Everyone has a past, which means everyone has a story. One beautiful story of love and redemption is nestled in the heart of the historical books of the Old Testament.
The story of Ruth begins when Elimelech, from Bethlehem, took his wife, Naomi, and their two sons and traveled to Moab to escape the famine in Judah. The family remained in that country for some time. Ultimately, Elimelech passed away, leaving Naomi with her two sons. Both sons married Moabite women and then, after about 10 years, the sons passed away as well. Naomi was left without her sons and husband.
These events occurred in a patriarchal culture, where a woman’s identity and security were directly dependent on her relationships with men and her value was measured by the number of sons she bore.
Naomi was heartbroken and bitter. When she heard the Lord had come to the aid of his people by ending the famine in Judah, she decided to journey back home. Her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, began the journey with her, but Naomi very quickly urged them to return to their mothers’ homes in Moab so they might find rest and begin new lives with new husbands. Orpah did as Naomi said, but Ruth clung to Naomi. Ruth told her mother-in-law, “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” (Ruth 1:16).
Naomi saw Ruth’s determination and said no more. So, the two of them traveled to Bethlehem, and upon arrival, “the whole town was stirred because of them” (v. 19). Imagine that! The women, vendors, and workmen chattered and buzzed about how Naomi had left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons, only to return with a Moabite daughter-in-law. How scandalous!
Moabites were unpopular in Bethlehem for they originated from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters; Moabites worshipped false Gods, engaged in child sacrifice, and the women were known for seducing the men of Israel into immoral sexual relationships. That’s why gossip circles were buzzing. People didn’t understand what was going on, and they certainly didn’t welcome the idea of having a Moabite woman in such close proximity.
So, Naomi and Ruth settled in among the naysayers, without food, without husbands, but with a glimmer of hope that the barley harvest would sustain them.
Ruth set out to gather the ears of grain left behind by the reapers, and she found herself in a field owned by Boaz, a male relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth and took pity on her because he had heard of how she’d cared for Naomi. Boaz instructed Ruth to glean only in his fields, where he could watch over her. He even invited her to join him at mealtime, to dip bread into his wine vinegar, and eat until she was full.
Ruth gathered what she had gleaned that day, as well as her doggie bag from dinner, and hurried home to share this abundance with Naomi. Ruth also shared the details of her day and her encounter with Boaz. A short while later, Naomi was inspired with a new plan of hope and redemption.
Naomi explained to Ruth that Boaz could serve as their kinsman redeemer, a term used for a family member who stepped in to save family lines and inheritances by marrying the childless widow of a male relative. She told Ruth to wash up, put on something pretty, go down to the threshing floor where Boaz would be that night, and present the plan to him.
Boaz was moved by Ruth’s kindness; not only did Ruth put herself at risk to care for her mother-in-law, but she also passed up the younger farmers with the rippling muscles and richer bankers with the best donkeys to offer herself to one who could redeem the line of Elimelech and save both Ruth and Naomi.
Boaz was willing to step in as the redeemer, however there was a potential snag. A kinsman redeemer was to be the closest living relative to the deceased family member, and there was another man in line ahead of Boaz. Boaz told the closest relative about the land he could redeem from Naomi, and the man agreed . . . until he learned Ruth would also become his, and he quickly surrendered his right of ownership to Boaz.
Boaz married Ruth and they conceived a son they named Obed. Through God’s mercy and the loving-kindness of Boaz, Ruth and Naomi had been redeemed, and the women of Bethlehem praised God for his provision. (Sure, now they’re fans!) God not only redeemed these two women, but he also wove their story into his even greater story of love and redemption. See, Obed went on to father Jesse, who fathered David, and we know where the genealogy of David leads . . . right to our Lord and Savior, Jesus!
Ruth’s heroism lay in her willingness, boldness, and faithfulness. She was willing to leave her home and people—everything she’d known—to travel to Bethlehem, where she knew she would not be well received. She left behind a familiar setting and moved to an unwelcoming and uncomfortable environment. She was willing to do what was right despite the personal cost.
It required boldness to tell Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Without hesitation, Ruth went to a foreign land, lived among foreign people, and served a God unlike the gods she had worshipped in Moab. Ruth boldly moved forward, committing to stay by Naomi’s side.
Ruth proved to be faithful in her pursuit to care and provide for Naomi. She risked personal harm by venturing into a stranger’s field to gather food for them to eat. She didn’t pursue her own selfish desires and cleave to another family in hopes of a better future for herself. Instead, she appealed to a man who could redeem both her and her mother-in-law. Ruth made up her mind to be faithful to Naomi and faithful to God, and it secured for her a very important role in our history!
I want to share another story that is similar to Ruth’s.
A woman began a downward spiral as she was reaching adulthood. She dishonored her parents. She engaged in sexually immoral relationships. She had a child out of wedlock and subsequent pregnancies that ended in abortion. She developed a drug habit. She abused alcohol to escape her pain. For the better part of a decade, she gave in to almost every sinful desire she had. She had no relationship with her earthly father and strayed far from her heavenly Father. She became a woman she never intended to be. She found herself broken, lonely, and sure she would never be loved.
At that point she decided to go to church and become like a stranger in a foreign land. Imagine the stir she caused. In fact, she caused such a stir that people approached the pastor and said things like, “Do you know what she’s like? Do you know what she’s done?” But she pursued God nonetheless.
She asked for forgiveness, surrendered her life to Christ, and was baptized. God restored her relationship with her father. She began serving in her church. She eventually married that same pastor to whom people had whispered about her. God blessed them with two more children, and she is now a leader in full-time ministry. God uses her to bring other people to Christ.
I am that woman. I am a Ruth. And the church should be a place for Ruths. Our Savior said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). The church should be less like the townspeople, with their pointed fingers and quiet criticisms, and more like Boaz. The church should embrace the lost and point them toward redemption. Our hero, Ruth, demonstrates that boldness to step out of our comfort zones and willingness to faithfully follow the Lord can lead to a brighter eternity. It can lead to a better story for us—one that God can use.
When I finally worked up the courage to share my story, after years of feeling as though it was a shameful secret I had to bury away, something incredible happened. Women, both old and young, seasoned in their faith and new believers, came to me and said, “Your story sounds a lot like my story.” It struck me as sad, for I never would have guessed this to be true, because their stories had not been told.
We need to create an environment where people who have arrived at the feet of Jesus after periods of pain, brokenness, and sin can share their stories without fear of judgment or isolation. God can use our brokenness, healing, redemption, and testimony to draw other people closer to him.
So don’t be hindered by what used to be, and don’t allow your past to define you. Put your faith in God. Be bold in that faith, regardless of the circumstances, and take Christ to those around you.
Ruth went from being an outsider to being part of the lineage of Jesus. Her story helped pave the way to the greatest story ever told. Your story can have great impact, as well, if you commit to letting God use it. Surrender to him and he can make you a hero!