Ruth’s story takes place during the time of the Judges. Many conservative scholars believe the book itself was written during the time of David’s kingship in Israel. Obviously, David is mentioned in Ruth 4:22. This little book carries certain themes well as the story unfolds. For example, it is a book about a common, ordinary family. Naomi’s family is not prominent or well-known. They are common folk from the quaint little town of Bethlehem. Their story offers us a glimpse into the plight of an ordinary family in ancient Israel.
This book also offers a perspective on the universal claim God has on humanity. You will notice that Ruth returns with Naomi to Bethlehem and lives out her days in Israel. However, Ruth is not a Jew. She is a Moabitess (1:4). The Moabites descended from Lot’s son, Moab (Genesis 19:37). The Moabites lived on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea and are mostly in friendly relationship with Israel in biblical times. There are some examples of skirmishes between the two – but there were many years of good relations between the two people. Incidentally, we have learned much about the Moabites because of the discovery in the 19th century of the Moabite Stone.
The point is – Ruth was from the land of Moab. She was not from Israel. However, she would join the ancestral line of none other than King David! This story shares how that happened. It seems to indicate to the reader that God is sovereign and His plan includes all people.
Speaking of God’s sovereignty, the story of Ruth also reveals that truth as well. God is sovereign. God is in control of His plan and the lives of His people. He is paying attention. He is a God of provision and resource. He provided for Naomi and Ruth. He led them back to Bethlehem and made provision for them there. They became a part of The Big Story as the mentioning of King David demonstrates.
This story is also about influence. Naomi was a faithful woman. She was a faithful wife. She was a faithful mother. She was a faithful mother-in-law. She influenced Ruth to the point of Ruth’s choice to follow her to Bethlehem.
Finally, this is a story about trials. Naomi and Ruth both suffer the challenges associated with widowhood in the ancient world. They had no protector. They had no man to provide for them. This set of circumstances often led women to take desperate measures (e.g. Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19). It was hard to trust God in the face of such difficult circumstances. These women endured the trials of their experience and remained faithful to God.
Elimelech (God is King) decided to leave Bethlehem and migrate to the other side of the Dead Sea during a famine in the time of the Judges of Israel. His wife, Naomi, and their two sons went with them. Their sons took wives from the land of Moab during their time there.
There is not actually a provision against a Jewish man marrying a Moabite woman. This was permissible and was practiced in Israel. It was not the norm. Nor was it the most desirable plan for a Jewish man. However, it was allowed. The bloodline was viewed through the husband’s family, so a Jewish family did not lose its heritage when this occurred.
The trial that comes to Naomi is set forth in 1:5 – she was “left” – “left alone” – “bereft” – she was now completely abandoned. She had lost her husband and her son. Again, this was a desperate circumstance in the ancient world. Women were extremely vulnerable and were often abused in this particular situation. What was she to do?
We read in 1:6 – she had heard that God had provided for His children after the famine. She decided to go home. We learn something from Naomi here. First, she was faithful to her God in spite of her circumstances. She still viewed Him as a God of provision. Perhaps if she could just get home, she would be able to receive some of that very provision. Second, she was able to make responsible decisions. She decided to go home. She knew her support structure was at home. She needed some familiar people in her life who could help her.
Naomi gave Ruth and Orpah the freedom to return to their families. She released them from feeling obliged to care for her. Orpah returned to her people. Ruth, however, claimed Naomi’s people as her own. In fact, she claimed Naomi’s God as her own as well (1:16-17). Wow. Ruth had been profoundly influenced by Naomi.
So – Naomi and Ruth head to Bethlehem. Upon arrival, the women of the town greeted them. But they didn’t recognize Naomi (1:19). Naomi responded to their curiosity by claiming that she did not need to be recognized as Naomi (pleasant) but “Mara” (bitter). Her conclusion was that God had been bitter in His treatment of her (1:20-21). She had left Bethlehem with a full family – and now returned home without her husband or her sons. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Even though Naomi offered this perspective on her circumstances, I still maintain she was faithful. After all, she was just being honest! And – she came back home to where she knew her God was worshiped and honored. She returned to the people who followed the God of Abraham. She re-joined them in the midst of her trial. Ruth joined her. These two ladies were honest in their assessment of their circumstances and hopeful for God’s intervention. In fact, the chapter ends on a positive note – it was time for the harvest.
So – chapter 1 is about both Naomi and Ruth. As I said, Naomi is faithful to God. But Ruth chose Naomi’s God after all that had happened! That is a powerful fact for me. Ruth was going to prove herself to be a faithful woman as well! Even in trial!
1 Peter 3:8-17
Peter opens his letter by reminding his readers that the trials they are facing can be used by God to purify their faith and allow them an opportunity to demonstrate their faithfulness to God (1:6-7). There is great insight in these verses in chapter 1. Peter says these trials are occurring for “a little while” – they are temporary in nature. And – trials give us the chance to “prove” our faith. We can show both God and ourselves what we are made of!
In chapter 3, Peter has moved on through several topics only to pick up the idea of trials and suffering again. This letter was sent to the churches scattered across Asia Minor (Turkey) and there were threats of persecution in this area for Christians. In 3:8-17, he encouraged his readers to stay connected to each other as believers. They needed each other. He challenged them to relate well to each other (3:8-9). They were to be examples to those who may persecute them or mistreat them.
Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16 in 3:10-12. He has already used Psalm 34:8 in 2:3. This Psalm is rich in insight. David expresses his confidence in God in 34:1 when he proclaims that he will bless the LORD at all times! This is an expression of trust in the sovereignty of God and demonstrates a willingness to acknowledge it in spite of our circumstances. David challenges the worshipers to “taste and see” that the LORD is good (34:8).
This Psalm is in Peter’s mind as he writes his admonishment to these believers in Asia Minor. God is good. He can be trusted. He provides for His children. He cares for His children. He is watching over His children. God’s children are to always desire life no matter what! Good days are not just the days when “everything goes our way.” We can have good days in the midst of our trials and afflictions. It might be a good idea to just stop and read Psalm 34 right now.
In 1 Peter 3:13-17, Peter gets to the heart of the matter of suffering and trials. He makes several key points: