"May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."
A few years ago, I found myself living in Scotland while I worked on a Master’s degree in Scripture and Theology. It was a dream come true. A dream which created a whirl wind of preparations to move overseas. By the time I arrived, I was exhausted and had just one day to get settled and find my way around my new town. I wasn’t up for trying new foods just yet so I went to the store in search of some basic breakfast items. Specifically, I was in the mood for some scrambled eggs and toast.
This wasn’t the first time I had traveled internationally so I knew to expect some degree of culture shock. Even with the many similarities Scotland has to life in the United States, there are some things they do differently. They rely much more heavily on public transportation. They live in much smaller homes with much smaller yards. Not only do the drive on the opposite side of the road, but they also drive from the other side of the vehicle. But all of that wasn’t a big deal for me. What was a big deal? Eggs.
As I wandered around the very busy grocery store looking for the items I wished to purchase, I found myself getting frustrated that I somehow kept missing the eggs. Milk, cheese, yogurt, orange juice all were located easily in the cooler section but the eggs were nowhere to be found. I finally went aisle by aisle, closely observing the signage, and I finally found them. At room temperature. In a random section of shelving next to canned goods. I remember very distinctly how much my brain was unable to process this information. It was easily my biggest moment of culture shock. And yes, that includes the moment when I realized haggis pizza and prawn flavored potato chips are really a thing Scots enjoy eating.
It’s hard to begin again. But often we are able to take comfort in familiar surrounds and rely on the support of family and friends to help us. Ruth didn’t have that luxury.
Ruth’s story is contained in the book which bears her name in the Old Testament. And her story actually begins with her mother-in-law’s story. Naomi and her husband had left their home country in hopes of being able to find a better life in the land of Moab. She had two sons, one of whom married Ruth who was a Moabitess. Naomi’s husband and her two sons all die before any additional children are born leaving Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law, as penniless widows.
Naomi’s only real hope for survival is to return home and hope some member of her extended family will care for her. To be clear, this possibility is a long shot and Naomi knows this. As she begins her journey towards her childhood home, she clearly tells her daughters-in-law that they do not need to come with her. They are still young. They could re-marry, give birth to sons, and be taken care of the rest of their days. One girl accepts this kind release of obligation to Naomi and returns to her family. But Ruth refuses to go back.
“But Ruth replied, ‘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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me.’”
Often this passage is quoted at wedding celebrations as the bride and groom proclaim their love and commitment to each other. Interesting considering the context has nothing to do with the love between a husband and wife but between a woman and her mother-in-law. How many of you married folks out there would declare this to your in-laws? Especially if your spouse had died and you had no children?
Naomi must have treated Ruth with great kindness when her son was alive for Ruth to be willing to stay with her instead of return to her family. Additionally, Ruth was incredibly brave to stay with Naomi knowing they were journeying to a place where she would be a foreigner with no guarantee of family willing to care for them once they arrived. Additionally, she pledges to stay there even after Naomi dies meaning she is committing to never return to her homeland again. A new land. New customs. Even a new religion await Ruth.
Once they arrive in Bethlehem, the work begins to figure out a new life as two widows who cannot own land and have no one to protect them from the dangers of the world. Ruth sets out to gather left over grain from the harvest in a field Boaz owns. When she finds favor in his eyes, she asks him why he would bother giving her a second thought. Boaz’s answer is an important one:
“I’ve been told all about what you have done for youth mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” Ruth 2:11
Ruth’s story and reputation have preceded her arrival to the field. Ruth had every right to leave Naomi, marry another, and stay with her people. The customs of both countries would have supported her decision. But she made the hard choice, the choice of love, to sacrifice her comfort and security to give hope to another. How much would you sacrifice so another you had no legal obligation to might be able to live out their life among family and familiar customs?
Ruth’s sacrifice does not go unnoticed. Nor does her willingness to work hard to provide for her and Naomi. By the end of the harvest, when Boaz is faced with the choice to be her kinsman redeemer, he willingly says yes noting her to be “a woman of noble character.” Choosing to marry someone because of their character, admittedly, isn’t often considered the most romantic of reason. Yet, this is why Boaz is willing to take on the responsibility of marrying Ruth.
It couldn’t have been easy for Ruth to travel to Bethlehem, to commit to staying with Naomi. There had to be moments where she missed her homeland. But she isn’t interested in the easy path, she is interested in taking the path she is called to take no matter the cost. Unknown to her, this willingness places her in the lineage from which the Messiah would someday be born.
Connect with someone who has lived in the United States for less than five years or who is visiting here temporarily. Ask them to tell you about their homeland and how they ended up living in the United States. What do they find odd about the United States? What do they miss most about their homeland? Consider how you can help them feel more at home in your community.
Check out the Joshua Project and the resources they offer. They are committed to reaching the unreached people groups of the world with the Gospel. Resources include information about many parts of the world and how you can pray for them. Adopt a region of the world to learn about and pray for on a regular basis.
Put yourself in Ruth’s shoes. Pray about a short-term mission’s trip or even a basic vacation to immerse yourself in a different culture for a week or so. Get away from the tourist magnets and strive to connect with the daily life of those who live there.
The book of Ruth is a relatively short book in the Old Testament. Take the time to really read and appreciate her story this week. Ask God to help you see it with fresh eyes and a new perspective.