5 Salmon (was) the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king. Matthew 1:5-6 ESV
The family that brought forth the kingly line of David (and Jesus) was not excluded from the challenges and trials of daily life. Some of them suffered greatly. Consider the family of Naomi, which included her daughter-in-law Ruth. They:
1) Experienced a famine that forced the family to pick up and leave their homeland in order to survive.
2) Experienced the death of Naomi’s beloved husband.
3) After a period of ten years, both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving her with two daughters-in-law (one being Ruth) and with no significant means of support.
During her grief and suffering, Naomi was comforted by the faithful support of daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth was not from Israel, she was from neighboring Moab, a traditional enemy of Israel. Yet she became a key person in the genealogical line of David and Jesus. Ruth even has a book in the Bible named after her.
The Israelites were in their homeland, but were not enjoying the peace and freedom they would have had they remembered and honored God. They were constantly battling their neighbors and experiencing severe hardships. Some of these troubles were just a part of everyday life, but others were brought on themselves by turning away from God and following their own, ill-advised ways. This cycle of wandering away from God and being restored to Him when trouble came can be seen throughout the book of Judges. This book was named after the leaders that God raised up after Moses and Joshua, prior to Israel having a king.
Ruth and Naomi’s story begins this way:
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. Ruth 1:1-2 ESV
Naomi’s family sought to escape the effects of the famine in Israel by going into neighboring Moab. (Both David and Jesus will be born in Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah.)
3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. Ruth 1:3-6 ESV
Naomi certainly was dealt a challenging hand by God. First, she is forced to become a refugee in a famine, then her husband dies, and finally she loses both of her sons. A woman of great faith, Naomi was apparently not being rewarded for it with an easy or carefree life. In her great grief, Naomi perceived that the “hand of the Lord” had turned against her. But God did not forget faithful Naomi. He would lift her up again. Further, her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s King David, and she would be immortalized forever in the Bible and in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
But at the time of her exile in Moab, after losing her husband and both of her sons, all Naomi could see was loss and despair. She offered to free both her widowed daughters-in-law from her responsibilities, allowing them to go back to Moab to make a new life of their own while they were still young.
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way…13 …No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. Ruth 1:11-17 ESV
Ruth’s faithfulness must have brought tremendous comfort to Naomi. Much like another Bible personality, Job, Naomi had lost virtually everything during her crisis. But unlike Job, whose wife had encouraged him to give up on God, Naomi’s daughter-in-law encouraged her to remain true to God, clinging to her in faithfulness and journeying with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth pledged to Naomi she would always make “your God, my God.” With the encouragement of Ruth to help her hold on, Naomi never broke faith with the Lord, despite all the trials that she was going through. Her rugged faith in God had always been very attractive to Ruth; something that Ruth wanted for herself. She reached for it, and was able to commit her own life to God, as well. Soon, both Naomi and Ruth would see the hand of God confirm His presence in their lives and reward their faith.
Life can be one of loss and hardship for many people. Some have lost loved ones, others their means of support and still others have suffered through abuse, mental illness or physical challenges. Yet, God is there to bring comfort and healing to all.
Many people ask, “How can there be a God with all the loss and suffering in the world?” The best answer can come from those who have experienced such suffering themselves and have come out the other side in faith, people like Naomi. God put the book of Ruth in the Bible as a testimony to His faithfulness and goodness, even in the midst of extreme hardship. We see the faith of those around us who have been through such difficulties, yet they are living a life of peace and joy, reflecting the true love of Christ to those around them. They bear a great witness to the presence and power of God, who is able to miraculously restore our lives from the shadow of suffering, and to bring us a full life, with goodness and joy.
What trials have been the most faith-challenging in your life? Where are you on the journey towards acceptance and healing for these trials? Have you seen the hand of God holding you up in the midst of trials or suffering?
What people has God placed in your life to encourage you in your faith journey?
What prayer is on your heart to express to God today?