Why are you paying attention to me?

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“Why are you so helpful? Why are you paying attention to me? I’m only a foreigner.” Ruth 2:10 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

One of the existential questions of life is—Does my life have significance? Does my life matter to anyone but me? It’s a reasonable question, especially since we are one person among 7.7 billion people in the world.

Every human life has significance—even those unborn in the womb—because each person is created in the image of God. This makes each of us significant to God. But we are all significant to our families, also.

It’s easy to see this in healthy families with a good sense of well-being. But even in dysfunctional families or those torn apart by divorce, mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction, poverty, war, or any other detrimental situation including death.

My wife and I witnessed this while raising our own children, as foster parents, and as surrogate parents for the children and abused girls we cared for in the Philippines for nearly a quarter of a century. Every child—every one of us—has significance and worth, yet we all wonder what our purpose in life is at some point.

God’s favor—His unmerited goodness towards us

As the story of Ruth the Moabitess unfolds, we see her surprised at God’s favor in her life. Many people find it difficult to grasp the truth of God’s favor. Two simple reasons come to mind—we don’t deserve it and we can’t earn or receive it based on good deeds.

God’s favor is given by God for His purposes. He doesn’t extend His favor based on a person’s goodness but He does grant it to us for our benefit. It’s God’s blessing—His grace—given to someone for His purposes.

But how is it possible for someone to receive His favor?

The simplest, most direct way to receive God’s favor is to trust in Him. Here is what we’re told in the book of Hebrews—

No one can please God without faith. Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6 GW)

Faith in God is an implicit trust in God. And this is what we see about Ruth and why she receives God’s favor. It started when she chose to trust in the God of Naomi—the God of Israel—the One, True, and Living God.

We see her confession of faith when she said— Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God (Ruth 1:16c).

We see God’s favor shown to her through Boaz. Why? He knows of her faith in God and her faithfulness in character (Ruth 2:11).

Ruth is unaware of why God’s favor rests upon her but she knows she neither deserved or earned the favor Boaz bestowed upon her. She sees it when he tells her to stay in his field, to stay with the young women, and to drink the water drawn by his young men (verses 8-9).

In response to Ruth’s wonder at the favor Boaz shows her, Boaz tells her three things about her that reflect her trust in God and how it’s worked through her life (verse 11).

Then Boaz pronounces a blessing on her. His blessing reveals how and why the Lord’s favor is upon her—

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. (verse 12)

The provisional and protective care Boaz shows to Ruth is extraordinary. It’s hard for us to see this without understanding the culture of their time. Women, especially widows, had little status in ancient culture. Foreign—non-Jewish or Gentile—women had even less respect in Jewish culture.

Even when we receive God’s favor, we should not take it for granted. Ruth’s reply to Boaz in verse 13 shows us the appropriate and wise attitude we need to have—

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

Ruth’s gratitude seems to prompt Boaz to extend his favor to her further, as seen in verses 14-16 (see text below). Boaz includes Ruth with the rest of his harvesters when he invites her to eat the midday meal with them and gives special instructions about her to his young men.

Gleanings from Ruth

We’ll look at the rest of the story next time but consider what we’ve learned about God’s favor in this segment of the story.

When we walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon us and go before us, as He opens doors of opportunity we can’t open on our own. Ruth gains a sense of significance and value because of God’s favor upon her life.

When Ruth realizes the great favor she’s received, she doesn’t take it for granted. She’s grateful for it and acknowledges this. Her gratitude seems to open further blessing and favor by Boaz.

God’s favor—His grace—flows like a stream to carry us along as we learn to rely upon Him with the abandon and commitment we see in Ruth as she trusts in the God of Israel. We need to choose to trust in the Lord but we will never earn or gain God’s favor because of our choice.

What have you learned about God’s favor for your life?

Reflection—

When you walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon you and go before you, as He opens doors of opportunity you can’t open on your own. When you realize God’s favor in your life—acknowledge it, be grateful for it, and rest in it and in Him.

Prayer Focus—

While in prayer, learn to wait upon God—listen for Him to speak to your heart. Trust Him for His grace to fill you and carry you as you rest in His faithfulness and goodness.


Devo Scripture Text

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:8-16 NIV)


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When Happenstance Is No Accident

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So Ruth went. She entered a field and gathered the grain left behind by the reapers. Now it happened that she ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family. Ruth 2:3 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Does anything just happen? When something unexpected happens it’s often seen as chance or happenstance. This is more or less the oversimplified view of evolution.

But many people throughout the world are convinced everything takes place according to a grand choreographed cosmic plan. Whatever happens was meant to be or destiny or fate.

But I wonder, why do we have to categorize the events of life as either one or the other?

