuvered into the sphere of a kind, wealthy man named Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s, who would become their kinsman-redeemer and restore their heritage? Did she know her future great-grandson, David, was destined to become the great king of Israel and father of the royal line of Jesus the Messiah and Savior of the world?
Ruth knew none of these things. Yet they all occurred because of her unconditional surrender to the true and living God on a dusty road in Moab.
Ruth is a hero to me. I love her because, as a Gentile, she was a lot like me: She was spiritually destitute, an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, hopeless and godless and living in spiritual poverty (Eph. 2:12).
Then, through Messiah Jesus, who provides forgiveness of sin through faith in Him, we Gentiles are grafted into the blessings of righteousness that God has provided for His Chosen People, Israel. The victory sings in our hearts:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (vv. 13–14, 18–19).
Ruth’s decision led her into God’s family. It sealed her into the Messianic line that would produce the Savior of the world. She had no idea how significant her choice would be.
Ruth’s life sings to me. I want to be like her. I want to surrender everything I am, all my life, to God. I can do so because Ruth’s descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ, shed His blood and surrendered His life for me.