Ordinary People, Extraordinary God!
By Sam Nadler
The Book of Ruth is a story of loyalty, romance, restoration and how God can bring each of us from the depths of sorrow to new hope and new life. In the story, after a famine struck Israel, Naomi left her home and went to Moab with her husband and two sons (Ruth 1:2,3) and only when there was food available did she return to Israel (Ruth 1: 6,7), desolate, humiliated and bitter (Ruth 1: 19-21). While in Moab, however, Naomi acquired a daughter-in-law, Ruth, who would prove to be a greater blessing in Naomi’s life than Naomi would ever have imagined! The Book of Ruth could almost be regarded as the Book of Naomi – a restored, lost sheep of Israel.
It’s not Unusual
Though the story does have a happy ending, the Book of Ruth closes in an unusual manner. Eventually, Ruth marries a relative of Naomi’s, a well-to-do man by the name of Boaz. “So, Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and gave birth to a son” (Ruth 4:13). Though there were exceptional circumstances, it wasn’t that unusual for there to have been a marriage between Boaz and Ruth – people do get married (see Ruth 3:1-4:12). It’s not unusual for there to be a baby in the picture – that happens in marriage quite often! What is unusual is that the book concludes with the blessing and joy of ‘Grandma Naomi’ over this baby. “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi!’ So they named him Obed” (Ruth 4:14-17a). Through this book we see Naomi returning not just to the Land, but more importantly, to the Lord. The culmination of the restoration of Naomi is intertwined with this child named Obed.
Love is the Fulfillment of Torah
Obed is the reminder of the Lord’s faithful love. Notice what Naomi’s neighbors said: “Blessed be the LORD for He has not ceased to have a redeemer because Ruth who loved you gave birth to him” (Ruth 4:14). As God blessed Naomi with Ruth, He blessed her with Obed through Ruth. Though Ruth believed in God and essentially followed the Scripture, the Torah itself isn’t mentioned. The Torah could not redeem Naomi, but only reveal her sin of forsaking God and Israel. Through Torah, our desperate need for redemption is revealed and as the faithful love of Ruth was the lynchpin to Naomi’s restoration, our redemption is realized fully and finally in Messiah Yeshua’s death for our sins. Self-sacrificial love fulfills all of the Law. This is why Scripture teaches that “love is the fulfillment of Torah” (Romans 13:10); without love, there could be no fulfillment of God’s decree for us.
New Family Ties
Faith through love is how we are to live. Ruth’s faith in God and love for Naomi represent the new family ties in the spiritual life. As Yeshua said, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). Sometimes a new ‘family member’ can be more of a blessing to a family than an immediate family member. Why? Those who truly love you are better than those who may be of blood relation, but may not love you. There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and here was a daughter-in-law who was better than a child, indeed, better than seven sons! Thus your value as a person is not determined by your lineage, but by your love, and a person living out Messiah’s love is living the greatest life there is!
Forgiven Much, Love Much
In Ruth 4:16, Naomi became the child’s nanny and dry nurse (omenet, Hebrew for ‘nanny’). Seeing her dedicated service to this child, the neighbors “gave it a name, saying, there is a son born to Naomi: and they called his name Obed” (Ruth 4:17). Since the name “Obed” actually means ‘servant’, this was a beautiful reminder of Naomi’s service to him. Naomi’s restored faith and renewed confidence in God results in sincere service. By these same mercies of God, we also are to give ourselves in godly service (see Romans 12:1). Like Naomi, ‘senior saints’ are not to retire, but to be renewed! At the age of 80, Caleb said, “give me this hill” (Joshua 14:12). Apparently Caleb didn’t consider himself ‘over the hill!’ To live is Messiah – you have opportunity to serve and help reach the next generation, that is, if you are restored to the Lord. If so, then you’re saved to serve, not to sit! For Naomi, this opportunity restored her service and ministry in Israel and to the God of Israel.
A Moabite’s Messianic Ministry
As stated earlier, the Book of Ruth is ultimately the story of the restoration of Naomi. In Ruth’s declaration, “your God shall be my God, and your people shall be my people” (Ruth 1:16), she illustrates how Gentile believers are called to restore the lost sheep of the house of Israel. For those who truly love the God of Israel, they find their hearts concerned for the people of Israel. In Romans 11:11, it states “by their (Israel’s) transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.” An example of this is seen through Elimelech and Naomi’s transgression, that salvation came to the Gentiles, namely Ruth. So also today, the grafted in “wild branches” minister mercy to the disobedient, broken natural branches (i.e. Israel [Romans 11:30-31]) Just as Ruth loved Naomi, so these Gentile believers love the Jewish people and faithfully, mercifully minister the grace they have received. In Matthew 25:31-46 we see such Gentiles prophetically as the ‘sheep nations’ who will minister during the tribulation period to the Jewish people, even to the “least of His brethren.”
Big Picture, Small Frame
Through Naomi’s restoration, Ruth gave birth to Obed. This not only insured that Naomi and her deceased husband Elimelech’s lineage would not end, but that the lineage of David would be established. “He (Obed) is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, and to Amminidab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David” (Ruth 4:17b-22). A genealogy may seem like a strange way to end a book, and you might ask, “So what’s the point?” The point is that we often live in such very small worlds, it’s easy for us to lose sight of the big picture. From her earlier point of view, Naomi could only see herself as empty and forsaken by God, and Ruth may have seemed like no great help, just some ‘Moabite baggage’ who came back to Israel with her: one more embarrassment to have to explain away. But, lo and behold, Ruth becomes the very instrument to bring Naomi back to faith! Not only that, Ruth brings practical help in Naomi’s destitution, and a child to carry on the family line. But wait, there’s more!
An Unbroken Chain
Ultimately, this child secured the line for Messiah as fulfilled in the Good News, according to Matthew: “The book of the generation of Yeshua the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king…” (Matthew 1:1,5,6). Think of it. God uses very ordinary people – Ruth, a former pagan, and Naomi, a destitute backslider with the status of a street person – to perpetuate His glorious plan of redemption! This child Obed would serve as the great ‘link in the chain’ in the calling of the Jewish people through Abraham; through the coming of the great king David; to his Greater Son, the Messiah. He would be the Redeemer of Israel and Savior of the world! Who would have ever imagined that?
Your Life is Important!
This genealogy shows that God is sovereignly overseeing the affairs of His people, and even all our failures and stumblings become redeemed by grace and made useful in His great plan in Messiah. Despite all of our shortsightedness, the genealogy speaks of the sovereign continuity of God’s great plan for humanity. He uses ordinary people who believe and surrender their lives to His service. History is not haphazard. Your life is not a mistake, and God has a purpose in His glorious plan that includes Moabites like Ruth, unfaithful Israelis like Naomi and ‘over the hill’ farmers like Boaz and yes, even you! Be encouraged! In Messiah’s grace we all have a vital place, for our service is not in vain in the Lord!