Could both be true without being in conflict? Yes, I believe so. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel as recorded in Scripture confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

An agrarian life

The short story at the beginning of chapter two sets the stage for the central theme of redemption in Ruth. We’re told Naomi had a relative in Bethlehem named Boaz who was a man of integrity and status. As chapter two unfolds, he becomes a central character in this redemption story.

The ancient world was based on an agrarian economy. Their calendar revolved around planting and harvests, and of course, the weather. Laborers were needed to plant and reap and manage the fields. This was the world Ruth knew.

Built into the Mosaic Law was a provision for the poor as well as foreigners to gather or glean what was left behind by the paid harvesters (Lev 19:9-10). Ruth, knowing their economic plight as widows without a source of income, sought Naomi’s permission to glean in someone’s field. She hoped to find favor in the eyes of a landowner or foreman who might hire her as a laborer.

This was Ruth’s plan but God had a much greater plan.

Now it happened that [Ruth] ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family.

Did Ruth just happen to find the field of Boaz or is there more to the story? Ruth chose to go out to glean and her choice led her to glean in the field of Boaz. But God had a greater plan and it included Ruth with her initiative and choices.

A pastoral scene

Ruth goes out to follow the paid harvesters and glean behind them. After their mid-morning break, Boaz—the owner of the field—came out to check on his workers and the harvest. And he notices Ruth.

The way Boaz greets his workers and takes note of Ruth’s presence begins to reveal the character of Boaz. He greets all of them with a blessing and they respond to him with a blessing. It shows how Boaz treated those reaping the harvest with respect and appreciation.

Boaz knows them and they know him, and he realizes there’s a new face among them he doesn’t know. When Boaz asks the foreman about her, he speaks well of her and identifies her as the young Moabite woman who came with Naomi from Moab.

The foreman testifies to Ruth’s hard work, as well as asking for permission to glean. Everyone seems to be aware of the goodness of Ruth’s character and her commitment to Naomi and the God of Israel. This is significant since she’s a foreigner, a Gentile by birth.

This short introduction of the story of Ruth and Boaz begins with further insight into Ruth’s character and some insight into the integrity of Boaz, which will continue to be revealed and later be tested.

We will also see how human free will is woven together with God’s sovereign will in the tapestry of God’s story of redemption.

This is how the story happens but it’s not an accident, nor by chance, and it isn’t fate.

Reflection—

We tend to categorize events in life as either chance or fate. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel, and of humanity, confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

Prayer Focus—

When faced with decisions and opportunities in life, choose to trust in the Lord. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance. Step out in faith. God honors our free will and guides us according to His will.


Devo Scripture Text

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”

So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered. Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:1-7 NIV)


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It's All a Matter of Perspective

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They happened to enter Bethlehem just when the barley harvest began. Ruth 1:22 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Basically, there are three ways to see things in life—our own outlook, the viewpoint of others, and the way things are in an objective sense. Only one person sees all three perspectives—the Lord.

When we or others view people, life events, or whatever else, we see things subjectively. Each of us have our own biases. How we see the world and all that’s in it—including ourselves and others—is viewed through our beliefs, emotions, experiences, and values.

We can claim a sense of objectivity but that’s all it is—a sense. Only the Lord sees things in the truest objective way because He is eternal. When God reveals His perspective, as in the Scriptures, we still tend to see it through our own biased lens.

3 Perspectives

This final vignette of this first chapter of Ruth gives us a glimpse of all three perspectives—Naomi’s, the viewpoint of other people, and the actual situation.

The arrival

After Ruth’s declaration of commitment to stay with Naomi, they traveled from Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—a journey of at least 2-3 days by foot.

As they enter Naomi’s hometown, everyone is excited to see her and the women wonder at Naomi’s presence with a young Moabite widow and no husband—Can this be Naomi?

Naomi’s response is telling. It reveals how she sees her situation and why it happened. Not only is it subjective, it’s somewhat typical for most of us.

Naomi’s outlook

Let’s consider each of Naomi’s three statements.

  1. Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.— Naomi’s name can mean both pleasant or sweet and Mara means bitter. It’s a play on words to describe both her inner state and her outlook on life. And she holds the God responsible for her situation.

  2. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.— Do you see how she puts the blame for her situation on the Lord? Naomi sees her life’s misfortunes as God’s hand against her and uses a play on words to make her point. Her statement about going out full but coming back empty is her view now but it will change by the end of the whole story of Ruth.

  3. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.— It’s pretty clear Naomi is playing on the sympathy of others as a victim of circumstances though it was her husband and her choice to leave Judah ten years before. She only returns because things have reversed—they left because of a famine and she returns because of God’s provision for Israel. Her answer may be posed as a question but it’s rhetorical—the answer is clear—the Lord is the cause of her problems.

