Ruth - chapters one and two

Ruth was a truly amazing woman who, like Rahab, is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus and has a vital part to play in God’s story. (Matthew 1:5) She was a young woman from Moab who had been married for ten years to an Israelite called Malon (meaning "weak and sickly"). He and his brother, Kilion, had moved to Moab to escape a famine in Israel, together with their parents, Elimelek and Naomi. After only a short while, Elimelek had died, leaving Naomi as a widow, but the two boys had then married Moabite women. Malon married Ruth and Kilion married a woman called Orphah.

All went well for ten years but then, in quick succession, both Malon and Kilion died, leaving their mother, Naomi, and their own two wives. With no man to support any of them, Naomi encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their parents and look for another husband. At the same time, Naomi had learned that the famine in Israel had passed and she decided to move back to her own home country, where there was a chance that she might find relatives to look after her in her old age. She knew that, if Ruth and Orpah went back with her, they would be unlikely to find new husbands in a foreign country.

Initially, both girls set off with Naomi to go to Israel, but Naomi managed to persuade Orpah that she had a better chance of a secure future if she stayed in her own country with its own culture and religion so Orpah bid them farewell and left. Ruth, however, "clung" to her mother-in-law and insisted on continuing with her. She must have seen something of Naomi's faith and heard about the God in whom she believed because she said: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The choice of a lifetime

Ruth knew that she needed a new direction in her life. She could not grow closer to God by staying with her own people, so she decided to move closer to those who would encourage her spiritual growth. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves a similar question. Is there anyone that God is asking us to move away from, who is hindering our growth as a child of God? (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Hebrews 10:24)

Ruth was also ready for a new country. Sometimes, this may be the only way to escape from a lifestyle that has us trapped. We actually need to move areas, churches or homes in order to put the past behind us and move on with God. We have to choose to put the "world" (life outside of the kingdom of God) out of our relationship with our Father and be one hundred percent for Him in every part of our lives. (Galatians 2:20)

Ruth totally committed herself to her growing faith in the one true God. She was prepared to move away from a world of false religion and enter a new country where people worshipped the one true God. By the time she made her decision to go with Naomi, she had heard enough about this God to cause her to want to follow Him for ever, despite Naomi’s bitterness about her great losses. (Ruth 1:20-21) Ruth wanted a love relationship with the God of Israel above anything else, even above another husband.

Total abandonment to God is like starting a friendship that will develop into a marriage for eternity. We need to start whole-heartedly, because God does not promise to reveal Himself to those who are only half-hearted. (Jeremiah 29:12-14) We have to spend time with Him, allowing Him to talk to us and learning to listen to His voice in our hearts and minds. We need to discover that we can talk to Him and He responds. We may simply spend time in silence, never wanting to leave His company. We want to find out what pleases Him and try to do it. As we get to know Him better, we begin to find that we are growing into a deeper love and trust. Like Ruth, our heart is the key to the success of this relationship. Devotion to Jesus Christ means giving Him everything - our whole heart - every single day of the year. When we go for total devotion, God will be our completeness. We shan't need anything else: a career, marriage or motherhood; none of those things will make us satisfied on their own. We need to see that we are only complete in Jesus. “For, in Him, all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

In-laws or outlaws?

Naomi had really appreciated Ruth and Orpah when they had all lived in Moab. She had felt a responsibility for their spiritual wellbeing because they came from a religious culture that knew little about the one true God. The young girls continued to be a help to her when she became a widow. Although Naomi became bitter after the death of her husband and two sons, the girls were still keen to fulfil their duty to her. Despite her depression, Naomi held onto her God and was able to put the girls’ interests before her own. She implored them to go back to their parents, even if it meant her own future would be even emptier. When Ruth returned to Bethlehem with her, Naomi did start to trust God to provide for them both. Her attitude changed as a relative of hers, a wealthy man called Boaz, started to take an interest in Ruth. The Jewish law encouraged landowners to allow poor people to "glean" during harvest-time. They were able to pick up and collect grain that had fallen to the ground during the main operation to collect the harvest. (Deuteronomy 24:19) Although Ruth was a foreigner, she was also allowed to "glean" and Boaz began to take a personal interest when he heard the story of how she had come to the country in support of her mother-in-law - his own relative.

Ruth was seen by all the people in the town to be diligent, faithful, loving, humble and kind. Her reputation for her loyalty and commitment to Naomi was exemplary. (Ruth 2:11-12) Ruth behaved towards Naomi like her devoted daughter. (Ruth 4:15) She saw to all her physical needs, caused her to praise God, obeyed her, lived with her and (eventually) gave her a grandson. (Ruth 2:2; 2:20-23; 3:5; 4:16)

God’s plan for the relationship of in-laws is shown here beautifully. When we are children, we mostly develop strong relationships with our parents. These can depend on many factors: the circumstances of our birth; whether or not we have siblings; our parents' work situation, finances and so on. When we leave home, often in order to get married, we may still have some "unfinished business" which only comes to light when we ourselves have children. When we marry, we take on an extra set of parents and, in some cases, this can add to our own problems. In-laws may be very different people, but they have their own needs and probably feel the the loss of their own child - our new partner. Building a new set of relationships with in-laws takes time and the nature of these relationships changes as the parents grow older and need to learn to receive support instead of giving it.

Coping with parental problems

  • A husband must leave his parents. It's necessary to make a firm break! (Mark 10:7-9; Ephesians 5:31)
  • We should respect our in-laws. (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2)
  • We should trust God with the relationship. (Psalm 5:11-12)
  • We should "Keep our joy". (Nehemiah 8:10)
  • We should look to God's word. (Colossians 3:16-17)
  • We should always be quicker to apologise and forgive. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

God expects us to honour older parents, even if they are demanding and difficult. This means treating them with respect, humility and love. We can learn a lot from Jesus' own example. "Honouring parents" does not mean endlessly submitting to someone who is constantly manipulating or demanding. (Luke 21:14-19) Jesus did not respond to His family when they came to make demands on Him. but continued to do His Father’s work. (Matthew 12:46-50) He did provide for His mother’s needs, even whilst He was being crucified. (John 19:25-27). We need to seek God (who knows our full circumstances) and ask Him what He wants us to do in our relationship with our parents and in-laws. (Romans 12:9-12; Romans 12:14)

Being a mother-in-law

Take note of Naomi’s behaviour even if your daughter or son-in-law is nothing like Ruth.

  • “She opened her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26)
  • “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Let's be a daily example of Jesus to our children-in-law and, even if they are a daily disappointment to us, sow love, tolerance, unselfishness and gentleness, remembering that we reap what we sow. We shall see fruit for our labour in the fullness of time. Let's not be be bitter, like Naomi, but better.

  • “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  • “Be joyful always; pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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