I have a secret for you.
I have had to learn to be a reader.
There have been a few books that have captured my attention from the beginning to the end. It’s these books where I want to sit in each chapter, engage in the tension, feel the emotions, and can’t wait to see what happens in the end. After all, isn’t that the way a good book should be read?
Too often when we come to the Bible, we tend to read it differently. We see the title of the book and we assume we know the story and where it is going, so we jump to the end. Even if we go on to read the whole thing, our minds have already made that leap.
The book of Ruth is one story where the reader generally jumps to the end too quickly. We hear that name and we know she left her homeland, met Boaz, got married, and lived happily ever after.
But by jumping to the end, we miss something significant in the beginning. We forget the pain.
Even though we know it as the Book of Ruth, it actually starts with story of Naomi and Elimelech.
They are married. This is good.
They have two sons. This is good.
There is a famine. This is sad.
In the time of the famine, Elimelech decides to move their family away from their home, away from their people, to find food in Moab.
I can’t imagine having to leave my homeland for anything other than my own choice. I have met a few people who have lived through this challenge, and it was hard for them. They left not only their home, but their family and all they had ever known too. All to go to a new land they had never seen in hopes of finding something better.
While in Moab, Elimelech dies. This is sad.
Now Naomi and her boys are left without the head of their family: the one who was leading them there in the first place. People who have lost a spouse feel a tremendous amount of loss and grief. Their sadness is one that only they can comprehend, and it may never be truly healed.
Naomi is now in grief. Everything up to this point had been new and challenging but they had faced it together, and now he is gone. What would she do?
That’s when the boys get married. This is good.
Life is going better again. There is a family now.
But not long later, both boys die. This is sad.
Why? Why would God move them from their homeland, take her husband, and then take her sons too? Not only that, as Naomi once grieved the loss of her husband, now she had two other women grieving the loss of theirs, too. What was she going to do?
Then, finally some good news: There was food in Israel.
It was time to go home.
As the three head out, Naomi realizes there is nothing she could do for these young ladies. So she encourages them to go home. After some nudging, Orpah does turn around, but not Ruth. She is determined to go with Naomi no matter what. It is in this exchange where we get the famous verse:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16, NIV)
What a powerful statement. Here Ruth is saying that she will move away from her homeland, leave her people, and go to a place she had never seen before all because she wanted to follow Naomi.
Why would she do that?
I believe that she saw something in Naomi that captivated her. Even in Naomi’s questions and grief, somehow she showed something that Ruth desperately wanted. Somehow Naomi’s faith spoke to her.
Knowing that she wouldn’t convince Ruth to turn back, Naomi agreed, and the two women stepped into the unknown together.
I believe that God is the same from the beginning to the end. That means that when God told David that He was in the “valley of the shadow of death,” (Ps 23:4) He was already in there with Naomi. That means that when Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” (Matt 5:4) He had already comforted Naomi. That means that when God said He was “close to the broken hearted,” (Ps 34:18) He was close to Naomi.
What’s really interesting about this is that Ruth saw what Naomi couldn’t. In her grief, Naomi described her own life as one of bitterness. In fact, she even changed her name to reflect that belief. But Ruth saw someone she wanted to follow. She saw someone whose life she wanted to be a part of. She saw a God Who she wanted more of in her life.
That’s the power of Naomi’s testimony. That even when she couldn’t see it, God was working through her story to not only bring an outsider to faith in Him, but to bring that outsider in and place her in the genealogy of the coming Messiah (Matt 1:5).
That’s power. That’s grace. That’s healing.
I know grief is hard. There are more questions than answers, and more tears than smiles. But that doesn’t mean that God is not there and that He is not working in the midst of it.
As parents, when we try to raise our kids for Jesus, we need to show them the whole picture. We need to laugh and enjoy life with them and show them how Jesus is in the good times.
But we also need to cry and sit in the struggles of life with them, too, and show them how Jesus is in the hard times, too.
By giving them the whole picture we don’t jump to the end, but we realize that Jesus is in the whole story.