15And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Around our house, it’s not unusual for the kids to be heard belting out a soundtrack from the latest family movie night. And one of the most recent renditions is Into the Unknown from Frozen II. While I’m pretty sure Ruth’s story wasn’t on Disney’s mind when it was written, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of it shining through in that song- a young lady willing to walk away from the existence she knew because something outside of her was calling, something or someone worth leaving everything for.
And in the verses from chapter 1 quoted above, we read about Ruth’s decisive moment. This Moabite woman has already lost her husband, leaving her an early widow and now her mother-in-law Naomi, has decided to go back to her people Israel after losing both sons and a husband. And even though they aren’t blood related, clearly familial bonds run deep. Both Ruth and Orpah, Naomi’s other widowed daughter-in-law decide to return with her.
But after so much heartbreak, Naomi is convinced the God of Israel, the true God, has turned against her. She sees zero hope for them if they come back with her. It’s how she eventually convinces Orpah to go back to her family. But Ruth won’t go. And so, Naomi makes one final appeal…”Ruth, as difficult as it is to say goodbye, there’s only the unknown where I’m going back to. I can’t offer protection, a future or acceptance. If you come, your life will likely end up as tragic as mine. Go back to what you know, go back to where you belong and may the gods that you grew up worshipping somehow help you.”
You see, back then, the thought of switching deities was impossible. You might as well be able to change the pigment of your skin than to convert. And yet, here in this moment of truth, Ruth once and for all leaves everything she’s ever known behind and steps into the unknown. Certainly, that was somewhat out of loyalty and love for Naomi. But even more than that, she knew the God of Naomi, the same One Naomi was having a hard time trusting right now, was worth that massive step of faith. In one sentence, Ruth not only embraced a new God of her life, she renounced her very identity and took up a new one, one of belonging to God’s people. It was an action that could never be undone.
As dramatic as this moment is, surprisingly much of the rest of the book leaves us in suspense as to what will finally happen to Ruth. Did she make the right choice to trust the LORD? From a human perspective, she’s truly weak in this new place and on top of that, now she’s having to figure out a way to feed her mother-in-law with no income, no standing and no skills. It’s a stress the author intends for us to feel – poignant scenes of defenselessness, agonized waiting, social awkwardness and uncertainty mark the journey.
And yet, hiding in plain sight, the writer mingles in crumbs, little nuggets guiding us towards something greater, indeed something more glorious than anything Ruth could have ever dreamed. When we finally arrive to celebrate at the joy-filled closing scene of a happy marriage, a secure future and a seemingly impossible baby boy Ruth is rewarded with, it’s almost too much to take in. But just when it seems like this ending couldn’t get any better, the original Jewish reader would have had his breath taken away by the name of this newborn child…Obed the grandfather of King David, from whose promised lineage would eventually come Jesus Christ Himself.
You see, for Ruth, it must have certainly felt like stepping into the unknown to follow Naomi. And for her part, Naomi did nothing to honor the LORD before Ruth. Yet Ruth had heard enough to know that belonging to Him was worth leaving everything else behind, even her own identity. But rather than losing it all, what she found waiting on the other side was a God whose grace was unimaginable.
Our story is no different, as Christians, our ultimate identity and hope is in Ruth’s God, the One who has redeemed His people. And even though we will face seasons like this, when there are more questions than answers and when we taste weakness instead of security, let us remember the reward of Ruth and step forward by faith into the things God has called us to. Because even though it often feels like the unknown, the ending has already been written and when we look back, we’ll see the hand that’s been guiding us all our lives, hiding in plain sight…Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.