By Philip Greenslade
The story of Ruth illustrates the gospel in a nutshell. It is also a remarkable story of unsurpassed loyalty and commitment, shining like a sparkling diamond against the darkness of betrayal and murder that often characterised relationships in the Old Testament.
In Hebrew the word Ruth means ‘friend’ or ‘associate’. It is derived from the word for a shepherd and his flock and carries with it the sense of close companionship and support on a common journey. Ruth was from Moab, and therefore an ‘outsider’ to God’s promises to the chosen nation of Israel. When her Israelite husband died she could have remained in Moab with her sister Orpah. Instead she chose to accompany her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel.
It is intriguing to compare Ruth with Orpah who initially said she would go with Naomi and even kissed her. Eventually, however, she turned back to live amongst the familiar people and idolatry in the country of her birth. Ruth’s words to Naomi are some of the most beautiful in scripture: ‘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.’
Like Abraham before her, Ruth launched herself on a journey of faith to a distant land that she had never seen, but trusting in the God of whom she had heard and come to believe in. Orpah sincerely offered Naomi her best wishes on a difficult and dangerous journey. Ruth faithfully offered Naomi herself.
The story of Ruth develops with God providentially arranging her marriage to Boaz. Ruth is redeemed from poverty, isolation and widowhood and becomes accepted as a member of a wealthy and powerful family amongst God’s people. She is chosen by God to be an instrument of His purpose by which Jesus can be introduced into the world.
Obedient Worshippers and Faithful Friends
Like Ruth, we were once ‘strangers to God’s promises’ and ignorant of His love and mercy. Perhaps, through unfortunate circumstances or the witness of others, we have embarked on a journey of faith that means we have to leave behind our old lives of sin and selfish thinking.
We have been specially called by God to be a companion of Jesus to live a new life amongst others who also know Him. We have been adopted as sons and daughters into the royal family of heaven with God as our Father. The new kingdom we find ourselves in is at first strange and sometimes frightening: but as we faithfully follow His directions, God blesses us and we become an instrument through whom Jesus is introduced to the world!
Ruth is also a wonderful example of real friendship. In an age where many relationships break down, her loyalty and total commitment to Naomi is a perfect illustration of true dedication whatever the cost. Ruth’s relationship with Naomi was not based on shallow convenience or expediency, but on unshakeable principles of covenant commitment. Jesus put it this way: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:12.)
This is the depth of love and faithfulness that Jesus calls us to emulate. ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:35.)
Let the story of Ruth challenge and inspire you to be an obedient worshipper of God and a faithful friend to others.
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About Philip Greenslade
Philip has worked with CWR since 1991 in the areas of biblical studies, pastoral care and leadership. With his passion for teaching God’s Word, he offers a refreshing and challenging perspective for all.