The story of Ruth must have knocked the socks (or at least the sandals) off of its Jewish audience. It’s the account of a young Moabite woman who, rather than remain in a pagan land with her people upon the death of her Jewish husband, made the radical decision to accompany her mother-in-law (Naomi) to Israel.
Still, this doesn’t do justice to the enormity of Ruth’s decision for Naomi strongly discouraged her from going with her (1:11-14), and successfully dissuaded her other daughter-in-law who had the same idea (v. 14).
But it didn’t work with Ruth.
She was not just committed to going with Naomi, she had thought through the consequences of her decision. Naomi’s people would be her people. Naomi’s God would be her God. Where Naomi was buried, Ruth would be buried. This last statement was perhaps the most incredible because all things being equal, Naomi would probably die a couple of decades before Ruth. Ruth was promising to remain in a foreign land long after Naomi’s death out of her desire to honor her. And, she invoked Yahweh’s wrath upon her if she failed to follow through on all she had spoken (v. 17).
If you were a Jewish person hearing this story, your mind would undoubtedly be spinning. A Moabite woman was saying these things? Why their nation came into existence due to the incestuous relationship between Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19)! And didn’t Balak, the king of Moab, try to employ Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:11)? Didn’t the Moabites eventually seduce Israel into immoral pagan rituals (Numbers 25)? The most jaundiced Israelite would wonder what Ruth’s “true agenda” was in returning with Naomi. The less cynical would simply wonder.
And what brought about Naomi’s desire to return? She heard “the Lord had visited His people and given them food” (1:6). And where did she hear this good news? In Moab of all places! The ESV says it was in the “fields of Moab” (v. 6). In the fields of Moab they were talking about Israel’s God! Who would have thought it? My guess is that there’s a lot of talk about God that goes on “in the fields of Moab” that would surprise most of us. We don’t give God, or people outside His covenant, enough credit for their interest in the Almighty. I’m afraid we tend to see it as a cut and dried situation—either they’re following Him or they’re not interested. The result is that we end up being surprised by God.
That’s when the real challenge comes. We can delight in God’s surprises and grow with them, recognizing that our old wineskins need to be discarded. Or, we can put our heads back inside our shells where we will be surrounded by what is familiar, comfortable—and stifling.
Mark it down: if you serve the Almighty, He will surprise you. Delight in it and the newness it brings.