When things go wrong, most if not all of us are quick to find some reason it happened and someone else to blame. Many people blame God for all the problems in the world. Somehow He’s responsible for everyone’s choices and all the bad and evil things that happen.

Here’s our conundrum—we want God to intervene when and where we think He should but don’t want Him to interfere with our own choices and pursuits. It’s as if we want to be in control of God. This is one of the many consequences of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

A full circle

Ancient writings followed the common literary structures of their time. Some of the literary devices are more obvious than others. The use of contrasting words and concepts is one of the most common.

Chapter one of Ruth begins with a famine but ends …as the barley harvest was beginning. The scope of the book starts out with a timeframe of ten years but telescopes down to one day and a pivotal meeting in the last chapter.

The heart of the story begins in the next chapter where Ruth becomes the main character in this story of redemption. Even this first chapter ends with a redemptive focus—going from famine to harvest and coming from a far country to home.

Naomi can’t see this for now but she will in the end.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reflection—

When things go wrong, we tend to blame something or someone else rather than ourselves. We’ll even blame God because of our own expectations in life. We don’t see things from a clear and objective perspective.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself shifting blame to someone other than yourself and not facing your own responsibilities, ask the Lord to show you His perspective of your situation. Ask Him to help you learn a better way to handle things.


devo Scripture Text

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:19-22 NIV)


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Wherever You Go, I Will Go

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Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Ruth 1:16 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

This is one of my favorite segments of the story of Ruth. It is a pivotal scene in the narrative. This dialog between Naomi and Ruth illustrates a few important and valuable themes in Ruth representative of the Bible’s larger narrative arc.

Four things in particular stand out to me—faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship.

Faith

Ruth demonstrates great faith with her insistence to go with Naomi to Judah. Unlike her sister Orpah, Ruth is not returning to her homeland, her people, or her gods. She trusts in the Living God of Israel—Naomi’s God. She trust Naomi’s confidence in God’s provision (Ruth 1:6) although she has not seen it.

Ruth is willing to commit herself to Naomi and follow her to a land she has not seen and a people who are not hers. Remember, she is a Moabite widow—a foreigner to Naomi’s people. And, Naomi is clear there are no guarantees (Ruth 1:11-13).

Faithfulness

Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi is expressed in an emotional and strong way in verses 16-17—

“Don’t force me to leave you. Don’t make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and I will be buried there with you. May the Lord strike me down if anything but death separates you and me!”

What a dramatic and heartfelt plea! Consider how personal it is. This isn’t about beliefs and theology, it’s based on Ruth’s relationship with Naomi and Naomi’s relationship with her God.

It’s also an astounding commitment of faith and faithfulness to Naomi, her people and customs, her land, and her God—the Living God of Israel.

Redemption

Redemption is seen in Ruth’s confession in two ways. She converts from the gods of her people—the Moabites—to trusting in the Living God of Israel. Ruth is also a prophetic indicator of things to come. She is a prophetic sign of the inclusion of Gentiles—non-Jewish people—in the redemption of all humanity by Jesus.

The Jewish people saw the Kingdom of God as exclusively for them. Unless Gentiles were converted to Judaism, they wouldn’t be included in God’s Kingdom. The early church thought this way as well, as seen by early Jewish church leaders protesting the apostle Peter’s involvement with the conversion of a Roman centurion (Acts 10:45-46; 11:18).

This prophetic sign is also seen in the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Typically, women would not be included in a Jewish genealogy but she is one of two Gentiles and five women listed (Matt 1:5).

Discipleship

Ruth’s declaration of faith and commitment to Naomi is a model of true discipleship. Not to another person but to the Lord. Consider Ruth’s statements as if addressed to Jesus. Jesus calls His followers—His disciples—to deny yourself, die to yourself (take up your cross), and follow Me (Matt 16:24.

Let’s look at them line by line—

  • Don’t make me turn back…— this models repentance, a turning away from our former life.

  • Where you go, I will go…stay…— this is a personal commitment to follow as Jesus calls believers to follow Him.

  • Your people…my people…Your God…my God.— this models a confession of commitment and identification with God’s people, the church community, and corporate worship.

  • Where you die I will die…— because Israel’s God is a living God, this expresses a hope in resurrection from the dead—the believer’s living hope (Job 19:25; Matt 22:31-32).

One last thought. Notice how Naomi responds to Ruth’s confession of commitment and faith. At first, Naomi doesn’t see the level of Ruth’s commitment. When she does, she accepts it and Ruth’s faith and allows Ruth to journey with her to Judah.

