FAITH HUMAN EFFORT AND COMPASSION The account of Ruth joining Naomi in Moab and following her to Bethlehem illustrates interactions among faith, human effort, and compassion. Naomi’s family relocated to Moab to seek better life but experienced changes that brought bitterness and challenged her faith. However, the sojourn in Moab and subsequent return to Bethlehem placed her in position to receive God’s intervention through Ruth joining the family. Ruth’s compassion for Naomi brought her to Bethlehem where she faced uncertain but ultimately prosperous future.
Ruth Joins Naomi
Faith Human Effort and Compassion
We begin a study series on Ruth, in which we examine her ancestry, entry into Naomi’s family in Moab, and subsequent relocation to Bethlehem; where she met and married Boaz, became the great grandmother of David and, therefore, a key link in the lineage of the Messiah. The series begins with Ruth joining Naomi’s family in Moab and returning to Bethlehem with Naomi. The family had relocated to Moab in search of better life but instead experienced calamity as Naomi’s husband and two sons died. Subsequently, her search for better life took her back to Bethlehem accompanied by her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth.
FAITH AND HUMAN EFFORT We note that her sojourn in Moab and subsequent return to Bethlehem were driven by human effort: seeking to lift her family to more favorable life while in total submission to God. Because of her faith, she accepted the calamity that befell her family as an act of God and showed she relied entirely on God to help her through the crisis [Ruth 1:21]: “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” She considered herself “empty” because she did not know that her daughter-in-law Ruth that joined her family in Moab would go on to become a great grandmother in the lineage of the Messiah.
Her sojourn in Moab placed her in position to receive God’s intervention through Ruth joining her family. Her subsequent return to Bethlehem provided opportunity for Ruth to launch into a life that ultimately brought her into the role that God created for her. Naomi’s experience, therefore, provides an example of human effort and faith placing a person in position to receive God’s intervention.
COMPASSION Ruth, on her part, followed Naomi back to Bethlehem because of compassion. Naomi offered to release her from being a widow, thus providing her an opportunity to go home and seek new life. However, Ruth had compassion on Naomi and decided to remain loyal and committed to Naomi’s family. Therefore, she followed Naomi back to Bethlehem, choosing an uncertain life as widow. Later, she met Boaz in Bethlehem, married him, and together they gave birth to Obed, grandfather of David.
Suppose God asked you to take your family on a long journey to fetch a person that he needs for a specific mission in your city. He informs you of potential risks along the way that could result in death of some family members. What would you do? Most Christians will likely accept irrespective of the risk.
We can see in hindsight that God presented a similar offer to the family of Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem, except they did not know. What they knew was they faced severely unfavorable economic conditions in Bethlehem at that time. Therefore, Elimelech relocated his family to Moab in search of better conditions [Ruth 1:1]: “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.”
The family experienced bitter losses within approximately ten years of arriving in Moab. Elimelech died. Also, his two sons died after marriage to two Moabite ladies. The death of the three left Naomi without any of the family members that came with her but with two young and now widowed daughters-in-law. She learned at about the same time that economic conditions were improving in Bethlehem. Therefore, once again, she decided to move to seek better life.
HUMAN EFFORT Her family moved to Moab and returned to Bethlehem later, all in effort to do what they could to lift the family from unpleasant conditions. Ruth joined Naomi during the move and became a channel for God’s intervention in the family’s history. Naomi’s experience illustrates that human effort helps position a person to receive God’s intervention.
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Peter Escapes from Herod’s Prison, God provides input to solving our various problems but expects us to apply human effort as part of finding the solution. Because the nature and timing of his intervention are generally not known a priori, we have to actively seek solutions at the human level in order to place ourselves in position to receive his intervention. That is, we work diligently because we have faith that he will intervene and we want to be ready to accept and utilize his intervention. Naomi and her family moved to Moab and back to Bethlehem to do what they could at the human level and in the process placed themselves in position to receive God’s intervention.
Human effort should be driven by faith of God’s intervention as and when he chooses. “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” [James 2:18]. Naomi showed faith through what she did and through her acceptance of the outcome. She showed total submission to the will of God in accepting changes that occurred in her life notwithstanding that the changes brought her great bitterness. Physical manifestation of her anguish and bitterness during sojourn in Moab were so severe that her community in Bethlehem had difficulty recognizing her [Ruth 1:19]: “And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?'”
She showed her bitterness by asking neighbors to change her name from Naomi (i.e., “Pleasant”) to Mara (i.e., “Bitter”) but accepted the bitterness as an act of God [Ruth 1:20–21]: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” She accepted her bitterness not knowing that the bitterness actually was a step toward a grand blessing.
We can surmise that Ruth’s compassion for Naomi moved her to decide to remain with Naomi as her family. She easily could have decided that her interest would be better served by accepting Naomi’s offer to release her to seek new life elsewhere.
She instead decided to remain with Naomi, which meant living the rest of her life as a widow. Naomi had explained the situation to her and her sister-in-law as follows [Ruth 1:12–13]: “If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
Therefore, Ruth knew her decision to remain with Naomi amounted to a decision to remain a widow for the rest of her life. The most likely explanation of her decision is she cared for Naomi and was determined to do what she could to alleviate her suffering from the losses she experienced through the previous approximately ten years. “For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.” [Ruth 1:16].
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Love through Compassion, responding to God’s call to compassion means a person recognizes a need and the needy, cares about the needy, commits to doing what he/she can to address the need, and perseveres until successful. Ruth recognized Naomi’s need, cared about Naomi, and determined to do what she could to alleviate her suffering. Therefore, her decision to remain with Naomi through thick and thin was motivated by her compassion for Naomi. The decision, as we know today, placed her in position to receive a grand blessing.
Summary of What We Learned
The account of Ruth joining Naomi in Moab and following her to Bethlehem illustrates interactions among faith, human effort, and compassion. Naomi’s family relocation to Moab and her subsequent return to Bethlehem represent human effort driven by faith that God will intervene as and when he chose to lift the family onto better conditions. She showed faith through total submission to the will of God in accepting changes that occurred in her life notwithstanding that the changes brought her great bitterness. Ruth, in her part, was motivated by compassion in her decision to remain with Naomi through thick and thin. The decision, as we know today, placed her in position to receive a grand blessing.