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|RUTH A story of Commitment|
In the 12th century B.C, a young Moabite traveled to the land of Judah and lived among the people there. She set a sterling example that still shines for us in the 20th century
uring the 12th century B.C., famine crippled the kingdom of Judah. When enough rain fell in the lands west of what we now call the Dead Sea, fields of wheat and barely, vineyards and olive and fig groves provided a bountiful harvest.
But when the rains failed, famine forced to uproot and move to areas with adequate rainfall. During one such famine, a Bethlehemite named Elimelech, with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, traveled to eastern borders of the Dead Sea to the kingdom of Moab in search of fertile land. The biblical book of Ruth records what happened.
Moab was only 30 to 40 miles from their native Bethlehem, but travel was difficult. Not only did travelers have to contend with the rugged terrain, but bandits often dotted the roads. Also, the transition to Moab was difficult in a spiritual way. In bethlehem almost everyone worshiped the God of Israel. But in Moab the people worshiped a god called Chemosh. God warned the Israelites many years earlier not to get involved with the rituals of the Moabites.
Moabite women had seduced and enticed Israelite warriors and led them to sacrifice to Chemosh. This angered God, who killed the idolaters with a plague and again reminded the Israelites not to become involved with Moabite religious practices. However, years later, despite the tense relationship between the two peoples, Chlion and Mahlon married Moabite women. Within 10 years, Elimelech and his sons died, leaving behind three widows with no means of support.
Elimelech's widow, Naomi for her native home in Judah. As a woman, she could not directly inherit property, but could hold property in a type of trust for a future husband or another male relative. A woman without such an arrangement was at the mercy of charity.
Naomi expressed her desire to return to Judah. Both her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, began the trip with her. Perhaps as they travelled across the rugged terrain, the women discussed what lay ahead for them. One fact could not be ignored: The young Moabite women would almost certainly meet an unfavorable reception from those living in Bethlehem.
Naomi strongly recommended that her daughters-in-law return to their people and their gods. Based on these facts, Orpah tearfully kissed her mother-in-law and returned to Moab. But Ruth clung to her mother-in-law and uttered words that serve as a timeless memorial: "Wherever you go, I will go: and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" (Ruth 1:16).
A way of life
The depth of the commitment Ruth made deserves close examination. Honoring and providing for her mother-in-law was only part of what Ruth set herself to do.
Ruth's primary commitment was to a way of life-the way of life of the God of Israel. Ruth had lived with the Israelite family for about a decade before her husband's death. As she practiced God's way of life, she realized that it worked, that it produced happiness and peace of mind. Ruth realized her responsibilities to live God's way of life no matter what the circumstances-even if it included relocating to a hostile foreign land. Her understanding of God's way of life gave her the strength to accompany her mother-in-law to Judah.
With all her might
Their arrival in Bethlehem coincided with the spring grain harvest, a seven-week period lasting from about mid-April to early June. Ruth followed the reapers and gathered grain to provide food for herself and Naomi. Gathering grain required much courage on Ruth's part. Early summer temperatures made the hard work uncomfortable, but there was more for Ruth to contend with: Because of her nationality, she was subject to ridicule from the workmen.
But Ruth's reputation preceded her. Boaz, a wealthy farmer and kinsman, knew about her kindness to her mother-in-law and about her willingness to come to a foreign land. Boaz noticed Ruth gleaning in his field one day and inquired about her. The workmen explained who she was and added that she had worked with little rest since early morning. Her work ethic gave her favor in Boaz' sight, and he asked her to glean only in his field, staying close to the other women. He made sure she went home with ample grain.
God blessed Ruth for her willingness to accept and live his way of life. Boaz said to Ruth, "The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" (Ruth 2:12).
Even though Ruth was not an Israelite, God accepted her because she embraced his calling and way of life. The people in Bethlehem noticed her commitment to God's way of life. No one in the community doubted her sincerity. Boaz did not hesitate to link his name with Ruth's when she approached him concerning a Hebrew custom known as "levirate." The custom was instituted to insure the security of a widow who might be left a destitute and friendless.
According to the custom, when a man died, his brother was to marry his widow. If there were no brother, it was up to the next closest kinsman to honor the custom. The person who married the widow became her go'el or protector. The firstborn son in the marriage was counted as a child of the dead husband and inherited his property.
Boaz knew Ruth would make an outstanding wife and mother. Boaz didn't waste any time settling the matter with a kinsman who was closer to the family than he. He knew Ruth would bring honor to his household. Indeed, Ruth became a leading lady of the family. Many generations later, Jesus Christ was born into this family line!
Commitment brought blessings
Ruth set an outstanding example for each of us. She willingly left a familiar homeland and journeyed to a potentially unfriendly land so that she could embrace God's way of life.
Because Ruth understood God's commandments, she respected and loved her mother-in-law. But the book of the Bible that bears her name conveys much more than a romantic story or an example of outstanding family relations. The book of Ruth serves to remind us of God's deep desire for all humanity to reap the benefits of living his way of life.
God call on us to leave our familiar way of life-sometimes leaving behind everything we've known-to embrace his way. If we commit ourselves to God, we, too, will be blessed