Ruth: The Inconsequential Outsider
The Interwoven Word of God
The word of God is like a vast tapestry, its main theme interwoven with many sub-plots and side stories that run like golden threads through an intricate design. Each of these threads compliment the complete telling of God’s story and confirm again and again to us the way in which God views the world, the people who inhabit it and how important each of one of us are to Him.
The story of Ruth, a seemingly inconsequential outsider, is one of these golden threads. On face value, it appears to be a brief narrative concerning an unimportant family, living in a small and insignificant rural village*. It hardly seems a grand stage on which the compelling drama of God’s purpose is to be acted out. The story is placed within the time period known as “The Judges” (thought to be around 1220 – 1050 B.C.), when heroes like Samson the Mighty and Ehud the Brave lived – impressive and inspiring characters, who took centre stage in the drama that unfolded around them.
The story of Ruth seems, at first glance, a strange and somewhat ordinary inclusion in the rather extraordinary cast that surrounds it. And yet, when we consider each part of this remarkable story, we understand that we are being told something very important about God and about ourselves. We learn that God sees into our hearts (1 Sam 16:7). He is more interested in what we can become, than in who we are, and that our very ordinariness is what God sees and works with to bring us to an extraordinary place. In fact, God often does some of His best work with the most unlikely people, as the story of Ruth proves.
Who was Ruth?
Ruth was, by definition, an outsider. She was not an Israelite but a native to the country of Moab, a mountainous tract of land now in modern Jordan. She had married an Israelite man who was living in Moab with his family; his parents and brother. The family had relocated due to a famine which had occurred in their homeland, and we’re told in chapter 1 of the story that Ruth and her husband were married for 10 years before he, and his brother, both fell ill and died. Not only that, it seems tragedy had already befallen the family, with the death of Elimelech, Ruth’s father-in-law, very soon after the family’s relocation. The death of the sons now left Ruth, her sister-in-law, Orpah, and Naomi, her mother-in-law, as widows, in probably very bleak circumstances.
Ruth was, of all people, an unlikely heroine. Not only was she a woman, in a time when women were of minor importance, she was also now a widow. Finally, she was poor and foreign and would have been considered an outsider to any true-born Israelite.
What is Ruth’s Story?
Ruth may have been poor in position but she was rich in love and faith. When Naomi, her mother-in-law, made the decision to return to her homeland of Israel, Ruth did not hesitate to follow her. She left all that was familiar, everything that she was culturally connected to and, much like faithful Abraham before her, she “went out, not knowing where she was going…” (Heb 11:8). She heard the call of God and she followed, with implicit faith and unswerving devotion. She trusted the journey and embraced the destination, even though she hadn’t yet seen it. This is the definition of faith (Heb 11:1-3). Faith is what distinguishes her character and faith is what motivated her choices, which become more and more evident to us as we discover her story.
The story is short in its telling and it’s well worth pausing here and reading it quickly for yourself.
Like every great story, it contains all the important elements of interest; drama, grief, desolation, decision, redemption and resolution. As a stand-alone story, it would be successful in its own right. Yet it is the conclusion to the story that makes us really sit up and take notice. This is where we realise that nothing is an after thought to God, nobody is actually inconsequential and His plan is purposeful and far reaching. He has a definitive purpose and plan and every single person can play their part. There is a place for all of us in God’s story, if we choose it.
Ruth made the choice and the decision to follow Naomi, to become part of God’s plan. Yet even she couldn’t have realised the extent to which God would involve her. The epilogue of the story contains an unbelievable twist, a beautiful thread that we almost have to read twice to believe.
Ruth’s Defining Legacy
Ruth found a home, belonging and happiness in Israel and went on to marry Boaz, a wealthy and respected landowner. She was accepted completely into the family of Abraham, father of the Israelite people.
She also became a mother to a little boy called Obed (Ruth 4:16). Obed was the father of Jesse and Jesse, in time, became the father of David, one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. David would become famous, not only for his skill with the harp and his compassionate love for his sheep as a shepherd boy, but also for his courage and bravery fighting against the enemy Goliath, his stirring example as a brilliant military leader and king and his complete trust and faith in God.
Most breathtaking of all, King David became an ancestor of Jesus Christ, God’s own son! This makes Ruth an incredibly significant and vital part of God’s plan of salvation for the world.
God’s methods often confound and confuse us. He doesn’t always choose who we would expect or work in the way we would like. He sees all, from the beginning to the end (Isa 46:10), while we can only see a small portion of now, and His purpose is perfectly orchestrated and remarkably interwoven in ways that amaze us.
In the story of Ruth, an inconsequential outsider, we see that God gets involved in the lives of all kinds of men and women, bringing about His purpose. We can take confidence and have faith that He can and will work in our lives, in the same way, and that we too can become part of His story, if we choose it.