This week I spent some time preparing a meditation on the Old Testament story of Ruth. Nestled in the first half of the OT, Ruth is generally interpreted as a sweet love story. The reader is introduced to the main character who is grief stricken over the passing of her husband. She and her sister in law are there with their mother in law, Naomi, wondering about their future. Famine has plagued the land, and the three women are jointly experiencing multiple layers of loss.
Because of the severity of the famine, Naomi decided she would return to her homeland, Israel. She then looked at her two young daughters in law and implored them to go find new husbands and remarry so they can move forward with the remainder of their lives. One accepts the challenge, but Ruth is deeply committed to Naomi and will have no part of it. It is in this critical moment that Ruth speaks these famous words: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death separate us!” (Ruth 1:16-17, NLT)
As the story progresses we find Ruth is a remarkable person, although she didn’t do anything remarkable. She didn’t earn a graduate degree. She didn’t get a job in the corporate world, nor did she write a book or have a website. She never started a business or sold real estate. But time and time again the narrative affirmed her as a woman of character, integrity and depth. She would eventually marry a man named Boaz, and have a family.
The story could end there and the reader would be satisfied with the happily ever after that Ruth experienced. But the story concludes in an unexpected way. Here are the last three sentences of her story. “Boaz was the father of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David” (Ruth 4:21-22, NLT).
To simplify, Ruth and her husband had a son, who had a son, who had seven sons, the youngest of which is David, arguably the most famous character in the Old Testament. Ruth is David’s great grandmother, and is specifically mentioned in Matthew’s ancestry record of Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
Ruth reminds me that we are human beings, not human doings. Ruth is not mentioned alongside the giant slaying heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. But her righteous character and integrity cast a long shadow that would extend all the way to Christ. As time passes, the shadows of our lives lengthen. Yet often we are led to believe that the only measurements that count are the things that can be counted such as our accomplishments and acquisitions. But not everything that can be counted counts. The stuff that cast shadows that are impactful is the stuff of who we are.
Ruth can be read as a sweet love story and left at that. But there’s so much more to her when her biography is read to the end. Or in her case, read through the end.