We need to be wary of limiting God’s power to draw people to Himself through us, even when we don’t see it right away. Don’t look past the people in your life. Engage with those you come in contact with on a daily basis. Listen to their life stories. Build relationships.

All people have value to God because His image is imbedded in each of us. Jesus is the focus of our faith (Heb 12:2) and all humanity is the focus of redemption (John 3:16).

Reflection—

Consider Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi as a declaration of faith, faithfulness, redemption, and discipleship in the Lord. This is what God calls all of us to when we respond to His love and grace.

Prayer Focus—

Regardless of your present circumstances—whether favorable or not—allow Ruth’s confession and declaration to be a guide for your prayer and trust in the Lord.


devo Scripture Text

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. 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 even death separates you and me.”

When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:15-18 NIV)


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The Challenge of Bitterness and Blame

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“No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.” Ruth 1:13 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

I’ve called these devotional studies in the Book of Ruth, Stories of Redemption, because of the many turns in the larger story of Ruth.

The story of Ruth the Moabitess is a glimmer of light in the midst of the national darkness Israel went through in the periodic leadership of the Judges sent by God.

The theme of redemption runs throughout Ruth but looks ahead in a prophetic way to Jesus—the Redeemer of all humanity.

The bitter goodby

In this story, Naomi plans to return to her homeland with her two widowed daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth. As they prepare to head to Judah, Naomi realizes how difficult the travel and transition back home will be for all three of them.

The two Moabite women would be outsiders back in Judah and Ruth expresses her own bitterness about her situation and blames God for it. Naomi urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their own people, land, and gods, then speaks a blessing over them.

As she kisses them goodby, Orpah and Ruth weep out loud and insist on going back with Naomi. But Naomi tries to reason with them—she doesn’t have anything to offer them and they’d be better off in their own familiar homeland.

There’s an obvious bond between these three women forged by time and shared hardships. Each of them is without husband or children. They’ve grieved together in their life together.

At this point, Naomi shares her heart in an honest and open way—

No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.

Once again, they erupt with loud grieving with the realization a choice needs to be made and Naomi tries to clarify her self, her decision, and the inevitable separation.

Orpha kisses Naomi goodby but Ruth clings to her.

This is a redemptive turning point. It may not seem so at first glance but it is a significant event as the story unfolds. It’s a choice with future impact seen later in the larger story.

Grief, separation, and choice

Imagine the bond between these three women. They were family and they shared common memories and grief. The two Moabite women seem to have a sense of hope and shelter in Naomi’s God.

Saying goodby and moving far away brings the reality of separation into clear focus. It is often preceded and followed with grief. It was especially so in those days. Once they separated, there would be no going back to see one another either way.

Our freedom to travel from one place to another now was unknown even a century ago except for the very wealthy. Only those looking to find a new life in a new place would risk this kind of separation. Even so, it isn’t without its own often immeasurable costs.

The missionaries who set out for distant lands in years gone by knew the grief of goodbyes and separation from loved ones and their homeland. Many knew they would never return. They either didn’t have the resources or knew they were destined to die while on mission.

Even now, cross-cultural missionaries have a lot of goodbyes to say. Some are much harder than others. Every missionary experiences this not just when they leave but while on the field. You need to learn to say goodby often as people come and go in your life.

When we left our family and friends, our home culture, and home church to move to the Philippines, we also left our oldest son to finish school. That was the hardest goodby and the roughest year for us as a family on the field.

It was difficult when we said many final goodbyes as we brought our ministry to a close several years ago. But each goodby came because of a choice we made.

There are some goodbyes where other people leave and we remain. Some separations are not our choice but the result of circumstances beyond our control.

Where’s the redemption in all this?

Redemption can come when we make the choice to say goodby and move on because we see beyond the separation and grief of those goodbyes. Sometimes it’s a matter of faith to see beyond the situation. Other times God’s grace and comfort help us move forward in faith.

Naomi only saw her own situation from her point of view. She was bitter and blamed God. Orpah realized the logic of Naomi’s choice to go back to her homeland and people. So she chose to stay in her homeland with her people and her gods.

But Ruth saw beyond her situation by faith. She trusted in Naomi’s God and had hope. As the story continues, we’ll see how pivotal a figure Ruth becomes in these stories of redemption, even the redemption story for all humanity.

Reflection—

Times of separation and grief are also times of choice. We can choose to hang on to the bitterness they bring or let it go of it. We can choose to blame or trust God. We can see only loss or look forward by faith beyond the loss.

Prayer Focus—

When you face a difficult goodby or separation, ask the Lord for grace to handle it well, comfort to endure it, and faith to see beyond it.


Devo Scripture Text

With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband.

Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them?

No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:7-14 NIV)


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