Many people around the world live lives of quiet desperation. They despair that their struggles, successes, and failures have no lasting purpose. No one had more right to feel this way than Ruth, who, along with Naomi, had to scratch out an existence and scrounge for the next meal. But don’t be distraught by apparent misfortune.
Their story is told in the book of Ruth. It is short, sad, yet surprisingly encouraging. Ruth has 85 verses, and is one of two Bible books named after women (the other is Esther). Jewish tradition credits Samuel as the book’s author. It presumably appeared during David’s reign (1011-971 B.C.). It is succinct, exquisite, and picturesque. Goethe reportedly said that Ruth is unexcelled as “the loveliest complete work on a small scale.” Others have observed Ruth as being to literature what the Venus de Milo is to statuary and the Mona Lisa is to paintings. Great things come in small packages.
Every act done diligently and faithfully has significant, lasting value.
Ruth, meaning friendship, is the main character of the story. She was a Moabite, descended from the incestuous union of Lot and the older of his two daughters who escaped from Sodom (Gen. 19:37). Historically, Moabites hated the Jews and were often at war with them. It is improbable that Ruth would have wanted to go to Israel with Naomi and to choose her God and her people. But fortuitously, she did. Providential developments often follow apparently coincidental decisions.
Ruth’s story occurred in the days “when the judges ruled” Israel (Ruth 1:1), most likely during the judgeship of Jair (Judges 10:3-5). It covers about 12 years, a relatively short period of time. Ten years were spent in Moab (Ruth 1:4), several months in Boaz’ field (Ruth 1:19-2:23, mid-April to mid-June), one day in Bethlehem, one night at the threshing floor (Ruth 3:1-18), and about one year in Bethlehem (Ruth 4:1-22). Pragmatic outcomes may result during the most unlikely periods of life.
The turning point in the story came at an inauspicious moment, after discouraging developments. Because of famine in Israel, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons decided to migrate to Moab for relief. Their two sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Sadly, the two sons and their father died, leaving the three women widowed. The burdened and forlorn Naomi decided to return to Israel. Orpah decided to remain in Moab. Ruth courageously chose to go to Israel with Naomi. Our response to events influences resulting outcomes.
Here we observe the Ruth factor: it occurs when people think based on principle, when they choose wisely, act promptly, and persist boldly. It demonstrates that every life matters, every decision is important. For Ruth to gather food in Boaz’s field was a small gesture, but it resulted in a reverberating outcome. Every act done diligently and faithfully has significant, lasting value.
God carefully looked at Ruth’s deeds and heart. He discerned in them layers of meaning and providential importance beyond imagination. Ruth and the righteous people in the book of Ruth achieved the greatest imprimatur. Ruth was accepted with the covenant people of God, was great-grandmother of King David, listed in the lineage of Christ, included in Scripture, and destined to be in the earth made new. Her story describes an incredible outcome from a simple choice. Experience the Ruth factor.
Delbert W. Baker has served the church as an editor, university president, and General Conference vice president.