Reading from the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Matthew, we come to the birth of King David.
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 regal 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 severe 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 her daughter-in-law Ruth. Ruth was not from Israel, she was from neighboring Moab, a traditional enemy of Israel. Yet she would become a key person in the genealogical line of King David and Jesus. Ruth even has a book in the Bible named after her.
The Israelites at this time may have been in their homeland, but they were definitely 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 they brought on themselves by turning away from God and following after their own, ill-advised ways. This cycle of wandering away from God, then turning to and being restored by Him when trouble came, can be seen throughout the book of Judges. This book was named after the many leaders that God raised up for them 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 would be born in Bethlehem in the line 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 was certainly dealt a challenging hand in life. 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 not given 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 in a mighty way. Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s King David, and would be immortalized forever in the Bible in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
But after losing her husband and both of her sons, all Naomi could see was loss and despair. She offered to free both of her widowed daughters-in-law from their obligations to her, allowing them to go to start a new life of their own in Moab 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’s wife who tried to encourage him to give up on God, Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth encouraged Naomi to remain true to God, clung to her in faithfulness, and journeyed with her back to Bethlehem.
Ruth pledged to Naomi she would always make “your God, my God.” With the encouragement of Ruth to hold on, Naomi never broke faith with the Lord despite all the trials she was going through. Her rugged faith 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 them for their faith in Him.
Life is full of loss and hardship for many people. Some have lost loved ones, others their means of support, and still others have suffered from abuse, or mental or physical illnesses or challenges. Yet, God is still there, desiring to bring comfort, healing, and peace to all who would seek Him.
Many people wonder, “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 with faith, people like Naomi and Ruth. 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, observing that they are still 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 lives from the shadow of suffering to bring fullness of life through His goodness and love.
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 their midst?
What people has God placed in your life to encourage you and lift you up on your faith journey?
Father God, You know well the sadness, heartaches and suffering we bear deep in our hearts. We ask that you comfort us and others going through these difficult trials and heal us by the touch of Jesus, our Great Physician. We rely upon Your presence, mercy, grace, and love. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.