I was recently asked to bring the “talk” to our youth group, which consists of a lovely bunch of girls aged 12 – 16. The theme of the day was choices as some had been concerned and praying about making their subject choices at school and thinking of what they wanted to do following. We discussed how some choices are easy and we make them every day (what to have for breakfast etc) but sometimes we have to make bigger choices which may impact our future lives.
We read through the book of Ruth (have a read now if you haven’t read it recently – it’s too good to miss any of it out) and while it is a wonderful and also romantic story (which of course the girls loved) I asked them to listen out for the choices various people made and think about whether they were good choices, or bad? (unwise) and why did they think that.
We looked at the different characters and noticed these things about them;
Elimelech – Chose to leave Bethlehem and move to Moab. Now some of the girls thought that this was a wise choice as they were leaving a land in famine and moving to an area where there was food and they hoped to prosper. However, when we looked a little deeper we discovered that Bethlehem means “The House of Food”, so why was there famine? We find that even though this was relatively soon after the Israelites arrival into the “Promised Land”, the “Land flowing with milk and honey” they had quickly drifted away from their dependence on God. Life had been easy for a while and they gradually stopped depending and trusting in God. We know that God often used famine and drought to bring his people to call on and depend on him. Elimelech, by moving to Moab was choosing to depend on his own ability to provide rather than be obedient to God and trust in Him.
We then looked at his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion (there seem to be several different spellings) who obviously went with him but later chose Moabite wives. This was against Hebrew culture and God’s instructions not to marry “foreign” wives as this had been the root of many Israelite “failures” where they allowed worship of other Gods and idols to continue with the traditions these wives brought with them. Their names apparently mean “frail” or “weakling” and they both died young without any children. Was this weakness just physical or was this a weakness in their faith? We read elsewhere in the Bible where those whose faith in God and his ways meant that they sought to obey him and marry wives who were strong in faith too. (Remember how Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac from his own people?)
Naomi made several choices; firstly she obviously went with her husband to Moab. Now I suspect that she may have thought it a good idea at the time too, but later comes to realise that perhaps it was not. When she is left destitute in a foreign land and decides to return to the place that God was now blessing it is with a sense of bitterness. Was this bitterness against God? or her late husband as she realised that he had taken her away from God’s blessing – we don’t know but she decided that her best chances were to return to her own people rather than live surrounded by people who worshiped other gods.
We then came to Orpah and Ruth, who both initially said that they would go with her, but Orpah later decides to return to “her own people and her own gods”.
Ruth however; at some point had started to trust in “Naomi’s God” and vowed to stay with her and hope to become part of God’s people – this was the wisest choice she made and all her other choices follow from that as she quietly works to prove herself worthy of respect and trust among the Hebrew people despite being a “foreigner”. Naomi however still seems to be wallowing a bit in self pity.
We come next to Boaz who turns out to be a successful man, but why is is so successful? As we read the story we notice that he is fully obedient to God’s rules even going above what is required. He is well respected by his workers and the community and has become one of the leading men in the city as a righteous man. We see that the way he conducts his business follows the instructions given in that he is not greedy, he works hard but is kind to his workers and to the poor by following the instruction to leave grain and allow the poor to glean from the harvest. He generously allows extra to Ruth as she works, especially when he finds out who she is as it turns out that Naomi is a relative of his and offers her protection against those who would have abused her as a foreigner.
Ruth’s actions in following Naomi’s instructions in going to Boaz at the threshing floor can be perceived as being brazen, but as a woman she was not allowed to ask Boaz directly to take responsibility for her, but the method used was to show her willingness to submit to him, the laws and customs, and remind him that someone had to take up that position of providing for her and Naomi.
We discover that there is a closer relative, who under Hebrew law and customs, should have been doing something about helping and providing for Naomi and Ruth, but it appears he was not. Boaz, rather than shaming him, gently reminds him of his duty and gives him the opportunity to take up this responsibility, which on reflection the “Nearest relative” declines, so Boaz steps up and marries Ruth, taking both her and Naomi into his care.
This union is blessed with a son who is called Obed and later they are blessed with more children.
One of the most interesting parts of this story is not just that Obed becomes the father of Jesse who was the father of David – who became King and was known as a man after God’s heart, and ancestor of Joseph, the husband of Mary; Jesus’ mother, but in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter one, we discover that Boaz’s mother was Rahab. Rahab was the woman who had been a prostitute (or innkeeper) in Jericho and was rescued due to her faith in the Israelite God despite all the wickedness and worship of other gods. His father Salmon is believed therefore to have been one of the two spies who went into Jericho although they are not actually named. Boaz himself was the son of a “foreigner”
Both these two women made the choice to follow the Hebrew God and trust in HIM rather than the idols of their nations and by acting on that faith were rewarded by being grafted into the family of God both in the physical sense of ancestry but in the spiritual.
The story of Ruth shows that becoming a member of God’s Kingdom is not by birth as with the Jews but by obedience to God through faith and conforming of your life to the will of God. The most important choice we can make in life is to follow Him. I made that choice at the age of 13, even though I too did not come from a family that followed God. All my choices in life since then have had to be based on trying to understand what God’s plan and will for me was and to try and be obedient to him. If you have not made that choice – will you?