Ruth (The Book of Ruth)
Ruth lay on the ground, looking up at the stars overhead. She had always loved the stars; something about them spoke to her. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had once told her a story about a man who also loved the stars. She said her God promised this man his descendants would be like the stars, more than he could count. Ruth smiled; Naomi was full of strange and marvelous stories.
Turning her head slightly, she could just make out the shape of her mother-in-law nearby. She was burrowed deeply into her blankets, with only the top of her head peeking out. The lines that seemed to perpetually furrow Naomi’s brow had relaxed in sleep as had the rest of her body. Ruth breathed a sigh of relief. These last years had been hard on Naomi, and on Ruth as well.
Naomi, her husband, and two sons had arrived in Ruth’s village many years ago. They were hungry, near starvation, and had made their way to Moab to find bread. Ruth’s people had taken them in. They fed them and welcomed them into the village. After a few years, Naomi’s husband died, the famine had been hard on him. Naomi was heart-broken, and yet she took comfort in the love of her two sons and, eventually, her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.
Ruth, in particular, held a special place in Naomi’s heart. She was kind and hard-working; and there was something else about her, a strange quality that put Naomi in mind of the prophets and matriarchs of old. She could never quite put her finger on it, but it was there. A depth of character and strength that she sensed even Ruth didn’t know she had. Perhaps God would speak to her, or even bless her, like the matriarchs of old?
“No, that’s ridiculous,” Naomi would tell herself, “after all, Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite. Why would God choose to speak to a Moabite, much less bless her, when there were plenty of good, God-worshiping young women back in Israel.”
Still, Naomi couldn’t shake the impression that there was something special about her foreign daughter-in-law—she just didn’t realize how bad things would get before she was proven right.
Ten years had passed since her husband’s death when the unimaginable happened. Both her sons died within a month of each other. Naomi was inconsolable; for not only had her sons died, they had been childless. Ruth and Orpah tried to console their mother-in-law, to reassure her that the people of their Moabite village would surely see to her well-being. But Naomi refused to be comforted. She was alone in a foreign land—and she wanted to go home.
She told her daughters-in-law of her decision to return to her home in Israel. She wanted to die in her own land, she said. Both Orpah and Ruth had been stunned by this pronouncement. Naomi and her family had lived in Moab for decades, surely it was now her home.
“No,” she had responded vehemently, “Moab welcomed us, saved us, but it is not my home. I want to go home. Now go, my daughters-in-law, return to your family’s homes. Marry again, find happiness in your own land and with your own people. And pray for me, if you dare, because my God has forgotten me.”
Ruth had expected Naomi to begin to weep after this speech, but no tears came. Instead a new hardness filled her eyes, born of grief and sorrow. Naomi sadness and turned bitter in her mouth.
Orpah had looked first to Ruth and then to Naomi. Tears streaming down her face she clung to Naomi and begged her to remain in Moab, but Naomi would not be swayed. She hugged the weeping woman, kissed her on the cheek, and bid her farewell. Weeping, Orpah turned and walked slowly back to her family’s home.
Naomi’s eyes now fell to Ruth, as she waited for her too to attempt to change her mind. But Ruth, strange, strong Ruth, didn’t speak a word. Instead, she turned and ran back into their little house. Naomi stood frozen in shock. After all they had been through, Ruth wasn’t even going to say goodbye?
Just as she was about to turn and walk away, Ruth came bursting out of the house. In her arms she carried a small bundle, all the belongings she had in the world, and two loaves of bread. Flung over her shoulder were two bags of water and one of milk. “I’m ready,” she pronounced.
Naomi stared at her daughter-in-law. “What do you think you’re doing?” she finally asked.
“Coming with you.” Ruth said, matter-of-factly. “And we should get going if we have any hope of catching the caravan leaving today. I don’t know about you but I don’t really want to attempt the journey all the way to Israel alone!” With that, she began walking towards the edge of the village.
“Ruth. Ruth!” Naomi cried out. “Stop. You aren’t going. You need to go home.”
“But, I am going home.” Ruth said continuing to walk towards the caravan readying itself for departure.
“No,” Naomi answered, “this is your home. Here, in Moab,” gesturing to the village.
Ruth stopped and turned, facing her mother-in-law. “No, mother-in-law, my home is with you. Where you go, I will go. Where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”
Naomi stared into Ruth’s eyes, searching for the truth. Did she have any idea what she was asking? Did she realize that Naomi had nothing, no kin, no one to take her in when they reached Israel? She would be nothing, less than nothing, because she was a Moabite.
Ruth stood staring back. “I know what I’m doing, Naomi,” she finally said, “I know what you’re going back to, I know there’s nothing waiting for us there. And that’s why I won’t let you go alone. Our future is together. Besides, maybe it’s like you always said, God has bigger dreams for us than we have for ourselves.”
At last, Naomi relented. Perhaps Ruth was right, perhaps there was something unexpected waiting for them back in Israel, perhaps there really was more to Ruth than anyone imagined.
Ruth lay looking up at the stars, a smile touching her lips. Tomorrow they would arrive in Naomi’s ancestral home, and Ruth’s new home. As they laid down to rest that night, just as Naomi was drifting off to sleep, Ruth asked, “Mother-in-law, I just realized, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you the name of your village. What’s it called?”
“Huhmm,” Naomi mumbled sleepily, “Bethlehem, House of Bread.” “Bethlehem,” Ruth whispered, “what a beautiful name,” as the stars twinkled overhead.
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
Sign up to receive the daily Advent meditations via email.